Kaidan turned and instinctively reached for his gun. That said something about his life lately, he thought a second later. In a hotel bar, his first reaction was to think that he was being shot at, not greeted.
Kaidan looked up at the man approaching him. He placed the guy at once: Ben Russell. The guy was a jerk, a womanizer, and had only barely gotten through officer’s training. He had been an ass when Kaidan knew him last and Kaidan could tell simply by the way the man walked that he was still an ass now. What he was doing on Noveria, Kaidan could only guess.
“Russell,” Kaidan said, letting go of his pistol and reaching out a hand.
“Russ,” the sandy-haired man corrected him. He flashed Kaidan grin made of even, capped, whitened teeth. “You’re still as cold as ever, Alenko. Reachin’ for your gun – don’t think I didn’t see that.”
“Well, I’m on a mission…”
“You were always on a mission,” Russell snorted. “Same Alenko as always.”
“What are you doing here Russell?”
“Russ. I got transferred from my last job. After leaving the Alliance I found myself blackballed in a lot of lines of work. This place though, they were willing to overlook that.”
I just bet, Kaidan thought. He glanced around impatiently. He hoped Shepard wouldn’t take too much longer going to get Liara from the Normandy. This place worried him. It just felt way too much like a pool of sharks. He just wanted to get out of here and on with the mission. Kaidan spared a glance to the windows. That was rich: he was actually itching to get out of this warm hotel and out into that storm outside.
“You look good, Alenko,” Russell was saying as he motioned to the bartender. “You seem…different, somehow.”
“I’m doing alright,” Kaidan said.
“It’s a woman, isn’t it?”
“What?” Kaidan blinked and looked at Russell in surprise. “No, that’s not…”
“Don’t lie to me,” Russell handed him a drink. Kaidan set it down and the sandy-haired man shrugged and drank it himself. “I remember you. Look, I may not have been much of an officer…”
“You only barely got honorably discharged.”
“I don’t like rules, what can I say?” Russell shrugged. “But I like people. I like you, Alenko. You were always so on edge, but you had my back. And here you are, calm as you like, looking around for someone like a man looks around for a woman he’s supposed to meet. I know it’s a woman.”
“How would I possibly meet a woman while on a mission?”
“It never stopped me,” Russell shrugged. “So what’s she like?”
Kaidan shook his head. He remembered this now. Russell had always been the weirdest mix of jackass and psychiatrist. The man was crazy, but he read people well.
“She amazing,” Kaidan surprised himself by saying. “Now drop it.”
“Fair enough,” Russell shrugged. “So what you been up to?”
“Classified,” Kaidan replied.
“And where are you headed?” Russell said, seeming to ignore the fact that he was being brushed off.
“Still classified,” Kaidan told him.
“Come on, Alenko,” Russell said. “Don’t be a prick. If you can tell me a little bit about what you’re up to, I can give you information in return.”
“And why would I do that?” Kaidan wanted to know.
“Because I want to know what the Alliance is doing here. It could help me get an edge – I’m always looking for an edge. And as for you, well, I know some things that might be useful to you.”
“Not in exchange for any intel I have, you don’t,” Kaidan told him. “Sorry, Russell…”
”…I don’t trade in loyalties for secrets.”
“Always an Alliance man,” Russell said with a sneer. “That high-and-mighty attitude is going to bite you in the ass someday. You know… Holy mother of the Matriarch, get a load of that!”
“What?” Kaidan turned to follow his gaze.
“That’s Shepard – the first human Spectre,” Russell breathed. “Damn, she’s as hot as in the vids. Hotter, even. Look at that jumpsuit – yeow.”
“She’s a Marine,” Kaidan snapped. “Don’t look at her like she’s one of your cheap dates.”
Russell turned and blinked at him, his eyes wide.
“No shit! She’s the one you’re…”
“Shut up, Russell.”
“Classified mission, meeting a woman on duty. I bet she’s your superior officer, too.”
“Well now,” Russell laughed. “I wouldn’t have figured you for that kind of thing, Alenko.”
“If you think…” Kaidan began.
“Don’t worry,” Russell spread his hands wide. “You haven’t got any money given your salary so I won’t bother blackmailing you. And as for information about why you’re here, well, I think the answer just walked into the bar. You’re with Shepard. And what she’s up to probably won’t stay secret long.”
“Goodbye, Russell,” Kaidan said, coldly.
“Good seeing you, Alenko,” Russell said. “Next time I see you, have some good info for me, yeah?” He smiled nastily before walking away.
“What was that all about?” Shepard asked, joining Kaidan a moment later. A very worried-looking Liara followed behind her.
“Nothing,” Kaidan said, glaring at the man. “Just a jerk I knew from training.”
“Hmmm…” Shepard said, watching him carefully. She had noticed that Kaidan had become edgy, his biotic energies growing raw and erratic. “You gonna be okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Let’s just get out of here.”
“First things first,” Shepard said. “We’ve got to get ourselves permission to even leave this place.”
Liara looked nervously at the windows.
“Don’t worry, Liara,” Shepard told her, touching her lightly on the elbow. “We’re with you, okay?”
“That’s not what…” Liara shook her head. “I’ll be fine, commander.”
“Lead on, ma’am,” Kaidan said.
“Liara,” Shepard whispered.
“Don’t, Shepard,” the young woman said, her face turned away to where the snow whirled against the windows of the tram. “I can’t…”
“You can’t talk about it,” Shepard said softly. “I understand.” She straightened in her seat, never taking her eyes off of Liara.
Just five minutes ago, they had come to the end of a tangle of lies, secrets, and endless laboratory tunnels to find Liara’s mother – and to kill the woman. Benezia had been driven mad by Saren’s indoctrination. Shepard still didn’t understand quite how Saren had managed to control the minds of his followers – especially a being as powerful and full of self-control as an asari matriarch like Benezia. One thing was clear, however: Saren was growing more powerful by the day. She just hoped they would catch up to him soon.
Shepard looked over at Kaidan. The lieutenant sat with his arms folded across his chest, watching Liara warily. He caught Shepard’s gaze and gave her a meaningful look. He, too, guessed what this was doing to Liara, and he had nothing to say either.
The ride back to the ship was a long one.
“So who died?” Joker said when the trio stepped back onto the ship.
“Benezia,” Shepard said curtly.
“What? Liara’s mom…” Joker broke off as the asari walked by without a word. “Oh, damn.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said. “Joker, get us… On second thought,” she added, stopping as she went to grab the zipper of her jumpsuit, “don’t leave just yet. Garrus, Wrex,” she snapped into the comm. “Join me on the docks. I need your help.”
“Not mine, commander?” Kaidan asked, frowning.
“Please get Liara down to the med bay, lieutenant,” Shepard told him. In a low voice she added, “And make sure that Chakwas gives her a cup of spiked tea. I think the asari needs it.”