Magnus was not impressed.
The pale orange glow of street lights began to flicker into being to indicate the beginning of the station's night cycle. At least he wouldn't suffer from erratic sleep patterns, which was the only good thing he could take solace in with such unfamiliar surroundings. That was assuming he would be able to find rest in such an unlawful place, hopefully he wouldn't need to stay long enough to worry about it.
Aside from maintaining the galactic standard 20 hour cycle, there was nothing normal or predictable about Omega. From the moment he stepped off the shuttle the old turian found himself feeling the unsettling paranoia of his youth, the kind of instinctive response that told one to be on the look out for trouble. The unsettling sights and smells kept encouraging him to nudge the sidearm on his hip. He hadn't had to use a pistol in a very long time but its weight was a welcome presence.
As he tried to take everything in, he was mildly aware of the foot traffic around him. Aliens of all sorts crowded every nook and cranny. He couldn't guess where they all came from or where they were all going and was constantly having to watch his step. Most of the species were vaguely familiar, an occasional asari or salrian here or there but the rest were completely strange. Especially the humans. No two of them looked remotely alike, it was hard to tell that they were of the same species with their different hair and various skin tones.
Like everyone else on the station, they wore drab and unglamorous colours trying to meld into the scenery which made it even harder to distinguish one from another. Nobody wanted to stand out in that crowd, a low profile was just as valuable as a sidearm for protection. Magnus was sure that his own cabalist-issue armour would fit right in with all its dirt and cracks from excessive field use. He only wish he had remembered to check how well it fit before he had to wear it extensively for the first time in years.
The flight from Citadel space had left him disoriented and tired, a reminder of how little travelling he had done in his life. He was also mildly hungry but wasn't sure of where to begin looking for a meal that was both dextro friendly and halfway appetising. Everything looked so brown and unappealing, thick smoke hung in the air with no where to escape to. Eventually he settled on a small, lightly populated cafe on a street corner that looked somewhat cleaner than anything else in the vicinity. He could at least catch his breath, gain his bearings and order something light to keep him going before he was forced to find some lodging for the night. If only he had caught that earlier shuttle.
As he had suspected, the cafe was mostly empty. Only a single human staff worker was on hand to take drink orders, probably the owner of the establishment. Magnus quietly ordered what he figured would be something safe, a bland tea that was popular on the colony worlds of his people. He noted two asari talking in a corner and a single batarian messing with an omnitool on the opposite side of the room but no one else of interest. Good, maybe he could relax for a few minutes without worrying about who may or may not be watching his movements. All the same, he made sure to take a table that gave him a nice view of both entrances.
Once he was satisfied with his beverage and had heard enough business as usual politicking on the vid screen (the usual speculation about tensions between the System Alliance and the Hegemony leading to an escalated conflict and an unrelated reminder about the Hierarchy's increased dreadnought production), he decided to reread the the text transcript of the audio distress message that had brought him there in the first place.
The e-mail with the recording had read simply:
To: Sergeant Magnus Thorn of the Invictus Cabal
From: Andronicus Thorn (rank/legion data not given)
Encryption Level: Moderate, familial authorisation code required upon receipt
Text: See attached file, utmost discretion required
Transcript: If you're receiving this (and by the spirits I hope you are), then I am in need of immediate assistance. I'll keep it simple, things haven't been going well lately and I suspect that my luck will run out soon. I know we haven't talked for months and I'm sorry and I'll make it up to you some day, I swear it but right now my life is on the line. Probably. Actually, I'm not really sure what will have happened to cause this message to go through. But I can tell you where to find me if I've resorted to sending it. I can't explain more than that, not like this. We need to talk face-to-face, brother. Meet me at the following coordinates. If I'm not there, I'll get another message to you. Some how. Oh and please, please don't tell mom or dad. You've always been good to me and I'm counting on your help (and discretion) now.
The transcript had failed to capture the sound of dread in his younger brother's voice but he could not forget the earnest way his brother had pleaded for help. It wasn't unusual for Andronicus to get himself into a sticky situation but it had been several months since he had checked in with anyone in the family. Magnus hadn't had the time to think too much about his brother's absence, his workload had gotten busier as new cabalists demanded his attention back home. The message was too vague to be useful on its own, even if he had wanted to hand it off to more knowledgeable authorities. And his superior had been pushing for him to take some time off, preferably off world for a short while before the next batch of trainees were ready.
So there he was, completely out of his comfort zone with nothing more than a single message for direction. This was a personal, family matter (whatever the situation actually was) and there would be no orders from the lieutenant or anyone else to guide him. He would have to rely on instinct and his usual cleverness to figure out where his brother was, why he was in trouble, and how to get him out of it.
But first he needed to know more. His surroundings needed to be evaluated, the original message could not be traced to the coordinates mentioned. Already he was getting the feeling that his brother was not telling the full truth of his predicament and he wondered if he wasn't quite the victim that he had portrayed. Impatiently, he refreshed the messages on his omnitool but there was no second message as had been promised. And there was no sign of Andronicus or anyone that knew anything about him.
Unsure of what to do other than waiting for a message that might not arrive, Magnus opted to take a walk through the nearest marketplace. Though it was night time, there seemed no slowdown in the amount of people going about their business. Maybe he could find one of those infamous information brokers or someone who knew of one that could help. The exercise would do his mind some good at any rate.
It had been many years since Magnus had had to handle gathering intel instead of simply analysing what he was given by cabalist operatives. It had also been many years since he had left his homeworld and been thrown into what he considered a civilian environment. The cabal was a place of security and military precision, there was order and everybody had their place. On the streets of the Omega space station, there was utter chaos and confusion.
Every where he looked, he saw something new and amazing. Quarians and volus in their strange suits with their mechanic voices trading what looked like little more than scrap metal, asari and their non-asari partners adding an element of sophistication and prestige to the scenery, a hulking Elcor walking on its arms like some sort of beast of burden parading along. He even noticed a small shop where humans willing allowed their own hair to be cut off and reshapen, the very idea made him flinch with revulsion.
Half of the other shops along the way sold wares he could only guess at, many were traditional places where members of the respected species segregated themselves from every other species. A krogan fish stall here, a batarian knife shop there. And yet he didn't get the impression that each species was intolerant of any other, at least not where the exchange of money was concerned. The melting pot experience seemed drastically different than what he had seen on vids of the Citadel where the buildings were pristine and well-tended. Everyone on Omega seemed desperate for something, whether it was money, food, or recognition.
As he continued along the maze-like streets, he slowly began to realise that he could not recognise most of his surroundings. It was hardly a surprise given the patchwork nature of the local architecture. Eventually everything began to look the same. The market stalls were beginning to thin out. He had seen few hotels or any other places of temporary lodging and got the impression that he was approaching the start of a residential area. Darkened alleyways added new twists and turns to what had been a broad and well-lit footpath.
He chided himself for being so foolish and letting his curiousity get the better of him. He hadn't meant to wander for as long as he had. The lack of a crowd and the quieter surroundings made him feel suddenly exposed, like waking up without one's armour on. He turned a corner and brought up his omnitool for both light and a quick look at the time. Maybe he could even find a map if he looked hard enough on the extranet.
None of the initial searches were useful. He tried again, using the name of a street sign that he remembered from several roads back. It was the best he could do, if only all names had been more familiar and easier to recall. As he continued to mess with the device, he felt more and more uneasy about his position. Casually he shifted his weight, reminding himself that the pistol was not the only weapon he had on-hand. A lightweight sniper rifle sat comfortably in its holster along his back. It didn't have its usual modifications in place, the thermal scope would have drawn too much attention from any would be thieves. But it was still a good, reliable gun that could be used at mid to long range. It also carried sentimental value as it had been a gift from Andronicus a few years ago. Magnus never could figure out where or how his brother had acquired what had once been a very elite human weapon.
Suddenly he felt guilty for his careless manner of dealing with his brother, he should have tried harder to communicate with him before rushing off to an unknown world without any sort of plan. Alone and out of earshot of anyone, he thought he might playback the audio version of his brother's message. Maybe he had missed something important. Before he could do so, there was a loud thud noise from behind him followed by a rough and unprovoked blow aimed at his shoulder.
The noise had turned out to be the armoured boots of two miscreant batarian teenagers sneaking up on what they thought was unsuspecting victim. The first jab from one had missed quite by accident as Magnus was turning around to check his blind spot. The second from the other newcomer had not. Luckily the ablative plating of his armour absorbed most of the force.
"Ow," the unfortunate thug exclaimed, having not expected the medium armour to be nearly as tough as it was. On the outside the material appeared almost soft and there was little shine left to indicate that it might something more sturdy than a jumpsuit with fancy legion markings.
The wake up call had given Magnus enough time to focus his biotic barriers into existence. While most armour had kinetic barriers powered by the electronics within the physical suit, a biotic relied on their own internal power reserves to maintain a similar layer of protection. The effect was basically the same but the biotic barriers were much more subtle in execution.
Clearly neither of the batarians were familiar with this concept and didn't realise what they had gotten themselves into. One aimed a pistol and let off a shot at point-blank range, attemping to cripple their target while they planned their next move. The barrier rippled and a blue light discharged where there bullet had been. This phenomenon confused the pair long enough for Magnus to draw his own side-arm.
"Hey old man, put that toy away before someone gets hurt," the one with a pistol barked. The other one reached for a weapon on his back.
"We just wanted to talk, no need to be so hostile," the other jeered now with a shotgun cradled under his arm.
Magnus wished he could read their facial expressions for any sign of what their intentions were but wasn't sure which pair of eyes were used for what. Not that it mattered, they obviously weren't looking for a nice chat. How had they got the jump on him so fast?
"Yeah you totally need to chill out. We own this street see and you have to pay the toll. If you can't afford it then we'll take that gun off your hands. No, not that one, the bigger one. That's all we want. Actually, we might just take that and all the credits you have. If you'd be so kind," the one with the pistol droaned on mockingly while the other tried to move in a bit closer to flank Magnus.
Even if he had wanted to comply with their pitiful demands, there were very few credits that he could offer them. One of the boons of cabalist life was having everything provided for each member of the cabal. Food, shelter, armaments, transporation, everything. There was little need for disposable income for a group of people that were isolated from the rest of Hierarchial society. Money could be traced and potentially jeopardise operations that were almost always secretive. No turian was a civilian and no cabalist was a mere soldier.
The flanking batarian was savagely flung by an invisible force into a wall, hard enough that dark liquid began to run down his nose. The pistol wielder only got off one glancing shot before his weapon dropped from his hands. He yelled out in anguish as an electrical current ran over the nerves of his omintool arm. Magnus held his own omnitool up close to his body so the overload effect could continue without interruption should the other batarian regain his feet too soon.
The first assailant quickly raised his shotgun as he slid down the wall but was unable to aim it properly after hitting his head so hard. The other finally jerked his arm far enough away from Magnus' grasp to break the connection and scrambled to find where his weapon had disappeared to. Being an honourable turian, Magnus did not hinder the batarian's efforts and preferred to fight an armed opponent than one who could not defend himself. The recovering batarian finally gave up on trying to handle his heavier weapon in what was quickly becoming a close quarters fight and madly leapt at Magnus from behind, throwing punches and kicking his legs madly.
But Magnus was a highly trained cabal operative and was able to side step around most of the unorthodox movements. The few kicks and lunges that found their target were met with jabbing spurs and the blunt end of Magnus' pistol, he wasn't too keen to inflict grevious harm if it wasn't necessary. The batarian fell to the ground to catch his breath and check on his partner's progress, not ready to try his sporadic melee again without some help.
The other batarian was trying to put distance between himself and the two brawlers, having given up on locating his weapon and realising that they had bitten off more than they could chew with what was supposed to be a simple robbery. His friend called out to him but there was no honour among thieves. Infuriated and coasting on adrenaline, Magnus threw a glowing field out from his talons and the escaping batarian stopped in his tracks. He began to shriek as he had done before when his omnitool had been overloaded but the shrieking began to escalate rapidly into a terrible cry.
His partner watched in horror as Magnus intensified his attack, the mass effect field was generated in thin air around its victim. A pale blue light ripped through the thin layer of the field as dark energy erupted on a visual scale. He had not wanted to kill or injure either of the teenagers, they were misguided and definitely criminals but they probably hadn't been given much choice given the environment they lived in. They had chosen to attack, however, and that made them enemies regardless of their moral nature.
Nothing was more deplorable than disloyalty, whether in the Hierarchy or elsewhere. The second the one batarian had elected to abandon the other to his fate was the second he condemned himself. All the same, Magnus had not intended to use such a powerful warp attack on him, how could he teach a lesson to a dead man? He hadn't meant to let the attack persist long enough to disintegrate the sentient being's flesh and bone but once the energy was released it could not be controlled. What an awful way to die, atom-by-atom, molecule-by-molecule ripped apart. It would be a long time before he could forget those screams.
Afterwards, Magnus asked a travelling salarian merchant who appeared to be on his way home for some directions on where to find a place to sleep and was relieved to have something go right for once. He had had enough misadventuring for one day and was still a bit rattled by the confrontation with Omega's miscreants. At least he had managed that particular situation on his own, even if it hadn't gone the way he wanted. Maybe he wasn't losing his edge just yet.
The short journey to what was barely more than a cheap hostel was sobering. The streets were lined with the homeless, most of which looked dishelved and forgotten. A few of the unfortuante souls caried weapons and brutish attitudes that weren't too different from the two batarians that had assaulted him earlier. But most had little to nothing at all to their name aside from ragged clothing and an open fire for warmth. It was unlike any world Magnus had ever been exposed to, he was so used to his creature comforts and the things most everyone in Citadel space took for granted.
At one point there was a rickety shelter where he could make out the shapes of hunched over turians and what sounded like sickly quarians talking in hushed tones. What business did any turian have in a place as run down as that? The Hierarchy provided everything one needed to be successful and happy, what could possibly turn someone away from such a life? He noted that most of the turians were either barefaced or displaying gang-like face markings that didn't represent their colony of origin. Were they ashamed of their heritage or social outcasts? Some were even so bold as to not wear gloves, their bare talons gleamed dangerously to warn off any potential threats. Outside of Hierarchy space it was deemed excessively rude to show one's talons in public, it was a sign of utmost disrespect, a reminder of a barbaric past before technology had elevated their civilisation to be on par with the rest of the galaxy.
Magnus didn't meet any of their glowering glances as he walked past, he wanted to fade away into the background and pretend they didn't exist. Perhaps that's what they wanted as well, to hide away from their duty and obligations like cowards, to fight like animals over scraps of food and pride. He was disgusted with what he had seen that day and already wishing he could return to his comfortable bed in the barracks on Invictus. The hotel didn't provide the same quality of comfort but it had a bed and a clean shower to scrub off the persistent stench of desperation that enveloped every bit of the station. He swore to himself that he'd not wear the same suit of armour again once he could afford to get rid of it.
The old turian took a good long look at his reflection before turning in for the night. He was glad to be reminded of what the Invictus violet markings looked like against his cheeks and mandibles. His dark carapace almost seemed black instead of dark brown due to the small room's low lighting. He couldn't tell if cracks were beginning to show on his face or if the mirror was just dusty, it wouldn't be so unlikely at his age. Every day he was looking more and more like his father except his eyes were brown and not hazel. Most of the features were unremarkable, he didn't have his mother's piercing golden eyes or imposing presence but his crest was a respectable length unlike his younger brother who had often suffered teasing from his peers. No battle scars yet, not where others could see anyway.
Could be worse, could be better, he thought to himself. Better to be average and alive than extraordinary and likely dead at a young age. Then again, most men in their 40s would have had families of their own by now. Not Sergeant Magnus Thorn though, he was too busy trying to avoid promotion and retirement to be like everyone else. No more soul-searching tonight, he reminded himself and pulled away from the mirror. It was time for sleep followed by one last grand adventure. There was no point in worrying about what to do after that, life was unlikely to change any time soon.