I took Urz back to where I’d found him and got a dead pyjack for a goodbye present. “Don’t eat Wrex,” I told him, rubbing my knuckles across his lumpy spine, “but the other clans are fair game, okay?” He slimed my leg one more time, rubbing against it, and then settled to his meal.
I said a fond farewell to Wrex, as well, though without the gift of vermin. He told me the Weyrloc women and children had begun to filter into the Urdnot camps. They would join his clan as his agents had defeated their protectors.
Then he relayed breeding requests from the females with barely-suppressed hilarity: several for Grunt, two for Garrus, and one of his men had sent one in for me. He seemed to have a difficult time getting that last tidbit out between the spasms of thunderous laughter.
Such a compliment cheered me immensely. Apparently I’d become acclimatized to the idea that everyone I’d met since returning from the dead wanted to get in my pants. I did a little dance of “no way am I sleeping with a Krogan but thanks for the compliment” and Wrex had to sit on that throne of his before he fell down.
“Come back, Shepard,” Wrex said when he finally caught his breath. We grinned broadly at one another. “I could use you around here—for the comic relief if nothing else.”
“They can’t keep me away from you, Wrex,” I said. “We’ll go kick some Collector ass and swing by on our way back to the Citadel.”
For such a craphole Tuchanka had been a lot of fun, excepting Mordin’s soul-searching. I would keep that promise to Wrex, now that I knew where he was. He didn’t seem likely to be overthrown any time soon and it looked like his mercenary days were over.
I’d return, that is, assuming I made it through the Omega 4 relay and back or Cerberus decided to salvage me one more time. Neither of those seemed particularly likely but a girl’s got to have dreams, even if they are of varren and rubble.
I headed for the CIC, intent on a short round of sun destroying at the galaxy map for relaxation. Naturally Yeoman Chambers could not contain her enthusiasm over the state of my mail and her joy at my having saved her from certain death.
She implored me to open the messages at once, something she hadn’t had a chance to do before Urz’s instant dislike had threatened to turn into full-out attack. Where did that girl get her energy? All of that wiggling and eyelash batting wore me out and I was just watching.
I turned to my so-called private terminal and loaded my in-box. TIM had kept himself busy while I'd been screwing around on Tuchanka, stirring up who knew what trouble. Among my messages I found a note that he needed to talk to me.
He hadn't directly contacted me since the Collector ship argument but it looked like he was back to business as usual: no useful details, no relevant analyses, no polite requests. Sending Joker an order to turn toward The Citadel and make whatever stops Mordin still needed for raw materials along the way, I headed for the holo chamber to entangle myself with TIM’s quantums once again.
As ever, TIM had been keeping secrets from me. It seems Cerberus had lost track of a team of scientists working on what my “esteemed” colleague chose to call a dead Reaper in orbit around a brown dwarf in the Hawking Eta cluster. They wanted me to go in a find them.
Instead of responding immediately to this little revelation I cast my mind back for any reports of mysterious disappearances in the Thorne system so that I could accuse him of having a hand in them. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of any but the moments I took to cool down allowed me to avoid verbally decapitating the man. Had I been a cat I’d have been hissing the whole time. Luckily I could restrain myself a bit more than that, though it was a near thing. I hoped that my hair had finally grown long enough to hide my hackles, because those had definitely risen.
“A dead Reaper,” I said as flatly as I could manage. “You’ve had a team on a Reaper for months and are somehow surprised that they’ve stopped reporting.” For what kind of moron do you take me, asshole? I thought. Either this was another set-up or we’d be heading into real danger this time. My old team had blown Sovereign to smithereens and I still wouldn’t trust the debris in large piles. Now he wanted to send me and my team into an intact, mind-controlling, rogue AI the size of a medium colony.
“Look, Shepard,” he responded dryly, “this didn’t affect you until now. The team has been gathering data on the Reapers and their technology. We lost communication with them but that’s not why we’re sending you there. You need the IFF from the Reaper to activate the Omega-4 relay. That’s why I’m sending you now.”
Another deep breath failed entirely to calm me. “Why the hell would you station people on a freaking Reaper, TIM? Did you completely miss the indoctrination part of my reports to the Alliance and the Council?” I shook my head. “Wasn’t there an IFF on the Collector ship we could have gotten while we were already…freaking…there? Or did you suppose that ship just hid on this side of the relay and never went to their own fucking home base?!”
I heard the volume of my voice rising despite my best efforts. This was a signature Cerberus move and I couldn’t believe I was surprised, but there it was. I reined myself in as best I could.
“Never mind,” I continued with a dismissive gesture, “it’s not like I can change it now. Do you have anything more helpful to add, any useful information your now-cyborg-zombie team shared before their minds were turned against all life in the galaxy?” I shut my mouth abruptly, knowing how quickly sarcasm can seize a simple sentence and make it counterproductive. Not from personal experience or anything, of course, but I’d heard. I really did need any information he had.
“We’re going to need the technology on that ship to fight the Reapers, Shepard,” TIM said, calm as ever though his mood star had shifted significantly toward red. “Or have you forgotten that they’re coming?”
I ground my teeth. How could one person who barely knew me find every button and push them all so casually? He must lie awake at night, those freaky eyes glowing in the dark, thinking of ways to make me completely lose my cool. I wanted to stamp my feet and hurl vile epithets at him but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “Just give me the damned data and coordinates, TIM. We both know I’m going so cut the cute and let me get on with it.”
The son of a bitch’s stupid star had faded to cool, confident blue by then. He chuckled contentedly and touched the screen on the arm of his chair. “Sent, Shepard. Good luck.” Then he closed the connection.
I immediately decided that we needed a TIM doll that I could dismember after conversations like that and a soundproof room in which to do so. It would have been immensely satisfying to rip him limb from limb, plush version or not, screaming at him all the while. Barring that, I went straight to the shooting range and wasted a dozen clips blowing holes in a hologram of the man before I dared to speak to anyone else on the Normandy.
No sooner had I emerged from my therapy session than I ran into Jacob. He explained that he’d gotten a mysterious e-mail notifying him that the ship on which his father had disappeared ten years earlier had been found. Naturally, it weighed on his mind and he wondered if I might be willing to swing by and check it out with him.
“Sure,” I said, trying to sound far less grouchy and inconvenienced than I felt. “We’ll work it in.” He did look awfully distracted. I may not be his best friend but if he was going to do us any good in the long run I’d have to get this off his mind. I needed my weapons in tip-top shape and I suspected it would take more than my normal team of three to mop up whatever lay on the other side of the O-4 relay.
It wasn’t like the missing team in the derelict Reaper was going anywhere—well, anywhere further than they already had. But we were still going to The Citadel first. I needed me some Kaidan.
Joker was normally pretty good about letting me know where we were but he hadn’t interrupted me in more than two hours. He’d grown adept at reading my moods and knowing when to stay out of the line of fire. Sure enough, hearing my tone with Jacob he decided it was time to give me a status update. “We’re heading for the relay, Commander, and should be within sight of the Citadel by 0500 hours.”
This cheered me immensely, as he must have known it would. I remembered Kaidan’s box, hidden behind some rags on the crew deck, and decided that I’d done enough group business for one day. The panels in the mess area all looked alike and it took some time to find the one behind which Garrus said he’d hidden my gift. I snickered a little at the idea that I was hunting for Kaidan’s package right out in the open, much as I’m sure my turian pal had intended, but there were people getting meals from Gardner behind me so I tried to appear nonchalant.
Finally one of the seams between the wall panels split beneath my fingers and I spied a box tucked in among the supplies. I did a tiny happy dance, unable to suppress my excitement entirely. Kaidan had never gotten a present for me before and I could hardly wait to see what it was. I pulled it out of the cubby and closed the door, smiling in anticipation.
It wasn’t until I turned around that I remembered the dozen or so crew milling around the mess. All of them were staring at me. I cleared my throat and straightened my face, trying to think of what I could possibly be so excited about finding in a janitor’s closet.
“Fabric softener,” I said, and stalked away to the elevator. Let them make of that what they would.