The face that was staring at him from the mirror felt alien. Not in the sense of inhumanity, but in the sense that it was not his. Not really. Like it was someone else, some actor portraying him in a vid, miscast, with the wrong hair, scars that were slightly off and were probably moulded plastic or something to that effect, and cheeks that were too gaunt. Unfortunately, as he scowled at the train of thought, so did the reflection, reminding Shepard once again that, at least for the time being, this was his face. This was him, Commander Shepard, saviour of the galaxy, the Butcher of Torfan...
Ah, Torfan. Trudging through Batarian space was never a thing any Alliance soldier could enjoy, but Torfan burned brightly in Shepard's past - on many levels. It was his first severe wound, landing him in a hospital much like this one while his leg grew back all the bits that it had lost. It was his first major command. It was the operation that earned him his grisly nickname and the reputation that came with it, as well as all of its luggage, both good and bad. It was one of the main reasons he was picked to be a SPECTRE...
He absent-mindedly reached out to scratch the scarring on his left shin, where a Batarian frag grenade nearly cleaved his foot off. It was different in this... reality, on this body, but it was still there, it still itched and ached in the exact same way and it was still clearly a frag grenade wound. This, oddly, far more than the facial scarring, made him feel certain that even if this wasn't his body, it was Shepard's. That is, of the Shepard of this world, whoever and wherever he was now. And that wasn't a particularly nice thought, because it left the window of opportunity that he WAS that Shepard wide open, possibly meaning that all that he remembered of being the other one, the warrior of the stars, was nothing but a half-remembered dream.
"Glad to see you up and about, Shepard," Vakarian called out from down the hall, seeing Shepard hobble along on his crutches. He could walk, sorta-kinda, on the treadmill now, and his muscles were still too weak, but as his restlessness was rather strong, he overpowered himself and opted for the crutches that Lara suggested (and which he initially turned down out of pride).
"Well, I can't exactly let something this ridiculous hold me down for long, can I?" Shepard replied, catching the vibe almost instantly. There was something about this... this man, that suddenly made each and every one of Shepard's worries to take a respectful step back in his presence. This made Vakarian's own presence in the hospital a bit of a conundrum. He was a bit too cheerful for someone missing half his face and supposed to be suffering from survivor's guilt the size of Io at the least.
"Where're you headed?" the lieutenant asked as Shepard neared him and the two men shook hands. Shepard was at a loss as to which element of the human Vakarian was more startling - the exact same handshake (compensating for the difference in digits, of course) or the fact that what looked like a scratch on a turian face nearly devastated half of a human one. Rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh, groping in the dark--
He looked over his shoulder sharply, trying to drive Sovereign's voice from his head.
"You alright?" he heard Vakarian ask.
"Yeah. Yeah, I think so," he lied, turning back to face his friend's unscarred side as Garry turned to greet a passing doctor, apparently dropping an unasked follow-up question of what Shepard was looking at. PTSD was a common sight in the hospital, and compared to some of the people here, Shepard was a perfect picture of mental health.
"So, where're you going? You didn't answer."
"Weekly psych eval," Shepard replied with a grin and a jerk of his thumb indicating the direction he was supposed to take. "Either I'm doing badly, or that doctor Chambers has got the hots for me, because I think my sessions are longer than of the other guys,"
"Well, why can't it be both?" Garry asked with a shrug, before giving Shepard a careful pat on the right shoulder, "I mean, maybe she likes you and that's why she extends your sessions, to help you better?" he finished, cutting off Shepard's notion of a snappy retort as he realized the lieutenant wasn't making fun of him, but actually being serious about it.
"I hadn't actually considered that," Shepard conceded, "But I will be sure to ask her today, just in case."
"Remember, she's a doctor, it's a politeness situation - no picking your nose until after you've greeted her!" were the words that followed a grinning Shepard down the hallway.
"I'm going to be showing you a series of images. I want you to tell me the first word that comes to your mind," she said softly, as she always did when she was speaking to him, as if talking to someone with damaged hearing... or brain. He supposed the second was more likely, hence the subject matter - today the pictures mostly showed toys - or the fact that it was not an impossibility, considering some of the wounds he's seen the patients here get back up from.
Just the day before, his first day out around the building on his own, he saw a man with one of these in the mess hall. He had a glass eye and that was what initially attracted Shepard's attention - right after the bizarre unevenness of his face, which upon closer inspection turned out to be a graft of donor everything - muscle tissue, skin, even cheekbone. He had never realized what a traumatic experience Zaeed Messani apparently went through when Vido Santiago shot him in the face - in all senses of the word. He also didn't expect to actually see the mercenary (was he even one in this world?) here. This felt... wrong. Garru-- Garry had a sense of belonging here, so did Kaidan, and even Rex. Zaeed... not so much. He even had most of the same tattoos, except that the Blue Sun logo was replaced with a more cartoonish stylized sun emblem, so it was exceptionally bizarre to stare into that all-too-familiar face and see nothing but a blank unrecognizing stare looking back - the glass eye here was not a cybernetic implant, but an actual piece of glass. Shepard shuddered at the memory and returned to the here and now, looking at her - pretty much the same as he was used to, if a little less promiscuous in her doctor's frock and with shoulder-length hair.
"Doctor, if I may..." he said, raising his hand like a schoolboy (a good, endearing gesture, he recalled from his N7 training, often useful to get someone off-guard if you wanted to get a few blows in before the real shindig started), "I was wondering something and would like to ask for some pointers," he finished at least half as quietly as he began, as if he was bringing up something shameful.
Then again, last time, Kelly Chambers (M.D., Ph.D. and some sort of psychology wunderkind, judging by how the other doctors spoke of her) was asking him about his sexual preferences and whether he felt any undeserved or undue attraction to lieutenant Vakarian. His joke that he had none, but had plenty of due and deserved attraction to offer the lieutenant, either went over her head or was playing too much into her wishful thinking, because her laugh was anything but therapeutic. All of this made Shepard question the hospital's hiring policy even more.
"Sure, go ahead," she nodded, urging him to spit it out already with naught but a look and a wave of her hair, "There's nothing to be afraid of. Whatever happens in this room, stays in this room," she added in what she probably thought of as a reassuring tone.
"I don't know what kind of shrink she is here, but so far, she feels as useless as the Kelly I used to know," Shepard told himself bemusedly as he formulated his query.
"I've been wondering, what exactly is the profile of this institution?" he finally blurted, making an all-encompassing gesture on "this", as if trying to indicate the entire building while still being within it, "I mean, heal the sick, I got that, recovery for the wounded, and I'm sure Alenko and I qualify for that, but what about Burton? Vakarian? Messani? They look perfectly healthy," he went on, cursing inwardly for bringing Zaeed into this. He was getting too sentimental, as if dredging up memories of the Normandy would help cope with the fact that the people he fought and died side-by-side with for the last four years were right here, ALL AT ONCE, but didn't remember him at all.
"Well, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to tell you this," she began in the tone that implied "but I will" as much as was humanly possible, "But Vakarian is going through a lot of stress, actually."
"Yeah, I was wondering about that. I mean, he wasn't alone in that helicopter, was he?"
"You know about his accident?" she asked with a surprised look... but not too surprised. Figured someone else would know that Lara is a blabbermouth.
"If you can call being shot down an "accident", then yeah, I know," Shepard admitted, shifting uneasily in his seat. This felt too much like interrogation, and he had no SPECTRE get-out-of-jail-free card to get him out of trouble this time around, even though he wasn't exactly sure what sort of trouble being ousted as a nosy snoop would entail in such a hospital.
"Well, imagine how would you feel if you saw your entire team get shredded to bits in front of your eyes," she retorted, leaning back in her chair with an air of smug superiority. She clearly expected this to get Shepard to back down.
"I don't have to, I've been there. More than once," he replied darkly, before adding to himself, "Even if I'm not sure that it happened for real, my memories, my emotions on that matter ARE real. Torfan was real for me, Toombs and his story about Akuze was real, the Collector Ship was real, and all of that is more than enough."
"So, you do remember something of yourself?" she perked up with interest, changing the subject seamlessly.
"Not a whole lot, and most of it has to do with people dying, I'm afraid," he said, covering the truth with a different truth, "It seems I've led a violent and bloody life," he added, trying to go for the sadness factor.
"Well, you seem to be coping with that fact pretty well," she noted, punctuating every word with a jab of her index finger in his general direction, as if counting the words off, "Although I have to admit, that so does Lieutenant Vakarian. And now, let's get back to our pictures, shall we?"
"So, how'd it go?"
"I'm not sure if she has the hots for me, or she has the hots in general and just turns them on whoever's closest," Shepard admitted, leaning against a wall to let his arms rest. These corridors were way too long for his liking.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, the only emotion I seem to be getting out of her is pity, so you're better off than I am," Vakarian said comfortingly, "And for that there's usually only one cure. Shooting things."
"Sure, I'm always happy to blow something to bits, but unless you're hiding a sniper rifle under your bed, how do you get to shoot anything here?" Shepard asked, pushing himself away from the wall and lining up on the crutches for maximum (or the closest possible) comfort.
"Well, this is a predominantly military hospital. Tensions usually run high with former soldiers, and they need to let off steam... Long story short, there's this gun range..."
"And that seals it. What kind of hospital is this?" was what Shepard thought, but what he actually said instead was "And you didn't tell me this before... why?"
"Um, no offense, Shepard, but are you sure you can even hold a gun in your current state of health, let alone shoot it?"
"Lead the way, Lieutenant. There's only one way to find out."
Dark Space (Chapter Four)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jun 19, 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.