"N-not much," Shepard wheezed, "And I'd tell more easily if you'd just--"
She understood it before he managed to force the last words out of himself. He was let down almost instantly, coughing from the stress put on his throat and bending over.
"Alright," he resumed, straightening up, "I don't know much, or maybe I don't remember much, but know this - the guy you put in charge of protecting your sister--" he almost smiled at the sight of her recoiling in reaction to the word "sister", "--Niket, or Neket, or whatever he's spelled, he's going to betray you."
"It's Nikita, and I severely doubt it. He has helped me protect her thus far," Miranda retorted with a disgusted look on her face, "Is that all you got?"
"Ah, but he helped you because he didn't know how you stole her from your father," Shepard parried, "And once he does - and he probably will at some point - you're going to have trouble."
"And you know all this-- how exactly?" she asked sternly, her face still a mask of intense dislike.
"It's complicated," he admitted, "And explaining would take more time than you have until Mr. Taylor starts getting suspicious, and you don't really want that to happen, do you? I imagine working with your ex is not as easy as you'd think it would be." Shepard went on, trying his hardest not to sound as if he was gloating.
"No, I do not, and no, it is not. I will leave now, but this is not over," she conceded, picking up the file from where she dropped it and walking towards the door.
"I know. That was the intention."
Shepard shifted uneasily in his seat. The doctor looked at him inquisitively, as if expecting some sort of hidden message to reveal itself in his face. She didn't look at all familiar, which was unsettling and relaxing at the same time - at last, he was meeting someone he didn't know as Commander of the Normandy. Or so he thought, for a minute or two.
"Hey Xen, I forgot to tell you, I--" a voice began, opening the door behind Shepard. He turned to look at someone's surprised face which promptly retreated back the way it came and shut the door after itself. The face looked familiar - on later recollection, he placed it as the nurse in Huerta Memorial that was lecturing an injured Marine on the wonders of cloned limb transplantation. The Marine himself died in surgery two weeks ago, Shepard saw his face purely by accident, bumping into the gurney in a hallway because he was still uncertain about walking on crutches.
"Xen?" he asked carefully of the doctor. No wonder he couldn't recognize the face. The nose did seem kinda familiar, though... was everybody in here someone he knew?
"Short for Xenia. Doctor Xenia Vassilievna Moreh, that's pronounced Mo-Ray, not whatever you think it might be pronounced if you look at the spelling," she introduced herself, topping it off with a tap of a poster (with a magnificent, if a little cold, view of a stormy sea under stormy clouds with what looked like writing in Russian on it), "Which is Russian for "sea". To curb off any unwanted questions."
Shepard stifled the question about why Russians spelled "Mo-ray" as "Mope" and leaned back in his seat, his curiosity finally satisfied. So this was what Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh actually looked like under that faceplate. Too bad he'd never be able to learn Tali'Zorah's face, seeing as how she was damaged in this reality. Judging by Daro'Xen -- well, Xenia -- and what Javik said about Quarian faces, she must've been breathtakingly beautiful. What a loss.
"You don't sound particularly Russian, to tell you the truth."
"That's because not every Russian has to speek wif an akzint lyke fis. I'm from Australia. One of the largest Russian diasporas in the world, if you didn't know."
"No, I did not. And I'm--"
"Commander "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" Shepard, I'm aware," Xenia replied with a knowing smile that made Shepard want to retch, "Whose amnesia and possible brain damage I'm supposed to estimate and, if possible, reverse."
"And therein lies my question. I assume you're the new doctor the CIA people told me they're bringing in?"
"Oh, you've talked to them already?" she asked with genuine surprise, "I thought they wouldn't get here so soon."
"Oh, they didn't. I literally only got out of a meeting with them," Shepard replied, taking a cursory glance across the room. "They made it fairly obvious they desperately want me doing something for them, and for that they need me functional. Which is where you come in, I guess. What kind of doctor are you, anyway?"
"Neurosurgeon. The human brain is like a complex computer, and I'm the engineer that keeps it running," the doctor replied with a satisfied smile, as if savouring a particularly tasty meal, "Which is why yours is so interesting to everybody. They never pull back together as well as yours did after what it went through," she finished with an almost childlike glee.
"Wait, so this is more about getting ahead of the other doctors here in who, say, gets first printing rights on the marvelous story of the man with the electrocuted brain?" Shepard asked with disbelief. The more he looked at the people staffing this place, the more he understood Karin Chakwas and her infinite desire to be a frontline medic - one that only had to deal with contusions, lacerations and decapitations, not reputations, dissertations and discussions.
"And also furthering the goals of Science, of course," she corrected, although the way she obviously capitalized "Science" gave Shepard goosebumps for some reason.
"Of course. So tell me, doctor, did you ever operate on your toys as a child?"
Upon exiting Dr. Moreh's office, Shepard leaned against the wall, closing his eyes and breathing in slow, careful breaths. She went on talking about how he and his head would be subjected to a barrage of tests to see if there was any internal damage to go along with the external ("And my, aren't those scars fascinating!" she said), and how his amnesia could've been the result of neurons being fried by the electricity and then re-started by a second or third shock, which she likened to the overwriting of a cassette tape. Shepard, not knowing what a cassette tape was, simply nodded along, hoping for a swift death.
He looked up at the ceiling, letting his eyes wander in pursuit of a point he could focus his frustration on and maybe set it aflame by sheer force of will. Instead, he found a security camera. A little crude, by the standards he was used to, but still rather unpleasant and unexpe--
"Cerberus. How could I have been so foolish? If this Cerberus is at least half as twisted as the one I'm used to, this means they are watching and listening to everything that goes on in this place. I can't be certain of talking to anyone, even thinking out loud!"
He let his eyes wander down from it as casually as he could manage, while his mind raced in a blind panic.
"Wait. Miranda. If they saw her roughing me-- But she's also Cerberus. She can talk her way out of it. Or maybe that room wasn't monitored and that's why they talked to me there? I have to make sure-- But if I go there, even if doesn't have cameras inside, the hallway ones will show me snooping, and that would be equally bad and--"
"Huh, being knocked around by a girl really got to you, hasn't it?" a voice called to him, snapping him out of his thoughts once more. And to think that once he was perfectly aware of his surroundings, all day and all night.
Opening his eyes revealed to him a wheelchair-bound man whose clean-shaven features looked vaguely familiar.
"What girl? The doctor is hardly a girl, and even if you wanted to call her that, she didn't knock me around," he protested aloud, before adding, "At least in the physical sense. I think I can feel the word cruft leaking out of my ears."
"Not her! The shapely one, in the dress that looks like an MC Escher painting," the man said, waving his hand dismissively at Shepard. For some reason, that gesture also felt vaguely familiar.
"Well, she didn't knock me around either," he responded, crossing his arms and wondering whether this was going anywhere.
"Sure, not like I didn't hear you two in there," the man went on with what sounded dangerously like a leer, "You sounded like you were gonna die, man."
"And what makes you think I was knocked around? Maybe it was me doing the knocking. Maybe I even was knocking her up," Shepard ventured with a smile and what he hoped was an air of confidence. It didn't work out.
"A girl like that? Storming out shortly after some angry words with you? Sorry, friend, but that doesn't add up..." a pause, taken up by maneuvering the wheelchair closer to Shepard, "Besides, I still remember fourth grade. I know the difference in sound between someone getting an elbow to the throat and a knocking up to the knock-up receptacle," the wheelchair-bound man said with a chuckle.
"That must've been some fourth grade!" Shepard exclaimed, finding himself walking alongside the wheelchair as the unknown insultant laid a path for himself through the hospital's hallways.
"Nah, that was just the throat thing," his sudden companion admitted, "The rest came a lot later."
"So, to what do I owe the honour? We've never even talked before, I think. Not even properly introduced," Shepard probed carefully. There was a reason the man came to him, and it wasn't to talk about Miranda. And he looked so familiar, too, though his clean-shaven face didn't remind Shepard of anyone he knew, which, as he'd just learned, was a thing to be on the lookout for in this place.
"Well, you're Shepard, right? I've heard a few things about you," the man began, stopping right before the turn that would bring them to the central "ring" of the building.
"Yeah, I am. And you're... Dammit, I think I heard some of the other guys talking to you in the cafeteria the other day, they called you... Joxer, I think?"
Dark Space (Chapter Nine)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jul 12, 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.