Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 25

Fool Me Once, Shame on You The afternoon went as badly as I’d suspected it would. We popped out of FTL travel and cruised to the coordinates we’d received. Garrus and I stood behind Joker, staring as the ship came into view. All of us recognized its design. Indeed it looked identical to the one that had been abducting colonists on Horizon which had been, coincidentally, the very same one that had killed me two and a half years earlier.

I heard Garrus growl beside me and I put a hand on his shoulder in agreement. No matter how comparatively well things had turned out so far we still had a score to settle with the bastards. They’d wrecked our first team, the one that hadn’t included thieves and liars and turncoats. The bastards had killed some of my closest friends and destroyed the only home some of us had had. If I could find a way to blow up that pile of crap I was going to do it today, no matter what TIM wanted.

Miranda and Jack met me at the shuttle and we flew over to land on an outcropping of sorts that I presumed served as a cargo bay. We worked our way in cautiously. Along the way we found piles of rotting corpses, colonists discarded like table scraps, that made all three of us gag in our helmets. I angrily considered the thousands upon thousands of pods stacked throughout the corridors and lining the walls of vast chambers.

As we meandered about Miranda kept up a steady monologue about focusing power, the importance of practice, and how she’d been grown in a vat to be perfect. I tried to turn the subject to Cerberus and TIM but she wouldn’t deviate far from topic. Her father probably hadn’t actually pursued her when she’d run away, if he’d been half as tired of her self-obsessed babbling as I was. Maybe she’d just assumed he had tried to find her.

Perhaps our most interesting, if ultimately pointless, discovery lay half-dissected on a table. EDI probed the connected computers and found that the Collector corpse that lay there, opened and stinking, shared DNA with only one species on record: the Protheans that the galaxy had once thought the builders of the mass relays and the Citadel itself. We’d been told by their own computers that they’d been wiped out by the Reapers thousands of years earlier and had left what records we could access as a warning.

It seemed that reports of their demise had been greatly exaggerated and that the Collectors were their genetically-engineered descendants. Nearby there lay a few weapons of a type we’d never seen. I snatched them for Mordin and Jacob to study, calling dibs on the lovely sniper rifle that lay among them, should it prove useful. You never ignore dibs protocol, especially when weaponry is involved.

We reached the heart of the ship and got EDI hooked up to the central computer. Suddenly, things activated themselves and Collectors swooped in on our exposed position. “Oh, no,” I said dryly, “I never expected this.”

Jack followed up in a falsetto. “Whatever shall we do?” We piled the loot we’d collected by the terminal and began our training session in earnest. Miranda called out instructions and suggestions as we all blasted away with biotics and weapons alike. In the heat of battle I often forgot about using my powers so she kept reminding me, although one phrase that involved blue balls cracked Jack and me up so badly that neither of us could hit anything for a bit.

Happily Miranda focused so much on telling us how to fight that she often got in our way and didn’t notice the many instances in which Jack and I aimed awfully close to her head. She kept her biotic barrier in place and we elbowed each other when one of us managed to nick it enough to ripple blue down one side or the other. All in all, we had an awful lot of fun for having been ambushed. We slaughtered the first wave of Collectors, made sure EDI had nabbed all of the information she could from the system, grabbed the new guns, and got the hell out of there.

I discovered that biotics were easier to use on the run than a pistol, requiring more will than aim. None of us lacked the desire to hit the bastards as they were trying to kill us. We got swarmed by husks as we rounded one corner, undoubtedly abducted colonists the Collectors had turned into the Reapers’ special brand of cyborg zombie, and got in some good practice at close-quarters applications in hand-to-hand combat.

Jack and I yet again appalled Miranda, this time by fighting dirty. I’d noticed in earlier encounters that the lower abdomen was a vulnerable spot for the creatures and we exploited it with gusto. The Cheerleader had to get over her prissiness if she was going to survive these encounters. One of them got hold of her hair and just about hauled her off to her doom before we took pity and killed him—in the messiest way possible, just to teach her a lesson.

Jack and I fought our laughter as Miranda spit blue and shuddered. Her hair was matted with goo that dripped down her now-dingy catsuit in a most entertaining way. Someday she would learn not to wear white in combat. She might as well have a blinking sign over her head and a target on her not-inconsiderable ass.

Finally, we ran back across the docking area and vaulted into the hovering shuttle. Joker bailed the SR-2 out of there the second we touched down in the docking bay. He didn’t even take time to calculate a trajectory as the cruiser behind us spun up both its engines and its massive weapons. He just told EDI to damn the torpedoes and activate the FTL drive, so to speak, and it did. It must have been calculating like mad as we rushed from the system before the Collectors could activate their own drive core and follow. We dropped back into regular space somewhere, panting from the adrenaline rush, miraculously having avoided death and dismemberment. By then I’d gotten to the bridge.

EDI threw in a bonus surprise for us. “Analysis reveals that the supposed turian signal was a fake.” It sounded confused, a first for any ship’s computer in my experience. “The algorithms I used to determine its origins were written by The Illusive Man based on Collector technology that Cerberus has acquired. He knew when he sent you that the message came from the ship itself.”

Joker and I looked at each other. EDI sounded almost angry, perhaps at the danger in which the ship and thus its AI had been placed. Could it be that it was learning what an almighty ass TIM really was? It would be a powerful ally if we could get it to rebel. I intended to have Joker work on its new perceptions of its creators at every opportunity, but for the moment I had bigger fish to fry.

I told Joker to set up the holo chamber. I was going to go rip TIM a new orifice or two over this stunt. “You bet, Commander,” he agreed, narrowing his eyes at me. “Go have a nice, long talk with him.” Apparently my stamping out of our earlier conversation hadn’t given the trace program enough time to work. I nodded my understanding. I intended to make my point at length anyway and if TIM wanted to defend himself and let me attack him all over again that was fine with me.

The resentment and frustration I’d been swallowing for weeks surged, fury nearly overwhelming my common sense. If anyone was going to put my crew in mortal danger it was going to be me. I’d expected giant bugs on the ship, I’d presumed they hadn’t all magically disappeared when the ship shut down no matter what the cause, but a bald-faced lie I could not let…well, lie.

I started yelling before I’d even finished scanning in, calling TIM a few choice names until I was certain he could hear me. Once I could see him clearly, I started my actual objections. “You knew full well that ship was in no way harmed and could choose to reactivate and destroy my crew and my ship at any moment. You lied to me and endangered the very people you claim are the only ones working to stop the Collectors. What the bloody hell kind of game are you playing, asshole?”

The moron had the temerity to look amused by my outburst. The star projected behind him glowed a cool and sparkling blue that almost matched his robo-eyes. “I knew you could handle it, Shepard.” He tried to feed me more platitudes about how amazing I was and how I could do anything. I waited for my opening, knowing he had to use the excuse, and seethed while he heaped on the crap. Then he made his mistake. “I had to let you believe the ship was disabled. I couldn’t predict how they would react if you tipped your hand that you knew it was a trap.”

“What, the Collectors are psychic now? Screw you, Timmy-boy.” The star purpled considerably at that, much to my satisfaction. “Would you like to know the one thing that would have changed about that entire mission if I’d known the ship was playing ‘possum? We’d have plotted a goddamned course instead of making a blind jump at faster-than-light speed, you ass. We weren’t stupid enough to assume that the ship was beyond repair or abandoned, nor would any half-assed military crew go traipsing into that situation without due care. They expected us to go slow and be prepared, just as we were.”

I settled my weight back on my hips and crossed my arms. “As far as I can tell, you just tried to kill me, my entire crew, and the ship you spent so many billions of credits to create for us. That puts you on a very short list of living people, right behind the Collectors themselves. Right now, keeping you on that list suits my purposes. But if you ever pull a stunt like this again I will take this ship to the Alliance and you can try to stop the Collectors while we hunt you down with the SR-2.”

TIM’s personal mood star pulsed a bright orange-yellow, whether in alarm or anger I didn’t care. He blustered some and I just stood there letting him. I’d said my piece and my ultimatum wasn’t up for negotiation. Finally I cut him off, “I have never trusted you or your motives and up to now that hasn’t been a problem. Learn your lesson from this.”

He bristled at having his patronizing tone turned back on him but I just kept going. “Stop treating me like a very dangerous child, and we can both reach our goal here. Your cute little power games have obstructed your view of that aim and I won’t put myself or my crew in needless danger.”

I reached over and shut off the holographic projector before I could think of more to add. Hopefully the Alliance had gotten what they needed from this exchange because I couldn’t do that again anytime soon without going about three steps too far. I stood in the briefing room and gathered my wits for a moment before I headed back to the bridge to find out where the hell we’d landed.

0 Response to "Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 25"

Post a Comment