Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 49

Some of My Best Friends Are Artificial

Dance I did, a wild and wooly, high-kicking celebration with Garrus while Mordin sang salarian show tunes for accompaniment. The shuttle pilot finally told us to pipe down because he couldn’t hear Joker over all the pounding and yelling.

Garrus’s mandibles were spread wide in what passed for a cheese-eating grin among the Turians and Mordin’s flat lips were pulled back to show his own teeth. We sat as quietly as we could for about twelve seconds and then I jumped up and started pacing. The deactivated Geth lay in a tumbled pile off to one side and I was itching to boot it up but most of my energy came from relief at feeling no scrabbling claws in my head.

The shuttle docked and we staggered out, dragging the Geth between us, and found half the crew milling around the shuttle bay, slightly dazed and euphoric. They’d all been suffering the same sorts of exploration from the Reaper and were at least as relieved as I was to have been so suddenly released.

Joker came over the comm sounding almost giddy. “We’re outta here, Commander,” he crowed. Even with the compensators the acceleration he poured on caused a general sway in the crowd. It couldn’t have been more than three minutes after we recovered our equilibrium that another surge came, this time from a massive explosion in the Reaper. We couldn’t see it at the time but we replayed it dozens of times over the next several weeks, to much cheering and throwing of popcorn.

EDI muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “corrupt my databanks, will you?” When I asked it what it had said it just gave a sort of digital throat-clearing and replied that the SR-2 would begin its next jump in eighty-seven point four hours. “The discharge of Laserface’s core helped shave three hours off our acceleration time,” its said with a certain amount of smug satisfaction no VI could have matched.

I smothered a laugh. “Very well, EDI. That’ll give us plenty of time to get cleaned up and fed.” Mordin’s eyes brightened at the mention of food. He’d burned as much biotic energy as I had that day and we both desperately needed fueling. “Hey, Joker! Ask Gardner to whip up some of those nachos, would you?”

Mordin put up a hand for a high five and I happily gave it to him, with a happy little shuffle, before I made for the elevator. Everyone loved nachos.

By the time the door slid open on my quarters my triumph had faded to nauseous relief. How close had we come to indoctrination? How many of my crew had succumbed and been released only because we’d distracted the damned thing by blowing its core? I made a mental note to check the extent of the damage the minute I’d washed off all these husk guts.

As I reached to remove my omni-tool it pinged a message from Tali. “The interior must have been awful. I am down in Engineering, if you would like to talk about it.” That’s nice of her, I thought as I stripped down and tossed my filthy armor in the scrubber.

The thing pinged again while I was walking across my quarters to the shower and once more before the door even closed behind me. By the time I emerged, squeaky clean and starving half to death, I found eight messages on it, including a stilted offer of support from Thane and a frankly obscene proposal from Ken that he said would “distract” me. Suddenly these offers of comfort seemed a lot less nice.

With a shudder, I deleted the whole mess. The Reaper’s indoctrination attempts had been awful, but they were over and I was fine. I certainly wasn’t going to cry on the shoulders of half my crew or sleep with my frisky Engineering crew. That brought an image of Gabby watching critically, making insightful suggestions and I threw up my hands din the elevator. This was getting out of control.

I arrived in the mess to find Gardner setting the largest platter I’d ever seen on the counter next to a steaming, heaven-sent mug of life-giving coffee. My distaste for my goggle-eyed crew dissipated in the face of all of that wonderful. Mordin waited at the table nearby and I when I set it down before him he grinned that stretchy, thin-lipped grimace that Salarians reserved for their happiest moments. It looked so unlike him that I had to laugh and I gave him a little happy dance before I joined him to dive into the nachos.

Hungry as we were there was no way the two of us could have eaten the whole pile. Garder had, with his usual foresight, known the crew wouldn’t leave us alone. Garrus popped in for a snack and what seemed like half the crew paraded through the mess, stopping to have a few bites.

Not a one of them could pass me by without touching me in some way. I had to resist the desire to run back up to my quarters and put on some armor just to get something more substantial between their creepy “supportive” pats and my crawling skin.

Miranda stood, leaning against the doorway to her office-cum-quarters, looking down her nose at the scene. Finally sated and already irritated, I headed in her direction. “How’d you like our intrusive friend before we fried him?” I asked her in a tone at least marginally friendly.

In return she gave me a heavy-lidded look of contempt. “I barely noticed it,” she said, sniffing haughtily. “Of course, I was created to resist all forms of brainwashing or mental control.” A little toss of her head indicated that a mere plebe like me would, of course, be much more bothered by a mere Reaper than she.

I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt and in return she narrowed hers. My dismissal of her “I’m perfect” shtick pissed her off every time, giving me free laughs whenever I needed them. Perhaps I should have tried not to needle her so much but, damn, a girl needs a little fun when her man is hundreds of light years away.

“I had the maintenance crew put that thing you left in the shuttle bay in the most secure place on the ship,” she said through her teeth.

The snicker that I swallowed choked me a bit and I didn’t make the connection right away. “Where’s that?” I asked once I’d recovered my breath.

“The AI core room,” she answered, with a look that might have set me on fire had I not been made of such stern stuff. I was so busy enjoying my inflammability that it took a moment for that to process. When it did, I was pretty hot, after all.

“You…you put a Geth in our AI core? You put an alien and possibly hostile AI in where it had direct access to the most essential control and functions of our entire ship?” I raged. “Hell, why didn’t you put him in with the life support equipment directly?”

“And where else, exactly, could I have put him that was utterly inaccessible to the rest of the crew?” Fuck. She had a point. “The core’s locked out to everyone but you and me,” she continued, looking as though perhaps the desire to kick me right in the face might win out at any second. With those boots I might not survive. “I posted an armed guard in there with it.”

Her nostrils flared defiantly. I wanted to punch her in them but I held on to what little decorum I ever had. At least I could find flaw with that part of her solution. “You put a possibly-indoctrinated, positively-armed, randomly-selected crewman in with a Geth and EDI’s core? We don’t know that the Reaper is actually dead, you know.”

She opened her mouth to respond but I waved her off dismissively. I had to stop taking such pleasure in doing that. It was absolutely not helping matters. “Whatever. It’s done. I’ll deal with it.”

Suiting words to action, I spun on my heel and stopped abruptly. I’d rather forgotten that half the crew milled about well within earshot behind me. No wonder Miranda had gotten pissed off so quickly. No good commander dressed down a subordinate in public if they valued their loyalty at all. I’d done it to my putative second in command at least twice now.

At least I’d never done it to anyone else. All of my power struggles with Garrus had taken place safely behind bathroom doors and no one else had needed a good smack down to keep them in line. Even the effervescent Kelly didn’t make decisions for me, she just spied on me in the most irritating was possible.

Nevertheless, I resolved to hold my temper with Miranda when we were on display like this. Mordin twinkled his eyes at me in a particularly amused way that cheered me right up and several grins added a little bounce to my step as I made my way across the mess to the med bay, in the back of which, for no apparent reason, the AI core room had been placed.

I hadn’t had much time to check out the Geth before we’d hauled him aboard. Upon closer examination I recognized not just N7 armor welded to its chest but my N7 armor, the suit I’d been wearing when the Bastards had shredded the SR-1 around me and the one in which I’d damned well died. Part of my name showed where it had been printed beneath the designation, obscured by scorch marks but still legible, and a gouge I remembered from a particularly nasty encounter with a rogue AI on Earth’s moon showed just beside it.

“Okay, freaking really?!” I cursed a bit about stalker AIs hiding inside psychotic AIs until EDI cleared her digital throat to remind me of where I stood. For all I knew she had some sort of defense weaponry with which she could at least wing me, unarmored as I was, so I cooled it on the ranting with a halfhearted apology. “It’s not every day you find a supposed enemy wearing the clothes you died in, EDI, so pardon my insensitivity.”

“I presume this would not be a good time to tell you about the greaves built into my bulkheads,” it said. My head snapped around so quickly I may have sprained something. “That was a joke.” Her monotone betrayed no emotion but I’d lay a million credits Joker was sobbing with laughter up on the bridge and some amusement interrupter circuit was melting down somewhere in the bowels of my ship.

“EDI, I can shoot you pretty effectively from in here,” I answered frostily. “Let’s save the jokes for when I’m in a better mood.”

“Understood, Commander,” it replied evenly. “Will you be activating the Geth, now?”

“Yes, EDI, yes I will.” I suited actions to words and stepped back as the mech’s systems booted up one by one. It rose to its full height for a moment, metallic hands flexing fingers modeled after their quarian makers. Gears clanked and whirred into motion as the various systems came on-line.

It took some restraint to keep from craning my neck up at it and the guy with the assault rifle behind me swallowed audibly. I’d known Geth Prime were ridiculously tall but I’d never appreciated just how big the normal variety were until I’d closed myself into a small room with one. My own pistol hung loose in my grip, ready but not aimed.

If what it had done just before it shut down meant anything, this Geth was on our side. I wasn’t about to alienate a potential ally in with the million-strong AI out there if I could help it. We could use the firepower when the more-lively Reapers finally showed their metal tentacles.

The Geth flexed the metal flanges that served as eyebrows above its flashlight of a face a few times while it shook out its arms. It was altogether possible Garrus and I had disarranged a few tubes and wires in our haste to pull it out of the exploding Reaper. Just as I began to wonder if it had suffered irreparable damage, it spoke. “Shepard Commander.”

“I am,” I said coolly, like mechs no one thought capable of speech struck up conversations with me every day, “but according to that scrap of armor, so are you. Where did you get it?”

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