“Am I what?” Shepard gaped at the salarian. Mordin blinked his large eyes at her.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“I…” Shepard’s first instinct was to grab the alien’s thin throat and squeeze. But that bloodthirsty notion was cut short by the genuine innocence of the question. Her fingers curled into fists, and she forced herself to be calm as she said:
“Mordin, you do not – *ever * - ask a human female if she is having PMS.”
“Pre-menstrual syndrome,” Shepard said, rubbing her eyes. “You just don’t ask about it. Especially armed females.”
“Have no gun,” he pointed out.
“I’m a biotic,” she reminded him.
“Yes,” he nodded. “Understand now. Hormonal reaction at this time of month makes you unstable.”
“Yeah,” she said through gritted teeth, “it does.”
“Can help with that,” Mordin told her.
“Ah,” Shepard coughed. “How, exactly?”
“Advice, medicine,” Mordin replied. “Could work out tension sexually. Not together,” he added, not appearing at all embarrassed, just seeking to clarify. “Not me. Salarians non-hormonal species. Non-mammalian. You understand. But alone - or with mammalian partner. Several potential partners on this ship…”
“No,” Shepard said, more quickly than she meant to. “No, no.” She shook her head. “Just…no.”
“Prudish behavior,” Mordin said, his eyes taking her in with a clinical air. “Surprising, given hormone levels.”
“It’s not… I have someone…” She frowned at him. “It’s none of your business, frankly.”
“No intention to offend,” Mordin replied. “If existing possessive, hormonal-based pairing with absent partner causing tendency to abstinence out of sense of fidelity, can find another solution. Masturba…”
“Mordin!” Shepard cut him off. “Just…please. Leave my sex life out of this. Or lack thereof, as the case may be.”
“Need to be in best shape for mission,” Mordin replied, his great eyes blinking at her. “Need to take care of self, physically.”
“I can deal,” she said wearily. “I have before. It will pass.”
“But, hormone levels high,” he told her. He tapped on his omnitool. Shepard frowned slightly as he waved it in front of her. “As I thought,” he said. “Ovulation cycle at peak. Pre-mating hormones…”
“What?” Shepard blinked at him. “I’m actually…” She broke off as the implications hit her. “Shit. I’m fertile?”
Mordin nodded as he let the omnitool flicker away. “Reproductive organs fully functioning. Cellular breakdown appears to have been reversed. Unclear if ovum have sustained lasting damage. Could run in depth analysis…”
“That’s not necessary,” she told him. “Not…now, anyway.”
Mordin nodded. “Have analyzed data from Project Lazarus,” he told her. “Incredible work. Impressed humans have such advanced technology.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said absently. But her mind was somewhere else entirely. Until now, she hadn’t really thought about… that . She had just assumed that Cerberus had brought her back as a weapon, just a mind full of memories with a fancy body to go with it. But if they had brought her back entirely…
Then what? She asked herself. She had given up on a normal life long ago. Though a part of her wondered what she would have been like if her life had progressed normally – well, normally for a conservative colony kid – she really hadn’t let herself think about family. She didn’t even know if she wanted one. But if the possibility still existed that she could…
“I wonder why they bothered,” she murmured.
“Many possibilities,” Mordin offered. “Need all systems working for proper health? Want hormonal systems functioning properly? Could be…”
“That’s okay, Mordin,” Shepard said, cutting him off. “I’ll ask Officer Lawson. She must know why.”
Mordin nodded. “Yes,” he said. “In meantime, should probably begin regimen of contraceptives. If you wish to set aside prudish assumptions and relieve tension…”
“I won’t,” Shepard said hastily. “But yeah, have you got something to take the edge off of this…ah…monthly condition?”
Mordin nodded, apparently pleased that she had asked for his advice. “Have extensive knowledge of human medicine,” he told her proudly. “Can suggest several…”
“Just give me the standard Alliance menstruation-suppression shot,” she told him. No sense in worrying about all that while out on this crazy mission. She probably missed the boat for this month, but that would be one less thing on her mind going forward.
“Do not have such medicine here,” Mordin told her. “Doctor Chakwas, however…”
“Of course,” Shepard nodded. “Yeah. I completely forgot about all this. And I have something for her,” Shepard added, remembering the bottle of brandy she’d picked up on Omega as a gift for her old friend. “Anything else you need, Mordin?” she added, remembering the reason that she’d come in here before the salarian had hit her with his bizarre questions. “Is the lab working well for you?”
“Quite satisfactory,” he replied, turning his attention back to the computer in front of him. “Found a few surveillance bugs.” He chuckled at that. Shepard nodded grimly.
“Destroyed most of them,” he went on. “Returned expensive one to Miranda.”
“Wait,” Shepard blinked. “What?”
“Nothing unexpected,” he went on. “Just need more samples. More Collector data…”
“Go back,” Shepard told him. The alien looked up in surprise. “You found and disabled the bugs in here?”
“Most of them,” he told her. “Wanted some help from the AI, so left a few…”
“No one said anything?”
“Miranda did not seem pleased,” Mordin admitted, “But did not object…”
“Keep destroying them,” Shepard told him, starting to grin. “Any that you can find. And if you could…” She wrinkled her nose and then said, “I can’t stand the idea of being watched. Could you come remove any devices you can find from my private quarters? And my…shower.”
“Will gladly clear room,” Mordin told her. “But are no devices in the showers. Asked AI. Even salarians have modesty regarding recording devices.”
She let her eyes slide shut for a moment and let out a breath. “Thank you, Jesus,” she murmured.
“Illusive Man not interested in…” Mordin began.
“Hey, I didn’t know what the guy was interested in,” Shepard said with a shrug, feeling a little silly now. “I just want the devices gone. As many as you can find.”
“Illusive Man may disapprove,” Mordin observed. “And need to leave some so that EDI…”
“Then he shouldn’t have put me in charge,” Shepard said, standing a little straighter. “Take them out. Leave the ones in the public rooms so EDI can communicate with us, but take out everything in the private quarters – especially my private quarters.”
“Very well,” Mordin said, nodding. “But some devices may be difficult to find. May have technology that defies detection, and software surveillance on personal email messages…”
“Just do what you can,” Shepard told him. “EDI can monitor the hallways, that’s fine. And the comm room. But she doesn’t need to see me sleeping. Neither does the Illusive prick.” She turned to go, then she stopped.
“Thanks Mordin,” she said, smiling wryly. “You’re not quite what I expected, but I appreciate the talk.”
“Anytime,” he replied.
Shepard nodded and headed straight for the elevator. She needed to talk to Miranda and make a stop by the medbay, and she probably should check in on Kasumi and Zaeed at some point – Garrus, too, she realized belatedly.
But first, she really needed another shower.
It had been a long day. Kaidan sighed as he stumbled up the back stairs of Lilith and Mark’s pre-fab house. He had spent all morning surveying the land where the towers would be built and all afternoon trying to figure out how to deal with Horizon’s radio-wave-defying atmosphere. He didn’t even bother to take off his armor as he headed straight for the kitchen. He hoped Lilith wouldn’t mind if he raided the cupboards. He was famished.
Kaidan walked into the room to find Mark alone at the kitchen table. Mark looked up from his drink as Kaidan walked in. It looked like it had been a long day for the farmer, as well. He was covered in dirt the way that one can only get when working and sweating all day in a dusty field. Kaidan had seen enough colonies by now to know that kind of work well.
“Mind if I get myself something to eat?” Kaidan asked him.
“Dinner’s in the fridge,” Mark told him. “Lilith has a meeting tonight. Said she’d be back late.”
Kaidan gave the man a grateful look. “Thanks,” he said. He got his meal out and didn’t even bother to warm it up. He sat down and began to eat as he always ate: ravenously.
“Biotics, huh?” Mark said, his eyes narrowing. “I’d heard that you have to eat a lot, but damn.”
“Sorry,” Kaidan said, making an effort to slow down. “It’s just that…”
“Lilith’s a good cook,” Mark said, knowingly. “And she likes that you eat everything she puts in front of you.”
“Oh,” Kaidan said, not sure if this put him in good stead with Mark or not.
The two men fell into silence, Kaidan eating and Mark just staring into space with a drink in his hand. Suddenly, Mark looked up at Kaidan and asked:
“No,” Kaidan replied. He willed his mind not to follow that question to sorrowful reflections on what might have been.
“You got kids?”
“No,” Kaidan said again.
Kaidan choked a little as he began to laugh. “Yeah,” he said, chuckling. “I’m straight.”
“Huh,” Mark said. His face remained impassive as he went back to his drink.
“Is there some reason why you asked?” Kaidan wanted to know. He wasn’t offended, really, just curious. Maybe this was why the guy hadn’t liked him. On Earth, homosexuality was considered normal, but the colonies tended to be a little old-fashioned.
“Just wondering,” Mark said with a shrug. “Couldn’t tell.”
“You couldn’t tell that I was straight?” Kaidan asked. “Really?”
“Well, there’s your hair,” Mark said, giving the top of Kaidan’s head a pointed glance.
“What’s wrong with it?” Kaidan wondered, running a hand through his hair self-consciously. His cut met regs and it seemed to suit him, he thought. Shepard had never complained.
“Eh,” Mark shrugged again and failed to elaborate. “Plus there’s your armor.”
“What about the armor?” Kaidan asked, glancing down at the suit. The upgrade to the Onyx suits included a lighted shield interface that better synched with his own biotic barriers. He hadn’t thought much about the appearance. It wasn’t bright pink, like his last suit of armor. That was all he cared about.
Mark looked Kaidan over and made a face. “Let’s just say that a lot of folks on this colony have been watchin’ you workin’ in that armor,” he said. “Not all of them are female.”
“Does this include you?” Kaidan asked him.
“Shit no,” Mark said, making a face. “Not that I have a problem with guys who…” he added, quickly. “Just…” He shrugged. “Shit.”
“I’m straight,” Kaidan told him. “Doesn’t matter to me if other people aren’t.”
The farmer watched Kaidan through narrowed eyes and then nodded.
“Want a drink?” he asked.
“Sure,” Kaidan replied. He didn’t know how it had happened, but clearly he’d passed some sort of test. He wasn’t sure if he felt honored or not.
“Whiskey,” Mark told him, pouring him a shot. “May not be the fanciest drink in the world, but it works for me.”
“Works for me, too,” Kaidan replied. He took the offered shot glass and held it up to the light of the evening sunset. “Cheers.”
Shepard stumbled into the elevator and hit the button. The evening had gone much better than the morning. She’d taken a shower - a private shower, thank God. Then she’d stopped to get something to eat, and damn it if Rupert wasn’t getting better at cooking with each day. She’d had some coffee, too, though the hour was getting late, then stopped to check in with Miranda.
The Cerberus officer had been snippy, to say the least. The woman had told Shepard that yes, in fact, they had brought all of her body back. Uncertain of what systems could be left out of the equation without upsetting others, they’d fixed everything. Like Mordin, Miranda was unsure of the extent of the trauma sustained to specific cells. She suspected that cellular breakdown had been reversed, but there really was no way to tell unless Shepard actually tried to…
Hell, if she ever got that far, Shepard told Miranda, she’d worry about it then. She didn’t want to dwell on the topic more than she had to. She wasn’t sure if she ever wanted to test out the extent of her body’s reproductive abilities.
So Shepard had promptly gone off to the medbay to make sure she had her contraceptive shot for the next six months. She wasn’t sure if she would need it - it sort of depended on how soon she managed to get in touch with Kaidan. But there was no sense in being stupid - or in dealing with tampons and the like if she could avoid it.
She used the opportunity to bring Doctor Chakwas the gift of a bottle of Serrice Ice Brandy. It was just like the one the doctor had lost when the old Normandy went down. Chakwas had, rather uncharacteristically, opened the bottle up right then and there. Shepard couldn’t say no to the offered drink, so they’d shared one glass, then another, then another until the bottle was empty.
And now Shepard was stumbling back to her quarters, simply, happily drunk .
No, not quite drunk, she thought with a smile. Just good and buzzed. The new biotic implants and her new body were burning through the booze quickly. It was a pleasant feeling. And the warmth of having re-connected with Doctor Chakwas had her feeling even better. She and Chakwas had toasted everyone they’d known and everything in the traverse. The doctor had regaled Shepard with stories about the people on the old Normandy. Shepard didn’t realize the doctor had seen or overheard so much, hiding out down in the medbay as she had. Most of the stories had been about Kaidan and Joker and Jenkins, which amused Shepard no end. She had no idea that Chakwas was so much fun. She’d have to go visit the medbay more often.
Then, just before the doctor had passed out, Shepard had heard Chakwas murmur:
Ah, Shepard, our immovable center. A place where a person can stop and catch her breath.
Immovable center? Shepard chuckled. She wasn’t feeling so immovable right now. More like a weather vane, blowing any which way Cerberus pushed her. But Chakwas’ vote of confidence meant the world to her. It was moments like these, when people showed their absolute trust in her, that made her feel a little less alone. They made her feel like living up to that trust. She could use all the friends she could get right now, and all the trust in the galaxy.
When the elevator reached her quarters, Shepard walked through the doors feeling delightfully fuzzy-headed. She glanced at her desk and smiled.
She sighed and dropped into the chair. She gazed at the picture that flickered to life before her and only just stopped short of touching it.
Talk about an immovable center. Kaidan had always trusted her, always had her back. He had been there for her before she’d even asked for it, before she even realized how much she needed him. She was someone who had once prided herself on not needing anyone, but she had to admit that she needed Kaidan.
Now, if only she could find him.
Shepard glanced to her personal computer. Once again, she considered trying to contact him via email. He might still be checking his old account…
But, no, she thought, she couldn’t risk it, at least not until she had disabled all monitoring devices on the ship and in her personal software. Perhaps Ceberus didn’t know what Kaidan was to her. If they didn’t, she wanted to keep it that way. She still felt certain that her new Cerberus “allies” would use anyone and everyone they could to bring her to heel if they could.
Shepard winced as a headache began inside of her skull, just behind her right ear.
Ooh, so there was the downside of drinking half a bottle of brandy, right there. Her new implants were certainly touchy these days. They were giving her headaches fairly often. It didn’t help that this damn room had such garish lighting. She could sympathize with Kaidan, now. His migrianes had been worse than these buzzing headaches, though. She still couldn’t imagine what he’d gone through all those years. Her immovable center, indeed.
Shepard wandered down the stairs to her bed and flopped onto her back.
*Kaidan, * she thought as her eyes drifted shut.
She would find him again. She would. And when she did, she would hold onto that immovable center of hers and never him let go.
“Shepard is disabling the monitoring devices in her personal quarters,” Miranda said, the worry in her voice echoing in the large, empty comm room. “Professor Solus is helping her. At this rate, only the common areas will be under surveillance.”
“Don’t worry,” the Illusive Man blew out a puff of smoke. In the hologram before Miranda, it appeared as a pixilated cloud before it faded away. “She’s left more than enough for me to keep an eye on things.”
He smiled, and Miranda shivered a little.
Keep an eye on things, indeed. How was it that Miranda had never been bothered by those eyes of his before? She had noticed the glowing cybernetic pupils, of course. She had seen them the first time she had met the Illusive Man. But had they always looked so…eerie?
Before this mission, Miranda had never questioned the Illusive Man’s appearance, never questioned him . But somehow, Shepard had introduced a doubt into her mind about the Illusive Man, and Miranda just couldn’t shake it:
How can you be so sure of him when you know so little about him?
Miranda frowned. How had Shepard managed to slip that uncertainty into her mind?
Maybe it was Shepard’s whole-hearted devotion to the cause of saving those lost colonies. Shepard was helping Cerberus with their mission, but operating by her own methods and ideology. And yet, she’d been as effective as Cerberus had been in the past - perhaps more so.
In Miranda’s experience, there were only two kinds of people in the galaxy: idealists, and those who got things done. Shepard, strangely, was both. Miranda really didn’t know what to make of it. She had grudgingly come to admire Shepard, which was…strange. Shepard was not at all the kind of woman Miranda would have spoken to given a choice. Then again, Miranda didn’t speak with many women given the choice. She wasn’t sure why that was. It just…was.
“Shepard also asked about her…” Miranda broke off, uncertain how to finish the sentence.
“Ability to have children at a later date?” the Illusive Man finished for her. “I know.”
Miranda blinked. After all this time, she knew that the Illusive Man was aware of intel long before she was, but it never failed to surprise her. Yet now, for the first time, she also found it unsettling.
“I wanted to leave that possibility open,” the Illusive Man told her. “I don’t know what – if anything – will come of it. But should Shepard find a partner…” He shrugged.
“Are you planning something?” Miranda asked, feeling vaguely disturbed.
“Not at all.” The Illusive Man tapped some ash from the end of his cigarette. “I merely had Wilson clone all of her reproductive cells. Sadly, those samples were destroyed in the attack on the Lazarus station. But there are still the cells inside of her.”
Miranda felt as if the floor had dropped out from under her. “I was unaware of this,” she said, astonished. “I thought Wilson never worked on Shepard when I was not present.”
“He didn’t harm her,” the Illusive Man assured her. “Or do anything…untoward. I made sure of that.”
“Then why wasn’t I involved?” Miranda asked, taking a step forward. “Why did you keep me in the dark…?”
“I have my reasons,” the Illusive Man told her, his voice sharp. Miranda’s mouth snapped shut, but her eyes narrowed.
“Shepard was not harmed,” the Illusive Man said again. “I wanted to keep as much DNA data as I could, in case something were to happen and we had to grow a clone of her – or grow a child.”
“You would have harvested her body for…genetic data?” Miranda asked, her voice dropping to a near whisper.
“I wanted to bring Shepard back,” the Illusive Man said, coldly. “And we did. I had contingency plans, however.” He leaned back in his chair and took a drag off of his cigarette. “As you know, Miranda, I always have contingency plans.” He blew out a line of smoke.
“Of course,” Miranda said. She told herself it made sense. She reminded herself that the Illusive Man had not harmed Shepard.
But still, it bothered her.
Why should I care? Miranda wondered. Shepard was not her friend. The commander scarcely trusted Miranda, and heaven knows Miranda did not trust Shepard.
But, Miranda thought, no one should be genetically modified without their consent.
Then why did you do it to Shepard? she asked herself. Miranda frowned. She knew the reasons why, the reasons the Illusive Man had given to her, the reasons she had given herself. Yet now, even with those reasons, she wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question any more.
Miranda took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.
“Very well,” she said. “Shall I install new monitoring devices to replace the old?”
“Don’t worry,” the Illusive Man said. “EDI has ways of getting around the blinds spots and reporting back to me. There are…emails, after all. You just focus on helping Shepard recruit the team she needs. You have a lot of work to do, yet, Miranda.”