Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 32

Old Friends, New Problems

While we’d been marking time and exploring various systems for resources with which to make the Normandy as strong as she could be, Jacob had been patiently testing and investigating—for weeks—the guns we’d picked up on the Collector ship. He was thorough, I had to give him that. I suppose he didn’t have much else to do since I never took him anywhere.

After we returned to the SR-2 he invited me to the armory to hear the results of his intensive study. Jacob and I played around in the shooting range for a while so that I could get a feel for how each of the new guns handled. Between clips he ran down the specs and how they differed from what we already carried.

Though it looked impressive, the sniper rifle simply couldn't outperform my Viper, the only gun I'd ever wanted to tuck into bed with me like a teddy bear. I love that thing.

I asked him to give the Collectors’ sniper he'd named Widow to our resident widower, the squat and powerful Claymore shotgun to Grunt, and to keep the light machine gun for himself. I figured I could throw a dog a bone after all of his diligent (and probably quite enjoyable) work.

Since Mordin and Grunt both needed a trip to Tuchanka I arranged one, spreading my hands helplessly at the look Joker gave me in response. “It’s a shithole, I know. We’ve got to go,” I shrugged. Grunt had wrecked half a dozen empty cargo containers “training” in the past week. If the Krogans-that-be could help him channel his aggression I was willing to visit the home of their endless tribal wars.

Since Grunt presented the most urgent—and destructive—need, I called him up to the air lock when we arrived and asked Garrus to come along. Krogan didn’t think much of other species but they did have a grudging respect for Turians and, next to Grunt, Garrus was the biggest member of my team. We landed with reluctant clearance near the only encampment I knew: that of Clan Urdnot.

They reluctantly allowed us to land. I wondered who was running the place these days. Whoever it was hadn’t been spending much time on maintenance. Our descent showed a rust-clotted maze of demolished equipment and half-roofed structures sprawling across a desert of nondescript dust color. “Lovely place they’ve got here,” Joker said as he settled the Normandy into the docking clamps.

I felt like a little Volus, leading my two hulking team members along walkways in the nearly-deserted landing bay. The open hostility of the guards at the compound’s door seemed mostly directed toward Grunt for some reason, though Garrus and I were not spared caustic remarks as we passed clumps of Krogan in a hall that looked like it had once been part of a ship, though the amount of rust on the walls proved it had long since been grounded, whatever it had been.

After descending a flight of stairs we emerged into a dirt-floored hall, if you could call something with holes in the walls and half a roof such a grand title. Pits on the far side hid their uses below-ground but a dozen or so of the clan’s members stood in groups scattered about the open space. We were directed onto a platform where several people stood. As so often happened to me, people milled about and obscured something briefly before parting dramatically to reveal life’s latest little surprise.

There, on a rough sort of throne, sat yet another of my old companions, one I’d despaired of ever seeing again. He nodded, stoic as ever. “Shepard.”



“Wre-ex.” I drew it out, spreading my arms in greeting. Unable to hold it in I danced my pleasure at seeing the best Krogan in the universe, as far as I was concerned. Garrus joined me and our feet pattered wildly for a full minute before Wrex started laughing with us.

“I see some things never change,” he growled. I wanted to jump up there and scratch him along his knobby, crumpled head plates but I figured he might find that a little undignified with everyone watching so I settle for grinning like a maniac. Grunt gave his best teenaged facepalm of humiliation and pretended not to know us but no one was fooled; they’d seen us come in together.

We settled down after a bit and talked about how Wrex had ended up in charge of his clan. Though I already knew his answer I had to ask if he’d be willing to come and play with me on the SR-2. I could see he was tempted but he turned me down. “The work I’m doing here is more important than the fun I would have bashing heads with you again,” he said.

After my talk with Mordin I had to agree: pulling the clans together into a civilization would prove to the Salarians that the genophage need not be renewed, even if it was not reversed. I wasn’t about to bring up that particular sore spot, however. Wrex might have been happy to see Garrus and me but no one else seemed to be.

Finally, I remembered that we’d come for a different reason altogether. “Grunt here has been feeling…more aggressive than usual,” I said nonchalantly. Krogan had no tolerance for weakness and I didn’t want to give them any more reason to turn us away.

Wrex peered at my young pal for a moment before letting loose a grating bellow of laughter, those steel colored blocks that were his teeth flashing in the oblique light. “He’s not sick, Shepard. He’s in puberty!” Those around us abandoned their sidelong glances for open interest. “Where the hell did you get him so young?”

I told him about Okeer and the tank breeding program we’d caused to be blown up months before. The scaled mouths around me drew down in distaste and the lumpy forms drew back unsubtly.

“He’s tank-bred?” Wrex sounded more interested than disgusted but the others took aggressive stances and grumbled among themselves. One of them raised his voice above the rest. “This tank-bred trash is not a true Krogan.”

“I decide who is worthy of Clan Urdnot, Gatatog Uvenk.” Wrex lowered his head threateningly. “This Grunt will see the shaman. He will decide whether the youngster takes the rite of passage as all here have done.” Uvenk’s lips rippled as he rejected one response after another before deciding not to challenge Wrex openly. He bowed his head submissively but I could still see the half-snarl that warned of more trouble to come.

Despite the stir it had caused, the news that Grunt was developing perfectly normally relieved me. I’d hate to have taken in the perfect Krogan only to have him die of some sort of infection before he got a chance to mature. After blowing up my second facility full of baby Krogan I was starting to get a bit of a complex about killing the little big guys. Thankfully taking down the grown-ups didn’t bother me: the Blood Pack had seen to that way back before I’d even died.

In exploring the rubble that comprised Wrex’s palace while we waited for the shaman to be ready, I happened upon a sleepy varren. Even the Krogan standing nearby warned me away from it. Now, varren are slick, rubbery, slobbery things with huge eyes that roll wildly whenever they’re excited, which is always, and dribbling fangs so excessive that they keep their slimy lips from closing fully at the ends of their pointy snouts. But, for a varren, this little guy was pretty cute. I reached down and scratched it behind what would have been ears, if it had had any.

“It’s your hand,” the hulking guy nearby said with a shrug. “Urz hasn’t eaten anyone in a week or so.” He looked back at his stall but I could see that he hadn’t quite turned far enough to stop watching. Urz stirred under my touch and rolled onto his back so that I could rub his belly. The merchant grunted in surprise.

“Who’s a vicious varren,” I cooed before I could stop myself, giving him a good scrub on the ribs. “Who’s a big, mean Urz?” Where had that come from? I was hardly the motherly type. Grunt looked thoroughly disgusted and Garrus barely suppressed the laugh I could see in how his mandibles were drawn up to hide his mouth.

I shook my head and stood. Urz flipped himself adroitly, leaping to his feet and licking my hand. I absently stroked his head and tried to look uncaring. “Let’s see if we can get a discount from that merchant. TIM hasn’t left too many breadcrumbs lying around this system but this guy might have some upgrades we could use.” I cleared my throat and tried to look serious while a varren rubbed his head on my leg and drooled into my boots.

Garrus lost it entirely when I started away and Urz stuck right next to me. “Everybody loves you, Shepard.”

I stuck my tongue out at him, too cheered by the affection to let him get to me. “Yes, Garrus, yes they do.” Clearly I had been away from Kaidan too long. Urz gurgled happily beside me, nearly knocking me over as he bumped me with his beefy shoulder. Finally I had to laugh, too, and I did a little dance of pet ownership that I made up on the spot. Garrus answered with a little shuffle of his own and Grunt nearly toppled over backwards, he rolled his eyes so hard.

In return for sniping a bunch of the local vermin, long-tailed little fuzz-balls called pyjacks that regularly raided the clan’s grain stores, the merchant did, indeed, offer us a substantial discount. On a planet whose inhabitants had blasted each other with nuclear weapons, agricultural goods were in short enough supply without donating to the local monkey population. I raided our accounts and picked up some upgrades I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Hopefully we had enough fuel that we could still get to the nearest relay because I hadn’t left enough to pay for more than a cup and a half more.

As I arranged delivery to the Normandy the shaman sent word that we could approach. Grunt, Garrus, Urz, and I climbed to the second level where Wrex had told us the shaman held court. I hadn’t thought of Krogan as particularly religious before but the clan’s spiritual leader had plenty to tell me about the history of the rite and what it meant to their species. As he wrapped up what sounded like a standard lecture Uvenk grumbled his way into the room.

“You cannot allow this…thing to take the rite!” he insisted. I knew he hadn’t given up after Wrex had told him where to stuff his objections. “I may not speak for Clan Urdnot,” he continued, “but I do speak for the strength of all Krogan. This tank-bred filth is no true Krogan.”

The shaman opened his mouth to say something but I took charge. Grunt had begun to look decidedly uneasy and I wasn’t about to lose the toughest member of my team, little boy or not, just because some jerk was feeling superior. I grabbed Uvenk’s collar and head-butted him as hard as I could.

Stars danced around my head but I wouldn’t let myself be distracted by trying to identify constellations just then. Uvenk had stumbled back under the unexpected hit and the rest of the Krogan rumbled laughter that sounded more like a landslide to my dazed brain than amusement. All of them were looking at me and Grunt had straightened noticeably.

“I am part of Grunt’s krannt,” I pronounced as clearly as my possibly-dislocated face allowed. “You have no place in this discussion. The shaman determines whether Grunt is eligible to take the rite.” All of that time talking to Wrex aboard the SR-1 had really paid off in lingo.

Then, with a dismissive hand wave, I deliberately insulted him as badly as I knew how: I turned my back on him. From the shuffling and growling, a couple of the others held Uvenk back from attacking me outright. Looking back would have ruined the whole effect so I stood as casually as I could, the twitching muscles between my shoulders hidden by armor, and gestured for the shaman to continue.

I put a hand on my hip, though, comfortingly near one of my guns. Drilling a rival clan leader through the forehead plate while he was on diplomatic mission to Clan Urdnot might not be the best move but neither was dying when he crushed me. I had work to do, damn it.

The shaman grinned at me. “With you in his krannt this young male seems assured passage of the rite.” He gave us directions to the traditional grounds therefore and off we went.

0 Response to "Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 32"

Post a Comment