Kaidan Alenko strode into his apartment then, interrupting Krios and handily ignoring the three guns that immediately swung in his direction to greet him."Well, if it isn't Kaidan Alenko, loyal staff commander of the Systems Alliance," said Lawson by way of greeting. She still had her gun up and it did not so much as waver."Oh, would you look at that," he replied, ignoring her gun entirely. "A Cerberus terrorist. I must have left food out."He walked up to Massani who was still leaning up against the wall in a position of ostensible ease despite the gun he was only just replacing in its holster at his thigh. He handed the mercenary a bottle of whisky, an apple, and a large package of salted nuts with one hand while flicking his omni-tool on with the other and waving it over the man's suit's transceiver assembly."Like what you see?" the merc grumbled but was too busy inspecting the whisky bottle with clear interest to bother making a real challenge of it.Alenko just grunted in response. He should probably be insulted by the possibility that the merc didn't consider him a realthreat to himself or the others... or, alternatively, maybe just entertained by the very real possibility that the merc just wanted to keep him around in the hopes that he would kill Miranda first and save Massani the subsequent paycheck issues."Good news: there's no posse saddled up and searching the Citadel for you three," he said, his eyes on the data he'd just gotten from Massani's transceiver assembly. "At least not more so than normal. There's the normal flurry of intelligence activity on our end whenever the SR-2 leaves the Citadel... the normal twittering from the mainstream media about Shepard sightings... and the normal spike in activity from the conspiracy theorists. Aside from an unusual spike in the tabloids which I was able to determine without raising too many red flags was due to both Shepard and the actor who played me in that damned holomovie staying the night at the same quarian youth hostel earlier this week, it looks like everything's normal. You're in the clear. At least for now. I've got a few precautions in place now to alert me if it looks like that's changing."He walked over to Krios and dropped a snack tray bearing hanar lettering into the drell's surprised but still unwaveringly steady hands. He set a small dehumidifier down on the tiny end table nearest Krios and he saw an uncharacteristic flash of surprise cross the assassin's face."I share an office with an elcor," he said by way of explanation. "Apparently she's a she and apparently she's in heat. It's a... moist... condition for everyone in the vicinity." Moist and smelling kind of like a combination of watermelon, wet grass, and two-day-old yogurt. He didn't mention that last part - it really was a complex smell best left for experience rather than retellings - and just flipped the dehumidifier on. It started whirring faintly."Best I could do on short notice without changing the enviro settings in here and flagging every VI on the Citadel that might be looking. If it's not enough, we can make the bedroom a dry room. Most Alliance units like this one are made up of fully autonomous environmental units in case of bio outbreaks."Krios observed both the snack tray and the dehumidifer. His eyes stayed on the dehumidifer for just a fraction of a moment longer and his inner eyelids blinked once. "Your consideration is greatly appreciated, Commander," he said, voice gravelly but sincere. "Thank you."Alenko nodded... then dropped a plate bearing two plain and quite obviously very stale pieces of bread onto the coffee table in front of Miranda Lawson.She was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, surrounded by a semi-circle of data pads on the floor with her and another semi-circle of data pads on the coffee table in front of her. She looked up at the sound of the plate hitting the table, as well as the distinctly crunchy sounds of the stale bread bouncing on said plate, and gave him a withering look."Oh, ha ha, Commander," she said archly as he set a glass of room temperature water down next to the plate. She parroted Krios's last words though her version substituted sarcasm for sincerity: "Your consideration is greatly appreciated.""Only the best for you, Operative," he said in a voice that reeked of sweet sincerity rather than sarcasm, giving her a nod before turning his attention back to his omni-tool and the data streaming across its holographic interface. He sat down on the tiny couch next to Krios."Unsurprisingly," he continued, "the Normandy SR-2 did not file a flight plan with Citadel authorities before departure. Or rather, she did not file a legitimate one... unless the Normandy really does have a destination of 'the second star to the right', a course of 'straight', and an ETA of 'morning'.""He's only supposed to file bogus flight plans when I'm aboard," muttered Lawson. "I should have been more clear.""I'm picturing her hanging out in Mermaid Lagoon," Massani spoke up. "Sunbathing on Marooners' Rock. Maybe with the thief too. Topless. Explains why she left me here. Bitch.""Right," said Alenko without looking up from his omni-tool. He didn't want to know. "The bad news there is that the ship disembarked before the Council could put a tracking device on it." He raised a hand to waylay the protests he suspected would be coming but hadn't looked up from the datastream to verify were actually incoming. "The tracking device is unrelated to Cerberus or Shepard's relationship with them... you. They reinstated her status as a Spectre and it's just SOP for the Council when dealing with high-value or high-risk operatives. She found the last one they put on the SR-2 and apparently threw it into a batarian brothel on Omega. The turian councilor was unamused. I was hoping they'd managed to get another one on her but no luck.""I was not aware you were privy to standard operating procedure for Spectres," Krios commented curiously.Alenko sighed tiredly. "Funny, the Council wondered the same thing when I asked for the access codes to the device," he said. He shrugged. "Shepard talks in her sleep.""She what?"Lawson jumped to her feet, slamming her knee hard against the underside of the coffee table with a sharp *CRACK!*."Or I just happened to see her stomp on the one they put on the original Normandy," Alenko said, still not looking up though there was an unmistakable twitch in his lips.Lawson muttered an obscenity and flopped back down onto the floor, rubbing her knee."On the plus side, though," Alenko continued, fingers flying over his omni-tool as Krios observed in interest, "they agreed to alert me immediately if she uses her Spectre status to acquire either goods or point access any time in the next week. Apparently all authorization requests ultimately hit the councilors personally for confirmation. I'm sure she knows that and will avoid pulling the Spectre card as a result but it's always a possibility.""Well, now, that's awful nice of them," Massani drawled, swishing the whisky bottle around before taking another swig."What did you give them in exchange?" Lawson demanded, shrewd as always. "Information?""No, no information," Alenko replied. "In fact, they didn't even ask why I was trying to find her. Either they're all closet romantics and are fans of that stupid holomovie" - the thought turned his stomach just a little bit - "or they have other motives. I just had to agree to bring her in or die trying if she does something stupid."Massani found that vastly humorous. "If you pull a gun on Shepard, the gun will be all that's left of you.""Yeah," Alenko confirmed, unconcerned with taking insult since it was true not only for him but probably for everyone else in the room. "I know. And I'm pretty sure the Council knew that when they made the 'offer'.""Given that you are one of the few humans being considered for the Spectres," said Krios reasonably, "it isreasonable that they would want to test your loyalty to them. I am sure they are already convinced of your aptitude in other areas, Commander.""I don't kid myself," Alenko said. "The second human Spectre is the second best human Spectre. I'm only at the top of the list because the Council is scared of Shepard, scared they can't control her, and if the shit hits the fan and she goes the Saren route, they need to have someone who has even a tiny chance of taking her down. Of all the potential candidates, I'm the only one who has the ammunition to hit her where it hurts.""So the pinnacle of your career, a potentially historic achievement for all of humanity, rests on the fact that you are a really, really terrible boyfriend?" Lawson asked, sounding rather delighted at the very idea.Alenko sighed, squeezing his eyes shut and refusing to rise to the bait. "Something like that," he said. He took a deep breath and let it out. "The point is that if she pulls the Spectre card, we'll know about it and be able to track her that way... but I doubt she will. This smacks of a short-term mission." He finally looked up from his omni-tool, glancing at each of the trio around him in turn. "I don't suppose any of you have any blood feuds you need cleaned up or any lingering daddy issues that you want resolved?""She already found my sister for me," said Lawson."She saved my son," said Krios."Daft bitch let the bastard get away," said Massani.
"She could have left you under the beam there," Krios pointed out.Massani grunted and took another swig of the whisky. "Should have," he muttered. "Damned beam didn't ride my balls the way she does."Alenko sighed. He didn't want to know that either. "So I suppose she's resolved everyone else's blood feuds and daddy issues too?" he asked."Yes," said Lawson, tone clipped. "She helped Garrus with some turian traitor. She took Mordin and Grunt to Tuchanka... helped the former with the genophage and the latter with puberty. She blew up the Pragia facility for Jack. She found Jacob's father... such as he was. She got Kasumi her boyfriend's greybox. She killed Samara's Ardat-Yakshi daughter. She saved both Tali and her father from exile." She paused. "I think that's everyone." She glanced at Krios, brow crinkled slightly. "Right?""I believe so," said Krios.Alenko sighed again. "Right. Of course. So this is something else.""We have concluded that she is either concerned about something here and left us here to deal with it," Krios offered, "or has found the answer to this mysterious third cell and has determined that one or more of us would either compromise the resolution or be compromised by the resolution.""Well, there's nothing here," Alenko said, running a hand through his hair. "Nothing through the Council. Nothing through C-Sec. Nothing through the Alliance. Nothing through Liara even and she seems to know everything these days. Everything's come up empty for anything that's even remotely related to her or anyone on her team... save for the normal Cerberus stuff but Shepard's not going to take on Cerberus until the bigger problems are solved and she no longer needs their funding."He was surprised at how easily that statement came to him. It hadn't been too long ago that he'd not have been able to give her such credence. He wasn't sure if he should feel shame that he had ever doubted her or shame that he had stopped as soon as he'd realized it was her.He shook it off. "If she had something specific here she wanted us to take care of, she should have left a note.""Nothing here besides you," Krios pointed out."Nothing besides me," Alenko allowed wearily, "but Shepard's not going to bench her heavy hitters because of that. She trusts me to be reasonably capable of not getting myself killed.""So what haveyou found about Shepard?" Lawson finally demanded. "Or have you spent all this time just chatting up your Citadel social network?"Alenko knew the question was born out of frustration. Miranda Lawson was without any of the resources she was accustomed to having through the Illusive Man and was unwilling to risk giving away Shepard's unsanctioned activities by calling upon any of her other resources lest they be monitored. He was no stranger to helplessnessand he was definitely no stranger to reacting poorly to it. He reminded himself that she had no desire whatsoever to be particularly nice to him when things were going her way and that it really was unreasonable of him to expect better when things were most decidedly notgoing her way.He gritted his teeth."I haven't had time to find Shepard," he said testily, eyes narrowing slightly before he deliberately turned them back to his omni-tool's display, "because she dropped a known Cerberus ringleader, a top assassin, and an infamous bounty hunter into my lap and would be spectacularly pissed offif I didn't hand them back to her alive. This is the first time I've gotten to sit down since my gifts first arrived."He deliberately let it drop there, even though he could feel the muscle in his jaw twitch with the urge to start shouting, and was surprised to see Lawson do the same. It occurred to him that maybe she knew perfectly well how unreasonable she was being and just couldn't seem to stop herself from being so. He sighed. That was becoming an increasingly common malady for Shepard's closest friends. 'Friends'.He went back to his omni-tool, integrating the data he'd gleaned from Massani's suit into the collection of information he already had available in the apartment's data stores, thanks to his previous work with EDI. If he could just -A flash of movement caught his eye and he watched over the top of the omni-tool's display as Lawson dropped a data pad to the coffee table with a sigh of frustration, obviously and visibly disgusted by whatever information it had or had not provided, and picked up another. She dragged a hand through her already disarrayed dark locks, the faintest hint of weariness crossing her face before disappearing as if it had never existed behind her normal smooth, inscrutably cool facade.He heaved a sigh that was just a little too melodramatic even for his own tastes and tossed a handful of energy bars onto the coffee table where they scattered amongst her various data pads.She looked up, an expression of genuine surprise flashing over her face.She probably didn't have the migraine issues he did - not with that fancy L5 nestled in her brain stem - but that didn't make her metabolism any less demanding than his or a crashing blood sugar level any more pleasant. He couldn't start buying groceries for four people without alerting anyone who happened to be watching - especially since he rarely bought groceries even for himself, subsisting almost entirely on Alliance rations, energy bars, and nutritional supplements out of habit and, if he could admit it without it sounding as pathetic as he suspected it might, comfortable familiarity - but the energy bars would be good enough. They were Alliance standard four ouncers, designed for a heavy initial carb hit for a waning biotic but supplemented with enough protein to sustain longer-term blood sugar levels, and while they might not taste as good as Cerberus's versions (the chocolate ones Lawson had had in the training facility had hit his taste buds like Shepard's Cain hit dropships), there was something comfortable and familiar about that fake-strawberry-mixed-with-chalk taste.He sighed again, dropping his eyes once again to his omni-tool. It was a good thing he was a biotic and considered too valuable for anything but deep space combat missions. If he'd ever gotten stockades duty... He shuddered to think. He'd have made an absolutely abysmal jailer."You'd have made an absolutely abysmal jailer, Commander," said Lawson.He grabbed one of the energy bars and ripped its packaging open with his teeth. "Yeah, thanks," he said. He turned slightly to Krios. "Help yourself if you need them.""My thanks, Commander," said the drell. He made no move to take a bar, however, and Alenko was not entirely surprised. Drell physiology was more forgiving than human in terms of tolerance of fluctuating blood sugar levels... and he would be entirely unsurprisedto find that the monk-like assassin sitting next to him had achieved some kind of transcendental control over his own metabolism through sheer mental discipline alone."At least the assassin has manners," said Massani, taking a swig directly from the bottle and wiping away a few stray drops with the back of his hand. "He must have taken hisetiquette lessons after piano but before Latin."Lawson's head jerked up, icy blue eyes narrowing on the mercenary before slipping almost involuntarily down to the bar her slender, nimble fingers were deftly freeing from its packaging. She blinked at it as if not quite certain when she'd even picked it up, let alone started to unwrap it."Thank you, Commander," she said.She looked astonished. She wasn't certain where the words had come from.Alenko's head jerked up. "What?" he said.He looked astonished. He wasn't certain he'd heard her correctly."Don't make me say it again," she snapped, looking vaguely ill at the very idea of exchanging further pleasantries with an Alliance spy.That was all the confirmation he needed as to whether or not he'd heard her correctly."You're... welcome," he said, feeling vaguely ill at the very idea of exchanging pleasantries with a Cerberus terrorist.Thane Krios interrupted what was sure to become either an intolerable and unfathomably uncomfortable moment of camaraderieor an epic shoot-out to avoid at all costs an intolerable and unfathomably uncomfortable moment of camaraderie."This is a list of all ships disembarking at and around the time of the Normandy. We believe the Normandy to be one of the five vessels highlighted here," he said, retrieving a specific data pad from Lawson's wide assortment of them and handing it to Alenko. "It is difficult to narrow down further without more current data."Alenko's eyes flew over the data before he shook his head faintly in dissatisfaction. He leaned over and slammed a hand down on a comm sitting on the end table by the now happily whirring dehumidifier. "C-Sec, this is Commander Alenko. Is Captain Bailey available?"The voice on the other end of the line, flanged slightly indicating a turian speaker, sounded irritated. "The Captain is at home asleep at this hour, Commander Alenko." The unspoken but quite clear implication was that Alenko should be as well. "What can I do for you?""Two things actually, Officer. First, could I get a data dump of all usage stats throughout the mass relay network for" - he scrolled down to the bottom of the data pad to see the most recent entries- "the last two and a half or so? After that, could you patch me in to the primary data feed for the mass relay network? Primary, not any of the replicated backups. Usage logs only, compressed format is fine. Systems Alliance Service Number 1397 Alpha 4555 Epsilon."There was a sound that could have been a chuckle from the other end. "Primary data feed for the MR network?" the officer repeated, amused."Yeah," said Alenko, handing the data pad back to Krios. "Just run the SASN, Officer.""Checking SASN," came the turian C-Sec officer's voice, underscored by a series of faint beeps that indicated he was running Alenko's ID through the verification system to ensure that he had clearance for such a request.Alenko wasn't entirelysure his credentials alone would work - it was relatively unusual for an individual to request real-time usage data on the relay network and even more unusual for an individual to need the primary logs rather than one of the many copies replicated throughout the monitoring infrastructure - but if they didn't, he was fairly sure Anderson would authorize it for him since the councilor had already quite willingly upped his access levels significantly since he'd started on this little side project. Of course, he wasn't entirelysure on that either, of course, but pretty sure. Reasonably sure. Kind of sure. Maybe.There was a pause before the C-Sec officer on the other end of the line said, with just hint of surprise in his voice, "SASN verified, Commander. Authorization granted."Lawson, too, looked surprised. Maybe even a little, tiny bit impressed... and irked by it.Alenko tried to keep the surprise off his own face as well. There was no harm in letting Lawson think he'd known all along it would work. Right?"Thanks, Officer," he said. "Initialize to my current location.""Regulations prevent us from opening any data feeds to non-secure lines. Please ensure that -""Current location is secure," interrupted Alenko. "Sending connection string now."Lawson's eyebrow arched even further upwards at that.He temporarily toggled off the outbound sound. "Secure enough for C-Sec," he qualified to her. "Not for you. Don't do anything stupid." He toggled the sound back on, forcing Lawson to sputter silently. "Confirm receipt, C-Sec?""Confirmed. Data dump for last hour and a half incoming. Initializing streaming data for MR network, usage stats only.""Confirmed," Alenko said a moment later. "Thanks for your help, Officer.""Acknowledged, Commander. Good night.""Try that," Alenko said, flipping on one of the holoimaging screens that were still sitting on his coffee table and scooting over to the side to allow Krios more comfortable access. He might not have needed to bother; as soon as the screen became active, Krios had his omni-tool up and active as well, inner eyelids blinking carefully as he started reviewing the incoming stream.Alenko was still determined to finish his current project with the results from Massani's transceiver assembly but caught enough of the data flying past on the holoscreen to snort. "Transponder signal spoofing," he muttered. "EDI should be embarrassed. She can do better than that in her sleep. She wouldhave done better given the choice.""We think that's all Shepard asked for," Krios said, "indicating a very short-term mission.""Buying just enough time for her to get in and out without us," Lawson clarified. She sighed. "And possibly starting so quickly that she needed EDI available for other things."Alenko sighed too. "Yeah." That sounded like Shepard. "On the plus side, though... that may mean EDI's bored... and if she's bored, maybe she'll be in a talkative mood.""AIs don't get bored," Lawson said. Her eyes were narrowing slightly. "What are you -""The hell they don't get bored," Alenko shot back. "Did you ever bother asking her?"Lawson paused, brow furrowed. "Actually, no.""Well, thanks in part to both Mr. Massani's habit of spying on you in what I can only assume is some depraved hope to see you topless and to whichever of your techs lost a bet to him and ended up having to set this up for him, you can ask her yourself in just a minute," said Alenko, fingers flying over his omni-tool."They're just going to ignore the hail as they have all the others," Lawson pointed out. "Shepard might like you more than me, Commander, for some absolutely inconceivable reason -""I don't think that word means what you think it means," commented Krios.Lawson shot him a glare, finishing to Alenko, "... but that doesn't mean she's not going to continue to do everything in her power to drive you just as crazy.""I suspect she works much harder to drive me crazy than she does you," Alenko replied without looking up. "You just can't tell because you started with a much higher baseline and give her more to work with.""I'll have you know I'm much more entertaining to drive insane," Lawson snapped."The hell you are," Alenko shot back."It appears Shepard's attempts on both have been singularly successful," Krios observed mildly to Massani. To the others, he merely inquired politely, "About the hails, Commander?""It's not going to be a hail and they won't be able to ignore it... or rather, EDI won't want to. We're going to write a message for her, serialize it, and plant it directly in her message buffer.""Sounds great," said Massani in a tone that clearly indicated Alenko had exceeded his tech chops with even that statement... but that he didn't much mind since, as always, he had his guns."Serialize?" Krios asked, clearly on Massani's behalf."Say it's Shepard's birthday and we wanted to share a cupcake with her," said Alenko conversationally as his fingers darted over his omni-tool's display. "We can't actually share a cupcake with her because she's, I don't know, in the middle of the god damned Terminus doing god only knows what while getting her face shot off and she left us behind because she's insane and has a death wish and wants us to worry about her even more than we..."His voice trailed off. He cleared his throat. "So she's in the Terminus somewhere. We can't send her a cupcake there. It's expensive to ship, it'll be moldy by the time it gets there, and she won't get it onher birthday. Instead, we can send her instructions on how to make a cupcake. We could describefor her exactly what we mean when we say 'cupcake'. Even better, we can do it in a way that allows her to interpret the instructions however she needs to; we can give her such a rudimentary, basic set of instructions as to what a cupcake is that she could run it through a, say, Celsius compiler and get her baking instructions in Celsius... or run it through a Fahrenheit compiler and get the same exact baking instructions in Fahrenheit instead. However she wants to read her instructions, she can. And it'll take no time and virtually no resources to get the set of instructions to her. So long as I can get the message to her in a language she understands, she can translate it however she wants so it's useful to her and then create an exact clone of the cupcake on her side. A semantically identical clone of the data object we're looking at here.""So you're sending EDI a cupcake recipe," said Krios. He didn't sound entirely certain what a cupcake was but seemed game enough to play along. "Instead of a cupcake.""We'll be sending EDI a bunch of little recipes," Alenko said, "for a bunch of different types of cupcakes. Serialized data. That's how she normally receives her data, especially when she's at range. It's slow and expensive to send real cupcakes, remember. We're just going to... make more interesting objects. Prettier cupcakes.""Remind me when Shepard's birthday is and I'll make her cupcakes good enough to make her forget your name, Alenko," Massani said. "Kidnapped a Corsair's grandma once. Right outside the Terminus. Bastard had his nose right where I didn't want it. Tell you what though, that old bat made fucking delicious cupcakes. Taught me everything she knew. Glad the bastard paid up and I didn't have to kill her."Alenko wasn't entirely sure what to say to that.Lawson didn't seem in much better condition though she managed to shake her head roughly and continue on."That particular approach, Commander, as lovely as it sounds," she said testily, "presupposes that you 1) somehow know EDI's system level serialization format which is not only limited to her alone but deliberately encrypted to protect her from precisely what you're describing; 2) know where to send the message once you've got it in the right format; and 3) have a method for authenticating both automatically and directly with her once you know where to find her," Lawson said."Yeah," replied Alenko with half a shrug. "Exactly."Lawson paused. She stared at him. Her lips formed a tiny 'o' of denial."No," she said."Yeah," he said.She started shaking her head. "No."He started nodding his head. "Yeah."Her shoulders drooped. "You've compromised my AI," she said, sounding defeated.For one horrific moment, Alenko almost thought she looked adorable.He took pity on her, mostly because he had to get that expression off of her face lest he in any other moment of insanity think for even a fraction of a second that she again looked adorable."She and I were working on the amp for Shepard," he hastened to explain. "I've got everything I need frm that except where to find her... and that's where Mr. Massani's transceiver comes in handy."For once, Lawson didn't throw a dirty look his way. She threw it towards Massani instead, even though she directed her question at Alenko."How big is the security hole?" she demanded, voice dangerously quiet."Not big," he reassured her, tempted though he was to tell her the exact opposite and see exactly how she and the merc would work out their issues and how many bullets they would use to do it. "It's an issue if and only if someone knows that both he and the Normandy SR-2 have a live data link to a shared data source andknows the details of said shared data source." He glanced at Lawson out of the corner of his eye. "The biotics training on the Citadel. Someone patched him in. My money's on Kasumi Goto.""Close," said Massani unapologetically. "Half of the work was from the she-beast in the suit."Lawson dropped her head into her hands. "I can see it's time for another Security Awareness seminar," she mumbled despondently into them."You can organize it with EDI," said Alenko, reaching over to pat her hand comfortingly before realizing what he was doing and jerking it abruptly back. "Initiating connection."
Games » Mass Effect Rated: M, English, Adventure & Romance, Shepard (F) & Kaidan A., Words: 372k+, Favs: 498, Follows: 531, Published: 2-22-11 Updated: 9-12-12
971 Chapter 79