// file index
$title: Sealed Memories
$game: Mass Effect 2
$chars: fem!Shep, Kasumi, EDI
// thanks for letting us play in your universe, Bioware!
Samantha Shepard has a tendency to see things in terms of black and white. Being the sole survivor of a horrific attack and then being rescued by Alliance marines can do that to you. She's not much for nuance--you're either on her side or you're not, a good person or not, an ally or an obstacle. Allies she will fight to the last breath to protect. Obstacles...well, what happens to obstacles depends on how much they get in her way.
Over the last week or so, this worldview has failed her. She's been brought back from the dead by a terrorist organization, who then hand over to her a top-flight spaceship and tell her she's free to do with it as she pleases. They know she hates their guts, they don't care, and they'd like to help her save the galaxy. The Illusive Man is harder to classify than anyone she's ever met, and she's spent hours on her bed, staring up at the ceiling, trying to reconcile how such an incredibly evil organization can do such good things when so many of the people she trusted most have abandoned her.
So meeting Kasumi is a relief in a lot of ways. Kasumi Goto is a professional shadow-dweller who decides that the best way to contact Shepard is to put up an advertisement, with her face on it, on the Citadel. Shepard facepalmed so hard she almost knocked her helmet loose. Noting that the ad had direct line-of-sight to the C-Sec desk and was loudly calling "COMMANDER SHEPARD! WHAT IS THE SECRET PASSWORD?", she quickly concluded that if this was the galaxy's finest thief, law enforcement agencies everywhere must be doing a pretty good job after all.
Kasumi is not hard to classify. She's the biggest ditz Shepard has met in years. When she asks for Samantha's measurements so she can pick out a pretty dress, Shepard begins to wonder if perhaps the Illusive Man should see about getting his money back. But Kasumi sets up shop on the Normandy and invites Shepard to a fun-sounding party/heist, and Shepard is pretty sure that the Illusive Man is lying about the connection between the Reapers and the Collectors, so she has nothing better to do. And over the course of the party, Kasumi demonstrates a surprising degree of technical skill. She knows her omnitool as well as anyone Shepard has ever met, she stays cool under fire, and she has an appealing habit of decloaking in the middle of battle and backstabbing mercs just as they were about to become problematic.
Is Kasumi a highly-skilled, very professional ditz? That doesn't make much sense. A ditz in Kasumi's line of work would have fallen victim to natural selection long ago. Is she perhaps pretending to be a ditz in order to lure victims into a false sense of security? Possible, but Shepard does not believe so. She considers herself to be a reasonably good judge of character, and Kasumi seems like a very genuine person--yes, she steals for a living, but she is cheerful and honest about it.
Kasumi is complicated, far out of proportion to the sunny, simple exterior she presents. After many days of thought, Shepard gets fed up trying to puzzle it out herself and decides to sit down and have it out with her, so she visits the port observation deck. When she palms the door open, Kasumi is hunched over a book of some kind and is reading it intently; a couple of seconds pass before she looks up. "Shepard! Come in!"
Shepard pulls up a chair. "Kasumi, what's your deal, anyway?"
Frowning, Kasumi puts the book away. "What do you mean, Shep?"
Shepard levels her index finger. "That. You and I both know that you're as savvy as they come. You know how to hack, how to fight, and how to stay out of trouble. But whenever I talk to you, it's always this bubbly, 'let's go shopping!' exterior."
Kasumi tosses her head. "Isn't a girl allowed to have fun?'
"There it is again! You're trying to sound silly and, and airheaded even while you're using conversational judo to steer me in a different direction. I don't buy it. What's the real Kasumi thinking under there?"
Kasumi bows her head. "It...sounds like you don't like me very much."
Shepard is having none of it. "What I don't like is being played. I know you're smarter than you pretend to be. What I haven't figured out is why."
"I'm not playing you, Shepard. This is who I am."
"But that's impossible! You can't be as ditzy as you pretend to be and still be the genius thief that I know you are. I've seen you, Kasumi. You cracked that safe like a pair of chopsticks. I've watched you sneak up on a guy while he's fishing for a thermal clip and cut out his kidneys without so much as a twitch. That's not the sort of person who giggles over manga and makes eyes at Jacob like I saw you doing yesterday."
Kasumi looks up. "Is this about Jacob? Because if you've got dibs on him, go ahead. Let me know, though--I try to keep track of these things on my blog."
Shepard holds up a hand. "Okay, two things. First of all, are you seriously blogging our mission to stop the Reapers?"
Kasumi rotates the wheel on her omnitool, pulling up a holographic keyboard and screen. "Not the mission! I know about operational security and all that. Just, you know, the little things that happen aboard the Normandy. Don't worry, it's all anonymized," she says, tapping away on the half-keyboard with one gloved hand.
EDI appears on a nearby holoprojector with her usual clicking notification. "I have been monitoring the blog in question, Commander Shepard. None of its characters or plot elements can be traced to this vessel. It has become extremely popular among female teens of many species across Citadel space; this may prove useful as a reserve public relations channel in the future, although that would require sacrificing secrecy."
Kasumi beams. "EDI, I didn't know you were such a fan!"
EDI cannot smile, but her tone is warm. "I look forward to your fictionalization of the latest argument between Engineer Daniels and Engineer Donnely, Miss Goto. The security footage is waiting at your private terminal."
Shepard sighs. "Second thing, I am not 'calling dibs' on Jacob. He's with Cerberus."
Kasumi looks at her. "Maybe you should give Cerberus a chance. They did save your life, after all."
Oh, I can't believe this. "They're terrorists!"
"Used to be terrorists. They seem pretty dedicated to doing good things now, right?"
Shepard's expression turns grim. "Kasumi, have you ever heard of the planet Akuze?"
Kasumi frowns. "I don't think so. Is that from Chibi Turian Club--no, I guess not."
"I was born there. After Basic, I requested to get stationed back there so I could be close to my parents. One day a dozen Thresher Maws attacked the settlement. We'd never seen Threshers before; the other marines and I tried to stop them, but...they just chewed through the whole platoon. Fifty marines, my parents, the entire settlement where I grew up--everyone died. Except me."
"I'm sorry, Shep."
Shepard shakes her head. "Ancient history. But you know what I found out later? Cerberus put a transmitter in the colony to make the Threshers attack. Because they wanted to study them."
Silence fills the room.
Shepard stands up and begins to pace. "I've seen things that Cerberus has done that you can't even imagine. Things that give me nightmares. Whatever they're doing now, it's not enough. It will never be enough." Shepard turns away, and static electricity begins to crackle around her in an aura of lightning. "Raising me from the dead was the worst decision Cerberus ever made. Because after I save the galaxy, I'm going to track them down, one cell at a time, and I'm going to dismantle them. Every sadistic experiment, every innocent life sacrificed for the rest of humanity, I will reckon unto them, and they will answer for everything they have done." She turns back, slamming one fist into the other, and the biotic fields surrounding her fists boom with the impact.
Very quietly, Kasumi muses: "That must have really hurt when Kaidan accused you of joining them."
Shepard slouches back into her chair with a bitter laugh. "I guess he didn't know me as well as I thought."
Kasumi says, "We never find out everything, even about the people we love, right Shep?"
Shepard shrugs. "I guess."
Kasumi gives a sad smile. "Except Keiji. He left me his graybox, so now I know everything there is to know about him."
Shepard arches an eyebrow dryly. "Wow, that's romantic."
Kasumi says, "And he's dead, so there'll never be anything new to learn." Her face is very still.
Shepard has no response to that. Kasumi leans forward. "Have you ever met someone who's completely perfect for you and loves you unconditionally, Shep? It's a transformative experience. I'm sure you've seen some terrible things in your time, but remember, I lived in the seedy underbelly of the galaxy since I was seventeen. I've been down in the grime with the worst of them. But Keiji changed all that. You can't imagine what it's like for a person who lives her life around crime and deception to have one person who you can trust with anything."
Shepard thinks she has some idea, but Kasumi is continuing. "It's so much worse now that I have this treasure box of his memories. There's always the hidden reservations and uncertainties in a relationship--does this person really feel the way they say they feel? How much does he really love me? How much? We build models of our loved ones in our heads, more detailed every day, until we think we know them, but there's no way to see inside their heads directly, so we guess and we conjecture and we never know for sure. But I can see. It's all here. All the times he fumbled a bypass because he was distracted by thoughts of me, all the glorious plans he made for our future. And I wonder if I can go back to...normal after this. I've seen inside someone's head, flipped their mind over and examined it from every angle. Will I ever be satisfied with the game and the mystery ever again?"
Shepard smiles. "See, I knew you were smart in there somewhere!"
Troubled, Kasumi muses, "But of course, it's completely unreasonable to expect someone to open themselves to you so completely..."
Shepard leans back. "I dunno, I understand some of the Asari are into that."
Kasumi smiles. "I hadn't thought of that."
Shepard stretches lazily. "So how do I reconcile the new, philosophical Kasumi with the one who begs to be part of the shore party every time we land on a planet with a mall?"
Kasumi looks out from beneath her hood. "Everyone has their own set of masks, Shep. You don't talk to the Council or the Illusive Man the same way you talk to the crew. If I'm a different person outside, in the wide world, than I am when it's just the two of us, that doesn't mean I'm being deceptive."
Shepard frowns. "I guess that makes sense." She stands up and moves for the door. "Just be careful, Kasumi. Who we pretend to be, we eventually become."
Kasumi cocks her head. "And who have you pretended to be, Shep?"
Shepard glances over her shoulder, and the door snaps shut on her smile.