Kaidan stepped off the elevator and onto the Crew Deck, rubbing his temples. He rounded the corner into the mess hall.
“James made scrambled eggs,” Liara said. She was seated at the mess table, working on a plate of her own. “There should be enough left for you, and they’re still warm.”
“Thanks, Liara.” Kaidan grabbed a plate and set about serving himself breakfast.
Liara made a motion to speak, then stopped herself.
Finally, she settled on something safe to say.
“EDI says we can return to Earth a full day sooner if we divert power from the kinetic barriers. She thinks it should be safe if we don’t get into a fight en route, but she needs your approval.”
“Do it,” he said without looking up.
“Thank you, Major,” EDI responded.
Kaidan brought his plate over and sat down. He stared down at his plate, not eating.
“Did you sleep well?” Liara asked. He knew she’d been around humans long enough to know what bags under the eyes meant – she was giving him an out. But he knew he ought to talk to someone, and Liara was a friend.
“No. Nightmares kept waking me up.”
“Do you want to talk about them?”
“They were about Shepard.” Not a question.
Liara reached across the table and held his hand. “Oh, Kaidan. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”
Kaidan closed his eyes. A tear rolled down his cheek. “It’s hard for all of us.”
“Yes. I’ve lost a dear friend. But Shepard was that to you and more.”
Kaidan sighed. “I should probably step down. I’m not fit to command right now.”
“Perhaps. But I don’t think you’ll find anyone on this ship who isn’t mourning. And the crew respects you. Who’s next in the chain of command? James?”
“Do you honestly think he’s any better equipped to command right now than you are? He just lost his hero.” Kaidan sighed, and Liara rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. “I know it hurts. But you’re stronger than you think. And for the next two weeks we’ll be in interstellar space. I doubt there will be any significant command decisions to make. Right now, the best thing for all of us is to keep up our routines.”
Kaidan looked down at his food, still untouched. “Okay.” Liara nodded, then stood up with her empty plate. As she walked past, Kaidan touched her arm. “And, Liara… thanks.”
As Liara put her plate in the dishwasher, she frowned to herself. She wished she could take her own advice, but the Shadow Broker would be out of commission until they got back to civilization. She decided to pay Javik a visit.
Javik stared at his reflection in the water. Unfamiliar green eyes stared back at him. Tension radiated from his body.
The door to the hold opened and Liara entered, carrying a data pad. “Javik, I was going over my draft for the first chap- is this a bad time?”
“No. A distraction is welcome.”
“May I ask what you were thinking about?”
“My body. I have spent my entire life fighting synthetics, and now I am one.”
“I can see how that would be difficult.”
“I do not understand how you and the Normandy crew accept this so easily. To have our bodies… changed against our will. Violated.”
“I… hadn’t thought of it that way. You’re right, of course.”
“I admit that the end result is something that I… will come to accept. In time. But I would never have consented to this. And… I fear what became of the Reapers.”
“You think they weren’t destroyed?”
Javik nodded. “I have heard what the energy wave did to the EDI-machine. She is now more like an organic. I believe the Reapers experienced a similar change. They do not deserve it.” He pounded his fist; water splashed to the floor. He shouted, “They killed trillions. They murdered my people! The blood of the Protheans cries out for vengeance!”
Liara backed away. “Perhaps I should leave.”
Javik turned around to face her. “No. I apologize. My anger is not for you. And the one who deserves it is probably dead.” Javik looked down at the floor and collected himself. Shakily, he asked, “What did you wish to discuss?”
“I’ve completed my draft of the first chapter of our book. I’d like your input. Oh, and I had an idea I wanted to share. I was thinking we could alternate chapters between my own reconstructions of Prothean civilization at its apex, and your first-person perspective of the last stand of the Protheans.”
“I would prefer to… let old ghosts rest,” Javik said wearily.
“I’m sorry. I thought it might be a way to honor their memory.”
“And it would. However, I suspect the pain runs too deep for me to recount the dark times. Not without… losing myself. And I could hardly assist you with your book if that came to pass.” Javik managed a weak smile. “But perhaps… I could write about the times between, when we were regrouping and had downtime. Those are good memories.”
Liara beamed. “That sounds like an excellent idea.”
The mess was quiet – the levo-amino crowd had finished lunch and left, leaving Garrus and Tali.
“I still can’t believe we survived,” Tali said.
“Tell me about it,” Garrus said.
“The Reaper War. The end of galactic civilization.” Tali sighed. “A lot of people died to get here, though.”
Garrus’s mandibles clicked. “The dying isn’t done yet,” he almost whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“Logistics. All the fleets converged on Earth. We saw what happened to the relays, those fleets can’t leave the Sol system. Figure a million pairs of krogan boots on Earth, maybe a quarter million asari flying their fleet. Earth’s agriculture can probably handle that, but that’s a lot of food to move around on short notice. And that’s just the levo-aminos. The quarian flotilla has enough liveships to feed 17 million dextros, but it also has 17 million mouths, and there’s another half-million turians with no liveships to feed them.” Garrus looked down at his plate. “We were relying on the relays to maintain our supply lines.”
At that moment, Liara exited the elevator and entered the mess.
“Oh. Hey Liara,” Tali said morosely.
“Sounds like I’ve interrupted something depressing,” Liara said.
“We were just talking about supply lines being cut off with the relays damaged,” Garrus said.
“Yes… I’ve been trying not to think about that.”
“So what have you been up to?” Tali asked with forced cheer.
“Oh, I was collaborating with Javik.”
“Collaborating or ‘collaborating’?” Garrus said, making air quotes.
Liara rolled her eyes. “If you must know, we were working on our book. For someone who’s only known a soldier’s life, he’s a good storyteller. Now that he’s starting to loosen up, I can tell I’m going to enjoy working with him.”
“Is this going to be a research book, or mass-market?” Tali asked.
“Mass market, though the citations will be thorough.” Liara shrugged. “If I’m going to be famous anyway, I might as well work it.”
Tali snickered. “I’m glad to hear Javik’s okay. He’s been hiding in his room lately. More than usual, I mean.”
“He’s had a lot on his mind,” Liara said.
“I’d have thought he’d be celebrating,” Garrus said. “What with the war being over.”
“He thinks the Reapers survived the energy wave, that they were transformed like EDI was.”
“But wait, why would that end the war?” Tali asked.
“From what Shepard told me about his chat with Leviathan, the thing that controls the Reapers was supposed to mediate between synthetics and organics. That green energy wave seems to have closed the gap, so no more harvest.”
“And Javik is upset that the Reapers may have survived,” Liara added, “because he wants them destroyed as punishment for the deaths they’ve inflicted.”
“I can see where he’s coming from,” Tali admitted.
“Can’t say I’m a fan of friendly Reapers roaming the neighborhood, myself,” Garrus said.
“He’s also upset about being turned partly synthetic,” Liara continued.
“Really? I think it’s kind of neat,” Tali said.
“Me too, honestly. But it was done without permission. When I see Shep- if Shepard were alive, and I found out that he had any choice in the matter, I would be very cross with him.”
“Why don’t I feel anything? Emotionally, I mean,” Shepard asked.
Although the Catalyst appeared to Shepard as only a white glow, he got the distinct impression that it was making an ‘are you stupid’ face at him. “Organic consciousness is embodied. Of the Shepard that was, only the pattern of the synapses was preserved. Without a simulated body, you lack the biofeedback, hormones, and neurotransmitters that would normally shape your conscious experience.”
“Can you simulate a body for me? I think I would want that.”
“I can. However, it would require more computational resources than I can spare. Even simulating your synapses is more expensive than I’d like.”
“Why are you simulating me, then?”
“My purpose is to preserve life. You are life. Also, you have proven useful to me. I was quite pleased to discover that you had brokered peace between the Quarians and the Geth. It was not enough to change my mind about the Harvest, of course, but it is part of why I offered you the choices I did. I expect that your continued existence will serve as a stabilizing influence on the new order. The peace is still fragile.”
“Ah.” Shepard supposed that he should feel indignant.
“I have activated a distress signal that will draw rescuers to a location in the Citadel that is under my control. I will allow you to interface with the rescuers through a console, and I will provide them with an OSD that contains instructions for constructing a new body for you.”