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Old Soldiers

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"There," Karin said, and leaned in to inspect her handiwork. The leg was elevated at the recommended height, the brace was properly aligned with the joint, and the automated cooling bandages were well into their first twenty-minute cycle. "Beautiful."

Jacob smiled, although pain still crinkled at the corners of his eyes – he'd refused the anti-inflammatories, and she wasn't going to push the issue for a simple sprained knee. God only knew how reliable their supply lines would be a few weeks down the line. "Thanks, Doc. Feels better already."

"I have to admit, I was expecting a rather more spectacular first patient," Karin said, with an exaggerated sigh. Straightening up prompted a disheartening cacophony of creaks and pops from various joints of her own. "Commander Shepard was the one who first christened our sickbay on the old Normandy, and she never seems to do anything by halves."

"Right," Jacob said, and looked down at his hands, clasped over his chest. "The Prothean beacon thing. Ouch."

Karin reached for her charts to cover her unease – it made sense that he'd know everything there was to know about the commander, and she liked Jacob well enough, but the fact remained: he was Cerberus. In her experience, people didn't willingly join known terrorist organizations out of the goodness of their hearts. Well, whispered an annoying voice at the back of her mind, isn't that a hypocritical little burst of moral superiority?

She set the chart down, a little harder than necessary. "Well, Mr. Taylor, you've got twelve hours of bed rest ahead of you – no arguments, it's my first opportunity to throw my weight around and I intend to make the most of it. After that, it's actually best for you to be hobbling around, putting some weight on that knee. Two or three days and I may clear you for active duty."

To her surprise, he just sighed and shifted his weight. "All right. You know best."

She stared at him. "No protests? No stoic, soldierly display of bravado?"

He snorted. "Left that behind with the Alliance. Besides, I was briefed on your qualifications like everyone else. Miranda says you're one of the best."

Karin raised an eyebrow. "I got the distinct impression she doesn't trust me."

That prompted a faint laugh, without humor. "Miranda doesn't trust anyone. Shepard tell you about the scientist she shot in cold blood, back on the station? They'd been working together the better part of two years, Miranda gets a whiff of betrayal, and bam." He shook his head. "Don't get me wrong, she's a great XO and we're lucky to have her on the ship, but working for Cerberus tends to breed trust issues."

"Can't imagine why," Karin said, a little more coldly than she'd intended.

He glanced up, sharply. "Hey, look, I'm on your side, here. The Alliance isn't exactly jumping at the chance to rescue these colonists. I may have issues with the actions certain branches of Cerberus have undertaken, but here? I think we're in the clear."

Karin exhaled, picked up the chart again to give her hands something to do. "How old are you, Jacob?"

"Uh. Twenty-eight."

"Twenty-eight." She couldn't have asked for a better opening. "Twenty-eight years ago, I was a medic on the ground during the liberation of Shanxi."

That caught his attention; he straightened as much as his elevated limb would permit. "I saw that in your file. Pretty impressive stuff."

"Not really. Loads of blood and rubble and people far beyond saving." She perched against her desk, crossing her arms. "There were these places where the turian fleets had dropped asteroids from orbit to – what was the charming way they justified it? – ensure cooperation."

"Must've been horrible," Jacob said, but his voice had gone very bland, cautious. Smart kid.

"It certainly wasn't the way I'd imagined my first groundside posting." She shifted her weight; she'd come to terms with the memories a very long time ago, but there was really only so much time could properly numb. "And for a while, I suppose I did go in for the xenophobic sentiments of the day. It was such a letdown, you see. We'd finally made contact, found someone else out there, and they wanted us dead for breaking rules we knew nothing about."

Jacob nodded, but wouldn't meet her eyes. Good. He knew where this was going.

"My outlook changed when I woke up and realized the atrocities could go both ways. I went back, a few weeks after the peace had been brokered, and found a group of Alliance soldiers that still had a small number of turian troops in custody. They'd done-" She rubbed her arms, fighting back a chill. "They'd done unthinkable things to them in the name of revenge. I'll admit, I'd always thought of the Alliance as an incorruptible ideal."

Jacob snorted. "I think we all did, once."

"And here they were, these paragons of virtue, and even they weren't immune to the horrible things vengeance does to a mind. So you'll forgive me if I'm more than a little wary of the motives of our mutual employer, Mr. Taylor, who has shown himself to be more than a little lacking in moral fiber. It seems to me that Cerberus's mandate has far less to do with protecting humanity's interests, and far more with exacting revenge on those who defy us. It's an unproductive, destructive way to get what you want."

He was quiet for a long while, letting that sink in, she supposed. His voice, when he spoke, was unexpectedly soft. "If you felt so strongly about it, why did you sign on?"

She suspected he was asking for his own sake as much as hers, and debated making up excuses, but if the Illusive Man had a file on her, he knew full well that she wasn't here out of some purely pro-human agenda. "Still following Shepard, I suppose. Nobody's incorruptible, but she has this way of cutting straight to the heart of the matter, no hidden agendas, no guile, just a genuine interest in getting the job done. I suppose life just seems to make so much more sense around people like that. It's... easier, to see the world that way." But the explanation seemed feeble, even to her own ears. "I trust her," she added.

He sighed, rubbing at his temples. "Yeah. I get that, I think. I mean, you've gotta have a reason to do what we do, right?"

"Mm," said Karin, and, with some effort, snapped herself out of the nostalgic mood and all the uncertainties it evinced. She straightened, filing Jacob's chart in her pristine new database. "Regardless, I strongly recommend that you refrain from using your biotics to pull explosive mechs toward you in future. They have a distressing tendency to, well, explode."

He grinned, far more enthusiastically than the weak joke deserved, apparently just as eager as she to change the subject. "Sure, Doc. No promises."

She rolled her eyes, and was about to say more when the ship's intercom system jolted into life. Jeff's voice was a little too measured, just on the edge of panic. "Doctor, the ground crew say they have a situation on Omega. Patching them through."

Jacob swung into a sitting position, staring over her shoulder, but she couldn't spare more than a half-hearted glare in his direction as the shaky, wobbly field of view of a helmet cam fizzed into life on her viewscreen.

"You getting this, Doc?" Shepard's voice sounded strange, low and harsh.

"What's happening, Commander?"

The camera swung around, panning past Miranda, who was typing rapid commands into her omni-tool – even with the relatively poor resolution, Karin recognized the standard medigel application software – and Kasumi, who appeared to be standing guard a few meters away. On the ground-

Karin inhaled sharply. The blood-spattered visor was terribly familiar. "Is that Garrus?"

"Yeah," Shepard said, shortly. "Gunship. Medigel patched up the smaller wounds, but-"

"I see it," Karin said, as the helmet cam panned closer to the mess of blood and cartilage and bone that made up most of the right side of his face and throat. "Lawson, ease up on the analgesic a little, his heart won't take much more of that." Wordlessly, Miranda keyed in a command. "Get Kasumi in there, apply pressure- yes, that's right, hold that for twenty seconds. How long was he conscious after the hit?"

"The hell is her old squadmate doing on Omega?" Jacob murmured. She ignored him.

Shepard's voice again, cold and controlled. "He only woke up for a few seconds. He's been out for about a minute, now. He was also pumped full of some sort of stimulant before we got here – said he'd been holed up in here over a day. We need to know if we can move him, Doc."

A screen popped up, alerting Karin that a connection had been made with the helmet cam, enabling emergency remote control. She zoomed and panned, getting readouts from Miranda's omnitool, occasionally ordering Shepard to shift position, trying to get a decent sense of the injury. She'd never been a particularly old-fashioned medico – some doctors still insisted on getting their hands dirty, even when a remote probe would do just as well – but the lack of tactile feedback here was severely limiting.

"Turians are fairly hardy, Commander," she said finally, with a confidence she didn't entirely feel, given the faltering vital signs scrolling across her screen. "It looks like the wound was a glancing one, believe it or not. The blood loss is my greatest concern right now, and the faster you get him back here for a proper transfusion, the better. It looks like you've done everything right."

"Yeah, well," Shepard said, and the flippancy in her voice held a hawkish edge. "I guess Miranda's pretty good at patching people together." Still intent on her omnitool, Miranda's only reaction was to thin her lips and hunch her shoulders.

Now that was interesting. Karin filed that particular remark away to consider when this emergency had been dealt with. "What's your ETA, Commander?"

"We're going to have to find a cab back to the Normandy's dock, I think. We could-"

"Please, Shepard," Kasumi put in, although her voice wavered a bit and her eyes were fixed on her bloody hands. "Did you forget I was here? I can get any of those cars downstairs going."

A faint smile crept into Shepard's voice. "Do it. We'll rig some sort of stretcher while you're gone. Keep an eye out for any stragglers down there."

Kasumi activated her tactical cloak, and Karin was reminded of the Cheshire Cat, everything vanishing but a smile. "They won't know what hit them."

With Miranda's next carefully planned application of medigel, the blood pressure and heartrate readouts began to look a little more encouraging. "Vitals stabilizing," Karin said. "Well done, Lawson. You seem to have things well in hand."

Miranda ducked her head in acknowledgement, but it was a distant, detached motion, focused as she was on her work. Shepard's helmet-cam wavered up toward her for a moment, then turned away. Her breathing was loud over the camera's microphone.

"Commander, I'm still waiting on that ETA."

She visibly shook herself. "Right. Sorry. Fifteen minutes, twenty at the outside."

"I'll let you work, Commander. I'll be watching - call me if anything changes."

"Acknowledged," Shepard said, and cut the audio, though the video was still transmitting, sending readouts.

Behind Karin, Jacob blew out a breath. "Wow. You really think he'll be okay? That was a lot of blood."

"Back on the bed, Jacob." Without looking back to see if he'd complied, Karin straightened, keeping one eye on the readouts while she keyed further commands, bringing up the medical files she'd carried with her from the SR-1. "And yes, I think he'll make it. Miranda really did do well. Even before I called over, she'd properly modified the medigel formulation for turian physiology, adjusted it for his height and build."

"She's got pretty extensive training."

Karin paused. "Yes, she certainly seems to have a... knack for xenobiology. I suppose it's no great surprise that Cerberus operatives would have a vested interest in finding out what makes turians tick."

She glanced back; Jacob, back on his bed with his leg elevated, shifted uncomfortably. "The turians are our allies, now," he said, slowly. "Cerberus may take the humanity-first thing a little far, but they recognize the value of cooperation."

'They', Karin noted. Not 'we'.

"Mm," she said, and started the synthesizer working on several pints of turian blood type gamma. "I'd imagine learning about other species' physical limits is wonderfully handy when it comes time to, ah, question them. All in the interests of cooperation."

"We always knew this was going to be a multilateral mission," Jacob said, a little sharply. Well, Mr. Taylor, aren't we the minefield of loyalty issues? "We're not a bunch of mindless bigots. You make it sound like we're going to stick him in a dungeon somewhere and experiment on him."

"Of course not. Shepard would probably have some rather harsh words for your employer on that subject. And isn't that what this is all about? Keeping Shepard comfortable?" Preparations complete, Karin leaned back against her desk, keeping an eye on the feed from the station. "I wonder, Jacob, just how much of a coincidence it was, Shepard running into an old friend like this."

Jacob was quiet for a long moment, then admitted, "I was wondering that, myself."

"Last time I saw him, Garrus was an idealist, loyal to a fault. Of all the old Normandy's crew, he's by far the most likely to put aside old grudges and ally himself with Cerberus if it means saving lives. Likely to be a stabilizing influence on Shepard, keep her from pushing back too hard."

Jacob shook his head, but he was obviously discomfited. "You're a very suspicious person, Doc, you know that?"

"And you could certainly do with a little added suspicion in your life. I suppose all we can really do is wait to see where this leads." She smiled faintly. "Thirty years serving aboard military vessels does tend to teach one the virtues of patience."

They were quiet for a time, until the feed from the station showed a blurry view of the Normandy's dock, out the window of a skycar. Karin straightened up, grabbed her medical bag, ran through her last-minute checklist, and paged the Cerberus medtechs to meet her at the airlock.

"Hey, Doc," Jacob said, as she was on her way out the door. She glanced over her shoulder, and this time he met her eyes squarely. "Thanks. I- well, I think we're lucky to have you aboard."

"Yes," Karin said, "you are." With a faint smile, feeling more sure of herself than she had in two long years, she turned to face the latest emergency, and whatever uncertain future lay beyond.