"Everything okay up here?"
Joker swiveled his chair around at the sound of the Shepard's voice in the cockpit. Having just received word the ship was holding position for another six hours made just about everyone happy. "Hey Commander, everything's great... woah! Check out the Class-A's! I didn't know you still had those. Is it picture day, or something?"
Shepard grinned as he fiddled with the bright gold cuff links on the dark gray sleeves of his formal Alliance uniform. The insignia had been removed, but the gold trimmed gray tunic and slacks were newly pressed, and his black leather boots shined in the cockpit lights. For the first time in weeks his face was washed and clean-shaven. He stood with his arms outstretched. "How's it look?"
"It's a little tight in the waist," Miranda said from behind.
"Wasn't asking you, Miranda." Shepard turned to face her. A quick change of subject was in order. "What's our status? Are all stations secured?"
"Yes, Commander," Miranda checked her datapad. "All non-essential personnel are continuing stand-down as per your orders. The remainder are on light rotations, augmented by the geth. Most, predictably, have chosen to get some sleep. Tali's still working with the Conclave in the conference room, and Mordin is still going over the discovery at Bahak with the Citadel."
"What about you?"
"On deck until you get back."
"Fine. But I want everybody to take the opportunity and recharge, including you. I should be back in an hour, tops."
"Speak for yourself," Garrus said, walking up the cockpit corridor from CIC, dressed in his blue velour suit and sport coat.
"Oh. My. God," Joker leaned to the side in his chair to get a better look at the turian from around Shepard.
Shepard's raised brow said it all as he looked at Garrus from head to toe. "You're going like that?"
"You're the one on official business," Garrus said. "My business there is strictly pleasure."
Miranda waved her datapad. "And of course, you didn't bother to notify the XO you would be leaving. How long are you going to be gone, Garrus?"
Joker grinned from his chair. "However long it takes a turian to get get lucky."
Garrus smoothed the lapels of his jacket. "Luck has nothing to do with it."
Miranda's nose scrunched as she sniffed the air. "And what is that odor? EDI, run an atmospheric check. Do you detect a chemical leak in the ventilation system?"
"Ha, ha," Garrus said. "That's cologne to anyone with a normal sense of smell."
"What's it called?" Shepard waved a hand in front of his nose. "'Burning Insulation?'"
Garrus sighed. "And you people wonder why I jumped at the opportunity to spend some time with my own kind. Can we get going, please? I don't want to leave any of the ladies over there idling too long."
"Gee, I don't know," Shepard pointed to Miranda's datapad. "You didn't follow procedure. Is there a form or something he needs to fill out?"
"I just need the basic information." Miranda turned to Garrus and lifted her pad and prepared to type. "All right, name...?"
Garrus stomped to the airlock. "To hell with both of you. I may not come back at all."
Shepard watched him go, then tugged on his tunic. "So, really? A little tight? I tell you... Helping to coordinate the fleets, going over to visit a turian captain on her ship. Almost feels like I'm in the Alliance again."
Miranda cocked her head. She knew what he really wanted to hear, and why. Torturing Vakarian over his impromptu date night was one thing, but this was important to Shepard, and not just because he was wanting to impress the turians. "It's still a good fit, Commander."
"Logging you out," Miranda said with a slight smile.
Shepard waved as he disappeared around the corner. He caught up to Garrus in the Normandy's airlock. The turian rolled his eyes and turned to face the outer hatch as Shepard moved next to him. The two men waited in silence for the docking collar extending to the turian ship to fill with life-preserving oxygen.
"So did you bring-"
Garrus clenched his teeth. "I swear to you, if the words Fleet and Flotilla come out of your mouth, now or any time aboard the Vellius, I'll carve you into so many pieces that not even Cerberus will be able to put you back together."
Shepard covered his mouth and coughed. The hatch opened, revealing a short passageway leading to the turian frigate. Garrus stood aside to let his commanding officer pass. Shepard made a zip-motion across his lips as he passed. He might not actually say the words, but Garrus knew he was still thinking it...
The Captain's quarters on the Vellius were reflective of the overall design of the ship. Crowded, but tidy, with nothing out of place and without a centimeter of wasted space. Devoid of any pictures or decoration, the dull gray walls made the compartment seem darker than it was, a look compounded by the black leather cushions on the room's single chair and couch.
Shepard looked about. This wasn't just an antechamber or sitting room. The couch obviously doubled as a bed. Space on a true warship was always at a premium. "Reminds me of the original Normandy."
Captain Artuis, in her dark gray dress uniform stepped aside to allow Shepard to enter and pointed him to the single chair. "I understand the quarters on your new ship are somewhat more spacious. Please, have a seat."
Shepard sat in the chair, obviously designed to accommodate turian backs and legs. Artuis touched a clasp on the wall and a small platform unfolded into a second un-cushioned chair in which she sat, after which another panel dropped down from the wall to create a miniature table.
"I'd be embarrassed to tell you," Shepard said. "I think your entire flight deck would fit in it. But the Vellius is a fine ship. Thank you very much for the tour."
"My pleasure, Commander. It's traditional to offer visiting officers a drink, but we don't have anything aboard that would be suitable for your digestion. I'm afraid my crew is not as diverse as yours."
Shepard smiled. "We've got a lively mix, that's for sure. Speaking of which, I really appreciate you allowing Garrus to come aboard. It's been a while since he's been on a turian ship. And, uh... I know your regs are different when it comes to fraternization, and he, ah... Well, it wasn't my intention that he..."
"Use my ship as his personal brothel?"
Shepard cleared his throat. "I wasn't going to phrase it quite like that, but yes. If this is inappropriate at all..."
Artuis laughed, and she could tell Shepard was relieved at her response. Humans could get hung up on the strangest things. "No need to worry, Commander. I extended the invitation knowing full well what his intentions would be. It's entirely up to my crew, of course, if they care to reciprocate his advances. I won't order them to, and trust me, Mister Vakarian understands that. Besides, several of my crew expressed their interest on their own, even before I made the offer."
"That's good to know. So, anybody who wants to can just...?"
"Yes," Artuis sounded amused.
"Regardless of rank?"
"As long as the partners are willing and off duty, and it does not interfere with shipboard operations or our mission."
"Wow," Shepard shook his head. "That does not happen on Alliance ships. I mean it happens, but just not out in the open. And if you get caught, it can mean a discharge for both parties."
Artuis cocked her head. "What about on a Cerberus ship, like the Normandy?"
"Well, we're not one-hundred percent Cerberus, but their personnel still adhere to their standards. As for the others, what they do on their own time is their business. They're all professionals and know where their responsibilities lie, so I try not to interfere. And so far, it hasn't been an issue, or at least not one that's been brought to my attention."
"Personal responsibility," Artuis nodded. "It's a cornerstone of turian society. I'm glad to hear your people also see it as a virtue as well."
"Well, it's not a cornerstone of our society, I'm sorry to say. More an individual choice."
"I see. Well, if I can't admire all of you, I can appreciate those who try."
"That's a very charitable attitude, Captain."
Artuis' yellow eyes glinted in the dim light as she looked into Shepard's. "I have to confess, Commander, I had an ulterior motive in asking you to join me."
The look the turian was giving him made Shepard wonder if he heard her correctly. He looked at the bed next to them, then looked back at her.
"No," Artuis said with a laugh. "That's not what I meant. I— Hmm..."
"Well now I'm intrigued," Shepard leaned forward on the small table between them. "What's on your mind?" He'd never known turians to be anything but direct and honest with their thoughts. He could count the times on one hand Garrus was ever lost for words, and it always meant something was weighing heavily on him. Shepard waited for her to compose her thoughts.
"I heard from Miss T'Vari that you were present when Captain Lorian was recalled."
"Yes," Shepard said. "We were in CIC together."
Artuis stared at the surface of the table. "Did they say why they did it?"
"I didn't see the actual order. But I understood it was for an inquiry following the loss of his fleet, though I have my suspicions it was something else."
Artuis looked up sharply. "Like what?"
"Politics. Because he didn't follow through on Council orders to arrest us."
Artuis stood and turned away from him. "That wouldn't be the reason, then. You see, if a turian disobeys an order, that turian is not punished. The responsibility falls on their commander as it is viewed as a failure of leadership."
"So they'd come down on his commander instead?"
"I see," Shepard said. There was a lot more to this invitation than he realized. "So you think that because you disobeyed Captain Lorian at Sahrabarik, they blamed him."
"He's a veteran of thirty years," Artuis shook her head sadly. "A hero of many battles. A Fleet Captain, Commander. Do you know what that is? He was offered Commodore, or even higher, but he felt his talents were best utilized commanding a ship, and turned down the promotions. Advancement meant nothing to him. Fleet agreed, but because of his service, still gave him authority over other vessels. When word came down that the Normandy was at Sahrabarik, they trusted him to command the task force charged with apprehending you. It's a great honor that he selected the Vellius to join it, something I didn't appreciate until after. I disobeyed a direct order. I disgraced him."
Shepard leaned back in his chair, trying to settle comfortably into the strangely contoured cushion. What was Artuis looking for? Agreement, or absolution? Being turian, he figured the former, even if he didn't agree himself. "Captain, I don't know what to tell you. You ask me, the reasons behind Lorian's recall are purely the result of Citadel politics. He went around them completely, and they don't like it when anyone does that. I know from experience."
Artuis sighed heavily.
"You know, Lorian spoke to me in private before they called him back to the Citadel. He said something very similar."
Artuis nodded, still unable to face Shepard. "That I dishonored the fleet."
"No. That he dishonored himself by letting me go. And I'll tell you what I told him. If he followed his orders, the Alliance and the Citadel would still be facing off right now, maybe even at war. There would have been no joint mission to the other side of Omega Four to secure the collector base. No one anywhere would ever see Mordin's report, which means we'd all be doomed when the reapers came. So in spite of what his orders were, he did the right thing."
Artuis shrugged looked at the floor.
"And so did you," Shepard said. "Your entire task force would have been lost if not for you. You saved them, Captain. And me. For what it's worth, that's what Captain Lorian thought, too."
Artuis turned to face him. "Really?"
"He said it almost word for word. Look, I honestly can't tell you what the Citadel or Hierarchy think, but Lorian didn't think you failed him at all. And if your reputation with him is still good, it will be with the Fleet as well, I think."
"Thank you, Commander," Artuis stood straight, her fringe darkening with embarassment. She sat and stared at the human across from her, flustered, trying to think of something to say. "What about you? Has any of this helped you and the Citadel make amends?"
"Oh, hell no." Shepard ran his hand through his hair. "Even without Dashta, there's a long line of people who still want my head, and the Council is right at the front. I've been asking both the Alliance and Citadel for immunity for my people for days... haven't heard a word about it from either. That can only mean one thing."
"The answer is 'no,' but they just don't want to tell me."
"In spite of everything you've done for us? I can't believe that."
"Well, you get used to it after a few years."
"You shouldn't have too," Artuis said, genuinely appalled. "Know that I will do anything I can to help change their mind."
"Well, now that you bring it up... I have a confession too. I had an ulterior motive in coming over here."
The turian looked over at her bed, and when she looked back at Shepard they both burst into laughter.
"Sorry," Shepard held up his hands. "I can't go to bed with anyone who outranks me."
Artuis tilted her head and smiled. "Is that because you can't take orders?"
"I really can't," Shepard laughed again.
"A pity. So what can I do for you then?"
"I need you to take Professor Solus back to the Citadel."
"What?" Artuis blinked. With all of the danger they had faced, with all the danger that was coming, he wanted her to be a courier?
Shepard leaned over the table. "Mordin is the single greatest weapon we have against the reapers, and he's stuck on the most wanted ship in the galaxy in the ass-end of space. We're not just wanted by the Citadel. We're wanted across the Terminus and Traverse as well. I can't even go to Alliance space, because they'll arrest my entire crew as well for being with Cerberus. On the run like we are, who knows what might lead to the next Dashta. We almost didn't get out of that one alive. And if we lose Professor Solus... He needs to be on the Citadel where he's safe, helping coordinate our defenses. And I need you to get him there."
The Citadel, Artuis thought. Where Captain Lorian was right now detained, possibly under arrest. When it was discovered that Enlea T'Vari was a traitor who had illegally taken command of the Vellius, Artuis and her entire crew could be detained for questioning, for days or even months. It wasn't the thought of facing a tribunal for anything that had happened that bothered her. She just couldn't stomach being confined to a cell or a desk before action started against the reapers.
She watched Shepard for a moment. She had only known him for a few days, but what she'd seen in that time astounded her. Any one of the events she'd survived during that time could be considered life-changing who'd experienced it. But for the man sitting across from her, it was just another week on the job. Could she possibly tell the savior of civilization no? Especially when in spite of the grave threats posed to himself and his crew, his greatest concern was still saving the galaxy at large from the reapers?
"It would be an honor, Commander," Artuis said. "Let me know when the Professor is ready to go."
"Thank you, Captain," Shepard extended his hand. "You have no idea what a relief this is to me."
Artuis gave Shepard's hand a firm shake, like she had done when meeting other Alliance officers.
"Now, if you'll excuse me," Shepard said. "I must be returning to my ship. We have to make preparations."
Though the Vellius was nowhere near as luxurious as the Normandy SR2, for Garrus it still had the creature comforts of home. Because turian crews held themselves accountable, alcohol was served freely in the galley, as no turian would ever drink if there was the slightest chance of being called on duty. So while Garrus was waiting for his next throw, a fresh glass of dark turian stout appeared in his hand.
"Thank you, specialist," Garrus said to the young crewman who brought him the beer. He stood in the galley with three knives dangling by their hollow handles from the talons of his left hand, while he sipped from the glass with his right. He set it down on the table where Tarsa and Valena sat with their own beverages, watching the contest unfold before them.
And that was Garrus's favorite accommodation on a turian warship. Tarsa's skin was pale and reflective, probably from the tropics, judging from a trilling accent that drove most turians crazy. Valena, on the other hand was tall with a charcoal exo, which made both her white clan markings and the little white dress she wore stand out in stark relief. When she moved, even if it was just to pick up her glass, it was with grace and elegance. Both women were so fit with crisp lines between their plates and talons as sharp as razors he knew they took care of themselves.
From the way both eyed him, he might not even have to choose. But there was a third option, also the reason Garrus had not immediately moved on to more physical activity... Ensign Isra, the ship's reigning Dagger expert, had challenged him to a game.
A heavy slab of chocolate brown hardwood hung on the wall at the end of the corridor leading to the galley, filled with knives. Isra took a step back to gauge her last throw. She was a shorter girl, still in her twenties and dressed in utilities without any jewelry or accents in her fringe, but still managed to be cute. Her personality reminded Garrus very much of Gabby back on the Normandy. Somewhat blunt and even crude at times, but with a cheerful enthusiasm that won her many friends. Best of all, Isra also looked him from head to toe like a side of meat as they took turns hurling their weapons as the target.
As for the rest of the crew, the males, if they were jealous of the attention or even interested, they didn't show it. He had already staked his claim, and they knew it.
"How much longer is this going to last?" Tarsa sighed impatiently.
Isra took a swig of her own beer. "Until all the knives are thrown. And if I can't win, I'm gonna force a tie-breaker just because you keep asking."
Valena raked her claws across the table top. "I understand you are the Normandy's hand-to-hand champion... Perhaps when you are done here, you can show us what you can do without the knives."
"Ooh," Tarsa perked up. "I'd love to see how he handles two-on-one."
Scoped and dropped, Garrus thought. It was shaping up to be a great day.
"We're not done yet," Isra protested. "He has to win by two hundred. Your throw, Garrus."
"Oh, my dear girl," Garrus wiggled his hand so the knives jingled like windchimes. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you out of your misery." He stood with his back in the galley, plucked the knives from his talons and threw them at the wood slab in rapid succession.
"Dammit," Isra muttered as she leaned forward to inspect the results.
"Virgin wood, all three throws," Garrus picked up his beer. "Three hundred points."
The comm officer poked his head in from the opposite end of the corridor next to the board. In addition to keeping unwary crew from entering the hall while a throw was in progress, he was the official scorekeeper. "Three hundred points for Garrus. Isra, you're pretty screwed."
Right on both counts, Garrus thought. Pretty and screwed.
Isra picked up three more throwing knives and hooked them on her talons. "Okay. Everyone be quiet. I can still tie. I have to concentrate."
"Finish her off, Garrus," Valena said, her eyes sparkling. She shifted in her chair so her dress slid up her dark thigh. "There's no need to prolong her agony."
"Oh, I never rush," Garrus replied. "Every moment is to savored."
Tarsa slid close to Garrus and scraped her talon along the back of his leg. "We may have to drag him, Valena. What do you think?"
"Hey!" Isra shouted. "We're not done yet here! I've got another round! And you are not quitting on me, Mister Vakarian!"
Garrus nodded. "I cannot let a challenge go unanswered. We'll finish the game, Isra. Don't worry."
"Then hurry up and throw!" Tarsa shouted.
Endus, an off duty technician, set a full glass in front of Garrus at the table. "So what's it like, sir? living on a human ship?"
Garrus picked up the fresh glass with a thank-you nod. "It's... Interesting, to say the least. In some ways, it's much more regimented than on a turian ship, and completely free in others. But they're a good lot. Amongst the best I've ever served with."
"It's amazing how far we've come with them," Valena said. "Considering how we started."
Valena rested her head on Garrus's shoulder. "Considering where we almost ended up with them at Sahrabarik. It's funny... If that collector ship hadn't shown up, we might be at war now."
"Thank the spirits," Endus said. "I'd much rather have the humans on our side."
"Trust me, they feel the same way," Garrus said and raised his glass to the others, who returned the toast.
"But it's not just humans," Valena asked, "There are many species aboard your ship, aren't there?"
"That's right," Endus said. "I heard you have a krogan on board?"
"We do indeed," Garrus said. "He's handful, our Grunt."
"He ever give you any trouble?"
"I was wary of him at first, but now? I'd trust him with my life. I can't count how many of the crew he's saved since he's been aboard, myself included."
The other turians all shook their heads in amazement. Isra returned to the table as well, but instead of urging Garrus to take his turn asked a question of her own. "I heard there are geth on the Normandy."
Garrus laughed. "Oh yes. Lots of them. Eighteen total, but that's just individual platforms. Several thousand processes, altogether."
Everyone around the room squirmed in their seats or fidgeted where they stood. Tatia, having joined the group since the game had obviously come to a halt, looked particularly shocked. "And you let them move freely about the ship, interface with your systems?"
"Actually, they go where we tell them, and we haven't once had them try to access anything we didn't ask them to. And when it comes to repairs... Well, the ship's been nearly crippled twice now, and they've gotten us underway both times in a matter of hours, almost at one-hundred percent readiness."
"The geth?" Tarsa said in disbelief. "Why on Palaven would they help you?"
"I was as surprised as you are, the first time I met one. But they want to help us stop the reapers. That's why they made contact with us in the first place. But now they're here because they want to make peace with their creators. It's hard to believe, given the image they got from their splinter faction, but the geth are the most peaceful and cooperative, um, people I think I've ever encountered. They want conflict with no one, and are perfectly happy to work with anyone, given the chance. But if you get on their bad side, god help you. And even then, you have to try to do it."
Tarsa shook her head. "You mean like the quarians did?"
"Exactly," Garrus said with a nod.
"Leave it to the quarians to screw up a good thing."
"Well, not all of them wanted to fight the geth..."
Endus let out an exasperated sigh. "And now they're running out of food. Guess whose door they're going to come knocking on?"
"The humans started this," Tatia said. "Maybe they should be the ones to clean it up."
"But they can't feed them. That's what the bucket-heads are going to be looking for. Food. And we're the only ones who can give it to them. You just watch. They may not make it to Palaven, but if you were on Carthaan or Thracia, watch out!"
"That's right," Tarsa said. "When they strip everything off of one colony, they'll just move onto the next."
"Well, You know what the quarian motto is when it comes to property... Relocation, relocation, relocation!"
Amidst the laughter, Valena sat up, letting go of Garrus's leg so she could clench her hands into fists on the table. "If those vagrants even think about coming into turian space we should blow them out of the sky."
"Now wait a minute," Garris said. "That's a gross misconception about the Migrant Fleet. I've been there, and-"
"They'll be crawling all over our stations, stripping them for parts."
"They're like living metal detectors."
"More like living garbage disposals."
Garrus raised his voice to be heard. "We have a quarian on board, our chief engineer as a matter of fact, and she is one of the finest-"
Valena laughed. "Better lock up your food or she'll send it back to her fleet!"
"Along with your drive core," Endus added, resulting in laughter around the table.
"Hey Garrus, have you ever seen her without her suit? What do they look like under there?"
Tarsa pointed toward a wall lined with compartments. "Open the recycle bin and take a look."
Garrus stood amid another round of laughter. "I believe it's my throw."
"Yes!" Valena tapped the table. "Let's get this infernal game over with!"
Garrus went to the knife bin and readied his next salvo. He listened as the conversation about the quarians at the table continued.
"That quarian probably already scanned every centimeter of the Normandy and sent it back already. We'll be seeing cheap knockoffs in a week."
"Ha, like the bucketheads can manufacture new ships. They can only patch up their old ones."
"Haha, so what do call a quarian sitting in a junkyard?"
THWUNK. Garrus's first knife sunk into the target board. It didn't even register with him where it landed. His stomach churned, and he noticed his hands were actually trembling. It wasn't the first time he'd heard people talk this way, and not just about quarians. It was no different than what he'd heard anywhere in Citadel space, really, from species throughout the galaxy. The same thing happened when any group of like-minded people got together.
"Tarsa's right. They'll strip anything they can get their grubby claws on. And they may not find a scrapyard in every system they visit, but they certainly leave one behind when they go."
"Put the Second Fleet at the Raheel-Layya relay. We've got them bottled up there. Let's keep it that way."
THWUNK. Garrus heard, rather than saw the impact of his second toss. Tali had been had been maligned like this for as long as he'd known her. Why wasn't he defending her now? If this were any group of humans, or salarians, or asari, he'd very politely ask them to stop, and if they didn't, he'd have no compunction about forcing them to. Did they fact they were his own people make that much of a difference?
Thinking about Tali only made him feel worse. In the past twenty four hours, she'd been faced with the awful truth that her leaders tried to have all of her friends killed, have the only chance for peace slip through her fingers, and watched thousands of her people die while her entire species faced the prospect of starvation. And here you are, partying with a bunch of people who wouldn't even let her on their ship. You were in such a hurry to get laid, you didn't think of anything else. He looked at the smiling, laughing women. Right now, they couldn't pay him enough to couple with any of them.
Tarsa's distinctive purr filled the room. She had no idea how ugly her words made her voice sound to Garrus now. "It's a shame the geth didn't finish the job three hundred years ago. Would have solved a lot of headaches for everyone."
CLANG! The third knife impacted the board hilt-first and bounced to the ground.
"Woah!" came the unified cry of the turians around the galley table.
Tarsa grinned from her seat. "What happened, Garrus? Sounds like you bounced one."
Isra clapped her hands again. "Hey don't just stand there. Go pick it up! Nothing's going to my comeback now!"
Garrus looked at the crew of the Vellius, all smiling at him, blissfully unaware of the rage surging in his blood and the shame in his heart, directed not just at them, but himself. He shook his head and walked down the corridor to the board, filled with dozens of knives. He leaned down and picked up his dagger from the deck and without missing a step jammed its blade into the wood up to the quillon as he walked on to the airlock without looking back.
"Hey, Commander," Joker said from his seat in Normandy's cockpit. "How'd it go?"
"Fantastic," Shepard said. "Captain Artuis is going to drop Mordin off at the Citadel for us."
Miranda got up from the starboard seat. "That's good news, Commander. When are we going to make the transfer?"
"As soon as Mordin's ready to go... after we've given him a proper sendoff, of course. Nothing outrageous, mind you. We can't have everyone getting trashed because we'll be moving out soon afterward. But we've got to do something."
"Absolutely," Miranda said, already tapping on the face of her datapad. "By the way, Commander, Arcturus returned your call while you were aboard the Vellius. They wanted to talk about scheduling and when we'd be able to rendezvous with their representative at Raheel-Layya. I told them you'd respond as soon as you returned."
"Hot damn, that's what I was waiting to hear. We get that taken care of and there will be one less crisis in the universe."
"And the Illusive Man also wishes to speak with you. He's been very concerned about our radio silence."
"All right, I'm going to deal with Arcturus first. Then I'll get back to him after we get Mordin on his way. Check and see if Kasumi's awake and if she is, let's set up in the lounge."
The airlock hatch hissed open behind them. Garrus stepped in, still in his blue leisure suit, his eyes darting between the three humans.
"Hey Garrus," Shepard said. "Back so soon?"
Garrus walked toward the corridor to CIC.
"Everything all right?"
Garrus kept walking. Joker called after him. "Don't tell us the Mighty Garrus struck out!"
Shepard shot Joker a cautionary glare, and the pilot silently raised his hands and turned back to his console. Shepard then turned to Miranda, who held up her datapad.
"I'll take care of it," Miranda said, without Shepard having to say a word.
Shepard jogged down the neck of the ship to catch up to the turian. "Hey Garrus, wait up." He caught up by the galactic map and they kept walking toward the elevator at the aft. "Hey, what's going on? Talk to me."
"Not now, Shepard."
"Come on, What happened? Last I saw, you had them waiting in line for you."
The lift door opened and Garrus walked inside. When Shepard tried to follow, Garrus held up a hand, and Shepard stepped back into CIC. "I told you before, Shepard. I'm not a very good turian."
Shepard stared at the elevator doors after they closed. What the hell did that mean? Should he call Artuis and try to figure out what went wrong, or would that only complicate matters if it was a personal issue between Garrus and a member of the Vellius crew? He just didn't have enough information. One thing he knew for sure: until Garrus decided to open up, he shouldn't interfere and possibly make it worse.
He walked over to his terminal and scrolled through the available messages. Only a handful had come in during his absence, but there was only one he was concerned with. He highlighted the link to Arcturus Station, and an older woman with short gray hair appeared on the screen: High Commissioner Nancine Evjen, of the Alliance Diplomatic Corps. "Commander Shepard," she said. "Thank you for returning my call so quickly."
"Madam Commissioner," Shepard said. "Thank you for getting back to me. I can't tell you what a relief it was to hear your office was still willing to arbitrate."
"Yes," Evjen said, her eyes flicking to a holo screen on her desk. "Commander, I need to patch someone into this call. One moment, please."
"Of course," Shepard said. An uneasy burn began in his stomach. It turned into full-fledged nuclear meltdown when a new face appeared on his screen. "Ambassador Udina."
"Shepard," Udina wore a dour expression. "There's no time to waste with platitudes, so I'll get right to the point. The Alliance will not be sponsoring any further mediation with the quarians and the geth. We've terminated the proceedings."
"Oh that's perfect," Shepard said. "Let me guess, did the Council threaten to take away your corner office if you didn't cooperate? Or are you doing this just to piss me off?"
"Damn it Shepard, for once, shut up and listen to me! You and I have had our share of run-ins, but you saved our relationship with the Council by your actions at Sahrabarik and I commend you for that. And I don't for an instant buy the nonsense the Terminus Systems are churning out about Dashta, either. For the first time this week, I've been getting calls from the other embassies that don't begin with accusations that my office is a Cerberus safehouse. You can't imagine the change in disposition of all the other species since Professor Mordin's report was approved for wide distribution. We're no longer the greatest threat to peace in the universe. Thanks to you, we're now looked upon as saviors."
Shepard let out a breath and nodded. Being combative with Udina was reflex by now, but so far everything the Ambassador had said was what he wanted to hear. He stared at the diplomat with tired eyes. "So tell me what happened."
"You're right," Udina said. "The pressure is coming from the Citadel, but not the way you're thinking. David Anderson is on the verge of being reinstated to the Council. It could happen in a matter of hours. The slate will be wiped clean and we can concentrate on preparing for the reapers. All of which will be jeopardized if we go sticking our nose in where it isn't wanted, especially after what happened the first time. And before you accuse me of putting human interests ahead of anything else, think about what a fractured Council would mean when the reapers come. Unity means survival for all of us. Isn't that what you've been fighting for all this time?"
"It is," Shepard said. "But the fate of the quarian people depends on the success of negotiations with the geth. And it's not just a matter of both sides saying they're sorry. There's three centuries of bad blood that has to be reconciled, and neither side completely trusts the other. They need impartial arbitration. It won't work otherwise."
Udina cleared his throat, obviously having expected an outburst instead of reasoned argument. "Believe it or not, Shepard, I was in favor of these negotiations from the start. The geth and the quarians came to us because they thought humanity could be trusted when the other Council species could not. That means a lot. When the Council disbarred Anderson, there was even talk of splitting from the Citadel altogether, forging our own alliances and governing bodies, like the Terminus Systems or Traverse, quarians and geth included. But with the reapers coming, the circumstances have changed. We must not let anything jeopardize our relationship with the rest of the Council species."
"If we do nothing, millions of people could die."
"Millions versus billions, Shepard. Don't you frequently use logic like that to justify your own actions?"
Shepard looked down and sighed.
"The Alliance can not and will not sponsor these talks any further. Period." When Udina saw Shepard's scowl, he soften his tone. "Look, I know this is personal for you, given the makeup of your crew. It is for me too."
"Yeah, how so?"
"Ferdinand Castillo was a close personal friend of mine. I knew the man fifty years. Fifty years, Shepard. He was one of our most respected diplomats, and one hell of a fine human being. He was the architect of the peace initiatives with the turians after the First Contact War, and instrumental in building relationships with the other species on the Citadel. He was my mentor for all my years on Arcturus. And I had to look into his wife's eyes and tell her that he had been killed in some dark corner of space that no one has heard of, for reasons no one really cares about. But the last thing I want, the last thing he deserves, is for him to have truly died for nothing."
All Shepard could do was to continue to stare at the man's face on the screen. Like it or not, he was now facing the argument that he had used so many times in the past, one that got him involved with the most notorious terrorist organization in the galaxy. The reapers were coming. Everything else was secondary. "I understand. But I don't like it."
"I don't either. Maybe after the invasion, assuming we survive it, we can try to help. Maybe even with the consent of the Council, if both the geth and quarians are willing to play an active role in defense against the reapers. But now, we just can't risk it. I'm sorry."
"Right." Shepard's jaw clenched. "You got anything else for me?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Pardons for my crew. Immunity? All that nonsense, remember?"
Udina's eyes widened briefly. "I'll have to get back to you on that. Udina out.""You do that," Shepard told the empty space above his console. He leaned his arms across the ledge and rested his head and tried to figure out a way to tell the quarians and geth that they were going to have to work out their differences alone.