Sterile air, flat walls, flat floors. The slow burn of relay travel. Nervous twitching in his back.
He'd been unused to being alone. He'd left familiar faces far behind. There had been no one there to guide him, no soft words of encouragement spoken against the scales of his temple.
No. Of course not. She could not have encouraged him. She only existed in brief bursts of sensory information known as memory by then. He could have called on her, wrested her visage from his past, but his thoughts had been dark. Too dark for sunset-colored eyes.
His scales had felt weathered, dry; pulling in weird ways against the base of his neck. He'd been pressed in by empty static. Empty air. And voices, none of which he'd grown up with.
A typical transport shuttle.
And he had been alone.
In one hand, he'd kept a holo. A strange thing it was, by drell standards, and he hadn't needed to look at it more than once. But he had. He'd lit the holo by and by, turned it in his palm, and let the angles of a foreign face shimmer and imprint into his memory. It joined the catalog of other faces he'd encountered throughout the course of his life, strangers and loved ones alike, although the latter were all dead to him.
She was dead, and he had only one person left to blame.
He'd hated the uncertainty. He'd hated thinking about his life. He hadn't wanted Kahje, but he hadn't wanted this, either. He'd wanted more than the mementos of a man who had been little more than a phantom. He'd wanted more than trinkets of supposed sentiment.
He'd wanted answers.
So he had taken the credits, and the holo, and anything else that might have proven useful and left. And as that shuttle had carried him through the void between the stars on a course for the Citadel, he'd let his thoughts turn dark and in upon themselves. Plans of blood had been punctuated by the quick winking of a holo of a human boy and the imagined weight of a gun in his other hand. The world outside his body entertained the same old cycles; sleeping, eating, waiting. He'd gone through the motions and hadn't thought twice about the detached feeling it brought, or if it should unnerve him.
Transit officials had asked for his name as the wards arms loomed into view. He'd told them hesitantly at first, both his given name and his last. By the time he'd reached Zakera, he'd felt much more at ease.
Krios was a killer's name. It would suit his needs.
The day they'd left for Zakera Ward, she'd felt ill.
It had been more of a mental state than a physical one. She'd known her sister was behind it. Her sister had always been behind it, behind every twist and turn and coincidental streak of fortune she and her family had ever encountered. Her adoptive mother's most recent promotion and their relocation to the Citadel had been no less coincidental.
Her guardian angels were at work. Something must have gone wrong... again.
And so, just like the time she and her parents had left Nos Astra, she had her sister's contact information and the names of all the credible information brokers she'd ever used encrypted onto an OSD. She'd it kept in a pocket close to her breast throughout the moving process, not trusting that it wouldn't be lost or mishandled with the rest of her luggage. Her parents had remained oblivious.
It had been for the best.
The galaxy was full of opportunity. It was something she'd been eager to explore in the field of colony development, but as she and her parents had sped through the nearest relay on a course for the Citadel, the insurmountable wealth of space felt more intimidating than welcoming. She would have to adjust to this new uncertainty.
It was fortunate that she'd always been good at adjusting.
She'd listened to her adoptive parents talk animatedly about their future while on the shuttle to the Wards. Topics had included new jobs, humanitarian efforts, her continuing education, and their living arrangements, among other things. She had numerous Wards institutes bookmarked on her extranet account and had taken the time to browse through their degree programs, but always her thoughts had turned back to her sister. Her sister wouldn't have wanted her to worry, but her sister hadn't counted on her suspecting as much as she did.
She'd been left with little choice but to trust that her sister and her sister's associates knew what they were doing. She had never expected explanations, but midway through the Citadel move her guardian angel had sent a message promising just that. It had been their first correspondence in what felt like a long time.
The evasive tone had done nothing to allay her suspicions.
She'd played the violin to pass the time. She'd been practicing in their transit cabin as the Citadel winked into existence from the light of the Serpent Nebula. The sight of it had made her stop playing mid-motion, inspiring a sense of awe and a sliver of fear.
It had to have been for the best, but she'd still wanted answers. She'd find them, too... if she looked.
Kahje had been all rainclouds and gray-studded skies. The rain had plagued him in his youth, ran down his face and gotten in his eyes. He had seen it run into the Encompassing that swirled around and around the bio-domes. He had seen it swallow the body of his mother as she'd slipped away and out of sight, weighted down by stones.
The Citadel had never known rain.
But what it lacked in rain it had made up for in people. At any one time there had been a thousand alien faces communicating a thousand different cues. He'd expected to learn fast, but not so much all at once. Artificial light flickered above the fins of his head when he'd walked down the halls.
Voices. Music. Bright, blinking banners. Blues and reds at the corners of his eyes. Structures of metal and plastic had been interspersed with splashes of foliage transplanted from a dozen alien worlds, all locked in perpetual spring, but it hadn't felt like night or day, spring or fall. The Wards had nothing but partitioned windows and space between them and Widow's light. The only sunset that existed was the one he'd kept within his mind.
They'd asked for an I.D. at customs. A human officer had displayed pale pink gums and commented on how rare it was to see a drell. They'd been satisfied with his passport, but he'd shied away from the security centers afterward. The person he'd been looking for wouldn't have been found there.
And he'd found that person - a human - chattering away in one of the public comm terminals on the 28th level of Zakera's Mid-Wards. His scales had prickled against the air when he'd caught sight of two leather boots, smudged cuffs and a cocky swagger; the holo sprung to mind when the man before him had turned. And there it was, clear as day, perfectly imposed over the human's face in his mind's eye: The familiar gauntness, an identical face, give or take ten years or so.
He'd strode forward. His middle had felt tight, coiled, and the floor hard against his heels. The human had spotted him by then. The alien had frozen, confused and wary.
"Is this you?" he'd demanded. The rasp of his voice had carried between them only to be muffled by the thrum of a nearby club. The holo had winked in miniature on his outstretched palm.
"Is this you?" he'd asked again when the human appeared too startled to reply.
"That's me," the human had said. The boy's face had then contorted into something that passed for recognition. "You... you're Krios!"
Revulsion and something shameful, something yearning and hurt had spiked in his heart at that name.
"You're his son," the boy had continued. Oblivious. "Shit, I didn't know that you were... I thought he'd -"
"That doesn't matter." The holo had since disappeared from his palm. "I'm looking for work."
"Work?" The human had nodded. "Yeah... yeah, I can hook you up. I mean, Krios, right? Just what sort of work are we talking?"
He'd leaned forward. "First I need a gun."
The Tayseri Ward had suffered a great deal of damage during the Battle of the Citadel, and it had still been recovering when they'd taken a detour to survey the Dilinaga and Auxua districts. Her parents would be spending a great deal of time there, with her father working as a transit tech in the Dilinaga district and her mother with Inter-Wards public relations. They'd had an apartment complex reserved in Tayseri, but they'd been more interested in getting her settled in her own place at Zakera Ward.
When they'd left for the keel docking station, her mother had taken notice of various anti-quarian labor signs. The older woman had been incensed on the entire ride from that point on, and by the way her father had looked humored, she'd supposed this had been a good move for both of them.
Not that she'd expected any less from her guardian.
They'd arrived at the Zakera dock soon after. She'd noticed the hanar first, two of them, both idling outside customs. She'd seen many back on Illium, but the intricate bands of light that had glided through their bodies caught her eye when she and her parents had clambered out of their shuttle.
The Wards were never dark, she'd learned. They'd always been illuminated by the watchful eye of the Serpent Nebula. The Wards also had to maintain a breathable atmosphere and centrifugal pseudo-gravity within seven meters of its superstructure. A cautionary warning flashing over a ledge – one stating that that dropped items or persons jumping would fall towards the windows – had been enough to get one of her eyebrows quirking as she'd sidled from the edge.
Illium had never seemed so far away.
A woman at customs had said something about foreknowledge of their arrival. Her father had scratched at his retreating hairline and laughed a thanks. A turian commuter might have said something racist as they'd been swept from the dock and into the hall for security clearance. She'd get used to it.
A scan had been required. She'd twisted her fingers below her navel when the bright grid of the scanner had hummed across her dress. As they waited for it to finish, she'd mentioned to her mother that the scanners in Zakera were some of the best in the galaxy. Her mother had laughed and mentioned that it was good they had little to worry about. It had made her feel better... sort of.
The turian officer performing the scan let them go. They'd found themselves in a C-Sec lobby after exiting the hall. Her parents had wanted to see "her new place" before retiring to their own apartment block, something she'd relented to with a flushed smile.
She'd been pleased with her apartment. Her mother had given her a few brochures highlighting the scholarships she'd been offered at the Auxua School of the Arts in Tayseri and the Larathos Institute at Kithoi. Her mother had also laid the ground rules for their arrangement, said rules being that they (her parents) wouldn't pry into her personal life as long as she kept in touch (weekly.) Her father had been less enthused with the idea of them living separately, but in light of her continuing education and blossoming womanhood, he'd had to concede the point. With a final farewell and a few wet smacks that might have been kisses, they'd eventually left her to her own devices.
The first thing she'd done was activate her extranet account and set up her personal terminal. Once situated, she'd turned her attention to unpacking the rest of her things, but that activity had been cut short by a chime of the door.
She hadn't hesitated to greet her visitor, and she hadn't been disappointed. Her sister had been standing at the door, all tentative smiles and long, dark hair.
The swell of emotion inside her chest had been too great to fathom much else. She'd invited her guardian in and ignored the protests. They hadn't seen each other since Nos Astra. Niceties could wait.
They'd made a show of unpacking some of her belongings, but had soon turned to the wine instead. She'd been eager to share some of her asari-made elasa, so they decided to take a break. Maybe she'd imagined the troubled crease of her sister's brow when she'd asked how her sister and her sister's associates were doing. She hadn't expected answers, but her sister wasn't immune to slips, so she had listened with rapt attention as her sibling moved to speak.
Guardian angels had never been perfect creatures, but she'd still been glad to call this one her own.
A gleaming Carnifex had been kept concealed at his side. He'd thumbed its trigger numerous times and familiarized himself with the cold alloy against the lines of his palm. It had been a strange sensation. The metal had been hard, unforgiving. It had bitten at his senses, prickled his nerves and left him feeling incriminated when he had yet to do anything wrong.
A torrent of uncertainty had welled within him. He'd only grown to hate it more, but this was what he'd come to do. He'd had no choice.
Or so he had thought.
He'd warded off a headache by pinching at his forehead. The uneasy feeling in his gut had twisted and uncoiled numerous times by then, but it stilled altogether when his target appeared.
His breath had caught, colors flashed behind his eyes, lines sharpened; he'd glanced up to gauge whether anyone had become suspicious.
No one had. The target had moved past him, unhurried.
Heart jerking. Adrenaline. Jaw tight set.
In that split second he'd shoved aside the memories of rain and stones and songs of flames snuffed out, but kept the rage intact.
His body had already begun to move, its feet darting over a smooth-worn floor. His targets had neared the entryway. The looming red shape at the corner of his vision had become a krogan, and then a turian, and –
And the best laid plans, of which his had never been, fell to rubble when someone called his name. His hand had jerked and squeezed the trigger twice on instinct, and the resulting wail of gunfire trilled a note of pain throughout his head. It had been sloppy, sure, and he'd been shaken, but the thundering whoomph of a krogan body falling had been good enough for him.
The recoil had shocked him back to his body and away in pursuit of his target, who'd since run inside. They'd both been cornered and caught, but at least he'd been in control of one life, even if it hadn't been his own.
The turian had given up. It fell into a kneel. A small sliver of pleasure, mixed with greater amounts of disgust and horror, had assailed him at the sight. He'd chosen to ignore that, too.
And so he'd found himself exuding far more grandeur than he'd felt as he'd pressed the barrel of the pistol to the back of his target's head. He'd then looked up at the person – or persons – who had botched his job to find him, and when he did, his pulse had chilled.
The sunset was long gone, but it seemed the ghost was still around.
She'd called him Mister Bailey when they'd first been introduced.
He'd acted flustered and told her "Captain" or "just Bailey" would do fine. With her sister's aid, the captain had made the rest of her newly-settled bureaucratic nightmare disappear with a press of a button. Before her sister had left, her sister had explained that there were few people she could trust. The captain – Bailey – had been listed as a (grudging) exception.
She'd taken her sister's words to heart. When Bailey said that he had someone else to introduce her to, she'd even been curious. She hadn't been prepared to find herself standing in the 27th floor lobby looking up at a teal-scaled drell male.
Bailey had explained that this drell was the son of one of her sister's associates. He'd made mention that this individual had once run with "the wrong crowd," but that was being "corrected." He'd said the drell might "squirm a bit" and not to be surprised if she found him unfriendly because he was "something of an ass" and still dealing with "personal issues".
The disclaimer had been alarming. But when she'd looked at the drell, her concerns had faded. He'd looked just as uncomfortable as she, if not infinitely more-so. She'd smiled and nodded her head at him, deciding to give the drell a chance. She would need allies, if not friends.
"You work here?" she'd asked. The drell had frowned. She'd never seen one before, not in person. The plates of his face had moved in odd ways.
"Oh, he works here," Bailey had chuckled.
The drell's frown had only deepened. She would always recall that frown. It was a funny thing to remember about someone.
"I'm Oriana," she'd ventured. She'd kept her hands laced in front of her body out of respect for his personal space, and because she'd been unfamiliar with drell custom.
"Kolyat," he'd said at last. The name had been more of a mumble.
"He's just settling in to his own place, too," Bailey had chipped in. "Near your block. Not a suite by a long shot, but it's better than the old community lodging."
The way he'd drawled out 'community lodging' had given her the impression that it was a fancy way of saying 'jail cell,' and if the venomous look the drell had shot the captain afterward had been anything to go by, she'd been correct.
And, despite everything, she'd still found herself smiling.
"It was nice meeting you," she'd said.
"Feel free to drop in," the C-Sec officer had offered. "Can't guarantee I'll be here, but the sergeant or someone else will. Maybe even this guy." He'd jerked his head toward Kolyat.
The drell had grunted. "Maybe."
Their eyes had met. It had been brief; blue on black. When Kolyat looked away, she'd turned to Bailey.
"I'll keep that in mind."
It'd been a start.