"Okay, Kelly, this looks good." Shepard signed the updated duty roster while sitting at the desk in his cabin. "Make sure Miranda's got everything she needs, and if she does, consider your shift over."
Kelly smiled tiredly in the vid screen. "Aye, Commander. So what about you, sir? Is your shift almost over?"
"Not until I'm dead. Again." Shepard laughed, but Kelly stopped smiling. He scratched his head. "That's not funny anymore, is it?"
"It never was."
"Sorry. Is there anything else?"
Kelly scowled. "Yes sir, um... It's Legion."
Shepard rested his forehead in his hands. He was the only organic in the universe dealing with a pouty geth. "I'm still in no mood to deal with him. Tell him to get back to work."
"I've told him you're not to be disturbed," Kelly said. "But he's being very persistent. I think being cut off from the collective-"
The anger in Shepard's voice made Kelly flinch. "Is his own damn fault. He knows how to talk. He proved that. So maybe he should talk to Platform Two directly. I'm not going to play peacemaker for him until we straighten out the mess he made with everybody else. He'll have to take a number."
Kelly blinked rapidly but kept her voice steady. "Yes sir."
"Goodnight, Kelly." Shepard waved the screen closed. Of all the issues facing him right now, Legion's reconciliation with the collective was way at the bottom of the list. At least the Legion's interference hadn't discouraged the rest of the geth from being of assistance. In spite of the manpower lost during the attack, the timely arrival of the geth meant that repairs to the Normandy were proceeding apace, enough so that he could authorize the one thing the crew needed most since their abduction, rescue and ensuing counterattack: a good night's sleep. The emotional toll of losing so many of their ship mates was enough cause for breakdown, but after days of continuous battle the entire crew had reached its physical and emotional limit, period. They all could use a few hours rest while the geth fixed the ship and EDI collected enough information to give him some idea of what their next move should be.
But rest would not come easily. Thanks to news feeds beamed into open space, everyone aboard watched the developing coverage of the newly exposed Alliance ties to Cerberus. Every single broadcast included a montage of Cerberus' horrible deeds, complete with interviews with survivors and families of victims, tailor-made to show humanity at its worst. And each segment ended with the same question: was Alliance Command pulling the strings the whole time? Worse, the actions of Cerberus were becoming synonymous with actions of all humankind in the eyes of the galaxy. Cerberus is humanity, the Illusive Man once told him. Now, that was becoming the viewpoint of the alien majority. Somehow, things just kept getting worse.
What Shepard really needed was direct contact with diplomatic resources on both sides. Maybe there was still a peaceful way out of this. Sitting in dark space, though, his communications options were limited. Transmissions along the relay network wasn't a problem, but would certainly be detected and intercepted by dozens of organizations monitoring specifically for such activity. Given the most advanced warships in the galaxy were searching for the Normandy, it was too much of a risk to transmit until the ship had regained operational status. If they came in shooting, Normandy was a sitting duck.
The day was not without good news, though. The army of geth that had invaded the ship were estimated to complete repairs within six hours. Damage to the ship's frame would still require weeks of service in a drydock, but hull and engine damage, cooling systems, life support and armaments would be restored to 80-90% capability. That would at least get them moving again. But then what?
Shepard's mind wandered back to Legion. None of the squad expected to return from Omega Four, but if they did, the last thing they expected to find was the galaxy on the brink of war right when they needed to be pulling together because of a single post on the message board of an angst-ridden vidshow that catered to fans of trashy romance.
The cabin's door chime made Shepard jump in his chair. He sighed and looked for the door's digital peephole on his monitor. It had better not be who he thought it was. Legion was not welcome, and Shepard wasn't in the mood to coddle it. If he thought you were mad before...The sight of Garrus waiting patiently in the vestibule outside the elevator killed that line of thought. Shepard opened the door.
"Sorry, Shepard," Garrus did not enter. "Am I interrupting?"
Shepard waved him through. "No, come on in. Just wrapping up a few things before turning in. Didn't you punch out already?"
"Off duty for all of ten minutes," Garrus said and approached Shepard's desk. "I'm declaring it happy hour." He flipped open the door on the left side, revealing a mini-fridge stocked with bottles and cans of all shapes and colors. Finding a turian lager, he pried the cap off with a talon, pausing to grab a can of human beer for the Commander. He set it unopened in front of Shepard, who looked at the can with a blank expression. Garrus poked it toward his friend with one claw.
"Can't let you drink alone," Shepard swiped up the can, popped the top and took a swig. He couldn't taste anything, but icy cold carbonation bit at his tongue and throat. It was the first sensation he'd felt in days other than pain.
Garrus raised his bottle as he stomped tiredly down the stairs to the sitting area to collapse on the couch. He flung his bare feet up on the table and studied his bottle. "That's why you're the commander. Always looking out for your crew."
Shepard followed and sat heavily on the second couch, kicked his feet up on the table as well and propped the beer on his belly. "Been a helluva day, hasn't it?"
"It has indeed."
"Looks like the weapons section is in order."
Garrus took a draw from his bottle. "Of course it is. Though I can't take all the credit. Those geth are amazing. I tell you, Shepard, it was like having my own personal corps of engineers down there, and Tali only assigned two of them to me. I can understand why the quarians wanted to build them."
"Yeah, well," Shepard took another sip. "Didn't work out so well for them in the end, did it?"
"True. But don't worry. I'll do my best not to enslave them any more than I have to."
The two men sat in silence for a moment, drinking their beers.
"They really respond to her," Garrus said. "I mean, that blue one is the only one that can talk, but networked together they all act the same way. Deferential. They'll take polite requests from the rest of us, but Tali gives an order and they snap to. It's like they're honored to be in her presence. And maybe a little afraid. Legion used to be like that."
"Shit," Shepard sat up and slammed his beer on the table. "Did Legion put you up to this?"
Garrus picked at the label on his bottle with a claw. Condensation combined with the adhesive made bits of paper stick to everything. "Well, he approached everyone in the squad to talk to the Shepard-Commander for him. As liaison I decided to take the honor. You're being a little hard on him, aren't you?"
"Hard on him?" Shepard looked at the turian in disbelief. "He's lucky I don't throw his ass off the ship."
Garrus continued to scratch at the label on his bottle. "Did you miss the part where they kicked him out of the collective?"
"No. I didn't." The edge in Shepard's voice was as cold as Garrus had ever heard in the three years they'd known each other. "And I don't blame them. Their entire existence depends on the security of their network. Directly or indirectly, Legion willingly compromised that. That's treason, my friend. I can't condone it. Can you?"
"I guess not," Garrus took another sip of his beer.
"And he fixed us real good in the process, too. We should be back in port by now, undergoing a refit, working on convincing the Council about the reapers while he and Tali went back the Migrant Fleet to start peace negotiations. Instead... Damn it, we won! We did everything right, and we're worse off than we were before we left!"
One of the things Garrus had discovered after years of investigations and interrogations was that humans under stress responded best to slow paced, low pitch speech. What he was about to say needed to be in the calmest tone possible. "It's not his fault." Shepard's glare made him wince inwardly. Sometimes the Commander didn't take differing opinions well. Garrus leaned forward as he spoke. "Come on, Shepard. Legion made a game-time decision based on the idea that none of us were coming back from Omega Four. It was a suicide mission as far as any of us knew. Was releasing the quarian comm protocols the best move? Maybe not. But he wasn't trying to make trouble. He was trying to keep the Admiralty Board from playing games with the future of his kind, and that of the quarians as well. That's exactly what would have happened if he did nothing, and you know it."
"He could have come to me with it," Shepard said, "instead of broadcasting it to half the galaxy."
Garrus cocked an eye. "Oh, so that's what this is about? You're pissed he went behind your back?"
"I'm pissed because what he did might just end up starting a war!"
In the same manner as before, Garrus spoke quietly and calmly. "So it's Legion's fault that the largest defense contractor for the Alliance is a front for an extremist, militant human supremacy organization, and that the Council wants your head because they think you turned traitor by joining them?"
Shepard closed his eyes and sighed.
"And the Council," Garrus continued, "actually, all Citadel species really, have become terrified at humanity's unchecked expansion of power and influence over the past three years and they're looking for any excuse to take you down a few pegs. Is all of that Legion's fault, too?"
"No," Shepard muttered.
"And let's not forget the Creator-Admirals of the Migrant Fleet, manipulating the vote on the replacement Admiral and keeping the real reason behind it hidden from the very people they are supposed to be leading and protecting. We saw first-hand what they did to Tali. That's the most scheming, duplicitous bunch of whip snakes I've ever encountered, but I suppose Legion is to blame for them as well."
Shepard raised his hands in surrender. "All right, all right! I get it!"
Garrus scowled. "Do you? The fact is the galaxy was a festering crapsack before Legion ever posted that message. It's full of short-sighted, selfish people all looking to advance their own agendas no matter who it hurts. All Legion wanted to do was give his people, for lack of a better term, and the quarians a fair shot. But it all went sour because he underestimated our organic capability to be assholes to one another. He took action when no one else would. That doesn't make him a traitor... It makes him a hero. And if I may be so bold, if you were in his position, you would have done the same exact thing."
Shepard rubbed his forehead, then held his head low with his hands around his neck. "So you're saying if I'm going to get pissed at anyone for stirring up massive shitstorms, I should look in a mirror?"
Garrus lifted his beer. "I do believe you hold the record for most offenses. Even death can't catch a break with you. But I'll let you in on a little secret."
"It's not your fault, either."
Shepard scraped at a rough spot on the corner of the table in front of him with a fingernail.
Garrus stared at him. "I mean it. If I know you, you're being as hard as yourself as you are on him."
"Well I know I won't be able to convince you to get off your own back, but will you put in a good word for Legion with his blue friend?"
"Of course I will," Shepard looked defeated. "I mean, If I stopped cleaning up after my crew's bonehead plays, I'd be out of a job. You think I want to give up all of this?"
For the first time in the long day, both of them laughed. Garrus raised his bottle again. "You wouldn't know what to do with yourself."
"Stop abusing my liver, for a start," Shepard said and gulped down his beer. "I didn't used to drink, you know. You guys drove me to it."
"Bullshit. Anderson told me stories about when you were his XO. Apparently, you held the ship record for highest, conscious blood alcohol level. A record that stands to this day if I'm not mistaken."
Shepard crushed the can in his hand. "You can't trust that man. He's an alcoholic. And I learned from the best." His expression turned slightly more serious. "That was a pretty good rap you laid on me. Been practicing it long?"
"No need," Garrus went back to work on the label on his bottle. "When it comes to having good deeds blow up in one's face," he ran a hand over his scarred, mangled cheek, "it turns out I'm a bit of an expert."
"When it comes to placing blame where it doesn't belong, too."
When appropriate, Garrus liked to use human expressions. "Touche, Commander." He too finished his drink, then stood up. "And with that, I declare this happy hour concluded. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to try and convince my bed that I still want to sleep with it."
Shepard gave Garrus a salute-turned-wave, then leaned his head back against the cushion of the couch. Sitting motionless on a soft, comfortable sofa signaled his body it was ok to rest, and his mind was complying. Through the window overhead, stars glistened in the darkness. One minor conflict resolved, yet there were as many more as there were points of light in the sky. Yet in spite of the infinite numbers of both, only one thought dominated his mind. "We lost four people today, Garrus."
Garrus paused at the top of the stairs. He had come prepared to talk about Legion's difficulties with the collective, but no amount of preparation could make casualties easy to handle for a man like Shepard. Sometimes, survival wasn't enough to balance out the equation. "Also not your fault. Goodnight, Commander."