The gun range turned out to be a converted basement of one of the other buildings on the premises. The fact that the building in question was the morgue certainly felt like a weird combination, but it still drew a chuckle from Shepard as Vakarian helped him traverse the winding paths laid out between the trees and the bushes and the flowerbeds.
"I have to admit, this place is actually prettier on the outside. Indoors, I sometimes feel like I'm in a mental institution, not a real hospital," he said to the sniper as they paused to let a wheelchair-bound man pass through. Looking at the scarred stumps of what used to be the man's legs, Shepard felt a sudden pang of guilt so common to people who could still walk upright, however badly, upon seeing a paraplegic or quadriplegic.
"Well, it is in part a mental institution," Garry admitted, holding the morgue door open for Shepard to hobble through, "As a lot of us in here are here because our heads aren't screwed on straight."
"Yeah, tell me about it," Shepard nodded in agreement as they greeted the male nurse wheeling a gurney with what was obviously a body covered by a sheet on it past them, "I clearly remember I'm trained on how to use and service an M-4, how to strip it down for cleaning and reassemble it in the field, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it looks like," he stressed the last two words in what he hoped would feel like anguish. He hoped it was vague enough - weapon designations were not that different anywhere in the galaxy, and besides, he did know how to disassemble and reassemble the M-4 Predator by heart. If it existed here, he was half-certain an M-4 was something different. A shotgun, a grenade launcher, anything.
The descent down to the basement level went smoother than he'd expected - there was an elevator in the building, clearly intended for moving the bodies to the freezers below, but with the conversion to a classified-agent facility, the morgue apparently no longer needed that much freezers anymore.
"And we'll see what can be done about that, shall we?" Vakarian offered, opening the final door - admitting Shepard into the company of a tired-looking man dressed in combat fatigues, the first he'd seen wearing anything approaching a uniform in this place, slouched in a chair, and a well-built woman of about his crutch-limited height with her hair rolled up into a bun to apparently avoid getting it all over the place. The two were arguing and were not at all expecting anyone to walk in on them.
"...look, all I'm saying is, it's creepy enough that you're in the same building they store dead bodies in," the woman was protesting, "What you're suggesting is downright disgusting."
"Relax, Williams, it was only a joke!" the man replied, "Nobody's actually ever gonna let me use an actual dead body as a target, even if I really want to do that!"
"Hey, MacCarran, still don't know when to stop joking, eh?" Garry said as he shook hands with the man before turning his attention to the woman, "Ash, for what it's worth, it's really not worth the effort getting pissed at the guy, he's not here for his good sense of humour, y'know?"
"Sure, Vakarian, I'd like to see how you feel when someone insults your faith and then tops it off with suggestions of abusing the dead," the woman replied, visibly relaxing nonetheless, "So, who's your friend?"
Finally managing to unfreeze himself, Shepard offered the surprisingly not-dead-herself Ashley Williams a hand to shake.
"I'm Commander Shepard, and I was told this is the place to go to in order to shoot some guns," he said by way of introductions, before turning to MacCarran, "Anything that goes "bang" and won't dislocate anything weakened by several years of coma would do at this point."
"Are you always that formal, or is Commander your first name?" Ashley asked, folding her arms across her chest. She was a lot less respectful than the Gunnery Chief Williams that died on Virmire -- then again, she didn't know him from Saren, and he most certainly wasn't in uniform, so her sass wasn't entirely unjustified. And, given the time differential, it was more than probable she wasn't a Gunnery Chief now, if she ever was one. Can't have the Williams curse ruin your family if you didn't have a grandfather giving up a colony to the turians, now can you?
"Retrograde amnesia," he replied, jabbing himself into his left temple with a fingertip, "The doctors insist that telling me my full name would somehow ruin the recovery process."
"That oughta suck," the quartermaster piped in, getting up from his chair and fiddling with the brim of his baseball cap (bearing a stylized target on it - real subtle, Shepard thought) as if he had something else to say to Williams but couldn't spit it out in front of the two other men. "So, something with a smaller kick, huh?"
Having asked that, he moved towards a closed door without so much as waiting on an answer - Shepard belatedly realized that his words probably fell under the clause of "thinking out loud". The door, apparently leading to the actual range, yielded to MacCarran's second attempt at unlocking it, and admitted all four of them, one-by-one, Shepard being the last, into the darkened space of what obviously used to be a place for storing dead bodies - the outlines of the removed freezers could still be clearly made out on the floor and ceiling.
As the lights flickered into existance on the ceiling, Shepard quietly watched the others. MacCarran was busy unlocking the gun lockers - aparently he didn't bother to do it unless he had someone to use them walking in, like he did now. Vakarian was already sizing up rifles in one of the lockers - he really wasn't all that different from the Garrus that Shepard remembered. Williams... now her, he did not expect. This was the first major deviation from what he was used to. She was quietly staring into the "distance" of the actual range, resting her palms against the counter of one of the firing lanes.
"It's "Major", Commander," she said without turning to face him, "And I'd suggest you watch where you point those eyes," she added before finally turning, leaning against a separator between the booths. Shepard, who by that point had already gone from looking at her to looking at the targets, raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"I have no idea what you mean, Major Williams," he replied earnestly - having an inkling was not the same, after all - and tried to change the subject, "So, what's your damage? You don't look like a psych patient, and bear no discernible wounds. How'd you end up in this place?"
"Ah, the second most popular question," she smiled as she underlined the word "second", "Radiation poisoning, something unusual or so they tell me. So I'm stuck here despite being combat-ready, and it's driving me nuts."
"Radiation and combat-ready don't go hand-in-hand, Williams," Garry proposed, hoisting a sleek-looking compact rifle out of the locker, one that looked like it could be easily broken down and stuffed into a carrying case, maybe one that didn't actually look like it had a gun in it. Shepard, who was more used to guns that folded down into becoming their own carrying cases, admitted to himself that he did not know how he arrived at that train of thought. He'd've dwelled on it more, but he was snapped out of his reverie by MacCarran's voice.
"Alright, Shepard, let's try you out with this one. Protective glasses and earmuffs are over there, I'm putting the gun in a booth while I go get you some ammo, a'ight?"
And again, he moved without waiting on an answer. Shepard hobbled over to what apparently had been designated as his booth, and picked up the unloaded gun. The shape was unmistakeable, and the principle of operation apparently remained the same across the centuries - put your hand on the grip, your index finger on the trigger, aim down the iron sights or whatever doohickey you may have strapped onto the gun in their stead, and you were ready to shoot things.
A pair of plastic glasses and a pair of earmuffs found their way onto his counter. He looked up to see Williams staring back at him.
"Don't tell me you've forgotten even the basic firing range safety rules, Commander."
"No worries there, Major, I was just trying to get myself to admit that I don't actually remember guns. Not their names, not what they look like. I recall how to use one, how to hold it, how to aim and shoot, how to lead the target and how to kill or disable a person if need be. But this?" he held up the gun in his hand, "This is somehow gone."
"Wait, does that even happen outside of movies?" she asked skeptically, folding her arms across her chest once again, "How do you remember how to shoot a gun without remembering what one looks like?"
"Motor memory," Shepard replied without missing a beat, "The body remembers what motions to make, and for that, it doesn't need to remember what it is motioning with."
He smiled inwardly. Concealing his ineptitude with modern-day weapons would not be problematic now, as the only thing left unaccounted for was how these weapons recoil and kick back - and that had more to do with the issue of trying not to hit yourself on the face with the gun you were firing.
He put on the glasses and put the earmuffs around his neck for ease of placement on the ears and turned back just in time to see MacCarran emerge with several clips of what appeared to be crude projectile ammunition.
"Even the Batarians have better weapons," he fumed to himself, accepting them and putting them carefully down onto the counter, side-by-side. And froze stiff.
"Something wrong?" Vakarian asked, noticing the motionlessness - MacCarran was gone again, apparently returned to the admittance room.
"Garry..." Shepard began, fighting down the urge to say "Garrus", "Have you ever seen this symbol before?" he asked, holding up one of the clips to the light so that Garry could see the manufacturer's logo, a vertically elongated hexagon with a split in the lowest angle, appearing as if cradled in a pair of stylized hands - in actuality, two lines that ran parallel the edges of two sides of the hexagon each, arranged symmetrically around it. Cerberus.
"Sure. Haven't you? It's all over the place. Stationery, report forms, all the paperwork. Heck, there's a giant one right above the entrance to the hospital. It's the sign of the CIA branch that runs and maintains this place, apparently."
Dark Space (Chapter Five)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jun 23, 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.