Title: Devil On My Shoulder
Warnings: Violence, some discussions of slavery, prostitution, and other facts of life on Omega
Summary: Kaidan teams up with a mysterious Alliance operative to continue the fight against the Reapers, but may have bitten off more than he can chew. Especially when that agent is Miranda and the Reapers have a plan of their own.
"Are you sure you should be driving?"
Miranda didn't answer me, not out loud anyway. She raised one sculpted eyebrow and gave me a little half smile, an expression I was starting to realize equaled trouble for me. The car continued speeding through the air. I'd always been told Omega was lawless, but it had never dawned on me before that that also included traffic laws and speed limits. I glanced over at the speedometer: 180 kph. You were supposed to let the onboard VI handle anything above 160, but Miranda seemed to be relishing manual control. She weaved through Omega's ever present traffic jams like they weren't even there. She seemed to know the exact moment to stop to avoid a head-on collision without slowing us down for more than a few seconds. I was starting to think I was sitting next to either a goddess, a machine, or a madwoman. AIS was supposed to give their recruits top of the line genetic enhancements, but her reflexes were almost superhuman.
There was nothing for me to do but wait it out and try to enjoy the ride. We were going too fast for me to get a really good view of the station, but I did manage to make out bits and pieces: a pair of surly batarians glaring at each other, a vorcha chewing something that I really hoped was raw meat, a parent of human children in ragged clothes playing in the street. And the smell! Even the car's air filters couldn't entirely keep out the stench of trash, shit, and sweat. It made me a little sick.
"Don't gawk. You're supposed to be a man of the galaxy. These people are beneath your notice." She made a hard left turn that nearly threw me from my seat. "You can keep wrinkling your nose, though. That fits."
"Whatever you say," I muttered. I'd picked up a few things about Miranda Donovan since we'd met. She was used to giving orders. She wasn't bossy, as far as I could tell. She's just expected other people to do what she said the way most people expected to put one foot in front of the other. I thought she might have come from money. I'd worked in Eldfell-Ashland's Sydney office for a while after I left BAAT. She had the same faintly aristocratic accent as Eldfell and most of the members of the board. Either she had a really good diction coach or she was born to it. My money was on the second option. Most people who want to lose lower class accents try to adopt what spacers and politicians use. Made it easier on the translators. But Miranda hadn't.
"We're here." She got out of the car and opened my door. A neon yellow light, half burned out, said we'd arrived at the Anzu district. The stench was stronger here, and I decided it would be perfectly in character for me to cover my nose. Miranda grabbed our bags, and we set off down the narrow, twisting streets. I let her take the lead. It was easier to look at her now that she was wearing the body armor. I didn't feel like I would choke on my own drool. She was a tough, beautiful woman who could probably break every bone in my body three times over. I was used to that. Hell, I'd served under a woman like that.
I winced a little at the thought of Shepard. I wasn't pining for her, if you could even call it pining when we'd never really been together in the first place. She was like Rahna, something else that had never quite come together.
The streets were dimly lit. Every few meters, a light cast a weird shadow on the ground. We passed ramshackle apartment complexes with graffiti on the doors and a grocery store that looked like it hadn't been open since the First Contact War. The whole place looked like it had been designed for petty crime. Prostitutes lined the walls of buildings. A human woman with filthy blonde hair was deep in what I guessed were negotiations with an asari in green and white armor. I averted my eyes. .
"Wanna have a good time?" The voice was high and loud, the consonants slightly slurred.
I turned my head. Another asari. This one was pretty young, maybe twenty years older than Liara. Her dress had been as blue as an Earth sky once upon a time, but now it was as faded as everything else on the station. Her eyes were a little glazed over. The sleeves of her dress covered everything from her shoulder to her wrist. I wondered if there were track marks underneath. I felt hollow and a little sad. This sort of thing should have been ancient history. Sex work was legal in Council space. It was all done in pretty, brightly lit rooms that had more in common with my parents' house than these alleys though. It wasn't really my thing, but there was nothing sordid or squalid about it. Not like this.
"Come on, sir." I could hear the irritation and fatigue in Miranda's voice. "This rabble is beneath you."
"I can be 'beneath you' if you want. I bet you I'm cheaper than she is."
Miranda stiffened slightly. Her fist clenched and unclenched rapidly, but she didn't say anything. She looked tense, coiled, like she really wanted to deck the asari. I thought I understood. People made assumptions about beautiful women, that the only thing they had going for them were there looks. You'd have thought we would've been past that now, but people could be stupid even in the twenty-second century. She'd probably been hearing stuff like that all her life. But that didn’t mean I had to like it. My mom always said I was too chivalrous for anybody's good. "It's not like that." The words came out before I could stop them.
Miranda turned around to glare at me, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by a grunt of pain a little ahead of us. The asari had gripped the woman's wrist. "You know how this works. You give us our ten percent, and we make sure that you don't have any accidents. You're pretty for a human. I'd hate for something to happen to you."
"I gave you your ten percent." The voice was faintly accented. Norwegian or Swedish, maybe.
"The others gave us two fifty or more. You gave us one fifty. Am I supposed to believe you humans are as incompetent at turning tricks as you are everything else?" The asari sneered. "I think you're holding out on me."
"My food synthesizer's on the fritz. I need the extra credits."
"Are you familiar with the human concept of tithing? You give us your first ten percent, before you buy anything else." She tightened her grip. She whimpered a little. "Or you will have a very nasty accident."
"You're hurting me."
I took half a step forward. Static electricity coursed over me. It wasn't visible yet, but it was building quickly. It wouldn’t take much to give the asari what she deserved. I could break her wrist with a fraction of the force I'd used against Vyrnnus. The Oath of Service pulsed through my brain like a drumbeat. I, Kaidan Alenko do solemnly swear to protect the citizens of the Systems Alliance from those who would harm them. I couldn't do anything about the pirates or the gangs, but I could stop one lowlife from hurting someone.
I felt a hand on my arm. Miranda. "I know what you're thinking," she whispered. "Don't. We can't afford to get dragged into this. The mission is too important."
Right. The mission. Levenius had said Erinys controlled this district. It'd be a bad idea to piss them off before we got the Reaper tech—if they even had it. Even so... if I closed my eyes, I could see Vyrnnus hitting Rahna with a biotic strike hard enough to leave her sprawled on the floor. I could see the knife as it filled my vision. I could hear Vyrnnus' neck snap. I'd always hated bullies. My fatal flaw, I guess.
"It'll go worse for her if we interfere. As much as I'd love to," she continued. Her jaw was clenched and her blue eyes glittered dangerously. I couldn't tell if she was angry at me or the mercs. "Do you really think killing one person will help her?"
The asari merc turned and noticed us. "You got a problem, rich boy?"
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. I wanted to rip the asari limb from limb. But Miranda was right. Sooner or later, we'd get what we came for and leave. Then what? The girl would still be here. The mercs would still be here. We couldn't wipe them all out. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what they would do to her once we were off the station. The body probably wouldn't be recognizable. I'd never forgive myself if she ended up dead because I decided to play hero. Who am I kidding? I'll never forgive myself either way.
Miranda didn't give me a chance to make a decision. "We don't have a problem." I let her take me by the hand and half lead, half drag me down the street toward her apartment. I was too numb to do much else right then. I hoped there was a hot shower where we were going.
I needed one.
Scraps of Parchment
You Watch While I Revise the World...
- Devil On My Shoulder (Kaidan/Miranda, PG-13) 3/7