Gunnedah Hospital was a private hospital in Zakera Ward that had been little more than a human clinic before the war, and had been the recipient of a good portion of charity money raised for the fight against the reapers at that time. Much of the money that had come in after the attack on earth had never been deliverable given the war situation, and worthy, war supporting causes had been sought closer to home. Gunnedah had been one such recipient, and while the Cerberus coup attempt and the destruction of much of the station following the deployment of the Catalyst had meant it too needed rebuilding almost from the ground up, the staff retained a reputation for being their friendly, no-nonsense approach to their patients. Or at least, that’s what the extranet said after a quick search. Walking in the reception foyer was light and spacious, and the air carried just a hint of disinfectant. As Sync went up to the information desk to ask after his shipmate, Elias leaned against a pillar and glanced upwards at the TV, where a reporter was talking about the likelihood of the quarian race surviving. Apparently even with cloning techniques the future looked bleak here. Sighing, he dragged his eyes from the screen, and then hurried to catch up as the rest hurried off after Sync and one of the nurses.
“You arrived sooner than expected, Darl,” the human nurse, who’s name tag read ‘Doreen’ said. “We were considering keeping your friend for a longer convalescence, but they’re doing amazing things with nanosurgery these days. Even what would once have been a rather large invasive procedure can be done relatively quickly—not to mention all the synthskin and muscle-knitting drugs that we’ve refined in the last few years. I think he’ll be up on his feet again in no time.”
“She,” Sync corrected absently.
Doreen paused. “Of course,” she said after just a fraction of a second past what would have been considered polite. “Now they’re off most of the painkillers, but might still be a bit drowsy,” she said as she opened a door for them. “You’ve got visitors, dear,” she said to the blue skinned man in the bed.
He was wearing a hospital gown, and apparently little else beneath the sheets, the front open enough to show the bandages across his chest. There was some puffiness around the face that made Elias think the asari had some minor surgery there.
“I’m sorry,” Sync said to Doreen. “I don’t think this is the right room.”
The man’s eyes fluttered opened. “So you ditch me and then show up before I’m back on my feet and prepared for this conversation? Not cool bro.”
“Mree?” Sync’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Is that really you?”
Catching flies, the memory of Corbin’s voice rang in his head.
“Uh, yeah boss—I mean, Sync. Surprise!” he said as he hit the button on the bed to raise it into a sitting position.
Sync walked over to help his friend sit up. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
The asari looked away. “It’s…complicated. You seemed to be busy with, you know, problems of your own. There wasn’t any reason for me to burden you with…my own issues. I hope you’re not…freaked out.”
Sync shrugged. “Well, I’ve changed myself in some ways, and now you’ve changed yourself in another.”
“I’m still the same person though. I just…now I feel that…I’m the way I should be.”
“Definitely,” Sync said, and wrapped his arms around his friend.
“Careful, fresh sutures,” the asari said, although he made no attempt to pull away. “I’m assuming you have a lot of questions—the doctors said I should be able to head back to the ship today. They wanted to keep me here for longer but well…I don’t have funds to cover the extra night and I’d rather be somewhere familiar. I mean the staff have been mostly great but…”
“Nothing. I just want to go back home.”
“Well, okay. We’ll need all the help we can get anyways, Mree,” Sync said.
“Um, would you mind, could you call me Drimi now?” the asari asked. “A-although Ree would work too…”
Sync paused. “How about Dree?” he asked.
The other man smiled. “I think I can live with that.”
“Good,” Sync said. “And I know you’ve got a ton of questions for me, so how about we catch up later when you’re back on your feet. Just you and me?”
“Sure,” Drimi said, and glanced around the room, taking in the others for the first time. “You…brought friends?”
Sync looked back at the others, standing just inside the door. “Acquaintances, at least for now,” he said.
“They must be some acquaintances if they’re willing to come spring me from this joint,” Drimi said. “You don’t owe them money do you?”
“No, it’s a little complicated,” Sync said. “Doreen do you mind giving us some privacy here?”
The nurse smiled. “Not at all Mr. Sync.” She checked the IV line that was still connected to Drimi’s right hand. “Now if you need anything, dear, you just push that call button. And if your friends are taking you home, I can get you a wheelchair but I still think you’re rushing out too soon.” With a look that was both stern and compassionate at the same time, she left the room, shutting the door behind her with a soft click. Then Sync regaled his friend with the story of their meeting so far, helped by the others where necessary, although before too long, Drimi held up his hand.
“Whoa, whoa. You’re telling me that all these people are from a different dimension?”
“Yes I am,” Sync said. “Actually she knows you in her universe. Or the you in her universe,” he said, pointing towards Arkara.
The asari on the bed blinked. “If I didn’t know that you don’t joke, boss, I wouldn’t believe you. You don’t have the brains to think up something this crazy.”
“Thanks,” Sync said flatly. “Do you guys need to do some catching up?” Sync asked. “I don’t really get how this universe stuff things works exactly.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever met here,” Drimi said, eyeing Arkara curiously.
“I doubt it,” Arkara said. “But it would be nice to compare notes.”
“It might help me wrap my head around all this,” Drimi agreed. “So…are all these people staying on the Endurance?” he asked, turning to Sync.
“Ah…yeah,” Sync said. “I—”
“As long as none of them touch my stuff in the cargo hold, we’re fine,” Drimi said, narrowing his eyes.
A dopplered whistle drew Elias’ gaze over to where Anar was staring out the window, all six of his tentacles bundled up under him.
“Really?” Arkara asked.
“This one is going to get a soda. Would anyone else like one? No? This one will see you back on the ship if not before,” Anar said, floating just a little too quickly out of the room.
“What was that all about?” Drimi asked.
“I have no idea,” Sync said.
“Interesting,” Pi murmured inside of Elias’ helmet.
“What makes you say that?” Elias asked.
“I know for a fact that Captain Sync knows exactly why Anar left the room quickly, but there’s almost no inflection an organic would sense to show that he was lying just then.”
“So you’re saying he’s good at poker.”
“Evidence for that hypothesis is inconclusive, but he would probably be very good at poker if he had the mathematical expertise to handle the probabilities involved and…ah. Yes. He is indeed ‘good at poker’,” Pi said after a moment’s pause. “I suspect the fact that seventy one point zero zero six percent of his body is synthetic may have something to do with it.”
“…I do have a surprise for you when we get back onto the ship though,” Sync was saying. “You’ll have to figure it out yourself, but.”
Drimi sighed. “This is payback for me not telling you about my surgery, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely,” Sync grinned. “I’m not going soft on you just because you’re a boy, you know.”
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
“Ms…Mr Peshasi, it’s against medical advice, but if you’re certain you want to leave now, we can discharge you,” Nurse Doreen said.
“I’ll go,” Drimi said. “I’ve got my own personal doctor right here.”
Doreen smiled and went over to a nearby wardrobe, bringing out a pair of pants and an earth style leather jacket.
“You just want to wear that, don’t you,” Sync asked. “Without a bra.”
Drimi shrugged. “Like I wore them before.”
“Binder?” Elias asked, speaking aloud for the first time since leaving the ship.
“Yes,” Drimi said. “How’d you know?”
“I’ve heard humans talking about it,” Elias said.
“I see. What’s your name again, sir?” Drimi asked. “I think I met everyone except for you and the hanar.”
Drimi blinked. “Elias? Really? Wait…wait…no, never mind.”
“We’ll give you some privacy,” Elias said, stepping into the hallway.
The reactions to Drimi’s transformation ranged from smiles and curious stares to silences, frowns and pointed avoidance. Mostly from other Asari.
After the second conversation hushed and turned into whispers and furtive glances, Drimi lifted his chin and strode past the blue aliens, and Arkara loomed over them, a subtle shift in her muscles promising a very krogan response to any ongoing commentary, and the group very quickly moved off.
“Don’t pay any attention to those punks, man,” Sync muttered. Drimi nodded, but his shoulders grew more and more tense with every Asari they passed.
“What are you looking at?” Sync snapped at a purple scalped woman, dressed in flowing robes and clutching a datapad.
The woman squeaked and hurried away.
Drimi sighed. “They don’t understand. We…they… Asari don’t have a gender. I think the term is ‘monomorphic’, although most people say ‘monogendered’. I’ve never felt right in my own skin and they don’t understand that.”
Sync shrugged. “I can relate in some ways.”
“You’re taking this better than I thought you would, Sync. I wish I’d told you sooner.”
“There’s some stuff I haven’t told you either,” Sync said. “Maybe we can catch up properly later. After I pick up some beer.”
“None of that North American crap,” Drimi said firmly. “I know you like your earth beers, Sync, but those ones are frankly piss.”
Sync rolled his eyes. “So add ryncol.”
“I’m thirsty not suicidal, boss.”
“Then get your own damn beer.”
Cicepia came out of the kitchen when they boarded and her eyes went immediately to the new face.
“So this is your friend?”
The asari walked carefully over to her, and Elias could tell the man was willing his body not to show any sign of his recent surgery. “Drimi,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Cicepia,” she said, taking his hand, her eyes glancing down at his torso, where the white bandages were clearly visible. A shirt had apparently been a bit much.
“I know,” he said. “It’s new to me too.”
“So…what skills do you have?” Cicepia asked.
“I…run this ship,” Drimi said, a little non-plussed by the sudden change in conversation topic. “I’m the official unofficial engineer.”
“And how long have you been officially unofficially on board?”
“About a year. Is there a problem…officer?”
“No, I just like to know who I’m working with. Especially on a mission as big as this one.”
“What exactly is the mission?” Drimi asked. “No-one’s told me anything yet.”
“We’ll fill you in a bit at a time,” Elias said, walking over. “It’s a lot to take in and you’ve had a rough day. Why don’t you meet me in the conference room once you’ve had a chance to settle back in. I’d like your thoughts on the proposed upgrades I’m wanting to give this girl.”
“Upgrades?” Drimi held his left hand up to his torso and his omni tool flickered. “Forget bed rest, I want details.”
“How much painkiller did you just give yourself?” Elias ask.
“It’s non-drowsy,” Drimi said, leading the way into the conference room. “No-one messes with my ship without me knowing about it.”
“So I’ve heard,” Elias said, following him in. “Just give me a moment to put in the new schematics, all right? And I’d appreciate it if you’d reserve judgment until I’ve got them all in.”
Drimi laughed. “All right Elias. It is Elias, right?”
“Yep,” Elias said, sitting in one of the chairs and pulling up a holo of the ship.
“Did you watch Citadel’s Got Talent?”
“I followed the show in my universe, yes.”
“Oh. Right. Universes. Did you have the famous lounge singer Elias in your universe too?”
“Yep,” Elias said, adding in the upgraded LADAR system and increasing the forward capacitor size for the Thanix Cannon.
“That must be wild, having the same name as the guy who won the whole thing.”
“You have no idea.”
“So…have you picked out your room?”
“Yep. I was going to go for the one with the most power outlets, but they were all standard so I just grabbed the last one I checked. Okay, now I don’t have full specs on all of this, but I know where I can get them. Do you think the Endurance will handle this amount of power draw? I mean, the LADAR should be okay, but the GARDIAN anti-ship missiles are a bit of draw unless we can get a new drive core running. Not to mention the space needed for the heat sinks.”
Drimi’s mouth fell open as he stared at the holo that flickered into existence when Elias hit the ‘apply’ button. “These…are very expensive parts. Where are we getting the funding for all of these?”
“You must have some amazing contacts to be able to get access to these schematics. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this sort of firepower since we got the old girl but, you know. Sync and I don’t have the finances for the bells and whistles.”
“I may have just sold the idea of turning this mission into a reality extranet show,” Elias said. “You know, epic inter-universe quest to stop the reapers for a second time?”
“You do have some interesting connections,” Drimi said with a grin. “I mean, military spec tech? Entertainment producers…wait…by the Goddess, no way. No Effing Way! You…you can’t…are you? Are you?”
“Alternate universe analogue,” Elias said.
“SYNC!! Get in here!” Drimi shouted.
Sync showed up sooner than he should have carrying two beers and a tumbler of turian brandy. At least, sooner than he should have if he hadn’t been loitering by the door.
“Do you know who he is?” Drimi demanded, pointing at Elias.
“Sure, he’s Elias. He’s a quarian. Really good with tech stuff.”
“No, no, he’s not just Elias. He’s the quarian Elias. The singer!”
“Yeah, the synthesised universe version apparently.”
“Um…uh…even so,” Drimi said. “I don’t think I’d have said half of what I’ve said if I…ah…I’m just glad I voted for you and not the other one. Ah…so…it’s an honour to have you on our ship. Are you sure your quarters are big enough? I’m sure we can bust down a wall or something…the bedroom walls aren’t structural, right boss?”
Elias raised his hands, “Oh no, I’m fine with the rooms, Drimi, really. You forget, I grew up on the Migrant Fleet. Your rooms are massive compared to what I’m used to.”
“But surely while you’ve been touring…”
“I’m still not used the apartment suites,” Elias said.
“Okay, okay, so…I just need to…”
“Breathe?” Elias suggested.
“It’s the surgery,” Drimi said. “Maybe you’re right and I shouldn’t be overdoing it even with medication. Let me go lie down. I’ll just, ah…yeah…”
Elias watched the asari leave with some bemusement. “So what are your thoughts on the upgrades?” he asked Sync.
“I’m wondering if he’s wishing he’d waited now you’re on board,” the human said, looking with some bemusement after the retreating asari.
“Oh, you mean the ship upgrades? They’re great. You really think we can do this?”
“Absolutely,” Elias said. “What upgrades did you think I was referring to?”
“Drimi’s, I believe,” Pi said, as Sync stammered, trying to find an answer. “I thought they were more compatible with you given your history.”
“That was merely an observation, Creator Elias.”
From Pi there was innocent silence.
“Why the stealth drive?” Sync asked finally. “That is a stealth drive right?”
“You think we’re going to jump unannounced into the airspace of the Citadel in any universe and not be shot at without one?” Elias asked.
“Right. That’s a point. Where did you get the design? I only know of two ships that ever had that, and neither the Alliance nor the turian Hierarchy like sharing.”
Elias shrugged. “Admiral Zorah brought the designs to many of our ships. I acquired a copy of the plans when the Ashru was retrofitted before the battle of Rannoch.”
“Well, if you’re not too busy, I have a favour to ask.”
“What’s that?” Elias asked.
“I need some of your DNA.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I need a sample of your DNA. I was thinking a swab from the inside of your cheek?”
Elias crossed his arms and stared at the android. A million snappy comebacks swirled through his head and caught at the back of his throat, and he eventually settled on a simple, “Why?”
Sync tilted his head and led Elias into the med bay, bringing up a number of visual reports on an impressive number of screens. “My life’s work,” he said simply. “Chasing what already exists in your universe: the perfect melding or organic and synthetic. And the answer to that is locked up in your DNA.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but you can’t have it,” Elias said. “Aside from the fact that it’s mine and worth a fortune in all of our universes, you don’t need it. We’re heading back to my universe to retrofit the Endurance anyway. It’s in every living thing. Go pick a leaf from a plant, buy a fish or space hamster from the gift shop and you’ll have samples. Or you could go to nightclub and get saliva samples from finished drinks or visit a health club and snatch a few used towels…”
“You know, I never thought of that.”
“Just thinking up ways to get into my suit?”
“What? No, I didn’t mean anything by—”
“That was a joke.”
Sync flushed. “I’m sorry, I guess that was a bit personal.”
“A bit?” Elias said, a smile in his voice. “I understand your drive, Sync. But aside from Drimi, you haven’t really spent much time with people recently, have you?”
Elias clapped the man on the shoulder. “Welcome back to society, Captain.”
“I’m not Captain—”
“Yes you are,” Elias said seriously. “This is your ship. You fly her, you command her and you set her course. If there is an emergency you instruct your crew how to handle it. That makes you Captain.”
“But you’re the one with the mission and the money.”
Elias shrugged. “That gives me a say in the mission at best, not how you fly the ship when you come right down to it.”
“What makes you think I’m cut out for this?” Sync asked.
“What makes any of us?”