"What does it mean that Donnelly and Daniels are on barracks restriction?" Tali glowered at Miranda, standing in front of her desk. "They are my entire engineering staff. Are you going to come down and assist me?"
The last thing Miranda Lawson counted on this particular day was being dressed down by the quarian from engineering. Yet there she was, in her own office, being chastised by the alien girl in the most disrespectful fashion imaginable. No doubt if Shepard were aboard she would have been hearing this from him, but at least the Commander would have been reasonable about it. She stiffened in her chair, took a deep breath, and interlaced her hands in front of her. "No, it means when they are not performing their regular duties they are confined to quarters. Disciplinary action will not interfere with normal ship operations."
Tali stood her ground. "Why exactly are they being punished?"
"They made alterations to the ship's drive core without authorization," Miranda explained, slowly and patiently, "in a clear violation of Cerberus protocol."
"I authorized them to make the modifications," Tali said angrily. "I was there with them, supervising. They both did exemplary work. You should be commending them, not reprimanding them!"
"And whose approval did you garner to make these modifications? Commander Shepard made no mention of them to me, nor do I see a maintenance request on file."
"I am the chief engineer as appointed by the Commander. I don't make maintenance requests."
"He should have explained to you the proper procedure."
"He should have explained to you that I need no such authorization!"
Miranda's jaw clenched."The Normandy is a Cerberus ship, Miss Zorah vas Neema, not your personal proving grounds. It's not a quarian vessel, where the chief engineer is entitled to any special privileges. We have rules that we must follow, and they are in place for a reason. Our crew are not yours to direct at a whim. They are part of our chain of command!" She picked up a datapad with her detailed report and handed it to Tali to inspect.
Tali pushed it away. "I report to Commander Shepard! Not to you, not to Cerberus!"
Miranda slid her chair back and stood face to face with Tali. "When Commander Shepard is off the ship, I am in command."
"Not of me, you're not!" Tali shouted and stormed from Miranda's office.
After the door closed, Miranda took her seat, set the datapad calmly down on her desk, and resumed processing the daily requisitions on her terminal. She would not let the quarian's temper tantrum put her any further behind schedule.
Outside, Tali paced back and forth. That Miranda sprung this little surprise on her when Shepard was off the ship was no coincidence. She tapped her comm link into the ship's network. "EDI, where's Garrus?"
"How's it feel now?" Jacob watched the turian lift his sniper rifle to his eye.
Garrus sighted down the bore and then through the sight. The weapon's balance had been dipping at the barrel because of new optics, but thanks to Jacob's modifications the rifle now rested comfortably in his talons. "Oh, yes," he purred. "That's nice. Very nice, indeed! I think I'll take it."
"Cash or credit?"
"Put it on my tab," Garrus continued to adjust his aim around the armory. "This is some damn fine hardware. Thanks for putting it together for me."
"No problem," Jacob said. "I'm in favor of anything that helps our sniper put rounds on target. Especially if he's covering me." Attaching the top-secret sighting system to the weapon probably was against regulations, but Garrus had already proven his worth several times over and giving him the technology could only improve the mission's chance of success. He activated his omni-tool. "Let me send you the manual. There are some adjustements you'll want to make after you have some live fire time."
"Roger that," Garrus lowered the rifle. "A Cerberus scope on a turian rifle. Heads will explode without ever firing a shot."
Jacob laughed. "Yeah, just don't go posting reviews on the extranet. I still need my pension."
"Your secret is safe with me. It's not a bad combination, really. Turian and human technology. After all, the original Normandy was a joint turian-human endeavor."
"I know it. Helluva ship. It's not the only thing that we put together that clicked, either. I mean, look at you and the Commander."
Garrus nodded with satisfaction. "That has worked out rather well."
"If it wasn't for you, we'd all be reaper fodder by now." Jacob leaned back against his workbench. "Man, I'd give anything to have been there with you guys."
Garrus collapsed the rifle into its transport configuration. The glory of the battle of the Citadel had long since faded for him. "Well, it wasn't all parades and medal ceremonies if that's what you mean."
"Oh, hell no. Just the chance to make a difference... regardless if anybody knows about it. I know how the Council works. Shit, that's why we're here now, right? No good deed goes unforgotten."
"That sounds like personal experience talking."
Jacob wore a sour expression. "Well, I did a favor for 'em once, too. Stopped an assassination attempt on the entire Council. Not on the scale of you and Shepard, of course, but the end result was the same."
"Then paved over, with a nice shopping mall built on top."
"Oh," Garrus formed his forefingers and thumbs into a rectangle. "You didn't even get the little souvenir plaque? 'I saved the Citadel'?"
Jacob grinned. "Nope. Not even a thank you note. It's like it never happened."
"It that why you left the Alliance?"
"Nah, I was already done with them when that went down. Stopping the assassination was a Cerberus gig. That's when I hooked up with them."
"Really?" Garrus asked, genuinely shocked. "Cerberus saved the Citadel Council?"
"Well, the Council didn't know it at the time, but yeah."
Garrus stared down at the new scope attached to his rifle, lost in thought.
"Surprised?" Jacob asked.
Garrus's eyes flicked back to the human. "It's not exactly the same Cerberus we're accustomed to dealing with."
Jacob sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I know. Shepard's told me a story or two. There's nothing in our database that corroborates them, but then again Cerberus is pretty tidy when it comes to information. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like he described, or been asked to do anything like that since I've been with the organization."
"Do you think we're making it up?"
"No, I didn't mean that at all. I just wasn't there, you know?"
Garrus cocked his head slightly. That defense that had been used for millennia, by countless people who looked the other way. From what he'd seen so far, Jacob was too honorable of a soldier to hide behind it. "What if you're there tomorrow?"
Jacob blinked a couple times and looked around the armory full of the most advanced weaponry and destructive devices humankind could devise. He'd asked himself that question many times when Cerberus' reputation had reared its ugly head. He never had an answer until now. "Then I'll do whatever it takes back up the Commander."
Garrus gave a slight nod. He hefted his rifle in front of him. "Thanks again for the tune up. Mind if I show this to Thane? He might want one."
"Sure thing," Jacob said. "I'll fabricate another one just in case."
The forward hatch spun open. Garrus and Jacob turned to see Tali standing in the open doorway. She walked in and looked at Garrus, her hands clenched tightly at her sides.
"Hey, Tali," Jacob asked. "What's up?"
The quarian barely glanced at the human as she approached Garrus. "Sorry to interrupt," she said. "Are you busy?"
From her tone, Garrus knew she wasn't there to talk about ordinary operations. The fact she didn't just call him over the intercom was proof enough of that. "No, we were just wrapping up here. What's going on?"
Tali looked over at Jacob. "Could I talk to Garrus in private for a minute?"
"Yeah, sure," Jacob said uncertainly. His relationship with Tali had remained strained since she first came aboard, no matter how friendly he tried to be. But since she was part of Shepard's original crew, he wouldn't stop trying to win her over. "I was about to go grab a bite anyway."
Garrus held up a hand. "No, Jacob, this is your office." He gripped his rifle again and nodded towards the door. "I'll go show this to Thane. We can talk on the way. Thanks again for the scope."
"All right man, no problem." Jacob said. "Take it easy. See you, Tali."
Tali gave him a half-hearted wave over her shoulder as she followed Garrus to the CIC. After they left, Jacob leaned back again against the workbench. There was no mystery to what the aliens talked about when they went off together "in private." This time, Tali seemed particularly stressed. "EDI," Jacob called out to the AI's station. "What was Tali doing before she came to the armory?"
"Chief Zorah was talking to Operative Lawson in her office."
Jacob stared at the giant Cerberus insignia etched on the wall across from him. Similar artwork adorned almost every flat surface of the ship. What would he do if he was there tomorrow, Garrus had asked? He decided he would not wait to find out. He locked up the arsenal, and then headed to the elevator to go see Miranda.