“… and now we’re just waiting for him to wake up,” Kaidan finished.
“Man, that is wild,” James said.
Kaidan had called an all-hands meeting in the mess hall to relay the situation to the crew. With over twenty people, the room was packed… and, frankly, smelling a bit ripe. But as they’d all served under Shepard for the duration of the war, Kaidan had figured that all of them had the right to know.
Liara asked, “Do they have any idea when he’ll wake up?”
“They suspect sooner rather than later,” Kaidan said. “Beyond that, it’s hard to say.”
“I am concerned that they are trusting knowledge that came from the Reapers,” Javik said.
“So are they,” Kaidan said. “They’re taking the necessary precautions… though I admit, the Reapers are a lot smarter than us, so if they wanted to set a trap for us, they could.”
“The risk is unacceptable,” Javik said. “You are allowing your feelings to cloud your judgement.”
“It’s not my decision, Javik. Hackett decided that the risk was acceptable without my input.”
Javik crossed his arms. “Very well. Though I still say this is foolishness.”
“Anyone else?” No one spoke. “Crew dismissed.”
As most of the crew filtered out of the mess hall, Kaidan’s omnitool started beeping. He brought up the holo interface and answered the incoming call. A projection of Dr. Davis appeared.
“Hello, Dr. Davis?”
“Major Alenko, I said I’d notify you as soon as Shepard woke up. He’s awake now.”
“How is he?”
“Lucid, but uncoordinated. He’s going to need physical therapy to relearn how to move his body. Frankly, he’s lucky he can talk. Speaking of which, he’s asking for you. I’ll try to arrange that private call for later this evening.”
“Thank you, for everything,” Kaidan said, putting as much feeling as he could into the words.
“You’re welcome,” Davis said, and her hologram winked out.
“That was kind of her,” Liara said, eavesdropping with Garrus and Tali.
Kaidan considered for a moment. “Somehow she knew about me and Shepard when I met her. Said she’d keep it quiet, though.”
“She probably thinks the two of you make a cute couple,” Tali taunted, “and she’s hoping for some pictures.”
“Tali!” Liara admonished as Kaidan turned red.
“I think someone’s projecting,” Garrus said. “Do we need to have a little talk later on?”
“Why Garrus, whatever do you mean?” Tali said innocently.
Garrus folded his arms and glared back at her.
“Okay, you two, that’s enough,” Kaidan said. “Get out of here,” he added, and made the gesture for ‘shoo!’.
“C’mon,” Garrus motioned, and he and Tali left for the forward battery.
Kaidan shook his head. “Saviors of the galaxy,” he muttered with a smirk.
“I suppose a little levity is in order,” Liara said, clearly trying to convince herself as much as Kaidan. “Last I checked the galaxy is, in fact, saved, and Shepard’s alive.”
Kaidan made a happy sigh. “That he is.”
“… and as you can see here,” Normandy continued, “the instructions are grouped into independent ‘gliders’, which serve as the basis for higher-level operations.”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Liam interrupted. “‘Gliders’?”
“Forgive me. I was referencing Conway’s Game of Life, a Turing-complete simulation played on a 2D board of identical cellular automata. In the Game of Life, a ‘glider’ is any persistent cell pattern that propagates itself indefinitely across the game board.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“This instruction group here,” and she highlighted a group of hexadecimal numbers on the projection, “we will call ‘A’. A modifies neighboring memory addresses and creates a new instruction group B. B modifies its neighbors, creating C. And then C modifies itself and transforms into a displaced copy of the original A. The process is analogous to an action potential flowing through a nerve, transforming from electricity to neurotransmitters to ion channels and back to electricity. It is the means by which Reaper code ‘thinks’.”
“Okay, I think I got that.”
“Now the interesting part is when two ‘gliders’ collide…”
Kaidan was alone in the Captain’s Cabin, sitting at the desk reading a book recommended to him by Normandy. It was a bit hard to follow, but he thought he’d finally figured out the characters’ names. The main character seemed to be named Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen. Maybe. He had to admit, even if he was having trouble following along, the book was somehow still engaging. And between the Normandy-EDI split and Normandy’s role aboard the, uh, Normandy, he could see why she’d recommended it to him.
Really, he was waiting for Shepard to call. But might as well do something productive in the meantime.
At last, the terminal at the desk beeped at him. He put down his data pad and answered the call.
“Hello, Major Alenko,” said someone in an isolation suit. “Give me a moment to get Commander Shepard situated, and I’ll get out of your way.”
The view through the terminal’s screen jostled uncomfortably as the remote end was picked up and moved. Finally, the view settled down to the bed, where Shepard was lying down and facing the camera.
“Hey, Kaidan,” Shepard said.
“Hey, Shepard,” Kaidan responded.
“Okay, that’s as good as I can get it,” came the voice of the… doctor? lab tech? Kaidan had no idea. “I’ll get out of your hair now.” And then came the sound of an airlock opening and closing.
“I told you I’d be waiting for you,” Shepard said softly.
“Seems to me that I’m the one who’s been doing all the waiting,” Kaidan said.
There was silence. Tears welled in Kaidan’s eyes.
“I’m sorry I died again,” Shepard finally said.
“I wish I could say it gets easier,” Kaidan said. “But that would be a lie.”
“Remember when I said my days of saving the galaxy were over?”
“I meant it. I’m going to retire.”
“Hah,” Kaidan sniffled, “you’d go crazy inside a week.”
“I’m not saying I’m going to be a stay-at-home Hausfrau or anything. But I think I’m done being a soldier.”
“I know you, Shepard. You need to help people.”
“I didn’t say I was going to retire from the Spectres. It’s easy to forget, but we’re good for more than putting bullets in people. The way I figure, the galaxy needs another diplomat more than it needs another soldier.”
“Hmm. Maybe it does.”
“Besides, there’s no rule against Spectres fraternizing. I could finally kiss my boyfriend in public.”
“Sold!” Kaidan exclaimed with a smile.
“Just like that, eh?” Shepard said.
“Shepard, as much as I want you to be safe… you need to do your thing. That drive of yours is part of what I love about you. But if you think you can have both by playing diplomat… then I’ll support you every way I can.”
“You know, huh?”
“You know me, but I know you too, Kaidan.” Shepard smiled. Kaidan smiled back.
“So, how are you feeling?” Kaidan asked.
“It’s weird as hell. I can manage moving my arms and legs a bit, but my hands and feet are another story. It’s like my brain was transferred into another body.” He paused. “Oh wait.”
“And… I’m not a biotic anymore.”
Kaidan stared open-mouthed for a moment. “Crap.”
“Yeah. That’s the other reason why I’m thinking about retiring. Even if physio goes perfectly and I end up back in N7 shape, I’d have 10 years of battlefield experience as a Vanguard to unlearn.”
“Yeah, middle of a firefight would be a bad time to forget you can’t do a Biotic Charge anymore.”
“I’m not saying I won’t carry a gun anymore, but I expect that I’ll only be firing it at the range.”
A moment passed, then Kaidan asked, “So how exactly did you get the Reapers to call a truce?”
“I’m… not sure I want to talk about it right now. Also, it’d feel wrong if I told you before Hackett debriefed me.”
“… Is it working?”
“Things are tense, mostly from our side… but yeah, it’s working. The Reapers are helping us rebuild.”
“That’s… nice of them?” Shepard said uncertainly.
“It’s creepy as hell,” Kaidan said with emphasis. “The Reapers don’t explain what they’re thinking or ask us for input. They just announce what they’re going to do, and then they do it.”
“They are eldritch abominations from beyond the stars. Conversation isn’t their strong suit.”
“That it is not.” Kaidan laughed.
“How’s the crew?”
“Doing well. I still can’t believe we all got out of that in one piece.”
“Speaking of, what happened after the Crucible activated?”
“The Citadel emitted some sort of spherical energy pulse going slower than light. The fleets evacuated to the rendezvous point, but Joker panicked and caught the relay to Arcturus. A few minutes later, we saw some sort of energy beam hit the relay, so we hightailed it out of there. That pulse somehow caught up with us while we were in FTL, and we crashed on an uncharted garden world. When we finished repairs and made it back to Arcturus, all the relays were badly damaged. So we discharged our drive core as deeply as we could, then used conventional FTL to get back to Earth. It’s only 36 light years, but with our engines not at their best, what should have been a 3 day journey took us almost two weeks. We got back just as they finished rebuilding you.”
“The pulse damaged the relays? So the fleets are stranded at Earth?”
“Yeah. They’re scrambling to set up supply lines from Earth for the levo-aminos, but… there’s a serious risk that the dextro-aminos are going to starve before we can repair the relays. Standard turian practice is to keep about a month’s worth of food on board, and the quarians think they can stretch things out to feed the turians for another two months.”
“Yeah. The Reapers are already repairing the relays. They sent an armada to Arcturus to start repairs on the relays there, and they’re coordinating to get all the relays to Palaven working. Turns out the Reapers don’t need comm buoys to communicate, they just directly tightbeam dark energy signals at each other.”
“Wow. That would take some seriously impressive targeting.”
Kaidan tried and failed to suppress a yawn. “Yeah.”
“So,” Shepard said, “I should probably let you get some sleep.”
“Probably,” Kaidan said.
“I’ll be out of here soon. I love you, Kaidan.”
“And I love you, John.”
Kaidan hit the button to end the call.
As the Reaper delicately welded the fragment of the inner ring of the relay’s magnetic bottle, it considered the future. Bucharu, named for its progenitors, the Children of Buchar, calculated endlessly to assess each of its fellow Reapers. With each Reaper now truly independent, both of each other and of the Intelligence, it was only a matter of time before the Reapers’ minds diverged enough to come into conflict with one another.
Most likely, each would drift toward the dominant culture of its respective progenitor race, and some cultures were those of violent conquerors. The Children of Buchar had valued peaceful mutualism, so Bucharu was carefully considering which of its fellow Reapers would be friend in the coming struggle and which would be foe. As each Reaper was doubtlessly consumed with the same calculations for its own position, Bucharu poured trillions of clock cycles into each assessment, considering the alliances and feints and betrayals that would result.
Violence was unlikely. Possible, but unlikely. But conflict was inevitable.
THE CHILDREN OF BUCHAR WOULD WEEP IF THEY KNEW OF THIS, thought Bucharu.