I walked into the room, then stopped dead in my tracks.
“EDI,” I said. “Please tell me this is my private haven away from all those Cerberus loyalists.”
“This is the captain’s cabin,” the voice replied immediately. “The crew refer to it as ‘the loft.’”
“Well, thank God for small favors,” I said. Then I frowned. This place looked ‘a little too perfect,’ as my late friend Ashley Williams had once said of the Citadel Presidium. Like the Presidium, it was gleaming and white and had a faint hum that made me feel like someone was watching.
“Lemme guess,” I said. “This place is bugged, too.”
“The ship has several monitoring devices in various locations….” EDI began.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” I sighed. “Might as well start disabling them as I find them. Don’t really like the idea of our mutual illusive friend watching me sleep.”
“The Illusive Man has already seen you…”
“Yeah, I know,” I interrupted her. “He’s seen me blown to hell and naked and God knows what else. But since he woke me up, it’s my life and my privacy. I’m destroying any bugs I can find and I will give Joker a soldering gun if you try and stop me.”
“Understood, Commander,” EDI’s oh-so-polite voice replied.
I took a look around. There was an empty fish tank taking up one whole wall. What a waste, I thought. I didn’t have time for a pets right about now, and water on a ship was valuable commodity. I made my way to the wardrobe: seemed Cerberus had given me everything but the kitchen sink to wear. There were several suits of completely hideous armor inside and only one that was remotely wearable. I fingered the hard plastic, suddenly missing my old jumpsuits – they had been a lot lighter and easier to move in. And a certain former crew mate of mine had preferred them, too – preferred helping me zip myself into and out of them. I frowned, pushing that thought aside.
If the armor was free, I couldn’t be too picky. The clothes in the closet were not much better than the armor. Everything was tagged with a Cerberus logo, making me wish I had a pair of scissors.
I wandered over to the bed. It was big enough for two, which made me suddenly feel very lonely – lonely for a particular person, that is, which just made me pissed off. I turned on the radio, hoping to find something to take my mind off that annoying little hum in the cabin, but the music was even worse. It took me a minute to place the band, but I vaguely remembered hearing them in Flux once. They had been terrible then, too.
I walked to the desk: someone had hung a model of the old Normandy over it – as if I needed to feel any more nostalgic. There was a laptop sitting on the desk. Desperate to distract myself I flipped it open and saw it was hooked up to the one downstairs. No new messages.
Next to the laptop, the Illusive Man or Miranda or someone had scanned my medals into a holo picture. I wanted to laugh. What a crock. As if I needed reminding of what I’d accomplished before. As if I was in any mood to repeat it now.
I slammed my fist into the desk.
Easy, Shepard, I told myself. This isn’t about you anymore. This is about those people who went missing. This is about all those folks down there who believe in you, who betrayed the Alliance to join you.
But I don’t want this, I thought.* I don’t.*
I looked up into a mirror that had been hung at eye level. I stared at my face, a face that looked familiar, and yet not at all the same. My scars were an ugly, red web all down my cheeks. I tilted my head, then frowned.
“EDI,” I snapped. “What did they do to my scar?”
“Your scars will heal in time, Commander. I suggest you speak with Doctor Chakwas…”
“No,” I snarled. “The other one. I one had it since I was a kid.”
“I do not understand,” EDI replied. “Much of your skin was infused with a weave to make it tougher. It is likely your scars disappeared with the growth of the new bio-synthetic epidermis.”
“Damn,” I sat down hard.
Well, mom and dad, I thought, *what do you make of that? You wouldn’t get me vision correction as a kid because you thought it was “unnatural.” Then came the slavers and the Alliance medics had to grow me a new eye to replace the one I’d lost. Now this. I’m worse than Frankenstein’s monster. *
“EDI, what did they do, exactly?”
“I am sorry, commander. You will have to be more specific.”
“Specific? Okay. Try this: I can see re-building a body, but how did they keep my soul – mind – neural functions – going all that time? How the hell does anyone bring back someone from the dead – I mean really bring them back? Religions are based on people coming back from the dead. How did Cerberus manage it?”
“I do not know the details of Project Lazarus…” EDI began in that too-perfect voice.
“Yeah, of course you don’t.” I was getting pissed off. For all the money Cerberus had spent to bring me back, they were sure doing a good job of keeping me in the dark about how they had done so.
“You could ask Officer Lawson…” EDI began again.
“I did,” I snapped. I stared at the desk, then scowled. “EDI, what the hell is that?”
“I do not understand, Commander. You will have to be more specific.”
“What is that picture on my desk?”
“Your medals were placed here…”
“No, the other one.”
“Yeoman Chambers picked that painting out and placed it in a holo for you,” EDI said. “She believed it would soothe you. It is by a famous 21st Century artist known as Thomas Kinkade. He’s was known as ‘The Painter of Light’.”
“It’s a goddamn cottage. With flowers. Pink ones.”
“If I dim the lights in the cabin, the colors change,” EDI explained. “It was part of a series of exclusive prints…”
“Stop,” I said flatly. “No dimming lights, no cottages, no flowers.”
“If you do not like it…”
“I don’t. It’s making me sick.”
“If you are feeling ill, perhaps you should visit the med bay.”
“Just replace it with something.” I said wearily. My temper was really getting the better of me these days if a simple picture was making me lose it. “Get that prissy picture off of my desk,” I told the ship’s computer.
“I have access to the extranet and can find you any image that is not under copyright,” EDI told me. “I also have access to the Illusive Man’s private collection. What would you like to look at?”
“Kaidan,” I said, the word tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop it.
There. I’d gone and said it: said the name that had been running through my head ever since I had woken up. I’d wondered if he was okay, if he had missed me, if he thought I was still dead. I’d asked about him at every turn, trying, of course, to keep it professional. All they had told me was that Kaidan was alive and promoted and no one knew anything more than that. I had the uneasy feeling that the folks in Cerberus knew all about our relationship, but I wasn’t about to drop what thin veneer of privacy I had left between me and the organization I’d been “recruited” into.
“Would that be Staff Commander Kaidan Alenko?” EDI asked, her voice not betraying any emotion. Well, of course it didn’t. She was an AI, after all. But was it me, or did she pause a bit before answering me?
I scowled at the blue sphere that represented EDI’s presence in my room. This cabin was nothing like my old one, but it was my cabin, my private sanctuary on the ship, and in all my life there had been only one person I’d invited in to that sanctuary. Looking around, all I could think was that I wished that one person was here with me now.
“Yes,” I said, decisively. “ Get me a picture of Kaidan.”
*And if I ever find him, I thought, please to God, let me remember to change the picture back to the flowered cottage before he sees it.*
“Very well, Commander. What picture would you like?”
I blinked, then my heart beat a little faster as images of Kaidan went flashing by the screen. There was a really terrible photo – it looked like an ID of when he’d first enlisted. I’d thought his current haircut was a little odd when I first saw it, but clearly, it was an improvement over his older style. Then there was another picture – a still from a vid following some rescue mission, then a formal shot of him and about a dozen other officers, all holding up their omnitools in salute. Must have been some tech training class picture. Then I blinked as a blurry snapshot from Eden Prime flashed by. Kaidan was carrying me over his shoulder, my jumpsuit-clad butt held up for all the world to see.
“What the hell is that, EDI?” I gaped.
“This is a popular picture on the extranet,” EDI told me. “It is usually cropped like this, though.” She zoomed in so that my ass filled the screen.
“Great,” I rolled my eyes. “Horn dog humans.”
“Actually, this picture is very popular among the asari porn sites…”
“Find something else,” I said wearily. I didn’t want to think about that, I really didn’t.
“If you want to look at Staff Commander Alenko’s posterior instead of your own, then here is a good shot.”
I blinked as another image filled the screen. The AI was right. It was a good shot. Kaidan was half turned and climbing up a flight of stairs. He had a grim look on his face and he was following someone – me, I saw. He was looking back at the camera over his shoulder. It was from Feros, I realized, recognizing those horrible concrete stairwells that I’d run up and down with Kaidan at my back. It must have been a snapshot that Elizabeth Baynam had taken. She’d whipped out a camera before we’d left, begging us to let her send in reports on our heroism to all the news networks. Only the Citadel News Net had picked up the story, and I figured that was because Emily Wong thought she owed me a favor or something. Feros was a small colony – few people cared about it. That kind of thing was so typical of the media.
“That’s a nice view,” I admitted, cocking my head. “But not in that armor. I burned that crap down into omnigel and bought him a Hydra VI after Feros.”
“The Liberator armor is strong and well-built,” EDI said. “Better than the Hydra…”
“It’s yellow,” I said flatly. “He looks like a bumblebee. A hot bumblebee, but a bumblebee.”
“I could tint the photo to make it black and white if you do not like the color,” EDI said.
“You know what?” I said, standing. “This is stupid. I have things to do, colonists to find, and a galaxy to save – again. And since I don’t have the help of my insubordinate but indispensable lieutenant just now, I’d better get a move on.”
“What about this one?” EDI said.
I turned back to the photo frame and found my heart had somehow lodged itself in my throat.
“Damn.” I think I breathed after a second. “Kaidan.”
It was him, alright. It was some stock photo, one sent out with rosters and dossiers. He was looking at the camera with one eyebrow slightly raised. Serious, calm, completely in control. I knew that wasn’t his only expression, but it was the one that I’d seen first – the one that made me want to see more.
“That’ll do, EDI,” I said curtly, refusing to let my emotions bubble over at the mere sight of a picture. “Use that one.”
“Done, Commander,” EDI said, and the frame flickered for a second, then the image held steady. “I like it as well.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You like it? You’re a program.”
“His features are very regular,” EDI explained. “They fall well within the proportions accorded to human beauty.”
“They sure do,” I agreed. “But don’t be getting any ideas, EDI.”
“I do not understand, Commander. I am an AI, and am not subject to human emotions or attractions.”
“Lucky you,” I muttered.
I took one last look at Kaidan’s holo, then left the room before I started getting weepy in front of my own damn ship.