“This is an outrage! “ Ambassador Udina shouted at the three flickering holographs before him.
Kaidan squeezed his eyes shut and tried to ignore the migraine that was building in his skull. The flashing lights of the wards had jarred his senses, then this white-washed Presidium, for all that it was very peaceful by comparison, had the lights up far too bright for his tastes. Now the ambassador was shouting again.
Kaidan had disliked the man on sight. Udina had shouted at Anderson, at Shepard, hell, he’d probably have shouted at Kaidan and Ashley, too, if he’d only bothered to notice them. Ashley nudged Kaidan with her elbow and nodded at Shepard. Kaidan turned and looked. The commander was standing at attention, listening with admirable patience as the ambassador told her to “settle down.” Kaidan saw a flare tremor across the fingers of her right hand, clasped behind her back. He got the distinct impression that she was itching to throw the ambassador into a wall. He would hardly have blamed her. After seeing the devastation of Eden Prime, it was damn annoying to hear someone yell at them like it had all been their fault.
Captain Anderson stepped in and tried to run interference, but the ambassador still seemed put out that he had to clean up the political fallout of the botched mission. Typical , Kaidan thought. The marines had just done the heavy lifting and then got to get chewed out for it. At least they had gotten an audience with the Council. As Udina stormed away with Anderson in tow, Kaidan could only hope that the rest of their visit to the Citadel went better.
Things did not get better.
Shepard let out a breath, lowered her pistol, and stared down at the blue blood that pooled at her feet.
“Those were Saren’s men,” Kaidan said, holstering his gun. “Look. They’re carrying Spectre-issue weapons, but they don’t have a council badge.”
“Damn,” Ashley Williams muttered. “So, first the council sends us away to look for proof that Saren is a traitor - after we brought them proof, no less. And now said traitor is sending turian assassins after you, commander. What do you want to bet that the Council don’t take this as proof.”
“How many credits have you got?” Shepard asked wryly. “Nope, Williams the Council won’t believe this. But this little attack does tell me we’re on the right track.”
“Yeah, the right track for doing all their dirty work for them.”
“If we can find that C-Sec officer and get information about his investigation, then we can make some progress - I hope,” Shepard said.
“Right, commander,” Kaidan nodded. “So what do we do with the bodies?” He nodded down at the corpses at their feet.
“Toss them off the railing?” Ashley suggested.
“They might hit one of those transports,” Kaidan observed.
“I dunno,” Ashley said. “A mid-air crash could be fun to watch.”
“No killing the flying cars,” Shepard said.
“No fun, commander,” Ashley pouted.
“Alright,” Shepard said. “We’ll go tell the management. If this bar here is half as seedy as it’s rumored to be, then they’ll know what to do.”
Shepard looked up at the flashing lights that advertised the location of Chora’s Den, a self-purported “gentleman’s club” down in the lower wards. Taking the kinetic stabilizer off of the dead turian’s pistol and attaching it to her own, Shepard walked towards the entrance. The doors slid open, flooding the alley with the thud of pounding bass music. Shepard looked into the bar and stared.
“Whoa,” Kaidan said behind her.
Yeah, Shepard thought. That pretty much summed it up.
Inside was a circular bar, surrounded by a circular room. Along every corner of the walls were female strippers in peek-a-boo clothing and males of various species ogling them. Standing right in front of Shepard on top of the bar was an asari, her blue buns wiggling in time with the beat.
“Wow,” Ashley said sarcastically. “A million light years from where humanity began, and here’s a bunch of half-naked women shaking their asses on a stage. I can’t tell if that’s sad or funny.”
“Sad,” Shepard said. “Definitely sad.”
“I can see why people come here,” Kaidan said. “It’s got quite a nice…um…view.”
Both women turned to him with eyebrows raised.
“What?” he asked, holding his hands up as if in defense. “You never know. They might be here for the food.”
“I would not eat anything that comes off of a bar where that lady’s been,” Ashley said, pointing to where an asari was crouched on all fours, waving her head around madly. Kaidan stared, and Shepard had the sudden urge to use her biotics to toss the asari off of the bar and onto the floor.
“Hey lieutenant,” Ashley said. “Put your tongue back into your mouth before you trip on it.”
Kaidan didn’t seem to hear her.
Shepard rolled her eyes. It didn’t matter where her lieutenant’s eyes went. Or his tongue. Or…anything. She shook her head to clear it.
Really, his reaction to the asari strippers didn’t concern her. She was here to find Harkin and then find Garrus and then find evidence on Saren. That was the mission path. She was sticking to it and she would not get distracted by the way that Kaidan – the lieutenant – was now turning his head to look at yet another asari dancer.
Shepard had never been around the asari much before. She’d heard all sorts of rumors that they acted very superior. She was now wishing the rumors were true. If this was acting superior, she’d hate to see what they acted like when they had no self-respect at all.
Kaidan could feel the pulse of the music all the way down to his feet. He’d always avoided places like this: too many lights and too much noise. Besides, this many asari in the same place was definitely – unsettling. In the first place, they all were biotics, though pretty weak ones at that. The hum coming from their amps gave off a sort of thin, reedy vibrations that made Kaidan think of nervous, girlish laughter. In the second place, the dancers weren’t wearing much at all, and God help him, he was a man. He was having a really hard time not looking. However, he found them vaguely – off. The shapes were nice, but something about the blue skin and tentacle hair threw him for a loop. He didn’t think of himself as racist, but he had to admit that he liked women the old-fashioned way: human.
With that thought, his eyes strayed to Shepard. Now there was a woman more to his tastes. Though he couldn’t really picture her dressing like these strippers.
The moment the thought flashed through his mind, an image followed: Shepard, sitting in a chair in one of these dark corners, looking at him with eyes that were warm and inviting…
Kaidan shook his head.
No, no and no , he thought. No getting the strippers mixed up with the commander.
Besides, he thought. She was built better than most of them. Even in her tight armor jumpsuit…
Kaidan frowned and gritted his teeth. This was insane. Shepard was his commanding officer, not some dancer in a sleazy bar. He had no business thinking of her in the same way as these…uh…ladies.
He suddenly stopped and stared. What the hell was that asari doing to that volus?
Kaidan rubbed his eyes. This place was giving him a headache.
Deliberately ignoring Kaidan and his perusal of the dancers, Shepard cased the room. She overheard two krogan having an argument in the corner, then passed a turian who seemed intent on drinking himself to death. Finally, she spied a man who looked lean and wiry. He looked mean, too. Must be Harkin. He saw her, too, and grinned in a way that made her skin crawl.
Shepard sucked in a breath and smoothed her expression into one of polite, professional interest. If this was Harkin, he was going to require a firm but delicate touch. Then again, she thought, if she couldn’t talk the information out of him, she could try always beat it out of him. This bar hardly seemed the sort of place where people would mind something like that.
Kaidan clenched his fist as he listened to Harkin talk to Shepard. He could feel his biotics swirling around his fingers, just itching to throw the bastard into a wall for looking at her like he was. But, Kaidan reminded himself, that was the damnable thing about being a subordinate. Protocol was pretty clear on this sort of thing. Shepard should – and could – handle herself. Even though Kaidan felt the need to step in and defend her, he knew that doing so would only make things worse. He willed himself to bite his tongue and let her do the talking.
Shepard got what she needed out of the man, quickly enough. She even managed to avoid punching him, which Kaidan found admirable, if a little disappointing. With a nod of her head, she signaled for Kaidan and Ashley to follow her out into the wards.
“I can’t believe that Captain Anderson was a Spectre once and he never told us,” Ashley cried the minute they were alone. “I mean – why would he lie?”
“Harkin’s an ass,” Kaidan said, venting his disgust. “I’ll be he was just messing with us.”
“I don’t think so,” Shepard said slowly as they climbed the stairs out to the market promenade. “It…feels right. I always suspected…” She broke off. Kaidan eyed her closely.
“You always suspected what?”
“I always felt that there was more to him than just…” Shepard broke off. “I can’t explain it, but I’m not surprised. It fits.” She frowned. “I’m sure it’s true.” She looked up and met her team’s eyes.
“We don’t speak of it,” she said. “Not until the captain gives us leave to, understood?”
“Aye, aye ma’am,” Kaidan replied. Ashley nodded.
“Good,” Shepard said. She turned and walked along the promenade, lost in thought. It suddenly made sense, she thought, why Anderson had picked her, why he had pushed so hard for her acceptance into the Spectres. She’d often suspected that he had something in mind for her career. Now she saw he had been thinking of himself, in a way, as well. Perhaps he felt if he couldn’t make the cut, but could help her to do so, then he would have redeemed himself. If that was so, then she wouldn’t let him down. Anderson had believed in her when few had. When the press had backed her into a corner, he had been her champion.
She would not disappoint him now.