I was sad to discover that the catsuits concealed not throbbing libidos but a woman pissed at not being in a charge and a gung-ho, ex-military guy who’d apparently been very impressed with my past exploits. That meant that they stuck their noses into my business constantly. I had barely met the crew and toured the ship when they hauled me off to the briefing room to argue that we our first recruit should be a salarian scientist on the Omega station. Since I agreed with them, I didn’t see the point of all of the convincing but saying “duh” every time one of them spoke would never earn me the respect I’d need to trick them into trusting me. I held in all of the sighs and eye-rolling that they inspired until they’d had their say and then I headed over to see Joker.
He’d already told me that he’d left the Alliance because they had grounded him. That made perfect sense to me because flying was Joker’s life. He had Vrolek’s Syndrome which meant that his leg bones could barely hold him much less allow for things like running, dancing, and kick boxing. He could have gone for a desk job but he was a pilot at heart and aced every test they’d set him. Knowing how impulsive he could be I hadn’t been too surprised to find him working for anyone who’d let him in a cockpit but Cerberus had sweetened the pot by telling him they had me and were going to bring me back to life. I’d have thought the cynic would have asked when the flying pigs were going to dock in response. He must have felt worse about getting me killed than I’d thought to buy that story, even if it did turn out to be true.
“What a pair of idiots!” I stomped onto the bridge, the wry smile on Joker’s face enough to break my mood. “Seriously, Joker, if they’d have just shut up and let me do my job we’d freakin’ be at Omega by now. If these are supposed to be Cerberus elite…”
“Uh, Commander,” he interrupted, jerking his head toward the glowing blue orb on his left. Damn, I’d forgotten about the ship’s AI. The VI on the SR-1 had almost never made itself known but this pushy thing not only had introduced itself as EDI but volunteered information and “help” whether I wanted them or not. The stupid thing had explained to me how to work the fixtures in my new bathroom, for Pete’s sake, although as a subtle hint that it could and would see me everywhere that had been pretty effective. I was supposed to be making nice, at least for a while. “You’ll be needing some down time at Omega, won’t you Joker? I hear there’s a great bar.” He winked at me which I took to mean that he’d meet me there later.
I headed down to the crew deck and started glad-handing, trying to act like I had with a crew I’d trusted. It seemed like every third person I met had been recruited straight from the Alliance with a promise of working with me once I wasn’t dead any more. Honestly, had soldiers always been this gullible? Somehow I wasn’t surprised that the Council of galactic races had managed to bury its collective head in the sand about the Reapers and everything my old crew had been through before we lost the Normandy. But the idea that a dozen people were willing to throw away their careers and join a bunch of radical fruitcakes because they were promised a chance to work with me even though I was dead really gave me the creeps. Had working on the old Normandy been such a treat that I’d gotten some sort of rep among flight crews? Was it because I’d gotten involved with Kaidan and they were all hoping for the same sort of treatment? Even Dr. Chakwas, my old ship’s doctor, had bailed on what must have been twenty-five years with the Alliance to get on this ship. I shuddered and went back to the Combat Information Center, helpfully labeled in huge letters on the wall in case I got lost.
At least the gorgeous galaxy map was just like old times. I loved that thing. Whenever I got frustrated or felt powerless, as I certainly did just then, I would stand over the image of the whole galaxy and pretend I was doing horrible things like playing billiards with suns or crushing planets between my fingertips. It was silly but it helped keep my head on straight, most of the time. I loomed for a minute, cackling in my head like a super-villain about to announce her dastardly plans, until the bubbly piece of fluff that had been introduced as Yeoman Kelly Chambers piped up from my right. Apparently, that was her station. She announced that she was there as my personal assistant—and she accented the “personal”. What the hell sort of frisky crew had they assembled for me? I’d just escaped from Donnelly in Engineering, who’d given me the once-over twice, and now Kelly was sounding like she was about to assist me right out of my pants.
She explained that she was supposed to help me keep track of my messages and act as a counselor for me and the crew. Between those lines I read that she was intended to keep an eye on me and tell Cerberus everything, including what was in my e-mail. Since I couldn’t out-perky her I went for polite. Anyone who knew me would have known that was a bad sign but she burbled away, asking me textbook trust-building questions and touching me on the hand or arm every few sentences. Holding the backhand down was starting to hurt. Happily, Joker announced that we were approaching Omega and I had an excuse to run away before I lost all impulse control and gave the chirpy girl a bloody nose.
I had three dossiers from TIM on people that might hop on board were I sufficiently charming on the Omega Station. The first was actually waiting for us in the docking area, a grizzled bounty hunter with one working eye and a batarian prisoner in tow. His name was Zaeed Massani and Cerberus had bought his services so no convincing was necessary. It should have been uncomplicated to jerk my thumb over my shoulder and send him to the ship but I wasn’t about to let him bring the criminal onto my brand new Normandy. While we discussed the agreed terms by which I would be shackled, the Batarian tried to make a run for it. Heck, wouldn’t you? But this Zaeed character proceeded to beat the snot out of the guy. As a rule I’m not opposed to violence but pistol whipping an unarmed man while he was down didn’t sit well with me. I told Zaeed to get his poop in a group and shift it to the ship because I wasn’t going to let him abuse people while I stood there watching. I’d take him to look cooperative but I wasn’t about to keep him for any longer than I had to. I hardly needed any more unstable people surrounding me.
I’d never been to Omega Station before and I discovered that Zaeed’s introduction to the place was about as good as any I was likely to get. It certainly accurately reflected the casual cruelty of the place, as well as the awful smell that kept wafting from vents everywhere we went. Then there were the Vorcha. I couldn’t guess what misbegotten deity had decided that these piles of teeth and fuzz should be sentient and able to fire weapons but it must have been one with a nasty sense of humor. I’d never seen one before and I wished I still hadn’t, especially after having a conversation with one who apparently thought I’d come to give it orders to kill someone, for whatever reason.
The thing about Vorcha is that their mouths aren’t really shaped for speaking Galactic Standard, the language in which most races communicated. When they try, they spit…a lot. That would be nasty enough were it not for the fact that they eat only raw meat and that they have apparently never been introduced to the wonders of modern dentistry. Even a thorough scrubbing in a nearby restroom couldn’t get the smell off my face and my breastplate exuded fumes that would have felled a medium-sized child.
I thought we’d better see the woman listed as our contact on the station before something died on me or otherwise added its charm to my recently-clean armor. Her name was Aria T’Loak and the notes said that she owned the bar upstairs. I would chat with her and then see if I could ditch Miranda and Jacob long enough to enjoy a drink with Joker. I could use one by then.