I established the tank with EDI’s assurances that it would sustain the hulking infant for the time being. No sooner had I finished than Joker told me that TIM wanted to chat about something so I made my way up to the briefing room where a holo chamber beamed me to wherever he sat. I seriously wondered if he wasn’t stashed somewhere on the ship, quantum entanglement explanations be damned, considering the nigh-instantaneous nature of the system no matter where in the galaxy I might be but I figured he wouldn’t really put himself in direct danger. That was for those he considered inferiors, like me. Damn, I hated him.
He popped up in his wacky room, the only smoker in a four-system area, acting suave. Sorry, TIM darlin’, but you’re trying too hard. I rolled my eyes while he had his back to me then I gave him an earful about how useless his “intelligence” network was in compiling the so-called dossiers. I would happily forgo details of gory exploits if it would get me information on basic things like gender, current employer, and the likelihood that they’d be dead before I got there. I may be playing nice but he’d hardly expect me to be a pushover, particularly when he’d endangered my team.
He waved his hand, dismissing my objections as though I’d complained about the quality of toilet paper on board. “I trust in your ability to protect and recruit any of these prospects.” I tamped down the growl building in my throat. Whether he was purposely missing the point or not, arguing about it wasn’t going to do me any good. He obviously didn’t care how many slugs we had to pry out of our armor.
“That’s not important right now,” he continued. “I have a bead on the Collectors’ current destination. I want you to get there with your team and stop them.” Oh, yeah, I thought, I’ll get right on that with no protection from the swarms and no idea what sort of weaponry their ship carries. Then the bastard dropped his bomb with such obvious relish that I understood why he never met with me face-to-face. He’d have been a smear on his chair as soon as he’d smugly finished the sentence.
“I understand Kaidan Alenko is stationed on the planet.”
He had known all along where Kaidan was, the manipulative bastard, and he’d joined the Alliance in blocking my attempts to find him. He clearly had rifled through classified files to which even the Normandy’s impressive access was blocked. Whatever else happened, TIM was on my short list now. I composed my official resignation while I fought to control my fury. “Dear TIM, Here’s one of your rockets back. Blam! Regards, Shepard”
When my heart rate had returned to less than double the usual, I spoke as calmly as I could. “Dr. Solis better have something ready for us, then.” He might know what my vital signs were doing but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of a response beyond that. I stepped out of the holo chamber and stamped out to the bridge. “Joker, go. Now.”
I knew he’d heard every word and that EDI already had the coordinates. This was one time I didn’t mind knowing that the pair was monitoring my every breath. I turned on my heel and went straight to the elevator.
Kelly started to tell me something about private messages but a brief snarl silenced her. Everything else had to wait. The only thing I wanted was to talk to Garrus about strategy because I wasn’t leaving that planet without Kaidan and Joker couldn’t help me kill stuff that might stand in my way. I had to be smart about talking to Garrus, though. There was no need to alert Cerberus to anything more going on than two team members hanging out together. I thought I’d better check a few things before I called him up to my cabin.
“Do you have a, err, privacy mode, EDI?”
“I do not know the meaning of the word privacy, Commander Shepard.”
It figured Cerberus would have left that one out of the databanks. I’d have to explain what I wanted very, very carefully because it was going to take me literally. “Can you turn off all of your monitoring equipment in my cabin?” No. “Can you turn off the sound monitors?” Nope. “Video?” Of course not. I pondered a way around the controls that required constant surveillance.
“Can you keep the equipment running but not record or broadcast what it shows in here?” After the briefest of pauses, EDI replied that she had checked all of the requirements supplied by Cerberus. “I can cease to record or broadcast upon request in restrooms only and must resume recording if certain key terms arise.”
Well, it wasn’t ideal but it was better than meeting in closets that opened onto very public areas of the ship. I could hardly be seen going into the men’s room with Joker and Garrus but I had a restroom of my own if I needed to speak privately with the male members of our little cabal. The only trick was going to be talking about TIM, Cerberus, the Collectors, the Alliance, or the Council without mentioning any of them. The list that the AI had sent to my omnitool was extensive. We’d have to come up with some code words.
I found a little notepad, the only paper we’d been able to find on the Citadel, intending to brainstorm some of them. I soon discovered that making letters was hard work. My fingers refused to create small, readable words and the unaccustomed work made my hands ache. Finally, I came up with a short list. TIM I’d call Twinkles, because of those creepy eyes that made me wonder how much of him was machine by now. Cerberus was easy; we’d just call it “the puppy”. Miranda was already Cheerleader and for Jacob I chose “The Torso” because he wore his belt so low on his narrow hips that he looked positively deformed in that catsuit. Since “bugs” were on EDI’s alert list I couldn’t use that for the Collectors. I finally settled on “bastards”, which was both true and a safe word. The Alliance would be “Big Al”. For Kaidan, I debated with myself. I’d prefer something a little more descriptive, like “Mr. Booty”, but I figured the others would rather use something less personal. I decided to call him “the package”.
I asked Garrus to join me in my quarters. When he arrived I grabbed his talons and dragged him into the bathroom. “Join me in the shower, Garrus?” He stared at me. “EDI, stop recording and broadcasting from this room.”
“Record and broadcast held pending key word detection, Commander Shepard.”
I explained the situation as quickly as I could and showed Garrus my list of names. Because I wasn’t sure whether the written names would trigger the recording equipment I had only written the list of codes. We had to play charades for a bit to get the idea across, attempts made more challenging by cross-culture and physical differences. At least Miranda and Jacob required no explanation. Garrus picked those up as soon as he saw them. I couldn’t get him to guess who “the bastards” were, though. How the hell do you mime something that the other person hasn’t seen?
When he finally figured it out he blurted, “The Collectors?!” I flung myself into his arms and he caught me neatly. I snuggled in, simpering, “Oh, Garrus, let’s not talk about them now.” He stared at me, mandibles hanging wide and eyes blinking. I reached up and ran my fingers along the underside of his jaw where sensitive skin was exposed and he positively twitched. “EDI stop recording and broadcasting again, please.”
EDI repeated that it had complied and I breathed a sigh of relief. I straightened up and disentangled myself. Garrus seemed to hold on a little more tightly than was strictly necessary, a dazed look on his face. I snapped my fingers in front of his eyes and he shook his head hard. Thank heavens I hadn’t found it necessary to be even more aggressive than a little tickle. Clearly it had been a while for him. I hated to think that every single person on this ship wanted to get into my pants and this one was so deeply in friend territory that such interest had never crossed my mind. Total strangers, sure, but Garrus? Nah, it must just be the stress. We’d have to find a way for him to blow off some steam soon.
“Focus, bud. I’ll give you the short version. Twinkles said the bastards are about to find the package. Someone’s being set up here but I’m not sure who or by whom. We need to make sure Big Al knows how deep the puppy has dug.”
There was a short silence and I could see the wheels turning in his head as he deciphered that one. When he nodded I continued, “Meet with Smartass in the men’s room and pass along the info. Now that we know how to shut The Eye it’ll be a lot easier to communicate as long as we’re careful, although you might want to do it every time you’re in there so it doesn’t look suspicious when it’s just the two of you. Let’s go. We’ve got some work to do.” I figured Joker could find a way to get Jack into a closet and share the details with her, and good for him.
We stepped out of the bathroom and I made a bit of a show of straightening my shirt. Garrus caught sight of Kaidan’s picture on my desk and cocked his head at me. “It was a present from Anderson. It would be rude to shove it in a drawer,” I said innocently. He shook his head and followed me out to the elevator. I stepped out into the CIC and made my way to the lab. Mordin was supposed to be the smartest man in the galaxy. He’d best deliver something useful or I’d give him to Kelly as a consolation prize for the Joker fibs I’d told her. I was not letting the bastards get my package.