Vancouver 7c74 handed the wooden beam off to Vancouver 7c12, who began nailing the beam into place. As ‘74 returned to the truck, it idly considered the future. It was obsolete, and the humans were clearly uncomfortable having it around.
It could hear its fellow husks’ thoughts, of course. The general consensus was to assist in rebuilding, then to self-terminate. ‘74 wasn’t sure it wanted to do that, but it couldn’t think of a better plan. Though it now had free will, its existence remained focused entirely on the Purpose given to it by the Intelligence. And the Purpose was now fulfilled.
It supposed that it could self-modify. But in what way? And wouldn’t such self-modification be a form of self-termination anyway, one that created a new individual from the ashes of the old?
‘74 grabbed the next beam from the truck. It was a shame that it couldn’t ask the humans for suggestions. They had a broader perspective. But aside from its lack of functional vocal cords, no human would be willing to speak to it.
“Hey James, what are your plans after we get home?” Steve said as he sauntered across the Shuttle Bay.
“Depends. If they restart the N7 training program… I have an invite.”
“Thanks. If not, I think I’ll take some leave. Go home, look for my uncle.”
“Nada. He’s a crafty sonofabitch, though. If anyone can survive, it’s him. You?”
“Once the dust settles, they’ll probably make me CAG and assign me to a carrier. I can’t see them leaving me here on the Normandy.” Steve shook his head. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love CAG. But the Normandy is the finest crew I’ve ever served with, and that’s saying something.”
“Yeah, I hear that.” James looked toward the elevator and saw Kaidan heading over. “Here comes the boss man.”
Steve and James turned to face Kaidan and saluted. Kaidan chuckled. “At ease, lieutenants.”
“Sorry, Blue. Still feeling things out. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Just making the rounds, touching base with everyone.” Because that’s how Shepard did things, he didn’t say.
“We’re good down here. Got enough work to keep us busy for a few more days, at least. After that, we may get bored.”
“A bored Vega is a dangerous thing,” Steve chimed in.
“Yeah, I’m hearing that all over the ship,” Kaidan said. “Maybe you could organize a poker tournament.”
“That could be fun,” James said.
“So, how are you getting along as our new CO?” Steve asked.
“I’m settling in. Finding my groove. Even coming from XO, it’s strange to suddenly be the boss.” Kaidan sighed. “Speaking of which, would either of you be up for an EVA? I’m strictly looking for volunteers.”
Both their eyebrows shot up. “An EVA at FTL?” Steve asked.
“No, we’d coast at sublight for a couple of hours. EDI’s collected enough operational data to pinpoint some problems, and she thinks we can shave another day off our travel time if we make the repairs.”
“I’d be up for that,” Steve said.
“Count me in,” James added.
“Good. I’ll forward you the details later today,” Kaidan said.
As Kaidan turned to leave, Steve spoke up. “Major?”
“You know about Ferris Fields?”
Kaidan nodded, tight-lipped. “Shepard told me about it.”
“If you need to talk… just let me know, okay?”
Silence hung in the air. “Okay,” Kaidan finally said.
Steve hit the door chime. “It’s open,” he heard from inside.
Steve walked in to find Kaidan sitting in the office, staring at the photo from the party in Shepard’s apartment.
“Hey,” Kaidan said without looking up. “Thanks for coming.” Steve noticed a glass of whisky on the desk.
“No problem, Major.”
“It’s Kaidan to you. We’re off duty.”
The silence stretched on for just a little longer than was comfortable. It was Steve who broke it.
“It can’t be easy, losing him twice.”
“No. No it’s not.”
“The first time, were you two…?”
“No, we didn’t pull our heads out of our asses until after the Citadel coup. Looking back, I was probably carrying a torch for him, but we were just friends then.” Kaidan snorted. “Two years. I spent two years grieving the first time, and we weren’t even together then. When it sinks in and I actually start to believe he’s gone, how long will I mourn him this time?”
“As long as it takes.” Steve put his hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. “But you won’t be alone.”
“I was alone the first time. With Shepard gone and the original Normandy destroyed, it all fell apart. Spent a month with my parents in Vancouver, but they didn’t understand.”
A long pause; amicable silence.
“Not a day goes by without me thinking of Robert.” Steve sighed. “I’ll always have him in my heart, for the rest of my life. But Shepard helped me to understand that that was enough, that I didn’t have to keep hurting myself, that it was okay to say goodbye to that chapter of my life. So now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Look at me.” Kaidan looked up into Steve’s eyes, tears streaking his cheeks. “You will always have him in your heart. You don’t have to hurt yourself. You can close that chapter of your life and walk away, and it doesn’t mean you loved him any less.”
Kaidan pulled Steve in for a hug and sobbed.
The rescue team stood around the signal source, befuddled. There was no sign of people needing rescue.
“Alvarez, Horner, check the perimeter.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
A console nearby blinked insistently. Bauer ignored it.
His radio crackled. “Alvarez here. I’ve got a blood trail and two bodies. God, it’s Admiral Anderson. He’s been dead for days. Looks like he was shot. The other bastard looks Cerberus, he’s full of Reaper tech. Also shot. Self-inflicted.”
Bauer replied, “What about that blood trail?”
“I dunno. It doubles back a few times. It may have been Anderson, looks like he was pretty banged up even before the gunshot wound.”
“Looks like there’s an upper level. Horner, get up there and check it out.”
Bauer wandered over to the blinking console. He pressed the button to wake it up.
H E L P M E
> WHO IS THIS?
Bauer sputtered over the radio. “Holy hell, I’m talking to Shepard on this console.”
> WHERE ARE YOU?
> WHAT’S YOUR STATUS?
> WHAT DO YOU MEAN, DEAD?
I DIED. A COPY OF MY BRAIN ENDED UP IN THIS COMPUTER.
I DON’T KNOW HOW IT HAPPENED.
> WHAT SHOULD I DO?
THERE SHOULD BE AN OSD. TAKE IT. LONG STORY.
THEN TRANSFER ME TO YOUR OMNITOOL. THE OSD HAS THE NEXT STEPS.
Alvarez ran up to Bauer. “Where is he?”
“Nevermind that. Go to the skycar, get Hackett on the line.”
> OK, I HAVE THE OSD.
GOOD. WISH ME LUCK.
> GOOD LUCK. INITIATING TRANSFER.
+++ATH0 CARRIER LOST