“Alright, Shepard, this first round will be to remove the weaves. We will run a scan on you after we've finished the process then your body will need to rest for a bit. We will monitor your recovery, then comes the cloning of the organs we can and removal of the synthetics. Once the new organs are in place, Vashlani will heal them so there will be no internal scars. Depending on how well your body adjusts and the results of the overnight observations we can start to remove the small cybernetics. I told you before that some of the cybernetics will need to remain,” Chakwas went over everything with her as Vashlani put on a decon suit over his clothing and jewelry he wore.
“We'll need to use the usual methods of healing for the first part. Vashlani will keep a slow heal going and monitor any improvement in what he can do for you. Once we get enough of the weave out, his healing will take over. We are getting ready to begin; you’ll feel a slight pinch, then you'll get sleepy. Do not worry, Shepard.”
Shepard looked around at the others, Vashlani put a mask over his face then glanced down at her. His glove covered hand patted the back of hers before he looked away. He missed the way Chakwas and Mordin looked at each other then down at Shepard. They watched as her eyes drifted shut, a slight frown on her face before the machine said she was ready.
They started the machine going to begin cloning her replacement skin, Vashlani had to look away as the laser slowly and carefully cut the weave and attached skin away from her. The muscle weaves were next. The khajiit’s eyes became misty as they saw what happened to her, what they did to bring her back from the dead.
“Doctor Chakwas, wait a moment. There is something there that wasn’t in the report. It wasn’t on the scans,” Mordin’s voice cut through his thoughts and turned his attention back to what was going on.
“What is that?” Chakwas ran a different scan; it showed nothing. “EDI, we need your help here. There is an odd piece of cybernetics inside of Shepard that isn’t registering.”
“One moment, Doctor.”
“I've calibrated the scanner for this new development; please rescan," EDI told them.
EDI relayed the findings of the scan a moment later, “The device is a small, rectangular chip, embedded into Shepard’s nervous system. The wiring is being highlighted in green and shows it runs to her brain and her heart. Indicative of a sophisticated control chip. Without further tests, I cannot determine if it can be removed safely or if any attempt at removal will irrevocably damage her brain. I hypothesize that it is there in case Shepard goes rogue, so to speak, to bring her back under Cerberus control. There are no entries made into the official Lazarus Projects data files. It is a possibility that Ms. Lawson may not even know of its existence.”
“Khajiit does not understand.”
“When they were rebuilding Shepard, they put all this stuff inside her. Apparently, they also put in something that possibly could kill her if we take it out of her. From what EDI says it most likely is something that at some time can be remotely activated to either shut her down or bring her fully under Cerberus control,” Chakwas told him as she looked at the scans again.
Vashlani’s eyebrows drew down, “Control? As in have her become a thrall, under the control of a master?”
Chakwas nodded at him. His head dropped and then raised as he looked everywhere, trying to take in everything at once. “EDI, you don’t know how they could control or kill her?”
“Not without additional testing, which is a danger in and of itself, Vashlani.”
“What could they use? Poison?”
“It could be something as simple as an electrical pulse along the wiring to disrupt her brain, a pulse into the cybernetics that controls her heart to shut it down. Or it could be a poison or something to damage her nervous system. I do not know, Vashlani,” EDI told him, they could hear a slight discordance in her electronic voice. “I suggest you consult with Ms. Lawson as she was the director and would have knowledge of cybernetics.”
“I agree. Ms. Lawson would be a good choice. If she knows nothing about this, she would see she wasn’t in full control of the project as she thought. If she knows, she will tell us how to remove it, one way or another,” Mordin said as he continued to remove the last of the weave from around the area.
“I have sent her an urgent request to return to the Normandy,” EDI told them.
They continued to work removing the weave from her bones until Miranda came into the room. She started to act like a shrew, screaming about undoing all her work until she felt a chill in the air and her skin rapidly grew colder. Vashlani was behind her and had grabbed her by the back of the neck, his hand starting to freeze the amp port there, while her armor mods began shorting out from the electrical impulses that he sent through the grip on her upper arm.
“You will close your mouth and listen to what the Healer has to say, human. Should you be deemed unnecessary, this one would be more than happy to remove you from the ship.”
“EDI? Fill her in on what we have found. Ms. Lawson, you better hope that you had nothing to do with this,” Chakwas’ voice was cold as she looked at the younger woman. The disgust in her eyes was clear.
Vashlani watched Miranda closely, saw the way her eyes narrowed and her body tensed as she heard what they found. “No, I did not add the chip. I asked for one to be put in, as it was documented, in case Shepard decided not to cooperate. The Illusive Man denied the request, saying that he wanted her brought back as she used to be and was afraid the chip would interfere with that. It was not authorized and was not put in by me. Someone on my team went against my instructions.”
“Or the instructions of someone else were being followed,” Mordin murmured, “records show they spent billions of credit. A substantial investment in one person. Would be very costly to lose such a person, to lose control over someone that could rally Humanity and other species in case of war. The one that would control such a person would, in fact, control the others.”
“The Illusive Man would not do that; he only wants what is best for Humanity.”
They heard a snort from the corner, “He wants what is best for himself. That includes control over everything. Not even I’m that naive, bringing the Doc and me to her, building the ship to look like a larger copy of the original Normandy. He’s doing nothing but playing mind games with Shepard. She’s not dumb; she already figured that out the day I showed up at the docks. She knew she needed a strong crew and even stronger ship. She’d dealt with Cerberus before, no matter what spin you put on it, saying that it operates in cells and the shit we saw and stopped were rogue or not part of you guys, it’s bullshit. That boss of yours has his finger on every employee’s pulse; he knew. Even if you didn’t.”
“You will remove this machine from Shepard. If anything happens to her, you die, and there will be no body or body parts for them to use to bring you back.”
“You don’t need to use threats. Shepard helped me save my sister; I’ll remove it to help her, not because of you.”
“Vashlani doesn’t care why you do it, just get it out of there.” Vashlani slowly removed both of his hands from her. She ran a hand down her suit and saw that all her shields were burnt out. EDI blocked her omni tool to any communication sources, it would only connect to the scanning system, and the intense cold had shorted out her biotic amp.
The khajiit paced and watched Miranda and the others. He cast a little healing each time he passed by Shepard’s head, just a slight touch out of sight of Miranda. A quick flick of Mordin’s eyes told him the healing begun to work better than it had been. He stopped and watched as Miranda took a small clamp-like tool and hooked it to the wires going out of each side of the device. She looked at the scans again and frowned.
“This looks like it would use a remote to send a signal to her brain and a different one to her heart. EDI, do a scan of Shepard’s brain, it was intact when they found her body. After we made sure it wasn’t damaged we proceeded to rebuild her from the few good cells that were available and those from her brain. There would have been no reason to add anything there.”
“Scanning. Tracing the pathway of the wires. Anomaly detected within the brain stem. Pathways to the heart show the connections end at the cybernetics to control her heart.”
“It’s a kill switch, if she doesn’t do what the person wants, they just push a button and she’s dead.” Miranda looked up at them all, “this was not at all what I had wanted. Something to make her more amendable, certainly, to outright kill her and undo years worth of work, no.” She looked at the scan again.
“To remove it we will need to work in tandem, one on her brain to remove the device installed there, on her heart to remove the cybernetic there, and replace it with a different one, and I will remove this piece. It must be all taken out at the same time, or it could activate.”
They moved to collect the equipment they needed, and Vashlani walked over to Joker to sit in the chair next to him.
“It’ll be okay, Vash, the Doc will watch what is going on and Mordin will too. They won’t let anything happen to her; you’ll be back to cuddling with her in a day or so.”
Vashlani looked over at Joker and lowered his eyes back down to the floor.
“This khajiit will not be around much for awhile if Vashlani is needed just call him. He has much to do in his world and at home.” He stood back up and moved near them when he saw them adjust the table in preparation. Joker just stared at him wondering what that was all about.
Vashlani watched as the three of them stood poised over their respective cybernetics, Miranda started a countdown, when she said now they all lifted their components out. They heard a short, high-pitched electrical sound before the end that had been attached to Shepard’s heart let out a small spark.
“Well done. Let’s get this finished so Shepard can rest for a while. We’ll finish up in a few hours.” Doctor Chakwas took her piece of removed tech over to an exam table, followed by the others, Vashlani brushed a hand along Shepard’s arm and sent a rejuvenation and regeneration spell over her.
“Ms. Lawson, there is a piece of data you should be made aware of. At the exact moment you removed the tech from Shepard, your omni tool sent the activation code.”
“That is impossible, EDI. I had nothing to do with this.”
Mordin turned to her, blinked and placed one long, spindly finger against his mouth and tapped. “Of course. Ingenious. Should Shepard not cooperate the signal sent by remote from your omni tool. The signal goes out, and Shepard falls. EDI traces the signal to you. Crew loyal to Shepard, not to you, removes you. Leaves him open to recall ship for a different purpose, possibly eliminates rest of crew as well. Techs clean up all data from EDI’s storage. Nothing to show that it wasn’t internal, he remains blameless. You’re the perfect scapegoat, never question loyalty to masters. Jacob couldn’t be trusted. He doesn’t trust The Illusive Man, doesn’t trust Cerberus, only there for the paycheck. You on the other hand...” Mordin didn’t finish just walked past her to begin a study of the tech.
Miranda rubbed her forehead then walked out heading toward her room to change into a different uniform.
“EDI, do a full scan of Shepard, see if any more surprises are awaiting us tonight.” Chakwas started the sterilization machine after she moved Shepard to a different area.
"Vashlani needs to go to his home now, send a message when you need him to return.” He glanced at Shepard then disappeared. All three remaining there looked at each other and wondered what was wrong between Vashlani and Shepard.
Vashlani saw Garrus attaching the cells to the banks of solar panels that lined the slope of the small building when he returned.
“How did it go? You’re back sooner than I figured you would be.” Garrus placed the panel back into place as Vashlani told him about them finding odd machines that didn’t show on the Healers equipment then what it turned out to be. Garrus let out a growl and shook his head at Miranda’s continued insistence on wearing blinders when it came to the things Cerberus did.
“Vashlani will need to be back later to help with healing Shepard as they take out more. If Garrus doesn’t mind can we go and start mining the stone? Vashlani needs lots of stone to build.”
Garrus looked over at him, “You don’t want to stay with Shepard in case she wakes up?”
Vashlani just shook his head no and walked into the house to change his clothes leaving Garrus standing there with a welder in one hand and a bunch of wires in the other.
Vashlani looked over his map trying to remember where exactly he had found that group of stone quarries that was far enough outside of town or anything really, so they could set up the laser miner for a few hours. He let out a sigh and buried his head in his hands. What was he to do? How was he to just forget what he felt for Shepard, had felt for her for a long time, because he wasn’t a human but a khajiit?
“What’s going on, Vashlani? I hadn’t expected you to show up for hours yet, and when you do you want to go mining instead of hurrying back to sit by her side.”
“Shepard doesn’t want Vashlani in the same way he wants her. Vashlani is Shepard’s friend because he is a khajiit... not a human.”
Garrus dropped into one of the other chairs. “Maybe you misunderstood. Shepard is not a xenophobe-- someone who doesn’t care for aliens. It has to be miscommunication.”
Vashlani leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “No, she said she wasn’t a xenophile and never thought about someone that wasn’t a human in that way. There was no misinterpreting what she said Garrus. She said she was Vashlani’s friend. She doesn’t want me for... more.”
Vashlani leaned forward, his hand moving across the map trying to get his bearings and calm his thoughts to try and remember. “Hmm, Vashlani remembers a swamp, huge spiders, and Draugr. Snow and horkers. He was in Morthal, a job for collecting swamp pods and deathbells and didn’t want to use his supply. So maybe around this area. Let Vashlani check the area near this tomb. If this is the place he will come back and we can start mining, yes?”
Garrus’ mandibles fluttered, and he said sure, his eyes taking in the way his friend tried to act as if nothing was wrong, but the drooping of his whiskers and the way his tail hung straight down was a sign he had come to know as one of deep sadness. His body language reflected almost the same changes when he spoke of his Master’s passing, but now it was accompanied by a hum that resonated a longing and a feeling of loss from the khajiit.
Vashlani wrapped his heavy fur cloak around himself, walked through the portal, and handed the satchel of letters to the Arch-Mage before heading to the balcony. He activated the symbol for the tomb he had run across when he was collecting the ingredients then started to search closer to the large mountain area. As he got closer to the mountain, he heard hammering and sawing coming from a clearing.
A figure in black and red stood there, directing a group of workers who seemed to be building a structure.
The figure whirled when a shout went up, the gauntlet covered hand raised to grip the pommel of the massive sword on their back, then lowered when they recognized the khajiit making his way toward them. “Vashlani? How did you find me way out here in the middle of the Divines forsaken swamp?”
“Dragonborn? Vashlani didn’t know you would be here. He was looking for stone quarries he had found many, many months ago that was in this area.”
“Aye, I purchased this land awhile ago and just now got around to starting to build a home here, as if I need yet another one, but my housecarl does anyway; can’t have him living with the Jarl all the time. There are several stone quarries on the property, help yourself, there’s a pick over by that one if you need it. Are you building your own house somewhere nearby?”
Vashlani moved closer to the figure, “Something like that, yes. Dragonborn, Garrus and this one would need a secluded spot to mine.”
“Garrus? The one with the spiky head?”
At Vashlani’s nod, a hum came from the suit of armor. “Give me an hour to clear out this rabble, then come back. You can mine for the rest of the day, just leave the pick near the quarry for later. There are also clay deposits a bit closer to the water so you won’t have far to go for that if you need it. The only thing I can’t help you with is lumber, that bastard Jorgen charges out the ass for it and won’t let anyone else use the mill, he’s as bad as that orc over in Solitude. If you need lumber and have the time, see Hert at the Half-Moon Mill. Just uh... don’t go at night, don’t go inside her home, and try not to stare at her too much. Chop her up some wood, and she’ll pay you for it then let you use her mill in exchange for a portion of the sawn logs you cut. I’ll send a missive to her to let her know that you may be coming around. Best not to just show up at her place unexpectedly... ever.”
Vashlani blinked at the armor wearing person standing beside him. They tilted their head, “You may be mistaken for dinner.”
“If ever you need more clay or stone send a courier to Lakeview Manor, address it to my steward there, Illia, she’ll let you mine whatever you need, and have Hert send the lumber there. I've built the manor so you can have whatever is left in the lumber pile as well. Illia will keep the others inside while you’re there. Just watch out for bandits... and giants... oh, and wolves.”
The sound of a throat clearing came from one of the men off to the side.
“Guess I should mention the occasional dragon as well. Sometimes skeletons or necromancers... and skeevers. It’s a nice place though and only a short walk to the mill. Has a great view of the lake.” The Dragonborn crossed their arms over the chest plate and tapped their fingers against the arm piece. “I’ll just get these workers on out of here then.”
Vashlani nodded and thanked the Dragonborn for their generosity before walking back toward the tomb to enter his bag.
When they returned, Vashlani noted everyone but the Dragonborn and one of the heavily armored figures, that always seemed to be near the hero, had left. They were bent over a worktable that sat beside a chest and a large table with some tools sitting on it with a small anvil next to it.
“I still think you should make the alchemy lab, library tower, and the enchanting tower. At least it will look right; not lopsided and thrown together like what you did at Lakeview, Harbinger. A kitchen, trophy room, and a bedroom that is empty, because you rarely ever stay there. When you could have built a greenhouse or something to go with the kitchen and maybe a storage room for the extra ingredients and other junk you have a habit of picking up.”
“This again, Vilkas? Really? I’m the damn Dragonborn, not an architect.”
Vashlani cleared his throat, and they turned toward him, Vilkas began shouting about a Dremora and the Dragonborn backhanded him in the abdomen while telling him the stranger was Vashlani's guest.
“The stone quarry is right over there and Vilkas will show you where the clay deposit is, we’ll just stay out of your way while we go over these plans some more. Other than us and uh... the occasional bandit, spider, Draugr, and a dragon or two, we are alone here, so you don’t have to wear the helmet and cloak here, um... Garrus, right?”
Garrus looked down at Vashlani who only shrugged. He reached up and took down the hood of the cloak before reaching for the seals of his helmet.
“By Talos...,” Vilkas hissed out.
“Don’t know who this Talos person is, but my name is Garrus, and before you ask, no I’m not a summons or anything else, I’m a turian. Vashlani, I’m heading over to that mining area to set up the laser. I’ll start getting the blocks cut after you set up the pallets.”
Garrus dropped his helmet and cloak on the end of the large worktable and headed toward where a pick leaned up against the rock wall of the mountain. He ran his three-fingered hand over where there were apparent signs of stones being crudely hacked out of the mountain. He took out a small laser and marked a large section of the quarry then backed up a bit before lowering the large, silver case he had been pulling behind him to sit on the ground.
Vashlani turned to the Dragonborn, “Um, with respect, neither of you, please tell another of anything you see while we are here.” When they both nodded, he walked over to Garrus and pulled out several metal panels from his pack. After pushing a button, they opened up into large, flat, floating pallets.
“What in Oblivion?” The Dragonborn murmured to their companion who stood there with a look on his face that reminded the Dragonborn of Vilkas’ twin brother, Farkas when someone started talking about something that he didn’t understand.
“Vashlani, you ready? I’m programming the size and number of stone blocks we need; push that first pallet into place.”
When it was ready, Garrus used his omni tool to start the mining mech. When the machine unfolded itself from the case and began moving toward the marked section of the mountain, they both heard the yells coming from the other two. Vashlani waved at them and stepped back a bit as the laser activated and the mech started to methodically cut out huge sections of rock then cut it into precise blocks before loading them onto the pallet.
Vashlani and Garrus walked back to where the other two were standing and staring at the mech, “Don’t go touching it. Now about this clay?” When neither answered, Garrus waved his three-fingered hands in front of their faces, “Hello? Clay...?”
The Dragonborn raised their right hand and pointed to a spot near the log pile and the one called Vilkas raised his left hand and pointed to a spot close to the water without taking their eyes off the mech. It already had more blocks cut to the right size than what they could mine, cut, and grind down in an entire day.
“Alright then, guess over this way...”, Garrus started walking in the direction of a pointed finger when he let out a yell of his own. “What in the Spirits are those things?”
“Those are Horkers, Garrus. As long as you don’t get close to them, they won’t bother us, here is the clay pit.” They set about digging out clay and loading it into large, wooden containers that Vashlani brought from his home. A ping went off, and they went back to where the mining mech had stopped with a fully loaded pallet of blocks. Garrus activated the barrier on the pallet and pushed it out of the way while Vashlani moved another one into place. The other two still stood there staring.
“You know... we have the mech for several days. If you have need of blocks for your home, we can cut them for you, in payment for letting us use your mines. Just write down how many and the dimensions that you need,” Garrus said to the Dragonborn as he passed by them.
“Huh? What? Blocks? Aye, I need blocks for my home. Thank you Garrus, for the offer, it will save me months of work or a small fortune in Septims to buy them.”
“Garrus, Vashlani needs to go back to the Normandy for a bit... to, uh check on something.”
“Uh huh, bring back some food and meads, I’ll stay here with these guys and get the rest of the clay dug out. The stone blocks we need are almost done, depending on time, I’ll move the mech down to the other mining area to start working on theirs. I’ll have to pile it up on the ground though unless they have something to store them in and can move it into place.”
The khajiit nodded then started to walk toward the tomb, “Vashlani? Talk to her. Maybe she just doesn’t understand how you feel about her.”
Vashlani entered the med bay, Chakwas was at her terminal eating something from one of the baskets he had left, Joker was watching something on his omni tool while eating as well. He answered their greetings then went behind the screen that separated Shepard’s gurney from the rest of the room. She was still unconscious, the machines quietly beeping out a steady rhythm.
He brushed her hair to the side then sat on the chair next to her. He picked up her hand and held it while sending a small pulse of healing magic into her. He watched as the seams where the cloned skin was attached, closed without scarring. He let out a sigh of relief as his magic could once more be used to heal her. By tomorrow what the healers could remove would be gone, and he would set about healing her completely.
He pressed his cheek to the back of her hand and let out a small purr before standing up and heading back to Chakwas’ terminal.
“We should be ready very soon, her scans over the past few hours have steadily improved. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours to finish up once the organs are finished cloning. I’ll send a message to your datapad when we are ready. Is everything alright with you, Vashlani? You don’t seem yourself.”
“Vashlani is fine, he didn’t sleep well last night and has been very busy today. He is a bit tired, that’s all. I will return later.”
After he left Joker looked up at Chakwas, “What the hell is wrong with him?”
“It may have something to do with a conversation I may have overheard last night, Mr. Moreau.”
“What was it about, EDI?” Joker set his tray aside and leaned down to rub his legs lightly; they were feeling better but not as good as they once did.
“Vashlani tried to initiate sexual activity with Shepard in the loft’s bed when Shepard told him she wasn’t much of a xenophile. After explaining it to him, he apologized. He left the loft after she fell asleep.”
“Shit, so he finally started to make his move, and she shot him down. I didn’t think she was against cross-species relationships.”
Vashlani returned with two baskets and called for Garrus to join him, the others as well for an early evening meal. The Dragonborn passed on the food; they needed to return to Solitude, there was a rumor that they had been in the middle of checking on for the Jarl’s steward and needed to give him their report. Vashlani tossed Vilkas several bottles of mead and a sack filled with food for later before they headed over to where their horses were tied.
“Did you talk to her?”
“No, she is not awake, and it doesn’t matter, Garrus. This khajiit will not make Shepard unhappy. If just being friends is what makes her happy, then so be it.”
“What about what makes you happy, Vashlani?”
“Vashlani has friends, a home, and he is satisfied, just as his Master before him was satisfied with his life.”
Garrus let out a huff and tossed the sandwich he was eating down on the plate in front of him, “That’s a load of shit, and you know it, Vashlani.”
“What good will it do to pursue it, Garrus? When this fight is over in your dimension, this khajiit will return here, while Shepard remains in her world to do what she does there. It is not meant to be. Vashlani should have known better. He should have fought against what his heart was telling him, what it had wanted, and just settled for something else. Instead of wanting what he cannot have.” He stood up and moved over to one of the twisted trees that overlooked the Morthal swamp and sat with his back against it.
Garrus let out a sigh and gathered their mostly uneaten food then returned to the laser mech to finish mining the stone blocks for the Dragonborn.