We calmed down after a last, bumping little shuffle. Tali explained the Quarians had come to Haestrom to look for any evidence of solar instability from when the they’d briefly settled there—after being driven from their home world by the Geth and before being chased outside the Veil entirely.
It seemed that the system’s sun was deteriorating much faster than normal solar forces would account for, thus the excessive heat and radiation that were melting us in our armor. They wanted to compare any old data with new readings to verify their concerns.
“Why the hell do you care?” I asked. “It’s not like this is your home world. Did your people love it so much here that they just want to make sure the planet’s okay?”
Tali scoffed. “If the Geth can destabilize a star, we need to know. No matter where we settle, we cannot be safe if they can threaten the sun of our new home…assuming we can find one where we can live without these suits,” she added bitterly, gesturing at her mask and hood. Kal was nodding in agreement.
What a frightening idea. Geth didn’t need an atmosphere or the warmth from a sun to thrive. Nor did the Reapers, for that matter, but every species they threatened did. Would they go that far, destroying the suns for all habitable planets? They might, I supposed, if they thought a different kind of life might evolve in time for their 50,000-year cycle of destruction to continue on schedule.
“I see your point,” I said, shuddering. “That’s creepy as hell.” Thane’s lush mouth was drawn down and Garrus had drawn in his mandibles grimly. The implications hadn’t escaped them, .
I could only dwell on the thought for so long; action was more my style. “What sort of timeline are we looking at, here? I’m up for wholesale Geth slaughter after we stop the Collectors. Come with me.”
Tali laughed. “Decades at least,” she answered, “and yes, I will come with you.” She may not have been able to see how Kal’Reeger’s head snapped around behind her but I certainly didn’t miss it. “I need to make certain this data gets back to The Fleet first, however. Can you wait a few more minutes?”
My elaborate show of sighing impatiently answered her question. Hell, you have to be obvious about it in a full helmet. We quickly settled matters and she stood in front of Kal, both sort of shuffling their big, two-toed feet shyly. “I’ll just leave you two alone, then.”
I grabbed Garrus by a hose and hauled him out the door. Turians don’t have ears, you know, and of course he had a helmet on as well. Thane had already wandered back into the dreadful heat to enjoy every bit he could before I dragged him back into the frigid emptiness of space.
I don’t think either of the Quarians heard me. At last glance they were sneaking looks at one another between some serious floor-gazing time. Garrus and I did a little dance of “get a room”, all we could stand in this heat, before he, Thane, and I started gathering what we could salvage from the nearby Geth.
Our pile of loot grew quickly, the more so when the two Quarians came out to help. I called Joker to send down the shuttle and shooed my three teammates toward the landing zone. Kal had dispiritedly called his own ship for pick-up and trailed behind us like Urz had on Tuchanka. This time I wasn’t the focus of adoration, however. It was a welcome change.
The now-familiar white box of a shuttle that had replaced my beloved Mako settled nearby. I gave Kal a snappy salute and he sketched out some hand gesture that I took to be the Quarian equivalent. The rest of us started toward the shuttle with a wave of farewell but I turned back one last time before we got there.
“Hey, Kal,” I called to him across the blasted plain, “what would you have done if that rocket launcher had fried on you?”
I couldn’t see the feral grin behind the mask of his environment suit but I knew it was there from his voice and the way he suddenly hefted a wicked blade. “Anything it took.”
Though I merely nodded solemnly at him and turned to leave I gave Tali an approving thumbs up as soon as the doors had closed. “Not bad, my quarian friend, not bad.”
“Shut up, Shepard,” she said. But she was laughing.
I got Tali settled into her quarters and introduced her to the crew in engineering. Gabby thoughtfully stomped Ken’s toes before he could completely express his appreciation for the bounty of feminine charms the day had brought his way.
She and Tali put their heads together to discuss upgrades and specs for the new Normandy while I fended off the unrepentant Mr. Donelly. I distracted him by pointing out that Tali had intimate knowledge of the SR-1 stealth systems and made my escape while he nearly quivered with the implications of my double entendre.
Joker had turned us back toward Citadel space, trying to pick up the raveled ends of my itinerary. We’d no sooner swooped back through the Veil, however, than Kasumi told me it was time to complete her mission.
“There’s no rest for the wicked, Shepard,” she said, “but there are cocktails.” She looked me up and down. “You…do have a dress, don’t you?”
“Of course!” I protested. She needn’t know I’d never had one before Kaidan gave that little scrap of a thing to me mere days before. She struck me as the kind of woman who could wear that tiny dress with aplomb, perfectly comfortable and confident.
Not that she normally wore a skirt. Apparently skin-tight jumpsuits had come into fashion sometime in the past two years but Kasumi made it work for her. Her more-modest catsuit and hood lent her of an air of femininity that Miranda’s aggressively-sexual outfit lacked utterly. Samara’s low-cut but somehow non-sexual look offered more an antique superhero flavor, but it also looked acutely uncomfortable.
Even Tali had grown into hers and what had, a couple of years before, looked like a relatively comfortable environment suit now made me wonder how the bath of antibiotics that covered Quarians continuously could possibly flow with the outfit hugging her curves so tightly. It was no wonder Donnelly had been panting, really.
“Good,” Kasumi continued, distracting me from the contemplation of my crew’s collective wardrobe preferences. We were in the observation deck cum cantina she’d conjured up, her behind the bar shaking some concoction and me with one cheek parked on a tall stool.
She poured with a flourish and slid the drink to me, some fizzy, pink thing that smelt of flowers and spice. “Drink that and give Joker these coordinates. I’ll tell you all about your new, sordid past along the way.”
To my irritation, the little soiree she’d arranged for me to attend took place back at the other end of the galaxy, in the system practically next door to the Citadel. “I can’t afford all this fuel,” I grumbled, as much put out at the idea of wearing those shoes again as I was at the trip.
“If we do well, this trip will pay for itself,” she answered. “Hoch is a very wealthy, very bad man. His place will be stuffed with stolen artifacts and technology we can sell back to the original owners.”
At my scowl she laughed and amended her statement. “By sell I of course mean ‘return for a handsome reward’. Some of the museum pieces are priceless…or as near as anything can be among thieves and collectors. Hoch is both.”
I nodded my way through her explanation that we’d be retrieving a grey box that Hoch had removed from her partner’s head after killing him, more concerned about getting onto the shuttle in that tiny little dress in full view of the entire freaking crew. How could I get up the stairs without flashing them?
My attention returned to her story as she said something about a three-headed Krogan. “Sorry, he has a what?”
She laughed again. “I knew you weren’t listening.” She waved off my stammered apology. “You clearly have something on your mind. Let’s just stick with operation details for now.”
The review of my imaginary, piratical history entertained me a great deal, pushing my sartorial concerns to the back of my mind for the time being. “You’re shadowy enough that any story you tell shouldn’t conflict with the record,” she explained.
I memorized my known associates and people I would never have met. It would never do to be tripped up by an untrustworthy underworld figure looking to verify my identity.
“Good thing the galaxy’s so big,” Kasumi said eventually. “You can plausibly have been hijacking, stealing, and killing for a decade without any of these lowlifes having met or even heard of you.
“Now, it’s customary to bring a gift to these things, a little gesture of good will to the host. I’ve taken care of that, and inside I’ll hide our gear. If things go well we should be able to get into the vault and change before he even knows we’re there.”
“Can’t I just go in as a Spectre, arrest them, and we’ll get the box after the place is cleared out?” I asked. “This seems like an awful lot of trouble to work around a house full of criminals.”
She shook her head firmly. “Kato told me what was in his head spelled trouble, for the Alliance and the Council. He’d want me to decide what to do with it. I have to get it myself.” She shrugged. “Well, you have to get it. I’m just your unobtrusive secretary.”
Whatever she’d mixed for me tasted even better than it smelled. I drained the glass and set it back on the bar. “Make me another of those and I’ll start to believe you,” I said. She started to reach for a bottle and I laughed. “I was kidding, Kasumi.”
She smiled back. “It probably seems strange that I’d trust you, someone who works for the Council and has ties to the Alliance. But I do my research carefully, Shepard.” She laid a hand over mine next to the empty glass. “You do what you think is right and you keep your word. I wouldn’t have signed on to this mission for anyone else.”
I pulled my hand back and stood. “Uh, glad to hear it,” I said, starting toward the door. “I’ve got to go…calibrate…something.”
She couldn’t possibly have just been hitting on me, I told myself as the door slid shut behind me. I must have just become oversensitive to innuendo, flying around the galaxy on this ship of frisky people. Surely Miranda, Gabby, and Jack couldn’t be the only ones not interested in getting into my pants.
Shaking my head I hopped into the elevator. Naturally, it stopped at the CIC and Kelly’s earnest face loomed before mine. How that woman could gyrate while standing still I’d never understand.
“Oh, Commander, you have new messages at your…”
“Yeah, private terminal,” I interrupted. “You do realize how stupid it is to call it that while telling me you’ve been using it, don’t you?” She opened her mouth to respond but I waved her off before she could get started. “Never mind. I’ll check them after I’ve talked to Joker.”
My pilot, cradled in his beloved leather pilot’s chair, lay in wait. As soon as I came within earshot he started talking to EDI. “Hmm, looks like we’ll have to keep a closer eye on Shepard and that thief.” He leered at me.
Maybe I hadn’t been imagining things. Someday soon I was going to dump the lot of these freaks and fill my ship with soldiers again. Civilians were wearing me out. “Just go, Joker,” I said with a sigh.