The moment that Captain Anderson appeared was oddly comforting to Kaidan. The captain was saddened, but stoic, troubled, but he focused on the task at hand. His military approach to the situation was as much a relief as Liara’s grieving had been unwelcome.
And as far as Kaidan knew, Anderson didn’t know about Kaidan and Shepard. So there would be no pitying looks from him, no wondering on Kaidan’s part as to how much the man knew. As Kaidan stepped forward to shake Anderson’s hand, he felt his shoulders slump in relief.
“Welcome back, lieutenant,” Anderson said. “I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“As do I,” Kaidan found himself saying. The words were spoken more out of necessity than intentional thought. “We did a full accounting. Twenty-one crew members dead. About twice that survived. We have a few injuries and Joker was hit hard. He broke the majority of his bones when his escape pod jettisoned. He wasn’t strapped in. I believe they had to sedate him to treat him.”
Kaidan barely managed to give Anderson that part of the report. Even as he spoke the words, Kaidan knew that Joker had been alone in that pod because of his own stupidity. The helmsman should have come with the rest of the crew, Kaidan thought. Then Shepard would not have gone to get him, would not have been killed trying to save him.
“I’ve got medics on the way,” Anderson told Kaidan, bringing him back to the present. “I need you to come with me, Alenko. I need a full account of what happened.”
“Of course, sir,” Kaidan said, grateful to have an excuse to leave the crew behind. Being shut up with them for the past forty-eight hours had taxed him to the limit. He had done everything he could to avoid actually speaking with anyone about anything other than the rescue operation. “I’m not sure how much I can tell you, but I’ll give you what information I have.”
“Kaidan!” A voice shouted at them. Kaidan turned to see Garrus striding over. Liara was right behind the turian, half-running, half-limping to keep up. Inwardly, Kaidan cursed.
“Kaidan, we need to talk,” the turian said.
“I have to make a report,” Kaidan said, his voice astonishingly level.
” Damn it, Kaidan!” Garrus growled, his mandibles flaring. “We need to…”
“To what?” Kaidan broke in, his voice low and intense. “To take care of the crew? To make sure no one else dies? I’ve done all that. And now I’m going to make sure the Alliance gets a full report and we start looking for the bastards who…” He broke off then, unable to finish. Garrus lifted his chin a little and looked down at Kaidan through narrowed eyes.
“You’re going to avenge her?” he asked. His voice sounded respectful, pleased even.
“I’m going to clean up this mess,” Kaidan told him. Garrus made a sound somewhere between sigh and a snort.
“Clean it up?” the turian asked. His voice sounded mocking now.
“Yes,” Kaidan said, willing himself not to get angry. “It’s what she would have wanted.” He found he was almost unable to say that. Speaking the word “she” was far too close to talking about Shepard.
“You going to take off that mask, lieutenant?” Garrus asked, watching Kaidan closely.
“No,” Kaidan said. “I’m not.”
Kaidan stood there, looking through the mask at Garrus, noting how the turian’s nostrils flared. Neither of them said a word, but the air seems to crackle around them.
“Kaidan.” It was Liara now, her voice tremulous and tearful. “We need to go back.”
“Liara seems to think that there was something strange about the attack,” Garrus said. “I want to know what you think, Kaidan.”
“There were a lot of things strange about the attack,” Kaidan replied, turning to go. He couldn’t stand to look at them anymore. “I’ll note it in my report.”
” Report !” Garrus snapped. “You’re just going to file a report ?” Both the turian and the asari looked at Kaidan in disgust.
“If you two are done here,” Anderson said, stepping in, his voice cold, “I need to speak with the lieutenant.”
Garrus and Liara still looked at Kaidan, but Kaidan had turned his back on them and walked away. Anderson fell in step alongside him.
“I’m still not sure about those aliens,” Anderson said. “I suppose Shepard did what she thought was best at the time.”
“They were her friends,” Kaidan said softly. It was all he could manage.
“You going to take that mask off, lieutenant?” Anderson asked.
“Yes, sir,” Kaidan said. He reached up and pressed the release valve at the bottom of the helmet, then drew it off of his head and tucked it under his arm.
Even as he did so, he didn’t feel that he had taken the mask off. If anything, he felt like a mask had slid down inside of the helmet, a mask that now paralyzed his face into an expression of calm. He stared straight ahead, trying not to see the Citadel as it had been then – as it had been when he had been here with her. The last time he had walked this path, she was beside him. And now he had left her behind – forever.
“You look terrible, Alenko,” Anderson said. Kaidan started. He had almost forgotten the man was there.
“I haven’t slept in a while,” Kaidan said. “Or eaten.”
“I can imagine,” Anderson frowned. “I have rooms at the barracks set up for you and the crew. As an officer, you’ll have your own place. I’ll let you go and get some rest as soon as I can, but right now, the Council will want to hear the full story.”
“I have to speak to the Council?” Kaidan frowned.
“They just lost a Spectre,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of red tape that’s needed to seal this file up. And then we’ll have to prepare a funeral…”
“A funeral?” Kaidan nearly choked on the word.
“Empty coffin, of course,” Anderson said sadly. He shook his head. “What a waste of a life.”
Kaidan found he couldn’t speak.
“Alright, Alenko,” Anderson said. “Here we are.” He motioned to the elevator before him, an elevator that led to the tall tower that housed the Council Chamber.
Kaidan looked up at the white spike, remembering the last time he’d stepped in there. He and Shepard had gotten halfway up before they’d had to climb out and fight their way to the top. Some days the Battle of the Citadel seemed just yesterday. Right now, though, it felt like it had happened in another life. Kaidan felt weary to the bone, and the idea of standing there in front of the Council and talking about Shepard…
No , he thought. He could not think about that now. As he stepped into the elevator, he imagined that mask over his face, adjusted it mentally so that there was nothing of the man showing through. Then he began a list in his head. The list was full of people that he needed to talk to, information he needed to give. He had recorded precious little data with his omnitool, so he’d have to give an eyewitness account and he needed remember everything clearly. He began to prepare the facts in his mind, laying them out in a neat row as if on an empty table. He’d have to be clinical, clear, and as emotionless as a machine.
Otherwise, he would never get through this.