Garrus turned around, sipping kava from his mug. It was piping hot, just the way he preferred it. Except the Normandy was kept so cold that it would be undrinkable by the time he sets it down on his desk. So he wasn’t going to let Vega interrupt his enjoyment of it.
“Hm?” he said instead, and kept walking. He flicked a mandible inquisitively and took another sip.
“Listen,” Vega said, walking in pace with the turian. “Can you smell people?”
“You know, smell people,” Vega waved his hands, tracing circles in the air towards his face. “Not just humans, I mean people...when they’re sick or angry,” he went on, pausing before adding “Or in the room.”
Garrus was confused by the line of questioning. But he had become familiar with Vega; he was unique among his human crewmates. He was insatiably curious. He’d already spent enough late nights in the shuttle bay just chatting with him and Cortez. Mostly they talked about weapons and hardware but conversations often turned towards the little tidbits that made the differences between the species hilarious and weird. He also knew enough to expect that, to Vega, no topic was sacred. He pushed wherever his curiosity took him. Although he was not exactly slow, Garrus could actually just sit back and watch him visibly processing new information.
“Watch this,” Cortez elbowed him one time. It was already late, but none of them felt like turning in. Garrus had referred to his Widow as “brother”. Humans, it turned out, often thought of their weapons as "baby". That opened the topic of pregnant turian women. A common misconception among humans was that turians laid eggs and sat on them. He had to explain that turians were born, not hatched. Vega’s face was shifting minutely as his brain hopped from one thought to another, making the necessary connections. His frown was at once deepening and then disappearing while his chin twitched thoughtfully. It was comical and endearing at the same time. It made Garrus feel oddly protective of the hulking little human.
“Oh,” Vega said, when he finally emerged from that one. “Are there premature turian babies?”
That remark led to a long conversation about turian gestation. He had to carefully explain kh'then, the point very early in a pregnancy at which turian biology determined whether a fetus was healthy and discarded it if not. Apparently, humans sometimes carried pregnancies to term and gave birth to what they called stillborn infants. He was horrified by the idea; it was both wasteful and unnecessarily traumatic. That conversation lasted so long, all three of them were zombies from lack of sleep the following morning.
Vega had the same academic inquisitiveness Liara had but none of the hesitation that came with her guilt for appearing to treat people like lab specimen. Unlike almost the entire crew of the Normandy, however, Vega seemed to have zero interest in using the extranet if the subject wasn’t about porn. He liked his information first-hand. And he blurted out questions like toothpaste squirting out of the tube that someone just stepped on. Generally harmless but that fart noise could still sometimes sound very wrong.
Nevertheless, when Vega asked him questions about any variety of subjects, Garrus knew he could be reasonably sure he was drawing out information, not laying down a trap. It was always fun watching the angle from which the human approached any topic and then eventually circled around to what he really wanted to learn.
“C’mon, scars,” Vega pressed. “Can you?”
“Oh,” Garrus said, snapping back into focus. “Hm.” He paused, tapping the mug with a finger. “The ability varies from turian to turian, the way all humans can hum but not everyone can sing very well,” he said finally and resumed walking towards the battery. “But in general, yeah, I can smell people.”
“So if someone was, say, on their way into the mess hall, you can smell them?” Vega was being very persistent and, worryingly, hard to follow.
“James, I don’t sniff out every room unless I’m on a mission,” Garrus assured him, giving up the prospect of enjoying his morning kava in silence and solitude. “Even then, what I can detect depends on a number of factors. Like the amount of compounds being released, and whether I am hyper-alert at the moment.”
Vega considered this carefully, brows knotting.
“Huh,” he said. “You can turn it on and off?”
“To a point,” Garrus replied.
“Can you smell it if I’m happy or pissed?” he asked. “I mean, how pissed or happy do I have to be before you can tell just by sniffing?”
Garrus laughed. “Oh, Jimmy. You spew so indiscriminately I can tell when you’re about to be hungry long before you realize you are.”
“For real?” Vega said, momentarily distracted. “Huh.”
“I have to cover my nose just to give you privacy,” Garrus snickered.
“You calling me smelly, Scars?”
They were at the entrance of the battery now and as he reached for the control panel. Vega pushed again, ignoring the taunt. “So, you’re that good, huh?” he asked, undeterred.
“Well, no,” Garrus replied. “I’m just more familiar with you than some random batarian merc. If I have a baseline, I can better sense deviations from your normally bubbly self.”
“So, can you tell what anyone is feeling at any given moment?” Vega asked. Garrus was getting suspicious, all his baits were being judiciously ignored. But that last question made him stop. It was an interesting question, actually. He thought about how to explain it.
Frankly, he felt a little sorry for humans. Their evolution must have been an expensive affair if they had to give up their olfactory senses in exchange for whatever it was they gained for it. It was probably the reason most of the older races considered humans brash and loud. Everything they did had to be brash and loud, from the way they walked to the kind of soap they used on their fringes. The poor creatures could not smell or even hear for shit if their lives depended on it. How were they not extinct?
“There are differences between races and then more differences between individuals,” he began.
“Oh yeah? Like how?”
“Well.” He stood back, gulping down a large sip of kava (ugh it was cold already). “Most species often just release other signaling compounds to mask others. Humans and drell are very similar—I think you may actually be able to control your primary signaling.”
“You mean, instead of throwing off happy smells, we just throw off less pissy smells?” Vega asked, head tilting to one side.
“Well, better than that,” Garrus said. “I think you actually make yourselves less pissed.”
This made Vega smile. “Wow, we’re kinda cool, huh," he said, grinning wider.
“You’re certainly more transparent than you think you are,” Garrus replied, palming the door to the main battery. But Vega was not done, apparently.
“What about if you’ve tagged someone you just generally want to know if they’re somewhere or on their way or whatever?” he asked.
Garrus finally turned to face him. He couldn’t even begin to parse that question.
“What the hell are you talking about, Vega?”
The man’s face was an odd combination of genuine curiosity and challenge. That was alarming, Garrus thought. Vega was getting at something and he was worryingly successful at being obtuse.
The door opened and Garrus went into the battery, setting his now dead kava on the desk, and waiting for some kind of explanation. Vega just stood at the entrance, his arms crossing over his chest as he leaned against the side.
“She won’t notice you’re avoiding her if you’re gone from the room by the time she steps in,” he finally said.
Garrus’ jaw went slack. The gears inside his head slammed to a halt and were having a hard time restarting. It took a few seconds and a few false starts before they slowly started to re-engage. Vega was looking at him, refusing to yield.
“Uh-huh,” Vega said, nodding. “There you go. Keep thinking, you’re getting there.”
It was a weird place to be for Garrus; his mind slowing down to a crawl while Vega watched him piece the information together, nodding patiently like an indulgent parent.
“Uh...” He had the beginning of a retort but lost it immediately. He had now crossed the boundary straight into the territory of stupid.
Vega shook his head. How about that, a screwed turian guy looked just like a screwed human guy.
“Bro, all I'm saying is if you're trying to make a point, you gotta wait for her to be in the room before you make it,” Vega said gently, straightening up and walking slowly backwards. “We can’t smell stuff the way you can. She won’t know you just left the room on her account. To her, you’d just be not there.”
Vega did not have any kind of flair for the dramatic. He was a straightforward sort of man and his brain just did not operate that way. So when he took a final step back and gave him a mock salute before reaching for the door panel, he really just needed to be going.
“For the record, I think you’re both wasting time,” he said as the door closed.