Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 23

Back in the Saddle Again

Miranda started scolding like a magpie as soon as she was within finger-shaking distance. Somehow I had to find a way to bribe EDI to quit announcing my arrivals and departures so people stopped ambushing me like this. I really, really needed a nap.

“Where the hell have you been, Shepard?” Miranda started. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Garrus’s head snap around at her tone. I decided to let him take point on calling her a bitch while I stayed reasonable and found out why she was so mad in the first place. I could hear his rumbling growl and had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from showing my amusement. He couldn’t stand her and I figured she was going to push his buttons if he took my side…when he took my side.

I smiled sweetly at her and cocked my head to the right. “Whatever business is it of yours? Have I missed a planned event?” Kelly would have envied the perky innocence in my voice.

The left side of her upper lip curled. “You are supposed to be the commander of this vessel. You’ve disappeared twice and spent hours or days completely unreachable. I demand to know who you’ve been seeing!” Ah, so it was the usual problem: she was only acting commander. TIM had dismissed her claim to leadership.

Garrus stepped up, a pistol suddenly in his talons. “She doesn’t answer to you.”

Miranda sneered at him, a blue haze gathering around her hands, then turned to me. “Reign in your pet, Shepard, or I’ll do it for you.”

I flew around the table and stopped just sort of bumping into her. To give her credit she stood her ground. “You will respect the members of my team or you will be walking home from the nearest moon,” I said, clamping down on both of her hands with mine and pulling with my own power for all I was worth. I’d had a lot of practice at it this evening and I could use the juice if I had to settle hissy fits before I could go to bed.

She wrenched her hands away with a look of disgust, stumbling back a pace. “You never do that to another biotic without permission,” she hissed, appearing positively violated. She sat abruptly, undoubtedly thankful that a chair happened to be next to her. I really had taken a lot out of her.

I looked as surprised as I possibly could under the circumstances. “Gee, I guess I missed that little etiquette lesson during my vast, Cerberus-created, new biotic training regimen. It’s too bad my instructor forgot it.” I had completely lost control of my sarcasm. “But you don’t get to walk around here like Queen Shit and threaten other team members. That’s my job. If you have a concern, let’s discuss it like grown people.”

She glared at me. Sprawled in that chair I could see exactly how snugly the catsuit fit and I fervently wished she’d cross her legs or at least sit up nicely. “It looks very suspicious that you keep disappearing, incommunicado, for hours on end.” Her tone had changed from aggressive to pouty. Garrus relaxed and clipped his pistol back on his hip. I’d never even seen him fire the thing but he always wore it. I supposed it was his security force training.

Apparently we were all going to be civilized about this after all. I struggled with my disappointment. Garrus would have only wounded her and the med bay was a few feet away, after all. I know, you’re let down, too, but this was a serious situation. The Cheerleader was grumpy.

“Did you ever stop to consider that very few of my old friends or contacts would talk to someone with Cerberus?” I asked, pointing to the spot where I had removed the logo. Sometimes the way my life works out amazes even me. “If I obtain information relevant to our mission that affects anything beyond my own decision-making I will share it with you. Unless and until that happens, when I am off-duty I go where and with whom I like.” I couldn’t look at Garrus because I knew I’d lose my pissy poker face and ruin the verbal tap dance I was doing so well.

She looked thoughtful but still sounded whiny. “I don’t think you should be the one to decide what’s relevant.”

“That’s why I’m in charge, Miranda, whether you agree with TIM’s decision or not. I was hoping for some results this evening but none of my inquiries have…delivered.” Garrus stifled a coughing fit behind me and I was back to gnawing the insides of my cheeks for a moment while I took a deep breath. “Do you need to see Dr. Chakwas, Mr. Vakarian?” This is not funny. This is not funny, I thought to myself over and over.

“No, ma’am,” he choked out, drawing himself upright again. “I must have swallowed wrong.” Miranda seemed mollified for the moment so I excused myself. She gathered herself and stalked back to her office, pretending to a dignity that I’d pretty much stolen in the past five minutes. “We leave Illium in the morning,” I called after her. “We’ll have a training session while we’re in transit.” I saw her back stiffen. I doubt the prospect of attempting to teach Jack and me anything would give her pleasant dreams.

When her door slid shut Garrus turned to me. “No laughing out here,” I said sternly. His mandibles were dancing around like hyperactive ferrets with the effort of holding it in but he nodded without sound and headed straight for the main battery, shutting the doors behind him. I knew he’d be rolling on the floor behind them. I whipped around the corner to the elevator, intending to go straight to bed, but ran straight into Thane’s arms, instead. Holy crap that man moved quietly. “Shepard,” he greeted me as he set me back on my feet. For such a slender thing, not to mention a guy who claimed to be dying, he seemed remarkably strong. “Pardon me.”

Before I could speak he’d stepped around me and disappeared into the life support equipment room where he was bunking. EDI had told him it was the driest room in the ship so I presumed whatever condition he believed to be killing him worsened in damp climates. We’d have time to talk soon and I made a mental note, backed up by a reminder on my omnitool, to do so. I hoped it would go better than my recent conversation with Zaeed. At least the little encounter had quelled my hysterics.

With relief, I emerged from the elevator and entered my quarters. At least no one had thought to ask me to where we were off in the morning. I hadn’t the faintest idea. I thought I’d check my messages for ideas while I brushed my teeth so I kicked off my boots and booted up the terminal. Half a dozen that I’d been neglecting popped up and a new one from TIM had arrived. Preoccupied with the screen, I stepped back through the bathroom door, just far enough for it to close before me. Only by the grace of my now-superior urinary sphincter was I able to keep from wetting myself when I backed into a person. It seemed I had something for which to thank Miranda, after all.

I froze, running through strategies in my head and trying to decide who it could be. The body wasn’t tall enough to be Jacob, thin enough to be Mordin or Thane, Garrus couldn’t have gotten here before me, and it didn’t have any feminine attributes so Kelly, Samara, and Miranda were off the list as well. I decided on an elbow to the solar plexus then a spin and a little kickboxing in the tight corner where the shower head could be an ally. I drew in a breath in preparation.


I stepped away instead and turned, even more furious. “EDI, record and broadcast off, please.”

“Confirmed, Commander Shepard.”

“I almost killed you! You don’t just show up in people’s bathrooms without letting them know you’re coming. We should change your name from Smartass to Moron!”

Joker grinned at me, unabashed. “I was hoping you’d be ready for a shower after your hot date.”

“You wish,” I muttered. I had showered at great length, and with most-enjoyable assistance, before leaving the Alliance apartment where Kaidan was staying, thank goodness, or this could have been a repeat of the awkward Garrus situation. I was going to have to start wearing a bathing suit in the shower at this rate. “I presume you’re here for something more important than voyeurism.”

“Of course.” He tried to sound wounded but failed utterly. “Big Al sent word that you’re to keep them updated on training with the Cheerleader. They’ve never heard of an implant working like that and they’re wondering about nanobots. A blood sample would be appreciated.” From his face I could see that he idea creeped him out about as badly as it did me. If the Alliance found miniscule robots in my blood Miranda would die in some slow, painful, creative way that had not yet been invented. I briefly wondered if anyone had been towed through a mass relay in an environment suit or if I’d gotten the idea from some news report. Oh, well, I’d think of something should the need arise.

“They’ve also had me install a tracing program in the holo deck. You should see the program they encrypted it into: an Elcor, a Volus, and a Krogan in full 3-D…”

“So they’re trying to trace Twinkles,” I interrupted before he could get more specific about the activities shown. I very much did not want to know what a small elephant, a very large mole in a space suit, and an over-sized lizard could manage to do to each other that would entertain him that much, nor did I wish him to specify how often he used the holo suite for such activities. “I’ll see if I can’t find a reason talk to him directly. He sent me another dossier so hopefully that’ll provide a pretext. Anything else?”

“They wanted armor samples with Twitchy’s work but I already told them you guys were kinda using those right now. Spike tried to hack the lab to get his notes but that was a no-go.”

“By the time they could implement it to protect the…um… fruit baskets we’ll have solved the problem,” I said. “The bastards will keep stealing our fruit until we make them stop and we’ll never get anywhere running around trying to catch them at it.” Joker’s laughter ruined the seriousness of that statement and I stuck my tongue out at him. “I’ll pass on the info as soon as I get it. Inkblot and I are training with the Cheerleader tomorrow so if we get any dirt she’ll be sure to share.” I saw his eyebrows lift with the corners of his mouth until he was nearly leering. “Yeah, you need more time in a closet with a shirtless woman to help you stay focused,” I said.

“That’s right,” he answered, “I do.” If he could do a little happy dance he would have just then. We talked about a few other things and he said the package had asked to be kept up on our itinerary. While I was happy to hear that Kaidan cared I could really use some time when everyone wasn’t intent on surprising me. It was getting so I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without running into…okay, bad example. I just wanted to plan something and have it happen that way. That’s not too much to ask, is it, to arrange a date to suit your schedule and not to have someone else show up in your shower when you got home? I finally kicked Joker out and into the elevator. My bed had been yelling for an hour that I’d promised it some quality time. Screw the messages for now. I intended to keep that promise.

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