We wended our way across the galaxy once more, stopping to check out distress signals and perform other research projects for the Alliance and Cerberus. We dropped probes on twenty or more planets along the way and generally had a leisurely journey. Until I heard more from TIM about how to chase the Collectors we were mostly chasing our tails. I decided to take a little time on the way to learn more about my crew and the members of my team that I’d mostly ignored. Since I wanted to work out some of the weapons upgrades we’d picked up on the Citadel I started with Jacob.
As I chatted with him about maximizing damage and restocking ammo for our power weapons I tried to draw him out about his history as well. He told me he’d been rated an M6 before he’d left the Alliance. That was pretty impressive. My own N7 ranking was the highest you could get before they classified your entire existence and made you an O-Zero.
O0 meant that they’d mark your record KIA, deny you were ever born, and may eliminate any living relatives who would swear differently. A lot about the O0 program didn’t make sense. That wouldn’t have been a problem for me but the few other N7s I met were a bit concerned about walking that fine line in job performance: if you do too well you disappear forever and your mom gets axed but if you don’t do well enough you get busted down in rank or a court martial or you die from sucking at your job, any of which might kill your mother with grief, if I understood this family thing correctly.
Jacob explained that it wouldn’t be a problem for him, either, as he had no siblings and his parents had both died. I refrained from pointing out that it wouldn’t be a problem because he’d left the Alliance. I was still making nice, after all. He told me that he’d been labeled a troublemaker for causing a ruckus after my death and the Council’s dismissal of everything my team had fought to prove but I suspected he’d been a glory-hound before that. The way he spoke of his missions with the Special Forces teams made him sound like the kind of guy who rushes into a situation with guns blazing so that everyone can see him in there first, taking the kills whether or not they are justified.
After being regaled with a few of those I decided that he could stay in the armory playing with my weaponry for the foreseeable future. A good shot I could use, a show-off would just piss me off in the middle of a fight, drawing my attention from where it belonged. At least Garrus’s rocket-to-the-face incident had cured him of any showboat tendencies. I didn’t think Jacob, lacking an exoskeleton as he was, could survive that harsh a lesson.
I left him on amicable enough terms and made my way down to the crew deck. After a quick stop to check in on Dr. Chakwas I gritted my teeth and made my way over to Miranda’s cabin. It was, in the new ship’s configuration, surrounded by the kitchen and smelled of grease and some unidentifiable root vegetable. What a come-down this must have been for her from her lofty post in charge of a whole medical station that revolved around her pet project, namely me.
I ignored the stab of glee that thought produced, deeming it unworthy of my better self. That resistance lasted all of three minutes as Miranda proceeded to tell me that she couldn’t help being perfect because she was engineered to be that way. I kept my teeth clenched so hard that my ears hurt, an inane smile pasted on my face as I nodded pleasantly. Then came the bombshell: she had a little sister on Illium that needed to be saved from the clutches of a mysterious man who happened to be their father, or at least the guy who had created them both. I wondered how long she would have sat on that little tidbit once we’d gotten to the city. It seemed strange that it hadn’t come up until I’d gone to see her.
I agreed to see what we could do about this Oriana situation and headed back to the CIC. I didn’t think I could take much more “nice” just then. Naturally, the first thing I saw when I stepped out of the elevator was Kelly, dancing from foot to foot as though she needed to visit the ladies’ room. The second she saw me she gushed, “Oh, Commander, Miranda’s been looking for you and you have new messages at your private terminal.”
In my head I said, Oh, my god, woman, if you don’t get away from me I’m going to cram you into an escape pod and launch you into the nearest sun. Aloud, I merely replied, “I’ve just come from seeing Miranda, thank you. I’ll check my messages in my quarters.” I’d intended to talk to Joker but my head suddenly throbbed with tension so I turned right back to the elevator controls and punched the button for the top deck. Two minutes later I was glad I had.
One of the messages was from Kaidan. It included another apology for his behavior on Horizon but it also sounded so off, so far from how we normally talked to each other that I searched for ways to read between the lines. I reread the sentence about how much our first night together had meant to him, fighting down the squee that tried to escape me. He still cared, and that was enough for the moment. I decided that the message had been a smokescreen, a way to lead Cerberus to believe that things were on hold between us for now. I thought I’d best calm down a bit before I replied so that I didn’t give us away.
The dossiers for our two new prospects were also included so I closed Kaidan’s note reluctantly and turned my mind to business. The first was titled The Assassin and intrigued me a great deal, for all the usual lack of specific information. At least this one specified that the subject was a male Drell. I’d never actually met a Drell but the skills listed in my file made him sound a promising selection indeed. I’d love to have another sniper on my team, one that I could take out with Garrus so that the three of us could inflict long-range pain on the idiots we kept confronting.
There’d been mercenaries before I’d died, certainly, but they seemed to have proliferated like proverbial rabbits while I’d been gone. A crew that could take them out without serious danger of bodily harm sounded like just the thing, rather than having to get in closer so that Jack or Miranda could use their biotics. I suddenly remembered Zaeed down by the garbage chute. Maybe I could get him off the ship on Illium. Surely he could find a new commission there and we could just call it quits with him. If necessary I’d make sure Miranda paid him. The man just creeped me out and I couldn’t make myself pretend to trust him.
I asked Joker to move Illium up on the priority list as I rode the elevator down to the Engineering deck. I had a short chat with Donnelly. He introduced the woman who worked at the station next to his as Gabby and she kept him more in line than usual as we talked. It seemed that both of them had left the Alliance at the same time, having worked together on a different ship. They told the same story as the rest, that they’d been approached by Cerberus when they’d been vocal about the Council’s dismissal of the Reapers as a real threat. Gabby, at least, showed no interest in me personally. Apparently she’d been recruited with a promise to work on a new and improved Normandy. What a relief that was: one person on my crew hadn’t pinned their hopes and dreams on getting into my pants or getting famous on my coattails.
Over the next two days I chatted with the crew, enjoyed a brief exchange with Joker arranging a meeting of our double-secret team once we’d docked, and generally made myself as useful and comfortable with the situation as I could. Obviously the Alliance wanted me right where I was so I ought to stop pouting and make the best of it until things changed. By the time we were finally cleared to disembark at Illium I was ready to shoot something just to keep from killing half of my crew. Reactions had ranged from an actual request for my autograph to a furtive grope of my behind when I was standing in the mess with a group of crew members whose names I couldn’t seem to keep straight.
I didn’t want to be standoffish if I could help it but I was up to two showers a day from talking to these weird fanatics. Jack, the rat, thought the whole thing was somewhere between hysterical and pathetic. She actually did a little dance of mockery down in her dark hole of a berth when I told her about the grab-assery.
I strode down the corridor of the docking bay, Garrus and Jack behind me. I intended to pay our fees and do some serious shopping on this, the most luminous of advanced upgrade meccas outside of individual company headquarters. I made it about ten feet before finding my way blocked by the port concierge and some deferential-looking drones. They informed me that Liara T’soni, a former squad member and daughter of a woman who’d tried to revive and enslave a race of creatures long thought extinct, had paid all charges and requested my presence in her office at my earliest convenience.
Speaking of people who wanted to jump my bones, Liara had been a star-struck young Asari when I whisked her away from her quiet life as a budding archeologist and introduced her to the wonders of mass combat against heavy odds and the idea of a galactic threat ignored by those in a position to prepare for it. She’d professed her undying admiration of and loyalty to me and generally acted like a vid-star fan following the object of her obsession like a puppy. The idea of her with an office, a lot of money, and enough clout to keep these three in awe struck me as incongruous in the extreme. I expressed my thanks and promised to see her when I could. Then I went and bought some guns.