The lining of his cowl tingled from the vibrations of his alarm clock, invariably dragging his mind from the sweet embrace of sleep into the abrasive waking world. Yet the torpid turian refused to go without a fight as his hand clumsily palmed for the snooze button, missing his target in his first several attempts. Embarrassing, given that the irksome device was clipped to the plating of his cowl to buzz vibrations into the lining– enough to wake even the heaviest-sleeping turian.
Forsaking his early morning inept dexterity, he settled for ripping the device entirely off and sending it on a one-way trip across the room. The sturdy gadget hit the wall, undoubtedly leaving a fresh mark in a myriad of scars left by past mornings, where it mercifully fell silent after its fall to the slate-carpeted floor. Settling back against his pillows, he allowed sleep to sweep over him again.
Then the room VI went off.
“The time is 0615. Your shift begins in seventy-five minutes,” it helpfully supplied in a robotic, vaguely-turian voice and would continually do so, every minute, until told to stop. “The time is 0616. Your shift begins in seventy-four minutes. The time is 0617. Your shift begins in seventy-three minutes. The time is 0618. Your shift-”
“Stop!” Nellus Tragen shouted from the confines of his bed before rolling over, desperately clinging to the silence as long as he still could, knowing it was just a matter of time before-
His discarded alarm started to beep, the sound steadily progressing in volume until it was buzzing insistently against the wall it had hit.
Same shit, different day... with the ever-so-subtle addition of Reapers, that is.
Groaning, Nellus slowly unraveled himself from his rounded, turian-style bed. With one last, longing glance back at his warm sheets, ruffled and half-shaped where they had cocooned him, he stepped up and out from one of the few luxuries he allowed himself to splurge on.
He had just over an hour to get to work.
After addressing his screaming alarm and lightly tossing it back toward his bed, Nellus stepped into the small corridor of his modest apartment and then beat his routine path into the bathroom across the hall. Like clockwork, he relieved himself before stepping into the shower. As he washed his body with his favorite plate scrub, his hand slowly lowered to his pelvic plates to massage them open as he thought about the last girl he’d had in his bed. Regrettably, that night was some time ago, but the memory still served its purpose, offering him what would always turn out to be the most exciting part of his day.
The release of tension dropped his shoulders and he braced against the white tiled wall until he regained his bearings. For a merciful moment, his thoughts were as obscure and fuzzy as the opaque steam that billowed around him. Hot water burned through his plates, soothing old aches and pains and it was so tempting to close his eyes just a little longer.
From behind his heavy lids an abrasive orange light cut clean through, accompanied by an even more obnoxious beep that demanded his attention. With a groan, he raised his omni-tool to read today's alerts through the rain of falling water that passed unobstructed through the small hologram. Due to the damage of several comm-buoys, the constant flow of reporting had diminished to a slow trickle.
The first was dated five cycles ago. Another colony –Pulan– to join Taetrus on the list of ground fallen to the Reapers as of yesterday. Great. He wondered briefly if the Hierarchy would spend any resources in an attempt to retake it as they tried – and failed – with Taetrus.
Nellus lowered his free hand, unaware of when it had crept up to follow the line of Taetrus-red tattooed along his maxilla. Willing the thoughts of his burning childhood away, he swiped to the next cheery news report dated three cycles ago.
A botched Hierarchy mission on Tuchanka. Wonderful.
Tuchanka: No end to the Illusive Man's madness after Cerberus bomb is found.
This is Diana Allers reporting from the Normandy SR-2 .
At Primarch Victus' behest, Commander Shepard led a ground team planet-side on Tuchanka to lend aid to a Hierarchy platoon. Fortunately, they were successful at finding and disarming a Cerberus bomb before it could detonate, but not without significant losses for the turians. Neither the Commander nor the Primarch were willing to comment on the identity of the platoon at this time until next-of-kin can be found and notified.
Water invaded his nasal cavity as Nellus snorted at the last line. Chances were good all the next-of-kin were either just as dead as their family members or shambling around as husks.
The orange omni-tool flickered out when Nellus activated the shower drying function. Streams of hot air sent droplets of water skating across his plates to splatter against the walls around him. It was the last reprieve he would get before he was forced to don his C-Sec black and blues and crawl from his hole to terrify the masses.
With twenty minutes left until his shift, Nellus was dried, dressed and following his next familiar path to his merged kitchen-living room. His walls were naked of any décor save for the vid screen implanted into one. There was a couch placed before the screen in the center of the room, only one side of it regularly used with a cheap, hand-me-down kava table in front of it. Scattered rifle parts adorned the table's surface and oil stains splotched the faux wood.
Nellus grabbed a quick ration bar from a cupboard for breakfast and moved unhurriedly from his apartment. There was no need to rush as he knew he wouldn't be late. This was his routine every morning.
Every. Spirits damned. Morning.
His short walk to the public transit station was plagued by advertisements. They flashed holographic images primarily of grandeur and excitement with the occasional bleak news report interspersed between them. Those inevitably got drowned out by images of asari sipping bubbly, pink drinks while lounging in the extravagance their success afforded them.
“Twenty thousand dead after the Reapers turned their sights on the human colony, Mindoir.”
“It was easy. Just apply online to CU and watch as your career unfolds before you.”
He hated those ads the most and couldn't help an irritable flick of his mandible before he dropped his eyes to his feet as he walked. Nellus had been out of the military for almost ten years, having not quite served his required fifteen, though it wasn't entirely by choice. After getting discharged he agreed -well, more or less- that he would serve the rest of his mandatory time with C-Sec.
Somehow, it counted.
In truth, he never had much of a plan for his life, less so after getting discharged. A part of him was quietly hoping that maybe he'd just get lucky. Maybe 'embrace eternity' with some wealthy matriarch and never have to worry about such grievances like 'bettering himself' or 'applying himself' or... paying bills again.
Boarding the public shuttle, Nellus took the only available seat between an obviously sick and likely contagious turian and an asari with a fussy baby in her arms. He had to ignore the small, blue hand that tapped his pauldron incessantly. Glancing over, he caught the mother's attention firmly on the datapad in her hand, the turian beside him did a poor job of covering his rattling cough and Nellus glared at the floor as the shuttle jerked into motion.
Thirteen minutes left until his shift.
At fifteen, he joined the military because that's what one did when they were a young turian with a short fringe and dreams bigger than the guns he had to heft with long, gangly arms. Achieving goals seemed easy at the time, but eventually, he would downgrade his expectations to simply 'just be better than my old man,' which would soon devolve into, 'well, my old man could've been worse,' to finally, 'that's genetics for you.'
Nellus could fight like any trained turian soldier and he was a decent shot, but he had never developed any kind of passion for that lifestyle. He never really developed any kind of passion for a single thing, for that matter. Except, perhaps, traveling. That was one thing military life occasionally afforded him as it shipped him off to all the different colonies. Though, admittedly, he found it a little difficult to immerse himself in the cultures when he was expected to shoot at the locals after they revealed themselves as Separatists who had just rigged a bomb to his platoon's land rover. That tended to kill whatever hard-on he had about their culture and sent it retreating behind his plates like a garden hose on a reel.
Then, at twenty-five, his next vision test came back with disappointing results. He would need cybernetics, if not a gene mod, to correct his vision if he was to continue fieldwork. The catch: The Hierarchy was only willing to put out the creds for such a procedure for only their most exceptional soldiers– of which, his old CO not-so-pleasantly informed him, was a group Nellus wasn't a part of. That left him with his next dilemma– what the fuck was he going to do with his life now?
Despite the blood that tainted his memories, he really had developed an interest in exploring new places. There was something about seeing a one-of-a-kind sunset on a planet orbiting a red dwarf, the rays coloring the sky in rich hues of purples and reds. He longed to stand in the shadows of ancient architectural structures, erect among the last remnants of a long dead people and leaving him pondering all the possibilities of how they lived. Immersing himself in different cultures with all the unfamiliar foods and traditions was something he would love to experience again, gunfire aside this time.
If only the Veterans Fixed Income covered interstellar travel. Technically, his first five years at C-Sec qualified him to enter into the reserves and live under the V.F.I, but it only guaranteed his basic needs- food, water, and housing. No, he’d have to continue working if he wanted any extra luxuries.
That was how he, like so many turians before him, cast adrift with the question about what to do with their lives post-military, turned to C-Sec. The pay was decent enough, even if the job itself was boring at the best of times and making him want to shoot himself in the head at the worst. The latter was becoming more frequent these days with doom on everyone’s doorstep and people pouring in from invaded colonies. Nevertheless, C-Sec was willing to pay for his vision correction and he lived a comfortable existence in his small apartment in exchange for what, he quickly discovered, was absolutely no fucking time to do anything he wanted to do, Reapers notwithstanding.
Nellus supposed that there was a slight bright side to them winning: He wouldn't have to worry about withering away at his stupid desk. Because that’s where he ended up. Not bathed in the glow of a purple sunset. Not running his talons across the walls of foregone civilizations. Not warm in a bed with an exotic turian curled against him. No. He was behind a damned desk.
Still, he'd like to visit Palaven– outside of boot camp that is– at least once. If he put the hours in, saved his credits, he could go. Perhaps spend a week there, maybe meet a good-looking turian. All he had to do was work.
'Just a few more months,' Nellus would tell himself. 'A few more months is all I'll need to save up and then I can leave for a while.' Unfortunately, a few months had a way of turning into several, becoming a year, which turned into five-
“The newly appointed Primarch Victus is currently aboard the famed Normandy, negotiating for krogan troops to combat the Reapers assaulting Palaven,” a talking head blurted over the sound of the shuttle as it landed at C-Sec headquarters with four minutes left. Images of the razed homeworld glowed in the holographic images above the passengers' heads.
And now Palaven was on fire. Fucking perfect.
The main entrance of C-Sec headquarters cycled open, as it did for him every morning, and he made his way past the throngs of people that routinely showed up to complain about some problem or other. Though, admittedly these days the problems that the masses complained about were getting increasingly direr. Less 'my human neighbor's dog took a shit on my doorstep' and more 'rations are getting cut again? But my children are starving.'
“Hey, skull face!” some irate, human citizen shouted as he passed through the guest lobby. “Why don't you do your job and help us over here?”
Nellus ignored him. The man was talking to the wrong officer. His job was manning the desk in the docking bay and scouting for contraband on cargo vessels. Every young boy’s dream.
After he'd gone to his locker and finished rifling through it, leaving behind his effects and exchanging them for equipment he'd need for his shift, Nellus shut the metal door to find the greens eyes of his captain, Decian Chellick, lying in wait on the other side.
Though their ranks in C-Sec were vastly different, Nellus and Chellick went all the way back to boot camp. In their youths, Chellick used to be a scrawny wisp of a turian while Nellus was always taller and bulkier than the average male their age. Chellick used to get picked on mercilessly for his lackluster frame and, to Nellus' shame today, he used to be one of his tormentors.
Until one afternoon when Nellus had found himself sucked into a prank that had gone horribly wrong and was abandoned to his fate by his so-called 'friends.' It ended with gallons of gun oil soaking an officer's desk, staining the expensive wooden surface permanently, and Nellus taking the ire of said officer that had shown up to the scene with no one else to blame. Until, miraculously, Chellick -who was at the officer's side as he was given the task of cleaning his equipment- not only spoke up for him but took the fall entirely.
“Why would you do that?” Nellus had asked him when he had stopped by later to the sight of Chellick vigorously scrubbing the desk with a tiny, hilariously ill-suited brush.
“I don't know,” Chellick had grumbled, his eyes narrowing on the ill-fated wood. “It was obvious that you didn't do it. You were just standing there like a cornered pyjack, looking so stupid that I couldn't just stand there and say nothing.”
From that day forward Nellus had abandoned his old friends in favor of the company of the scrawny turian, inadvertently serving as a detractor for any more would-be tormentors from him. Chellick would not remain scrawny, however. He quickly grew into a valuable soldier and then, much later, a revered C-Sec officer. His methods weren't always clean, and he was willing to lie whenever he wanted situations swerved in his favor– as he demonstrated years ago on Nellus' behalf– but he did his job well and very quickly rose through the ranks to Captain.
There was no rivalry or conflict between their positions. Nellus had no problem recognizing that he lacked the drive or passion for the job Chellick had. He had long since accepted his fate: taking orders from behind a desk. After all, Chellick was a leader. Nellus wasn't.
“Morning, Captain,” the desk sergeant greeted him. Another common, daily practice. He always used the title in professional settings. That part of military training had never quite left him.
“Is it? Haven't noticed.” Nellus didn't take the less-than-friendly response to heart. Chellick was under a lot of stress, more than usual with the influx of refugees. C-Sec was spread thinner than ever and maintaining order on the Citadel was getting progressively harder every day. At the head of it, overseeing it all, were Chellick and Bailey. “We have another ship coming in from Tuchanka, set to arrive at 0900.”
“Oh boy, do we?” Nellus reclined his head, smirking at his rather unamused friend as the morning news report came to mind. “And it's not even my birthday.”
Turian-krogan relations were piss-poor before at best, but if that morning news report was any indication, Nellus suspected that it was about to get worse. No doubt the krogan were likely to take issue with the Chief Primarch –shockingly– not trusting them to deal with an issue like a bomb themselves. Since the Hierarchy had a thing about keeping Primarch Victus out of harm's way– ‘Since they did such a great job with Fedorian'– the krogan of Tuchanka were probably desperate to punch someone else.
Nellus couldn't say that he was thrilled with the idea of telling an angry, three-hundred-kilo behemoth: 'I'm sorry, sir, but you can't bring your missile launcher onto the Citadel. I'll need to confiscate it until you ship out.'
“I was feeling generous.” Chellick offered a weary, sympathetic smile. “Have fun with that.” And he left him to it.
Later, when Nellus settled himself at his desk, he stared out over the skyline of the Citadel. It was a nice view, he could acknowledge– or at least it was until it was obscured by the sight of the sickly and downtrodden. Refugees were filling up the docks faster than he could keep up and he was often the first face they saw when they got off the ship. Some would just walk by with haunted eyes fixed on the floor, while others came straight to him for answers he didn't have.
It wasn't that he didn't like people– Scratch that. He didn't– but it had more to do with the fact that he just didn't know what to say to them. 'Sorry your home and everyone you know is gone. Here, have a shitty blanket and a questionably-dated ration bar.'
There was a reason Chellick excelled at leadership where he didn't. Talking to people, let alone inspiring them, was impossible. Nellus couldn't lead a team through a practice drill, let alone a squad under fire. It took a certain voice, a certain presence– ‘Confidence,' a small voice chided– that he sorely lacked. Simple as that. He was well aware of his shortcomings and so were his superiors. Thankfully, that meant he never had to actually take responsibility for any subordinates.
It was far easier to put into practice his patent-pending, tried and true method of avoiding conflict: look away.
“Heads up, Tragen,” an asari's voice spoke into his earpiece. Myarphia -'Mya'- T'rezea was assigned as his partner for the day, as was usual when Tuchanka ships were expected to fly in. Having the ability to reduce an immense amount of weight into a feather-light object to be tossed about was invaluable when dealing with krogan. “The cargo ship from Tuchanka is inbound.”
“Copy that.” Nellus glanced up at the vista ahead of him just in time to spot the large, clunky ship descending from the artificial sky. So did everyone else, quickly filling his view with craning heads, desperate for some visual identification of the ship, unaware that the only people aboard were cargo workers– not family members. With a heavy sigh, he stood from his seat and made his way through the crowd to the landing platform.
Normally, the trip down was a five-minute walk. Today it took him about ten to arrive as he was stopped several times by disgruntled residents and refugees alike.
“Don't tell me you're allowing more people in! Do you think space on this station is limitless?”
“Please, I'm still waiting for my wife. Do you have a roster for those aboard this ship?”
When he finally arrived, Mya was already dealing with the krogan freighter captain. By the way she was gesturing with her datapad, the conversation wasn't going well.
“I don't care if you were here last week, by Citadel law, you-” she pointed with her datapad. “-Are required to comply with a contraband check after every landing.”
The krogan, whom Nellus knew from past pleasant experiences as Pit, glared venomously at the asari. “And I'm telling you we ain't got nothing worth hiding so you and your other C-Sec lackeys can go sniff around elsewhere.”
“Problem, Pit?” Nellus inquired, tuning his voice into one of faux-concern. He eyed the burly krogan with open-eyed surprise, knowing exactly how much that would get under Pit’s rusty, scarred plates. “Why, it’s not at all like you to raise a fuss over anything you’ve done before. Hundreds of times.” Widened eyes narrowed, fixing the krogan with a scrutinizing stare. “'Course, by your age, it’s probably more like thousands.”
“Yeah, there's a problem.” Pit snarled, ignoring the turian for the time being in favor of the smaller asari. He swiveled his large head to shoot a paint-thinning glare at Mya. “Been coming here for years, Tragen–”
“I’ll say.” Sometimes Nellus couldn’t help himself. Watching the anger roll in on someone’s face and posture was truly one of life’s few joys.
The krogan’s lips peeled back, flashing a row of vicious-looking teeth. “And this is the greeting I get?!”
Mya snorted. “He's refusing to comply with the cargo search.”
Nellus canted his head at Pit. “We could make it a cavity search if you prefer.”
“Just try it, turian ,” Pit growled.
With an exasperated sigh, as if the entirety of his day was ruined, Nellus nodded gravely at his asari partner. One five-fingered clenched fist later, a biotic field flared to life around a very surprised krogan. All Nellus had to do after that was fish a pair of universal precaution gloves from a compartment in his armor, stretch them over his hand with a loud snap, making sure to keep his long talon-tipped, turian-sized index finger on full display, before the krogan relented. Rather eagerly, at that.
“Fine, fine! Fucking search the ship, just let me go!” The blue field fell away and Pit dropped to his knees. Nellus readied himself for the chance of a potential retaliating charge, but it never came. True to his word, the krogan raised his omni-tool and the cargo hatch began to lower with a protesting groan a few seconds later.
“Have a pleasant morning, Pit,” Nellus bid him sweetly before continuing on to his goal.
“That guy's a fucking asshole,” Mya grumbled, annoyed, once they were out of earshot from said asshole.
Nellus flared an amused mandible down at his partner. “Pit? Nah, he’s harmless. Just needs a little sweet-talking, that's all. And don't we all from time to time?”
“A biotic punch to the face is what he needs.” Nellus was inclined to agree but ignored her as they ascended the durasteel ramp. At only eighty-five, Mya was fairly new to C-Sec and still quite green when it came to handling difficult people like Pit. The claws of working with the public had yet to sink into her to tear up her compassion for others just yet. She'd learn.
Once at the top of the ramp, they entered a large hold, walled floor-to-ceiling with gray steel which was splotched in places by rust from questionable, spilled products of the past. Like clockwork, the turian and asari officers raised their omni-tools and began the arduous task of scanning each and every crate.
“Clean,” he routinely stated after scanning the first.
“Clean,” he heard his partner quietly declare after scanning her own.
“Clean,” he informed again after the second.
“Clean,” he heard in return.
The turian officer paused at the third crate as his omni-tool blipped over an odd, spherical image. Scanning the cargo again, he realized it wasn't coming up as any sort of explosive or radioactive device, but he couldn't say he had come across something like this before, especially not from the wastes of Tuchanka. Nellus glanced over at his partner, intent to call her over-
Every muscle in his body locked up, suddenly on high alert.
“Y’hear that?” Nellus asked briskly, not bothering to withhold the colonial drawl that slipped into his speech as he turned to his partner.
Nellus couldn't stop the nervous quiver in his mandibles when he heard the sound again. “That! Listen.”
“Wait.” Mya's eyes widened. “I heard it that time.”
Nellus didn't bother to reply, too intent on audibly locating the direction of the sound. The hold was filled with crates, it could be coming from anywhere.
The sound reverberated off the lining of his cowl, muddled slightly by his armor, but he felt it all the same. Nellus turned toward the noise. There. Toward the very back on his partner's side of the ship.
“It sounds like it's coming from over there!” He exclaimed, already in motion, drawing his sidearm as he moved.
Mya followed his lead, drawing her own pistol while scanning one side of the hold as he scanned the other. It wasn't until he neared the back wall that he was assaulted with a foul stench. A cocktail of sewage and decay.
Pit would definitely have some explaining to do.
“ Spirits,” he coughed, fighting the urge to plant a protective hand over his nasal plates. “What stinks ? Did something die in here?”
Then he heard a sharp gasp from his partner right before she urgently beckoned him over.
“ Nellus! ” Mya hollered. “ Goddess, Nellus, get over here!”
He’d started sprinting before she'd even finished her sentence, leaping over a few steel receptacles in his way. By the time he reached her, Mya was already barking out orders into her omni-tool like a seasoned pro. Nellus would have been proud of the leadership she was displaying if not for the grizzly sight his eyes fell on.
A young turian, male, likely in his early twenties, lay sprawled naked on the floor in a webbing of sheets and bubble wrap. Half his face was obscured under loose bandages, now stained a deep blue from what was undoubtedly a traumatic injury underneath. Nearby was a waste bucket, which explained the sewage smell, and about a dozen empty water bottles scattered around him. The stench of decay was stronger than ever, the main source– though Nellus suspected the odor had a few origins– was the turian's right, mangled leg. Bandages had been applied to it, as well as what looked like a makeshift splint for support. But the wraps had long since started leaking and the weight of the soaked fabric caused the splint– 'Is that rebar?'– used to support the leg to slip out from the bottom at his toes, streaking the steel floor in a repulsive mixture of cobalt blood and oily puss.
In the turian's hand lay the source for the clicking– a piece of plastic Nellus had seen people use to train varren. And while the turian's only visible eye was glazed over– a sign he had gone into shock– his thumb clicked away at the piece of plastic. If anything, the sound was more incessant than ever. With a shiver, Nellus recognized it for what it was– a cry for help from a young man stubbornly clinging to life.
“Fuck,” Nellus cursed, unable to help himself as he moved towards the younger turian's face and kneeled beside him. Now that he was in closer proximity, he could hear the turian's subharmonics warbling in distress. It was too low for Mya to hear, but it was loud enough to rip his heart in two. Pushing past the anguishing sound, and with his omni-tool still out, he donned his gloves and began scanning the turian's life signs.
It didn't look good.
“Infection has set in,” he reported to anyone listening. “Victim is suffering severe sepsis. Breathing is shallow.” Nellus frowned at the numbers that indicated a failing heart on his omni-tool. The norm, for a turian, was eighty-five to a hundred beats per minute. “Heart rate is at sixty-six BPM. Body temperature is plummeting- currently thirty-three degrees centigrade.”
It should have been at forty.
The young turian was in Death's talons, and still his thumb worked the plastic in his hand like a lifeline. Nellus began to suspect that's exactly what it was and he realized he didn't want him to stop clicking. To do so would mean he had stopped fighting and allowed the jaws of the beast to pull him under.
“You're gonna be alright, buddy,” he soothed, inadvertently allowing his Taetrus intonation to slip through once again. He only received more clicking in reply.
When the paramedics arrived, they immediately attached an IV to the stowaway’s arm. When they wanted to take the clicker, Nellus found himself tempted to refuse. But protocol was protocol.
“C'mon, it's time to hand that over. It's gonna be okay.” Gingerly, he extracted the clicker from the death grip it was trapped in only to have his own hand seized and used in the same manner. Nellus doubted that the stowaway could even hear the clicks anymore, even when he was making them. He wasn't even aware he had his hand, but if it was a lifeline he needed, Nellus was happy to provide it.
Carefully, and with Nellus’ hand still seized in an iron grasp, the young turian was lifted off the floor and placed on a stretcher. Nellus then had to sprint beside it as the paramedics hurried the patient off the ship to the ambulance that waited outside. It was only as they began to load the stretcher inside that he extricated his hand. His eyes settled on the grip he'd just freed himself from and watched as the turian's thumb continued to work over nothing at all as if the clicker was still in his grasp.
Once he was secured on board, the ambulance took flight, leaving Nellus behind to watch it go from the tarmac. Behind him, he could hear Mya's tactful method of interrogation for any information Pit could possibly provide on the strange turian.
“Spill it, asshole!”
“I don't know nothing about no turian!”
“I fucking know you're lying!”
Ignoring them like the background noise of a large crowd, Nellus glanced down to the piece of plastic still clenched in his talons.