Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 13

Something’s Gotta Give

In a low voice, Kaidan told the group about the camera and microphone he’d found in Jenkins’s crushed pin. “I wasn’t about to confront Udina right there but Captain Anderson and I thought you should know.”

Pressly leaned back with a low whistle. “No wonder they always put the spike-heads on the right.” Jenkins, whose eyes were already round with surprise, turned to stare at the navigator as comprehension dawned. Pressly nodded knowingly, as though none of this were a surprise to him.

A passing wave of suspicion left Kaidan dismayed. Pressly enjoyed the way Jenkins looked up to the more-senior officers and was just playing the world-weary cynic. He didn’t exactly embrace alien relations but there was no way he was a good enough actor to have sat through all of those discussions about the insignia with Kaidan and Anderson without giving away that he knew something.

Kaidan knew that, yet there he sat, doubting a man he’d come to consider a friend. More even than the way they’d been used, that realization made him hate Udina and whoever else had been involved in arranging this folderol.

“I thought we were working with the Turians,” Jenkins complained. “Why are we spying on them?”

Pressly opened his mouth to respond but Joker got in first. “You don’t think they spy on us?” he scoffed. “I bet there are more mics hidden and removed around this project than there are Keepers on the Citadel.”

Anderson looked thoughtful and Pressly nodded sagely once more. Kaidan wondered if he were too trusting. It had never crossed his mind that the two species would be paranoid enough to spy on their team members. The whole point had been cooperation, sharing data and research. He’d assumed that the heavy security at the banquets was intended to catch snooping by Batarians or Asari, some species not involved in the SR project.

“Whatever the Alliance Navy and the Turians are doing, Udina has no business messing in it,” Anderson slowly reasoned. “He’s diplomatic corps. Hell, he’s never even been in the military.”

“So who is he…” Chakwas trailed off, her eyes widening. She dropped her voice and leaned in a little closer. “You don’t think he’s Cerberus, do you?”

Anderson nodded in response but Kaidan shrugged. That the doctor had jumped to the same conclusion the captain had lent weight to the idea but he still hated to believe such highly-placed people would be so…well, so damned dishonorable. Spying to bring the capabilities of the species to par with the rest of the galaxy he could understand, even if he hated the idea. Doing so in violation of a treaty, in an atmosphere of cooperation…

He shook his head at the thought. Maybe he wasn’t much less naïve than Jenkins, when it came right down to it. Every species would be trying to gain advantage from the research the teams were doing, galactic good be damned. He shouldn’t be surprised when Humans behaved as badly as any of the others.

Pressly looked more thoughtful at the mention of the mythical organization and even their youngest member’s eyes widened at the name. Joker looked as sour as ever but he raised his eyebrows at Kaidan under the brim of his ever-present cap as if to say, “Figures.”

“We don’t know anything,” Anderson rumbled. He lifted his tumbler and gestured to the others with it. “The question is: what do we do now?”

The group exchanged looks but the silence stretched as eacho f them considered the situation. After a few awkward minutes, Chakwas took the plunge. “Go talk to Udina. Give him a chance to explain, if he can.”

The Captain took a deep breath before he nodded reluctantly. “It’s the only thing we can do, unless we want to pretend we don’t know.”

Jenkins looked uncomfortable but Joker just scoffed. “I’m not spying for that sack of shit. Either he gives up an admiral or I’m getting back on a ship where I belong.” He sat back, crossing him arms firmly while Pressly nodded in agreement.

“Who’s going, then?” Jenkins asked nervously. He took a swig of his drink and glanced around the table. “Not all of us, right?”

Pressly clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, kid. Anderson doesn’t expect you to take on the ambassador.” He shot a look at the Captain. “Do you, sir?”

Anderson laughed a little. “Of course not. I was thinking Alenko and I should do it.” Kaidan choked a little on an ice cube. He’d presumed Chakwas and the Captain, as the highest-ranking among them, would be the ones to confront Udina.

“You’re the one with the know-how to identify the equipment,” Anderson said, giving him a thump on the back. Kaidan swallowed hard and nodded. He’s been the only one to actually see the miniature camera. It made sense that he be there. That cold spot freezing his stomach was just the ice cube, surely.

The whole group sat for a moment, looking glum and lost in their own thoughts. “I’ve been thinking I need a real belter,” Chakwas said suddenly, breaking the mood. “Do you gentlemen all know Blue Skies?”

His senses of foreboding dissipated as Kaidan thought of the song and he grinned at her. “We could all use some blue skies right about now,” he said. “Besides, it’s one of my favorites. Maybe we could work it in right before Summertime.” The whole group joined in the conversation and, after another round, went their separate ways much calmer than they’d been.

The whole way home Kaidan switched between relief at renewed talk of set lists and practices and concern over the coming confrontation. The Alliance may have recruited him because of his biotics but he’d made steady progression through the ranks because he worked hard outside of combat. Every time his CO had asked him to step up, he had. He wasn’t the sort of man to duck his responsibilities. This one time he wished he were.

He slept fitfully and woke to tracers chasing across his vision. Those and the phantom smell of oranges warned of his first real migraine in weeks. No sooner had he sat up than his head began to throb, not quite in pain but a swollen, pulsing bubble so strong he could feel it in his eyes. The right side of his head felt three sizes larger than the left. This was going to be a bad one.

Before the storm could break he made some quick calls and took a dose of the medication that at least took the worst edge off the pain and nausea. He pulled his curtains tight and walked gingerly back to his bed. Every step shot straight up his spine and vibrated through his head.

Any light or noise pierced his brain. The dark hush of his bedroom further soothed him but any movement cased another spike. With nothing to occupy him, Kaidan had far too long to consider the implications of Cerberus, Udina, and the failure of the project on which the Turians and humans were working. He chased his thoughts around in circles, unable to concentrate and unwilling to let it go. It felt as though his head were bigger than the pillow on which it lay, each roundabout stretching his skull closer to bursting.

Eventually he drifted to sleep once more only to dream that Turians were chasing him across the Presidium calling out, “The traitor must die!” Joker bobbed past. His legs waved bonelessly behind him as he flew, looking as much like a Hanar as a Human. He laughed wryly, tipped Kaidan a wink, and then floated out of sight.

Anderson appeared leading his own pursuers. When he caught up with Kaidan they turned together, the bands joining behind them still baying for blood. The men dove into one of the elevators in the Presidium tower but the doors wouldn’t close. The Turians drew closer, their weapons suddenly transformed into torches. Kaidan suddenly found his trumpet in his hands. Anderson begged him to play. As he brought the instrument to his lips to comply, wondering what tune could save them, he awoke with a jerk.

His head protested the sudden movement with a dull thud rather than the sharp stab of that morning. Kaidan scrubbed his face with both hands in an attempt to banish the dream. I have to deal with this, he thought. I’m going to be worthless until I do.

His stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since the previous night’s pre-bed snack. Even before he got up to quiet it he grabbed his data pad and sent a message to Anderson.

“When can we do this?” it asked. “Soonest is best.”

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