"So, Commander, how goes your recovery?" Miranda Lawson, CIA Special Agent (at least her badge said so), asked, leaning against the table. Shepard was certain her dress violated a few laws of gravity - which, in a world without nanofibers, element zero and kinetic barriers felt just a little bit implausible - and all that was done with the express purpose of attracting as much attention to her cleavage as humanly possible without actually exposing much naked flesh to the casual observer. "We've been told you're exceeding expectations."
"That depends on what sorts of expectations you had, I suppose," Shepard deflected, "After all, half a year ago, you probably still doubted whether I would ever wake up."
"Says here you're showing excellent results on the firing range," Jacob Taylor, NSA Specialist (again, at least according to the badge - the Cerberus tie made that highly questionable), stated, more for the air in the room rather than anyone in particular, "Not so well on the physical recovery front, I see."
He looked up from Shepard's file onto the man himself. Shepard bitterly noted that the file Jacob was holding didn't have his first name either - the only thing he genuinely could not remember despite the best of tries. He somehow felt that if he got it back - got his name back - he would understand what he is doing here, and how he can get back to the Normandy, if that was at all possible.
"Not enough time yet. Shooting is a motor skill - soon as I could hold a gun steady, I had to try if I could aim it. I can," Shepard explained calmly, watching their reactions, trying to remember who they were in his world, and who they could be here. "Jacob's former special ops, idealist, thinks he's doing the world a favour, working for Cerberus. Miranda's a yes-girl, jumping at every opportunity to distance herself from her father, secure her position as a valuable operative. I wonder if that holds true here as well..."
"Yeah, it's like riding a bike, you never forget it," Jacob admitted with a half-smile. The soldier in him evidently still outweighed the intelligence officer, and Miranda didn't approve, judging by the complicated motion her upper lip went through at the sound of that. "Right, they used to date, at least the ones I know used to. Hmmm...”
"We've also gotten reports from the doctors that you have started to remember bits of your past life, is that correct?" Miranda asked after a slight awkward pause.
"Yeah, though not a lot," Shepard said, "Some bits of people I used to serve with, some of the battles I've been in," he added, trying to keep it as vague as possible, "Some of the wounds I've gotten, too," he added, rubbing his grenade-scarred leg.
"But not, say, important government secrets?" Miranda asked conversationally, as one would normally inquire about the weather the day before.
"Did I even have access to those?" Shepard asked earnestly, cocking an eyebrow at the question.
"Aaand that's an answer in itself, of sorts," she said more to herself than to anyone else, noting something down in the file. Shepard, in turn, noted to himself that she was more keen on writing things on paper, wherein the impression he got from the technology of this era of that being a sign of the past, with the future being in digital interaction, digital storage, computerized systems, maybe artificial intelligences... And two steps away from that, you have "Does this unit have a soul?"
"So, to what do I owe the honor of this visit, anyway?" Shepard asked, looking over them both, clasping his hands together on the table in front of him. The examination room the hospital staff emptied for them to hold the interview in was a lot less suitable for the purpose than the hospital's lounges, but it was also a lot more private... despite feeling quite the opposite, their voices resonating with a slight echo in the tile-and-laminate chamber of the room.
"We needed to ascertain your progress, see how soon you can get back into the field," Jacob answered earnestly, with a slight nod of his head that Shepard took to indicate that he had an optimistic outlook on the situation.
"And also to see how your brain was functioning," Miranda added, finally tearing her eyes away from the file, "And now that we have, we can bring in a different specialist to help you deal with the situation at hand - amnesia."
"Another doctor? Don't they have doctors here?" Shepard asked with an air of light-hearted suspicion - the kind one uses to say "so you don't know who ate all the cookies?"
"Not of that grade," Miranda replied condescendingly, "the doctors here are mostly for getting people out of the grave, whereas getting them back into the field is a separate matter entirely."
"So you're giving me the fast-track, huh?" Shepard grinned, leaning back in his chair.
"What makes you say that?" Jacob asked, leaning forward in what seemed like an instinctive attempt to close the widening distance between himself and Shepard.
"Well, I've seen some of the people in here - far healthier than me - who are still stuck here, because there are apparently still tests to be ran on them," Shepard explained, trying to restrain himself from naming any names. He shouldn't give them any more cards than there already were on the table, at least not yet, not until he was sure what cards they held.
"Perhaps because there are. This hospital deals with all sorts of ailments, some of which might not even have cures yet," Miranda conceded, "Experimental bioweapons, unknown bullet alloys, poisons... Or unexpected medical conditions, ones people don't usually survive or wake up from a coma after having - like you and your electrocution, for example," she went on, indicating Shepard with her index finger in a surprisingly not-at-all serious way.
"In case you were wondering, some associations can bring back memories," Shepard said after a slightly awkward pause, "For example, I've recently remembered a man I served with simply because another patient looks like him. I'm sure I would remember more if I knew my first name. You know it, right?"
He hoped he'd come off desperate enough to make what he had planned next believable. The problem with faking amnesia was that he couldn't readily use his pre-existing knowledge of all these people without giving himself away... "Readily" being the operative word. So he intended to change that.
"Yes, we know it," Jacob admitted.
"But we are under orders not to reveal it to you without a doctor's conclusion that you are ready. There is belief that this may trigger an unfortunate and unpredictable reaction on your part."
"Sure, the big being that you work for Cerberus and don't really hide it all that well, and I apparently wasn't a big friend of Cerberus in this world either. Admit it, that's why you're looking at me like that."
"You see, Miss Lawson-- Would you, by any chance, be related to a Henry Lawson, the industrialist?" he asked as nonchalantly as possible, congratulating himself on using a timeless "industrialist" instead of, say, "entrepreneur" or, what's worse, "despotic corporate head".
"None," Miranda replied without batting an eye, "It's not that rare a name, you know."
"Right. But Oriana is, on the contrary. Do you know anyone called Oriana?" Shepard pressed on, well aware of the risk he was running. This was old Miranda, Cerberus Cheerleader, who would kill, deceive and probably erase from existence for her sister, and do it with as little help as possible. In other words, all the things that got her into this job in the first place.
"N-no. Doesn't ring any bells either," Miranda protested, although it was easily noticeable even to the untrained eye that she became a few shades paler, quite the achievement considering her already rather fair skin.
"Oh well, maybe it's my mind playing tricks on me again. What about you, Mr. Taylor? Any relation to a Captain Ronald Taylor? Bearded guy, real authority type," Shepard went on, without missing a beat. He had to rattle their cage, because it was obvious they needed him, and that meant he could get away with certain... liberties.
"That is my father's name, but he was never a captain of anything, and never had that much of a beard, I'm afraid," Jacob replied, not as visibly shaken as Miranda, more like surprised at the mention of his father.
"Hmm. Maybe the doc was right about the hallucinations," Shepard added thoughtfully, finishing his one-man play.
"Hallucinations?" Miranda asked, the concern in her voice palpable - though obviously it had more to do with the investment Cerberus must've made in his recovery than any actual concern for his person.
"Well, it's too strong a word, but apparently, while I was out, I was dreaming the whole time, and the doc's afraid that my dreams have been bleeding into my new memories, making me feel like I'm remembering something real, whereas I'm actually recalling the dream," he explained, hoping that concept would hold water if necessary. After all, he did plant the necessary seeds before doing this.
"Dr. Tasoni doesn't mention this anywhere in her reports," Jacob said, flipping through the pages, "I wonder why."
"As do I. This is getting interesting, she was keeping that fact to herself - why? Cui prodest?" Shepard said to himself, resisting the urge to grin widely.
"In any case, if you've nothing else to ask of me, I'm afraid I have to be off," he said out loud instead, "I've got an appointment with a new doctor in half an hour, and I've never been to that part of the building. I'm afraid of getting lost."
"I guess we're done here, for now at least," Miranda accepted, getting up, her dress seemingly crackling under the stress of containing her well-toned body. The effect wasn't as prominent as it was in the catsuit he was more used to seeing her in, but still, Shepard had to admit - she knew that what she had was worth flaunting, and she did it with great skill.
"Alright, let's get going then," Jacob said, more in a rhetoric sense than as any actual order to Miranda - it was evident that in this universe he was more of a do-er than an order-er, and so she was the one calling the shots here. Just like in the other one.
"Go on ahead, get the car running, I have to visit the ladies' room," she replied, gathering up the file from the table. Jacob nodded and walked out, whistling some tune to himself as he went.
"I can help you find it if you need assistan--" Shepard began before being cut off due to an unexpected shortness of breath, perpetuated by an elbow jammed into his throat, pinning him against a wall. Normally, he'd get offended at it, but here was a CIA agent - something he assumed to be the local equivalent of a SPECTRE, judging by how everyone gave her a wide berth despite her appearance - and he was still a frail weak hospital patient.
"Now tell me, and be quick about it," she hissed through gritted teeth, casting a careful glance at the door to check whether Jacob came back to investigate the noises, "How do you know about Oriana? What else do you know?"
Dark Space (Chapter Eight)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jul 9, 2012.
About the Author
A Russian Econ major with a minor in graphomania. Used to write for a Russian gaming magazine a while back, apparently wasn't very good or they wouldn't've cancelled his column to replace it with one devoted to listing erotic fanservice moments in videogames and anime series. Has a penchant for long-winded distracted rants and a bizarre affection for very old videogames.