Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 33

Rites and Wrongs

After Okeer’s claims that the Krogan coddled the few of their babies that lived through birth I hadn’t expected the rite to be anything particularly dangerous. I hadn’t seen too many wimpy examples but who was I to question the experience of a warlord?

At first, it wasn’t. After telling Urz to stay we went to a blasted circle of ruins raised a few steps above the shattered plains that covered the planet between bombed-out cities. A button on one of the walls produced a portentous voice and a pile of varren, not a one even half as friendly as Urz.

While Grunt and Garrus wiped them out I surreptitiously looted the bodies of what I presumed were failed Krogan that dotted the area. Hey, these were desperate times and we needed the credits…and the weaponry that I piled in a stash to have some crew pick up later. If nothing else we could sell them off-planet. Surely the other Krogan would have claimed them if they were still considered worthy of use on Tuchanka.

“That wasn’t so bad,” I said when the beasts stopped coming. “All better, Grunt?”

“Push the button again,” he said. “The tale has not finished.” Perhaps I should have been paying attention to what the voice had been saying. It certainly seemed to be affecting the Baby.

I jogged over and punched the button again, wondering how weak these dead guys had been that they couldn’t stand up to a few varren. I should have known then that worse was coming. Whatever name the things that appeared next carried, it couldn’t convey just how annoying they were. The stupid things breathed fire, like dragons in the old vids, definitely cheating as far as I was concerned. And here I’d thought the char marks on the few remaining pillars had been from the explosions that had knocked out the walls.

We finally finished the things off with only a few minor burns. At least I had plenty of medi-gel, despite the concussion I’d given myself on Uvenk’s head. I would have been no help in that condition but the lack of a ladies’ room in Urdnot central had given me an excuse to pop back into the Normandy for a bit. Dr. Chakwas looked like she couldn’t decide whether she should bash me on the head, too, for being an idiot or strap me to a bed to keep me from getting brain damage but she relented and treated my poor, abused skull. After a couple of good smears, Grunt, Garrus and I were ready for the end of the apocryphal tale Grunt assured me was helping the deep itching beneath his developing plates.

Perhaps if I’d been paying attention and looked a little more closely at the armor of those dead Krogan I’d been rifling, I’d have seen what came next. Then again, I do like a good surprise. Garrus, on the other hand, cursed most obscenely when a freaking Thresher Maw popped its evil, acid-spitting head out of the ground and almost ate him. I think I actually laughed, a little. It was the perfect topper for this insane day. Grunt let out a whoop of sheer joy. “Finally, a worthy opponent!”

The voice continued booming over the loudspeaker as we ducked, dodged, and poured ammo into the thing. After the battles we’d had in the Mako with the damned things over half the galaxy I knew just what those blobs it was horking all over the place would do to armor. There wasn’t enough medi-gel in the Normandy to fix what a direct hit would do to you. The worm towered 25 feet above us, bobbing and weaving, ducking underground only to pop up right where we weren’t looking. How the stupid sons of bitches knew I can’t say but this fellow was just like all the rest in that regard.

It took us almost five of the most adrenaline-filled minutes of my life to kill it. At least Garrus and I already knew that grenades in the mouth worked best. All three of us were exhausted by the time the Maw dropped but long experience had taught me that the first thing you did after a battle was reload. My team had been well-enough trained that I didn’t even have to say anything. I heard their thermal clips popping even as I slammed a fresh one home.

Garrus and I had just launched into a victory dance when Gatagog Uvenk proved the wisdom of this habit. He and his krannt appeared on the only path leading out of the basin in which the rite was performed. We still had our weapons in our hands so we just raised them but the clan leader raised his hands in placation. “I see now that I was wrong,” he said. “None has killed the worm since Urdnot Wrex himself, three generations past.”

Garrus and I exchanged glances. Maybe the Krogan had been pampering their kids, though not quite the way rich humans did. We’d killed half a dozen of the damned things before I’d died. Then again, we’d been a lot more mobile and protected in the Mako.

I remembered slipping away to “patrol” with Kaidan while Garrus had crawled under the poor rover to get omni-gel onto the axles where they’d been eaten way by Thresher spit splash-back. That had been such a beautiful planet. If only we could have taken off our helmets without dying from allergic reactions to the native fungi. I shook off my reminiscences. Seeing the Mako and the broken remainders of my old life on Alchera had really done a number on me.

“Does that mean that you merely survived, Uvenk? Did this ‘tank-bred filth’ do what you could not?” Grunt’s contempt came across clearly and I resisted the urge to say, “Told you so!” It was not the time for childish taunts, tempting though they may be. Instead I just stood there trying to look like someone who might head-butt you again at any moment. Try it sometime; it’s harder than it sounds, at least without a mirror.

At least the clan leader had the good grace to act chagrined. “I see now I was wrong,” he called over to us. “You are a true Krogan, Grunt, and I invite you to add your strength to Clan Gatagog”

“What is that thing you say to mercs who try to bribe you, Shepard?” Grunt whispered to me. I told him. “Fuck you,” he called over the crumbling wall behind which we crouched. I wished we could have done a little dance of pride just then but we settled for a round of wide grins while Garrus and I clapped Grunt on the back and we all stayed in cover.

Uvenk's crew answered with live ammunition so we wiped them out and headed back to see the shaman. Urz greeted me effusively when we walked back into the compound. Ratch said he’d been pacing nervously and snarling at people the whole time we’d been gone, thought that wasn’t much different from how he usually behaved. “Sorry fella,” I said, crouching to look him in the eye, “It wasn’t a great place for a varren.” He rubbed his head on my leg again to show me that he understood.

Grunt checked in with the shaman while I told Wrex about our little confrontation with Uvenk. “Good,” he rumbled. “The rest of the clan will fall in line after your show of strength and they’ll find a more-flexible new clan leader.” He grinned broadly at me. “Still helping your friends, eh, Shepard? It’s too bad you had to get spaced but I’m glad you’re back.”

I did a little dance of agreement to show that I was pretty happy to be back, myself. Garrus joined me for a few steps. Wrex roared while the others clustered around laughed more reservedly. Grunt wandered back down about then and seemed surprised to find us all slapping each other’s backs and wiping our eyes. “The shaman declares that I have passed the Rite,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. “I would have thought it a more solemn occasion.”

“We’re celebrating your good judgment and battle strength,” Wrex responded. “You are now a full member of my clan and will be called Urdnot Grunt.”

Grunt nodded seriously. “That is good: a place to belong, a clan and a people. The tank did not speak of this need but it feels right.” He looked more relaxed than I’d seen him for weeks but his forehead was even more creased than usual.

“Why don’t you head back to the Normandy for a bit,” I suggested, “and send Mordin out here? We’ve still got his pal to rescue.” Grunt lumbered off, his little tail switching behind him. I hadn’t noticed how much he’d been hunching his shoulders or how stiffly he’d been walking until I saw him, lost in thought, meandering toward the only home he’d ever had. With any luck he’d have two, now. If anyone was going to survive a trip through the Omega Four relay it would be a Krogan. If we all got spaced he’d probably find a way to use the mass accelerator to zip himself back to Omega in his environment suit. They really were a tough bunch of lizards.

“You don’t have another baby Krogan in there, do you?” Wrex asked peevishly. I laughed and reassured him that one was our limit.

“No, my ship scientist is looking for someone, another Salarian named Meleon. We heard he was kidnapped by Blood Pack and brought to Tuchanka.”

“I heard about that,” Wrex said. “We don’t have much to do with the Blood Pack but my Chief Scout has more to do with Clan Weyrloc and those scavengers they bring along.”


“Vorcha,” Wrex spit, “those smelly, fuzzy, filthy…” he rambled off into a curse-filled diatribe that pretty well reflected my encounters with the beasts. “Are you going to take out another thorn in my side, Shepard?” he asked as he wound down.

“Probably,” I answered. If experience has taught me anything it’s that I usually end up killing far more people that one would think a situation called for me to do. Apparently Joker wasn’t the only one in the galaxy that had never heard the word surrender. “But only if they make me,” I finished. “You know I don’t go out looking for trouble.”

The Krogan gathered atop the dais were starting to warm up to me. The mass of plates and redundant organs next to me clouted me on my sore shoulder, laughing uproariously. “Even I can tell that’s a lie,” he grunted. I gave him my most innocent grin while Garrus made a particularly rude noise of disbelief. All of us were cracking up once more when Mordin finally made it past the remarkably-grumpy guards that had stopped him to explain exactly what they’d have done to him had he not been a part of Grunt’s krannt.

Thankfully, my scientist Salarian was the very model of decorum, or at least remained utterly intimidated by their threats. A couple of unsuspecting upstarts would have been easy prey should worst have come to worst. They respected the fact that he neither wet his pants nor begged for his life and had insisted on a shared toast before they would let him pass. Mordin’s fast metabolism had him shaking off the effects of whatever bootlegged moonshine they’d had by the time I introduced him to Wrex, however.

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