A directive to perform the indicated passage of a composition in a manner that the sound dies away, gradually diminishing in volume, rhythm, and tone.
(noun) The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
Year 2183. Post-Sovereign Attack.
The air still smoldered with the heat of plasma rifles and grenades.
Sinead Shepard basked in the tranquil light of the Citadel Tower, growing warm with the comfort of victory and pride. She had become used this, the hot smell of battle with the buzz of adrenaline: her ideal cocktail.
She drank with such pleasant satisfaction.
The dim light still managed to glow, gold and white against the cracked walls and burnt garden bushes. Rubble and charred ship remains littered the ground and disrupted the serene ambiance the Citadel Tower once had. Now, it was nothing more than a burning mountain of Reaper remains and Saren’s memory.
Shepard had held onto her pity for a respectable time before throwing it onto the smoking ashes of building remains. Thoughts and prayers were only good in death. Clinging to them was for the weak minded.
It appeared the council members did not share the idea.
The surviving council members stood before her, Sparatus and Valern with their heads bowed while Tevos laid a hand over her heart.
Ambassador Udina and Captain Anderson stood by her, proud and tired after the long battle. Udina hunched in on himself under the weight of the rush, unaccustomed to the thrill of tension in his shoulders. Anderson shrugged into it with ease like the marine he was.
Shepard hoped one day to be able to wear her victories like Anderson did. With accomplishment and satisfaction of good deeds and righted wrongs. Till then, she would drink her fill in her own way.
She indulgenced in the glory of a win like a glutton, chasing the high with nothing to lose and a glass of scotch tight in her hand. Maturity and wisdom could wait till the next war.
Ambassador Udina broke her spell and brought her back to the conversation. “Shepard, you can’t be serious. You? As Councilor?”
Shepard turned her head to him with a hint of a glare. “No one’s gonna do it the way I want it done.” She recalled a memory from her time on Mindoir, a woman held her close and said ‘be the change you want to see’.
She didn’t want to see this massacre happen again.
With her hip shifted to the side, Shepard waited for Udina’s challenge. She always did love a good fight.
Udina fidgeted side to side and passed a concerned eye to the asari councilor who watched him curiously. “Frankly Commander,” he began with constrained calm, “you like to let your fists do the talking. I believe someone with a more political background would be better qualified.” He tried to be professional, with an analytical point and firm nod of his head with hands tucked behind his back.
“Like you, Udina?” Shepard asked sarcastically.
He straightened his back with a high chest. “I’m only an example of many potential candidates. But yes, someone like me.”
Councilor Sparatus stepped forward from the council group. “I agree with Ambassador Udina. Commander Shepard, we are grateful for all you’ve done but you’re not exactly suited for a job as a politician.” Polite with a patronizing undertone. At least he was trying to soften his distaste now.
“What do you think another politician is going to give you that I can’t?” Shepard forced herself to relax her jaw. “I have first-hand experience dealing with the reapers and the drive to put an end to this mess.”
Councilor Sparatus balked with his mandibles fanning out only to snap them against his jaw. “Reapers? Shepard, there were geth swarming the Citadel only moments ago. This is clearly a geth-”
“You’re still denying they’re real? Even after all of this?” Shepard dramatically gestured to the smoking chaos around them all.
Udina cleared his throat and grumbled, “It’s rather poor taste to use this attack at your political platform.”
“I’m not using this as a platform, I’m making my point,” Shepard said to him with a glare. She faced back towards Councilor Sparatus and hardened her stare. “You ignored me and look what happened. Maybe you’ll listen to me a little better when I’m sitting in front your face everyday.”
The turian councilor folded his arms, green eyes as sharp as hers.
“Commander,” Udina interjected firmly, “I am humanity’s ambassador. I am the most qualified for this position.” He tried to stand tall, hands by his side with shoulders pressed back.
Shepard mirrored his stance and angled her chin back with sharp military precision. If anyone was going to win this contest, it was going to be her. “No Ambassador,” she said with finality. “ I don’t think another politician is what we need. The Council needs someone who knows the dangers out there and can move forward in the fight.” She turned back to the council, at a military rest, and locked eyes with the asari before her. “I am the more qualified one here.”
Councilor Sparatus groaned quietly with his arms still crossed. “I beg to differ, Commander.”
“You usually do, Sparatus,” Shepard clipped.
Councilor Tevos gently cleared her throat and stepped behind Councilor Sparatus with a small hand on his shoulder. “I think this proposal is worth listening to,” she said softly to him.
The asari councilor turned her head towards Shepard with a delicate blue smile. “Commander, I think it’s an inspired choice. You have a great deal of perspective to give the council. The people of the Citadel will have peace of mind knowing you’re humanity’s representative.”
A flush tickled Shepard’s cheeks as she nodded her appreciation. “Thank you, Councilor.” A pretty smile always did soften her mood.
Captain Anderson nudged up behind her. “Are you sure about this, Shepard? You’re not the type to sit out of the action for too long.” He let his hand linger on her shoulder as a sign of comfort.
The warmth radiated through her shoulder and eased the tension she pinched up her spine. “I know. But needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Right?” Shepard gave him a soft smile, assured and steady.
‘Be the change you want to see.’
Years of obedience in the Alliance taught her many things. Most importantly, if you want something done right then do it yourself. She had served others for so long. Now was the time to be in charge where she felt a real difference could be made. She wasn’t the biggest fan of sitting out of the action, but doing what she felt was right was more important.
There was a twisting in her stomach as she nodded on with her proposal. Never let them see you sweat, she reminded herself.
Anderson’s eyes gave her a once over. He paused, then nodded with a push of his lip and grunt of approval. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Maybe you are suited for this after all.”
Udina’s side eye burned in Shepard’s peripheral. She pushed her shoulders back once more and stepped forward to the council, leaving the critic in her shadow.
The three council members exchanged looks, a silent conversation. Councilor Tevos cleared her throat as she stepped forward .
She moved before Shepard, long and elegant. Her hands rolled like waves as she spoke with a mother’s care. “Well, it seems a little unorthodox but I agree with you Commander.” She briefly glanced back to her comrades for confirmation.
Councilor Valern nodded while Sparatus shrugged with a defeated huff behind him.
Her half lidded grey eyes relaxed Shepard, smooth as silk like her voice. “You bring an expertise the to table that no one does. We’ll need to discuss further on this, but I believe you may have yourself a seat on the Council, Commander.”
Shepard wasn’t sure if it was the pretty asari in front of her, the cocktail of her aftermath, or the invitation of a council seat, but she felt pretty damn good.
Year 2183. Months After Sovereign's Attack.
“Clean up is going according to plan, Councilor.” The trademark pink and white armor had earned a few new scuff marks, but Ashley Williams still wore it proudly.
Shepard smiled to herself and waved off the formalities. “You don’t need to call me that Ashley.”
Ashley returned the smile. “I know. But it’s kind of fun.” She paused a moment to hold back a snicker. “COUNCILOR,” she emphasized with a bow and twirl of her wrist.
“Shut up!” Shepard snorted. She tossed the data pad on to her desk, not paying attention to the dull statistics anyway.
Ashley laughed a little more at her own joke and tried to wipe the smirk from her face. “Cute hair by the way,” she said and pointed to the grown out curls atop Shepard’s head.
“You like? I’ve been letting it grow out,” Shepard said flirtatiously and flipped a curl from her forehead. She leaned in closer to her comm and dropped her voice, “Now are we going to talk shop or are you finally falling victim to my charms?”
The extra wink and cheesy grin were enough to make Ashley roll her eyes. She laughed along with Shepard, basking in the sweet comfort of their cat and mouse banter. Some things would never change, the playful flirting was one of them.
“Geth sightings have been dropping steadily,” Ashley said through the remnants of her laugh. “We’re going to keep checking around of course, but I have a feeling they’re heading for the hills.” She cocked her head high in pride, the triumph over Sovereign still stoking her fire. “How goes the work on your end?”
There was a heavy sigh with the roll of Shepard’s eyes. “Slow. You’d think convincing the galaxy a giant technological termination squad is coming after them would be easy. Sparatus has it out for me. I had allies in the beginning, but he’s been spinning my words with his fancy ‘politician talking’.” She mockingly threw in the air quotes for emphasis. “He makes me sound like a loon. I’m nothing but a rambling crackpot to these politicians.”
“How can they say that with all of the evidence?” Ashley’s face twisted with confusion.
Shepard sighed. “They’re telling me I’m ‘mistaken’. Sparatus continues to push ‘geth invasion’ and everyone eats it up. When I try to argue against him he just talks me into a corner! He’s making me look like an idiot.” She pinched the bridge of her nose with a groan. “How am I supposed to make this work?”
There was a hard frown on Ashley’s face. “You’ve done the impossible on the battlefield. Is a conference room really that much different?”
“Oh, it’s different,” Shepard sighed. “Our meetings go nowhere and we never actually get anything done. How these blowhards ever got anything accomplished is beyond me. I try to move conversations along and no one listens! I’m constantly talked down to like a child just because I don’t have their kind of experience.”
“You have strengths of your own, don’t let them make you think otherwise,” Ashley said. “You’re the Savior of the Citadel and you saved their lives. Remind them of that.”
Shepard scoffed and hung her head. “They don’t seem to care. I’m just a jarhead to them. They love to remind me I’m a soldier playing politician.” She bit her lip and swallowed down the lump in her throat. Her heart beat a little louder in her ears at the acknowledgment of her failure. “I think I’ve bit off more than I can chew.”
Ashley shook her head, sympathy clear on her face. Her unwavering support felt oddly overwhelming. “If anyone can do it, it’s you.”
The honey in her eyes always made Shepard grow warm, like seeing home just around the corner. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she said softly, careful not to let her emotions bleed over.
It appeared Ashley could sense it nonetheless and smiled wide. “I’ll always be here to support you, Shepard.”
I know, Shepard thought to herself. No matter how much Ashley smiled the rock in Shepard’s stomach remained.
“Thanks, Ash.” There was a chime at her office door signaling an entrance . “I have to go. I have a meeting.” Her tone was short, but with it held a twinge of regret at cutting their call. “Keep the Normandy safe for me. And tell Joker to behave.”
The call ended with another laugh accompanied by an “Aye-aye, ma’am!”
Year 2183. Present Day.
She loved being alone.
The freedom that came with it was a luxury she would bask in for days. She would savor the sweet taste before the chains of social expectation caught around her ankle once more.
In her penthouse, Sinead Shepard sat on her bar stool at her kitchen counter, highball glass teetering between her thumb and forefinger as she spun it on its edge. The melting ice cubes would shift and slide along with her movements and crush against the lime peel at the bottom. There was a warm numbing buzz slowly radiating through her entire body.
Her home was far from modest, though it wasn’t of her choosing.
The walls were a soft neutral with large paintings of blooming flowers with asari sculptures hung next to them. An elaborate crystal chandelier spun over head, twinkling with the soft natural pink of the bulbs behind its curtain of stars. It dangled over the large glass coffee table which was dwarfed by the suede couch to its side. The only soft edge to her living room was the white faux fur rug that cushioned it all.
She spun in her seat, leaving her glass on the counter. Her kitchen was large and never used, looking as pristine as the day she moved in. It opened into the sitting room with three steps and met the fluff of the rug. She crossed the rug, enjoying the fur against her bare feet, and gave a passing glance to the windowed wall of her sitting room. The giant window overlooked the calm of the city, and reflected her disdain.
Through her she could see the lights and life of the citadel, moving without her and needing her all the same. Her ghostly image melted into the reflection, her eyes finding themselves and glaring. When she signed up for this position she had expected more. This frustration, this weight, wasn’t what she wanted. But things don’t always happen the way you want, her reflection said. There she was, Councilor Sinead Shepard, Hero of The Citadel, Defeater of The Geth, Crackpot of The Reapers.
This is what I got for trying, she thought.
Snapping her head straight, she walked into her study that was on the other side of her penthouse. There was a mahogany desk littered with datapads and another empty glass from an hour earlier, a drying old fashioned with lipstick on the rim. The room was lined with bookshelves and stories she never read, or ever would. Framed holo images of her former N7 squad and newer Normandy crew sat on the shelves too. She felt a little melancholy as she looked at them. Those days were done now.
Time for another drink.
She passed the desk, the shelves, and, small end table to reach the bar. Its brass frame, sturdy and polished, held her salvation.
With practiced ease, she uncorked the crystal decanter and poured into a new whiskey glass. Amber swam and pooled until half full. No ice. No mixers. Just her and her pal, Johnny Walker.
A sudden surge of voices caught her off guard, booming through her home and drawing her attention away from the needed drink gripped in her hand. With a confused tilt of her head, she slowly made her way back out of the office and into the sitting room.
She stepped around the corner, caution warning her senses to be alert. The voices grew louder, emitting from the opposite side of her home, possibly from the small living room. She soon heard the voice clearly and made out a heated conversation.
“All I’m saying is this whole Anti-Human business has a lot of growing support and frankly, it seems quite foolish to dismiss it as nothing.”
“These radical fear mongers are nothing more than talk. They spew hate rhetoric like it’s air, and that’s all it is! Hot air! A bunch of wind bags wanting to hear their own voice!” said a gruff man who made Shepard cringe. How she hated that voice.
The other man scoffed, “That may be so Ambassador Udina, but that hot air can cook up some real serious trouble. Are you going to ignore the multiple death threats made in the passed two weeks to Councilor Shepard? Your own human councilor has been painted in a nasty light.”
Feeling a groan on annoyance come on, Shepard rounded the corner of her home and found the bright colors of the news channel playing in the dim living room. Udina’s grumpy face was blown-up wide on the television as he argued with a reporter. She managed to make out a tall figure, armored with a pistol strapped to his side, standing with an irritated edge up his back in front of the television.
“Come on, Garrus. Turn that news junk off.” She peered at him over the rim of her glass, vision blurring only briefly.
Her friend turned to her, blue visor a bright bullseye on his face. His mandibles clicked once against his jaw before bringing his omni-tool up to shut the news off.
With his shoulders squared, he eyed the glass in her hands and hunch of her posture. “Is that really wise, Shepard?” Garrus’ voice was laced with mild annoyance but cushioned with the concern only an old friend could have.
“Is it really wise to just sneak into a former marine’s home?”
He ignored her jab and pointed to her glass.
Shepard slouched into the doorframe and waved her hand in dismissal with a smirk. “This is only my first one.”
Garrus crossed his long arms over his chest and cocked a hip to the side, sending her a skeptical glare.
Shepard deadpanned and sat in the silence with him for a second before throwing back a gulp of amber and turning back into the sitting room.
As she strolled away Garrus sighed another heavy breath and followed her to the sitting room where she flopped on the couch. He sat on the end opposite her and waited for her to speak.
She didn’t, as usual. Waiting him out became the easiest thing to do. The concerned lecture was coming regardless of what she said.
“Shepard,” he began, but struggled to continue. His eyes caught the large vase of calla lilies sitting on her coffee table, briefly allowing the distraction to ease the conversation.
He turned to her and gestured at the flowers. “Curious that you have so many flowers in this place. That badass reputation you try to maintain won’t last at this rate.” Garrus leaned back into the couch and swung an arm over the back.
Shepard smirked and sat her drink on the glass coffee table, sans coaster. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have pretty things, Garrus.” She mimicked his pose, lip pinched in her teeth and a rosy glow dusting her face and neck. “The cleaning crew brings them in for me from time to time. This is the most recent bouquet.” She sent a sloppy point in the direction of her white flowers.
“Hm,” Garrus hummed.
She wrinkled her nose with another smile and patted Garrus on his arm. “How are you doing, Garrus?” The couch bounced as she turned to him, her chipper change of mood fueled by the blooming whiskey heat in her chest.
Garrus scratched the back of his neck. “You know Shepard, I’ve been better. Organizing your protection detail has been a little taxing. But hey, what are best friends for.”
The sarcasm was not lost on Shepard. She played through his comment and danced right into her next joke. “You’ve brought me all these new friends, Garrus! It’s been a party every day!” She bent down and grabbed her glass again, taking another sip. She noticed Garrus’ lingering judgment on her hand and ignored it.
“This is serious, Shepard,” he urged.
Shepard stood up, placing her glass down, and walked over to a tall wooden cabinet with shelves under it. It came about as high as her waist, old looking but well maintained. Within the shelves were slim folders which she began to finger through.
“You’re worrying over nothing,” she said trying to ease him. “No one is actually going to follow through on any of that, Garrus. Despite all the mud being thrown on my name, I’m still the Savior of The Citadel. Those Anti-Human extremist can say what they want, but they can’t change the fact that I saved all of them. People know that.”
“Yet you’ve received more death threats in two weeks than the entire Council combined.” Garrus leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.
Having found what she was looking for, Shepard stood back up with a thin folder in her hands. She lifted the lid on top of the cabinet and pulled out a giant black disc. A smile pulled at her lips as she gave the item in her hands a once over.
She passed a quick look his way before putting the disc in the cabinet and fiddling with it. “You’ve put a lot of work into that protection detail you’re so proud of. Even if someone did try something, I doubt they’d get very far.” Catering to his ego usually got her off the hook.
She watched Garrus nod in agreement. He said he had handpicked the best he could find, including himself, and stationed them around her home. Overkill in Shepard’s opinion, but if it got him off her back then so be it.
Garrus stopped his thoughts and watched Shepard struggle with her cabinet. “What the hell is that thing anyway?”
“This,” a small lever came down with a scratch, “is a record player.”
“That doesn’t really answer my question,” Garrus said with a chuckle.
“Give it a minute.” Shepard opened the cabinet doors of the player to reveal large speakers hidden underneath and then backed away while activating it with her omni-tool.
Soft guitar strings echoed in the room as a bass morphed in with the song that began to play. The speakers were soft, at a respectable level, and sang away the tension that had been sitting in the room.
Shepard smiled to herself and looked Garrus’ way. “See? It plays music,” she said proudly.
Garrus got up from the couch and inspected the player. “Seems archaic.”
“It’s nostalgic,” she corrected.
Garrus shrugged his shoulders. “Semantics.”
The song began to pick up with a female singer’s voice soothing away the instruments only to call them back. Drums pattered in the background, sturdy in their rhythm, much unlike Shepard’s venturing hips.
“Come on, Garrus,” Shepard quipped, boney elbows flapping like wings. Her teeth pinched her tongue against her bottom lip with a goofy smile as her cheeks flushed a little brighter from the alcohol.
Garrus sighed. “I don’t think it’s a great idea to be getting drunk at a time like this. You know death threats really kill my mood to dance.”
Aiming her omni-tool at the large speakers, she clicked the volume up another notch.
Garrus was met with an awkward butt shake as his only response.
She peeked at him over her shoulder, red lipstick smearing slightly at the corner of her mouth. A quick swipe of her finger and she appeared clean. She sashayed over to the coffee table and picked up her glass for another sip.
With glass in hand, Shepard bounced and then slid over to Garrus, casually bumping shoulders with him. Her dance assault continued with a displaced hip-check and a shimmy.
Garrus looked her up and down. “You’re really going for it, huh?”
Shepard nodded into her glass for another sip. Eyes locked onto his, a little mischief burning behind them while she worked her shoulders in circles.
“Spirits, you look like an idiot,” he affectionately muttered. “Well, if you’re going to do this might as well do it right. Here, let me help you.” He took the glass and sat it on the nearby table. He lead her away from standing objects and held her close for a dance.
Her hands fell into his easily enough, though the clumsy way she followed through the turn gave Garrus pause.
Leading her back into a closed position he swayed and bobbed with her in her living room. “How you holding up there, Shepard?”
“I’m doing great,” she said and leaned back to look up at him. “You having trouble keeping up?” She attempted to lead herself through another turn with a fancy flare, but stumbled on her way back in.
With his long arms, Garrus caught her easily enough and straightened her against him. “Never could quite catch up to you,” he joked. “There anything you want to talk about? Like, why you drinking alone tonight?”
“I’m just trying to have a good time!” She created a little more distance between them, stepping backwards to make room for another dramatic spin. She never came back in.
“This is my favorite part!” Shepard increased the volume another notch and her hands fell into Garrus’s once more, though she kept her distance.
She flung her head side to side, flopping her curls around with the beat of the song and pumped Garrus’ arms along with her. The intensity of her dancing pulled Garrus along and down to her level, roughly shaking him.
“Alright, calm it down,” he joked. “You’re going to break my arm with your dancing.”
“Coward,” she said playfully and twirled away from him.
He laughed in response and watched her fumble about with the chorus. “I think you need to settle down, Shepard.”
Ignoring him, she danced on. She broke into a spin and let her head fall back, arms thrown to the side.
Yet again, Garrus sighed with defeat. “I’ll go get you some painkillers and a shower started.” He left the room and headed to Shepard’s bedroom where he knew she kept her things.
Shepard spun with the chorus, and took flight with the swell of the words, the notes fanning her inhibition. Her drunkenness steadied her in a way gravity couldn’t. Her worries ebbed with the caress of its warmth, like a lover’s hand on her cheek. Heart pounding, chest rising, she rolled her head into another full body spin and let the mad twister of song and dance claim her. She was lost in its moment, never wanting to leave, to abandon the life that damned her.
So, she spiraled down.
As the song declined to its end there was a heavy explosion at her front door. She saw it blasted open—hard and fast. It crashed down and in poured a group of six masked turians and batarians. They fanned out into her home with military ease.
The group stormed in with guns up and ready, all aimed at her head.
She halted mid spin from her dance, song coming to an end, and stared at them in surprise before anger took hold. The commander in her came up and glared them down, counting their numbers, examining their load out, and planning her attack.
“Check the place,” the turian in front ordered. She assumed he was the leader.
Two men, one on each side stepped away and left the scene to check her home.
Gingerly, she brought her hands up and out for them to see. Keeping her movements slow, she stepped towards them. “Get out of my home,” she ordered.
The turian lowered his gun and swayed forward with a cocky air. “Councilor Shepard,” he said and reached behind his head to unlatched his helmet. He removed it and sat it down on the couch as he approached her. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
Shepard scoffed. “Yeah, I’m sure you’re here for an autograph.” She began planning how to disarm him and hoped Garrus was either taking someone out, or waiting for a moment to attack.
“There’s that human arrogance I love so much.” With his rifle lowered he appeared short for a turian, almost young looking. The yellow colony markings were stark against the grey of his face plates. His armor was dark, black with hints of sleek teal on his shoulder and chest, and made him look more menacing than the bright colors of his face.
Shepard let her eyes rake him up and down with an obvious move of her head. She quirked a brow in skepticism. “You seem a little young to be waving that rifle around.” She looked to the soldiers behind him. “How did you even get in here?”
He answered by snapping the gun level to her head. He was short for a turian but could still tower over her easily.
“You forget that turians start training their people for combat at young ages. I’m old enough to know how to shoot you in the face.” His blue eyes were hard and narrow. “We’re an elite group of individuals who are fighting for a righteous cause. We’ve been training for this day.”
Shepard straightened up to look him in the eyes. If it was a stare-off he wanted, it was a stare-off he would get.
They held each other’s gaze for a moment, neither one moving, until the two men from earlier came back from their inspection.
“Are we all clear?” the young turian asked, never taking his eyes off Shepard.
The two batarian men nodded to each other. “Yes, sir. No one in the house.”
Good. They didn’t find Garrus, Shepard thought.
The only thing standing between her and the invading turian was her oversized glass coffee table.
He lowered his gun some, never breaking eye contact, and flipped it around to smash the butt of the rifle into the table. It broke easily, the lilies and vase spilling onto the shattered remains.
“Councilor Shepard,” he began, “I’m going to make this simple to understand.” He hugged his rifle close and walked around the frame of the destroyed table. His voice was almost serene as he spoke. “I’m going to hurt you. You will feel pain. Once I’m done hurting you, I’m going to kill you. It will not be quick.”
Shepard hardened her glare. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because you humans need to understand your place. You’re entitled and full of shit. You bring nothing to the galactic table and you’re an annoyance.” He was now in front of her, mandibles twitching in anticipation. “But you, specifically, need to be brought down.”
“And why is that?” she asked.
“You’re corrupt and power hungry,” he said with a stern voice. “You create conflict just so you can solve it. Take this ‘reaper threat’ for example. You’ve put yourself in a position of power for your own agenda. You’re just like the rest of your species. You’re dangerous, and I’m going to stop you.”
Shepard lowered her arms and stood as tall as she could. “You can’t tell me you seriously believe all that propaganda. West News* has had it out for me since day one,” her hand waved away his ridiculous accusations. “I saved the Citadel from a Reaper invasion, they’re real.”
He chuckled softly. “It’s not propaganda when every newscaster is saying the same thing.”
Shepard shrugged. “Pretty sure that’s the definition of propa--”
The turian cut her off with the back of his hand, the armor cutting into her cheekbone.
Though surprised, she didn’t stumble back. She clenched her jaw and remained standing tall. She turned her eyes back to him, glare hot with an ugly scratch budding under her eye.
“That,” he said gesturing to her cut, “is only the beginning.”
Dextus Talid was the angry, petulant nephew of a turian politician. Over confident, self righteous, and with a chip on his shoulder the size of his ego. Though young, he had many connections to the men and weapons that his namesake gave him. He was inexperienced not the way of a gun, but in the consequences it brought.
Thane Krios didn’t like him. But work was work, and he would follow through.
The batarian styled helmet that he had forced on chafed against the frills of his neck and reminded him to keep movements minimal and the job quick. Don’t expose yourself, no matter what.
Slipping into the six-manned group unnoticed had been a simple task. He took the place of a batarian extremist by stealing his armor before the group’s assault meet-up. All he needed to do was remain quiet and follow Dextus’ lead. Simple.
Taking out the multiple C-Sec officers proved to be no challenge for the trained ex-soldiers. They were swift and moved through their targets with little to no remorse as they made their way to the top floor of the building.
Once they reached Shepard’s penthouse, their engineer pulled programed charges from his pack and passed them to Dextus who eagerly planted them.
The young turian was riding his high as he set off the explosives along Shepard’s door. His excited breathing was easily heard through their comm link.
With their guns at the ready, the group stepped in and found Shepard spinning in her home to a loud song.
Catching someone in a private moment would normally make one cringe, but Thane had grown numb to nagging empathy.
“Check the place,” Dextus commanded.
Thane and another had peeled away from the group to check opposite ends of the house. He readied his weapon just in case, pistol firm in his grip. Be quick, he thought. He couldn’t be away from long.
He stepped into what appeared to be an office, warm colors and yellow lights, with books and a bar table. Empty. Move on.
Moving forward, he found a bedroom in the next room over with a small bathroom. The door was open with the light casting through the dark room.
Thane carefully looked around the dark bedroom using his special eyes to his advantage. The residual heat signature warned him of another’s presence.
With a careful step forward, he angled his gun close.
A C-Sec officer, turian, whipped around the corner with a primed pistol aimed at Thane’s head.
With his prowess guiding him, Thane stepped under the turian’s arm, jamming a punch into his elbow and forcing him to drop the gun. He turned deftly and front kicked the officer deeper into the bathroom.
The officer struggled to find his composure in the cramped room but made a few swift jabs at Thane’s head regardless. A fighter’s spirit.
Thane used the small room to his advantage. Like a ballet, Thane dipped and turned avoiding each throw. He sidestepped the turian and slipped behind him. Quickly, he jumped onto his back, feet bracing himself on the walls as he wrapped himself around the officer’s neck and squeezed.
The officer put up a fight, trying to slam his back into the wall and crush Thane, but couldn’t find enough leverage for a strong push. His long arms reached back to scratch but only met the smooth armor of a helmet. His vigor faded and his body’s rash movements slowed with an occasional jerk.
Thane lowered them both down gingerly, still cautious of his opponent, and checked the turian over and confirmed he was only unconscious. He quickly removed the set of omni-cuffs from the officer's belt.
As Thane worked the turian’s wrists into the unlocked cuffs, the name badge caught his attention.
Garrus Vakarian. C-Sec Detective.
This wasn’t good.
Unfortunately, Officer Vakarian’s reputation preceded him and Thane was aware that the group in the other room were very interested in a formal introduction. In his preparations, Thane learned that the only turian in the galaxy to be closely tied with Councilor Shepard had a special spot at the top of many extremists’ lists.
Thane was not in the business of making those suffer unnecessarily, price of the hit be damned. Garrus Vakarian was not his target.
He finished locking the cuffs and shoved Vakarian into a corner. Disconnecting Garrus’ omni tool, Thane holstered Vakarian’s pistol on his own belt and hit the lights of the bathroom on his way out. With the door to the bathroom and bedroom shut, he jogged back into the sitting room where Dextus and Shepard stood off.
“Are we clear?”
Thane looked to the other batarian and nodded his lie. The other answered for him with a “Yes sir,” and Thane let himself feel a brief wash of relief. Vakarian simply needed to stay out of the way and everything would be fine.
He watched Shepard give no sign of worry or acknowledgement over Vakarian, her gaze steady on Dextus. Thane read her silence as a means of protection for her friend.
Dextus continued to talk as he usually did, with a superiority he claimed to detest. He sneered and lectured with the audacity of a villain from a low budget vid as he dramatically hit the Councilor across the face. Shepard responded with the same bite only to be struck down once more.
Thane had to restrain the urge to stop him when he vamped up his hits and started to beat the woman. She fought back only to have her arm broken in response, genuine fear briefly flashing on her face. His chest clenched as he was forced to stew in his discomfort, finger itching to put a bullet in her chest and be done with it.
Dextus had her pinned to the ground now, fist tearing at the collar of her suit as he repeatedly slammed her head into the floor. Wham! Wham! Wham! With each heavy throw a fresh droplet of blood would fly and stain the lush rug.
He arched back his fist, landing another punch into her eye, her copper curls catching in the seams of his armor and ripping from her scalp.
Shepard merely turned to him with a wincing smirk. “Oh man, you’re really pissed huh?” She laughed as he landed another hit to her gut.
“And what is so funny,” he asked with a sharp edge.
Shepard chuckled again with her blood smeared smile. “Killing me will accomplish nothing. I don’t know what you think you’re going to get out of this. I really don’t.” Another laugh and she wheezed with the strain of her ribs.
With a growl, Dextus lifted her again and whipped her down with more force than before. “Your submission!”
Thane watched on with misplaced wonderment as she took the beating with a smile. Her hair was a halo that fanned like the sun, catching in the chandelier’s light. With each throw, she rolled in on herself to lessen its blow which made him think of a small animal. Her snide laughs reminded him that she was in fact a hard soldier capable of destruction, much like her history had proven.
There was a sudden movement in the corner of Thane’s eye that alerted him to a bullet coming his way. He dropped down into a roll and aimed his own pistol up to see the C-Sec officer, Garrus Vakarian, sliding into the room with a gun aimed high and with purpose.
He placed a couple bullets in a nearby soldier’s leg and two more in another one’s chest, killing him instantly. No hesitation as he angled his body over to Thane, ready for a final shot.
Two other soldiers appeared from Garrus’ blindspot. One slammed a kick behind his knees, driving him forward and down, the other readied their gun. The turian soldier climbed on Garrus’ back, knee digging into his carapace. One hand tugged at Garrus’ fringe while the other jammed a pistol against the back of his skull.
Garrus threw an elbow up to the side and managed to hit the turian soldier in his waist, which allowed for enough distraction to throw the attacker up and off.
Thane sat back and watched as the second soldier, batarian, kicked Garrus’ pistol across the room. It happened to land near Dextus who stood towering over Shepard.
As Garrus was attempting to push himself up, the batarian swept his arm out from under him with a kick and sent the officer back down to the floor face first.
The turian soldier climbed on him once more, this time making sure to pin Garrus’ arms to the side.
Those bright blue eyes snapped over to Thane, hot and livid. Thane suppressed a sigh, pity budding in his chest at the knowledge of what was to come.
Garrus’ attention was suddenly pulled passed Thane to the scene across the room. His friend bloody and bruised under another turian who’s fists were splattered red and primed for more.
There were many things Thane had seen in this world, specifically many violent things. Garrus Vakarian’s gaze in that moment earned a spot high on his list, most likely a close third place.
Turning slightly, Thane saw the bloody face of the councilor, relief and hopeful at the sight of Garrus' arrival. Oh, how wrong she was.
“I thought you said the place with clear,” Dextus yelled as he came up next to Thane.
Thane opted for an ignorant shrug of his shoulders. The confused look Garrus sent him didn’t go unnoticed.
Dextus stepped in front of the officer with his rifle rested against his chest, snide tone in his voice and a smug flare of his mandibles. “Well, if it isn’t Garrus Vakarian.” He looked down his nose at the other turian.
Garrus huffed in annoyance. “I know who you are,” he said. “You’re that bratty nephew of that politician, Joram Talid. And here I thought you were all talk. Did you find some big kids on the playground to play with you?” He struggled to gesture his head to the armed men holding him down.
Dextus snapped his rifle between Garrus’s eyes.
Shepard coughed a laugh at Garrus’ jab, hand over her ribs as she rolled to the side. “Ha! Nice one.”
Garrus snickered back to her. “Yeah, I thought so.”
“Both of you are going to regret your smartass jokes.” He waved his man off Garrus’ back and kicked him over. “Hold him.”
Thane watched as the two men pulled Garrus around. He scrambled against them, aiming kicks and punches wherever he could. They yanked him down to the floor and held him by his shoulders.
Garrus struggled angrily against them with Dextus looming above. With one man dead and the other applying medi-gel to his leg, Thane was the only one available to stand at the ready over Shepard. He stepped back towards Shepard like the wounded animal she was, and let the horrific scene play out. The gun in his hands began to feel oddly heavy.
Each man held Garrus tight on his arms while Dextus overshadowed him, backlit by the chandelier.
“What’s it like, Officer Vakarian?” Dextus asked while waving his gun in Garrus’ face once more. “What’s it like betraying your own people? To slum it with lowly little pyjacks?” Dextus bent down next to Garrus and brought his face close to his. “You know, everyone says you’ve been dipping into a nasty pool, Vakarian.” He gestured over to Shepard with a toss of his head. “You should know better than that.”
Garrus never looked up at Dextus as he and the two others began beating him. His icy blue eyes strained to watch Thane who stood by Shepard, ever vigilant.
Things would have gone so much easier if Garrus had stayed unconscious.
A pinch of remorse tickled his gut, but he remained still and let the assault continue. The orders “Don’t expose yourself” kept repeating in the back of his mind. He felt the chains on his wrists grow heavy with each sounding crack of Garrus’ face plates.
Thane turned his head away.
Shepard forced herself up, terror more than flashing across her face this time. Thane could almost hear her blood racing in her veins. Her eyes, bloodshot, panicked around for the weapon that had been kicked in her direction.
She leapt for the pistol, clumsily gripping it in her blood slick hand and aimed for the group.
Thane struck like the viper he was trained to be. He grabbed her arm and whipped her down to the floor again. With the pistol thrown out of her hands by the force, she was defenseless. Thane pinned her under the weight of his boot on her good wrist and clenched a hand around her throat. He aimed his pistol in her chest and primed the gun with a soft beep of warning.
Time stilled in the chaos. There she was, presented like a gift under the rainbow lights from above. His target. He would end all this suffering for her right here and now. A weight lifted from his shoulders as he whispered a prayer and readied his trigger finger.
She stared up at him, squinting to make out his eyes behind the black glass of the helmet. The blood had already started to dry and crack around the tiny worry lines of her eyes and forehead. She frowned at him and her red lipstick had added to the blood as another smear of wounded pride. The pure rage in her green eyes glistened, defiant.
Her hair was orange, sunset colored.
Sunset colored eyes defiant in the scope.
Shepard glared and trembled not with fear, but indignation.
“How dare you!”
There was an invading flash of memory and Thane was caught off guard as the real world and his past mixed together. He felt the strong pull of a hand on his shoulder that tore him off his target.
“How dare you!” Dextus repeated, now standing over Shepard. “Don’t you dare take this from me!” There was a jagged talon pointed in Shepard’s face.
Thane backed away and found his eyes wandering over to Garrus who lay motionless on the floor, blood pooling under him, the right side of his face unrecognizable.
This wasn’t how this was meant to go.
The wounded man, their engineer, hobbled over to the group with his medi-gel taking affect. The engineer opened up his omni tool and tapped a few commands onto the screen. “We’ve got C-Sec incoming, Dextus. Vakarian must have alerted them.”
Having managed to get free, find a weapon, and contact C-Sec without an omni-tool earned Garrus a gold star in Thane’s book. Too bad the poor fool was probably dead, or at least close to it.
“Damn,” Dextus said and knelt down over Shepard the way Thane had. She swatted at him with a growl and snap of her teeth. He gave her a slap in the face to tame her. “I guess I need to savior this while I can.” His hands shot forward and clenched hard around her neck.
Shepard squirmed and thrashed under him the best she could, her small hands dwarfed next to his as she clawed at them. Coughing and gasping with her last sight to be the twinkling stars of her home’s chandelier as the halo of her grim reaper. This is how humanity’s savior would die.
Thane once again felt the itch of a merciful trigger finger.
Just die already, he begged.
With her face turning purple and eyes tearing, the twitching fight she had left in her began to still with each violent shake Dextus gave her. She finally stopped moving.
Dextus released a sigh of satisfaction and threw his head back with a laugh. “Yes!” He slowly stood, breathing heavy, and gazed down at his work with a righteous sneer. “YES.”
There was an uneasy pang that pulsed in Thane’s chest at the sight of Dextus kicking the dead body. Troubled, disturbed, twisted.
“Filthy human,” he muttered.
The engineer chimed in again. “C-Sec closing in. About five minutes.”
“We’re gone.” Dextus backed away, savoring his murder. He turned on his heel to lead the group out the door with a wave of his hand.
One man helped the wounded engineer while the other carried the dead body of their comrade. No traces left behind except for the wake of their destruction. Though the measure of an individual couldn’t be discerned by actions alone, their aftermath spoke volumes.
The group made their way out, being sure to take the stairs and side exits. As they left through the building’s back door Thane slipped away into the dark shadows of the alley they emptied into. He stilled his breath and let the group head deeper into the hellish void of the black abyss. It seemed fitting to see the demons return home.
“Where’s Baltran?” he heard one of them ask.
There was a series of irritated mumbles and curses before they pushed on and left him behind. One less soul to be claimed by the darkness.
He ditched the bulky armor in the side dumpster, thankful to be rid of the pinching helmet, and rushed through the back door. There was no time to enjoy the free air against his scales as he doubled back up to Councilor Shepard’s home.
Thane tightened his jaw and forced himself forward through the doorway and into the soft, elegant pink light of the gruesome crime scene. The playing record from before skipped in the eerie background. With one glance down he stepped around Garrus’ body, shattered glass beneath him, and respectfully bent his head. He’d beg for forgiveness later.
The matted mess of orange hair and bulging eyes of the Councilor was enough to haunt him. Her body was a scraped and tattered mass of suit and blood. The glassy green of her irises contrasted sharply with the red veins and irritated rims of her lids. Thane reached down and slid her eyes shut and whispered a brief prayer on her behalf.
Wasting no more time, he yanked a large black bag from a pouch under his leather jacket and unfolded it to reveal a large body bag. He hastily unzipped the bag and pushed it open.
With considerate care, he lifted her into the bag and sealed her away from the world with a tug of the zipper. He then gingerly placed her over his shoulder, mindful of her head, and walked out the penthouse door. The C-Sec officers arrived with the elevator’s ding and he hurried onward. He slipped down a hall and around to a back staircase that lead to a door on the bottom level.
With his target acquired, he left the apartment building buzzing with the C-Sec and reporters that quickly followed. Dodging security down the back alleys of the wards with a dead body was never easy.
Thane’s muscles ached with a special burn he hadn’t felt in a long while. He tilted his head to the side and a sudden ‘crack’ snapped in the silence of the skycar. He then finished sending the notification to his contact for the drop-off and focused on the drive.
He sighed softly and savored the quiet stillness of night that he cherished so much. With the peace he found clarity after the buzzing rush of a job. Tonight he needed that clarity more than ever.
Sour jobs have happened in the past, but this aftertaste was difficult to swallow. The death of an innocent along with the twisted joy of perverted satisfaction was enough to make his stomach turn. With the uninvited presence of his past and the connections his brain made, thinking clearly was becoming troublesome. Thane began to question his contract’s intentions. It would not be the first time he was lead astray.
No matter what he felt now, the deed was done. Not in the way he wanted it to happen, but he did his job. He would have to find solace in that and forget those damning green eyes and orange hair despite his eidetic memory.
He arrived at his destination: an empty warehouse. Cliché, but it served its purpose. He lapped around the empty warehouse and parked in the back of the building, hiding the skycar behind a large shipment of crates and a forklift.
He exited the skycar with cautious alert and a hard gaze at the surroundings. Just crates, a few rats, and one man hidden beneath a tactical cloak just 10 meters to his left.
With feigned ignorance, Thane turned his body slightly away, never letting the man out of his sights. As the stranger moved, Thane delayed his attentions to give the cloaked man a false sense of superiority. Better he have the upper hand than this stranger.
The cloaked figure moved cat like against the crates and rounded the skycar to stand behind Thane. With no breath or words, he dropped the cloak.
“Do you have what we want?” he asked in a low voice.
Thane turned around slowly, unimpressed by the suspenseful entrance. He met the dark eyes of a human male, black shoulder length hair and lightly tanned skin, staring him down with obvious distaste in an attempt at intimidation.
Thane’s face was impassive. This man’s aura of arrogant strength reminded him of Dextus, and those memories were far too fresh.
Silence surrounded them for a few awkward seconds. The man gave Thane a heavy sigh and tilt of his head, black strands sweeping over his eyes as his back grew rigid and frown sharp. Thane let him sit with the quiet for another moment.
“Am I to assume you are here on behalf of my client?” Thane casually asked.
The stranger quirked a brow. Another exacerbated sigh and a huff later. “Yes, I am. Now do you have what we want or are you wasting my time?” The man placed his hand atop a long sword that was strapped to his hip and tapped his finger along the hilt. A dated method, but effective in certain situations. Thane read his flaunting movements easily enough, and inwardly scoffed at the man’s audacity.
“If you are referring to the body of Councilor Shepard, then yes, I have what you want.” Thane placed his hands behind his back with a neutral face calmly in place. He stood still and waited for the response.
The stranger attempted to remain passive. “May I see the body?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Certainly.” Thane turned to open the trunk of the skycar.
The door craned up to reveal a long simple black bag zipped tight. It was almost as if the bag had morphed up from the depths of the shadows, only to be hinted at by the nearby street lamps.
The two stood closer than wanted at the trunk of the skycar. The stranger snagged the zipper of the bag and yanked it down. They both were met with the chaos that was Sinead Shepard.
“Good.” The stranger nodded in approval. He slid the zipper up slowly, gaze lingering with an unnamable excitement.
Thane felt dirty. The fact that this woman’s ending didn’t bring relief to anyone, but a sick satisfaction and hunger for her even in death, left his heart heavy.
“Was the brain damaged?” the man asked.
“Though she was roughly handled, I don’t believe so. I couldn’t interfere and cannot guarantee its condition unfortunately. I attempted to end things quickly, but another had a different idea in mind.”
The man let his irritation build. “You were told to keep the brain intact.”
With a sudden jerk of his head Thane slipped into a memory, the words flowing freely.
“The Illusive Man’s image flickers on my com-channel. He flicks the ashes of his cigarette into the tray at his side. “You’re to guarantee Councilor Shepard’s death and bring her body to the designated coordinates. And keep the brain safe if you can. She’s probably going to be in for a rough ride.” He draws from his cigarette once more .
“I will do my best.” I tell him.
He disconnects the call.”
Thane gathered himself and turned to the stranger.
The man merely scoffed and reached down to grab the body bag. He flung it over his shoulders like a sack of rocks and pushed by, letting the hips of the Councilor knock into Thane as he passed. Thane watched him leave behind the crates, probably to his own hidden skycar, the bag nothing but a rolled rug to him.
There was something rather unsettling about being shoulder checked with a dead body.
*West News (Westerlund News): The news network that reporter Khalisah al-Jilani
works for. This is the reporter from the original trilogy that has a reputation for being antagonistic and hostile.