united under two skies

Chapter 6

The next morning Shepard sat drinking a steaming cup of tea in her suite reading a data pad detailing the special cargo taken from the Normandy deemed too valuable to be locked up in the warehouse Rex provided. Most of the special cargo was locked behind the tops presidential suite's biggest room guarded in shifts by the Normandy's security personnel, but one crate sat before her on the table. The crate was solid black with the Cerberus logo engraved across the lid. Shepard opened the crate letting the lid slide off onto the tabletop and found a small white cube about the size of a Rubik's cube inlayed with a glowing blue circuit pattern and six small hexagonal white crystal disks with Small Square of black metal in the center each slightly smaller than one sided of the cube.

The Cube was a prototype quantum computer, a miniaturized version of the EDI's "blue box" capable of storing a working A.I with space to spare while the disks acted as hard drives that could store up to a zeta byte of data each. Shepard had gotten her hands on the computer after the research facility developing it had been attacked by a Geth platoon that was thankfully shut down by her destruction of the Geth heretics, but not in time to save the scientists there. When the research station's distress signal was finally answered Shepard found a tomb of synthetics and organics alike with the prototype locked away behind a bulk head guarded by the emaciated corpses of the former crew and scattered remains of deactivated Geth platforms.

Rex seemed particularly interested in computation technology and had bargained for several small computers as well as schematics of the ancient (in technology years) microchips used in the 21ist century EDI had in her memory banks and textbooks on historical programming and modern system maintenance. She decided to keep this device close at hand just in case she needed another bargaining chip with Rex; Shepard was wary of Rex not that she was frightened of him but she felt that Rex wasn't exactly someone you could let your guard down around. He seemed chummy enough almost sincere in his concern for the Normandy and her crew during the negotiations remaining mostly silent as she explained their situation, but Shepard sensed something under the concern a cool calculating mind taking in all the new information.

His demands while straight forward and very simple made Shepard uneasy; it was against everything she had been taught in the Alliance. She thought of the Salarians uplifting the Krogan from the nuclear remains of Tuchanka and all the chaos that caused, but this was different wasn't. Shepard shook her head dispelling the thought; they would be out of this universe soon anyway and whatever happened here had no impact. The reapers were coming and she needed to get back before they arrived; whatever it cost to get back she would gladly pay it.

There's a knocking at the door and Shepard hears Jack's voice loudly yelling "Hey let us in Girl Scout we got your damn Intel". Shepard closes the crate and stows it in an armored container and opens the door to the room. Jack stands outside sporting a pair of sunglasses and rubbing her temples while Kasumi, Jacob, and Miranda stand beside her obviously enjoying Jack's hung over state. Shepard gestures for them to come in and asks:

"So what have you got for me?"

"Well I talked to a few of the locals about Rex, apparently the guy hasn't been in charge long, only about two years, but in that time he's done a lot of good" " Kasumi says handing Shepard a data drive containing her report "Most of the locals think he's some kind of mythical hero straight out of the old west, and if any of the stories about this guy are true I suggest we be very cautious in our dealings with him, I mean you don't take over this much land and topple two armies and a dictator by being nice".

Miranda and Jacob detailed the Mojave's perceived military strength "The soldiers are equipped with standard semi-automatic weapons and grenades from the looks of them" Jacobs begins "But those are just the normal soldiers; those mechs are armed to the teeth we saw them blow a few street thugs down the block with a some kind of modified rocket launcher firing concussive round after they tried to rob a truck. They didn't harm them but knocked them out long enough for some soldiers to pick them up off the street"

"It seems there is a form of court system in this back water universe" Miranda says pouting "Anyway Shepard we were followed all night by what I assume was Rex's men. We would be prudent to be cautious here"

"Yeah no kidding" Shepard says turning to Jack "Anything to report?"

"Yeah the booze in this town is strong; probably brewed by some Hill Billy fuck" Jack says rubbing her temples "Oh and I talked with that Rex guy last night seemed ok didn't come on to me or ogle just bought me a bottle of booze"

"It seems you have an admirer Jack" Miranda says smirking.

"Fuck you cheer leader I don't need you shit talk right now"

"You know it wouldn't hurt to get to know Rex if he is interested in you" Jacob says scooting away from Jack slightly.

"Did I ask you?" Jack responds leaning back and turning to Shepard "He wasn't too bad maybe I will give him a spin; you keep telling me I should be more social"

Shepard looks at her for a moment and sighs "aright then I want all of you prepping the Normandy for transport to the repair facility". She stands and shoos them out of the room ignoring Jack's groans.

Shepard left the suite and walked down the lightly crowded street to the Lucky 38 where two Securitrons guarded the door as men and women wearing the red and black uniforms of the Mojave government filed in and out of the building. When she reached the door the securitrons eyed her for a moment before letting her past.

The Lucky 38's interior had been stripped and rebuilt to be a massive lobby/ office space. Workers hastily darted around the room carrying parcels and stacks of paper while others sat at computer terminals entering and checking information. An older black haired woman sat at a reception desk at the bottom of the steps to the elevator at the center of the room. Shepard approached the desk and said:

"Excuse me I need to speak to Mr. Craster"

The woman looked up and squinted for a moment before saying "Mr. Craster isn't taking appointments today"

"I think He'll make an exception for me tell him Shepard would like to see him"

"I have specific orders not to allow anyone to disturb him"

"Listen here…" Shepard begins before someone interrupts her.

"It's fine Judith; I'll take her to see him" Veronica says coming from behind Shepard "Follow me please"

Shepard follows Veronica into the elevator where Veronica shuts the door leaving the two of them alone as the elevator begins to move.

Veronica turns to Shepard and asks "So what's space like?"

Shepard laughs, she noticed Veronica eying the Normandy yesterday, but instead of cold calculation like she saw in Rex's eyes she saw a hint of wonder in Veronica's.

"Big and beautiful"

"Cool" she says before the elevator stops and the doors open. Shepard walks into the office to fin Rex behind his desk with a pair of reading glasses across his bony face as he reads and signs various documents.

"Good morning Ms. Shepard, I trust the Ultra Luxe is to your liking" he says not looking up from the papers. A cigarette sits on his lips forgotten and almost depleted as his gun rests on a piece of cloth freshly cleaned and sparkling about an inch from his right hand.

"Yes thank you for the accommodations, I'm just stopping by to see when the Normandy will be transported to your repair facility" Shepard says taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk.

"Tomorrow at the latest" Rex says looking up at Shepard as he neatly places the stack of papers in a bin marked out "So how is your crew settling in?"

"They're getting situated just fine" Shepard says smiling "your people don't seem too surprised by us"

Rex chuckles to himself letting his aloof expression slip away before saying "Ms. Shepard half of the people on the strip down there could tell tales about the wastes that make aliens seem like an everyday occurrence"

"I've gathered that" She says leaning back away from the smoke cloud floating over Rex's desk.

"So would you like some weapons or do you just want to continue this delightful small talk?" Rex says his smile slipping away and the aloof expression returning.

"What do you mean? Our weapons are just fine" Shepard says sitting upright; her eyes locked to Rex's.

"We both know your weapons don't work" Rex says tossing away his depleted cigarette before taking a fresh one from a drawer "I've been reading through that codex of yours; I found the entry on modern weaponry fascinating, must be a shame having most of your tech based off of one type of science that's not trans-universal."

"Why would you want a potential hostile group armed in your home town?" Shepard asks suspicious.

"Well to be perfectly honest I have a personal stake in the local arms trade so I would be lying if said I wouldn't directly benefit from this deal" Rex says blowing smoke at the ceiling "Also if you or any of your crew plan to leave my fair city to explore the Mojave during your stay it would be prudent to carry a weapon"

"Trouble controlling your populace?"

Rex unamused replies "The people pf the Mojave are very independent and love there assorted guns, explosives, and home brews to a fault; that coupled with a few random gangs of fiends and thugs make traveling the Mojave's back roads…..interesting"

"Oh what would life be like without random thugs eh" Shepard says seeing the smile flash across Rex's face.

"Yeah life would be boring without something to shoot" Rex says leaning back in his chair taking a drag from his cigarette his thoughts going back to the night before and the exchange with the tattooed woman; Time to Bate the lure just a little Rex thought before saying "in any case I'd rest easier knowing you and your crew are properly equipped to enjoy your stay; oh and do say hello to a member of your crew for me the woman with all the tattoos if you would we talked a little last night and I bought her a drink"

"How kind of you, and I will give Jack the message but don't get your hopes up she's a bit of a hard ass" Shepard says as he walks her to the elevator.

"Of course" Rex says showing her out the door and into the hall before he shut the door behind her with a dry farewell.

Veronica was standing outside with a clip board in one arm and a load of wrapped parcels in the other. Shepard made to help her as several of the parcels fell onto the ground. She picked them up and asked:

"Need some help?"

Veronica turned to Shepard and said "Thanks that would be a lot of help" She led Shepard through the door opposite Rex's office into a cluttered penthouse adorned with workbenches and computers. Veronica led Shepard through the see of spare parts and tools into a large kitchen area where a woman with short cut hair was chopping carrots.

"There you are Veronica I swear if Rex made you late for lunch again I'll put him into a coma again" She says turning to see Shepard behind Veronica "Oh we have company; you must be Shepard"

"Yes ma'am, I was just helping Veronica with these packages" Shepard says placing them on a counter.

The woman puts her hand out and says "Christine Santangelo, it's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Shepard"

"Thank you it's always nice to see a friendly face" Shepard says smiling warmly.

"Oh don't let Rex get to you; I promise under all that calculation and suspicion is a heart as soft as pudding" Veronica says before her eyes light up as an idea comes to her "Shepard you have to stay for lunch and tell us all about you universe and we can tell you all you need to know to handle Rex."

Shepard begins to speak when her stomach growls loudly.

"Well that settles it; I hope you like Brahmin stew" Christine says smiling.

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