"You and the green guy, hunh?" asked Joker. He'd been friends with Kaidan and I wondered how badly this conversation was about to go. Joker must have seen something on my face because for once he didn't crack any jokes.
"Look," he said, "I saw what happened on Horizon and I know it's been hard on you. Go for it, Commander. At least one of us should be getting some on this ship. I kinda figured it was my turn after you and the lieutenant but you beat me to the punch."
I couldn't decide whether to smile or protest so I did both. "Joker, Thane and I aren't 'getting' anything right now. And can't you at least pretend that you don't eavesdrop on my conversations?"
"Eavesdrop? I've got video!" Joker quipped before turning serious. "I'm just glad you don't blame me for getting you spaced in the first place. Really, Commander, good for you."
I thanked him and changed the subject, well aware that the bridge was no place for a heart-to-heart. Joker might listen in on my every word but he was discrete enough to keep it on his comm link so the whole crew didn't hear my agonizing. I tended to forget that he saw my feet of clay every time I showed them to someone else. I gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze of appreciation. For all his sarcastic ways he'd been a better friend to me than I had realized.
The relay in the Hawking Eta cluster caught us neatly as always and we cruised to the Thorne system, docking with the equipment left by the missing science team. I pinged Thane and Jack to join me in the Normandy's airlock and we headed into the ominous ship. I thought about Sovereign, how it had appeared to be just another ship, and wondered if this one had had a name, too, if it had controlled the minds of those inside centuries earlier as well as over the past months.
I'd asked Thane to come for comfort but I'd brought Jack because I knew that she'd scorn any demonstration of weakness and hesitation. I needed that spur to get me onto the ship. Abandoned it may have been but that didn't mean that it was dead.
We discovered records from the crew that confirmed my fears. This creature still held the power to warp minds. I couldn't be sure that Cerberus had resisted the temptation to tweak my brain already and I hated the idea that this Reaper could be confusing me as I walked along the deserted corridors.
Husks swarmed us repeatedly but we put them to rest as efficiently as we could. Jack excelled at sending out her biotic power almost as though she were bowling. She lightened the mood by calling "Strike!" when she managed to topple a whole group at once. There was no way that there had been this many scientists on board. I wondered if some of the creatures had been here far longer than we could know or if we'd found some of the missing colonists.
I felt like I was trapped in some dramatic horror vid, the kind where you yell at the actors to stop going down creepy halls, to not open that door. I could feel the Reaper in the back of my mind, scraping and whispering. It hadn't yet found its way in but I wanted to get the friend or foe device for which we'd come and get the hell out of there before it did. With any luck we could destroy the bio-ship entirely.
The three of us walked close together, Thane and I leading and Jack watching the rear. I hoped she didn't notice how often I found an excuse to touch his hand or his arm but just then the reassurance meant more than my tough-guy act. I could see Thane's concern in his eyes.
"So," said Jack loudly, shattering the silence in which we'd been creeping along a catwalk, "you crazy kids have something going. Here I thought it was just a vicious rumor." I cursed under my breath. "I don't mind if you guys want to hold hands or something."
"I do," I retorted. "We need them to kill things right now." Had I been so obvious? Perhaps there was another explanation. "Been spending a lot of time with Joker, have you?"
"Yeah," she said dismissively. I could see that she didn't like having the conversation turned around on her. "He's less of an ass than the rest of the crew and I can break him in half if he pisses me off." Oh ho, I thought. I made a mental note to give Joker a large ration of shit for this development the next time he mouthed off to me.
"Good for you," I said. Maybe this would persuade her to drop the subject. I needed no further proof that such distractions were unhealthy than the sudden mob of husks that clambered over the edges of the walkway just in front of us. We hadn't even heard them coming, remarkably unsubtle though they were. We battled our way forward, kicking the remnants over the sides as we could to clear the way. I had stepped back to reload my pistol when two I'd thought dead crawled to their feet, grabbing at me.
Before I could react two shots rang out, not from Thane but from the gloom farther down the corridor. We finished off the last of the creatures and shrugged at one another. There seemed no point in stating the obvious, that someone else yet lived on this ship.
I felt like we'd been caught in some temporal loop, shooting and dodging our way down endless, identical halls for weeks. My head ached and my adrenaline rush had burned out to a sour taste in my throat. Finally we reached the core. In addition to a room filled with mindless mechano-zombies ready to kill us we found a geth working madly at the very console we'd spent so long trying to reach.
"No!" I shouted, preparing to blow off its head. As I lined up the shot I realized that the husks were attacking it. It kept stopping its work at the terminal to blast away at the creatures shambling closer. We entered the fray and cleared some space around it but another group appeared behind us. Our divided attention gave the husks a chance to surround the geth and it slumped out of sight.
Thane suggested that the core might be fueling the husks so we alternated mowing down the attackers and blasting its glowing blue heart. Jack pulsed a barrier around us between attacks to keep most of the beasts back but we fought a long and grim battle nonetheless.
By the time we finished we were pretty much down to our hands and biotics to take out the last of them. The core was beginning to melt down and we had to get out of that ship. The presence at the back of my mind growled and clawed and I was so exhausted that I almost wanted to stop resisting. Thane rushed to the console and uploaded the IFF to EDI as I bent over the geth. It had been damaged but appeared shut down rather than destroyed. Perhaps it had decided to play dead so the husks would stop ripping it apart.
I was stunned to see a piece of N-7 armor welded to its frame. From the curve at the bottom of the fragment I could see that it had belonged to a woman. We needed to take the geth back to the Normandy, or I thought we did. Just then I couldn't be sure that my thoughts were my own. How devious could this Reaper be? It didn't matter; we needed to know why the robot had been there.
Thane and I picked up the geth, one of its arms over each of our shoulders and our hands laced together behind it. Jack led the way back to the Normandy while I tried not to cry with relief that we were finally leaving. I would consider whether the ‘bot was a trap once I got this Reaper out of my head.