"Joker. Joxer was Ted Raimi's character in Xena: Warrior Princess," the wheelchair-bound man replied sternly, "But my name's Jeff. Jeff Moreau."
"Nice to meet you, Jeff," Shepard replied, accepting the proferred hand to shake. This Joker was markedly different from the one he was used to - the lack of his perma-stubble being the most outstanding feature. "So what was it that you wanted from me?"
"You're Dr. Tasoni's patient, right?"
"Yes, why does it matter?"
"Is she a good doctor? I really want to swap mine out for her," Joker said, looking over his shoulder cautiously, before dropping into a conspiratorial whisper, "I think she intends to kill me."
"Kill you? Why would she do that?" Shepard asked incredulously, risking a glance in the direction that Joker was checking, "What're you in here for, anyway?"
"Yeah, my legs. Multiple fractures. I've got brittle bones, you know? Always wanted to be a pilot, did well enough on the simulators, cut my teeth on piloting UAVs, all was well so long as I stayed out of the cockpits and the G-forces they contain, right?"
Shepard nodded along, wondering why this Joker was so insecure. Probably because he was constantly seeking validation of his skill - something he would be forever denied in a world without the mass effect dampening the forces that would normally crush his brittle bones into a fine dust.
"And that puts you into a wheelchair-- how exactly?" he wondered out loud, already knowing the answer. Optimism.
"So they tell me - there's this new experimental material for seats, new belt designs to reduce the loads, I won't feel a thing, it's like floating in water. Right, water. Very hard water, maybe, with sharp rocks in it right below the surface. First test flight - and this happens," he explained bitterly. "Now melding them is a pain in the butt, but then there's the doc, who keeps insisting on me taking loads of medicine and--"
"Mr. Moreau!" a stern voice called out from around the corner. It sounded familiar enough - and, of course, no sooner than Shepard realized who it belonged to, Dr. Karin Chakwas rounded the corner, striding purposefully into view and straight at Joker, who desperately tried to scramble away, caught a wheel of his wheelchair on Shepard's foot (rollling over it for good measure, making Shepard grit his teeth in order to not swear in front of the doctor) and was finally pinned in place when she managed to grab the wheelchair's pushbar before he gained any momentum.
"Good afternoon, doctor," Shepard said with a slight corteous nod before carefully duck-walking over to a wall to rest against it so he could rub the hurt foot. It didn't feel damaged in any way, but the sensation was not at all pleasant.
"See what you did, Mr Moreau? This is what happens when you don't take your medication on time!" the doctor said chastisingly as she wrestled with Joker for control of the wheelchair. Shepard used this moment to look her over - while undoubtedly recognizable, it was also plainly evident that being a hospital doctor was not something Dr. Chakwas enjoyed. Of course, recalling her words about how badly she needed to be a battlefield, or at least a frontline shipboard medic, Shepard perfectly understood why - not everyone was cut out for being a patient person, in either sense of the word. And while her medical skills definitely made her qualified for this job, her interpersonal skills definitely were better-suited for a "sewing a wounded soldier back together" type of medical work rather than "nursing him back to health".
"But doc, do I really need it that badly? And with the needles?" Joker protested meekly, apparently giving up the fight.
"If you ever want to walk again, yes! Your bones need any extra help they can get if you want them to be strong enough for that!" the doctor explained, her voice softening as she realized her victory. Turning the wheelchair around, she nodded greeting at Shepard, who felt vaguely offended at her not addressing him before realizing that this Chakwas didn't know him and probably wouldn't share a drink with him even if she drank here at all. A moment's contemplation of her harried face told him that she probably does, although what she uses in place of Serrice Ice Brandy remained a mystery for him as he turned to go his own way.
"So tell me, Shepard, have you found your salvation?" the voice inquired in a mocking tone. It was oddly familiar, as if something he'd heard a long while ago as a child and simply hadn't heard in a long time. Something you thought you've forgotten, only to remember it at the first sounds if it returning.
"Or did you find destruction?" another added, sounding as if it was a yell, coming from far far away.
"Bound by flesh, stranded in darkness, cursed to exist with your fate already decided for you," a third voice whispered, this one female unlike the previous two - a fact that Shepard only noticed now that he had something to compare them to.
"Who are you?" he yelled into the blackness that surrounded him, turning around needlessly. His steps echoed across what sounded like an empty open structure, a cathedral maybe.
"We are the victims of your rash decisions," the first voice said hoarsely, "Those you doomed to die for your own petty reasons."
"Sparatus?" Shepard asked incredulously, "But--"
"I'm dead, yes," the Turian councillor's voice agreed, and Shepard thought he could just make out a faint trace of his facepaint glowing in the darkness ahead. "And it's not very fun."
"As are we all," Valern's voice chimed in, "Because you chose to protect your precious human fleet instead of the government of the galaxy. Tell me, how did that work out for you?" A faint outline of his hood presented itself a little to the left of Sparatus's apparition.
"I-- I don't know," Shepard admitted, "I got stuck here, in this travesty of a hospital, before I could see where it all actually lead."
"However you twist the facts, Sparatus, Shepard did warn us of the Reapers," Tevos finally said, measuring every word, "And he was right - what good is protecting one ship with three useless politicians onboard when that would have meant losing valuable battleships? You of all among us should understand that, as a Turian." Her tattoos faded into view on the other side of Sparatus. Shepard thought he could almost make out their eyes as they exchanged glances, like they always did in life. He never liked it then, and now it felt downright creepy.
"But did that actually give Shepard anything? Did killing us in the name of saving his fleets help save his planet? Did it help him survive?" Valern continued, unrelentingly.
"No. In the end it all came down to an ancient superweapon that we found the plans to," Shepard replied, almost as an excuse, "And I'm not even sure that wasn't just another Reaper trap, like the Citadel. Things fell into place around building it a little too easily, fitting too well."
"And now you're dead. And we're dead," Sparatus reaffirmed, "And the galaxy is--"
"I'M NOT DEAD!" Shepard exploded, putting his foot down in front of him with a pound that reverberated through the entire-- Council chamber! That's what it was!
"Is that what you think?" Tevos said, her voice fading along with the glow of her face, "What proof you have that all of this is not some sort of delusion, the last stand of a dying brain, desperately trying to cling to life as it disintegrates in a Reaper beam?"
Shepard woke with a start, still feeling the burning sensation - the exact same one he had when Harbinger shot him in London. He hoped he didn't cry out, because explaining how an amnesiac could be having nightmares, conversing with the dead and generally displaying signs of PTSD he wasn't supposed to be having, would have probably been difficult.
He waited for a short while as his eyes adapted to the darkness of his room, however easy that was with the moonlight penetrating the rather flimsy window shades. "Huh. Funny how easily I think of it as 'my' room now. What has happened to me? When did I become so accepting of the situation?"
He got off the bed, stretching and walking to the window. Autumn was already in full swing - by his reckoning he awoke sometime around his birthday and even so, the progress he was making on the way to recovery was astounding not only to the doctors. In the span of these few months, he was almost back to the shape he was in when he signed up for the service - a few more in that manner, and he'd be N1 Candidate material again. Getting back to N7, however, in a non-augmented body... Now that would be a challenge. The thought of leaving the hospital didn't even feel so practical anymore, not when he was still unprepared for the world outside, not knowing if there even was a world outside.
The hospital grounds were brightly lit by the moon, and the absence of shadow only served to underscore how much of a fortress the hospital actually was - short of bringing in a lot of troops with grenade launchers, mortars and maybe tanks, it could easily be called impregnable. The moonlight, however, also served to outline for him a car - a van, actually - approaching quetly down one of the service roads that criss-crossed the grounds 'behind' the hospital - on the morgue side - presumably so as not to upset the patients with the sight of the cadavers that could be brought up directly to the morgue for whatever reason, perhaps if the patient was DoA. This one, however, was very much alive, writhing on the gurney she was strapped to as she was unloaded from the van and wheeled to the hospital's service entrance.
He was sure it was a 'she' from the slim legs and a slimpse of what looked like a bare breast. The girl was wearing only an oversized bush jacket and remains of jeans that looked like she ran through a thicket or maybe a garbage dump full of glass and metal in order to get them ripped up so badly. All of that added up for unsavoury conclusions which culminated in a chilling thought when Shepard realized that every bit of exposed flesh of the girl wasn't covered in dirt or blood, but tattoos.
Dark Space (Chapter Ten)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jul 20, 2012.
Awesomologist likes this.
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.