I shuddered and pushed the mental picture away as I made my way to the shuttle bay. I had enough horrible images in my head without pursuing that train of thought. Since Dr. Chakwas was doing some work on Garrus’s poor, blown-up face I’d asked Thane and Zaeed to come along for an all-sniper team. With sentient robots it was best to shoot from as far away as possible.
As the shuttle approached Haestrom I checked the readouts and cursed them roundly. “It’s 123 degrees in the shade and I have to wear full armor!” I yelled. “Stupid geth.” I added a few more choice words about geth, their parentage, and what things they could stick in which awkward places. I could hear Thane laughing at me as the shuttle descended. “I suppose this hot, dry air will be wonderful for you,” I said sourly.
“I do like it hot,” he replied seriously. I whipped my head around and stared. Had Thane made a joke? His dancing eyes gave away his serious expression. I hadn’t ever seen him so cheery. This could be interesting, I thought, a mission with Thane in a good mood. Too bad Zaeed and I would be so uncomfortable. I was sweating already and the doors hadn’t even opened.
We piled out and the shuttle zoomed off to circle around the night side of the planet. “Lucky bastard,” I muttered as it disappeared over the horizon. Thane grinned, practically dancing in the glare. “You, too,” I said.
“I have not felt so good in years,” he replied. He took a deep breath and I tried not to stare at his chest. I’d not realized before quite how much of it was exposed in his armor and how well-defined the muscles appeared to be. I was going to have to ask Dr. Chakwas to check my hormone levels because this was getting ridiculous.
I should be happy for my friend instead of ogling him. I’d heard his breath, rough and grating, after a mission on which it had started to rain and I knew that the relief that such a baked atmosphere gave him was more than welcome, no matter how short-lived. Kepral’s Syndrome killed Drell without fail, whether quickly or no. Thane’s enjoyment of this short respite made me smile even as I fretted over my own reaction.
Zaeed rolled his good eye. “Some professional you are,” he said. “Let’s go kick some geth ass and get out of here.” He stomped off a few yards and looked around impatiently. Thane and I laughed together, my moment of libido passing, and we headed into the ruins of Quarian society to save Tali.
Thane kept me laughing as we worked our way across the city, sniping the geth with wry comments about their abilities and sneaking around to surprise them from behind before he destroyed them, his lithe body popping up unexpectedly in ludicrous poses. Killing robots did not carry the same sort of solemnity that flesh and blood conveyed.
Although I knew that the geth really were sentient beings, they were trying to kill us and they didn’t seem all that bright. They overwhelmed their enemies with sheer numbers and firepower in most cases. Because we were smart enough to keep our distance they posed less of a threat than the killing sun did, as long as we watched our flanks.
Even Zaeed loosened up after a few skirmishes. It helped that we saw no one but the geth as we progressed. The Quarian unit had likely landed closer to their goal and then been surrounded by the geth. That meant that we faced only machines and heat for the first few hours. Zaeed, Thane, and I competed to see who could make the farthest head shot, amicably arguing about the results of each round and generally having as good a time as was possible while dashing from shadow to shadow across a ruined city while fighting for your life. We’d had enough practice at that sort of thing that it really didn’t put a damper on the mood.
We rounded a corner and discovered that we’d finally reached the Quarians, or what was left of them. Kal’Reeger sat, alone and wounded, overlooking a courtyard filled with geth, a Colossus in front of the door behind which Tali was trapped. He told us how his entire unit had been killed, one by one, as they’d tried to fight their way to the doors. The Colossus, he said, had a repair protocol that allowed it to huddle under shields and fix the damage done to it. They simply hadn’t had enough fire power to survive.
Kal’Reeger assured us that his wounds were not life threatening and brandished his remaining weapon to show that he would happily help us if it meant saving Tali. I recalled how fondly she had spoken of him and understood that the feelings were mutual, whether they’d been acknowledged or not. I told him to stay put under cover and Thane and Zaeed nodded their agreement. We might need the distraction of his rocket launcher when we got closer to the behemoth and I’d hate to be the one to tell Tali how we’d let him throw his life away for her.
The three of us picked off as many geth as we could before venturing into the courtyard. They kept coming from the building toward which we were heading, wave after wave. We made slow but steady progress, piles of mechanical parts leaking weirdly-colored lubricants piling up around us. They covered the remains of the Quarians who had not been so lucky.
Finally, only the Colossus remained. Kal’Regger peppered the thing with rockets as we hammered its shields with hundreds of rounds. It seemed to take forever but finally it crumpled, smoking and ruined. All three of us were breathing heavily but Thane and I managed to grin at each other. I’d begun to think we’d run out of thermal clips before we finished the battle.
Kal’Reeger must have kept Tali updated on him comm unit because the doors that had kept the geth from entering the building slid open. She called a greeting from the console at which she still worked furiously. “Shepard,” she called, “you really must stop rescuing me like this. People will start to talk.” Apparently I wasn’t the only one giddy with relief. As the data finally began to download to her omni-tool Tali hugged me with her other arm.
“Thank you,” she said. “And thank you for keeping Kal’Reeger alive. I’d hate for my people to lose such a warrior.” One of these days Tali and I were going to have a talk about Kal and why she was ignoring her feelings for him but at that moment we needed to leave before another drop ship arrived and we had to fight our way out as well.
I asked Tali to join my crew, though I hardly expected her to accept the offer. I knew that the Quarians relied on her as one of the few willing to spend so much time away from the Migrant Fleet and valued her extensive research on the evolution of the geth. But to my surprise she sent the data she’d collected about Haestrom and the fluctuations of its sun on its way to the flotilla along with a notice that she would be joining us.
Kal’Reeger acted stoic about her announcement but I could see how his shoulders drooped. She bid him a fond goodbye and I recognized the hesitancy between them. It reminded me of how I often behaved with Thane. And I’d been having such a good day.