Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 40

A Quarian in Need Is a Friend, Indeed

Kaidan whispered lewd suggestions enough to keep me entertained during trips to the dance floor. He made them casually, all the while looking as bored as one can with three quarters of one’s face covered.

I was glad for my own mask several times, though the exposed skin on my chest colored enough to make him laugh once or twice, despite his act of sophisticated nonchalance. In part my flush came from pleasure at knowing he never showed this side to anyone else. He was the consummate professional, a military man to the bone, regimented and controlled.

But once we’d become friends, and then broken that pesky fraternization rule, our time away from duty was filled by a man I’d never have known filled out those tasty, generic BDUs.

Commitment translated to passion in private, and my silliest antics drew ever dirtier suggestions. That night I slipped an ice cube I’d palmed from the banquet table down the front of his slacks and in response he proposed a tryst on-stage, in time to the band. We fed on each other, drew one another out, making what we had long suppressed with others into habit between ourselves.

Finally, the Consort social-butterflied her way to the door and our duties were finished. My feet felt like they’d been dipped in lava by then but I looked forward to what would come next. First I’d get out of the tortuous shoes and then this hateful dress. As for the horizontal mambo, I could lead and Kaidan let me. We may or may not have kept the masks on; that’s none of your business.

I returned from the Citadel early the next morning to find a message from TIM, helpfully pointed out by the ever-present, ever-perky Yeoman Chambers. Apparently Tali had gotten herself and a squadron of other Quarians pinned down by the Geth on some hellhole of a planet. How my putative boss knew and why he cared I couldn’t guess but he wanted me to go rescue her.

I tossed my hands in the air as I contemplated my beautiful galaxy map and told Joker to get moving straight for the planet. If they were actively under attack I could hardly wait for a convenient slot in our itinerary when we’d be somewhere vaguely nearby, say within a thousand light years of the system. We would never have been close, anyway. I couldn’t think of any other reason for us to be on the far side of the Perseus Veil in the first place.

It was hot as hell and dry as a bone on Haestrom. Thane took breath after deep breath while the rest of us adjusted the climate controls in our environment suits to max. The green in the Drell’s skin deepened, the darker patches almost black and the ridges around his cheeks a bright emerald.

I hadn’t realized how chalky he’d been looking. If I could pry Dr. Chakwas away from Joker I’d have to have her take another look at him. And if I could distract EDI from Joker for a moment it might be able to adjust the climate for Thane’s room to be drier and hotter than it was. Strange, how my caustic pilot tied up the two most useful noncombatants on my crew.

Smart people would have waited until night to swoop in but the frantic messages intercepted by Cerberus led me to believe the Quarians would no longer need us if we waited that long. Very few dead people truly appreciate a rescue, you know. I’m told swooping is bad, in any case.

As I’d promised myself on Tuchanka, I’d brought an all-sniper team for the sheer joy of it. We cleared out an increasingly-distant swath of unsuspecting Geth, knocking out the wandering mechs before they even knew someone was shooting at them.

My knuckles were killing me from all the fist bumps by the time we reached a supply room where a comm unit brought Tali’s half-panicked babbling to our attention. All three of us were having a grand time.

I’d done more dancing in the past week than I had in the year before I’d been spaced but all of us spent some quality victory dance time that afternoon. Thane showed off the shots that had made him a legend among the sorts of people who hire assassins while Garrus and I competed on accuracy rather than style.

For all that our resident Drell seemed formal and dour onboard, as the afternoon progressed he relaxed into the loopy mood Garrus and I shared. One particularly recalcitrant Geth got a gleeful stomp on its flashlight of a head when Thane discovered it had—barely—survived the slug that had shattered the big lens that worked for an eye. The move inspired a new round of dancing, complete with high kicks that spread mech wreckage far and wide.

Along the way I picked up some great weaponry, Geth and otherwise, and even a few creds from the unlucky Quarians we found. After my spending spree on Tuchanka we sorely needed them.

If only we could sell some of the stockpiled minerals Mordin insisted we keep in the hold, just in case, we’d be sitting pretty but oh, no. We’d practically doubled the mass of the Normandy piling iridium and what-not up until Joker said we were lucky the Citadel’s docking clamps could hold us. The good doctor still pleaded for more.

Like all good things, our meander across the sun-blasted plains of Haestrom had to end. We rounded one last corner to find a Quarian huddled over a rocket launcher. The wall behind which he crouched separated him from a valley of patrolling Geth. On the far side a freaking Colossus stood before a huge, rust-coated door, its cannon scanning for organic life. Man, I hated those things.

The guy introduced himself as Kal’Reeger and gestured to the empty guns scattered around him. “I have done what I could,” he rasped, obviously in pain, “but this heat fries our weapons too fast.” I looked out and saw Geth scattered in pieces as far as the eye could see. Not too shabby, I thought.

He hefted the rocket launcher, which I immediately coveted. “This is the last of them. I tried to take out the big one but it has a repair protocol. Every time I hit the damned thing it huddles up and fixes its shields faster than I can completely burn them out.”

It was a valid point. Against a good fix-it program a rocket launcher by itself fired too slowly to overpower the shields and smash the gleaming white carapace. “Lucky we came along,” I said, slapping him on the shoulder. The slight choking noise he made as he bit off a scream reminded me that he was wounded. “Sorry.”

I could hear him suck air through his helmet filter. “I’m still glad to see you,” he returned a little unevenly. “Tali’Zorah has locked herself in the building just behind it. It’ll take the Geth hours to hack through the codes to get in but if we don’t do something she will not survive. That’s unacceptable.” He realized how that sounded and back-pedaled. “The, uh, crucial data must be retrieved.”

Though I narrowed my eyes at him for a minute, I let the comment pass. Obviously he carried a bit of a torch for my young friend. So far he seemed like a pretty good guy but she’d been on her right-of-passage pilgrimage when we’d met three years earlier so compared to this experienced soldier she was still just a kid. I wondered what her dad thought of Kal.

He offered to go with us but a guy with a half-useless weapon and a hole in his environment suit was only a danger to himself. “You stay here,” I said. “We’ll get right up on that bastard and when we give you the signal start blasting away. We’re going to need those rockets.” These old soldier types could be pretty touchy about being told they were unfit for combat.

Thankfully he agreed with my plan and stayed put. Garrus, Thane, and I did what we could with the sniper rifles and biotics but the sneaky Geth hid behind tumbled ruins or the shielded Colossus. Eventually there was nothing for it but to go in for some close-quarters mayhem. I figured we could use the practice.

Thane flipped and flew around the block-strewn yard, leaping impossible stretches silently as a cat. His long, slender legs flexed and drove him, the leather of his pants stretching but staying as snug and smooth as ever. If I hadn’t already had the cooling in my suit cranked up to full I’d have turned it up another notch, watching him work.

I was damned glad he was on our side as I watched him rip up one mech after another. Of course, the stupid things were networked so when one knew Thane was breaking its neck another turned to line up a shot. He seemed to have a second sight, dodging just before triggers were pulled and using his victims to block the fire of their friends, smooth as silk and twice as pretty to watch.

Garrus elbowed me in the ribs. “Put your tongue back in your mouth, Shepard, or the package won’t deliver.”

“There’s no harm in admiring a professional doing his job,” I said stuffily, then ruined it with a spray of laughter with the Turian quickly joined. The fray awaited and we leapt in gleefully.

The stupid Colossus tried desperately to kill us, firing again and again as we cleared out its companions. When things got too hot Kal’Reeger would launch another rocket and lock it down for us. Finally the rest of the Geth were dead and we three flanked it.

I’d killed dozens of the big mechs from the Mako but I’d never been so close to one. The things really were enormous from fifteen feet away. I craned my neck to look up at the head nearly as big as I was. Its shields shimmered as we peppered it with slugs and Kal’Reegers rockets roared across the courtyard bringing splashes of blue. Smoke poured from its innards as the redundant shield generators overloaded one by one.

It huddled down to repair itself, legs folded into its body and head tucked into the oblong opening made for that very reason. The thing looked like some idiot artist’s idea of an egg sculpture. We didn’t let up, slugs and rockets burning through the shields until finally the last of them gave up the ghost.

By then we stood too close for it to target and our fire tore it apart. As I was down to three clips and a swift kick by then you can imagine the strength of my relief.

Seconds later is was all over but the electrical fire. I banged on the door and Tali, who had enjoyed a ring-side seat via the monitoring system, rolled back the massive slab of metal that had protected her. Hurt or not, Kal’Reeger reached her before the door had finished sliding its entire length back against the wall. It was a ridiculously wide door but, still, that man had it bad.

She seemed as happy to see him alive as he did her. Perhaps a romance budded here after all. I suppose her involvement with our Reaper adventures had done her reputation no harm among the Quarians and she’d likely seen more of the galaxy than half of them put together. Maybe she needed an older, more-experienced man than her peers.

Once they’d assured one another that death was not imminent and sorrowfully commiserated over the loss of the rest of their team, Tali finally realized who had come to her rescue. “Shepard! What are you doing here?”

“Watching a romantic vid, it seems,” I answered. We all laughed, some a bit more bashfully than others, and Garrus, Tali, and I did a long-overdue dance of reunion. Our feet remembered once-familiar steps and we linked arms happily as they flew.

Garrus hadn’t been with me the last time I’d seen her and I’d been too confused by my recent resurrection to do much dancing at the time. Kal and Thane just watched. It’s hard to exchange bemused looks with a helmeted Quarian but Thane made a valiant effort.

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