Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 47

War of the Words

The nature of the place wasn’t the only surprise Pragia had in store for us. Halfway in we found a freshly-shot varren. I tried not to think of Urz, all alone on violent Tuchanka without me, while Jack, already edgy from the revelation that she perhaps hadn’t been the worst-off kid in the galaxy, paced about raging. It got tougher when the wild dog-lizards started rushing us from dark corners and corridors.

We soon began running into mercenaries, as well. Miranda made half-hearted attempts to counsel us on control, more to prevent Jack from bringing the whole place down on our heads than actual training. I remembered to toss the occasional blast at someone between sniper shots but mostly I just pegged idiots in the head from behind cover. At that I’d had plenty of practice and Miranda barely noticed.

We passed down a hallway of cells that seemed to frustrate Jack even more. “What the hell?” she finally asked. “These cages are even smaller than mine.” Her entire memory, everything she’d believed about herself, had been undermined by what we’d found here. Instead of the most-abused victim of Cerberus she’d been protected from the absolute worst because she’d been the strongest all along.

Miranda seemed to have created a brand new fiction in her head, one that absolved TIM of having approved this abomination of a research facility. She didn’t quite seem to believe herself though. I imagined the asshole would have some fairly uncomfortable questions to answer from his favorite doctor, though his usual glib answers would likely salve her guilt. She seemed pretty determined to think better of him despite all evidence.

I recorded every second of our trip through the facility for the Alliance, though I pitied Kaidan the “encryption” Joker might use to send the whole vid. Should there be witnesses when I finally got my hands on that psychotic pile of control issues, however, and he live to trial I intended there to be enough evidence to have him drawn, quartered, set on fire, and then shoved out an airlock. Well, that or to exonerate me after I did all of that to him myself. I admit I was rather looking forward to doing it myself.

After a maudlin visit to Jack’s old room and a disturbing tour of the blood stains and scorch marks that detailed her escape, we walked into the morgue which, unexpectedly, turned out to be a room full of mercenaries. Someone had lured them to Pragia with promises of rich plunder, a laughable concept on which they’d clearly not done their research. Then again the Blood Pack hadn’t been known for their brains.

I thought Garrus would enjoy hearing about our renewed reduction campaign against the mercenary band so I got the leader’s name before I finished off the last of them. My best friend kept a somewhat-creepy roster off which he crossed people as we killed them. He had carried it over from his Archangel days and he hated for it to be outdated.

Some days I wondered if he and Aria had conspired, she to keep the mercs at a low enough level to control, he to complete his revenge. Sidonis might be slowly driving himself insane with guilt after my interference but I had no compunction about helping Garrus knock off mercenaries. They’d earned their fates, just as had Garrus’s ex-friend.

Once the last of the Blood Pack lay still Jack led us to the only door we hadn’t yet opened. It must have housed a couple of people who performed the autopsies done in the big room behind us. The sparse furnishing included only a double bunk and a sink. In the middle of the room stood a scruffy, agitated man of about Jack’s age.

“Subject Zero,” he said, sounding awed. “I knew I couldn’t be the only one who wanted to come.”

He started toward her, I think to give her a hug, unlikely as that seems. As he approached she lit a flare of blue in one hand and scowled a warning at him. To forestall his execution I asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m going to restart the program, of course,” he answered earnestly. “Isn’t…isn’t that why you’re here, Subject Zero?”

Jack looked like she might projectile vomit right in his face. “Don’t call me that. Don’t ever call me that.” She clenched her teeth into her typical expression of fury. “My name is Jack and I’m going to kill you and then blow this place to hell where it belongs.”

The guy’s eyebrows shot up into the ragged hair that overhung his forehead. How he’d managed to convince any band of mercenaries, even those as greedily stupid as the Krogan and Vorcha of the Blood Pack, that he knew of some secret stash of wealth I’ll never know. The worn clothes, the scraggly hair, the scrawny body, all told a story of desperation, not hidden riches.

“You set us free,” he said, nodding like a maniac. “But we know what they did wrong. We can make this place so much better and…and fill it with people like us. We can be safe. We can get strong.”

Jack reared back, ready to burn him where he stood. “What the fuck is the matter with you?” she asked, though she didn’t look like she was going to wait for an answer. “They tortured and killed us, here.” She raised a fist and the blue flare grew brighter around it.

I grabbed her wrist, thankful for the helmet that kept my hair from standing on end at the contact. “Do you really think this guy’s in any condition to understand what he’s saying?” I asked her. “Killing him won’t make you feel any better. Let him go and let’s get that bomb ready.”

The loathing in her face made my insides clench but I stood there for all the world as if maniacs and nuclear bombs were everyday events. Well, they practically were. Miranda wisely stood silent in the background, watching. After a couple of hour-long moments Jack pulled the flare of power back inside and wrenched her hand from my grasp.

“Fine.” Her head turned ever-so-slowly toward the nameless man. “You better hope you can outrun a nuclear explosion,” she said to him. While she wasn’t looking I took the opportunity to shake my arm, trying to throw off the residual tingle.

He stood gaping at her. “No, really,” I said, surreptitiously massaging my hand, “start running.” He slowly moved toward the door, looking over his shoulder the whole way. Jack crouched over the bomb on its float cart, already having dismissed him from her mind.

That seemed to convince him. I heard his feet patter across the stone in the next room before the sound of his escape faded away entirely. “Let’s just get this done and get the fuck out of here,” Jack said, so that’s what we did.

She set the timer shorter than I would have liked. The shuttle had barely reached safe distance before the damned thing went off, burying the awful truth and her childhood under tons of radioactive slag. The shock waved buffeted us and Jack smiled for the first time in hours. I couldn’t bring myself to dance.

We dragged our sorry butts back to the Normandy and to our various quarters. I invited Joker up and changed quickly. No way was another crew member going to surprise me in the shower. When he arrived we stepped into my bathroom and shut down EDI as best we could.

“I’m sending you a file showing the puppy being very naughty, indeed,” I said as I manipulated my omni-tool. “Inky blew up the direct evidence but hopefully Big Al will find this interesting.”

Joker laughed. “I’ve got just the thing for The Package,” he said, rubbing his hands. If he’d had a handlebar moustache he’d have been twirling it, so diabolical did he look. Poor Kaidan. Whatever gave Joker that much evil pleasure must involve at least two nude Volus, a Hanar, and a Vorcha.

After he’d left I showered the fecund atmosphere of Pragia—and the thought of a violated Vorcha—down the drain. By the time I’d dressed again TIM was on the line and EDI warned me he sounded a tish pissy. “Good,” I said through a grin as the elevator dragged me down a level. “It’s his turn.”

I popped into the comm room and TIM faded into view, the ever-present cigarette glowing in his hand assumed a nonchalant slouch. “Shepard,” he greeted me sourly. “I hear you’ve been indulging your team.”

“Yup.” He wasn’t getting anything more from me. If our relationship was based on need to know then he could damned well ask for whatever he thought he needed. The desire to do so warred with his pride for a moment, giving those freaky cyborg eyes an extra bit of glow, before he decided he wouldn’t stoop.

“Have you forgotten the dead Reaper and my missing research team?” he asked, snapping his thumb to flick ashes in annoyance. “You need to find out what happened to them.”

“I need to, do I?” I asked, crossing my arms and cocking a hip. “At this point, all I need is a nap and a huge meal. We’re not ready to go through the relay so I’m not in a big hurry to get the IFF.”

“Shepard…” he was at a loss for words, possibly because he couldn’t believe I was defying him.

“Are you terminally stupid, Timmy, or is this a special occasion?” I continued calmly. He spluttered for fifteen seconds while I just stood and waited. “I am not taking my team into a Reaper that’s already snacked on one bunch of people until I absolutely have to, and I’m going in for the IFF, not whatever research your husk-erized team of bigots might have had time to do.

“In other words, Timbo, make me.” Damn, that felt good.

For a moment I thought his head might actually explode and I waited, hoping I’d get a chance for a victory dance after all. Sadly, several drags let him regain his equilibrium, though he tapped ash from his cigarette so hard I thought he’d break the anachronistic thing. Eventually he spoke. “You need to get ready, Shepard. Time is running out.”

A wee pft of disgust escaped me. “Have you received a schedule from them, then? Any plans you’d like to share with the class?”

TIM narrowed his eyes but didn’t rise to more of my bait. “The Collectors are doing something out there beyond the O-4 relay, Shepard. They Reapers are coming and whatever the Collectors’ aims I guarantee you they’re intended to make them even stronger when they get here.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed like an impatient teenager and flapped a hand at him. “Fine, whatever,” I drawled, “but not until after my nap and dinner.” Then I hung up on him, petty and childish though I knew it was. Not all of the smoke on the other end would be coming from that stupid cigarette: at least half would be coming from TIM’s ears and the idea filled me with more glee than is strictly appropriate for a professional soldier.

Of course, I no longer was one. Since it was TIM’s fault I wasn’t actually in the military any longer so he could just suck up the consequences. In truth I’d been planning to head for the indoctrination factory sooner than later, anyway. One presumed a Reaper IFF might not be the simplest thing to make work with a human AI designed millennia later.

Joker, as always, anticipated my order. “Heading for the giant zombie AI now, sir,” he said over the com before I could open my mouth. I gave him a little undead shuffle, bowed in appreciation of his applause, and headed for the elevator. That nap really did come first on my agenda.

0 Response to "Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 47"

Post a Comment