Chapter 58 – Troublemaker
When he was approaching the counter he heard a distantly familiar voice speaking angrily.
“You’re really holding out on me?” the voice said. “I’m a man on the edge! I've got nothing to lose!”
“Uh-huh,” the asari bartender said.
When Garrus got closer, he remembered where he had heard the voice before: it belonged to a man who had followed Shepard around Citadel two years before, trying to get her to make him a Spectre. Garrus had forgotten his name.
“I’ll do anything to get the job done!” the man boasted. “I’ll go all the way without a second thought!”
“Uh-huh,” the bartender said again, apparently not taking the human very seriously.
“You want to see how far I’ll go?” the human—suddenly Garrus got his name: Conrad Verner—said. “I learned how to shove a gun in people’s face from commander Shepard.”
“I doubt that, Verner,” Garrus growled from behind the human. The man turned around and Garrus got a shock seeing him wearing a N7 armour. He was convinced the human had not earned the high rank Shepard held.
“Hey, if you know this idiot, can you rein him in before I slap his ass with a singularity?” the asari bartender asked from Garrus.
“Hang on,” the human stammered, looking hard at Garrus. “You’re the turian who used to hang around with Shepard. We met on the Citadel? I wanted to become a Spectre? And then she shoved a gun in my face! She showed me what it meant to be truly extreme. I learned that lesson well. Why don’t you sit back and watch how it’s done? I’ve got some asses to kick.”
“Doesn't sound like Shepard I know,” Garrus pointed out. “What? Are you trying to be like her?”
“What?” the human asked angrily. “Are you crazy? I'm nothing like her! I'm not a Spectre working for the Council! I'm on my own, backed only by my wits and my nerves! No rules, no laws, just whatever it takes to get the job done!”
To Garrus that sounded uncomfortably like what he had been doing after Shepard died.
“How did you get that armour?” Garrus said, knowing it had needed some hard work on Shepard's part to earn the right to wear N7 armour.
“Oh, they make some pretty convincing replicas these days, if you're willing to pay,” Verner replied. “Getting the whole getup was pretty expensive, but my wife was really supportive. She even paid for my shuttle fare off-world!”
Garrus noticed how the asari bartender face-palmed and tried to hold back a laugh. He couldn't help thinking that this human man was easily led, and rather foolish.
“Do you have any actual combat training?” Garrus asked.
“I'm saving the galaxy, turian!” the human announced and Garrus had to resist the temptation to face-palm himself. “I don't have time for training! Don't you get it? Shepard was a big jerk, but she saved the galaxy and showed other races that humans mattered... and then she died! The galaxy needed someone like her. I had to do something.”
“Firstly, Shepard is alive,” Garrus growled, growing tired of the pompous human. “Secondly, you're an idiot. Thirdly, what the hell you think you're doing, running around the galaxy like a loose cannon?”
“Hey, don't say it like that!” the human protested—Garrus believed he had only heard his last statement. “I talk to people, you know? Ask them if they have big problems that only I can solve. You'd be surprised how many people are just waiting for someone to talk to them! Sometimes I poke through crates, too. You know, for extra credits.”
“Any decent security system will detect that you aren't in the human military, much less part of Shepard's squad,” Garrus pointed out, wondering at the back of his mind if or if not he should tell Shepard about the annoying impostor.
“I just say that I'm deep-cover, and don't appear on systems,” Verner replied shrugging. “I'm doing the best I can, okay?”
“Why were you trying to get the deed to this place?” Garrus asked.
“This place is actually a front of a red sand dealer,” the human said. “I need to take it over to crack the ring!”
“What?” snapped the bartender, who had been listening on the conversation silently. “Who the hell told you that?”
“The owner of that weapons store near the carport!” Verner said indignantly. “She's an undercover cop! She told me about it when I introduced myself.”
That was all that Garrus needed to know—the human had been led, badly. He had done enough undercover work during his days in C-Sec to know that anyone doing it would have never revealed their cover to a total stranger, whoever he might claim to be. But before he had time to say anything the bartender jumped in again.
“Listen, crap-for-brains: first, we don't sell red sand. Second, red sand is legal on Illium! You just need a license!”
“I'll talk to this undercover cop and figure out what's going on,” Garrus promised, curious to see, what really was going on.
“Thank you,” the bartender smiled. “If I kill annoying customers, it usually causes property damage. That comes out of my pay.”
“Just let me know if you need any help,” the eager human said.
“I can handle it,” Garrus assured him, wondering if he actually should call Shepard for instructions, but decided against it. She had enough on her plate already.
Garrus found the merchant at her kiosk, where Verner had told him she would be.
“Can I help you with something?”the asari asked.
“I talked to an old friend, Conrad Verner,” Garrus said—he felt as if he had moved several years back in time and was again conducting investigations for C-Sec. “You told him that the Eternity lounge was selling red sand.”
“Oh, you're Conrad's friend,” the asari smiled. “Yes, that place is really dangerous. I should know. I'm an undercover cop. Did you get me the deed to the bar? I need the deed to, uh, stop the red sand dealers.”
“I and Verner softened up the bar owner,” Garrus improvised. “But you need to go in and finish them off.”
“Really?” the asari seemed surprised, but Garrus didn't think he had revealed his game. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” Garrus grinned. “You just need to close the deal. Go in, be tough, and let them know you've got support. They'll hand the deed right over.”
“Well... great,” the asari said, still surprised but happy. “Here, I'll set you up for a discount. Thanks for the help.”
Laughing silently Garrus watched the merchant hurry off and turned on his radio.
“Liara?” he called. “A fake undercover cop is trying to shake down the owner of Eternity lounge. Can you send some real law enforcement there to handle it?”
“Owner of Eternity lounge?” Liara said. “I'll see to it. Thanks for letting me know.”
Garrus walked casually back into the lounge, curious to see how things would evolve.
“Damn it!” the voice of the asari trader shouted over the normal din in the bar when Garrus stepped in. “This is just a misunderstanding!”
“Tell it to the judge,” a more dignified asari voice replied coldly. “The surveillance vids caught your extortion attempt from four different angles.”
“I was misled!” the merchant argued. “I was told that you had agreed to sell!”
“Take her away,” an asari officer ordered her troops and the whole group walked out. Passing Garrus, the arrested weapons merchant gave him a hate-filled look but Garrus just grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
“What happened?” Conrad Verner wanted to know, approaching Garrus. “The undercover cop from the weapons kiosk just got arrested!”
“She wasn't a cop,” Garrus replied bluntly. “She was using you to try to take over this bar.”
“What?” the human stared amazed. “No! But she said... But she was pretty! She wanted to get coffee! I screwed this up, didn't I? I screw everything up. Damn it! I'm so stupid! Who was I to think I could do what Shepard does?”
“I've been where you are,” Garrus assured the man. “And believe me when I say that you didn't screw it up as badly as I did. Just cut out the N7 act. I don't think Shepard would appreciate it.”
“Then what should I do?” Verner asked desperately.
“Go home,” Garrus said. “Shepard is back and can take care of things.”
“Oh,” Verner said, disheartened. “Okay. If you think that's what Shepard would want. Thanks.”
The defeated human wandered off and Garrus turned to asari bartender.
“Thanks for taking care of that crazy guy,” the bartender said. “Saves me having to beat him to death with his own spine. That makes the other customers nervous. Anyway, this is Eternity, and I'm Aethyta, asari matriarch and bartender. Get you anything?”
“Give me a drink,” Garrus said, leaning to the bar. “So, you're an asari matriarch? I thought matriarchs served as honoured advisers.”
“Right,” the bartender replied a bit sharply. “Which I do here at this bar. I know, not what you'd expect. But nobody on Thessia wanted to listen to my wise counsel, so here I am. Dad was a krogan who fought in the Rachni Wars. My mother fought in the Krogan Rebellions. I've pretty much seen it all.”
“If your mother fought in the Rebellions and your father was a krogan, didn't that cause tension?” Garrus asked, curious.
“They didn't meet until a few hundred years after your kind put the boot in with the damn genophage,” asari shrugged. “As far as either one knew, they were both just warriors. Dad boasted, Mom stayed quiet. Mom was a matriarch herself, and Dad was near-on a thousand, when the truth came out.”
“What happened when he found out?” Garrus asked.
“I was about a hundred, shaking my ass in some sleazy bar,” the asari explained. “They got me on the link, told me that they were going to have it out, and made me promise to love whichever one survived. Turned out to be damn easy, since neither one did. Family, huh? What a kick in the quad.”
“What's it like, living for nearly a thousand years?” Garrus felt he was getting drunk and slowed down on his drink.
“Violent,” the bartender sighed. “Wars break out, colonies get destroyed. Sometimes you hear good news, like that colony on Feros surviving. That's the exception, though. You find peace in whatever arms will hold you. Turian, elcor, hanar... Even had a pureblood daughter. I was the father. Didn't work out. Then one day you wake up, your figure's gotten matriarchal, and everyone else is too young to remember how the quarians looked inside those suits.”
“Why is a matriarch in a bar serving drinks?”
“It's better than what most other matriarchs are doing,” the asari complained. “Look at that screw-up with Saren and his geth a few years back. Their ships were hanging bare-assed in space when Saren started shooting. If not for humans, we would've bought it right there. And I warned them! Told people on Thessia what was coming, and they didn't want to hear it.”
“What didn't they want to hear?” Garrus asked, throwing back another drink.
“That art and philosophy and political prowee wasn't going to cut it,” the bartender said bitterly. “We can't go a single asari lifetime without some big war breaking out. When I started talking about making new mass relays ourselves, they laughed the blue off my ass. So now I serve drinks. Another one?”
“No, thanks,” Garrus said, handing over some credits. “Got to go.”
Slowly he staggered back to the Normandy.