Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 42

All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go

On the way across the galaxy I had time to get into an argument with Miranda about removing the Cerberus logo from the shuttle. “Look,” I said for the fifth time, “we’re undercover. A badass pirate isn’t going to be flying around in a shuttle with that freaking logo on it.”

“This is Cerberus property, Shepard,” she said, crossing her arms and cocking her hip. “The logo stays.”

I cursed colorfully for a bit. “I’m in charge, damn it, and the logo goes.”

We stood in the cargo hold and the crew I’d detailed to paint over the thing all sat around watching the show. I gestured at the shuttle and they crawled to their feet, waiting to see if she would try to countermand my orders.

“That logo goes right back on tonight,” she hissed. Then she spun on her heel and stalked out of the hold, ass switching in that thing she insisted on wearing. Very little painting got done until she’d gone, what with the admiring the guys were doing. In my enjoyment of my very-public victory I let them.

Once that had been settled, however, my mind returned to my own, soon-to-be-revealed rear end. The door to the shuttle was short enough that I’d have to stoop to get in, especially with those evil shoes adding a few inches to my height, and the stupid dress barely covered the necessities.

I could think of no dignified way to get through it. Either I’d have to crawl in on my knees or I’d need to crouch enough to show off my undies. The utilitarian pairs that were all I owned might not be exciting but they were certainly more than I cared to share with whoever showed up to watch. Knowing this crew there’d be a dozen of them lined up and Joker would post the whole thing on the extranet.

Sure enough, I’d no sooner wriggled my way back into it and slipped on the torture devices for my feet than Kelly pinged my comm unit and asked me to stop at the CIC on the way to the shuttle. She stalled me long enough to let news of my undignified appearance draw everyone into the shuttle bay or the corridor between there and the elevator.

I walked, as casually as I could manage, past people pretending to be busily on their way elsewhere while they gawked unsubtly. For this occasion, I wanted my scars perfectly visible and had tugged the dress down as far as it would go. My meager cleavage felt like it was on fire and heat rushed to my face at the scrutiny. Why hadn’t I just decided to change in the shuttle and give only Kasumi a real show?

My thieving new friend stood at the bottom of the ramp, still fully clothed, arms crossed as she looked me up and down. “Not very stylish but you’ll definitely make a splash,” she finally said, smiling.

Garrus made a little growl behind me, causing me to jump about half a meter. Having no lips he couldn’t whistle, something that didn’t hold Thane back in the least. The two looked almost as foolish as I felt, elbowing each other in the ribs like they were. They’d become fast friends after our fun on Haestrom.

Jack scowled from their left. “You look like an idiot, Shepard,” she said, but I could see the little ghost of a grin she fought to suppress. She shrugged. “Better you than me.”

Jacob walked in behind her. “Why are all of you…oh!” Apparently no one had thought to visit him in the armory to invite him to the show. Most people considered him more Miranda’s pet than a buddy. I resolved to visit him a little more often. He must be getting pretty lonely—or unstable—surrounded by all of those lovely, cold guns.

He’s also apparently lost all sense of decorum and stared openly at my chest. I cleared my throat loudly and he started, jerking his eyes up to my face. “Undercover, Shepard?” he asked, visibly uncomfortable. That catsuit Miranda made him wear left nothing to the imagination. It looked like I might have to feed him to Kelly, if such a sorry sight drew that much interest.

Aware of his exposure, Jacob turned on his heel and left abruptly. At least he’d taken most of the attention off me for a minute. “Stay right behind me,” I muttered to Kasumi amid the general laughter. I heard her slide into place as I started up the ramp, a whisper of leather, but then Donnelly called her name and, as I reached the door, she turned and stepped back down to him, the sneaky bastard.

There was nothing for it: I stooped and crouched and sort of crab-walked through that stupid little door. It would have looked strange to have taken the big shuttle, the one with enough room for the whole team, with the lovely side that opened wide enough to walk in like a civilized sentient being. It would have also blown my cover, I reminded myself. And then I was out of sight and into the copilot seat.

Kasumi chuckled in response to something Ken had said and then fairly glided up the ramp and into her seat. “Donnelly would like to know if he can engineer you something a little more…decorative for next time,” she explained, still showing far too much humor to suit me as she kicked on the thrusters.

“I’ll give him my answer in person,” I answered through clenched teeth. One more crack and that man would be taking a long walk out a short airlock. At least the others had pretended not to notice, though I wouldn’t be doing an extranet search on my name any time soon.

We swooped down to a landing pad at a massive, terraced compound. I whistled. “I thought crime didn’t pay.”

“Oh, it pays very, very well,” Kasumi answered, “if you aren’t bothered by the constant danger and petty things like ownership.”

“Constant Danger is my middle name,” I said. We cracked up, dispersing my frustration at her little betrayal with Ken.

The landing crew threw up a snag. The gift passed muster just fine, though I had to cover my shock at seeing it was a statue of Saren. Apparently Hoch admired the traitorous, mind-controlled, galaxy-betraying bastard. Perhaps they’d known one another before the Reapers, when Saren had been the baddest Spectre in the galaxy, though he’d been so rabidly anti-human that I could hardly see him and Hoch hanging out over a couple of pints on Omega.

The crew did not, however, want to let us in the door. Hoch himself came out to greet us, suavely bending over my hand in greeting before revealing the real trouble. “You, my darling woman, are welcome. This person, however,” he said, nodding to Kasumi, “must wait outside. There seems to be some…irregularity in her identity.”

“My own is pretty irregular,” I reassured him, “or I wouldn’t be here.” He remained adamant and Kasumi just nodded at me to go ahead. She was a sneak thief; she’d find her way in on her own.

Hoch ushered me though an impressive, if overdone, entry and into the marbled, be-fountained living room where women in those same, floor-length, cutout dresses held drinks and chatted with nefarious-looking gents in formal wear. “You’re the last to arrive,” he explained as they all turned to stare. “Let me introduce you.”

The whole thing was madly uncomfortable, my feet objecting to the lack of seating and Kasumi whispering instructions and reminders in my ear. For all I knew she was dangling from the ceiling like a spider but her camo gear let her hide near enough to see and hear what I did.

The women all seemed torn between admiration and disdain. All of them had long run criminal enterprises but none seemed to have suffered much physical damage. They assumed I’d worn such a tiny and unfashionable dress to look tough, rather than because it was the only one I owned.

And so I regaled them with imaginary tales of derring do, shootouts and near misses, ship crashes and suit failures, creating a story for each of my many scars. “But none on the backside,” I said cavalierly. “I always cover my ass.” I caught at least three of the men trying to check before I found a wall against which I could stand.

Finally Hoch wandered over and I got him talking so that Kasumi could generate a voice print for the vault door. The attention waned after what felt like hours and I was free to wander about, “admiring” the art decorating so many walls.

Kasumi popped out of hiding a couple of times and we gathered the necessary tools to get through Hoch’s incredible security. I lifted an empty glass from his hand and managed to pass it to her while on my way to secure him a new drink. She broke into his bedroom and rifled his things looking for DNA sources. I’ll spare you the details of where she found one. Suffice it to say we knew he hadn’t had his sheets changed that morning.

We traced and cut the wires to the alarm and fed facsimiles of voice and prints and DNA into the lock. As the massive door opened we finally turned to that hideous image of Saren to retrieve our things. The dress was short enough that I didn’t even have to take it off to get my armor in place. My feet reported a major increase in happiness when they’d been settled flat into my boots once more. The tortuous shoes I left behind with no regret.

I defaced Saren in the cloacal area in a petty but satisfying way, as close as I could get to castrating the statue. We toured the bizarre private collection of relics that included uncanny creatures and Earth antiquities I knew the Alliance would pay dearly to have returned. We pocketed whatever fit along the way. Then we found a grey box, which Kasumi immediately identified, just lying on a pillar.

Knowing my life, I insisted that we take cover before removing it. Sure enough, the moment she lifted it Hoch’s voice boomed over a loudspeaker. He congratulated us on our skills, admitted that he’d known exactly who the shadowy thief was when we’d arrived, and then sent a dozen mechs to kill us so he could retrieve his things from our dead bodies.

The ensuing firefight destroyed several artifacts that caused our host to howl from wherever he watched but soon the first wave lay in piles of slag. Kasumi knew the compound’s layout by heart and led me through storage and steam tunnel areas that guests normally never got to explore.

We slaughtered mercs and mechs alike on the way and popped out on a completely different landing pad from the one we’d used. It looked like we weren’t getting the little shuttle back, after all. I hoped Miranda intended to come down here and enforce her demand that the Cerberus logo be replaced but she would probably chicken out and stay alive, more’s the pity.

Kasumi promised we could steal one of Hoch’s, probably a much nicer one than we’d be losing. Nothing’s that easy. Hoch himself popped up, absolutely livid at the damage we’d done to his place, piloting a freaking gunship with massive shields. I wished fervently as I threw myself into cover for another of my crew to overload him and save us a lengthy fight.

My feeble biotics barely made a splash against the damned thing. Kasumi showed off, leaping from cranes and crates to take potshots until I took down the shields with sheer firepower. Then she jumped onto the thing, levered open the canopy, and slit Hoch’s throat, all in the course of about 27 seconds.

I didn’t really get to watch, busy mowing down waves of mechs as I was. The Viper got a serious workout, that afternoon. While my thieving acrobat leapt free of the crashing ship I sniped the last of the ground opposition. Then we did a gleeful dance of victory while Kasumi invented mocking lyrics to accompany us.

The shuttle pilot captured the whole battle and I saw the relish on her face (and our happy dance) plenty, later. Joker had been monitoring our comms and had dropped the big boy long before so it had been in perfect position to record our triumphal celebration.

I was a little sad about not getting a luxury shuttle to take home as a prize but we’d at least picked up enough to pay for the fuel it cost to get here and the ammo we’d burned along the way. Hoch had likely had a price on his head, as well. With him dead we could send the Alliance to get the Statue of Liberty’s head if nothing else.

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