Despite the shock, he still managed to compose himself. It felt a little awkward, shooting while sitting on a chair, but MacCarran insisted that he should do it sitting down instead of standing up - all in all, if he needed crutches to walk, letting him shoot while standing was more than simply reckless. Williams and Vakarian watched the process from a moderately safe distance, as if expecting the .22 gun to blow up in Shepard's hand, and Ashley even let out what was clearly a sound of surprise (though regulations wouldn't've called it that) when Shepard's first shot hit the target square in the head.
"Alright, that went better than expected," MacCarran said, voicing everyone's opinion, "But can you make that stick?"
Shepard smiled inwardly. The kick was a lot less than he expected, this really was a "light" gun. The sights were zeroed in, and he still remembered how to use them. His arms, weak as they were, still obeyed his will, and from that fact he drew immense satisfaction. There is no greater pleasure for someone who has taken their body for granted for the longest of times than to realize that it, once more, does what it is told to do. He carefully took aim and squeezed off three shots in rapid succession, all landing rather close on the silhouette's neck.
"And that's all she wrote for that one," Vakarian drawled cheerfully, earning himself a reproachful look from both MacCarran and Williams. "Aw, come on, four shots, all of them potentially lethal, put all of that into a real person, and he's talking to St. Paul real soon."
Shepard turned out from his seat, remembering to put the gun down on the shelf first, and pulled one part of his earmuffs aside.
"I can't believe you don't remember anything about Christianity," Alenko said amusedly as he prodded whatever it was on his plate with his fork. "That's not something you can not learn in this part of the world, you know?"
"Come on, give the guy a break. I bet there's a lot he won't be able to remember," Ashley protested. She somehow managed to settle down with them at the canteen, although after the tour de force she demonstrated the firing range, nobody wanted to protest. Alenko just got out of a doctor's office and neighbourly etiquette dictated that Shepard and Vakarian take him up as well.
"Sure. But he remembers how to handle a gun, that's valuable," Vakarian added, putting a friendly arm on Shepard's shoulder, "I mean, even if he won't remember everything, he'll be able to serve again, that's good, right?"
"Guys. While I appreciate the sentiment and concern, please stop talking as if I'm not here, alright?" Shepard interjected, combating his mashed potatoes. The potatoes valiantly resisted all attempts to be picked up, sliding, seeping and probably teleporting off his fork the moment he tried to lift it up.
"Wait, who said that? There's someone else but us three at this table?" Kaidan announced in fake shock, groping around like a blind man -- or someone trying to catch a ghost.
"Oh no, we must've picked a haunted table!" Ashley played along, swinging her arms as well - at least until she connected with Shepard's elbow as he was desperately trying to get at least some of those mashed potatoes all the way from his plate to his mouth. The fork, liberated by the force of the impact, promptly declared independence, established itself as a constitutional monarchy and went about the business of picking out a national anthem while the mashed potatoes arced gracelessly off it once more and onto the shoes of one Dr. Lara Tasoni, M.D., Ph.D., et al.
"Nice to see you all in such a good mood," she said by way of greeting, trying her best not to laugh at Shepard's sullen expression as he collected his fork off the floor behind her. Her gaze followed him as he returned to his seat, contemplating the level of sterilization the fork would need to be food-safe again and which he could actually achieve with the tools at hand, before settling for wiping it with a napkin and returning to his battle with the potatoes. It produced such an effect that nobody at the table even noticed her flicking the offending potatoes off her shoes and under their table with what was clearly a well-practiced and fluid motion.
"Shepard, if you're so intent on trying to eat those potatoes, get a spoon, it'll save you a few years of your life," Alenko suggested quietly, "Though I must warn you - as with all hospital food, their edibility is highly suspect."
"I assure you, the food is perfectly palatable and is tailored to your individual medical needs," the doctor chimed in, reminding those seated at the table of her presence, "I've also been told that you went to the gun range today, Commander, without first consulting me."
"I'm sorry, was I supposed to?" Shepard asked concernedly, mixing a genuine guilt with an equally genuine admission of intent in his tone. The end result wasn't in any way graceful and sounded bratty at best.
"Yes, you were. As your doctor, I'm personally responsible for your well-being, and that includes knowing and influencing your day-to-day activities!"
She was on a roll - though the emotion behind it was clearly genuine, the entire speech felt a little too well-rehearsed for such a specific transgression, as if she was preparing for such an occasion particularly because of what she expected from Shepard, or maybe because he wasn't the first of her patients to do something like that without asking her first. Wasn't hard to imagine why - she didn't quite project the image of the homeroom teacher you should ask permission before doing something dangerous and stupid, like walking out into the street out of the first-floor classroom window.
"I'm sorry, doctor, but it did work out fine, didn't it?" Shepard offered, looking up from his plate once more, thinking he will never get to eat today, "Plus, it's not like I was unattended - Vakarian was there to help me get there, and Williams here and Mr. MacCarran the Quartermaster were there to watch me in case I spontaneously combust because I touched a gun," he finished, delivering the last bit with a smirk that made his facial scars itch and finally consuming the accursed potatoes with the spoon Alenko handed him from the tray.
"You'd better be careful with that mouth, Commander," the doctor retorted, pointing at him with an accusing finger, "Let it run that fast and you actually might spontaneously combust," she added, before turning her attention to the others, "How are you today, Major Alenko? Nothing troubling you? Got your shots?"
"Everything's ok, ma'am, and the shots were scheduled for tomorrow, last I checked," Kaidan replied between sips of whatever it was they poured in the glasses here. Sure, it was sorta pink and was labeled as "lemonade" ("Has anyone ever heard of pink lemonade?") but the taste was more reminiscent of the kind of chewy marmalades everyone probably had tried at some point in their childhood that could give a dentist heartburn just from looking at them.
"Oh, right," she said, tapping something on her datapad, "Sorry. Lieutenant Williams, you have an examination in thirty minutes," she went on, as if trying to justify her continued presence at the table by any means necessary. Shepard wolfed down his steak-substitute (it had grown cold during his struggle with the potatoes) and was debating with himself over the sensibility of hazarding a drink of this "lemonade" to wash it all down when he discovered a legitimate reason to interrupt Lara's train of thought.
"Doctor, sorry, but what is that?" he asked motioning for her (and, by proxy, everyone else at the table) to look in the same direction he was looking, where an orderly was wheeling a weird-looking cart out of the kitchen. It looked like something designed to go into outer space, all sleek and obviously airtight.
"Ah, that's the delivery system for the clean room," Lara replied matter-of-factly, turning back to her datapad, "You know, because Natalie has to eat something and she clearly cannot do it in this place, because it's not sterilized enough."
"Yeah, I was wondering about that, actually," Vakarian chimed in, "I mean, why does she still stay in the clean room? Far as I can tell, her burns have all healed a long while ago."
"What makes you think that?" the doctor asked, cocking her head quizzically.
"The bandaging. Y'know, for those rare cases she steps outside? It's not done in a way you do to relieve pressure on blisters, and it's not done in a way you do to soak up blood. It's done in a way to cover up her appearance while making as much allowance for mobility as possible," he explained in a patient and measured tone, "If you were to ask me, I'd actually say she's trying to work out in her room. Somewhere."
"Brilliant deduction skills, Sherlock," Ashley remarked, playfully nudging Garry in the shoulder with a balled fist, "But how do you come to all these conclusions? Where's the evidence?"
"It's rather simple, actually. I pay attention. First up, she's walking normally, not as if she's in any pain from it. Second, the clothes? They fit snugly, if there were actual burns under there, she'd have to have to be on some kickass painkillers to take that kind of abuse from herself, and kickass painkillers seldom let you walk in a straight line."
He paused to take a breath and that generated an awkward silence during which they all watched the orderly move out of sight down a hallway towards a pressure door that was already becoming familiar to Shepard.
"Third, I've seen a lot of bandaging, what with these and all," he said, tapping the scarred side of his face, "And lately it's more obvious she's been bandaging herself, without a nurse to help her - that indicates no real need for the bandages other than concealment of her appearance."
"Bravo," Shepard finally said to fill the void that seemed to have taken hold of the table as Garry wrapped up his little Revelation Speech, "Which leaves us with only one question, Vakarian - you know all this because you watch her how diligently?"
He was thankful to see Garry almost-blush and shift uneasily in his seat. "So, this universe's Garrus apparently also has a thing for shapely-yet-faceless engineers? Wait, is she even an engineer here?"
"Well... I'm a recon ops specialist. It's what I do, take assessment and draw conclusions," he finally proposed in a tone that didn't really sound accepting of objections, "Plus, come on, even with the allowance for the bandages - have you seen those hips?"
"Pah, men," Ashley exclaimed, throwing a glance at Lara, as if expecting some sympathy or sisterly feminine support.
"I don't know, Lieutenant Williams, I think he made a valid point," the doctor said, "Those are rather fine hips she has there, and to keep that shape on hospital food, she had to have done regular exercise, although it is also often recommended as part of psychological recovery. Good catch, Lieutenant Vakarian," she finished with a nod to Garry - who returned it in kind - before turning on her heels and continuing, "And now, if you'll excuse me, I must be off. The paperwork beckons."
"So, we got it about Vakarian, in an unexpectedly stalkerish way, so what about you, Shepard?" Kaidan asked as the doctor left, "Who's your supposed ideal companon?"
"I don't actually know, Kaidan," Shepard replied, "Though I always imagined it's be someone in a short skirt and a looong jacket," he replied, drawing out the "o" in long because of a stifled yawn that usually signified the presence of a satisfied digestive system inside of him.
"Oh, like in the song?" Ashley asked cheerfully.
Dark Space (Chapter Six)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jul 2, 2012.
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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.