Monday, March 6, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Disassociation

The first two months or so on the Normandy were rocky as hell. The crew were aggressively skeptical of my presence on the ship. The Normandy wasn't just a top of the line vehicle, the best possible collaboration between humans and turians that helped pioneer some fantastic cloaking technology tailor-made for recon and infiltration, everyone running it were defensive of its secrets from anyone not human; criminals doubly so.

I could tolerate that to an extent, but it was how I was treated by Shepard's more trusted squad mates that was sad. Since Jack and I shacked up in the Normandy's cargo hold, we basically shared our quarters with three other members.

First was Garrus, and he was the most harmless. Whenever we weren't in the field, investigating strange beacons on barren planets in the Mako ground rover or scavenging for useful materials, he was calibrating its weapons systems and doing upkeep on its onboard computer and hull. We bumped into each other once or twice and we were able to hold a conversation, but the way he looks at me was...odd.

It wasn't due to the whole prison outfit thing, I convinced Shepard to let me and Jack buy some actual proper casual wear out of my own pocket. Although shopping for dresses and underwear was certainly a different experience for me, something that both Jack and I were understandably out of our depth with, so we stuck to jackets and slacks. A fashion decision made much to the chagrin of the more formal members of the crew in their official Alliance uniforms.

Either way, for a guy that I knew had a good heart and cared more about justice than the rules, he actually quit his job at C-Sec to join Shepard, he looked at me with a decidedly alien and confused expression. Like he didn't know what to make of me half the time, and the other half like he wanted to mention there was something on my face.

The one that seemed to tolerate me in the same way you tolerate a shallow cut was Urdnot Wrex, a krogan mercenary. As a sentient race, the krogan are without a doubt the toughest around. Due to their home planet being full of horrible monsters that would eat them by the dozen and an atmosphere that would kill most races, the krogan evolved to be very durable. They're tall, are immune to most toxins, diseases, and environmental conditions like extreme cold and heat, they have a completely secondary nervous system which they use to stave off extreme pain and paralysis, and have multiple major organs: two hearts, four lungs, etc.. It says something that their civilization evolved to the point of developing nuclear weapons thousands of years ago, used them to blast their world back to the stone age out of sheer desire to battle and fight...then just kept going with their lives like it was no big deal.

It wasn't until galactic civilization tried using their talent for war for the greater good that things became problematic. The krogan were basically granted the benefits of being a race on the Citadel, with all the resources, aid, and political power that came with it, after they fought a bloody war against an overwhelming insectoid race known as the rachni. They considered the war done when the rachni were extinct.

Then the Council realized how fast they could procreate, we're talking tens of thousands of new offspring a year, outside of the radioactive hellhole that was their homeworld of Tuchanka. Considering how krogan weren't known for diplomacy or negotiation, this lead to a series of wars called the Krogan Rebellions. So the Council hired some brilliant scientists to help...cull their numbers. Hence the Genophage was used, a biological weapon that severely sterilized the krogan and greatly reduced their numbers to something resembling an Endangered Species list. They've traveled the galaxy as bounty hunters and soldiers of fortune ever since, sociologically castrated but still carrying on.

With all of that in mind, it made perfect sense why Wrex didn't like me around. Shepard and the others saw a potential ally that could stab them in the back; he saw a paycheck in case things went sideways. If I had the gumption to ask, he'd probably say it wasn't personal.

Then there was Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, a human Alliance officer. I'm not sure if it was the military history, every member of her family served their country and their planet, or the fact she was distrusting of aliens on an Alliance ship, but she always found some way of annoying me. Everything from a condescending sneer to her disdain for my lack of military code – which she just loves to cite at me, or some backhanded comment about me being loose or something. Joke's on her, I don't plan on falling in love here.

Then there was Commander John Shepard himself. The fact his first name was John bugged the hell out of me, it being so painfully generic, and his attitude was a hard mix of aggressive military drills and sharp pragmatic action. It was basically military boot camp on a space ship with aliens. Waking up early, work out, martial arts training – Wrex noticeably smiled every time Ashley successfully knocked me down in sparring matches, and firing range practice. Every single day I could tell he was disappointed in my progress. He thought he was getting an asari that spent at least a century learning how to fight and instead Only solace I had in his aggressive drills were that he noticed I was a natural shot with pistols and SMGs and that I slept like a rock when the day was done. 

The only downside was, other than Jack, another biotic by the name of Kaiden Alenko and Wrex, there were no other biotics I could learn from. Jack didn't feel like it half the time, Kaiden was always out in the field doing field recon or something.

And Wrex kind of hates me.

Then something unexpected happened, Shepard called a shrink on to the Normandy.

It started off as a normal day after drills and the practice range and we just made a quick stop on the Citadel for supplies.

I was on my way back to the cargo hold when I was stopped by her. She was an Asari with purple skin, wearing a formal flowing dress and holding a datapad.

“Excuse me, are you miss Variza T'Som?” she asked politely.

I nodded in response. She gave a professional glass smile and introduced herself.

“My name is Doctor Lissandre Dren. I was hired by Commander Shepard to help assess and otherwise assist the mental health of the members of his team. Since your mission is one of high duress, my trade should be one of great demand.”

This legitimately surprised me. Considering how much of a hard ass Shepard was to me, I think I liked him better when I was making him dance like a doofus in night clubs from behind a television screen, I expected his idea of mental health management would be some retrograde variant of “suck it up.” It's good to be reminded I live in an optimistic future; potential mass extinction by evil machines notwithstanding.

“That's nice,” I slyly retorted, “if you need me I'll be in my dark place in the corner of the cargo hold waiting for the next shit job or life-threatening mission,”

“Actually miss T'Som, I wish to speak with you next in my office,”


“I...think it'll be best if we continued this discussion in my office. Trust me, this will only take two hours of your time, then you can go back to... whatever it is that you do,” she added that last part after looking towards the cargo hold where it looked like Jack and Wrex were playing cards, Garrus underneath the Mako double checking some wires or something.

Well, she is an Asari so she has at least a dozen psychology degrees with multiple alien races, and I get the feeling this was also done by Shepard to get a better idea of me since he can't just Space Google me.

I agreed, and she escorted me to a makeshift office out of the medical bay of the ship, Dr. Chakwas didn't seem to mind.

“Please state your name for the record,” she began.

“Variza T'Som.” I replied.

“Is that your birth name or an alias you've developed?”

I felt a pang of confusion. Dr. Dren was really good at what she did.

“It is I travel under,” I acquiesced.

“Interesting. Do you wish to tell me your real name? I asked Dr. Chakwas to sound proof this part of the bay so it will be strictly confidential.”

“You...wouldn't believe me if I told you.” I mentioned as I lay on the medical table, trying to look at my feet like an embarrassed child. Unfortunately, my B-cup breasts got in the way. I turned my head to the side and crossed my arms, then quickly put them back to my sides. “I mean...a girl has a right to her secrets....Right?” I tried adding a smile to deflect my mannerisms. It registered about as well as a wet fart. Dr. Dren made some notes on her datapad.

Things got more awkward from there. She'd ask about my past and my upbringing, and I would try to give vague answers. I can't take things from my actual past as an average human being living on Earth in the 2010s, Humanity has only spent north of thirty years on the galactic stage and according to some blood tests from Dr. Chakwas my body is about two-hundred years old. It just would not equate. But Dr. Dren mentioned she's in her 400s and talked about her time at the universities on the asari world of Illium, trying to get me to open up. It didn't work.

Then things took a more personal turn.

“How many partners have you melded with?” she asked casually.

Apparently asari have the capacity to blush. I broke eye contact with Dr. Dren.

“No one.” I responded.

“Well that makes a certain level of sense. Give it at least fifty more years, right?” She chuckled. Then she added with a coy smile, “or maybe that special someone hasn't come around yet?”

“Why the hell do you care about my love life, doctor?”

“No need to be pushy, Variza, it's a natural part of life. Being able to be open and honest and passionate with another being, that unbelievable feeling when your nervous systems intertwine and you both truly feel like one whole being. It is just-”

“Shut up! I don't want to hear about it!” I yelled, red in the face. Or maybe violet in the face, I don't have a mirror for reference.

Dr. Dren clicked her tongue and made more notes on her datapad. I tried to compose myself but this talk of asari intimacy just...bothered me. And now I came off as some emotionally stunted angry person, I had to give her something.

“Actually I... never really learned how to meld.” I confessed. Dr. Dren looked surprised.

“How is that possible? It comes natural to all asari, there are extensive articles about the process, and even then you could always ask your mother about it.”

I spun a small story based in half truth. How my mother took off when I was born with no real maternal instinct driving her, my conservative upbringing on an alien colony with very few asari to associate with or talk to so I kept to myself, and my shear non-interest in the practice in favor of more practical skills. She seemed to take it as is but I got the distinct impression she didn't fully buy it.

“Does that explain why you have been spending time with Dr. Liara T'Soni?” Dr. Dren replied.

“She has been through a lot,” I responded a little quickly to be considered normal. “when Shepard and I found her on Therum-”

“Your mission last month in the Artemis Tau cluster, yes. I read the report made by Shepard,” she interjected, “you were there to recruit Dr. T'Soni thanks to her extensive research on the Protheans to help in your mission to track down the rogue Spectre, Saren Arterius. You were attacked by Geth and a Krogan Battlemaster mercenary and barely made it out of the ruins alive due to an...improvised escape method with a deep mining laser.”

“...yes that about sums up what happened,” I responded. Although he did leave out the instances where I lost my lunch traveling to the ruins in the Mako. How the heck can something that requires so much maintenance handle like a poorly put RC car that flips every mile or so is beyond me.

“You still haven't answered my question though, Variza. Is there a reason why you spend so much time with Dr. T'Soni?”

“It...may be to learn more about how asari can transfer thoughts and ideas through their melding process.”

In truth it was because I always wound up having her fall in love with my version of Shepard and old habits die hard. But I also needed a primer on this crucial asari skill.

“So it is romantic intention. That's...interesting considering what I have heard from the other members of the crew.” Dr. Dren replied, typing something on her datapad.

“And what exactly have they been saying about me, Dr. Dren? That I'm dangerous? That I can't be trusted? That they're afraid of what secrets I know about them? Sorry doctor, but that's just what I do.” I boasted, trying to gain some ground.

Instead, Dr. Dren produced and Omni-Tool and hit some buttons on the interface. Within seconds a holographic image of Jack appeared in front of me in a translucent orange glow, her body sitting on a nonexistant chair.

“Variza?” she visibly snorted and turned to spit, “She's alright I suppose. She talks a lot and her mind game stuff weirds me out but she's...kind of a yappy dog. All this talk of being a boogeyman and I could easily take her in a fight hands down.”

“I saved her life. She would have been tortured and left to die if it wasn't for me.” I reacted.

The image of Jack flickered to Garrus Vakarian, once again sitting down casually, his hands fiddling with some tool he was using; most likely on the Mako.

“Variza T'Som? Well other than the fact she gave me an entire month's work of paperwork by the stunt she pulled at the Citadel and the bizarre weapons she had on her person she's... weird. She's an asari yet she acts more like some punk human we sometimes get on the Citadel. Self-indulgent kids acting like they're the center of the universe. As for her knowing stuff it just feels wrong. Like she knows how to use me like a machine.”

“I'm...just trying to help because I know what's coming.” I said more to me than her. She heard it anyway.

“Do you see Shepard pouring over psych profiles and manipulating his associates?” Dr. Dren asked.

I had no answer.

The recording of Garrus switched to Wrex as he was standing up. His opinion was very simple.

“What about her? She can shoot, she has biotics, she's taking orders so far. She's doing her job. Although her habit of eating that human food on the Citadel that...ramen stuff is really weird. Looks too much like worms.”

Then there was Ashley....

“My opinion on the criminal known as Variza T'Som doesn't matter. My commanding officer sees her as an asset and as such I must comply with his command. But as a person and off the record I can't stand her. Her technique is sloppy, her marksmanship, while admittedly impressive by untrained civilian standards, leaves a lot to be desired, and her command over biotics is pitiful compared to what I have seen demonstrated by officer Alenko. She also keeps affecting human slang and turns of phrase, like she's trying to relate to the rest of the humans on the ship. It is unbelievably forced and makes her come off as artificial.”

“That's I talk.” I barely whispered.

The biggest blow came when Ashley became Commander Shepard.

“As a warrior, Variza T'Som is barely competent. Her control over biotics is helpful in the field and her ability with firearms can be improved, but her capacity for extensive treks and endurance intensive exercises is below average. For an asari that has claimed to have performed terrorist attacks and political assassination, her grasp on tactics and protocol are not only minimal, but incongruous.

“While on our mission to Zhu's Hope in the Feros system, where we discovered an entire human colony were being controlled by the spores of an alien creature called a Thorian, I ordered my squad mates to fire upon the infected, understanding there was no hope to remove the contagion from them. She had an outburst and refused the orders, demanding that we re-assess the situation and mentioned that there was a cure that could be dispersed through the chemical component of our grenades. It was only after half the colony were killed that we discovered this cure she spoke of. This means either she found information and didn't inform the team, leading to misinformation, or she knew all along about the Thorian and compromised the team's safety for no good reason.

“It also doesn't help that her social skills are lacking. Aside from terse responses regarding the mission at hand or some smart-ass one liner, she seems to treat every other person we meet with a casual disposability, except in rare instances where she convinces several individuals to act against their special interests to help her and the team bypass various dangers or inconveniences.

“I'm no psychologist but if you asked my opinion on Variza T'Som's character she's an overconfident idealist with delusions of grandeur. She has gotten lucky so far, but her detached and cold demeanor may very well border on sociopathy or even a disassociative disorder. As such, I want her heavily monitored at all times in case she acts outside the interest of the mission and order an immediate psych evaluation by a licensed professional.”

And with that, Shepard vanished.

I had no words....

“If it makes you feel any better, Miss T'Som, I don't think you're a bad person.”

“I...what?” my tone a mix of anger, confusion, and sadness.

“I think you have created a grand mask for yourself that you don't want anyone to see crack. All to hide something greatly personal. You're emotionally stunted, probably due to not being around your own kind and you find that daunting and alienating, which has manifested in a cocky stand-offish behavior and a desire to prove yourself as valuable.”

“Doctor I...” I was speechless. She was really good.

“As for the whole idealist thing... I think that's exactly why you should stay on the Normandy.” She added, putting away her data pad and getting up from her seat.

“Commander Shepard may be a brilliant soldier and his crew might be able to get the job done. But they still need someone to remind them of what they're fighting for more than what they're fighting against.”

I actually managed a smile after that and thanked her.

“Also as for your... lack of adult development I have scheduled an appointment with Shaira, the asari consort on the Citadel for you. She owes me a favor. See her on this date,” She tapped something on her Omni-Tool, causing mine to beep and display the information, “and I'm sure her compassion and wisdom will help you.”

“So...we're done.” I asked, feeling completely mentally drained.

She nodded. So I left.

Just in time to be ordered by Shepard to suit up as we were making our way to the Noveria system.

Previous Chapters:
Chapter 4

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Don't know the premise and set-up of a JumpChain?
Here's the Prologue

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