Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 24

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

I fell into bed, still fully clothed, and slept like I’d been shot. Four solid hours later I blearily opened my eyes, feeling like I’d had a very long and refreshing blink. I hadn’t moved a muscle in all that time and various parts of my anatomy had failed to wake with my brain.

I hobbled my way across the room, pins and needles jabbing me, and settled into the chair at my desk, glancing at the photo that Councilor Anderson had given me. Kaidan leaned forward and looked awfully grim, like he was rushing the person who took the picture. I wondered what had been going on when it was taken. I brushed my fingers over his fiercely-drawn brow, mentally wishing him a good morning, and turned to my terminal, still active from the night before.

Leaping in with both feet, regardless of how numb one of them remained, I went straight for the message from TIM. Instead of a dossier, it asked me to give him a call in the holo chamber. Wow, I thought. That was easy. I read through the rest of the notes quickly, smiling at a couple of thank you notes and a bit of spam from a merchant with whom I’d dealt on the Citadel back when we’d still had the SR-1. It looked like I really was alive again if I showed up on such mailing lists once more. I’d almost missed offers of help to increase the size and function of my imaginary man-parts.

Feeling rested and cheered by the coming test of the Alliance trace program, I showered and pulled on clean clothes before I secured the breakfast I so deeply desired. I followed the smell of waffles, syrup, and coffee to the mess and mugged Gardner for huge helpings of all three. He surrendered willingly, tossing a couple of sausage-like things on the side, explaining that they had come from the Asari so he didn’t really know what was in them but that they tasted like little tubes of breakfast heaven.

I contained my drool long enough to get to the table and surreptitiously mopped my chin. It turned out he was right, they were fantastic. The crew around me appeared to enjoy them as much as I did. I forked the whole mess into my mouth in record speed, washing bites down with glorious, life-giving coffee. I cleaned up my dishes and ordered the mess sergeant to stock as many of those sausages as he could get in the next three hours. As a reward he refilled my mug to take up to the CIC.

I stepped out of the elevator and noted that Kelly wasn’t yet on duty. With a sigh of relief I stepped around the corner and into the briefing room. She’d probably be lying in wait by the time I got out of here but at least she hadn’t ruined my good mood yet. I’d need every shred of it to keep my cool with TIM, considering how our conversations normally went.

I scanned in, coffee steaming temptingly, and greeted TIM. He sat with a cigarette, as ever, in his hand, yet another sign of his arrogance. I suppose Miranda had spare organs growing in a vat somewhere for him, now that I thought about it. That might tempt one to treat one’s body less carefully.

“I’ve got some news for you,” he said in his usual self-satisfied way. His eyes glowed from his shadowed face, their eerie blue reminding me of the robotic portions of the husks we’d so often fought. Even had I wanted to trust the man those cyborg eyes prevented it. “We’ve discovered a disabled Collector ship. Apparently it attacked a turian fleet. They managed to render it inoperative, at great cost to themselves, but not to destroy it. While the Turians organize a research party—or ships with more firepower—we’re going to sneak in and recover whatever data EDI can. With luck it will tell us how the ship navigates the Omega 4 relay so that we can follow them home.”

“Turians.” I couldn’t hide the disbelief in my voice. Hell, I didn’t even try. This was bullshit of the first order. “And they managed to do with a few ships what all of the laser turrets on Horizon couldn’t accomplish?”

“At this point you know as much as I do,” he replied smoothly. “But we need access to that ship. This may be our only opportunity. Don’t waste it arguing with me.”

He had a point, there. I took a sip while I considered the situation. No matter what trap he was setting for us we weren’t likely to find Collector ships just laying about the galaxy awaiting our scans and infiltration. I was going in but I was going to take his favorite operative with me. If I got captured, so would she. That’d teach him to play games with me, the jerk. “Fine,” I said, “feed the coordinates to EDI.”

I turned and left, not waiting to see his smug reaction. I’d only make a mess of the nice carpet in the briefing room if I threw my coffee at his image and I hated to demonstrate just how much he got under my skin. I could tell from the color of the cooling sun image behind him, roiling awfully blue today, just how good he was feeling. Let him. When we got what we needed maybe I could really unload on him and get that thing blazing again.

As I’d suspected, Kelly stood beside the galaxy map when I emerged. She rushed over to tell me that she was glad I’d finally checked my messages. My mood must have shown on my face because she trailed off and eyed my mug warily. A glance down revealed my knuckles showing white where I held it in a death grip. I thanked her frostily before she could ask what was wrong and continued to the bridge. “I wanted to make sure EDI gave you the coordinates for our next stop,” I said to Joker, giving him significant eye contact to make sure he knew I meant more.

He nodded. “Yep, I’ll make sure they’re where they need to be,” he reassured me. He’d let Big Al know where we’d be in case the worst happened. I doubted I’d get another resurrection unless Miranda had added some cat to me while she was doing other things but maybe they could stage a rescue operation or something equally unlikely. At least they could check out TIM’s fishy story about Turians in the area.

“Make sure everyone’s back on board and get ready to leave dock,” I said. “According to TIM this one’s got a time limit.” Joker nodded again and started messing with the half-circle of controls before him. I verified with Gardner that the sausages and a full load of fresh bread and coffee had been delivered then told Joker that he could head out whenever he was ready.

When we were underway I popped into the lab to talk to Mordin. He twitched more than usual as we discussed his research and possible upgrades. It got so bad that he was almost incoherent, his sentences getting shorter and choppier. I finally stopped him and asked what was wrong. Though he seemed embarrassed to tell me, staring at the floor as he spoke, he explained that his old research assistant had been kidnapped by Krogan and held prisoner on Tuchanka. To my surprise, he openly admitted that the two had worked on the krogan genophage project that the Salarians had begun centuries before. It had been a horrific idea meant to solve the problem of the prolific and warlike species and the one which Grunt had been bred to get past. Were I one of its enforcers I wouldn’t go around bragging about it, whatever my opinion on its importance to the rest of the galaxy.

Yet he gave a spirited defense of the program and the necessity of limiting the population to protect every other species. I was half-convinced that Krogans had needed time to adjust to their newly-advanced status when Mordin dropped another bombshell: the snatched Salarian had assisted my good doctor not in monitoring the project but in the renewal of the genophage when evolution had started working around it. I stopped him there and told him that I’d have to think about things for a while. The idea that the Salarians had done this to an entire species twice made me see red. I wanted to tell him we’d go to Tuchanka to offer him for trade in place of his kidnapped cohort but I knew that we couldn’t spare him.

It wasn’t bad enough that the crew wanted to sleep with me, now I had a genocidal apologist figuring out how to keep alive the killers that fought at my side? I went to the ladies’ room, turned off EDI’s record and broadcast, and banged my head against a wall for a few minutes. When I heard the door shush open I turned smartly, striding out with a crisp nod at the crew member whose name escaped me at that moment. Honestly, where the hell did TIM find the crazy people he suggested I bring on this supposed suicide mission? Maybe they were the only ones he thought would be willing to come, the ones who had the most to make up for or were the most vulnerable to persuasion.

I realized that I’d left my coffee in the lab but I wasn’t about to go get it. Gardner had stocked several oversized mugs for us caffeine addicts on board. I fetched another and went to tell Jack that we were training with Miranda on a broken Collector ship that afternoon. I just hoped Mordin wouldn't drink the coffee. The last thing the crazy scientist needed was a stimulant.

If only I’d remembered to tell Jack about my brilliant covert operations idea while we were on Illium. I had to invite her into a nearby closet to explain why before she warped my head from my shoulders. Happily there was no one in the bowels of the Engineering area to see us and she was a bit smaller than Joker. It was still highly uncomfortable, though, half-nude as she was.

“We need to do this.” I talked as fast as I could. “The Cheerleader is weaker than you are but more disciplined and both of you know more than I do. We need to feed her ego, make her feel more comfortable with us, so that we can get her talking about Twinkles and the puppy. How are we supposed to take them out if we can’t even find them?” Jack snarled a little but had to admit I had a point. “And no ‘accidentally’ slamming her or tossing her off a walkway,” I continued. “We’re pretending to suck up. Nothing more than a glancing shot.”

“Fine,” Jack snapped, “but when this is over I get to unload on her.”

“Deal.” I hoped something changed by that point or that Miranda did something to really piss me off before I had to keep my end of this bargain. Jack and I left the tiny cubicle and replaced our comm units on our ears. EDI had to know that something was afoot with all of the times the four of us went to radio silence but she hadn’t asked me and Joker certainly would have mentioned suspicious questions in the shower the night before. I wondered if the AI were passing the information to Cerberus without letting us know or if she simply accepted that as standard behavior for some of the crew. I’d have to get Joker to pry around its edges and see what he could uncover. Would or could EDI lie to us? It had certainly told me when it was restrained from answering questions by its programming but had it been set up to flat-out falsify some responses? I decided that was one more thing I’d have to worry about later.

I went back to the crew deck to let Miranda know that she could be head Cheerleader in the afternoon. After last night I thought about putting on my armor on before I knocked on her door but she was relatively gracious. Having been disgustingly responsible and social all morning, I went back to my quarters for a break before tackling the afternoon.

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