Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 8

Evasive Maneuvers

Admiral Hackett looked a little older and a little greyer than I remembered but not dramatically so. The battle with sentient robots and the ship creature they had worshiped as a god had taken a heavy toll on both the Alliance and Citadel fleets alike. The aftermath had been near-chaos, particularly without a Council to make overarching decisions and enforce cooperation between the various species.

The mess of politics that had existed when I’d died must have been settled by now, at least in part. I had recommended the original Normandy’s previous captain, Anderson, for the human seat on the new council but who knew how that had all shaken out in the end.

The ambassador for us Humans had been a slimy, life-long politician named Udina. Choosing between an Alliance officer who was almost ready to retire anyway and a professional snake like Udina had been vastly easier than deciding to let the old Council fend for itself in battle. I imagined Udina making an argument before the Council while Anderson yelled at him to stand up straight and stop waffling. That made me smile as Hackett waved me in. He smiled in return though his eyes seemed guarded.

The Admiral stepped around his desk and we shook hands as I pulled off my comm unit and smothered it in my hand. I saw his gaze flicker to the Cerberus logo on my chest but he made no comment. “Commander Shepard, it’s good to see you on your feet. We’ll have to get your headstone removed from the Alliance vault.”

I whipped my head around to glare at Garrus. It seemed he’d left out a detail or two of the time between my dying and his becoming Archangel. “Uh, yeah,” he said, mandibles drooping with discomfort, “there was a memorial service. Hundreds of people came,” he added hopefully, trying to deflect me from the inquisition he knew was coming as soon as we got back to the Normandy.

“You can tell me all about how beloved I was in death later, Garrus.” I turned back to Hackett. “I understand you need a little help, Admiral. It must be interesting if you couldn’t send me the details directly but you might have to reinstate my clearance before you tell me about it.”

Hackett shifted uneasily. “That won’t be necessary, Shepard.” He proceeded to outline some routine check-up mission of the same sort I’d handled in the course of an afternoon in my previous life. Confused, I interrupted him, something I would have done a lot more respectfully under the circumstances in which we’d last spoken.

“Sir, I have a ship in dock filled with Cerberus operatives. I didn’t come here with a trusted team to pick up some side work while investigating a clear-cut objective. I came to deliver a mass of intel on a rogue organization working to the detriment of both humanity and the stability of galactic safety.” I could only hope that my words came across less pompous than they sounded to my ears. I was striving for professional but I couldn’t quite seem to get there.

Stupid hopes, I thought, getting up there all by themselves. I knew better than that. My daydreams of Miranda being led away in a hood and chains evaporated as I spoke.

Hackett frowned and seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. “Shepard, we’d like you to work with us as an independent contractor for now,” he finally said. “We’ll pay your crew for completing this and any other missions on our behalf.”

“With all due respect, Admiral, that was not the reason I came halfway across the galaxy to meet with you. You could have simply made that proposition in your message. What the hell am I doing here?” As my old Gunnery Chief had observed before I’d left her to detonate a nuclear weapon by hand, “with all due respect” meant “kiss my ass” and all of us knew it.

He looked away. “You should meet with Councilor Anderson while you’re here.” It wasn’t like him to be so evasive. Something much deeper played into the exchange and apparently he wasn’t the one to explain it to me. My frustration flared but I couldn’t let it make me foolish. With a sigh, I agreed to set up a conference with Anderson and to complete the mission he’d outlined. He sent me the coordinates and pertinent information and I prepared to go.

“One last thing, Admiral.” He looked at me warily and I forced my voice to be as neutral as possible. “Would you please tell me where we can find Lieutenant Commander Alenko? Garrus and I would like to see him.”

He froze briefly then tried to act casual. I could see the tension in his shoulders as he spoke, however. “Alenko’s been promoted, Shepard. Twice, in fact. If you were still with the Alliance he’d outrank you. But I can’t tell you any more than that he’s off the Citadel on assignment.” Suddenly the word crestfallen had real meaning for me. My heart plummeted to my lower intestine and released some of the bile I’d been managing to control.

“Can’t, sir, or won’t?” If I clenched my jaw any tighter I was going to have to get new teeth and possibly physical therapy for the muscle damage. “I…we really need him on the team.” It was a feeble finish but what was I supposed to say, I’m lonely and scared and need my Kaidan, like he was a teddy bear? I wanted to throw something but stifled my lesser impulses and shook my head. “Never mind. It doesn’t make a difference.”

Then, for the first time since I’d joined the Alliance, I turned on my heel and walked away from a superior officer without having been dismissed. If they didn’t want me to be on their team then I didn’t have to follow their rules any more. A moment of disrespect seemed like a better option than continuing the conversation. I’m not here to burn bridges, I reminded myself as I replaced my earpiece. Several deep breaths and a rapid stride out of Alliance HQ later, my jaw relaxed enough for me to speak normally.

When I contacted Councilor Anderson’s office I was told that we’d been scheduled for a meeting in an hour. Garrus put his hand on my shoulder. “Something’s not right here. Admiral Hackett wouldn’t have brought you all of the way to the Citadel for a simple research request. We need to keep our cool with Anderson if we’re going to make any headway.” I could read between those lines just fine, although I appreciated his effort at sharing the responsibility.

Jack was having none of that. “Who the hell is Alenko and why do you want him on the ship so bad?” Honestly, she must have had advanced training in snark along with biotics. Garrus flared his mandibles slightly in alarm, probably thinking I might plug Jack. I had actually shot someone for using that tone with me but the guy had been holding hostages at the time so I thought my pal might be overreacting a bit. At least the idea of shooting someone cheered me up a little, although it wasn’t Jack I was picturing.

“He was my second in command and a good friend,” I said. “He’s also a controlled L-2.” Jack’s eyes widened. Even in her unconventional education she’d heard about the powerful L-2 biotic implants and how erratic they could be.

L-2 implants had killed half a generation of human biotics before they’d finished puberty and a good percentage of the surviving half had suffered irreversible brain damage or had simply gone insane. Kaidan was a rare and wonderful thing, and not just to me. The Alliance would hold on to him with both hands, I knew. Maybe that explained Hackett’s reaction earlier. If they didn’t want me in and they didn’t want Kaidan out then they’d have to hide him somewhere. But Kaidan would contact me when he found out I was alive, no matter where they’d stashed him. Hell, if Hackett could figure out how to send me messages then anyone could. He had worse tech skills than anybody I knew.

Garrus and I killed the time before our appointment giving Jack a tour of the Presidium. Although she feigned disinterest and slouched to show her boredom I could see how busy her eyes were when she wasn’t rolling them at things like the giant statue of a Krogan or yet another Keeper busily doing whatever it was that the things did to maintain the integrity of the entire Citadel at terminals scattered around every public space.

I was pleased that Garrus’s explanation of how the Reapers had created the Citadel and its Keepers made her as suspicious as it did me. The things self-destructed if you tried to capture one, regardless of how organic they appeared, which meant that the sentient machines that had installed them here had likely done what they did with the other poor creatures they took over: they’d genetically engineered them and installed mechanical controls that took away free will. I hoped that Joker’s earlier questions had been off the mark and that Cerberus hadn’t done the same thing to me. I was mad enough already.

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