Shepard could not help but compare the man to Kaidan, just like she had done with every person she had met thus far on the mission. Like all the rest of them, the scarred mercenary fell far short of her former lieutenant.
Not only was the guy the type of person she had always avoided dealing with in the past, but he clearly didn’t have any of Kaidan’s unique skills, either. But then, none of them did. She had two biotics on her team, both hand-picked by Cerberus, and they couldn’t register half of Kaidan’s power. And none of the folks she had met had his knowledge of combat tech or tactical maneuvers, and they didn’t even come close to being as trustworthy…
This guy had been kicking someone in the balls when she had walked up to him. Hell of a recommendation, that.
“The Normandy is that way, Zaeed,” Shepard told the man wearily. As he started to walk past her, she stepped into his path and added, “And think about this as you settle in: your treatment of prisoners will shape up when you’re under my command. Otherwise, your contract ends now, deal with the Illusive Man or no.”
The man’s one good eye seemed to rest on her for a long moment, then he turned away, “Fair enough,” he drawled. “Your ship, your rules. You can be as soft on these aliens as you want.” He hauled his batarian bounty to his feet, stuck a pistol between the alien’s shoulders, and sauntered away.
“I don’t think that was wise,” Miranda said quietly. “He may see that as weakness on your part…”
“I’m an Alliance woman first and foremost,” Shepard snapped at her. “And I don’t give a damn if you Cerberus flunkies like it, but I will be following Council protocols here. Shooting unarmed civilian prisoners is not going to happen on my watch. Got it?”
Miranda nodded. An uncomfortable silence settled over the grimy hallway. A thudding sounded from somewhere beyond the doorway to their right, like a heavy heartbeat pulsing through the Omega station.
“So,” Kasumi said after a minute, “Don’t we have a party to crash or something? That should be fun. I like clubs.”
“You’re not going to like this one,” Miranda said, half to herself. “It’s very…low class.”
“Ooh, I like low class,” Kasumi replied, her eyes twinkling under her hood. “All the better to go unnoticed.”
Shepard smiled a little at Kasumi’s words. The thief had a wry sense of humor and seemed a strangely stable individual, given her past. Again, Shepard thought, it said something that a master thief that she’d only just met was currently her most trusted member of her ground team.
On the way to Omega, Shepard had looked over the recruitment dossiers that the Illusive Man had sent to her: convicts and mad scientists, mercs and thieves, all of them. She didn’t know what the Illusive Man was thinking, but one thing had seemed clear: she was being surrounded by people who could get the job done, but were unlikely to be any more loyal to her than to Cerberus. In fact, they were far more likely to be loyal to Cerberus, considering that was where their paychecks were coming from. And they were pretty hefty paychecks, indeed.
Shepard had never trusted mercenaries. She took pay for her work with the Alliance, but that was different: it was her job, her line of work to defend humanity – and the Council, as well. But mercs were just guns for hire. They liked to romanticize their role in galatic society, but they were just thugs who got their creds and their kicks out of beating on the helpless. She found them a pretty disgusting lot, all in all. In truth, the only thing separating Cerberus from a merc organization in Shepard’s opinion was a better bank roll, more scientists on the team, and a more evil-genius, “take over the world” approach to life.
So when she took at look at her current crew and these people she was supposed to be recruiting next, she wasn’t sure if she should try to come up with a way to win their loyalty so that they would stand with her against Cerberus, or if she should just dump them all out the airlock and just go find Kaidan.
As tempting as that last idea was, however, she could see some problems with it. If she spaced the ground team, well, first, that would be unethical, and secondly, the crew might mutiny. And if she spaced the entire crew, that would mean taking out some really decent people. Plus there would be no more asari gumbo from Mess Sargent Gardiner. Shepard had to admit that the guy could cook, and like most Marines and every biotic she had ever known, one way to her heart was right through her stomach. She really liked that guy, though she did hope he’d start washing his hands more often.
It seemed that trying to earn the loyalty of her crew was the plan for now. Only time would tell if they were the sort of people whose loyalty was worth earning. So that meant she was stuck with team Cerberus for the time being.
Still, what she wouldn’t give to have Kaidan at her back her right about now.
Kaidan had a few minutes, so he decided to pay for an extranet terminal and check his messages. He wasn’t sure he would have any, but he was hoping…
Hi from Lisa.
Kaidan smiled to find that his hope had been well placed. There at the top of his inbow was a message from the Citadel doctor. He opened it and read:
I hope this email finds you well. I don’t have a lot of time to write – I have an exam to study for. If I pass it, I’ll be one step closer to that clinic back on Earth. Here’s to hoping!
I don’t know where you’ll be when you get this, so keep safe. I hope you have a good time on your mission.
Kaidan finished the message, then shook his head. It wasn’t very long, or terribly…anything, really. But it was nice to have a message that wasn’t strictly business. After all, everything else in his inbox was…
Kaidan’s eyes narrowed at the next email in the queue. It was from Joker. He hesitated, then opened it:
Hey, where are you? I need to talk to you in person, because this account is totally being watched. I mean like, right now, there’s a giant blue eye staring over my shoulder. It’s creepy.
Look, I’ve been forgiven, and so I really want to make it all up to you. Just tell me where you are and I’ll explain everything when I see you. Or maybe I’ll have someone else do the explaining.
Great, he thought. Joker had been annoying enough when he was a cynical bastard, but if he had up and found religion, there was no telling how obnoxious he might become. Still, it was probably better than him drinking himself to death, which was what Kaidan had heard was happening. Then again, with that line about being watched, maybe Joker had found religion and was drinking. What a combination that would be.
Kaidan briefly considered sending Joker a message, but he saw that his transport to Horizons was arriving at the docking bay. He still had a message from Alliance command to read about his contact for the next mission and he hadn’t written Lisa back.
Kaidan closed the email from Joker.
He’d get back to it some other time.
Shepard took a look around at the streets before her. The city built into an asteroid was, not surprisingly, a dump. Miranda must have seen her disgust, because she nodded and said, “Omega. What a piss hole. I’ve come here on business before and I always needed a shower afterwards. In addition to the usual decontamination, that is.”
“This is something else,” Shepard agreed. She led the two other women over to the blazing sign that announced the club Afterlife lay beyond. The bouncer at the door let them in immediately, saying that Aria had been expecting them. After making their way by a jumpy group of batarians, Shepard led the trio through the main doors to the club, then froze in awe.
“Okaaay,” she said aloud.
“Wow,” Kasumi said behind her. “That’s quite the view.”
I can see why this place is so popular. It’s got quite the view.
Shepard couldn’t tell if she wanted to laugh or be frown at the memory of the time when Kaidan had walked into Chora’s Den all those months – no, years – ago and stared at the so-called ‘view.’ That place was small potatoes compared with Afterlife. This place was bigger, flashier, smellier, and the asari were – she had to admit – better dancers. It was probably best Kaidan wasn’t here. He’d probably stare at the asari and she’d be forced to kill some of them.
Though maybe, she thought, cocking her head, when this was all over, she could learn how to dance like that. If Kaidan liked that kind of thing… Hell, why not? She was athletic. Surely she could learn to bend like…
Okay, maybe not. But thinking about being able to turn Kaidan’s head with a dance like that was a hell of a lot better than dwelling on the current location or company. Even now, she could imagine the ropes tangling around her ever more tightly. One of them was named Miranda, and one named Zaeed…
Truly, Shepard thought as she made her way into the club. She seriously needed to find someone for her ground team that she could trust. Otherwise, or she was going to go crazy on this mission without someone to watch her back.
About twenty floors below Afterlife in a dingy maze of corridors hanging from the asteroid known as Omega, a very weary turian lined up one more shot and squeezed the trigger. The merc fell dead on the bridge. About thirty-odd other corpses lay around him. The turian popped the heat sink from his rifle and took a deep breath. That was the last one for now, but there would be more.
There were always more.
The turian dropped down behind cover and looked at his small stash of thermal clips. Behind his thick helmet, he gritted his sharp teeth.
He was coming to the end. It wouldn’t be long now before one of these waves would get past his guard and he wouldn’t be able to protect himself any longer.
After all, he was up here alone. And he had no one to watch his back.