Kaidan rolled out of bed, turned on the lights, and squinted against the sudden glare. When he looked up, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and frowned. He was looking pretty lousy these days, he thought. He’d lost weight, his eyes were ringed with a faint bluish, bruise-like color, and though he had been shaving regularly, he looked unkempt. With a sigh, he collected a towel and his bath things and headed down the hall.
Apartments on the Presidium were expensive, plumbing being the costliest part. So while he counted himself lucky to have a small room all to himself, Kaidan had to go down the hall to use the common bathroom for his floor. This early in the morning, only one lone elcor was in the toilets, so Kaidan was able to speed through his shower and shave and get back to his room before 0500. Not sure what to do with himself until the embassy offices opened up at 0800, Kaidan decided to go get a coffee. He packed up a few of his critical data pads and headed out to the Presidium.
The coffee shop he most often frequented was almost completely deserted. It was tucked away into a corner near the human embassies, overlooking a quiet corner of the lakes. Kaidan couldn’t imagine what the rent cost on such a place, even small as it was, but the owner had clearly done it up in style. It look like some sort of mashup between a British library and a Parisian cafe. Kaidan found the effect soothing, given that so much of the Citadel was stark, metallic and decidedly alien. Though most days he managed to ignore it, he would forever be aware of the fact that the whole station was really a giant Reaper construct. He had even realized, looking at some schematics of the Council Chambers once, that certain rooms actually resembled Reapers in their layout and design.
Kaidan ordered his coffee black, then sat at the bar with a data pad in hand. One lone hanar was there as well. Just then, the news started up on a screen above the bar. Kaidan looked up as the report began to detail the latest anti-human protest that had begun down in the Wards over the weekend.
“I’ll turn that off,” a voice said. Kaidan blinked as an asari switched off the screen.
“Don’t want to drive away my early-bird customer,” she added with a grin.
“Oh,” Kaidan said. “That’s not…”
“Hey,” she said, waving a hand as she started making a drink. “You were flaring as you glared at the screen.” The asari finished the drink with remarkable speed and handed it over to the waiting salarian, who thanked her and left. “So,” she said, wiping down her station. “You a biotic?”
“Huh?” Kaidan blinked. “Yeah.” He paused a moment, then asked, “I was flaring?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I guess you don’t like the news much.”
“Not really,” he admitted.
“L3, L4 or L5?” the asari asked.
“L2,” Kaidan said after a moment’s hesitation.
“Shit not!” the asari said brightly. “That’s amazing.” At Kaidan’s furrowed expression she paused. “Did I say that wrong?”
“Oh, right. It’s ‘no shit,’” she laughed. “You humans have so many interesting phrases.” She set down her towel and sighed wistfully. “Interesting phrases, interesting cultures…and amazing drinks! When I opened this shop, I had no idea how hard it would be to learn them all. Such a challenge.”
“Wait,” Kaidan blinked. “This is your place?”
“Sure is,” the asari said proudly.
“I thought it belonged to that human…”
“Mike?” she snapped. “Goddess!” She shook her head. “What is it with human men? They still think only a man can run things.”
“No, no,” Kaidan said, quickly. “It’s just…he often gives the orders and you…”
“He tried to give the orders,” she said, a glint in her eye. “But we had a little talk. It’s hard to fire people given the unions and all, but I managed it in the end.”
“Sorry,” Kaidan mumbled. “Didn’t mean to offend.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” the asari said, resuming her usual smile. “If people think a human runs this place, then I’m flattered. That was my point in making it – to recreate Earth.”
“Oh,” Kaidan said. Looking around, he could see now, that there was a subtle something about the place that didn’t look quite human. The way the framed photo of the Space Needle was right next to a photo of a puppy, for example, suggested that the person who put it all together had mashed up several cultures without quite understanding them. Not unlike the China Eats Buffet chain back home in Canada, Kaidan thought.
“So,” the asari went on, finishing a second drink and passing it off to another asari. “You from earth?”
“Uh, yeah, Vancouver,” Kaidan said.
“Really?” her eyes brightened. “I’ve been to Seattle!”
Kaidan nodded, refraining from pointing out that these were two entirely different cities in entirely different countries. But, he figured, the climates were similar, and the asari probably didn’t know any better.
“I am so into human stuff,” the asari went on. “Just…human books, human music, human history, human hair .”
“Hair?” Kaidan blinked.
“Not the men’s hair,” the asari shrugged. “It’s boring. I mean…no offense. Yours looks a little…springy. What kind of bloodline of human are you?” Before Kaidan could answer, she went blithely on. “It’s the women with long black, silky hair that get me every time.”
“Oh?” Kaidan asked, politely.
“Oh, yeah,” the asari laughed. She nodded to her newest customer. “The usual?” Then she got to work with frothing up milk and Kaidan missed what she said next. When she returned, Kaidan didn’t even have to ask her to repeat herself, because she launched right into her subject with enthusiasm.
“Human women,” she said authoritatively, “are just the most amazing thing to ever happen to this galaxy. Have you heard the theory that humans are really descended from asari that were taken by the Protheans to earth and then you males evolved out of the females? Waste of evolution if you ask me. No offense.”
“Uhh…” Kaidan could think of any counter arguments to this theory, but said nothing.
“Anyhow, the asari have tried to mate with other species to improve our bloodlines ever since we found aliens. But salarians and elcor and turians look…” she broke off and spoke low, eying the hanar in the corner. “Well,” she said, “they look – you know, alien. But human women – oh, goddess!” Kaidan’s eyes widened a little at the expression of rapture on her face.
“Ha!” she laughed, seeing his reaction. “Isn’t that the quandary of the past two centuries? Here you human males have a thing for asari, and yet we asari only have eyes for your women. Why, even the batarians like your human women – nasty creeps with their sicko four eyes.” She frowned. “Not that I have anything against batarians personally, other than that most of them are slavers and icky. Anyhow. Human women. Goddess. The only bad thing is you’re so all short lived.”
“You…lost someone, then?” Kaidan asked gently.
“Huh?” she said. “Oh, no. Not so lucky to have had a human lover. Not yet. Oh, goddess. I’m working on it.” She broke off at Kaidan’s raised eyebrows. “Ha!” she laughed. “Short story,” she said, starting in on another drink, this time for an annoyed-looking elderly human male. “My parents are rich. Mom’s a matriarch, dad’s a salarian – ha! Bet you couldn’t figure that out, the way I chatter. I was just a fling. Anyhow, mom figured I’d do the merc-and-stripper thing, but when I was only forty she took me on a trip to earth and I fell in love, I tell you.” She handed the drink to the human without looking at him, then she wiped her hands on her towel and turned her attention back to Kaidan again.
“I loved the food, the colors. Goddess, did you know that in the east they wear white to mourn death and in the west they use it for bond ceremonies? Isn’t that crazy ? And the coffee. Goddess, I fell in love with the coffee. I see you here a lot. I take it you like coffee, too.”
“Yeah,” Kaidan said.
“So when I realized mom had this whole bank fund set aside to bail me out of jail a few times – I mean, that’s pretty common for asari maidens and all – I told her I’d rather just open up a coffee shop on earth. She was horrified, I tell you what. Thought I was going into my matron stage decades early. Took me to a couple doctors and then a shrink. Ha! I love that human phrase: *shrink. * But turns out that’s just me, you know? Maybe I’m faster at stages of life ‘cause of my dad. Oh, hang on a second.”
A few moments later, after getting a chai tea for an elcor, she was back. “So yeah, mom and I compromised. I could have the money if I stayed in asari space. She wants me to end up with some rich turian – like her first bondmate. I want a human woman, obviously. So here’s where I settled. Not too shabby a crib, yeah?”
“Uh, yeah,” Kaidan said as she filled a drink to the brim with foam and handed it off to a salarian.
“So yeah,” she said, coming back to talk to Kaidan. “I’ve been trying to meet the right human girl. It’s the matron part of me. I don’t want a fling, but it’s really hard to find the right girl, you know?”
“Yeah,” Kaidan muttered, a wealth of meaning in that one syllable.
“So tell me,” the asari said. “What do human women like? I mean, how do you go about finding the right one?”
“Uh…” Kaidan said, completely drawing a blank on how to answer that question.
“Okay,” the asari said, leaning over the counter. “Think on that one and answer me this: you’re a biotic. Do biotics freak human women out?”
“Uh…depends on the woman,” Kaidan answered. He thought a moment, then added. “But mostly, it does.”
“Right,” the asari sighed. “I was afraid of that. Goddess, the last girl I asked out never stopped by the store again. Oooh! You know what human I think is so sexy?”
Kaidan hazarded a guess. “Commander Shepard?”
“Oh,” the asari said, pulling back. “No. Well, I mean, yeah. She’s adorable. I just want to squish her when I see her on the vids.”
“Squish her?” Kaidan blinked.
“Yeah, as in hug.”
“So glad she’s alive and all. Tragic waste of a woman when she died. No, I am into… her. “ the asari nodded to a portrait on the wall.
“Ajit Zakir,” the asari breathed. “Goddess, she’s beautiful. I love dark hair. Shepard’s too fair. See, we asari are all one color, so it’s the dark hair and eyes that I love.”
Kaidan just nodded as the asari went on to detail all the human women, living and passed on, that she found lovely.
“And Coco Chanel and Norah Jones,” she concluded. “They had such style. I only wish I could, too. Well, I guess I’ll just have to keep searching, huh?”
“I guess,” Kaidan said. “But hey, if you make coffee this good, you’re bound to find someone some day.”
“Yeah?” she grinned. “Hey, you’re alright. For competition, that is.”
“Or are you into human men?”
“Ah, no,” Kaidan said.
“Ah well. Too bad for me,” she sighed. “You are competition then. You got a sister?”
“What?” he choked out a laugh. “No.”
“Darn. No ex-girlfriends I could help rebound from you, huh?”
Kaidan shook his head, too amused by her candor to be offended. “I think my ex already moved on,” he said. Then his voice dropped off as he realized what he’d said.
“Oh,” she said, frowning. “Okay, bad move. Stuck my hand in my mouth. Tell you what, have another coffee.”
“That’s okay,” Kaidan said, looking up and catching sight of the clock. “My office will be open soon. I’d better go.”
“Then one to go,” she said, already making up his favorite brew with lightening speed. “On me.”
“Alright,” he said.
“No problem!” she smiled. “And anytime you want to talk about Seattle, stop by.”
“I’m not from…Seattle,” Kaidan said, but she’d already turned to talk to an elegant human diplomat with her elegant hair drawn back into a bun. Kaidan chuckled, took his coffee and left. He wasn’t there when the asari turned the vid screen back on, just in time to a vid of Commander Shepard, giving a certain news reporter the set down of her life.
“That Shepard is beautiful,” the asari commented to her next customer, an impatient volus. “But me, I’d prefer that reporter Emily Wong any day of the week.”
Shepard squeezed the trigger and drilled the target holo right between its glowing eyes.
“A perfect hit,” the training program said in its cheerful, VI voice. Shepard grimaced and shot the target again.
“A perfect hit.”
“A perfect -”
“Shut up,” Shepard snarled, drilling the target once more. She didn’t want to heard mechanical voices just now. It was funny, she reflected, how her rigid schedule had kept the crew so busy – and now she was resenting it for just that reason. Garrus was calibrating the weapons – again. Jacob was busy cleaning the firearms, Miranda was busy with reports, Samara and Thane seemed to live for their meditations and even Kelly had nothing newto say to her. No, Shepard reflected bitterly, the only being that was available to talk right now was…
Shepard started, swinging her gun to aim it right at the geth that had sneaked up behind her. It was true, she thought, absently. The get were perfect ambushers, no matter what Ashley had said about them having light bulbs for heads. She suddenly wondered what Ashley would say about the fact that she’d recently woken up this geth and allowed it to join the crew.
“Shepard-Commander, we must speak to you.”
“I just spoke to you,” Shepard told the geth. “Why aren’t you in the AI hub?”
“Shepard commander has not ordered that we remain in confinement,” the geth replied.
“No,” Shepard said, frowning. “I guess I didn’t.”
“We have reached a consensus,” the geth went on. “We wish to ask you a question. But first, 508 of our runtimes wish to know what you are doing.”
“What I’m doing?” Shepard waved at the holo behind her. “This is target practice.” She turned and drilled the holo once more.
“Practice?” the geth repeated.
“We know this word,” the geth said. “But we do not understand it. If one has a program, one runs it. One does not need to run it needlessly when the program is not called for.”
“If you’re human you do,” Shepard said. “Or rather, if you’re sapient, you do.” He mouth set in a grim line as she explained. “We’re not like you. We don’t do things all in one go. It isn’t on or off for us. It’s all percentages in between. If I want to shoot correctly in battle, I need to train my muscles and mind to work together to do it.”
“This is faulty programming,” the geth observed.
“Yeah, well, tell it to the programmer,” Shepard muttered.
The geth’s head shifted slightly, as if it was drawing two mechanical brows together in confusion.
“We do not understand,” it said. “We can hit the target every time.”
“Sure,” Shepard said. “As long as your hardware platform doesn’t wear out and you don’t make a mistake in calculations.”
“We would not make such mistakes.”
“And we can,” Shepard replied testily, holstering her pistol. “But we also dream, so I’d say it’s a fair trade.”
The geth seemed to cock its head as it regarded her. Shepard pursed her lips, then decided to speak her mind.
“I don’t trust you, geth,” she said flatly. “I understand people - sapients. I sense who I can trust and who I can’t and I’ve learn to trust my you – I don’t get you and I’m not sure if I care to.”
“Shepard-Commander tensed when we were named,” the geth said, its central flashbulb-eye turning slightly to the left. “Shepard-Commander’s heart rate increased at that moment.”
“Are you aware of the story EDI suggested we name you after?” Shepard asked.
“Gospel of Mark…”
“Yeah, but the implications – the meaning?” When the geth said nothing, Shepard went on, “Legion was the name of a host of demons tormenting a man. Christ cast them out. You being named after unrepentant beings of evil is not exactly a recommendation in your favor.”
“Shepard-Commander is religious,” the geth observed.
“Shepard-Commander knows the story,” Shepard replied shortly. “I don’t know if I should think of you as a person or many people or a computer. But since I don’t think you offend the same way that other beings do, I also feel I can be honest with you: I have killed hundreds – maybe even thousands of geth. I did it to defend myself and other humans. I will not hesitate to kill you if I get even the merest hint that you are about to compromise me and my crew.”
The geth paused at this, it’s flashbulb light turning slightly to the right now.
“Then why did Shepard-Commander wake us?”
“Good question,” Shepard said, shutting down the holo-training program. “I’m still asking myself that.” She sighed. “Curiosity, I guess. And you saved my life back there. In a system of honor, that means I owe you one. Don’t make me regret it.”
“We have no intention to hasten our own demise,” Legion replied.
“Good,” Shepard said curtly. “Just remember. You’re not my pet robot. You’re on probation. If you don’t know what that means, go look it up.”
“I didn’t mean that literally,” Shepard said, rolling her eyes.
The geth seemed to nod. “Shepard-Commander is cautious. Understandably so. We wish to explain our part in Shepard’s fight with the heretics.”
“Ah yes,” Shepard said, “Heretics.” She realized she was using air quotes, frowned, and dropped her hands.
“Shepard-Commander does not believe us.”
“Then,” Legion said, “we wish to explain. We need help.”
“Don’t we all,” Shepard muttered. “Alright. While EDI’s getting the IFF installed, I guess we have time for one more errand. Let’s hear about it.”