Turian Male (Armax Arsenal Security) / Human Female (Bartender)
Part I – Port Hanshan
The clear blue sky was stretching all over the castellated mountainous horizon. A harsh, biting, cold wind wailed through the snowy valleys, bringing in long coiling white clouds, forewarning the coming blizzard that was expected to rage through the night. From the large glass and steel panels decorating the slanted architecture of the sprawling stronghold of Port Hanshan, one could see all the way to the other side of the Aleutsk Valley, with its showy towering spires of surreptitious corporate laboratories and workshops dotting the jagged landscape. As for Port Hanshan itself, the many corporations renting the facility were usually very thightfisted concerning their expeditures for public services : the decorative thermal pools and heating system were barely enough to keep the busy concrete corridors from feeling somewhat chilly. Most of its denizen were often reflections of the natural coldness of the planet : reserved, secretive, cloistered in overheated offices, too absorbed by their work or petty industrial espionnage ambitions.
As such, life on Noveria was usually boiling down to going to and fro warm places filled with cold people, or cold corridors full of the harried, the stressed and the ever-late.
The turian wasn't one of them.
In stark contrast with the anxious pace of the others walkers, his gait was light, tranquil and tame. He crossed the main plaza and the Mannovai main street at a slower speed, leisurly taking in the sights of the garish and ever-changing holographics advertisements and decorations disparating from the dull concrete and steel walls. He kept himself as close to the walls as possible, but that didn't stopped a haggard salarian engrossed in his omnitool to violently bump haphazardly against his shoulder. Before he could asks if the absent-minded gaunt alien was hurt, the blue-grey salarian blurted out an insincere excuse, never crossing eyes with the turian, and briskly scooted back forward.
Looking back at the willowy frame of the salarian trotting away, the turian frowned and clicked his mandibles, disconcerted. He never saw a salarian so young with a skin so dry and so wrinkly. His ringed huge black eyes were marbled with thin greenish strands of overstimulated blood vessels, and the turian wondered for how long that sullen alien was awake, shot up as he was with military-grade stimulants. If corporate buisness was a battlefield, that guy was probably one of the best soldier to sacrifice himself in the name of his team, or company...
But glory hounds that shone so brighlty over the rest were just as quickly found burnt-out and discarded. Like a spent thermal clip. Shrugging, the turian gave a perplexed snort and turned away, resuming his quiet stroll and musings. A couple of turns later, he crossed over a steaming hot pools that sprinkled glittering condensed wet droplets against his hard plates, passed in front off a familiar looking gaudy holographic sign, and finally reached the why of his little ramble.
However, he did not expect to find the bar he was planning to spend the afternoon in seemingly closed down. The blue-green holographic sign wasn't flickering with neon colors and nobody was seen lounging around the high round tables. As he approached, frustrated clicks mouthed at the unfortunate turn of event, the main door opened and the familiar figure of the human owner slipped through, a puffy synthetic fur-collared jacket pulled over her slim uniform. She was a kind and welcoming bartender, who stroke up enjoyable conversations everytime he went here for a drink. One of the friendlier face on Noveria, he reckoned , one that didn't made him feel like he was wasting her precious time just by talking about something not corporation-correlated, regulation-related or buisness-associated. She was an interesting alien to talk to, if a bit hard to read.
One of the few humans in Port Hanshan that didn't get bored when he began talking about guns, armors, and close-combat techniques.
Focused as she was on her glowing omnitool, she didn't hear him walked to her. Respectfully clearing his throat as a mean of introduction, he greeted her with a simple "Hello.". She turned her head and smiled warmly to him, omnitool shedding a dull orange light upon her tan skin.
"Hey there. Are you not wearing your armor ?"
"No, not today. I'm off-duty for about an additional 15 to 16 hours." He turned his head toward the immobile neon sign before stating the obvious: "You're closing down early. Your Volus coworker is not taking his shift ?"
"No. Everyone has been... cordially invited to some fancy party thrown in by our boss." She sighed, shoulders slumped, an unusual listlessness tinting her voice. "It's going to be dreadfully boring as always. I already knows how frilly people is going to mingle with snobbish people, talking about work and profits and this new buisness prospect about extracting ice on an uncharted world or... something like that."
He scoffed and clicked. He could certainly share the human's sentiment. Noveria's higher social spheres sometimes feel like an alien planet.
"What about you ? What are you doing in your off day ?" she said, a warm smile spread across her face again.
"I was planning on ordering a warm coffee here. Maybe listen to some music, fill some forms for a new Avenger, talk about nothing, laze about..."
"The usual then ?"
She chuckled and fiddled with her omnitool as they continued their banter. The door behind her whizzed and groaned as the hydraulics slid in place, a big holographic panel of unnegociable red appearing to complete the locking protocol. The human put her hands in her jacket's pocket and shuffled on her feet. She rose her chin and squinted her long almond-shaped eyes at the turian, gauging him, clearly thinking or scheming intently.
"Say, I'm looking for a good reason to get as late as possible to that party." she began with deadly seriousness, "I know a place not far from here where we could get you that hot coffee. How about it ? Are you still in the mood for it ?"
The female human always found a new way to surprise him with her bold honesty. That straightforwardness was very humanlike, after all, and it wasn't something that he disliked about her.
"That sounds great." he nodded, not even bothering mulling the idea over. "Lead the way, I'll follow you."
The corners of the human's plump lips curled upward in a soft smile. She mouthed a soft "Great." and walked away without a word, her calm gaze still set on the turian to enjoin him to follow on her heels.
He complied heartily, glad to be able to spend time with his alien friend.
The human led him to a small VI-operated cafeteria, its luminous orange sign depicting a stylized mug adorned with turian colony markings. A takeaway only establishement catering for the restless and thirsty. A distinctive, heavy, reinvigorating smell of fresh roasted coffee was permeating in the air, cutting through the plaza's cold athmosphere.
"So... how's Armax Arsenal treating you ?" the human asked, stopping in the waiting line of chattering customers.
"It's a good team to work for. The pay is good and our team is knit and competent. Our boss is attentive to her unit's needs and orders. Only downside, if you could call it that, is that there's not much going on. We're mostly standing guard around the corporation's headquarters day in, and day out. You don't really need stimulants for that kind of work."
Not yet, at least.
"What ? That's all ? Still no grievances, no complaints, not even a saucy anectodes ?" she scoffed, bumping her elbow playfully in his side. "Don't tell me you just stand around all day and have nothing to show for it."
"Careful, we stand around looking mighty angry. You don't want to give the salarian the incentive to spy on turian trade secrets."
"Show me your angry face." she goaded.
The turian straightened his back, clasped his mandibles tightly shut, and glowered down on the human through furious furrowed browplates. He mustered all the unblinking, unyielding stony-faced statue inside him. As he was coldly eyeballing her, he idly noticed that she was about a head or two taller than the asari and female humans surrounding them. Her slightly more broad-shouldered appareance gave her a more striking and solid stature. He spread his jaw on the side to uncover his fangs and snarled, as it usually was enough to send the most inquisitive and clingy salarians packing away.
She stifled a soft hoot and silently shook her head silently, unimpressed.
"Nice try, though guy. Now tell me all about Armax Arsenal's secrets."
"I am not allowed to aknowledge your resquest, lady. I am asking you to leave the premise now or I will be forced to remove you forcefully."
"However, as according to Noverian traditions, I am accepting bribes in cafeinated forms or angry krogan bounty-hunter contracts."
They shared a soft genuine laugh and the dark-skinned alien punched his shoulder in joking ire. It hit him suddenly that this was the first time he saw her outside of the bar she was working in. With no bulky counter to separate them, she was revealing herself to be a tactile person. Her easy-going and tranquil demeanor was a welcome boon to the turian. One of the few alien with whom he lowered his guard.
He trusted her in a unique kind of way. Different from the way he placed confidence in his captain or coworkers. A strange feeling he couldn't quite place. It was as if he could enjoy who he was with her.
The waiting line advanced and shuffled, and a comfortable silence set between them, contrasting with the chirping and lively exchange coming from the group of asari preceding them. The turian idly set his eyes on the human's alien looking ears. He never quite understood the purpose of so much loose flesh hanging around the ears. It always looked so... flabby. The complex embossed pattern of fleshy, plump cartilage that adorned the aural canal was humankind's most distinctive and striking facial feature that only Batarians shared with them. That, and fur. He wondered briefly how the strange short black hair adorning his friend's scalp would feel like.
She turned her head towards him, pulling him from his xeno-biological ponderings and silent judgement. She frowned and squinted her wide eyes, as if she was trying to read his mind through sheer will alone.
"How's life outside of work ?" she asked, her profound, deep voice standing out from the feminine Asari's. "What are you doing for fun these days ?"
"For fun ?... Guess I dismantle and reassemble my equipment, calibrate a few things here and there." he said, scratching his chin. "The team went out on a small off the book party last month. We drank and danced before gambling on a close-quarter-combat tournament. Didn't I talked about it ?"
"You did. You got your ass kicked by your boss, if I remember well."
"Sure was. She's a talented fighter. She's not our captain for nothing."
"That's some praise."
He nodded solemnly, the memories of having to stand all day full of stiff muscles and throbbing bruises still fresh in his mind.
"... Are you two close ?" the human asked, bluntly.
"You and your boss."
"What about my boss ?"
"You and her. I heard turians liked to fistfight to show affection."
"She's my boss !" he blurted, almost vexed by the implicit question.
"Ah. I see." the human simply stated, slightly averting her gaze.
The turian was still disconcerted by her question. The human honesty was refreshing, but her reactions were sometime difficult to read. He wanted to understand what lead to her line of thinking.
"Why do you ask ?" he prodded.
"Sorry. I was just wondering if you are... were..." she shrugged her shoulders, looking a bit bothered. "If you were going out with someone."
So blunt, even with intimate questions.
"No, not at all." he chuckled.
"You don't have anyone ?"
"Huh." she blinked, incredulously. "How come ?"
"How come what ?"
"How come someone like you hasn't someone already ?"
It was his turn to shrug his shoulders.
"Beats me... You know, when I talked about it with my sister, she just groaned : « Open your eyes, because you're either asleep or too blind to realize the obvious. » she told me." he scoffed.
The human frowned harshly, mouth slightly agape, as if she was about to say something but stopped suddenly. Her deep nut-brown eyes were staring at him intently, gauging him. It made him feel strange, undescribably so. She held her breath for half a second before she softly asked: "Say, if you've got nothing to do today, how about we-"
"Move along ! Can't you see it's your turn ?" croaked a high-pitched voice.
"You're clogging the line !"
Two furious salarian behind them were rudely waving and shooing them forward. The turian realized that the group of asari in front of the line left the counter some times ago, walking away from it coffee in hands.
He turned towards the reptilian aliens, nodding humbly to apologize.
Time was money on Noveria, after all.
Walking over the counter and joining the human's side, they were greeted by the holographic vivid-orange silhouette of a slim female turian who bowed politely. With a gesture, the Virtual-Intelligence designated a small panel in front of its form before hailing the couple with a buzzing, chirpy voice: "Welcome to the Black Star Lounge. We have a wide selection of brewed, roasted and boiled biologically-grew cafeinated beverages. Our products are directly imported to Noveria thanks to out partnership with-"
"What do you want ?" the human asked, typing in her order already.
"Could you pick me something that I can sip at for a while ?"
"Sure can." she said after a small reflective pause.
The VI's eyes closed and bowed her head low in a simulated display of humble joy. Her mandibles clicked as a cheery synthethized jingle rang.
"Your order is saved ! Would you like to combo into a menu or proceed ?"
"You hungry ?" the human asked, turning her head toward him.
"Do they have... Dextro-chocolate ?" the turian muttured to himself, craning his head forward to admire the variety of colorful and tasty-sounding sides the shop had.
"Huh, a sweet-tooth ?" she commented with a small smile, typing on the appetizing «Traditional Donuts : Chocolate coating» 3D picture.
"I'm getting some for myself too then."
"Your order is saved ! Would you like to change anything ?"
"Let me pay for it." the turian said, bringing his omnitool to life with a twist of his wrist. She quickly put her hand on his raised arm, pushing it downward and shaking her head disaprovingly.
"C'mon, it's my treat." she calmly stated, as if the decision was made a long time ago.
He briefly considered bargainning with her to split the slightly-expensive bill between them, but decided against it once he understood her determination to go through her decision. With an amused chortle, he nodded and thanked her as she proceeded to terminate the purchase process.
A loud, burbling percolation sound rumbled somewhere inside the heavy counter. Two tall steel cylinders appeared, a clear transparent panel showing a swirling dark and milky marbled liquid on each of them. A small square white box followed the coffee cups. A striking blue stripe was adorning his drink and a complete side of the box, with small metalic picots etched on the surface, warning against the different chilarity of the turians' food and drinks. Grabbing both cups and box, the turian and human walked away from the cafeteria, unaware of the two salarians' angry scowls and rude reproaches behind their back.
As they entered the ice-walled glass-paneled tunnel leading back to the main plaza, he opened his can and brought it to his sharp lips. The piping hot, comforting, mellow flavor of the milky coffee hit his tongue in the right place and filled his throat with a welcome warmth.
"Hey, wait !" the human called out behind him, holdin the white box tightly,
"I didn't pay attention but they gave us just one box for the donuts."
He looked around, but Port Hanshan wasn't known for its parks or leisure zones. There wasn't any bench, table or chair to be found anywhere in the streets, just rocky decorations and strange looking potted plants.
"We could always... Eat and walk ?" he suggested. Even though lazing in the cold was not a prefered prospect.
She frowned, unconvinced, her lips curving strangely as she scanned the zone. She turned back towards him, staring intently, and straightened herself. Her expression was fierce and resolute, the corner of her mouth curling upward for the blink of a smile.
"My flat is not far from here, you know ? How about we simply bring everything at mine and savor those coffee and donuts in a warmer, comfier place ?"
An invitation. His gaze locked with her soft, keen eyes. The way she was looking at him was different, somehow. She was waiting for his response like a hunter on the prowl. Staring at him the same way he looked at the appetizing donuts. Open your eyes, you big dumb oaf, you're either alseep or blind if you can't see the obvious. His mandibles opened on their own and he clicked absent-mindedly as he tried his best to repress the intriguing and hard-to-process sudden thoughts coming to his mind. She's an alien, there's no way she would...
"C'mon, it'll be fun." she lively goaded.
"What about your party ?"
"What party ?" she answered with a snort, hiding her mouth behind her steely cup, her stare unbroken.
Was her waist always so... Toned ? He swallowed hard and chuckled. She's an alien, there's just too much differences between-
"Sure then. Lead the way." he said without even thinking.
She squinted her eyes tightly and her features softened after hearing just what she wanted to hear. She smacked her lips contently and turned around, looking at him over her shoulder, with an inscrutable expression spread across her sharp features.