There was no special fanfare, no dark void or abyss of death. I was there in my world one moment, and then the next- I simply wasn't. I blinked and stumbled and then I was on my back, opening my eyes.
I sat up on metal floors, between metal crates on a ship. How did I know it was a ship? Because I recognized it.
The Tempest's cargo bay was deserted when I sat up and started blinking at the room around me- but soon enough there were three people inching into the room with their guns drawn. Like, real ones. Ones that made me stare for a minute because they were so elegant and simple and beautiful while still looking sci-fi.
At the sight of my sleepiness, they lowered their guns, but didn't really put them away.
If this is a dream, don't wake me up. Well. Actually do. Right before one of them shoots me, please. But not until then.
"A stowaway?" Scott Ryder stands before me in all his gawky, gangly glory. Like, seriously. He gangles. I dunno how you gangle, but he does it. "When did she board the Tempest? SAM?"
The hold echoes around us. "She did not," is SAM's response. "She was not there, and then she was. As if she simply sprang into being on the ship."
"Some kind of teleportation technology? That isn't even- is that even possible? Do you think the Kett have anything like that?" Cora says. "Hey. Hey, who are you?" She says directly to me.
I blink at her a little, but don't respond. I don't think I could if I tried right now. My brain is muddled, everything is kinda…wonky.
"She looks like she's in shock." Cora comments. "Do we have those blanket things people use for that?"
"Those went out of use a while ago, Cora. You watch too many movies." Liam scoffs.
Scott sighs, "get Lexi. Once she's stable, we'll have a chat with her."
Crewmembers from all areas of the Tempest are clustered outside the doors to the cargo bay, peeking into the room like a bunch of very nosy kids. They slowly built up there over the conversation between the original trio and now there's so many of them it's ridiculous. Even with the small amount of crew on the Tempest, it's a lot in that small doorway.
It makes me snort a little bit to see them shoving themseves into each other to get a better view.
Scott looks over his shoulder toward where I'm looking and sighs explosively. "Guys, close the damn door!"
I see a flash of pink and blue before the door seals itself shut. A deep voice asking a question I can no longer hear in a language I don't understand anyway.
'That was Jaal.' Peebee, Gil and Vetra were there too, but that's the one that's really making my heart race.
"So…getting Lexi?" Liam points toward the door and grins, then walks toward it, putting his gun away. "Be right back."
… … … …
"So we've established there's nothing wrong with her, aside from the fact she had no omni-tool." I can understand Lexi now. "Her body has no special add-ons like anyone in the military would have, but she seems civilian so that isn't strange."
After she had me injected with the omni-tool hardware- seriously injected it right into my body- I could finally understand whatever Asari dialect she was speaking. Before that, she had to say everything to Scott so he could repeat it to me.
They moved me from the Cargo Bay to the Med Center when the initial scans showed nothing and had me lie on one of the cots so she could get a deeper scan of my body.
"Why were you in the Cargo Bay?" Scott finally asks me, now that Lexi's signed off on my wellness.
Damn. Can't get away with being mute anymore. "I don't know," I respond.
"How could you not know?" Cora is still in the room, sitting on the cot across from mine, scoffing at me. "Did you just happen to stumble into some kind of teleporter or better yet, maybe it's divine providence." Her tone is distinctly scornful.
"Don't make light of other people's religions." I instantly snap. "No, I don't think it's divine providence, but if I did- it'd be my right to think so." Why did that rile me so bad? I usually let shit like that roll off my back. I guess the dismissive edge to her words was just too grating.
"Hey hey, everybody stay calm…we can figure this out…I think." Scott has his hands outstretched toward each of us.
Cora scoffs again and crosses her arms. "We have no idea who she is or what she wants, Scott. She could be here to kill you for all we know."
"She doesn't look like she could kill anybody right now." Scott says, giving Cora a look. "She's pale and sick and no matter where she's from she deserves basic care. Innocent until proven Guilty, Cora."
"I have experience with guns," I say, right up front. "But only on a shooting range and…well. I took a police-training course once. I failed the psychological exam, though." People with Depression and Anxiety aren't often considered to be worth the risk, I guess. Add in all my paranoia issues and the fact that I sometimes can't move for days at a time…well. I guess it wasn't all that unreasonable of them. I just really really wanted to be a cop. "I have mental conditions so…" I shrug.
Scott listens and doesn't interrupt me. I appreciate that. "So you have some training but no experience? Even more of a rookie than me, then." He grins. "Well. Did you come from the Nexus?"
"No." I respond. "I've never been on the Nexus."
"How is this possible?" Lexi asks, turning her head. "Were you on the Ark?"
"No." I respond. "Yesterday I was on earth. I blinked, and now I'm here."
"On Earth?" Scott sighs and shakes his head. "In what year?"
Okay, so I could tell the truth and say, 2017. Or I could lie and come up with an incredibly simple backstory that would explain what I'm doing here. I could also tell them they're a video game, but that isn't happening.
"2186." I respond. "The Reapers were attacking Earth."
After telling them everything I could remember about what happens in ME3, with vague generalized answers as to the outcomes- well. Scott explained where I was and what was going on, with the initiative and everything- but in really general terms as he stared at the ceiling with a blank look on his face.
Cora is silently brooding. Pacing on the other side of the med-bay.
Scott just looks kind of dazed and freaked out.
Lexi's expression is crumpled and her hand is over her eyes. I think she's crying.
"You don't seem as shaken as I would be in your position," Scott says, eyes a little vacant and wet.
"I'm somewhere safe now. I don't know how I got here or why…but I'm not where the Reapers are." I shrug. "I didn't have any family and none of my friends…well, I've never really gotten all that close to anyone." Not true, but simpler. "I'm gonna live, I hope. And that's…something. I mean, I still wish they could've come with me, however I got here."
That's not a lie at all. I really do wish they could all be here. Garrus, Tali and Wrex. Liara, Grunt and Kasumi. Samara, Vega and…Thane. He was always my favorite, my romance. God, he's dead, isn't he? Either killed by Kai Leng or Kepral's.
There are tears running over my face and I didn't even realize they were there until now.
All of your crew can die in ME2 if you play it wrong. Half of the people I love from this universe could have died long before their time- against the Reapers or just because their Shepard did things wrong.
It's six hundred years past the Reaper invasion. They could've been destroyed, synthesis could've been achieved or Shepard could've been dumb enough to try and take control of them. Any which way you slice it, they're all long dead. Reapers or no Reapers.
And now I know they were real. I mean, I dunno if I'm just from a dimension where we're gods who create realities or if we're more like seers who can imagine ourselves somewhere else we've never been…or what. But it's definitely real.
Scott and Lexi and Cora…Liam and Peebee and the others from before…they're all real.
"Breathe, just breathe." Lexi's hand is on my shoulder.
I take a deep, gasping breath when I realize I haven't been. "Oh, god!"
"It's okay." Cora is there, suddenly. Grasping my shoulders as Lexi moves away. "You were right, it's just like you said- you're safe. They might be gone, but somehow…you aren't. It's gonna be okay."
I drop my head and grip her wrists, probably a little too tightly, but she doesn't let go or say anything about it. 'They were real and now they're dead. I loved them all and they're just…gone. And I wasn't there for it.'
I lift my head and blink.
"What, what is it?" Cora is peering at me with something akin to worry.
I blink some tears out of my eyes as I release my death-grip on her wrists. "I just remembered…one of the people I knew was a really young Krogan. There are probably Krogan out there in the Milky Way Galaxy that still remember the Reaper War…they're not all already dead. Asari, too."
Cora drops her hands from my shoulders and seems to be considering that, a slightly less melancholic look on her face than before.
"That's right," Lexi breaks in to say. "That's absolutely right." Her smile is small and weak and doesn't reach her eyes.
"Well." Scott chews his bottom lip. "I guess we're gonna have to find you someplace to stay."
"Where is there to stay?" I ask, wondering how many planets he's stabilized.
"There's basically just…the Nexus. The outpost on Eos is to capacity now." He sighs and shakes his head. "We're heading to a new planet right now, so we can't take you anywhere until we get everything done there anyway."
Lexi is sitting at her desk now, looking somber. "You should have her introduced to the crew. Someone else can help her get acclimated while you're on Havarl. We're only a half hour out, after all."
Scott groans, "right. I'm taking Jaal and Peebee down with me…Liam would probably be good for the…acclimating, thing." He says, unsurely. "You met him already, remember?"
I nod slowly and get off the cot as he gestures for me to follow him out of the med bay. Cora is following behind me and I feel oddly boxed in.
"I'll stay with her too, Scott." She says.
I glance over my shoulder at her. Her eyes aren't on me.
"Alright. Since that's settled…Liam!" Scott stops in the Research room and calls across to Liam who's doing something with a datapad thing. "You mind taking…oh, I forgot to ask for your name."
I blink at him for a moment. "Uh…Myra Harkness." The last name is stolen from Doctor Who, but come on! If I'm in a universe where no one can fact-check me and I'm starting over, I'm giving myself a better name.
"You mind taking Myra around and showing her the ship while we're on Havarl?" Scott asks Liam as the ex-cop walks over to us.
Liam smiles, bright and sunny, "I don't mind at all. Why don't I show you where we eat, first?"
My stomach grumbles. "Oh, shit. I'm hungry."
Liam and Scott laugh, but Cora is silent behind me.
"Yeah, we'll take care of that first, then you can meet the rest of the crew." Liam turns and gestures off toward the Crew Quarters.
Like I'm gonna say no? This is the Tempest! I'm gonna eat, then get a tour. I know this can't be a dream, it's too real…but if it were…I wouldn't ever want to wake up.
I only got to meet Jaal for a handful of moments before he had to rush off and get ready to go off with Ryder.
Peebee followed me around the ship till that point, asking a dozen questions about my 'teleportation' and seemed disappointed when all I could give her in the way of explanation was: 'I blinked'.
Jaal is…way bigger in real life than he was in game. Probably because I'm a tad bit shorter than both Ryders. Not by a huge margin, but enough that he towered over me.
I didn't hear much of what was said, I mean, not a lot of it was actually directed at me. So.
But I did notice his eyes were a lot deeper blue and more shimmery than they looked in-game. And that his micro-espressions were a lot easier to read than I thought they'd be. He obviously felt uncomfortable surrounded by so many aliens.
Scott is incredibly uncertain in the way he moves and speaks, and that isn't good. I can already see the problem with him trying to lead them this way. They'll doubt him because he doubts himself. Ugh. I hope to god none of the crew dies before he gets himself together. I might strangle him to death.
"You're staring at that console awfully hard." Vetra's voice. I almost jump. "Something on your mind?"
"Your armor and weapon loadouts are all fucked up," I say without thinking. "Did Scott do this?"
"He chooses all our upgrades, customizations and mods, yeah." She says. "I don't have many complaints…but I guess he doesn't have much experience with it. Do you?"
"Sorta," I respond. Biting my lip, I tap the interface until I figure out how to work all the buttons and find all the options. "I mean, I could probably do better than Scott- but you might be better than me. Why let him do that for you guys anyway?"
"We've got a lot of stuff going on, and he's the Pathfinder." She shrugs. "It's his right to decide how we do things and what equipment we have."
"Well…he's busy too, isn't he? Shouldn't you have like, a gunnery chief for stuff like that?" I ask, puzzled.
"Technically we do," she chuckles. "I guess Jaal and Liam would count as two of them. They do most of the maintenance of the weapons and armor."
'Don't think about Jaal's naked ass. Or Liam's naked torso.' It's so hard not to, though. I'm not all that drawn to Liam but he is a sweetheart- with a damn good body.
"Are you alright? You're turning bright red." She has an undertone to her reverb'd voice that's low and growly. It's very nice to listen to.
"I'm cool. I just…" I cough and clear my throat. "Um, can I ask what Scott's doing?"
"Scott?" She blinks and shifts in place. "Well…he's trying to improve our relations with the Angarans. You saw Jaal, right? Met him?"
She leans on the console, getting comfortable. "We just made contact with their species and Jaal is our only contact, the only one who can vouch for our intentions. So Scott's taking him on some missions on Havarl- namely one specific mission that he thinks will show how serious we are about working together."
"Oh." I glance down at the console again and have a light bulb moment. "Um. If it isn't too much to ask…would you mind if I messed around with your armor and weapons?" I grin as I finish the question, sure the answer would be no- but I had to ask. To hold a gun in my hands, to apply real mods-!
"I have an old set that I don't use anymore, you can use that." She responds, pushing off the Console and heading off toward her area, surprising me. "And I'll bring you an old pistol. Meet me at the loadout station, we'll see what you've got."
And that's how I end up spending an entire afternoon learning how to apply mods, attach customizations to armor and clean a gun.
Vetra is really cool- like even cooler than I thought she was in the game. She's patient and competent and doesn't give me the answers when I falter- she just leads me to them.
"So what about this mod? I know it packs a punch but it seems like it'd make the gun jump around a lot more." I hold up a mod for the pistol barrel and Vetra eyes it as I talk. "Also I don't think it's a good idea cause it'd make the gun overheat faster."
"Hm, well you're not wrong. That mod would be better saved for quick, brutal fights where you need to pack a punch in a short amount of time." She reaches across to pluck it from my hands and replace it with another one. "What about this one?"
"The accuracy is good but the weight is more than this other one." I sigh and pick up the accuracy mod at my feet. "So if you're looking to stay lightweight you'd go for this one, but if you really need the extra accuracy boost and you can deal with the weight- then yeah this one would be good."
"Good…" she switches out the mods again, this time for a magazine mod.
"Ugh, no." I toss it back to her and she catches it with a chuckle. "That is the most useless mod ever."
She laughs a bit louder at that, "not the most but it's right up there."
"So what about-" an alarm blares, cutting me off. "What-?"
"Vetra help me get Peebee." Lexi goes running toward the elevator.
"Did she get herself banged up again?" Vetra sighs and stands up, trotting after her. "Stay here, kid."
"Sure…" I sigh and start organizing the mods into neat piles before tying them up with the little rubber-band things with clamps on them. Vetra brought them out like this. Just have to try and get them all back together…
"What's up?" Liam walks out of the Crew Quarters and detours toward me. "All alone…playing with mods?" He grins.
"Vetra was helping me figure out how to apply my knowledge manually." I respond. "I think I mostly get it now."
"Always a good skill to have," he says and leans down to help pick up the armor and gun. "Get the mods, I got these. We'll just drop 'em in her room."
"Are we allowed in her room?" I ask nervously, doing as he asks.
"So long as we drop it all right inside the door to the side and walk right back out, I can't see her getting upset about it." He shrugs, grinning wider. "Come on."
Peebee found out about me playing around with Vetra's armor and the mods and everything and insisted to sit with me to do her own. Apparently Scott isn't allowed to examine hers and she's only letting me look and learn, not actually fuck with anything.
"So see, I prefer maneuverability to power and speed to strength." She points out the augments on her weapons and armor. "Accuracy over weight, but weight over damage."
"Well it's great of you to help me understand the augments and all, but shouldn't you be resting?" I eye the bandages wrapped around her arms and legs in her casual t-shirt and shorts outfit and wonder if she's in pain.
She blows a little bit of air out her lips, like a huff that's halfway to being a raspberry. Waving her arm to dismiss my concern, "I'm fiiiine. Scott and Vetra just overreact when I get injured. I'm not made of tissue paper or something."
"Well, you seem to only wear leather-esque armor." I point out. "They wear heavier stuff, so they must worry yours isn't enough to protect you."
"Leather-esque?" She asks, grinning in amusement.
I flush and huff, "it's how I say it, okay? Cloth-like armor that's stiffer and tougher than cloth. Like leather but…not leather, right?" I eye her armor with curiosity.
She giggles and shifts to elbow me a little, "of course not! It's a weave of synthetic materials…"
I don't understand a single word that comes out of her mouth about the material after that, but she keeps showing me all the augments and the mods, so I ignore all the stuff I can't parse and just pay attention to the stuff I can.
"Peebee!" A shout from the bridge. Lexi sounds pissed. "I need to give you your next treatment!"
"I'm fine." She says, pouting spectacularly at the closed door. "It doesn't even hurt anymore."
"It doesn't hurt because your treatment is working." Lexi says through the door. "Once it wears off it will hurt again and I'd prefer to do it before then."
Peebee rolls her eyes.
"If you just do it, then she has no reason to talk to you anymore." I tell her with a raised brow. "If you don't, she's gonna keep bothering you. Maybe you want her to." I waggle my brows, then.
She makes an indignant noise and whaps my arm, "no way! Fine, I'm going." She turns and palms open the door to see Lexi's irritable expression. "What? I'm coming!"
… … … …
It's creepy, to just stand in the doorway and stare at him, right? So…what do I do?
I'm standing just outside the doorway to the Tech Lab and…fidgeting.
He's tinkering off in the far corner, taking apart a gun and putting new parts in it, I think. Eventually it gets to be too much for me, and I just step backwards quietly and turn on my heel-
To see Vetra, Peebee and Suvi all standing in the research room. Each with varying levels of 'eyebrow raise' expressions on their faces.
And because I've always blushed bright red at the drop of a hat, those looks turn into varying versions of 'cat ate the canary' smiles. Vetra's is especially menacing.
"Uh…what?" I ask nervously.
"What'cha doin'?" Peebee sing-songs. Oh god, she sounds so much like Isabella Garcia-Shapiro talking to Phineas Flynn. It almost makes me bust out laughing.
"Nothing…" I trail off and bite my lip at the 'really?' looks on their faces. "I just-"
"Excuse me," Jaal's very polite request to pass is met with an ungodly shriek and me jumping three feet forward. "Apologies for startling you."
"I-I'm…good." I pant a little, leaning over with my hands on my knees. "Why are snipers so quiet- I mean, I know why- but come on."
There's a smattering of laughter from the trio of women as they converge on me and a chuckle from Jaal as he leaves the room. Seems to be heading for the engineering deck. His laughter is so beautiful it makes my ears tingle.
"How about we all go into Peebee's pod and talk about some things?" Vetra asks sweetly as she grasps my arm and starts dragging me behind her.
"Am I going to like this talk?" I ask nervously.
"We think so," Suvi says, sauntering behind Vetra and Peebee with exaggerated grace. Like she's trying not to bounce or something.
"Oh god, if this is-" I'm yanked into the pod with a yelp.
Vetra, Peebee and Suvi all converge on me.
Suvi looks up and says, "SAM do you mind keeping the door locked and turning on the soundproofing?"
"Door locked and soundproofing activated, Dr. Anwar."
"Thank you, SAM!" The three of them chime before turning their attentions back to me.
"So that was…innnnteresting," Peebee drawls.
"I don't think so." I respond quickly with wide, innocent eyes. I still haven't stopped blushing and now it gets worse. "I really don't think so."
"We do." Suvi and Vetra intone together, both crossing their arms almost the exact same way.
"You know, he is very pretty. In a very alien way." Suvi says, pursing her lips. "Those eyes especially. We've only had him on board for a few days, so we don't know much about him. He doesn't interest me, but I'd like to paint him. Most of the Angara would make beautiful pieces of art, I think."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say as I get progressively warmer and more light-headed.
"Oh come on," Peebee slings an arm over my shoulders. "Think about what this means!"
"Uh…what it means?" I ask with confusion.
"You're a human, he's Angaran…come on!" She says, grinning. "This would be good for Andromeda/Milky Way relations." On 'relations' she waggles her eyebrows.
I'm melting. I'm melting! "I-d…don't-"
"You so do," Vetra chuckles a little and crosses her arms. "When the time comes, we'll help."
I make a small squealing noise in the back of my throat.
"I think she's gonna blow," Peebee laughs and lets go of me, walking off toward the door to open it up. "Alright, you can run away and hyperventilate or whatever."
So that's just what I do.
"Director Tann, this is Myra Harkness." Scott introduces me to the Salarian director of the Initiative with a gesture.
Tann bows his head a little in greeting and I return the movement with some surprise. Everyone shakes hands in-game, but this is a cool difference. "You are the anomaly that appeared on the Tempest."
"This is Addison, director of Colonial Affairs." Scott gestures to Addison and she reaches out a hand for me to shake.
Then he turns to the only Turian in the room, "and this is Tiran Kandros-"
"Kandros?" I ask with some faux surprise. "Do you know a Nyreen?"
His mandibles flare, "she's a cousin of mine. You knew her?"
'Knew'. Another reminder that everyone there is dead now.
"She became leader of the Talons on Omega and helped retake the base from a terrorist organization called Cerberus..." I feel my lips tug downward a little. "I don't know if you want to know what happened to her in the war-"
"Please," he responds with some tightness to his vocals. "If you…I'd like to know."
"She died protecting civilians from Reaper creatures," I respond. "She used a biotic field and grenades to cage them in and incinerate them…and herself."
His eyes close for a long moment, then open and he chuckles. "I know it's been six hundred years, so she would've been dead by now, anyway…but it's strange to hear about it like this. She did her family proud, though, right up to the end it sounds like." He clears his throat and my heart tugs at the sadness in his voice. "Thank you."
"She was a good person," I respond. "Okay…so, you wanted to ask me questions?"
Addison and Tann glance at each other, less tense than when I first came in, but still obviously not totally convinced of my story. Well, it's a complete fabrication- but what the hell am I supposed to say?
Hey, I'm from an alternate dimension in which you're video game characters. Oh, you don't believe me? And now I'm going to be thrown in jail? Okey-dokey.
"I would like to ask if you know the status of the Salarians, Turians and Asari that were left in the Milky Way galaxy. Were they still fighting before you appeared here?" Tann's lids blink slowly over his dark eyes.
"There was a final push on Earth." I respond. "I was just one of the civilians who were being protected in a bunker down below in an underground shelter." It makes sense to me, at least. "The Reapers took the Citadel and pulled it to Earth. It was part of a super-weapon that Commander Shepard was building. I dunno if they got to use it or not. The other species weren't wiped out or anything…well, except the Batarians. They were whittled down to number in like, the hundreds."
"Not much of a loss," Addison crosses her arms. "What about your lack of omni-tool and basic health modifications?"
The loftiness of it just begs to be knocked down a couple notches. "Do poor people normally get high-level health modifications like yours?" I ask, tilting my head and squinting. "And if they do, is it usually 'just because' or do they need some kind of preexisting condition to flare up first?"
Her gaze falters and she swallows. Ha, hit the mark. Good thing rich people seem to be the same in this universe as in mine or that wouldn't have worked.
"And the Omni-tool?" Tann asks.
"I've lived in rural areas all my life, I didn't need one." I shrug. "My family and I used outdated tech in most cases when we needed to use it at all." Sticking to that story.
"She had a terminal with an actual screen," Scott grins as he relates this, clapping me on the shoulder. "Not a holographic one, an actual old-time glass screen."
I roll my eyes, "Scott..."
"I know, I know." He puts his hands up and makes that gesture with his hands patting down the air in front of him. "Anyway, I figured you guys should know she exists and…maybe we could find a place for her somewhere?"
"If I might ask…" I turn to Scott, biting my lip.
He tilts his head, "sure. Shoot."
"I'm not really good at anything they'll need. I mean, I can milk and collect eggs and things like that, but backbreaking labor is going to literally break me- but I also can't do the same things everyone here can with technology so I can't be a button-pusher…but I can be the equivalent of a gofer or servant." I explain with some embarrassment. "If you'd let me stay on the Tempest, I can do all the small jobs that everyone hates and that takes up their time and they can focus more on their actual important work."
"What jobs are you talking about?" he actually seems confused.
"Don't you remember Gil complaining about having to clean the machinery before he could repair or replace it and about how everything needs maintenance of oiling or drying or whatever?" I shrug one shoulder. "All he'd have to do is show me once and I could do all that stuff whenever it needs to be done. And I could always run to get Suvi and Kallo coffee when they can't be away from their consoles- and I could be useful for the maintenance of weapons for people who find it a tedious task. Again, I'd have to be shown, but I could learn pretty fast."
"You don't think you'd want to find something less…well, that sounds exhausting." Scott says with a grimance.
I huff a bit in amusement and shove his shoulder, "to you guys, cause you're shooting people and using diplomacy and shit like that. Or you're busy being scientists or pilots or what-have-you…and I'm just doing nothing at this point besides trying to catch up. These tasks would give me time to learn everything I need to learn about Andromeda and what's been happening and what's happening now-"
"Alright, I get it…" I want to call the expression he's putting on, his thinking face. "Well. Since you don't seem to eat much and you'd probably free up the crew to do more important things…I can't see a reason to say no…"
"It is just as well," Tann responds. "I'm uncertain we could find a place for her. We could put her in Cryo, but not much else."
"There's not enough room to be taking in random civilians," Addison agrees with a glance at Tann that says she hates to agree with him. "But perhaps if it becomes too much for her, she could find a place on Prodromos?"
"Not really as secure as the Nexus," Kandros mutters. "But they're right, we can't really afford any spontaneous new additions."
"Alright, so my hands are tied anyway." Scott grins and glances over at me. "Lets get you some things you'll need."
The first few days as the Tempest's new gofer/servant/maid are kind of exhausting.
The ship is mostly self-cleaning- I mean, it's got applications that scrub down the floors and walls with some kind of cool laser grid thing. I asked Suvi how it worked and then I spent the rest of the day trying to process the stream of words and numbers she gave me to explain it.
I still don't understand it but I learned something else!
That thing being: Don't ask Suvi to explain things to laymen. Namely me.
"Oh hey, pop open that panel for me," Gil walks over to where I'm polishing machinery that I took out of the wall. I'll have to put it back before we fly anywhere, but since we're not leaving for a couple hours, I'm safe.
I reach over and flick my nail under the small space between the panel and the wall and it flicks open on an unseen hinge.
Gil reaches in and taps his omni-tool to scan the machinery. "Everything seems to be working well. Almost done with those bits?"
"These ones, you can put back in." I hand him two pipes and continue cleaning off a weird, round…thing. I use a specific type of oil for it that Gil gave me and it takes all this black, tar-looking stuff off pretty good.
"You're pretty good at gettin' into all the nooks and crannies," Gil says, smiling as he plucks the last piece from me. "Now, Ryder says it's been three days of non-stop work for you and you need to take some time off before you burn out."
I blink and frown, "he messaged you just to make me stop working?"
"He says he sent you an email but you never responded," he says with amusement.
I blink and check my omni-tool, cursing when I find a two-hour old email ordering me to stop working. "I forget to check the damn thing. I can't figure out the notification settings."
"Here, lemme see." Gil grabs my wrist and starts fiddling with my notification controls. "Alright, see this menu?"
I squint at the holographic screen-thing and sigh, "I hate that it's so…glowy."
"Hang on, hang on, I can fix that." He tweaks the settings until the holo-screen-thing looks like the screen of a smartphone. It's got the black background and everything!
"Oh thank god," I say.
He chuckles, "now here. There's the notifications and the personal settings."
And that's how I spent the next hour and a half. Tweaking my omni-tool settings while Gil worked, then getting shooed out of the engine room and tweaking my omni-tool in the shuttle bay. Then getting shooed out of there by Vetra and having to settle into my bed in the crew quarters to have some modicum of privacy.
Pretty soon my omni-tool is ordered in a way that echoes my old laptop, with the apps and functions on the front screen pinned to the…dash? I'm gonna call it a dash and leave it at that.
"Ah, there you are." A deep voice says in front of me.
I come out of my tech-induced haze and glance up, jolting a little when I see Jaal towering over me. "Uh…huh?"
"I require assistance," he says. "Do you know anything about repairing machinery?"
"No." I respond, flushing deep pink. "Uh. But you could show me what to do."
He nods, "come with me, then."
And then he turns on his heel and walks off, and I scramble to follow him.
He leads me into the Tech Lab and I see he's taken…something apart.
"The hell is that?" slips out of my mouth before I can stop it.
He chuckles a bit nervously, "something called a...coffee maker?"
My mouth drops open and my eyes widen in horror.
He looks more nervous than before, "I will take from your expression that it is important?"
"If you don't get it working again-" I take a deep breath and sigh, "well I guess I'm here to help with that. What do you need me to do?"
"Hand me tools and help me put the screws into the parts that go inside," he responds while kneeling down on the floor. "Thank you for your help."
"My job now, right?" I say and kneel down next to him and laugh. "God, you took it apart. You engineer types are all the same."
He glances aside at me, "engineer types?"
"People who just gotta..." I gesture at the machine in pieces on the floor before me, "see how things work."
He chuckles, "ah. Yes."
"My little brother used to do this with his toys," I ramble as I pick up bits and pieces, fitting them together and setting them aside for fastening. "He pulled them all apart and put them back together with different parts and they worked but…they weren't pretty." I grimace. "All exposed gears and wiring."
He laughs and then seems to consider something heavily, "how many siblings do you have?"
"I had two," I shrug. "Well, three if you count my sister, but she wasn't born into the family or legally adopted, we just kinda liked calling each other 'sissy' since we were kids." I'm a little surprised he's talking to me.
"Children adopt each other in your culture without their parent's permission?" he looks so intrigued and I wonder if he's never heard of a pair of friends calling each other 'brother/sister'.
"It's more like, you get to the point when you're so close, you're like family. So it's just an acknowledgment of a bond that's already there." I bite my lip, "If you'd die for someone, to protect them- kill to protect them, and it's not romantic, it's familial. I mean, if you're just friends with someone, you might hang out and enjoy things together- but being family is a whole other layer of complicated emotion."
He hums, a deep, rumbling noise in his chest. "Interesting. What about parents?"
I shrug, "Parents can unofficially 'adopt' kids from bad backgrounds. I mean, they take care of them, loan them money for lunch and field trips and that kind of thing…the kids might even start calling them 'mom and dad'…and they can officially adopt them if the parents will sign them over, but a lot of the time they're scared to ask, in case the parents refuse and don't let the kid come over anymore. And then there's the usual adoption process but I figured you were asking about informal….what?"
He tilts his head, "I meant 'can children adopt parents' but I suppose that answers my question."
I giggle nervously and shrug, "uh…here." I shove two pieces of joined machinery into his arms. "Screw those together."
Jaal is just full of questions. Not all of them considered 'polite' by human standards, and I make sure to tell him so. When he asks why, I explain the connotations it can have.
"I do not understand why asking a Human's age is taboo," he grumbles as he pushes a component into place.
"It's not 'taboo', it's just…well, if I asked how old you were and you said your age and I expressed disbelief in one direction or another- 'there's no way you're that old, there's not way you're that young' it could be taken badly by different kinds of people. Oh, never tell anyone they don't look young. I'm not sure if that's still a thing for people who didn't grow up in the country, but I'd err on the side of caution on that one."
He opens his mouth and I cut him off because I know he's gonna ask why.
"Because a lot of species have their ideals of beauty all bound up in youth, it's part of our culture- well, all of us except the Asari. We evolved over time, found different things sexy. One thing seemed to be universal though, you had to look young or have youthful traits." I shrug, "being old or aged has connotations with…well. Think of it like Humans are models of computers. When the new models come out, you buy those over the old models more often than not, right? Well, maybe not you. I know I only ever had old model computers- okay, bad example-"
"I understand your meaning," he interjects as I pause to breathe. Then smiles a little, muted and not really reaching his eyes. "What do you ascribe beauty to?"
I blink, "in general or in people?"
"Either. Both," he says.
I shrug, "I dunno. The sample size for me is literally way too big. I've found all different kinds of people and things beautiful with no common thread between them."
He hums and subsides into thoughtful silence.
I didn't intend to make myself Jaal's go-to person for questions about humanity…
But apparently when I said 'if you're not absolutely certain if someone will be offended or not, just come ask me'- he took that to mean that I'm open to all questions always. Which, cool.
Also, kind of embarrassing.
"Liam held up a hand as if to smack me in the face and said 'high five'," Jaal rumbles. "What does this mean? Is it a threat?"
I sigh and hand him a tool that he needs to repair a gun he picked up. "It's not…no. It's just a celebratory gesture. You smack his hand with your hand, just hard enough to feel the smack but not hard enough to hurt. Like…here."
I hold up my hands and smack them together in a glancing blow. "It's just a quick touch that signals victory and accomplishment and…it's like nonverbally saying 'good work, we're awesome'."
He rumbles low in his throat. "Your people don't seem to enjoy touching others they do not know well. I assumed it was either a threat or…some reference to something I had no knowledge of."
"He probably did it without thinking," I hand him the mod he's gesturing for. "It just means you're on the way to being friendly with each other, that he was comfortable enough to forget you wouldn't know and tried to reach out to you."
He hums and slots the mod into place, "it seems…violent."
"Lots of things Humans do is violent in one way or another. I know for a fact that Angara are at least a little bit violent in their affections," I grin at him. "You've never punched your friends or family in the shoulder or something to communicate frustration, exasperation…etcetera?"
"I suppose. But they are…" he pauses.
"Not aliens?" I ask with a raised brow. "I know this is all super new and weird for you, but seriously. We're people, all of us. Just like you guys. We're as different and varied as Angara are…moreso, actually since we come from like fifteen different species…you guys seem mostly consolidated."
"My people are…" he says slowly. Hesitantly. "There is a splinter group of the Resistance, known as the Roekarr. They refuse to work with aliens. Even against the Kett."
"I don't really blame them," I respond, then chew my lip. "I mean, they're probably shooting at us even if we aren't aggressing them and that's kind of fucked up but…"
"You do not believe they would be justified to do so?" he asks. "After the Kett?"
"No, actually, I don't." I respond. "They'd be within their rights to stake claim to land and shoot warning shots until we went away, or shoot us if we didn't take the hint- but shooting at someone who's just trying to mind their own business is wrong. I'd say the same of Humans who come upon Roekarr out in the field and shoot before trying to parlay, even if they know it's probably useless to try."
"That is something else I wished to ask about," he says. "I have asked all the human crew of their ideas on Morality…and it is all different. Not by degrees, but…radically."
"Well Suvi is religious, Liam is kind of a hothead, Cora's all about duty and Gil is kind of…well, I dunno what Gil is about that kind of thing- but he'd probably be radically different from all of them." I sigh and smile at his deadpan expression.
He's clearly saying 'that observation doesn't help me' so…
"Everyone has a different understanding of right and wrong. And long-standing prejudices get in the way whether you want them to or not."
And there's ten minutes of dead silence as he absorbs this.
Then… "I have noticed that Humans are squeamish when I attempt to discuss sexual topics with-"
I drop the fucking piece in my hand and have to fumble to catch it, my face bright red the whole time. "Uh-yeah. No. Don't…ask people about that. Especially not in public."
"We are not in public now," he mentions and…I swallow roughly as he turns to face me. "Would it offend you if I asked…questions?"
There were so many posts after launch about how Jaal was obviously looking forward to fucking aliens and in this moment I know it's just…deadass right. He looks so curious.
So I swallow down all my embarrassment even though I feel lightheaded from the heat rushing to my face and just…take the plunge. "Just…ask. God."
He tilts his head, "this makes you…uncomfortable."
I snort, "that's an understatement. But it's…ridiculous and it won't kill me, so just ask before I spontaneously combust."
"Humans do that!?" He looks so alarmed.
I laugh out loud, "no! I mean…well, yes. But it's like super-extra rare!"
He looks horrified, now.
"Don't worry about that, it's literally debatable if it even happens that way," I laugh.
He sighs and shakes his head, "I wonder if sometimes the things you tell me are fabrications meant to toy with me, but then I ask Liam or Cora and they corroborate. Your species is…strange."
"Yeah we're a bunch of weirdos," I agree.
He hums, "I believe my first question would be…why are humans so squeamish on the subject?"
It takes me a minute to remember what he's talking about and then I just shrug, "hundreds of years of cultural mores. Even with as accepting as everyone is now, there's still a cringe left over from the older days. Sex is supposed to be private, or at least that's the idea. Some people are more comfortable talking about it than others…in fact, you know Ryder knows a doctor on the Hyperion?" I say innocently. "If you ask him to introduce you, you can ask him if he'd mind being messaged questions every once in a while and he might agree to answer them."
He rumbles in thought and smiles, minutely. Be still, heart. He's barely even twitched his lips. "I will…think about that."
Better you than me, doctor Carlyle. I just can't take it. Maybe you'll handle a gorgeous Angaran man talking to you about sex with grace and aplomb.
So this is Aya.
“Wow…” I breathe as I walk with Scott and Cora toward the marketplace area.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Cora asks wistfully. “All the flowers and trees…the most alive place in Heleus.”
“Aside from Havarl…” Scott says and grins, “just cause it’s alive and homicidal doesn’t mean it doesn’t count, right?”
She snorts and punches him in the arm. He flinches and makes a hissing noise between his teeth. She rolls her eyes at him.
Their interactions are so…sibling-like.
“Myra!” Jaal walks up from nearby-- I thought he’d gone to see Evfra? “This is your first time to Aya, is it not?”
“Yes…?” I’m a little confused as to why he’s so loud and happy to see me. “Uh…It’s very pretty.” I sound like a squeaky little mouse, damn it!
“Have you been to the markets, yet?” he asks Scott and Cora.
“Nope, headed there now. Coming with?” Scott asks with a smile, nervous and uncertain for some reason.
“Yes!” Jaal falls into step with me as we go. “I wanted to ask what markets are like where you are from. On Earth? Ryder has told me some of them are much the same.”
I hum, “probably. We have a bunch of different ways to do things. I’m sure your people have variations-”
“Yes but we have mostly consolidated all the best methods,” he says with barely-hidden excitement. “There will be a difference here and there, but efficiency takes precedence. I was wondering what it would look like without that urgent need for efficiency.”
“Oh, well in that case-- it looks like giant buildings with several rooms packed with goods that people can walk into and buy. In other cases it’s a page on the extra net where people can advertise what they’re selling and other people can send them email to ask after prices and haggle and stuff…”
I pause to gather my thoughts as we step into the crush of bodies, getting jostled sideways into Jaal, who just shifts to accommodate my elbow suddenly in his stomach.
“Oh shit, Jaal, sorry!” I have to shout a little to be heard over the sudden din.
“Not a problem,” he says loudly and without awkwardness. “You humans are always apologizing for things that are not your fault. A curious trait.”
I huff a little in laughter and jolt when his hand wraps around my shoulder and tugs me closer to his side. “Stay close and you will get smacked into less!” he says.
I’m too busy trying not to get shoved even further into him and am so dedicated to willing away the way I’m blushing, I don’t notice that Scott and Cora took off without us. Until now.
Which is when a little bit of panic sets in. Oh my god, did they plan this? Is Peebee in on it? Did they all get together and conspire to get me alone with Jaal? I wouldn’t put it past them!
Or maybe they just got lost in the crush, that’s possible, right?
But then I see Scott and Cora off to the side at one of the stalls, glancing covertly over at us and grinning.
‘I hate you all’
“Come, this way!” Jaal says, pulling me with him as he weaves through the crowd toward a fruit stand. “You said you like to cook, yes? Would you like to learn Angaran recipes?”
My lips purse and pout at that, because oh my god, yes. “Do you know any?”
“Of course!” he grins and almost stops my fucking heart. “My mothers taught myself and my siblings every recipe we would sit still long enough to learn. I love cooking!”
I sigh internally a little bit, because…of course he does. “Sure, I’d love to learn some of your recipes, Jaal.”
His grin somehow becomes bigger, I’m not sure how. And then he’s leaning close to the vendor and they’re having a loud but muffled conversation.
When Jaal leans back, the vendor starts throwing fruits and veggies and other assorted bits into a large cloth bag, handing it over to Jaal, who takes a moment to figure out the payment in credits.
Credits are a new thing for the Angara on Aya, apparently. I wonder if they just refused to deal with the exiles on Kadara, or…
“Come, we have more ingredients to purchase!” he’s really into this, huh?
Well, I don’t wanna disappoint him or anything. I’m just very incredibly conscious of the fact that we’re like-- squished together and one of his arms is around my shoulders as we move and…I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed with all the noise. And the closeness of other bodies and…
So I wait until we’ve gotten to the next vendor to tap his arm and gesture at him to lean down so I can speak closer to his face in a slightly loud register. “I’m gonna go and find somewhere to sit, this is really loud and my ears are starting to ring.”
He tilts his head, “your ears ring?”
I sigh, “I’ll explain later!”
And then I detach from his side and start weaving through the crowd, wrapping my arms around myself and using my high school hall skills. Slipping between bodies as they pass, finding openings and getting to the other side of the marketplace in what seems like seconds.
Settling at a bench a little ways down one of the paths, I ping my location to Jaal and then curl into a ball a little bit. Focusing on my breathing and getting used to the silence over the noise and too-many-bodies.
“Myra?” his voice is soft and incredibly close.
I lift my head from my knees and blink a little blearily. He’s standing right in front of me. “Hey, I’m fine. I just get sensory overload, sometimes. Didn’t quite get there, this time. I was…close, though.”
When I’m really overloaded, I cry. And other things, but crying is the big one.
“You humans all seem so…fragile,” he says, sitting down beside me and putting his bags next to him on his other side. “How did you…hrmm…survive?”
I chuckle, “I’m not really the norm, so far as I know.” I blink and shrug. “Everyone has something about them that other people around them don’t. It changes from person to person what that thing is…some people find certain fabrics hard to touch…like those bags, I can’t touch those or I’ll burst into tears.” I point out.
He looks at them and tilts his head, looking back at me, “is there a reason?”
“My body makes it feel like those kind of fabrics are…burning me, for lack of a better word.” I explain.
He makes a face, “that sounds incredibly inconvenient.”
I laugh, “yeah…”
“We can do this tomorrow, yes?” he asks. “We are back on the Tempest in a few hours. For now…what would you like to do?”
“I dunno…go back to the Tempest, eat…lie down a while?” I reply. Feeling a little bad because he obviously still wants to go out and do things. “You can go find Scott and Cora to hang with while you’re on Aya, right?”
He hums and fidgets with his fingers. “I don’t…spend much time with Scott.”
Oh yeah, that whole situation. “You mind my asking why not? You get along fine with everyone else.” Flirting with the women on-board more often than the men, but still the men too. He’s…incredibly flirty. To everyone but me and Scott, actually. Interesting.
“Scott is your leader…” he says, rumbling in his chest. I think that’s the sound he makes when he’s thinking. “Something about his appointment, rubs me?”
I cough a little and break out in giggles. “Oh god.”
“Was that wrong?” he asks, tapping his chin with his fingertips and smiling at me a little. “What did I say?”
“You said…that was…” I snort. “It’s…rubs me the wrong way. Rubs me just…implies…something salacious. Sort of.”
He hums, “ah, I see. Your human modesty again.”
I giggle so hard I almost cry when I think about the rest of the humans on the Tempest’s reaction to that failed idiom. “God…”
“It is just that…” he pauses and seems to struggle with his words.
I always assumed it was something like, “maybe he reminds you of yourself?”
He blinks and looks at me. “Reminds me of myself?”
“Scott’s young and kind of…” I gesture with my hands in an uncertain way. “New and untested to his position. And everyone kind of expects…well. Either better or worse than his old man. I’ve heard your whole family’s in the resistance, right?”
He rumbles, “yes. They are.”
“So maybe you feel pressure to be better and fear of being worse…like Scott probably does,” I say.
His eyes drop to his lap, “I don’t know if that is the problem…”
“Eh,” I shrug. “I’m not always right. S’worth a shot to try and guess though. So why do you think it bothers you?” Even if that’s not the case, now maybe Jaal will feel…more accommodating toward Scott? Finding something in common like that can help.
He hums, “he is in charge, and therefore the one who would order the others to attack. I feel as though…it would be a mistake to allow myself to become endeared, when we could be at each other’s throats soon enough.”
I blink, “I’m sorry…have you met Scott? Surefire way to keep that from happening is to endear him to you.”
Jaal chuckles, “perhaps.”
“Why aren’t you weird with me?” I ask. “Or…like you are with the rest of the crew, actually.”
I’m a little miffed and relieved at the same time that he never flirts with me.
He thrums a little. Different from the humming, more bass. “The rest of the Crew…is easier than Scott. He…eh…he does not ask the questions I would expect from someone who wants to get to know me. He asks…‘what are Angara like’ instead of ‘what are you like’. Everyone else…is easier.”
“Well Scott’s kind of having to take a crash course in everything, so he probably figures he can kill two birds with one stone-” I halt at his horrified expression and pat his arm soothingly. “That’s not an actual thing we do, it’s just a saying.”
He’s so relieved, it’s adorable.
“It means, he wanted to accomplish two things at once. Getting to know you by learning what you think of your own society-- and learning a bit about the Angara as a whole.” I explain.
He tilts his head and blinks, seeming to process that information. “And when he asks about my electromagnetic abilities?”
“Oh well that could be the same thing, but also…” I flush. “We have…stories, about superheroes. Back on earth? Biotics are both stigmatized and glamorized because they remind us of those stories, I think…and there were electrical superheroes, too.”
“Stories of… super. Heroes?” He asks.
“It’s like a story you make up where a person has powers beyond the norm and saves everyone from every bad thing that could happen. Like, making a wish that someone like that really existed,” I say, fidgeting myself now. “So when we meet anyone with superpowers, or powers we don’t have that seem normal to that person…it’s…interesting, but also…awe-inspiring. I guess.”
He stares at me a moment, “humans think…Angara…are…awe-inspiring?”
“Well…yes?” I reply. “Or at least, I do.” I shrug. “You’ve been fighting the Kett for as long as you have, and you don’t seem ready to give up any time soon…and the electrical…” I flicker my fingertips and feel ridiculous, a flush creeping up my throat and over my face. “And your species is very colorful and vibrant…like the Salarians can sometimes be. In rare cases. Humans like colorful things. It’s…well, it’s kind of Earth’s evolution. Colorful things were supposed to mean poison but we kind of…turned the poisons into spices and…stuff…”
He chuckles, “so if I am colorful on Earth, I am dangerous?”
“Pretty much,” I mutter. “There are poison frogs that are really brightly colorful that can kill really huge animals if they try to eat them, or maybe even just touch them.”
He rumbles again, in thought. “I will take you back to the Tempest, so you may rest. I need to put the food away, anyway.”
And it isn’t until we’re well on our way that I realize I never got to ask why he’s the way he is with me.
My depression is spiking lately, it took me forever to update the stories I updated today...