CHAPTER 41 OF GHOST IN THE MACHINE
I’m sorry I didn’t write for so long. You know what it’s like when I’m on a mission. Only this mission is nothing like the others. I told you before that I no longer know who my friends are, but now it’s even worse: now I no longer know who my enemy is.
I know you’re thinking, wait, isn’t talking about missions against regulations? But I have to or I’ll go nuts again. I mean, that’s the whole point of this, right? To externalize all the shit that’s piling up inside when I’m stressed. It’s not like I’ll actually send it anyway.
Shepard shook her head, then erased the entire last paragraph. Goddamn.
I know what you’re thinking now: isn’t it against regulations to talk about missions? But I’ll have to or I’ll go nuts again. I can feel it, creeping up on me. I get stressed when I don’t understand what’s going on and nobody’s taking responsibility. On paper, I’m under Nihlus’ command, and he’s to blame if everything goes to hell. But in reality, I was under Kyle’s command on Torfan, and we all know how well that went. On paper, our nominal mission is accomplished: we found and apprehended Saren. But in reality, it feels like he’s the one running the show. It’s my hands that are tied, not his. What could I do? Mutiny? Kill them both? Because I could only get to Saren over Nihlus’ dead body; that much is clear.
Shit, Jo. I don’t think I could kill Nihlus.
She stared at the mini-confession, frowning, her heart beating loud. The foul language needed to be cut. But that could be done later. Right now, she needed to—
The buzz from the door drilled a bloody hole in her ear.
“Better be fucking important,” she barked, loud enough for the uninvited guest to hear even before she waved the seal open.
“Hey,” Alenko said, putting a raised hand between them. “You called me, remember?”
Right. She did. Damn.
“Should I come back later?”
“No. Sorry. Come in.”
It was dark in the cabin save for the fuzzy glow of the keyboard her omni was projecting on the cot and the starlight from the tiny viewport. She started for the light controls.
“Don’t,” he said. “Please.”
“Starting. The lights make it worse.”
“Yeah. Heard about those.” She sat down on the cot and motioned him to take the chair. “Makes it easier to pretend I did a good thing when I refused the implant.”
Alenko took the seat and rolled his head back. She couldn’t see his face clearly, but it sounded like he chuckled. “I knew you had it in you the first time I saw you.”
“Takes one to know one, I guess?”
He said nothing, his head still hanging back between his shoulder blades. It looked painful.
“Jokes aside,” she continued carefully, “That’s what I wanted to talk about.”
“Figures.” He lifted his head up. His eyes were shining in the dark. “You’re going to question me about turian biotics.”
“Well, about the turian biotic we’re holding in the med bay, but yes.”
“Waste of time. There’s nothing I can tell you that you can’t find on the extranet.”
She let a few seconds pass, though the silence wasn’t pleasant. Her heart was still beating like a hammer. At last she said, “Can you… feel him?”
“Even when he… does stuff?”
“He hasn’t done anything since we left Virmire. And he’s out, anyway. Last I heard those implants of his were giving Chakwas a run for her money.”
Shepard groaned. “Does everyone know?”
She massaged her forehead. Saren had submitted to the removal of all his biotic amps, but it turned out they were so deeply fused with his nervous system that only the two oldest and four newest ones could be extracted without risking death or disabling nerve damage. And, of course, we couldn’t have that. If successful, the VI-aided surgery would leave him with four, which was still four times more than Alenko had. Saren had informed them, with the same suspicious compliance, that without the… wires… connecting the implants to each other externally, their effects would not stack. And Chakwas confirmed it, albeit tentatively. But Shepard was still on yellow alert, and would not be able to relax until he was either dead or well out of her hands.
“In theory, though,” she said. When Alenko’s eyebrows went up, she added, “Could you feel if he tried something?”
God, he was impossible. Where was the yessir-nosir shit when she needed it?
“Even from afar, like this?”
“Look, Commander. If you want to… keep a biotic eye on him or something, talk to Liara. One, she knows way more about this than me, and two, she’s got nothing else to do anyway.”
“Yeah. I can’t.”
She braced for an ‘oh, right, you shot her mother,’ but Alenko just shook his head. “Sorry, I forgot.” He sighed. “Alright. What do you want me to do?”
“Tell me about that… barrier of his. You’ve seen the footage from Vakarian’s visor, right? Can you do that?”
“I wish. I trust my barrier to deflect stray rounds, but I wouldn’t stand in the way of point blank shots. No one in their right mind would. Well, I don’t know. Maybe some krogan and asari can do it, but not turians. Normal turians.”
Shepard cringed on the inside. She didn’t like that word. But she couldn’t think of an alternative. “At least I got that right,” she muttered. “He’s not normal.”
“Hell, no.” Alenko stilled, seemingly staring at the floor. “If I try hard, I can feel him. All the way up here, even though he’s unconscious. I can’t feel Liara, and she’s just three cabins away. Or you, at this distance. It’s creepy.”
“Creepy?” The idea that Alenko had just felt her with his… biotic… tentacles… or however the fuck that worked was… well, it was kind of… hell. What were they talking about? Right. “It’s dangerous. What do we do when he decides it’s time to quit this charade and murder us all? I mean, if we can’t shoot him—“
“Sure we can,” he said, but he didn’t sound convinced. He straightened up in his seat, and Shepard thought she could see him frowning. Good. Finally she got his attention. “We’d just need more fire-power. Also, higher fire rate, like with the shields. No one can keep it up forever.”
“So that’s your recommendation, as an expert? To use bigger guns?”
“What did you expect? A secret handshake? I told you it’s a waste of time.” But instead of giving her his signature blank stare, he was searching the floor for ideas. “Well,” he said after some seconds, “I guess we could drug him.”
“Ok, that’s useful,” Shepard was nodding. “I’ll talk to the doctor.”
“You’re not even considering the idea that he’s telling the truth.”
She snorted. “Really? After everything we heard about this… indoctrination?” Her stomach flipped, but she kept going. “He’ll do as he’s told, and we need to have a way to stop him when he does. But now at least we get to keep an eye on him.”
“Better have them inside the tent, pissing out, than outside, pissing in, eh?”
Shepard laughed. “Yeah, exactly. God, that’s my favorite. How did you know?”
“The biotic eye,” he said, tapping the middle of his forehead, and Shepard laughed some more.
To be continued…