Saturday, October 8, 2011

Top Secret, Part 2

Normandy SR-2, Cockpit

Tali looked at Joker. "So I'm not just acting paranoid here?"

"Oh you are, but I think in this case you're fully justified."

Tali cocked her head. "Thanks?"

"Don't mention it."

Kelly shook her head. "I know I haven't known Shepard as long as the two of you, but based on her psychological profile, as well as the sessions we've had together, everything she's doing seems… just wrong."

"I know what you mean," Joker added. "As long as I've known the Commander, she's never leapt into a situation like this without at least giving us some idea about what was going on."

Tali nodded. "And she's never asked us to leave her behind."

"She would," Kelly corrected, "but only if she felt there was no way to save her."

"What could she be involved in that would make her shut us out like this?" Tali asked.

Kelly thought for a moment. "Maybe we should split up, ask around. Someone else may know what's going on."

"Ok," Joker pointed to Kelly, "You ask around this deck. Tali, you check Engineering. The two of you can check the crew deck together. I'm going to stay here and try to break as few bones as possible."

Tali shook her head and began to walk away. "Whatever you say Joker."

Kelly followed behind Tali. "So how do you want to divide up?"

"Actually," Tali tried to keep her voice down, "Joker's plan was good so we'll do that. Just don't tell him I said so."

They hadn't taken two steps before a voice from behind them spoke up. "I heard that!"

As Kelly entered the research lab, it occurred to her that this was the first time she'd entered it since Mordin had arrived on the ship. Sure enough, Mordin was busy at his lab table, dropping various chemicals into petri dishes that contained things she'd rather not think about. Kelly approached Mordin slowly, then cleared her throat to announce her presence.

Mordin looked up. "Oh, yes, Miss Chambers. Is there something I can assist you with?"

"Hello Mordin," Kelly replied nervously. "Um, I know we… don't really talk that much, but I was hoping you could… um… help me with something."

"I figured as much, which is why I just asked if I could assist you with anything."

Kelly let out a nervous chuckle. "Sorry, I don't know what's wrong. I just feel a little embarrassed asking you this. It's just that… have you noticed anything strange? About Shepard that is."

Mordin looked thoughtful for a minute. "Nothing I can recall. She seemed perfectly fine when she was in here earlier."

"She was in here earlier? Did she tell you anything?"

"No, we didn't exactly speak. I was dealing with a series of experiments designed to eliminate a particularly stubborn virus when she came in. I assumed she didn't stop to talk because I looked busy, but she did access the terminal next to where you're standing before she left."

"Do you know what she accessed on the terminal?"

"I can find out." Mordin walked over to the console and began typing. "It would seem that she downloaded an educational pamphlet of Batarian Biology. A fascinating read. For example, did you know that the Batarian reproductive organ is located in the—"

"I already know," Kelly interrupted, shuddering.

"I thought you shared a love for all the species of the galaxy?"

"True, but a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere." Kelly changed the subject, "Did you happen to catch which way Shepard went after you saw her?"

"Yes, she went that way." He pointed towards the doors that led to the armory.

Kelly started for the doors. "Thanks for the help Mordin."

"Quite welcome, Miss Chambers."

"Well that was thoroughly unhelpful," Tali muttered to herself as she left Grunt's little nest in the Cargo area. Apparently, Grunt knew less about what was happening on the ship than she did.

Tali made her way through the corridor towards engineering. She had only just walked through the first door when she was flung sideways into the wall by Engineer Donnelly who had been driven up the stairs by a blue biotic bolt.

Jack's voice called up the stairs, "If you ever call me a thief again, I'll…"

"I wasn't callin' you a thief; I was just askin' a bloody question!" Kenneth yelled as he tried to right himself. "Sorry 'bout that Tali, just dinnae wanna get hit with that."

"I'm alright. The suit's not damaged." Tali peered down the stairs. "What exactly happened down there?"

"Oh nothin'. Just a minor disagreement between coworkers."

Tali folded her arms. Even without seeing her face, she was sure he could feel her scowl.

"All righ', all righ', just don't gimmie that face." He smirked at his own joke. "Gabby and I were doin' some inventory, just makin' sure everythin' matched up properly, and it turned out we were short 'bout one-hundred units of eezo."

"And you thought Jack stole it?"

"Ah never said stole. Ah just figured she maybe… borrowed it and forgot to tell someone. Anyway, she got pissed and tha' whole blue mess started swirlin' 'bout her so I figured I oughta run and… well you know the rest."

Tali thought for a minute. "Was anything else missing when you did inventory?"

"Aye, now that ya mention it, there was a missin' fire extinguisher. Dinnae think much 'bout it though when the eezo wound up missing."

"And has Shepard been around here recently?"

"Oh sure, she was down here 'bout an hour ago. She was rummagin' through the cargo and complainin' tha' she couldn' find a thing down there. In fact, tha's where we got the idea to do inventory in the first place."

Tali nodded. "Thanks Ken. I think that's all the information I need down here." She started for the corridor.

Kenneth gave her a perplexed look. "Information for what? D'ya think Shepard took the eezo? 'Cause if she did, I think that's fine. I mean, it's her ship."

Tali left without answering.

Samara was meditating, much as she always did this time of day, when Kelly entered.

"Uh… Samara? Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all, Ms. Chambers." The biotic glow faded from Samara as she answered.

"You can call me Kelly."

"Very well, Kelly." She stood up. "Is there something you wanted?"

Kelly did her best to explain, "It's just that, some of us have been concerned with Shepard's recent behavior. She's been distant and giving orders that we don't fully understand. We were wondering if you'd seen anything that might explain what's going on."

Samara took a moment to ponder the question. "I am sorry to say I have not. In fact, I have seen very little of Shepard since the young maiden came aboard."

"You mean Liara?"

"Yes," Samara replied. "She has taken up much of the Commander's time."

"Well that's to be expected. Still, what I'm talking about is something that happened either just before or soon after Liara left."

"I am afraid I will be unable to help you with this Kelly. I have not seen her today."

"Oh, well, thanks anyway." Kelly turned to leave.

"I did see her though."

Kelly stopped. "See who?"

"The young maiden, Liara. She was eating her morning meal, alone."

"Did you talk to her?"

"No, I prefer to eat alone, but what I did see of her was the face of a woman concerned. The same concern I see in your face right now."

"Of course I'm concerned. Leanna's my friend."

"That is not the concern one has for a friend, or even a commanding officer. The concern you have, and that the young maiden had, go much deeper than that." A knowing smile crossed the asari's face. "It is a concern I share."

"What do you mean?"

"Go, find what you can about what Shepard is doing, but know that she would never act this way without reason. If there is a problem, it falls to us to help. Or, if need be, stay out of the way."

Kelly left Samara's quarters, thoroughly confused. At the same time, Tali was walking out of the opposite set of doors.

Kelly spoke first, "So, what did you find?"

"We're missing a fire extinguisher full of eezo, and it's Jack's time of the month. What about you?"

"She's researching Batarian physiology, borrowed Legion's sniper rifle and after talking to Samara, I'm convinced that nearly half the ship has a thing for Shepard."

"Really," Tali chuckled nervously, "who would've thought that?"

"You too?"

"Please don't tell anyone?"

"Trust me," Kelly reassured her, "I don't think we're even on her radar."

Tali thought for a moment. "So I guess that just leaves us with…"

"Miranda. Yep, not looking forward to it either."

The two made their way to Miranda's room.

"So," Tali broke the momentary silence, "Shepard's studying Batarian physiology?"


"Did you know that they keep their reproductive organ in their—"

"I know."

They both let out a shudder.

Miranda stared at the device on her desk. Shepard had gotten it for her on her last shopping trip, but even now it held her interest. She'd said it was something people used to put on their desks back when those desks were exclusively planetside. Shepard called it a "clacker-ball dealie". Of course, Miranda had since found out it was called a "Newton's Cradle", but she still found Shepard's name for it amusing. These thoughts were on her mind when her door opened.

Miranda looked up. "Hello Tali, Kelly. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Hi Miranda," Kelly started. "There was something Tali and I wanted to ask you."

Miranda raised an eyebrow. "And that something would be?"

"Well, um… I'm not sure how to ask you this but…"

Tali spoke up, "Have you noticed Shepard acting strange today?"

Miranda leaned back in her chair. "Not really. She seemed fine earlier today when I patched a call through to her quarters."

Kelly scrunched up her brow in confusion. "Patched through a call? Isn't that supposed to be my job, or failing that, Joker's?"

"True, but you were finishing up your breakfast at the time and Joker was… otherwise indisposed."

"I don't think I want to know what you mean by that," Kelly replied.

"No, you really don't."

Kelly recalled her conversation with Samara. "You said during breakfast? Who was the call from?"

"Not quite sure. He said he was Alliance. Gravelly voice, though the authority in it made it sound like he was someone important."

Tali thought for a moment. "That sounds like Admiral Hackett."

Kelly's eyes widened. "Thanks for your help Miranda. Tali, we need to go." She took her by the wrist and pulled her out the door. Neither one of them saw Miranda smiling after them.

It wasn't until they were in front of the elevator that Tali was even able to speak. "Kelly, what's going on? Why are you pulling me?"

"We don't have much time," Kelly said as they entered the elevator. "The Normandy just entered the Relay."

"I don't understand. What are we hurrying to?" The doors shut as soon as Tali entered.

Kelly pressed the button for the hanger on the control pad. "Shepard received a transmission from Admiral Hackett this morning. Since then, she's sent Liara away, been researching Batarians, gotten a new sniper rifle, and filled a fire extinguisher with eezo."

"You do realize that fire extinguisher full of eezo thing was hyperbole on my part."

Kelly shook her head. "She's on a mission to a Batarian base and she plans to blow it up. She's not sure if she's going to survive, so she's leaving the ship here and telling Joker to leave if she doesn't come back."


The two turned to the elevator doors which were now wide open. Shepard was standing in front of them, fully geared.

"You know, I spent this whole time trying to keep everyone from worrying about me. I guess that just made everyone worry more."

"Shepard, I…" Tali started.

"We Just…" Kelly said at the same time.

Shepard grabbed both of them and hugged them with each arm. "It's ok guys. You don't need to worry. I'm going to be fine."

Both Tali and Kelly sighed, comforted by both the hug and Shepard's words.

"Shepard," Joker's voice came over the intercom. "We've cleared the Relay. You are Go for launch."

She released the two. "Guess that's my cue. Don't worry, I'll be back soon." She headed for the shuttle.

"Shepard," Tali called after her. "Are you sure you don't need help on this mission?"

She turned back for only a moment to say, "I'd take you in a heartbeat if I could Tali, but I've gotta do this one alone. Next time, 'kay Tali?"

"Okay Shepard"