Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 21

Miranda was pacing the CIC when we got back, anxious to head for the planned rendezvous with Niket, the old friend who’d arranged the relocation. The fact that we had a full hour to travel the five hundred feet to our destination mattered nothing to her but I had to eat something or I was going to fall down halfway there. Thane and Jack came with me and I hit up Gardner for a mess of nachos.

I had been kidding, not expecting he'd have the ingredients, but he produced an enormous platter filled with some sort of green chips, beans, and all of the trimmings. I offered to promote him then and there but he declined with a proud smile. “Just keep enjoying my cooking so much and I’m happy right here,” he said.

I did a little spicy dance of thanks and ferried the whole pile over to the table where we fell on them with a will, tasty Elcor cheese flying and sour cream from the milk of who knew what creature decorating the corners of our mouths. Thane said he’d never had them before but that he would again be requesting a plate. I was pleased to introduce him to some Earth cuisine, of a sort, and asked him to have Gardner fix us something Drell enjoyed later.

Fed and caffeinated, I asked Grunt to meet me at the airlock. The baby needed some air; he’d been breaking things in the hold again. I thought it best to get him out where he could smash other people's property for a while. Miranda looked like she was about to explode when I finally let her out of the ship. Flickers of blue were escaping from her ears and fingertips. Released, she stomped across the trading floor on her way to Eternity. I glanced fondly in the direction of the dark corner where I'd met Joker and Kaidan only a few days before. With luck, we could finish up quickly and I could unwrap that package I had been told would be arriving.

In a room off the main lounge we found some woman who said that Niket had sent her. Miranda trusted Niket so she trusted the stranger who had dropped his name. Apparently “perfect” did not translate into “real bright”. Grunt and I rolled our eyes at each other and followed them to a warehouse area. Shockingly enough, it turned out to be a trap and Eclipse mercs swarmed the place.

I'd never seen Miranda’s biotics so strong. We mopped the floor with them, literally in her case. She picked up the woman who'd brought us down, dunked her in a nearby bucket, and swished her around for a bit. It seemed she was trying to make a point but all of the laughing Grunt and I were doing made it hard for us to hit things. At least Grunt had a shotgun. Miranda's hissy fit had me resorting to hand-to-hand combat because I couldn't hit anyone with the slugs from my rifle.

We worked our way along the trail of mercs that handily led us to the real rendezvous. Niket, to no one's great surprise by then, had had a crisis of conscience at helping Miranda puppeteer her sister's life. He’d decided that Oriana was old enough to know the truth and was going to turn her over to her father. Miranda blew his head off instead of repeating her fireworks display, a messy but much quicker response to his well-reasoned argument. We slaughtered the rest of the idiots who couldn't take a hint and made our way to the departure lounge, where Miranda could correct the itinerary he'd arranged and gaze longingly at her clone while sighing.

“That's enough bullshit. Get your ass in there and talk to her,” I told Miranda. “Oriana's the age you were when you first ran away. When will she be old enough to know the truth and make her own decisions?” Miranda started to argue but, swayed by my crystal-clear logic—or at least her own desire to go—simply shrugged and wandered over to the confused little family.

“That was repulsively kind, Shepard,” Grunt said. “You're not going to make a habit of things like this, are you?” I assured him that my only goal was to make Miranda shut up about her sister so that we could get back to the ship and plan more battles. I thought the kid deserved to know who she was and what she was giving up by blindly moving about the galaxy every time her sister's paranoia decided daddy dear was getting too close for comfort. Just because the older model had daddy issues didn't mean the younger would as well and I was pretty disturbed to see Miranda controlling Oriana's life. It was an uncomfortable reminder of her place in my own.

Miranda finally finished and we made our way back to the Normandy. No sooner had we walked in that Joker asked if he could use my shower. “Mine's broke,” he said. I casually agreed and headed for the elevator. The surprised stares and snickers of crew as we passed rolled off my back because I knew that Smartass was going to give me the coordinates for the package. Let them believe what they want, I thought. Somebody's getting some tonight but it won't be Joker. Unless he and Jack were closer than I thought, that was. If they were I didn't want to know.

Sure enough, I'd no sooner entered my bathroom than Joker came limping in, grinning. “This place is a lot bigger than it looks on camera,” he quipped.

I danced around the room impatiently. “You promised my package would be delivered tonight,” I reminded him, as though he had forgotten.

He looked around, probing through my medicine chest and checking my toilet paper. “I just wanted to make sure you weren't getting three-ply,” he said when I threatened to kick him for stalling. “We peons make do with two, you know.” I drew back my foot and he finally relented, putting up his hands. “Okay, okay. Don't break an ankle.” He laughed easily. “The package will be right where I brought it last time. You cut it pretty close, though. It'll be there in less than an hour.”

“Thanks, Smartass. Now get the hell out of my shower before I really do kick you. I need to wash this blood off before I go play mail carrier.”

He grinned. “I've got a uniform for that you could borrow.”

Laughing, I shoved him through the door as gently I as I could manage in my hurry. “The day I come to you for props is the day I become celibate for good. Now leave or I'll strip down in front of you,” I said. “You might not live through that.” He leered at me but kept moving toward the hall door so I let him. I was sweaty, smelly, and covered in gore. There wasn't much to see in my armor that justified a look like that anyway. Once he'd finally gone I locked the door, ripped everything off, and scrubbed down as quickly as I could. I blessed the fact that I'd remembered to buy nice towels as I buried my head in one while another stayed tucked in around my chest, unlike the Cerberus versions.

I took out the nicest casual outfit they'd provided. It wasn't bad but the logo glared from the shirt, reminding me that tonight was an interlude, that my real life involved code names in my shower and making nice to Twinkles and his cat-suited minions. I found my little pocket knife, a throw-back to my childhood that I carried with me still, and removed the stitches holding the patch in place. I considered finding a way to burn it but in the end reluctantly put it on the small table beside my bed; I was in a hurry, after all.

After pulling on the slacks and shirt I ran a comb through my hair and placed my comm unit on my pillow. I wouldn't be needing that tonight, either. For one evening I would be Cerberus free. I jumped in the elevator, dashed to the airlock, tap danced a little while it cycled, and practically ran across the trading floor to Eternity. Sure enough, there he was in the same booth, looking particularly tasty in his own off-duty clothes. I slid into the booth and he erased the entire day by kissing my gently on the forehead.

“I'd have ordered drinks but we're not staying,” he said. I stood again and he came around the table, taking my hand to lead me out the door and down the stairs. “I have a surprise for you.” Kaidan’s eyes sparkled at me. He looked positively delighted with himself, in fact, but refused to answer any of my questions. We grabbed a cab to another district, joining a stream of traffic heading the same direction. As we got out he announced that the celebration of some asari holiday was underway.

I barely heard him. An enormous superstructure dwarfed everything but the towers surrounding the square. It was the first time I’d seen dirt on Illium. Everything else had been paved or so built up that the rooftops were used more than the ground, much like the space port at which we’d found Samara. Rising from the scruffy patch was a vast pillar from the top of which radiated dozens of arms. At the end of each was a bird cage of sorts and the whole series rotated vertically with the tip of each arm in turn coming near the ground. The cages swayed in the wind at the top, at least two hundred feet in the air, and a queue wound from its base almost to where we stood.

“I remember you said you’d always wanted to ride a Ferris wheel,” he explained, smiling a little shyly. “This was the closest I could get.”

“That, my dear, is the mother of all Ferris wheels. I’ve never seen anything like it.” I threw my arms around him and buried my face in his chest to hide the tears that flooded my eyes, touched that my off-the-cuff remark stayed with him so long. “This is better than all the rides I could never take as a child put together, even if we have to wait in that line all night.”

He squeezed me tight and graciously pretended not to notice the damp spot on his shirt. “We won’t.”

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