"Please take me as your apprentice!"
Saren Arterius, famed turian Spectre, looked at the small, quivering human female with open disgust.
He'd been relaxing on the presidium at one of his favorite cafes with Nihlus Kryik, his friend and fellow Spectre. The two of them hadn't seen each other in almost three years, and this mewling pestilence had the nerve to approach them and interrupt their personal time. Simply saying 'no' was no longer an option, Saren realised as he seethed. This human had to be made to suffer before he threw her out. Resting casually on his elbows and putting on a false smile, one that Nihlus recognized with a groan, Saren gestured the girl forward.
"And just why, my dear, would I want to do that?" Saren asked in a gentle, purring tone. The human at least had the decency to look slightly uncomfortable.
"I'm useful, in many ways..." The girl said nervously. Damned whore, Saren sneered inwardly. Her species was so quick to offer themselves sexually, even when nobody wanted them around. Saren was half a mind to bioticly throw her over the railing when she continued. "I can cook, I can clean, -"
"My interest is fading quickly. Believe me when I say that you do not want that to happen." Saren said in a dangerous tone, though his smile remained. The human, sadly, did not turn and run away. Instead, his comment seemed to embolden her. She stood up straight, her gray-blue eyes looking unwavering into his own.
"I can also hack any system you put in front of me." She replied. Saren snorted.
"Your declaration is meaningless if you cannot support it through action."
The girl nodded, bringing up her omni-tool. Saren glared at her as she typed a few things, though he thought he spied a faint greenish glow coming from her hands. After only a few moments, the girl approached him, turning the display so he could better see it. With alarm, Saren realized it was his own Omni-tool desktop. Nihlus whistled, too easily impressed in Saren's opinion.
"You just hacked a Spectre's Omni-Tool in less than two minutes." Nihlus stated the obvious. Saren glared over at him, then turned his gaze back to the overly-triumphant looking human. He no longer bothered to smile or put on false pretenses.
"You have five seconds to give me one reason not execute you on the grounds of being a security risk." Saren growled, flexing his long-taloned fingers. The girl didn't back away, though he clearly saw the fear in her eyes.
"Because, as I said, I'm useful." The girl jutted her chin out in a false show of bravery. "Better to train me for your own uses than to allow an organization like the Alliance Military to get their hands on me. Besides," the girl gave him a grin, making him glare harder, "I don't think even you, a known human-hater, would be able to get away with murdering a human teenager at the Presidium, in broad daylight, no matter what reason you gave."
Nihlus chuckled, diffusing some of the tension. Saren turned his glare back towards his fellow turian, though it was more annoyed than dangerous.
"She's gutsy at least." He grinned at Saren. Saren growled in irritation.
"'Gutsy' does not denote usefulness." Saren snapped at his friend. He turned back to the human, who had put away her Omni-tool. "You know I do not care for humans. Why offer yourself to me? Why not approach Nihlus? He's obviously interested."
Saren ignored the scoff from Nihlus; he'd earned that implication. This human was just his type, with a narrow waist that flowed into wide hips and rounded legs. Her long hair, worn down and loosely, was a bright red that brought the eye naturally to her head and long, thin neck. She was built just right for those Turians who lusted for Asari and their 'exotic curves and colors'. Though Saren might favor certain Asari on occasion, he had never really found them attractive; just convenient.
The girl frowned, shaking her head. "Because the Alliance isn't intimidated by Spectre Kryik." She replied. Saren was only marginally impressed that she knew Nihlus' family name and referred to him in a respectful way. "If I were to approach him, they'd simply ignore anything he did and keep me tied down. After all, they want me kept on their leash. However, you, sir, are far more frightening to any human than anything else that has ever existed. Uh, no disrespect intended."
Nihlus was now laughing, much to Saren's increased irritation. Once more, he glared at the female, though his curiosity was beginning to get the better of him.
"Why are you so desperate to get away from the Alliance? If you don't wish to serve with them, don't sign up." He snarled. The girl did not have a talent for hiding her emotions, Saren noticed. No sooner had he mentioned signing up than a swift look of pain and regret and... was that fear?
"I wasn't given a choice. They have my sister..." she trailed off. Saren perked up, almost feeling a sense of delight. The Alliance involved in a scandal? Any chance to pull those pathetic upstarts back down to where they belonged. Saren managed to smile, somewhat genuinely, before he quickly hid it.
"Don't give half answers." Saren barked, bringing the girl up short. She straightened slightly, looking angry.
"My older sister and I are from Mindior. After the slaver attack, the Alliance brought us here. Out of fear, my sister signed up, without talking to me first. The recruiter hunted me down, got me alone, and threatened to send my sister to all sorts of horrible places if I didn't sign as well." The girl looked on the verge of tears, her limbs trembling. Saren snorted, not wanting to deal with her blubbering.
"Do you have any proof?" Nihlus asked. She shook her head.
"I know there were cameras in the room, but I haven't been able to find anything from that day to incriminate them. And even if I did find something, who could I turn to?" She asked, somewhat impertinently. "I've spent the past two years doing everything I could to find a way out without putting my sister at risk, but they've got us under lock and key. Now I have no time left; they're shipping us out tonight."
"So in a fit of hopeless desperation you came to me with the mindset that I would rescue you from your own stupidity." Saren snarled, looking at her with renewed disgust. "You made your mistake; deal with it on your own." The girl looked about to protest, but Saren held up a taloned finger threateningly to stall her, then pointed away. "Leave now, human, before my charity runs out and I end your worthless existence."
The girl paused, staring him down with an unreadable expression. Finally, she bowed slightly, surprising Saren once more with her manners.
"Thank you for taking the time to listen to my request. I apologize for intruding on you both." Though her voice was tight, Saren sensed her gratitude was sincere. He watched her leave with an unreadable expression. A slight chuckle brought his attention back to his friend, who was smirking at him.
"You're interested." Nihlus wiggled his mandibles in amusement. Saren snorted.
"If what she whined about has a fraction of truth to it, than the Alliance could be in a great deal of trouble. That makes me feel warm all over." Saren's tone dripped with sarcasm. "And while she may have had marginal skills in hacking, the green glow to her hands held my interest more. I've never seen any type of biotics that would create something like that, and I have a inclination that it aided in the hacking of my omni-tool."
"Don't make me murder you."
Update 07/17/17: Very minor changes done to this chapter; mostly spelling/word replacement. If you find any errors, please let me know!
Faith Shepard adjusted the collar of her Alliance Dress Uniform for the third time. It felt far too tight, even for her skinny neck, and the thick material chaffed her soft skin horribly. Looking in the mirror, she could only feel dread as looked herself up and down. Like it or not, she was a dog of the military now, and nothing was going to rescue her from that but herself.
"Five more minutes, Ensign Shepard." A polite head poked through the door of the small room Shepard had been ushered to immediately upon her arrival to the station.
"Thanks Phillip. I'll be out in just a moment." Faith nodded to the aide, then turned back to her reflection.
It'd been a year since she'd been dragged to basic and separated from her older twin sister, Hope. In that time, Faith had learned a great deal about herself, the Alliance, and the Galaxy in general. The one fact that had held true the entire time: Nobody will help you without helping themselves first.
The Alliance had been quick to beat her down and keep her on a tight leash until she had signed papers saying she belonged to them for at least four years after turning eighteen. Then they'd watched her like a hawk until she turned the required age, even going so far as to sabotage the relationship she'd been in (although Faith privately suspected that it was more because of the personal prejudice of the officer that had been assigned to watch them and less the Alliance in that case).
However, now that she was in their hands with no way out, they contented themselves with keeping her off to the side and quiet, as though her only job was to blend into the background and do nothing. It set her teeth on edge. The only time she was allowed to do something interesting was when they carted her off to a small base to run experiments on her strange abilities. So far, everything had been fairly ethical and non-invasive, so she really couldn't register a complaint.
Thankfully, because they were being so careful with her, she'd managed to deceive them into thinking she couldn't do much other than muck up other people's VI assistants. Running experiments of her own when she could finally get a few seconds alone told her otherwise.
Glancing down at her hands, she saw the slight green glow, dancing over her skin in response to her emotions. Smiling slightly, she willed herself to calm down, not wanting to give anything away. After all, it wouldn't do for Captain Arnold to see her displaying her precious gift for all to see. Momentarily, she was caught up in the fantasy of unleashing it's strange power during the interview, forever destroying the secrecy the Alliance had threatened and coerced her into maintaining. The mental sight of Arnold's face registering shock and betrayal was satisfying, but Faith knew she couldn't misbehave, not without jeopardizing everything.
She'd been naive enough to believe Captain Arnold when he'd forcefully recruited her at the tender age of sixteen. While immoral and unethical, without proof, it was Faith's word against that of a ranking officer. She'd realized early on, after reading the messages from her sister during basic, that the Alliance would never stand for someone as 'gifted' and 'talented' as Hope to be shunted off into backwater posts. Not to mention, Faith thought with a grimace, would anyone ever be stupid enough to put unwanted hands upon Hope's person ever again. Not after what had happened to that recruit who'd thought it'd be perfectly acceptable to grab her butt as she walked by. It'd taken the boy three days to regain consciousness, and another two to talk clearly again.
Faith snorted as she carefully wrapped her long red hair into a tight bun on her head, the full weight of her innocence and naivety returning with sharp clarity.
After exiting basic training, Captain Arnold had made sure to maneuver Faith under his command just about anywhere he went. Since the Alliance Brass wanted to study Faith and her abilities and keep them quietly hidden from the rest of galaxy until the Alliance could use them, they looked the other way and allowed Arnold a lot of liberties when assigning Faith. The result had been banishing her from any sort of engineering program and shuffling her around between communications and outright secretarial work. This allowed Captain Arnold to take Faith everywhere, a 'pretty face' to help sell the Alliance to the young and stupid.
While Hope was breezing through college courses with Alliance aide in the hopes of her becoming an officer, Faith had been reduced to an over glorified mannequin that made coffee.
Pulling on the white gloves that went with the uniform, she once again assumed the stern, no-nonsense expression that she'd cultivated over the past year. Just in time, as Captain Arnold appeared at her door, motioning her through. Faith held her head high, determined not to let this blighter of a person see her smoldering rage.
* * *
"Can't you do anything without causing trouble?" Hope sighed over the vid call. Faith grinned impishly at her sister.
"You know me; I've got too much of dad in me. Besides, I was only regurgitating the script they'd fed me." Faith snorted, looking over a manual on 'A Beginners Guide to Electrical Engineering'. The Alliance might forbid her from handling electronics due to her strange influence over them, but that didn't mean she was going to obey.
"I'm pretty sure they didn't write for you to be so enthusiastic about how you get to make coffee and run errands all day and look after all the tired soldiers who get to see the Galaxy. Captain Arnold looked like he was going to punch you." Hope mused. Faith chuckled, though it was without humor.
"I almost wish he had. Assaulting me on camera would have given me an out." Faith growled. She caught sight of her sister rolling her eyes, and gave her an innocent expression. "I know I know, you don't want to see me hurt. I swear though, if I'd known that signing with the Alliance would have resulted in me being carted around by a humorless suit with a false smile on my face to help with recruiting efforts, I would have told them to shove that contract up their puckers."
Hope actually laughed at that, bringing a small glow to Faith's cheeks. It was so rare to hear her sister laugh nowadays. "It's your curse, I'm afraid. I was always jealous of you being the pretty, public-minded one when we were kids and teenagers. Now that we're adults, it's biting you in the ass, and I can't help but be grateful my greatest skills were roughhousing and wrestling."
"Don't forget smart-assing."
"I think we're both about equal in that regard."
"Look on the bright side, though." Hope smirked. "At least you get to go on interviews and answer truly thought-provoking questions like 'How do you keep your hair so healthy and shiny?' or 'What's your opinion on the new dress suit designs?'"
"Don't forget my personal favorite: 'How has joining the Military affected your love life?' Because obviously I joined to get tail."
"Naturally. And I fully intend to take your battlefield makeup techniques to heart." Hope chuckled with heavy sarcasm. "So, what're you reading?" Hope stretched her neck trying to look over the edge of the vid screen. Faith smiled at the gesture.
"Krogan porn. It's for a mission I swear." Faith lied with a completely straight face. Hope gave her 'the look', one that she'd apparently inherited from their mother.
"Uh huh." Hope's tone conveyed a world of disbelief.
"I'm only looking at the pictures, I swear."
"Right, don't care, don't want to know." Hope held her hands up in surrender. Glancing over next to her, she sighed sadly. "Whelp, looks like it's lights out now. Night, trouble-maker. Try not to get arrested or dead."
"I won't if you won't." Faith waved sadly as Hope ended the call. They spoke so rarely, and it was usually only for a few minutes at a time. Technically, they weren't supposed to take personal messages whenever they were working, but as they'd both realized early on, one of them was always working.
Faith very carefully made sure to erase any trace that she'd received a call that night, knowing that one of Arnold's 'hacky-lacky's, as Faith referred to them, would be checking her Omni-Tool in the morning. Captain Arnold trusted Faith about as much as he trusted Turians, and with good reason, Faith thought with a wicked smile. Although she could easily keep his so-called hackers from finding anything valuable, it was still better to use prudence in this case. They couldn't hold anything against her or her sister if it didn't exist.
* * *
The morning came early for Faith, as the SSV Nairobi landed on Benning. Although Citadel Time marked it at 3:30am, since they were landing on Benning while it was in full view of the summer sun everyone was forced to adjust quickly to local time. Faith scrambled to make sure there was enough coffee to go around. Though she might rankle at her enforced career, she wasn't the type to make others suffer for it. The petty officers and Marines she worked with were in no way responsible for her situation, so she refused to do anything that might affect them. As such, she'd earned herself the reputation for being reliable, though she had no problem giving Arnold decaf or forgetting to put sugar in his coffee. He could suffer along with her.
No sooner had they disembarked than Faith noticed something was off. There was an excitement to the air, as well as apprehension. Glancing over the port, her eyes immediately saw the reason for it: a Turian frigate was parked there, it's multiple turrets gleaming in the late morning sun. The name of the ship was scrawled across the bow, but it was in a Turian script Faith didn't recognize. She did, however, recognize the symbol painted next to the name. That ship belonged to a Spectre.
Faith felt her heart hammering inside her ribcage as she followed Captain Arnold into the base, pretending to listen as he griped about others standing around and gossiping. Privately, she was worried sick. Had someone learned of her approaching Saren Arterius and ratted her out? But then why would a Spectre's ship be here for that? Wouldn't they just report her to the Alliance and be done with it?
The more Faith thought about it, the more she calmed herself, knowing that the Spectre was more likely here for some other business. No matter; she'd find out soon enough. One of the only advantages to following Captain Arnold as his personal assistant.
They hadn't gone far into the base when they were joined by another officer, a Commander Rommel. Saluting smartly, the Commander fell into step by the Captain, his expression carefully neutral.
"What's all the fuss about, Commander? I've heard we have a Turian Spectre in our midst." Captain Arnold marched through an automatic door that hissed, not pausing in his stride. With the way he said the word 'Turian', Faith would have thought it had stung him.
"Yes sir. He arrived two days ago and has the entire place stirred up. He grows more irritated every minute, and he's terrorized anyone who gets too close. He's refused to tell us what he wants; only told us to send for the SSV Nairobi." Commander Rommel reported, the slight waiver to his voice the only betrayal to his outward calm. Captain Arnold appeared to think it over for a few moments, then slapped the Commander on the shoulder, giving him a slight push.
"I'll find out what the bastard wants and send him away as fast as I can. Just in case, though, make sure the Admiral knows to expect a call from me once I'm finished." The Captain nodded towards Rommel, dismissing him.
Faith made sure to remain quiet and a bit behind Captain Arnold, hoping he'd 'forget' to dismiss her before heading into the room. She was very curious, and by his own orders, she was supposed to stay close and record anything of interest that went on, in case he needed a reminder later. However, as he entered the set of rooms the Spectre was staying in, Faith took one look at the white plated Turian with long facial horns and almost immediately bolted for cover. Unfortunately for her, Saren Arterius happened to be looking right at them as they entered, and there was no place for Faith to hide without being obvious.
Saren snarled in irritation as they entered. "I do not appreciate having to wait. For your sake, you have best be worth the effort. Now go gather your belongs and report in to my ship." His voice dripped like venom, and his entire demeanor was one of someone who had been mortally offended. To his credit, Captain Arnold didn't even flinch as Saren stormed towards them, a large duffle held in one of his hands, a datapad in the other.
"And just why would I be reporting to your ship, Spectre-" The Captain began diplomatically, obviously vexed. Saren hissed at him in irritation.
"I wasn't speaking to you." Saren growled. He tossed the duffel at Faith before she could register what he'd just said. Thankfully, she caught it out of reflex, staggering slightly under the weight. "I'm requisitioning Shepard for a mission."
Captain Arnold seemed taken aback as Saren shoved the datapad into his fumbling hands. He began to protest viciously, but Saren ignored him, not even pausing in his stride. Faith was frozen, her brain unwilling to comprehend what was happening. As he walked past her, Saren reached out with a vice-like grip, grabbing her arm and yanking her along with him. Stumbling, she quickly realized he would drag her if need be, so she righted herself and half-jogged to keep up with his long strides. She only hesitated once, as Captain Arnold stormed out of the room and bellowed an order for Faith to stop. Saren's grip tightened further, as he forcefully jerked her back into line with a sharp movement that made her teeth rattle.
"Because you hesitated to follow my orders and wasted more of my valuable time, I will not allow you to gather your belongings. Perhaps next time I tell you to do something, you won't react so disrespectfully." Saren growled, finally releasing her arm. Faith opened her mouth to protest, but a fierce glare from Saren silenced her immediately.
The two of them marched purposely out of the building, every eye watching them as they made their way towards his ship. As it came into sight, Faith felt the fluttering edge of panic. She wanted to ask what was going on, where they were going, and why, in the great wide universe, was he taking her? He hadn't seemed impressed with her hacking skills when she'd met him over a year ago, and she hadn't done anything since then to really stand out. The only thing she could think of was that he must want her for her power, but how in the wide galaxy had he found out about it?
Faith never got the chance to ask. They both came to a halt just in front of his ship, a human blockade standing before the hatch; most ranking officers, all looking very put out. Faith gave them a grateful look but kept quiet.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but you can't just barge in here and kidnap one of our own." Faith recognized the speaker as Lt. Commander Mattock, who she knew had a strong disgust for Turians. She cringed inwardly as Saren drew himself up, glaring with open distaste at the men surrounding him.
"Actually, you'll find that I can. Indeed, I already have." Saren sneered. "A Spectre can requisition whatever they need from any council species. Unless of course," Saren's voice changing from menacing to almost honeyed made Faith's hair stand on end, "If the Alliance wishes to stand before the Council and explain that it deserves to be the sole exception to their laws, I'm very sure no one will grieve over your losses. After all, if the Spectres are ordered to no longer patrol any part of Earth Alliance space, every drug runner, slaver, and other disreputable sort will be sure to settle on your planets and terrorize your people. That would free up our resources exponentially. Should I let the Council know you'll be closing your embassy and taking your useless selves out of our lives? I'm sure they'd be thrilled to wish you well."
Saren paused to allow his words to sink in, making the officers look very uncomfortable. As silence fell, Shepard could hear Captain Arnold rushing up from behind, trying to catch the two of them before Saren could take off. Faith could tell Saren's patience was already hair-thin, and was only moments away from inflicting violence on others. As much as she detested the Alliance, she had no desire to see any of these men hurt because of her. Straightening, she looked over the large duffle she was holding, catching Mattock's eye.
"I-It's okay, Lt. Commander. Technically speaking, I did volunteer to help Saren out awhile ago. It'd look really bad for the Alliance if we backed out now." Faith smiled charmingly, though she knew it was strained. "Don't worry, I'm sure the good Spectre won't allow me to come to any harm."
Saren chuffed, but thankfully didn't say anything. Overhearing her words, Captain Arnold was brought up short.
"You what? When?" Arnold huffed, his face reddened from his run. Faith pretended to be occupied holding onto the duffle. Saren snarled as he turned to face the Captain.
"Enough! You have wasted more than enough of my time. I'm leaving now with the human female, and I will carve my way through your ranks if you don't get out of my way!" Saren's tone had turned downright murderous as he grabbed Faith by the arm again, hauling her roughly forward. Nobody moved to stop him, though Faith could tell by the various expressions that nobody was happy. As the airlock shut behind the two of them with a steely hiss, Faith felt the cold finger of fear stroke down her spine.
Saren tries his hardest to break Shepard, and in turn, she breaks his ship.
Quick Warning: There’s a lot of abuse in this chapter, so if you’re at all sensitive to such things, please skip.
Update: Some minor changes added to the chapter. There were a ton of errors that apparently I missed during the first round of checks (and second, apparently), and I also fleshed out a few spots that were somewhat bare. This is also the point where I start using other terms that you can read about -link- here.
"Have you seen this requisition order?" Captain Arnold was sputtering with fury as he waved around the datapad Saren Arterius had forced into his hands. "Two years! TWO YEARS he's requisitioned her - for evaluation and training!"
His eyes roamed over the holograms standing before him. Several of the admirals, all involved in the secrecy surrounding Faith Shepard and her odd abilities, looked at each other in concern. The only individual who stood out was Captain Anderson. In Arnold’s view, he shouldn’t be further included in anything involving the twins. He’d done his job already, keeping them safe and under guard until they were old enough for the Alliance brass to take over. Even then, he’d failed repeatedly to keep Faith under control. As far as Arnold was concerned, Anderson should have been court martialed for his repeated failures. He supposed it was due to Anderson’s long-standing reputation from being a war hero and general popularity that kept him out of trouble. Now he joined these other people of rank as though he had further business with them. Apparently that’s what happened when you’re Admiral Hackett’s favorite, Arnold angrily mused.
"While the situation is far from ideal, perhaps we should look on the bright side." Rear Admiral Kahoku chimed in. "We've been trying to have one of our own make it into the Spectres for years. While Saren is the last Spectre who would recommend an Alliance enlisted, let alone any human, he is well respected by the council. Any training done by him would undoubtedly get their attention. Young Ms Faith might just be our way in."
"But why Faith?" Captain Anderson blurted out with heat. His distaste for Saren was well known to all the officers present, and he didn't bother holding it back as he spoke. "She has no discernible talents or skills that hundreds of others don't have. He must have a reason!"
"I think it's reasonable to believe that Saren has somehow managed to learn of her abilities and wants to use them for his own purposes." Admiral Hackett frowned as he spoke.
"The Ensign did mention that she'd promised to aid him when he kidnapped her." Arnold snarled, obviously displeased. He leveled an accusing glare over at Anderson. "What I can't figure out is when and how they met! We've kept a strong eye on her ever since she signed her commission papers."
Anderson cringed slightly. "Faith had a tendency to escape from under my care whenever I blinked. There's a possibility that she ran into Saren on the Citadel at some point."
"But she was ordered to keep quiet about her abilities until we could study them further." Kahoku pointed out. Arnold snorted.
"Bah! She's been willful and disobedient since day one. It wouldn't surprise me if he caught her showing off."
"Enough." Hackett called them back to order. "Speculation will get us nowhere at this point. The council has informed me that this is an opportunity for humanity to prove it's willingness to aide the other races. It’s unfortunate, but if we back out now we’ll lose face with them, which is what I'm sure Saren Arterius wants. We'll continue to try and make contact with Ensign Shepard, but until we can, our hands are tied. All we can do is hope that she performs to Saren's expectations and returns to us in one piece."
* * *
If Faith Shepard had believed that the Alliance was difficult, the first month she spent on board Saren Arterius' ship, the Daedalus, could only be described as impossible.
During basic Faith had been pushed hard, and as a result she'd leaned up quite a bit, building muscles that she never even knew she had. Saren's training seemed intent on targeting those same muscles and making each one hurt in a new and horrifying way.
To compound her problems, Saren seemed to take a sadistic delight in depriving her of food, water, sleep, and basic hygiene. No matter where she tried to curl up inside the cargo hold of his ship, he would find her, often later into the night, and drag her over to a clear spot for sparring (she'd learned very quickly to never sleep in anything less than her full uniform after the first time). He'd force her to work at all hours, commenting snidely on her lack of knowledge and skill, refused to allow her to take breaks, and mocked her when she finally collapsed.
As if to make matters even more frustrating, Saren refused to divulge any details about the mysterious mission he'd kidnapped her for. Instead, he seemed content to simply torment her in new and interesting ways. Such as not allowing her to leave the ship the first time they docked in order to keep her from purchasing any hygiene supplies or new clothing. He'd grabbed her unprepared, so now she was forced to wear her uniform, including her undergarments, daily. Although there was a shower on board that she could use, they only had dextro-friendly soap which would cause Faith to break out horribly and itch worse than not using soap. Now she spent her days wandering around, trying hard not to smell herself or scratch at her numerous rashes, dressed in her fatigues.
It was as though Saren was deliberately pushing her to the limits of her patience. Even so, Faith refused to give in to his needling and kept her mouth shut, making sure to thank him frequently for taking the time to work with her. Her good manners and polite nature earned her both grudging approval and frustration from Saren, often making him storm off in disgust.
It was the little joys that kept Faith going.
When she did become frustrated or short-tempered, Saren made sure to remind her that she was welcome to leave whenever she decided she'd had enough. Unfortunately, she learned the hard way not to let Saren know anything personal about herself. She’d let slip that she really had nowhere to go if he refused her. That the Alliance would more than likely either ostracized her for failing or shunt her off for more testing, and now he held the fact that she thought she couldn’t leave over her with near villainous glee. Whenever she wanted to give up or hide from him, he was now quick to point out that Humanity would never be given another chance like this; her people were all depending on her! A lowly human, personally trained by the Council's top Spectre. Any recommendations he made went far with the Council, so her entire being should be focused on impressing him. Truly, she should be honored and take full advantage of this grand opportunity!
Most days, Faith was just happy not earning any more lacerations or broken bones.
Dr. Venicius, the ship's doctor whose medical lab Faith was getting to know a little too well, was busy bandaging her latest injuries and applying a medical cream to the numerous rashes she'd developed when he paused, his mandibles fluttering as a thought occurred to him.
"Congratulations on surviving a month on board." Venicius droned, uncaring. Faith sighed heartily.
"I agree with your use of the word 'survive'. I've been on extreme camping trips that were easier than this." She chuckled slightly, then noticed his questioning glance. "Uh, extreme camping means little to no gear, and you cook whatever you catch that day."
"In other words normal camping for any species other than human." The doctor snorted with derision. Though he tended to Faith's injuries with care, his opinions on humans seemed to be the same as everyone else on board - relatively negative and annoyed. Faith tried her hardest to remain on her best and most polite behavior, but an entire month of no real hygiene, barely enough food, and almost no rest were beginning to take their toll. Irritated, she stopped herself from scratching at a particularly bad rash that now adorned the majority of the back of her neck.
"I have to admit, it's tempting to run screaming out of the airlock at the next port, if only to get a decent shower. There has got to be something in the water that makes me break out this bad. I thought it was the dextro-soap, but I haven't used any since my first week on board and I'm still breaking out." Faith hissed, absently scratching at her bandaged arm before the doctor smacked her hand away.
"Typical human. You blame everything else but yourself."
Faith grunted. "I'm fairly sure I'm not allergic to myself or my clothing."
"Who said this is the result of an allergic reaction?"
"Then what is it? All these rashes are beginning to bleed-"
"Stop scratching at them."
"Leave them alone and they will heal faster." Venicius sighed heartily, as though he was explaining to a child. Faith growled in frustration before she slumped in defeat. The doctor gave her a none-too-gentle push off the table. "Now take this spare salve and remove yourself. I have to clean the stench away."
Faith turned to level an annoyed look at him. "I suppose I'm to blame for that as well?"
"Then please feel free to inform Spectre Arterius and encourage him to allow me access to basic hygiene supplies." Faith couldn't keep the spite from her tone, though the doctor was not to blame for her discomfort and embarrassment. Venicius gave her a contemptuous glare.
"Tell him yourself, coward."
Faith didn't bother to reply.
* * *
The way down to the cargo hold was blissfully empty as Faith stormed to her usual hiding spot. While she had no belongings to lay claim to any one spot on the ship (not that Saren would have allowed her to anyways, Faith mused), she had managed to make herself a slight nest.
The communications officer, a kind hearted fellow named Sellik, had snuck her a blanket that she took great care to hide when not in use. Thankfully, though Faith was fairly sure Saren knew about it's existence, he chose not to make an issue of it. It allowed her to remain somewhat covered while she washed her clothing when she tried to clean them, and herself, at least every few days.
Wrapping the large blanket around her nude frame, Shepard grimaced as she handled her stiff, rank-smelling clothing. Her undergarments in particular were bothering her, and she silently thanked the good doctor for sneaking her the extra salve he’d been using on her skin. She'd developed a new, virulent rash in a sensitive area and neither she nor the doctor wanted his talons down there. With a sigh of relief, she spread the cold cream against the burning, itching, horrifically embarrassing rash.
Pulling out a very small bucket she had found not long ago, she started rinsing her socks and pants, trying to get the clothing as thoroughly soaked as she could. Scrubbing the fabric together, she tried to get the worst of the dried blood and debris off the heavily stained and frayed fatigues. Though there was a laundry facility on board, she'd been told, rather primly, that she was forbidden from using them since none of the crew wished for their own clothing to 'stink of human'.
As she reached for her panties she noticed something unusual. Lifting the garment, she spied several tiny, white specks sprinkled across the cotton liner. At first, she figured it must simply be dead skin. However, with a swipe of her finger, she felt the gritty, salt-like substance stick to her skin. Within moments, her finger began to burn painfully.
"I seem doomed to observe something disturbing every time I look at you." Saren droned in a disgusted tone. Faith felt herself stiffen slightly, turning slowly towards him. Saren seemed to be leaning away, looking very much like he was trying not to breathe too heavily. Rather then the gut wrenching humiliation she normally felt, Faith felt something cold and dangerous settle into her stomach.
"Do you know what this substance is?" Faith asked, her voice very quiet as she held up her reddened finger. Saren visibly gagged.
"I don't even want to fathom what you put in there."
"Nothing." Faith almost snapped the word. "Since I've stepped on board this ship, I've had no access to soap or cleaning supplies. As such, I wash my garments in nothing but water."
"How fascinating." Saren drawled sarcastically.
"So how is it that I find my undergarments liberally decorated with this unknown substance? A substance, I would like to point out, that is causing me to break out into a painful, itchy, bleeding rash."
"Truly, a mystery for the ages." Saren snorted. Sneering, he motioned his head towards the clear area where they usually sparred. Faith stiffened, he eyes blazing with tightly controlled rage.
"And somehow, you always seem to think when I'm doing my laundry is the best time to find all sorts of tasks for me to do around the ship while my clothing lays here, vulnerable, it would appear, to yourself and the crew." Faith ground her teeth together, her limbs shaking.
"Human, you cannot begin to comprehend how little I care for your childish troubles." Saren's tone indicated he was done talking.
Faith growled, a green energy sparking along her hands and arms. Saren's eyes flickered towards them, his expression disapproving, though there was an odd note of triumph to his posture.
Faith had been so careful about not unleashing her abilities since she had stepped on board, not knowing whether Saren understood what it was she was capable of doing or if she'd be punished more for using it. Now however, she loosened all the restraints she normally bound around herself. The green energy crackled like electricity, arching out to zap any metallic objects nearby.
Without a word, Saren backed towards the cleared area; not retreating by any means, simply guiding her towards their usual arena. This time, Faith would have none of his manipulation. For the first time since they'd begun sparring, she refused to bow respectfully.
Eyes locked to hers, Saren shifted ever so slightly, the only warning she had before he charged. As she saw the blue flash, she threw her arms out, sending the green energy out towards her opponent.
Saren careened into nothing, momentarily confused. Everything had gone dark instantly, and for one moment, he worried that she'd somehow struck him blind. Then he realized he wasn't truly blind, only that she'd somehow knocked out his visual implants. Experimentally, he flared his biotics and noticed his amp was unresponsive. Huffing in irritation, Saren focused on using his other senses as his natural eyes adjusted.
It was difficult to pin-point Faith's position, since the entire cargo hold smelled of her. Saren held back a gag, silently promising to force her to give the entire ship a thorough cleaning the moment she recovered from their spar.
He heard a slight grunt creeping behind him and immediately kicked backwards, his armored foot making contact with a bare stomach. Spinning to face her, Saren saw Faith fall onto her side, clutching her wounded stomach as she retched. His silver eyes glanced down once, noting the bucket filled with water and her clothing spilled negligently in front of him. He bristled, snarling.
"You have some nerve human." Saren threatened, casually crushing the bucket under his foot with a loud metallic crunch. "In all my years, no person who has learned from me has ever shown me such disrespect."
"Did you pull childish pranks on them just to manipulate their reactions as well?" Faith snarled, though her inability to inhale effectively made her voice wheeze. Saren growled fiercely, stormed forward, and lifted her by her neck. As he pinned her to a storage box, Faith snapped her fist up, punching him in the jaw. It was hardly more than a tap and barely rattled him, but the look Saren gave her was stunned. Faith sneered at him, dangling off the ground by almost a full foot.
"I just wanted to hit you once." She spat. Saren snarled with rage, releasing her while also aiming a punch at her head. Faith didn’t bother dodging.
* * *
Pain seared through Faith's skull, blinding her, as she slowly regained consciousness. She was sprawled across the cold, metal surface of the cargo hold. Vaguely, she recalled punching Saren right before he had proceeded with their spar. That is, if hounding her relentlessly throughout the hold could be called a spar. She had taken his first strike across the face, then had managed to keep ahead of him until she’d slipped in the spilled water. She couldn’t remember much after that.
Gingerly, she touched the back of her head, feeling for any tenderness. Her hair was matted with dried blood, and she had a fair sized lump on the back of her skull. Moving her neck back and forth slowly, her muscles screaming in protest, she surmised there were no broken bones.
For a moment, Faith wondered why she was still in the hold. After every sparring match she and Saren had engaged in, he always hit the large button on the keypad beside the stairs, summoning the doctor to come and collect his victim. Faith grit her teeth against the pain as she sat up. Apparently it wasn't enough to leave her bruised and beaten and completely naked. Saren had to deny her immediate medical care as well.
With a hearty groan, Faith got to her feet, staggering towards the button on the other side of the hold. The cargo bay had never seemed overly large to her, but as she struggled to move, the distance seemed greater. When she finally reached for the button, it's only response was to angrily buzz at her and turn from yellow to blue. Almost sobbing, Faith realized she would have to trek to the medical lab by foot for treatment.
Faith’s skin prickled as the air circulated around her nude frame. Before making her way to the med lab, she'd have to get dressed. While her dignity had taken a beating since stepping on board, she wasn't ready to wander the ship in her birthday suit.
Forcing her stiff and bruised legs to move, she made her way over to where she'd attempted to hit Saren with her laundry bucket. In hindsight, Faith knew why he'd been so insulted, and swinging that heavy bucket had caused her to grunt and give herself away. Not to mention she’d slipped in the water not long after. Definitely not one of her more glorious moments. Maybe that was why Saren hadn’t bothered calling the doctor down, Faith mused. He’d been so disgusted with her horrible performance that he’d just stormed off. Faith snorted, able to picture him waving his hands in the air and muttering- she should probably hurry, she realized; she was starting to drift off.
However, as she stood in the spot she knew the bucket should have been, she found nothing, not even a wet spot. Even the place where her blanket had fallen from her shoulders was barren. Alarm tensed her, and she quickly made her way over to where the rest of her clothing should have been.
It was all too much. An entire month of abuse, insults, pain, and humiliation finally broke the last of the walls holding back her emotions. Two great tears rolled down her dirty cheeks as she finally gave herself over to her buried feelings. Falling to her knees, Faith allowed herself to wail, the tears falling fast and plentiful as her energy sparked around her in response to her uncontrolled emotions.
Deep down inside, Faith knew she'd lose whatever sliver of respect she might have earned with Saren for allowing her emotions to run wild, but she didn't care. Saren treated her the same regardless, she reasoned, so why bother with the facade? It was liberating for her to cry, loud and long and filled with her frustration, anger, pain, and loathing.
Settling into a comfortable position, Faith pulled her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around her legs, and rocked herself as she cried; content, for the moment, to ignore the world around her.
* * *
Saren was standing in the CIC, looking over the galaxy map as he plotted out their next mission. His temper had been volatile as of late, so the crew was on their absolute best behavior, none wishing to incur his wrath. It was quiet on the bridge, the steady hum of the drive core a pleasant white noise that helped to steady Saren's mood.
So when the drive core sputtered and all the instruments, including the galaxy map Saren was attempting to read, began to flicker, his mood quickly swung back towards irritated.
"Helcius, report!" Saren barked at their maintenance engineer. The turian jumped slightly, his three-fingered hands flying over the instrument panel.
"I'm...not sure, Spectre Arterius. Everything was running smoothly-"
"Is this fitting to your definition of ‘smooth’?" Saren snarled, his patience ebbing, as he gestured angrily at the flickering galaxy map. Helcius looked at him helplessly.
"Perhaps it's an issue with-"
"Cease your sitting about and discussing it: FIX IT!" Saren bellowed, causing the engineer to fly out of his seat and over to the galaxy map. No sooner had he opened a panel under the map then the engine sputtered again, then died, then restarted briefly before dying again. Everyone froze, glancing around in alarm.
"That can't be good." Sellik muttered quietly, earning himself a fierce glare from both Saren and the first mate, Leonis Octavius. Saren turned on his heel, storming towards the elevator.
"There's only one person below decks right now." Saren growled as he summoned the elevator. However, the lift button fizzled, then turned blue, then turned off as the power flickered again. Saren almost blasted the useless thing open with a biotic surge, but caught himself, and opted to force the doors open. Before he swung down onto the emergency ladder, he looked over at Octavius.
"I'm headed below decks to deal with the problem. I'll radio when it's safe to send the engineers below." Saren informed his first mate. Octavius saluted smartly, turning back to the bridge and issuing orders. Saren ignored the commotion, and concentrated on descending the three levels to the cargo bay.
Even the emergency lights were flickering as Saren climbed his way down, causing the Spectre to feel a slight trickle of alarm. If the emergency systems went down, life support wasn't far behind. Doubling his speed, he jumped down to the stranded elevator, opened its emergency exit in the roof, and dropped down to it's floor. This time, he had to force two doors open, both the elevator as well as the cargo hold doors outside them. At any moment, power could be restored and cause the elevator to move, so Saren hesitated only a brief second before leaping across, pulling out his pistol in one smooth motion.
Saren felt his hide shiver as a sound reached his translator. It sounded between a scream and a moan, and gave him pause. As he glanced around the cargo bay, he noticed the green energy crackling through the air, messing with anything electrical it touched. Saren snarled in irritation. No sooner had he stepped into the sphere of energy than the VI in his gun began to malfunction. With a flick of his fingers, he turned the thing off before more damage could be done.
Dodging around the numerous storage boxes, he followed the noise to its source. Seated in a ball of misery was Shepard, rocking back and forth as she wailed. Taking aim, Saren fired.
Faith jumped, the green energy drawing in around her like a shield. A smoking hole was less than an inch from where her head had been. Looking at the shooter, she knew she was in deep trouble.
"Give me one reason. Just one." Saren spoke so quietly Faith barely understood him. Wiping away her tears, she coughed to clear her throat.
"So now crying is an executable offense." Faith laughed without humor. "Honestly Saren, I know you won’t shoot me. I'm your personal human-shaped punching bag, here to be beaten physically and verbally and emotionally. Apparently that's the mission you recruited me for because I honestly can’t fathom what other reason you have to keep me around in this state." Faith knew she was behaving childishly, but at the moment, she didn't care. For a moment it appeared as though there was a flicker of guilt across his face, but she blinked and it vanished. Despite the murderous look he was now giving her, Saren lowered his weapon.
"I take no issues with you screaming and crying or whatever it is you humans do to relieve stress. However, I do take issue with your blatant attack on my ship and my crew." Saren snapped with some heat. Faith looked up at him, confusion written across her reddened face.
"How else would you refer to it?" Saren holstered his weapon, before assuming his lecture pose. His arms crossed tightly across his chest as he leaned back on one leg. "When you allow your emotions to get the better of you, which happens with alarming frequency I might add, your powers manifest wildly. It is similar with Biotics. However, we are taught to control our emotions the moment our abilities manifests. Apparently, Humanity is once again proving it's incompetence through it's inferior educational system."
"While I might agree with you on our education, just how is this- " Faith held up a glowing arm, " -anything like biotics? According to the Alliance scientist-"
"The Alliance employs the grossly moronic and hopelessly optimistic. I read all the 'classified' reports they filed as they fumbled through the testing of your abilities - if taking you by the hand and treating you as fragile could be considered 'testing'." Saren began pacing, though his eyes remained on Shepard. "Not once did they attempt to push your limits. Instead, they allowed you to set the pace, allowed you to manipulate them into believing you were not a threat."
Faith squirmed slightly. "I did some independent studying of it..." She offered weakly. Saren scoffed.
"And in your attempt to outwit your precious Alliance officials, you kept it quiet and well hidden from the casual observer, I imagine?" Saren shook his head, finally turning to face her fully. "Hiding yourself away from the public eye in the hopes of what? That you might gain an advantage in some way? A secret weapon to unleash when others are unsuspecting?"
Faith felt crushed. A blush was slowly raising towards her hairline as she ducked her head, refusing to maintain eye contact. Saren snarled in disgust.
"I can see that you're the average of your species in regards to your intelligence. Tell me, do you even have the slightest idea as to what your abilities can accomplish?"
Saren paused, waiting for Faith to answer. The silence became oppressive, worsened when Saren began tapping out the seconds with an irritated talon. Finally, Faith drew in a shuddering breath.
"I know it can muck-up VIs..." She mumbled weakly. Saren sighed as she paused, obvious at the end of his patience.
"More than just VIs. From what I've observed, it has an effect on anything electrical. While you were busy bawling like a lost child, the engines shut down. All our equipment has been malfunctioning. I had to climb down a ladder because the lift stopped working." Saren paused, waiting as Faith tensed, her head slowly coming up as she looked into his eyes. He saw the fear, the realization, and poured all his disapproval and contempt into the look her gave her.
"I did all that? By crying?" Faith asked incredulous. Saren sneered.
"I don't care to repeat myself, human." Saren snapped. "You have a strong power that can knock out a high-class turian frigate. By every right, I should execute you on the grounds of being a threat to every intelligent civilization."
"Then why don't you?" Faith challenged.
Saren simply stared down at her for several moments before he stormed off, heading back towards the lift. As he reached the still open doors, he paused, half-turning.
"If you ever put my crew and I at risk again, I won't hesitate. Keep yourself in check, or leave my ship."
From trying to murder the entire crew to cooking them dinner.
“I’m truly sorry about the rashes. We were honestly just trying to help you smell better when you couldn’t wash your clothes.”
Sellik wore as guilty an expression as Faith had ever seen on a Turian. He had trudged down to the cargo hold, ostensibly to double check various items in storage to be sure Faith’s fit from the other day hadn’t messed with them. He’d taken the opportunity to sneak her a small ration and return her blanket and freshly laundered clothes.
“So that stuff is something you guys use?” Faith asked, lazily leaning over a storage box as she munched on her ration bar. Sellik nodded.
“Turians don’t bathe as often as humans or Asari do, but we do start to smell after awhile. Anytime we can’t launder our clothing, we sprinkle some of that powder into our clothes, and it freshens us right up.” Sellik chuckled nervously. “Guess it doesn’t work too well on humans, though.”
“At least the rashes will go away now. I was going crazy from the itching alone.” Faith paused, frowning. “You heard me complaining about the rashes though. Did it ever occur to you guys…” Faith left it hanging, knowing the answer as she saw him cringe.
“Saren told us to keep adding it to your clothing. It did help you smell a bit better to us, though not much, so I don’t know if that was his thinking, or if he had another reason.”
Faith snorted, not bothering to answer as her anger spiked. Sellik appeared slightly nervous, and Faith forced herself to relax. The few crew members she’d seen, running about to fix her damages, had all treated her with a distant respect and a healthy dose of apprehension. Apparently the crew wasn't willing to anger the crazy human female with strange electrical powers further. Thinking of her fit from the day previous, Faith pouted, catching Sellik’s eye.
"So on a scale of one to 'dear god, what were you thinking', how much trouble am I in with Spectre Arterius?" Faith asked quietly, curling up into a ball of absolute misery. Sellik snorted, though there was a faint rumble of amusement in his subvocals.
"Honestly, I'm amazed he didn't just murder you right then and there." Sellik chuckled slightly. "If there's one thing Saren hates, it's being shaken. And turning off the engines and threatening emergency power to the life support would shake anyone."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to." Faith managed a slight laugh, though it was very strained. "I don't suppose you know a way to get back into his good graces, do you? Because somehow I don't think grovelling and begging is going to sway him much."
"Probably not." Sellik agreed. He leaned against the crates he was supposed to be getting an inventory on, his expression thoughtful. "It's not going to be easy; closer to being near-impossible. Saren finds you and this ability of yours curious, but not so much that he'd risk endangering himself and the crew. Add that he can hold grudges forever and hates humans with a near religious passion, and you've got a pretty hopeless case going for yourself."
"Thanks, Sellik, that helps a lot." Faith drawled sarcastically. Sighing heavily, she rubbed her forehead, her headache dancing gleefully across the front of her skull. Sellik smiled slightly at her, his mandibles twitching.
"I don't know if it helps, but Saren did mention before that you would be very useful in that mission he refuses to speak more of. Not necessary, but useful. If you can prove yourself more valuable than trouble, he may just let this incident slide, though you should be prepared for a serious beat-down next time you guys spar."
Faith laughed. "How is that different then the usual beat-downs he gives me when we spar?"
"He's been holding back."
Faith looked at Sellik, stunned. He nodded, making her shudder.
"Y'know, that just might be the most painfully frightening thing I've ever heard." Faith spoke quietly. Sellik chuckled.
"You're lucky. According to the rules of requisition, he has to at least try to bring you back in one piece."
"Great." Faith sighed. She looked around the hold, the stress settling in her stiff shoulders and neck. After a moment she frowned, turning back to Sellik. "Am I allowed to leave the cargo hold?"
Sellik gave her a confused look. "You're not forbidden from going anywhere, as usual, though you should probably stay out of Saren's visual range for a little while. He's still simmering."
"As opposed to the boiling from yesterday." Faith laughed. Standing, she stretched herself, and Sellik backed up slightly as her movement filled the surrounding air with her unclean stench. "I think I'll take a shower so I can try and smell as pretty as my clothing, then hit the kitchen."
Sellik shrugged, side-eyeing her. Then he looked around to see if anyone was watching or listening, leaned in close, and whispered to her.
"Saren ordered us not to tell you, but, there's some Asari soap underneath the sink. Use it. And lots of it."
* * *
Saren was sitting in his cabin, proof reading his latest report to the council, when he smelled it.
At first, Saren thought his mind was playing tricks on him. The scent was little more than a whisper across his senses, gone before he could properly identify it. Then, as he continued working, he smelled it again, stronger this time. His mouth watered as his stomach growled. One of the crewmen must be cooking, he told himself, quickly swallowing and forcing himself to focus. He was far too dignified to stoop to sniffing around the kitchen and begging for some of whatever was - Saren sniffed again, groaning slightly. Whatever it was smelled delicious.
Unable to focus, he made his way to the lift, silently berating himself. He was not going to beg or wheedle food - he was a Spectre. No, he'd simply find the crewman who was cooking and remind them that it was only polite to cook for and share with the rest of the crew. Thus, his dignity would remain intact.
First, he'd stop at the CIC and see who was missing. It was better to identify who was at fault for distracting him, to give him the upper hand when confronting the offender. Perhaps he should encourage them to make the crew's meals for the next few days? Perhaps, but only if their skills warranted a repeat. After all, just because it smelled delicious didn't mean it met Saren's high standards.
Saren inhaled deeply, his stomach rebelling against his rigid self-control as it growled hungrily.
He came to a stop at the CIC, quickly glancing around at the stations. Leonis Octavius spotted his scrutiny, giving a respectful nod with his head in greeting. Saren frowned, his eyes noting that everyone was at their respective stations. Who was on the night shift for tonight? Saren walked up to Leonis, sternly, and quietly, reminding his stomach to remain silent.
"Octavius." Saren nodded his head, still looking around the CIC. He noticed several of the crewmen looked slightly unfocused, sniffing at the aromas filling the air. He frowned at their lack of discipline. "Who is on night shift tonight?"
"Lacotus, Devona, and Hellix, Spectre Arterius." Leonis responded promptly, then waited to see if any orders were forthcoming. Saren frowned further, pulling his mandibles in sharply. All three of those men had served on board for years, and he didn't recall any of them being adept in the kitchen. Indeed, they didn't have an official cook on board; everyone handled their own meals. There were enough ingredients to make something more elaborate should rations not be enough, but usually Saren was the only one who bothered, treating himself after particularly difficult missions.
Leonis shifted uncomfortably, causing Saren's eyes to flicker towards him. A slight rumbling could be heard coming from the XO, who at least had the decency to be somewhat embarrassed by his lack of control. Normally Saren would coach him on the necessity of maintaining a semblance of control had his own stomach not been violently responding on it's own, reminding him that he'd only eaten a few ration bars as of late. Leaning close, Saren spoke soft enough so that it didn't carry.
"Do you have any idea who's cooking right now?" Saren asked. Leonis barely shook his head, mirroring Saren's frown. Frustrated, Saren silently swore, unhappy at being unable to figure it out on his own. Turning on his talons, he marched back to the lift, fully intending to reprimand whoever was causing all this unnecessary disruption.
And possibly acquire a plate of food. It was, after all, getting close to supper time.
As the lift doors opened to the crew deck, the aroma hit Saren like a warm wave, eliciting a small groan of want from him. Shaking himself, he lifted his chin, the reprimand building to a crescendo as he marched towards the small kitchen. Looking down at the large, single table just outside, Saren was stunned to see it covered with multiple dishes, some of which he didn't recognize, all looking inviting as he was forced to swallow hard against the rising salivation in his mouth.
This had gone entirely too far, Saren shook himself, marching stead-fast towards the kitchen. He was so intent on suppressing his growling stomach that he almost ran into Faith as she was carrying out a large tray filled with flavored noodles and some sort of sliced meat.
"Oh! Hey, Spectre Arterius. Sorry, wasn't expecting you so soon." Faith grunted slightly under the weight of the large dish. She shimmied around Saren, who stood staring at her in stunned disbelief as she deposited the dish on the only clear space left on the table.
"I hope you don't mind me cooking." Faith rambled, arranging the dishes on the table in a more orderly fashion before turning back to the kitchen to grab plates. "Whenever I'm stressed out, I tend to cook; baking usually, though I've been known to cook full meals before. It really helps me out. You didn't have any levo supplies beyond the few rations bars left, so I figured I'd try my hand at Dextro cooking again. Haven't done that in a while, but hey, worth a try, right? Besides, I know how hungry turians get, what with your high metabolisms and all, so I figured why stop at one small dish? Might as well make sure the entire crew gets a good solid meal. Y'know, to apologize for all my trouble and all that." Faith nodded to herself as she looked over the arrangement, then turned and raised a questioning brow at Saren. "Is there a protocol about eating a large meal here, or should I just call them all down at once?"
Saren didn't budge, not even blinking, as he stared at her face, his expression unreadable. The silence stretched for several moments before Faith realised Saren wasn't going to answer her. Backing up, she did her best not to break eye contact as she made her way over to the intercom, calling up to the CIC and explaining that supper was ready. A great deal of confusion followed her announcement, but that didn't stop the crew from almost barrelling over her as they stormed the table.
Faith did her best to ignore Saren's bone-chilling stare that seemed to settle between her shoulder blades as she passed plates around the table, encouraging everyone to give her opinions on whatever dishes they liked. Several of the more human-friendly crew members immediately launched into the food, stuffing their mouths and moaning. One of them even began praising her as he continued eating, his sub-vocals rumbling happily. The others approached more cautiously, sniffing at the food on their plates and tasting it before they, too, began to eat vigorously. Saren continued to watch them, a look of fierce disapproval on his face, though he continued his eerie silence.
After a few minutes of Shepard scrambling around to serve the others and keep their drinks full, Saren sat himself down with an audible thud. For a moment, everyone stopped eating, though none of them risked looking up at the Spectre. Saren practically radiated with stern disapproval, as his eyes swept over the many dishes. Faith hesitated a moment, holding a plate for him in her hands, waiting for him to indicate which dishes he wished to sample.
"Ration." Saren ordered quietly. Faith's eyebrows went up, looking about to protest, but thought better of it and went back into the kitchen to make him what he wanted.
The prevailing enthusiasm with which the crewmen had been attacking her supper vanished, their appetites cooling under his scrutiny. Saren eyed them, glaring. "Don't allow my presence to temper your pleasure. By all means, continue to tear into Shepard's cooking like a pack of ravenous pyjacks."
"Please go easy on them, Spectre Arterius." Faith placated lightly, placing Saren's heated ration in front of him. "After all, I recall overhearing you say once that good food should be celebrated."
"So brave you have become as of late, Ms. Shepard." Saren almost purred, irritated all the more because Faith ignored his icy glare. "First you give insult to me and try to kill my crew, and now you attempt to use my own words against me. The airlock is looking most inviting as a brig."
"Oh don't be so melodramatic." Faith waved him off, getting a dangerous growl from Saren. She paused, then sighed and bowed her head slightly to him. "Although, I should apologize for my behavior yesterday. I don't usually let my emotions get the better of me. I accept my chastisement, and I'll try my hardest to keep my abilities from interfering with the ship again. However, if you feel I am a continued threat to have on board, I will take my leave when we reach port in three days."
One of the crewmen let out a tiny whine, causing Saren's head to snap towards the sound, trying to pinpoint the offender. The sudden silence was near deafening as every crewman became keenly interested in their plates. Saren turned his gaze slowly back towards Faith, who returned his icy look with a calmness that further irritated him.
"Rather sly of you to offer to leave in front of my crew after making an extravagant meal for them. If only you humans would use such cunning for others rather than against them, I might actually be able to tolerate your species." Saren purred. Faith remained quiet, unmovable under his intense scrutiny.
Unable to rile her up, Saren turned his attention back to the dishes still littering the table. Though several had been cleared out, the large noodle dish still had a few servings left on it. Not bothering to look at her, Saren flicked a finger at Faith, continuing the motion until she handed him a plate. In the uncomfortable silence that continued to permeate the kitchen, Saren scooped out a small selection of noodles and a single slice of meat. Very carefully, he speared a single noodle, sniffed it for a moment, then placed it in his mouth.
Saren's expression remained neutral the entire time; though everyone was watching him, he gave no indication that he cared. He twirled the noodle around his tongue for several minutes before swallowing, then turned his attention to the slice of meat. With extreme attention to detail, Saren cut off a sliver and repeated the same actions as with the noodle. After swallowing the piece down, he finally turned back to Faith, who had watched the entire display with scarcely veiled amusement.
"You used taffe oil to cook both the noodles and meat." It wasn't a question, but Faith nodded anyways. Saren snorted. "While it is a cooking oil, it is a powerful flavor and should only be used when it can enhance the flavor of whatever is being cooked, not over power it. As such, that dish has a uniform taste that comes across as both greasy and plain. Adding spices didn't help; again, spices should only ever be used to enhance what is already there. Far better to cook the meat in it's own juices and leave the noodles plain."
Saren pushed the plate away disdainfully as he stood up, absently grabbing his ration. As he made his way to the elevator, he paused, catching Faith's eye with a stern look.
"I expect only the best from anyone serving under me. Make sure your next meal reflects that."
After so long enduring Saren's abuse, Shepard finally snaps and gets the answers she's been waiting for.
"Stop adding nikash spice to everything. Just because it's advertised as 'going well with everything in the kitchen' doesn't mean you have to mindlessly obey and smother all your dishes with it."
"The oil was too hot. You burned everything. Start over."
"It took you too long to cook the meat. Now the side dishes are cooled. Heat them up again."
Shepard was beginning to seriously consider poisoning Saren.
Since she had stepped on board his ship, Faith had been diligent in learning all the little rules and expectations that Saren had for all those who worked under him. She made sure never to touch his person unless they were sparring. She never interrupted him, and held all her questions until he was done speaking. She never swore while he was within ear shot and even when he wasn't, she kept fairly quiet. And above all, she always obeyed his orders promptly and efficiently.
Why she had thought it a good idea to cook 'just for the heck of it' for the crew members so she could win favor when she knew Saren was such a stickler for perfection was beyond her. She was, at best, a mediocre cook of human dishes, and had only slightly experimented with dextro food for the short time she had been dating a turian.
Now however, as she slaved in the kitchen for the entire day, she was forced to grit her teeth and endured Saren's constant scrutiny and barbed comments. Despite the fact that his entire crew wolfed down the four meals she cooked every day, nothing met Saren's impossibly high standards. To make matters worse, if there were leftovers of a dish that Saren deemed 'unsuitable', he insisted that she eat them herself to better 'learn from her error'.
Thankfully, Faith wasn't allergic to dextro, though it still caused some embarrassment in the bathroom later.
To add to her growing list of trouble, Saren insisted she still make time for sparring. Between the constant cooking, cleaning up after messy turians, and fighting she did every day, Faith barely had the energy to crawl into her spot each night. The only positive was now she had clean clothes and soap to use on herself. Idly, she wondered if that was a reward for her cooking, the crew showing respect (and fear) for her powers, or simply that nobody wanted to smell her anymore.
It was with near physical relief for her that they finally made their way into dock, though on what planet or station, Faith couldn't say. At this point, Faith wasn't even sure she cared. It didn't matter where they parked, only that she was getting a reprieve from Saren for a few hours.
Wrapping the last of the dishes she'd prepared for that evening, she tucked everything away where it was supposed to go, making sure everything was clean enough to satisfy even Saren. By the time she gave the countertop a final swipe, they'd been docked for almost an hour. No wonder it was so quiet. Faith sighed happily, finally able to have some downtime to herself.
"Make sure you order enough food to replace what you've used these past days, Ms. Shepard."
Faith almost jumped out of her skin, emanating a slight shriek, before spinning around and facing Saren, who looked slightly miffed by her reaction. He stood leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, staring at her expectantly. With a growing sense of dread, she realized he was going to keep her busy even while they were docked. Faith swallowed her disappointment.
"Is there anything in particular you'd like me to have sent to the ship?" She asked as diplomatically as possible. Maybe she'd get lucky and she could simply order through a datapad. One of Saren's mandibles twitched ever so slightly, but otherwise he remained completely still.
"Enough to supply us with an average of four meals for the next three months." Saren chuffed, handing over a datapad with a list of supplies. "Although, as a note, you do not have to make such large, extravagant spreads for each meal. In Turian culture, only the morning and early evening meal need be substantial. The others can be small and simple." Saren stood straight, turned, and headed back towards the elevator, before pausing and half-turning as if he'd just remembered something. "Also make sure to pick up some more rations. We're running low. Have them stowed and secure before we take off. You have two hours."
Faith felt herself frozen to the spot as Saren left her alone on the crew deck. Then she bolted from the kitchen towards the lift.
* * *
"Move along, human. There's nothing in this store you could possibly need."
Faith sighed heartily, her shoulders slumping. All hope of finishing the shopping quickly and efficiently had died rather early, when every turian she came across seemed hell-bent on giving her a hard time.
The turian she had politely asked directions from on the dock had sneered at her and told her pointedly to use the station VI, then had turned and left without bothering to point out where said VI was located, which had been the entire reason Faith had stopped him in the first place.
Once she'd reached the market, she'd realized with dread that everything was written in Turian Common. Saren had locked out her Omni-tool "for security reasons" the second she'd set foot on his ship, so she had no access to her visual translator. She'd frantically hunted for another VI station, all the while feeling the eyes of several of the crew members watching her with open amusement.
To make matters more complicated, it was horribly busy in the market at that moment, and the taller, hard-bodied turians seemed to have no reservations about bumping into her and shoving her around. Faith was beginning to feel like sparring with Saren was less abusive towards her body when she'd finally stumbled towards the shop she needed. However, the store owner was busy with other customers, there was no VI to order from, and Faith couldn't read the conveniently placed kiosk by the counter. She'd waited patiently for the owner to be free, and when he finally was, he dismissed her and coldly motioned to the turian woman standing behind her to step forward.
Squaring her shoulders, Faith stopped the woman from going around her, staring the shopkeeper in the eye.
"Normally I'm the single most polite person in the galaxy when faced with rudeness. After all, my mother made sure to drill me and my sister on how important manners were, especially so in the face of none." Faith smiled coldly. The shopkeeper started to open his mouth to protest, but Faith hissed angrily. "However, my mother was brutally murdered by Batarian slavers, my sister is serving the organization I hate only slightly less than slavers, and I'm currently forced to serve under a Turian madman who delights in my physical and emotional pain. My patience is now, officially, at an end."
Faith roughly shoved the datapad that contained a list of all the food supplies she needed to replenish into the shopkeepers stunned hands. He bristled, slamming the datapad onto the counter.
"Get out of my store or I'll-" The poor turian never got to finish his sentence as Shepard's hand snapped across the counter, grabbed the stunned man by the cowl, and jerked his head close to hers without changing expression.
"Unless you wish to carry your entrails around in a bucket for the rest of your miserable, pain soaked life, I suggest you shut your festering gob and have the listed supplies sent to Spectre Arterius' ship, the Daedalus, within the hour. Okay?" Faith widened her smile, letting go of the Turian's cowl. Dropping Saren's name had the desired effect, as the shopkeeper's eyes went wide, nodding vigorously before he turned and began filling her order as quickly as he could. Two minutes later, he returned with the receipt.
"Your order will be delivered to the Spectre's ship by the time you return to it. Now please leave. Quietly."
Faith nodded, taking pity on the poor Turian as she quickly signed the receipt, took her copy, and made her way out of the store. She heard the turian woman mutter something about her being a 'terrible human' as she walked away, but Faith's ability to care was quickly evaporating. As she stepped out of the store, she almost ran straight into Sellik, whose mandibles were spread wide in a turian smile.
"I see you're learning how to get things done Saren's way. Well done." Sellik elbowed her gently in the ribs. "Might want to be careful about dropping Saren's name, though."
"Does he not approve?"
"If he overhears it, no, but sometimes it doesn't have the desired effect. Sometimes it'll get you thrown out of a place, other times they’ll simply open fire on you. Saying you work for a Spectre can have all sorts of nasty consequences, so it's usually better to find another way to get what you need." Sellik shrugged slightly. "It's up to you, of course, but Saren is more likely to shoot you if you get taken hostage than rescue you. Just thought you should know."
"Thanks." Faith sighed, feeling as though a great weight was pushing her towards the ground. Sellik patted her on the shoulder.
"If you want to intimidate people, you may need to work on your own reputation rather than relying on someone else. It's not easy, and it takes time, but in the end it'll be worth it."
Faith chuckled lightly, though there was little humor in it. "Sellik, I'm 5 foot 3 inches tall, and about as intimidating as a drunken Volus."
Sellik barked a laugh. "You are rather tiny. However, intimidation has nothing to do with size, and everything with presence. After all, Spectre Arterius is very small for a Turian, and he has no issues coming across as 30 feet tall."
"Wait, he's small?" Faith seemed incredulous. Sellik nodded.
"He's barely 6 foot 2, not even a foot taller than yourself. Most Turians are between 6 foot 8 and 7 foot 5 inches. We're not as varied as humans when it comes to physical differences. Add that Saren is a stocky biotic with very narrow hips, and he tends to stand out."
"Probably why he learned to intimidate people. Kept him from getting his ass kicked when he was younger." Faith chuckled at the thought, then sighed and shook her head. "Normally, I hate being mean and intimidating. My sister used to say I would slay people with kindness, and they'd thank me when I was finished. I'm more used to using guile and a winning smile."
"Turians don't tend to respond well to smiles. Showing teeth is a sign of aggression to us."
"Hence my dilemma. How do I win over a people who despise the very look of me?"
Sellik shrugged again, the motion cutting through her. "Can't really help you there, Shepard. You'll have to figure it out on your own." Sellik began to walk away, but paused, glancing at her. "You may want to take this opportunity to do some personal shopping. Saren doesn't tend to stop at ports too often, so there's no saying when you'll have another chance to stock up on personal items, like soap and food."
Faith snapped up, her eyes going wide. She hadn't seen human rations listed anywhere on the datapad. Turning about, she began looking around for a shop to buy her own supplies from, when Sellik pointed, motioning to a small kiosk off towards a corner.
"Thanks Sellik!" Shepard began running towards the kiosk. Sellik put a hand by his mouth as he bellowed after her.
"Don't forget: you only have 45 minutes left! Saren will leave you behind!"
* * *
It was with a feeling of pure joy and relief that Faith found a clothing store that sold Asari clothing. Most of it was too fancy or fine for her to wear on board Saren's ship, but she did managed to buy an armload of undergarments, shirts, and even a few pairs of shorts. Along with some more soap, laundry detergent, and a few beauty supplies, Faith felt she was ready to face the next few months on board. The clerk gave her a strange look as Faith bought her items with tears in her eyes. Once her new items were in her possession, she raced back to the ship with half a mind to find a hiding place for them.
As quickly as she moved, however, rest time did not occur on Saren's ship it would seem. No sooner had she finished packing away all the food and her personal supplies then she heard the ship's engines come to life again. Sighing heartily, Faith resigned herself to never have a spare moment to breath again.
Later that evening, as she noticed nobody was coming down to the kitchen for their last meal of the night, Faith traveled up to the CIC. Though she was technically not forbidden from traveling to any part of the ship (with the exception of Saren's bedroom), she still felt apprehensive about stepping onto the bridge without an invite.
"Are the supplies secured?"
Despite knowing his pension for sneaking up on her unannounced, Faith still jumped and yelped at Saren's deep, gravely voice. Turning, she couldn't help glaring at his disapproving expression.
"Yes, Spectre Arterius. Was there anything else you needed me to do?" Faith was careful to keep her tone neutral. It may have been a trick of the light, but she could swear she saw Saren smirk.
"Not at the moment, no."
Without another word, Saren turned back to the galaxy map, seemingly content to ignore her. The nail on chalkboard feeling raked down her spine, setting Faith's teeth on edge. Unable to ignore the questioning voice in the back of her mind any longer, she approached Saren, waiting until he noticed her and turned to give her his attention.
"Was there something you needed, human, or do you simply enjoy staring at me?" Saren sounded gruff. Faith resisted the urge to say something snarky.
"If it's not a bother, would you mind if I asked you a few questions? When you have a spare moment, that is." She asked in her most diplomatic tone. Saren chuffed, though whether from amusement or irritation, Faith couldn't tell.
Saren stared at her for several moments, and Faith thought he would refuse or tell her off gruffly. Instead, he turned back to the map, his expression somewhat bored.
"You are always a bother, Shepard.” Saren growled. Then he sighed and gave a little shrug.” However I suppose I can indulge you for a moment. "
* * *
It was barely an hour later when Saren appeared down in the cargo hold, his entire manner of one who wanted to get something unpleasant done with as quickly and efficiently as possible. Not one to bother with preamble, Saren assumed a rigid pose before Faith, his eyes piercing through her uncomfortably. Faith did her best not to fidget under his gaze.
After one glance at his expression, Faith decided to simply skip to the point, diplomacy be damned. "When you brought me on board, it was with the promise of a mission that I could help you with. But, since I stepped on board, all you've done is hound me and fight me on a near daily basis until I can't remember what my natural skin tone looks like. To date, you haven't even told me what the supposed mission is about."
"I assume you'll eventually get to the question." Saren snorted, looking annoyed. Faith glared him down.
"Just what the hell did you bring me on board for?" Faith asked with more heat than she intended. "Because as far as I can tell, my only purpose here was to be your personal fleshy punching bag. If there is a purpose to my presence here, it has completely escaped me."
"Is that supposed to surprise me? Naturally, as a human, you choose to focus on what has been done to you rather than what has been done for you." Saren sneered. Faith continued to hold his eyes, refusing to budge. His sneer disappeared, mandibles pulled tightly against his face as Saren realised she wasn’t rising to his usual bait. Leaning back on one leg, he crossed his arms, returning her stare with a calm that made Faith even more nervous.
"The mission you were recruited for is, like all my missions, highly classified - hence why you have been told nothing. I need to know you can perform the mission before I am willing to inform you about any details." Saren tilted his head ever so slightly. "Like most Spectre missions, it promises to be physically, emotionally, and psychologically challenging. I have been evaluating how you responded to several different types of stress and stimuli.
"And before you ask," Saren held up a hand as Faith opened her mouth to protest, "I'm not interested in teaching you how to fight. Showing someone how to fight is pointless if they do not have any natural talent for it. Unless you have been studying combat since you first began to walk, you're going to respond with whatever comes most natural."
"And how has my evaluation gone so far?" Faith asked, a slight challenge in her tone. Saren snorted down at her.
"Are you sure you wish to hear it? You might be forced to learn something about yourself." Saren goaded. Faith didn't budge, other than to slightly raise an eyebrow.
"I asked, didn't I?"
"As you wish." Saren smirked slightly, then straightened, his expression both serious and stern. "You combat abilities are laughable, at best. You spend more time running away and hiding than you do actually fighting. And while you are light on your feet, that skill is pointless if you can't do it quietly. Fighting with you is about as quiet as fighting a Krogan caught up in a blood rage.
"Your hacking skills are above average from the standard, but hardly anything worth noting. I can hack a system as well as you can, and it's not even my specialty. Maybe in a few years you might reach a point where the Shadow Broker takes an interest in you, but I rather doubt it.
"Your attitude makes you difficult to work with. You're quiet when you ought to speak up, and vocal when you need to be quiet. Anyone else would have cornered me with these same questions quite a while ago, but you seemed content in your silence, preferring to fantasize myself as a villain rather than risk a confrontation. Typical of humans, I've noticed, but I vainly hoped you might prove to be different.
"In summary: you're essentially useless in just about every way conceivable."
Saren glared down at her, though Faith swore she saw mirth in his gaze. Refusing to back down, she continued to hold his stare.
"If I'm so worthless, why bother with all the hazing and cruel pranks? Why didn't you just kick me off your ship? Were you just pushing at me to see when I'd explode?"
His casual admittance caused cracks to form in the wall holding back Faith's rage. Her face mottled into a color similar to her hair as she bristled.
"Why you stuck-up, sadistic bastard-"
"Language." Saren snarled, smacking her across the top of her head.
That was all it took. Faith reached deep down into her memories and pulled out every insult in every language she knew and a few she had only briefly heard of. She became eloquent as she described Saren, his ancestry, and the potential species it must have bred with the have produced such an individual as himself. Some of the languages didn't translate, but the meaning was clear.
Saren, in an unusual display of patience, stood straight with his arms crossed at his chest, enduring the storm, his finger tapping out the seconds rhythmically. He waited until Faith managed to wind herself so far up that she forgot to breath and was forced to stop, gasping for breath. Saren couldn't help the amused twitch to his mandibles.
"Feel better?" Saren almost purred. Surprisingly, Faith relaxed, allowing her arms to drop.
"Much. Thank you." She replied, sounding much calmer. After breathing deeply for a few moments, Faith noticed the odd look Saren was giving her. He almost looked like he was waiting for something. Faith resumed her defensive stance. "I take it your constant goading me with insults was yet another test?"
“Am I supposed to show surprise that you have finally figured that out?”
“How’d I do?” Faith asked sarcastically. Saren snorted.
“There is a certain rhythm to insulting a person properly that you lack. Using foul language makes you appear ignorant, though that’s apparently the natural human state. If you’re going to insult someone, better to cultivate a cold demeanor and eloquent speech.” Saren held his head proudly. “You get much better results that way, and no one can control you since you keep a firm grip on your emotions.”
“Wise advice from the master of manipulation.” Faith snarled. Saren bowed mockingly before he straightened. His eyes flickered over her bare arms, before he snorted.
“Perhaps you do have the capacity to learn. Despite unleashing your emotions like a spoiled child, you kept your power in check. I didn’t spy a single flicker of biotic energy. Well done.” Saren purred condescendingly, patting her gently on the top of her head.
Faith looked about ready to blow her fuse again at his tone. Instead, she opted to simply shriek in frustration, making strangling motions at the turian. Saren chuckled to himself, walking away.
Nihlus. Enough said.
Faith watched Saren pace through the common area with a cautious eye, reminded of the time her parents had taken her to a zoo while they had vacationed on Earth. There had been a large, snowy white tiger who had paced the length of fence, staring at the onlookers like it would attack at the slightest provocation were it not for the fence keeping it at bay. The dreadful, cold, hungry stare of the creature had filled Faith with a superstitious fear, and she’d avoided cats since then.
Now, as she caught Saren’s malevolent glare boring into her whenever she so much as twitched, Faith felt that the comparison of Turians to birds had to have been misguided.
While his vigilant scrutiny was something she had learned to endure ages ago, the almost constant and spiteful sneer to his face recently was new. In the two months since she had been on board, she’d learned to gauge Saren’s mood with surprising accuracy and had adapted to behave accordingly. While Saren might like to pass himself off as calm and collected, once she understood what to look for, Faith learned that he was surprisingly easy to read. This radical change in his behavior, however, had Faith completely baffled, and she found herself walking softly around the prickly Spectre.
Unfortunately for Faith, Saren had grown accustomed to eating down on the crew deck and took to haunting the area frequently, his piercing silver-blue eyes following her with an intensity that made her cold. Faith had never assembled meals as quickly and efficiently as she did during that trying time, making sure to escape to the relative safety of the cargo hold whenever she could. At least Saren had stopped sparing with her lately. Faith wasn’t sure she’d survive a physical fight with his current mood.
The other crew mates were no less observant then she; none of them were anywhere in sight when Saren was on a deck other than the CIC, leaving Faith to endure his strange shift in behavior by herself whenever she was trapped in the kitchen. Everyone was on their absolute best behavior lately. Whatever was happening to make Saren so volatile was affecting all of them, and Faith found herself unable to eat or sleep from the stress.
However, after almost two weeks straight of the constant high stress, Faith decided she’d had enough. Despite the crew urging her to simply leave the Spectre be, Saren had accused her of being silent when she ought to speak up, and Faith had enough pride to rise above his criticism. So after she had painstakingly created a dish she knew he at least mildly approved of to near perfection and presented it to him, she balled up her courage and approached him. After he had finished eating and she’d removed the dirty dishes, of course.
“I couldn’t help but notice, Spectre Arterius, that you seem somewhat stressed as of late.” Faith suddenly couldn’t look him in the eye as his sights riveted dangerously on her. “Is there anything I can do to help alleviate said stress?” Preferably before you kill someone, she added silently.
Saren remained deathly quiet for several moments, and Faith wondered idly what would happen if she simply vomited from the tension right in front of him. After a few moments, he looked away, his expression strained.
“Nihlus is coming aboard.” Saren answered shortly. Confusion crackled down Faith’s skull and spine, as she had thought the two got along. She knew Saren had been Spectre Kryik’s mentor, and when she’d seen them at the cafe they appeared to have been good friends. Had she been wrong? Why would Nihlus’ arrival on board set Saren on edge like this? Faith waited several moments for Saren to explain, and almost screamed in frustration as he suddenly stood up and stormed towards the lift. For someone who hated partial answers, Saren seemed to delight in giving her nothing.
* * *
True to Saren’s word, Nihlus arrived three days later just before midday. For once, Faith was glad her usual hiding spot was in the cargo hold. Though she’d been forced to move some of the storage boxes around to make room for the extra shuttle that was soon to be landing, it did give her a legitimate excuse to be present when Nihlus arrived. As the time approached, Saren became more and more agitated, reaching the point where he began muttering and gesturing to himself. The rest of the crew had long since fled, other than the constant, steady presence of Octavius. Faith could almost admire the Turian for the way he endured Saren’s pent up agitation, unblinking and unwavering.
Finally, with a reverberating roar that set Faith’s teeth chattering, the shuttle carrying Spectre Kryik arrived. Faith made sure to remain more or less hidden behind her crates, though she was fully aware that Saren knew she was there. Thankfully, his attention was centered on the shuttle door.
With a gust of air that set Faith’s hair fluttering, the shuttle doors opened. Faith frowned. She had expected Nihlus to be standing there, ready to depart. Instead, the door opened to absolutely nothing. The shuttle appeared empty. Blinking away her confusion, she watched, enraptured, as Saren cautiously edged forward like a man preparing for an ambush.
Which was exactly what happened. From around the far side of the shuttle Nihlus appeared, creeping up on his apparently oblivious mentor. At the last possible moment Saren spun, talons extended, a vicious snarl escaping him.
Faith watched with a growing smile as the two Spectre fought and wrestled. To the unknowing, it would appear that the two were locked in deadly combat. However, Faith had come to know Turian behavior over the years, and she found herself stifling a giggle as she watched, all the stress and tension of the past several weeks melting away as she watched them with growing incredulity.
Nihlus was playing with Saren.
For almost fifteen minutes the two danced around the cargo bay, swatting, punching, wrestling for dominance. What kept Faith snickering at their antics was the expressions they wore. Saren, as was his custom, was overly serious and focused, unwilling to give an inch even now. Nihlus, on the other hand, was laughing, smiling, and teasing. Even as she watched, she could hear Nihlus taunting Saren, forcing the smaller Turian to lose his calm and respond with rage.
Finally, after a fairly even match, Nihlus’ arm traveled just a fraction of an inch too far into his punch. Saren’s eyes snapped dangerously as he grabbed the offending arm, pulling Nihlus off balance and effectively pinning the large Turian beneath him. Both of them breathed heavy for several moments, before Saren finally relented and allowed Nihlus back onto his feet.
“Tell me Nihlus, are you incapable of greeting your former Mentor without causing a scene?” Saren sounded exasperated, though he was trying to regain control of his breathing. Nihlus chuckled.
“If I didn’t attack you immediately, you’d be wound up waiting for it. We’ve been at this too long to stop now, and I’d rather put your mind at ease.” Nihlus teased, chuckling. Saren made a disgusted sound, then his eyes snapped dangerously to where Faith was still watching. Like a deer caught in a truck’s headlights, Faith froze, unable to even blink as the stress returned to wrap her insides in barbed wire. She could almost feel Saren’s snarl from across the cargo bay, and her blood turned to cold sludge in her veins.
A warm sound of sympathy broke the tension. “Aw, Saren, you’re terrifying the poor thing.”
Saren turned back to Nihlus, a look of exasperation on his normally stoic face. “You speak as though I hadn’t intended that very result. She is small and pathetic. She should be intimidated by me.”
“Lay off the poor girl. I know how you are with new people, and I’m sure after being on board a week she could use a break from your constant creepy stare.”
Faith quickly turned her snicker into a cough. Saren sneered at her again before giving his full attention back to Nihlus.
“Eight weeks and four days.”
“The human female has been on board eight weeks, not one.” Saren corrected with a pained tone. Nihlus exaggerated an expression of shock.
“And she hasn’t run screaming out the airlock? Tougher than she looks.” Nihlus winked at Faith, making her smile.
* * *
“This is amazing!” Nihlus said for the third time as he wolfed down his food with a gusto that made Faith beam with pride. The usual subdued gratitude offered towards her cooking from the various crew mates, while satisfying, hardly held up against Nihlus’ boyish enthusiasm and appetite. Faith cleared away his sixth plate, mentally adjusting the next meal’s portion to accommodate the large Turian’s apparently endless stomach. Saren sat across from his friend, looking somewhat tired. Though he still sat up straight, there was a droop to his shoulders and a unhappy tilt to his mandibles.
“Alright Nihlus, finish up already so we can discuss what you came to do here. I am dreadfully busy, and have no time to waste.” Saren said stiffly. Nihlus snorted, though he did put his latest plate down, leaving behind hardly a crumb.
“Liar. She’s only been on board eight weeks, which means you’re still-”
Nihlus fell silent as Saren hissed dangerously, his talons flexing on the table. Faith felt her hair stand on end at the sound. Immediately her mind began to stumble over questions. What was Saren ‘still’ doing? What did how long she’d been on board have to do with whatever Saren was or was not doing? What did Saren’s schedule have to do with her? Was he referring to their sparing or his teaching? And what was Nihlus here to do? She’d figured it was to assist Saren on a mission of some sort.
The more she thought about it though, the more she realized Saren hadn’t been on a mission that took him away from the ship for more than a few hours the entire time she’d been on board. Spectres always had long missions - or at least she’d thought they did. The more Faith turned Nihlus’ half-formed comment over in her head, the more she began to wonder what Saren’s agenda was. Unfortunately, Saren turned his attention to her, glaring fiercely.
“Go get the mats ready, woman. And grab yourself an extra medkit from Dr. Venicius. You’re going to need it.” Saren dismissed her by turning away, expecting his orders to be obeyed promptly and efficiently. Faith held in her sigh of resignation until she was safely behind the closed doors of the lift.
Faith dragged out the mats as she’d been told, though there was almost no room for them in the now shuttle-crowded cargo bay. Still, she was diligent about making sure they were arranged properly; wouldn’t do to give Saren a reason to unleash his pent up frustrations on her. Once they were settled in place, she dashed up the stairs leading to the crew deck, forgoing the lift this time. Dodging into the med bay, she quickly snatched up some extra medi-gel packets as well as a medkit and a few extra bandages. Thankfully, the good doctor wasn’t there to witness her apparent theft, and she was able to make it back down to the cargo bay in time to see the lift arrive with Saren and Nihlus in tow.
Setting aside the medical supplies, Faith quickly slipped off her shoes and tucked in the white shirt she was wearing. Loose clothing of any kind provided Saren a handhold, and Faith had learned quickly to take precautions.
Faith felt her eyes flicker towards Saren apprehensively, a curious crease to her brow. Usually, Saren would be barking impatiently, wanting her ready to fight the moment he arrived. Given his mood as of late, she had expected a remonstration that would blister the skin off her face. Now, however, he stood staring, waiting with seeming patience for her to finish. Faith moved as quickly as she could, not wanting to test her luck. Perhaps Saren was putting on a show for Nihlus, Faith mused.
Bowing respectfully, Faith fell smoothly into a defensive stance, her entire body rigid as she waited. Saren stared at her for several moments as he judged her form, allowing her to sweat, the only betrayal to his thoughts the slight flickering of one mandible. Finally he huffed slightly, then nodded, turning away. Faith wondered for a moment what was happening when Nihlus stepped forward, taking on a practice stance with ease. For a moment, Faith’s heart fell into her feet, looking up at the giant Turian with apprehension.
Towering at almost 7’2”, his armor thicker than any other Turian she’d ever seen, Faith couldn’t help the small whining groan that tickled her throat at the thought of fighting such a large, well trained Turian. Either he was wearing a ton of padding underneath that thick armor, Faith thought, or he was incredibly bulky, most likely with pure muscle.
Nihlus held his stance, watching her. Finally his mandibles twitched with amusement. “You’re far too used to fighting defensively. Don’t be afraid to take the first hit.” His subvocals warbled slightly, most likely with encouragement, making Faith smile.
“You want the tiny, easily bruised, cloth wrapped human female to aggressively attack the giant Turian Spectre in full armor?” Faith asked with a nervous smile. “I’m quite willing to admit my lack of higher education, but I’m not willing to admit to being that stupid.”
Nihlus laughed. “Don’t worry about my size. I won’t throw you across the room like Saren the Sadist does.”
Faith chuckled slightly, though his words did little to ease her apprehension. Dodging forward on light feet, she stayed well out of range as she circled him, looking for an opening in his defenses. Naturally, she couldn’t find one, increasing her ire. Darting in, she tapped him once on his thigh, quickly skirting away as he moved at a speed belaying his large size, narrowly missing being trapped by his arms. She continued that pattern for awhile - circle around, dart into his space, strike fast, then move out before he could respond. Sadly, her hits felt like mere pats, doing nothing more than annoy him as she continued to move out of his range.
The longer Faith continued, however, the more Nihlus began to push back. His moves became quicker, more precise, though none of the blows he landed did little more than stagger her. He was testing her abilities, allowing her to set the pace for the fight, Faith realised.
On a whim, Faith darted in, pulling back an arm to try and land a solid punch against his stomach. Though the hit had more power, it moved slower. Nihlus caught her wrist in a vice-like grip, pulling her forward and off balance. Before she could blink, Faith went over his shoulder and onto her back, staring up at Nihlus’ towering form. Releasing her from the pin he’d held her down with, he took a step back to allow her to scramble to her feet, his expression serious and thoughtful. Finally, he nodded, looking over at Saren.
“Infiltration.” Nihlus nodded again, turning his full attention to his Mentor. Faith released her fighting stance, looking between the two Turians, confused. Saren snorted, his expression almost mocking.
“Of course Infiltration. That’s the only training that could work for something as timid and pathetic as her.” Saren glanced over at Faith, who looked even more confused. “I’m sorry, woman, I forgot that I need to speak clearly to avoid your simple-minded confusion. Allow me to elaborate-”
“We’re referring to what style of combat would fit your natural fighting style the best.” Nihlus interrupted, returning Saren’s death glare with calm indifference. “What? You take too long when you’re mocking someone.”
“If you’re going to take the time to insult someone, you should at least put some effort into it. Otherwise you will come across as juvenile and ignorant.” Saren sniffed, tossing his head proudly. He sounded more like his old self, releasing the sharp needles of stress that had been laced through Faith’s intestines lately. She fought hard to keep from smiling when he turned his attention back to her. “Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I have been assessing your combat abilities, or rather the complete lack thereof, since you stumbled on board. Since you have no biotic abilities to speak of, that limited what to focus your training on, and since you’re inept at hand-to-hand, your only hope of taking out an opponent lies in striking from cover and hoping that takes them down.”
“You’re light on your feet, and you’re fairly silent when you move around.” Nihlus cut in, giving her a slight smile. “With a bit of work, you’ll be perfect for sneak attacks and covert operations.”
Faith felt a slight sliver of caution worm through her veins. Saren’s comment on ‘no biotic abilities’ had been slightly more stressed then the rest of his words. Did he mean for her to keep her abilities secret? Deciding to air on the side of prudence, Faith silently vowed to keep quiet about her green energy trick unless Saren himself brought it up.
Saren shook his head at Nihlus’ comments, but said nothing further on the subject. Instead, he stalked back into the storage boxes, rifling around until he apparently found what he was looking for. Faith heard a slight jingling sound, and was surprised when Saren returned with his arms full of small bells.
“Hold your arms out.” Saren ordered. Faith extended her hands out, as if to accept the bells. Saren snarled in disapproval. “At your side!”
Faith jumped slightly, her arms flying out to her sides. Nihlus chuckled, earning himself a cold look from Saren, though the Spectre became oddly quiet. Saren busied himself hanging the little bells all around her body. Faith felt her heart plummet as she realised what was happening, and couldn’t help the slight groan that rose to her throat. Saren glared at her fiercely, effectively silencing her. Nihlus chuckled, his eyes twinkling as he stared at Faith, winking at her when she glanced his way. Faith gave him a small smile, a warm glow blooming in her chest, until she caught sight of Saren’s disapproving glare. She continued to stand quietly as Saren finished attaching the bells, making sure several went around her arm and leg joints.
“Lucky you, Saren, getting to fondle the pretty girl in the name of training.” Nihlus teased, though his eyes stayed on Saren. Faith could almost feel the menace pour off the older Spectre, standing behind her. Saren pushed her roughly, causing all the bells to tinkle as she stumbled forward onto the mats.
“Get in place, woman. And don’t make so much as a sound as you move, or else.” Saren growled dangerously. Faith swallowed the sigh that threatened to escape her mouth. Instead, she focused on the new adornments hung about her body. In the spirit of experimenting, she moved about, dancing a little as the bells accompanied her slight movements. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she shimmied and dipped, loving the sound of the bells.
A sharp, painful crack between her shoulder blades caused her to yelp as much from surprise as from the stinging that throbbed from the hit. Turning her head slightly, she saw Saren glowering at her, a long, thin, wooden stick held in his hands, which he flexed for her benefit. Chastised, Faith turned back to Nihlus, who was glaring at Saren in disapproval. Faith moved into a defensive stance, a few of the bells jingling. Again, Saren hit her with the stick, this time on the upper arm. The reason behind his suggestion of acquiring another medkit suddenly all too clear, Faith did her best to ignore the stinging welts that blossomed bright red across her fair skin.
What followed wasn’t much of a sparring match. No matter how hard Faith tried, each time she moved, one of the bells would tinkle merrily, the happy sound somehow mocking as she continued to be beaten by her relentless teacher. Nihlus frowned, wincing slightly each time she was hit, his expression growing more grim as the fight dragged on.
Saren seemed to grow angrier each time a bell jingled, his expression one of constant disappointment. His hits seemed to be getting worse, even causing Faith to scream as it hit her right in the crook of her left elbow, the pain radiating glass shards along the nerve. At least Saren managed to look surprised at her exclamation, Faith thought bitterly, so she reasoned he hadn’t known striking that particular area would cause quite so much pain. Both Spectres backed off, allowing her a moment to recover as she rubbed and rotated the aching joint. After a minute, she glanced back at Saren, apprehension coloring her expression. Saren continued to frown with disapproval, but nodded briefly once. It was the closest thing to an apology Faith had ever seen from him.
The sparing continued, and try though she might, no matter how carefully Faith moved, a bell seemed to ring joyfully with each breath. Without hesitation, Saren would hit her, though he avoided jabbing with the rod again. Each strike filled Faith with increasing irritation, forcing the young woman to grind her teeth so hard that her they squeaked. She found herself unconsciously dodging and turning away from Saren’s blows more than Nihlus, a fact that was noticed by both Turians.
Snarling at her apparent transgression, Saren struck with the rod, no longer waiting to hear the sound of the bells. When Faith moved to block his blow, Nihlus moved in, hitting her just hard enough to remind her to stay focused on him. Instinctively, she turned and tried to shield herself from Nihlus, provoking an attack from Saren once more. The more they struck her, the more angry Faith became.
Finally, Saren managed a strike that hit her between the ribs. Pain lanced down Faith’s side, and she kicked out behind her without pausing to think. Her heel made contact with Saren’s stomach, the blow staggering him back several feet. The fact that the kick landed such a solid hit seemed to surprise both of them, though Faith’s focus was disturbed by the continued punches of her giant Turian opponent. Saren quickly shook off his initial surprise, and gave Faith a look of pure rage. Ignoring Nihlus, Faith turned fully to face Saren as he charged in, wielding the rod like a long sword.
It wasn’t much of a fight, resembling more of a drunken brawl. Though Faith had taken a few classes in martial arts, the few moves she remembered that returned to her now came across as sloppy. Saren, angered at having actually been struck by someone he considered inferior, lashed out wildly, his eyes flashing dangerously. After only a few moments of fighting with the stick, Saren discarded it, opting to fight with his fists.
For once, Faith relished the fight, hearing her blood pump a militarist beat inside her ears. Her usual timidity had been tossed aside, replaced by a burning need to hit him. Even if she didn’t win the fight, she wanted him to live with the knowledge that a mere human female had struck him. Preferably multiple times. In the face.
Nihlus had wandered off to the side, content at being ignored by both parties. Leaning against the cargo walls, he sighed with boredom, impassively judging the fight. While Saren was clearly the more skilled fighter, Faith had learned to dodge well and danced around the hold, avoiding more hits than Nihlus had previously thought her able. Her own strikes, however, seemed to do little more than anger Saren further.
In the end, those annoying taps pushed through whatever mental limit the Spectre seemed to have, and his biotics glowed fierce and bright as he brought the power forward. Nihlus quickly moved in, placing himself between the two combatants and shoving them both back a safe distance.
“Well, that was certainly an interesting study into your continued coexistence.” Nihlus drawled, his tone heavy with sarcasm. Saren’s eyes flashed with irritation at Nihlus, but the larger Turian simply returned the glare, holding Saren’s eyes until finally the Spectre lowered his arms, the glow dissipating. Nihlus then turned to Faith, who’s bells chimed slightly to her heavy breathing. Her fists were still clenched and raised, but she slowly lowered them as Nihlus stared her down. He waited for her breathing to even out before he nodded, stepping back. Before Faith could put up a defensive stance again, Nihlus held up a hand, stalling her, and turned back to his former Mentor.
“Okay Saren, I’ve seen enough for now. I’ll take it from here.” Nihlus spoke firmly, a note of finality to his tone. Saren straightened, bristling. For a moment, Faith held her breath waiting for the ensuing argument to begin. Instead, Saren slowly deflated, nodded once, and stormed off. The moment the lift carried the Spectre away, Nihlus let out an exasperated sigh that caused Faith to jump slightly. “That old bastard really knows how to push a person’s limits. Am I right, kid?”
Nihlus turned back to Faith, his eyes twinkling with mirth. Faith chuckled slightly.
“I think ‘difficult’ is the most polite way of describing him.” Faith agreed, relaxing as Nihlus barked a laugh.
“You’re much more diplomatic than I was when I was studying under him. My words of choice often landed me on the medical table by night end.” Nihlus chuckled, shaking his head. Gesturing to where a few crates were set up together, he sat on one and waited for her to sit across from him, the bells jingling the entire way. Smiling slightly, Nihlus began to untie the numerous noisy trinkets. “I guess I should count myself as lucky. I’m not a biotic, and my best skills were with a gun in my hand. As such, I never really specialized in any field. It seems like anytime Saren has a student with a specialty he gets creative.”
“Painfully so, it would seem.” Faith chuckled, though she winced as she extended her left arm. Nihlus nodded.
“Saren is rough teacher, but he’s the best for a reason. Anyone who makes it through his training goes on to become the very best in their field. If nothing else, they become masters of both patience and pain resistance.” Nihlus grinned impishly, then turned back to removing the bells with a somber expression. “The council is constantly pushing him to select more students, but since it takes time away from his missions, he’s incredibly stubborn about who he trains. Usually, if he deems someone worthy of being trained but not by himself, he passes them off on another Spectre.”
“Like yourself?” Faith quipped. Nihlus chuckled, shaking his head.
“I’m not a very good teacher.” Nihlus piled the bells on the crate next to him. “While I’m good at gauging what needs to be done for a student, the actual process of training someone isn’t something I excel at.”
“So what are you doing here?” The question had tumbled from Faith’s mouth before she could censor herself. Thankfully, Nihlus chuckled, giving her an impish eye.
“And here Saren had me convinced you were reserved. Glad to see it’s not the truth.” Nihlus winked at her, then straightened, looking at the pile of bells. “The reason behind my being here is multipurpose. First, I was to confirm your training regiment as an Infiltrator and do my best to give you some initial instruction. This will help break you in for when you go back to Saren. Second, I’m assisting Saren in a high-profile mission.”
“That’s not everything though, is it?” Faith quirked a smile at the Spectre, one he returned.
“No, it’s not. Very observant.” Nihlus huffed, giving her a flick of his mandibles. He was quiet for several moments, before he glanced away. Faith waited patiently, hands folded on her lap. Finally Nihlus made a sound with his subvocals, turning back to her. “I’ve heard very positive things from Saren about you.”
Faith started slightly, unprepared for the comment. Nihlus stared at her, waiting for her to process what he’d said. Finally, she slumped a little. “Well, that’s surprising. He’s never had a kind thing to say to me. He even told me I was useless in just about every way.”
Nihlus barked a laugh. “Yeah, he told me you were difficult, quiet, pathetic-”
“I thought you said he’d told you positive things.” Faith scoffed.
“He did, in Saren’s own way. He mentioned your ‘mediocre cooking skills’, how you remained quiet whenever he lectured you, disappeared for hours at a time, took part in frivolous tasks with such seriousness.”
Nihlus chuckled at her confused expression. “What you have to learn about Saren, and believe me when I say it took me over a year of serving with him to figure it out, is that Saren doesn’t believe in giving compliments. If he does say something nice, you’ve achieved a perfection that few others ever will.
“Instead, what he often does is hide his approval within his criticism, by understating your skills. If he’s not impressed with something, he just won’t mention it at all. When he does say something, even if it’s a criticism, it means he feels it’s worthy of mention. By saying you have ‘mediocre cooking skills’ he essentially was telling me you were on par with most 5-star restaurants. Your remaining quiet when he lectured you means he thinks you’re an excellent listener, and disappearing for hours at a time means he was frustrated that you were good at evasion.”
“Taking part in frivolous tasks would be…” Faith thought for a moment.
“Most likely he approves of your attention to small details and the seriousness with which you approach it.” Nihlus shrugged. “Once you figure out that his harsh criticism is his own warped way of complimenting you, he’s easier to work with.”
“Are you sure he’s complimenting me? It sounds more like wishful thinking.” Faith asked, her expression disbelieving, though her mind drifted back to something Sellik had mentioned. Something to do with her being useful. Nihlus chuckled, bringing her attention back to him.
“It’s one of those things you don’t really see until you’ve been forced to be around him for a long while. He spends so much time wearing down your self confidence that you often don’t see your own worth. But when you manage to snipe a moving target at over 200m during a massive wind storm, you know you’re good, and a simple ‘not bad’ is Saren’s way of saying you’ve really impressed him.” Nihlus chuckled. “Training with a Spectre is one of the most difficult things any person can undergo, and it’s an honor simply to be considered for it, even more so if Saren picked you personally. It means you’re talented enough to capture his attention, and he’s willing to give you the time to show off your skills.”
“I don’t feel like I’ve really shown anything, other than what colors I turn when I’m bruised.” Faith sighed, discontent. Nihlus stared her down for several moments, before he shrugged.
“Not everyone who is selected for training can make it through. That’s why there’s a method most of us follow when testing our potential students. The first three months of your training are considered your ‘breaking in’ time, where you’re proving your worth the effort to train - ”
“That’s what you were commenting on earlier?” Faith blurted out, then tensed as guilt threaded her spine for interrupting him. Thankfully, Nihlus smiled, nodding his head.
“You’ve only been on board eight weeks, meaning you’re still in the testing phase. If you manage to survive and impress during that time period, you’ll move onto actual training. After a year, if you prove you’re still worthy of progressing, you’ll be invited along on missions. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication, but in the end, every bruise, cut, break, burn, and laceration is worth it.” Nihlus’ bright green eyes seemed to stare off into the distance with pride before riveting back onto Faith. She squirmed slightly under his scrutiny as he frowned down at her.
“However, within the eight weeks you’ve been on board, you’ve spent more time hiding and running away. Your trial period has been stagnating lately.” Nihlus shook his head sadly. “You’re the first human any Spectre has taken aside for training- “
“Except I’m not being trained or given a fair chance!” Faith bristled, fighting back the hot, angry tears that threatened at the edge of her eyes. “I understand that the training is supposed to be difficult and push my limits, but Saren is just bullying me for his own sick enjoyment! It’s outright abuse and I’m done-”
Nihlus held up a hand, stalling her. Holding her gaze for several moments, he waited for her to calm down before giving her a slight smile.
“And that’s the real reason I’m here, Ms. Shepard.” Nihlus gave a little chuckle at her confused expression. “No one is more aware of Saren Arterius’ deep seated hatred and prejudice towards humanity than Saren himself. When he realised his mind-set was keeping him from being able to properly evaluate you, he called me.”
Nihlus watched as Faith’s eyes slowly widened as she absorbed what he’d said. Nodding once, he smiled broadly, shrugging slightly.
“Like I said, he’s the best for a reason. I’m going to remain on board for the next month to finish your evaluation, as well as work with Saren to help him past some of his more violent tendencies. It’s going to involve a lot of patience on your part, but I ask that you give him another chance.” His eyes flickered down to the numerous welts flowering across her bruised skin. “Now, how about we get some medi-gel on those injuries, and you can tell me where you learned to cook Dextro.”
And now, Saren's perspective.
Update: Minor term replacement in this chapter. I couldn’t think of a better term to describe what Shepard was being trained for than ‘Spectre Assistant’. Now however, other fics have called people in such positions ‘Specialists’ and I like that better. As such, I’m replacing it.
Saren lounged in his bowl-shaped bed, the curved, cushioned sides providing comfortable support for his carapace. A datapad on Nihlus’ mission details was held negligently in his hand as his eyes stared at a small smudge on one of the metal walls of his room. He had undressed, showered, and settled in with the intention of focusing on the coming mission rather than brooding about his ruined reputation and Nihlus’ behavior. He’d even gone so far as to brew a steaming cup of his favorite tea, now sitting forgotten on the broad, polished wood shelf encircling the sides and back of the bed.
Idly, he wondered how that smudge had come to appear on his wall. He was meticulous in keeping his room military clean and organized, as any proud and well-mannered Turian should. Usually when he stopped in his room for a quick moment, he was fully armored and wearing gloves. When he retired for the night, he was careful not to ‘trifle about’, as his brother had once accused him of doing when he was a fledgling. At most, he might grab a favored book and read a few passages to wind down.
He dismissed the idea of any of the crewmen leaving the slight smear, since the only one who ever traveled up to his room was Octavius, and he never stepped beyond the threshold. Good Turian, that man, Saren nodded, absently reminding himself he needed to write yet another yearly review. Tedious, Saren chuffed, shaking his head. Naturally, all his crew members were outstanding - he’d never employ anything less. Any criticism was over minor issues that could easily be rectified when Saren was of the mind.
His eyes drifted back towards the smudge, a scowl crossing his features. It simply wouldn’t do, Saren angrily decided, setting down the datapad and crossing the room to get a better look at the smudge. It was biologic, certainly, meaning someone had brushed their bare, dirty hide against his wall. It was too smeared to lift a print from, and Saren couldn’t see any signs of a talon scrap, so it was difficult to tell if it was caused by a negligent hand. Leaning close, Saren sniffed the area, wondering if perhaps that vile human had worked up enough nerve to travel to his room. Probably thought herself brave, daring to go someplace she had never actually been forbidden to tread.
There was no foul scent coming from the smudge, however, so it was unlikely to be the human. Unsurprising, giving her cowardly nature, Saren snarled to himself. He’d never met a species so easily intimidated one moment, then unnecessarily belligerent the next. Worthless, the lot of them. They didn’t even look appealing, the only factor that made the Asari tolerable.
Growling deep within his subvocals in irritation, Saren backed up, glaring down at the damnable smudge. This just wouldn’t do. Pulling up his omni-tool, he checked the numerous cameras set up about his room, quickly scanning through the hours of footage. With a groan, he slowed the playback, spotting the Turian in question as he entered the room, waved at the camera in an impish, childish fashion, then deliberately swiped his bare finger across the wall, and left.
“Tell me, Nihlus, are you ever capable of behaving rationally?” Saren groused in unamused tolerance. No doubt, Nihlus was delighted at having irritated his former Mentor. Sighing heartily as he walked into the toilet to grab one of the many cleaning solutions stashed under his sink as well as one of his numerous cleaning cloths, Saren almost lamented his inability to roll his eyes as he’d seen other species do when met with this level of childishness. Kneeling before the dreaded smudge, Saren scrubbed viciously, using his talons to scrape away anything left behind.
He had almost returned the wall to it’s near-mirror finish when he heard the door to his rooms open, followed by a startled gasp and a deep throated chuckle. Without turning, Saren glared fiercely, allowing his ire to bleed into his voice.
“I suppose this is amusing for you, Spectre Kryik.” Saren huffed, his subvocals filled with his disappointment. Nihlus laughed harder.
“The sight of the oh-so-mighty Spectre Arterius, naked and kneeling as he cleans an entire wall because a tiny part of it was touched by a dirty hand?” Nihlus chuckled wickedly. “Yeah, that’s amusing.”
Saren huffed, tossing his head haughtily, though he still didn’t turn, and instead scrutinized the spot for any residue he might have missed. “The wall would have looked dreadful had I only cleaned the one area and left the rest untouched, and you know that!” Giving the spot one final swipe, Saren opened the trash shoot, sending the now sullied rag to the incinerator.
“You don’t wash them and reuse them?”
Saren felt his hide crawl with barely contained hatred at the human female’s curious tone. Turning, he leveled the girl with as disgusted an expression as he could muster. At least the female had learned some propriety, waiting behind the edge of the threshold to be invited in, rather than barging in like Nihlus. Nor did she avert her eyes or stare open-mouthed at his nudity, as others had. She simply stood and waited for his reply, head slightly tilted to one side. Good. He must reward such excellent behavior so as to encourage its continuation.
“No, Ms. Shepard, I do not.” Saren huffed, walking back to the toilet to put away the cleaner. “Once a cloth has been used to clean a surface, it can never truly be clean again. Washing it only causes it to absorb chemicals from the detergent which can produce toxic effects at worst and conflicting scents at best when reused. Keep that in mind when cleaning the kitchen surfaces.”
The human’s eyebrows went up slightly, but thankfully she remained quiet. Though he had encouraged her to be more vocal with her questions, Saren had no desire to listen to her annoying voice, especially if all she used it for was to argue or whine or debate with his instructions. Nihlus shook his head.
“I swear, you get worse every day.” Nihlus huffed, ignoring the scathing look Saren leveled at him. “And get dressed already. I’m all for casual dress, but sometimes you take it too far.”
“This is my personal space. I’ll wear, or not wear, whatever I please.”
“Hm, apparently I need to speak your own language.” Nihlus drawled with sarcasm, then assumed a haughty pose. “You’re an affront to all things decent in your complete lack of appropriate attire.”
“Bite me.” Saren mimicked Nihlus’ tone. Nihlus affected a look of pure scandal.
“Spirits! Such viciousness! Truly, I am hurt.”
“Oh, poor Nihlus.” Saren spoke almost sweetly, false sympathy laced heavily through his tone. “I hate to see you so upset. Leave.”
Nihlus ignored him with a chuckle, taking a seat at Saren’s elegant and clean desk. The human just watched the two of them, unable to keep herself from smiling, despite the sneer Saren aimed at her.
“Can I just watch the two of you banter forever? It’s the thing of legends.”
“The correct words I believe your incompetent mind were struggling to vocalize, would be ‘May I just listen’. We’re not providing any visual entertainment.” Saren chuffed. Shepard simply grinned bigger.
“You obviously haven’t seen your own facial expressions and body language.” She quipped.
Damnable human, Saren seethed. Either he was being far too lenient or she was becoming far too comfortable with him if she felt brave enough to talk back. He took a menacing half-step towards her, a scathing remonstration slithering across his tongue.
“Calm down, Saren. At least she’s witty.” Nihlus snorted, leaning back in the chair. Saren turned his attention back towards the other Turian with anger.
“Wit is hardly necessary or appreciated when-”
Saren got quiet, his back going rigid and brow plates raised. For a moment, he considered it, ignoring the confused stare from Shepard. Finally, he huffed, still looking belligerent.
“Fine, I’ll concede that wit, while not necessary, is somewhat appreciated when the time is appropriate.” Saren turned his glare back to Shepard. “And that time is certainly not now.”
With a sharp nod to emphasize his statement, he turned to his wardrobe. The human still stood at the threshold, keeping the door open. While he silently applauded her good manners at not invading his personal space without a direct invitation - which he refused to give - it did allow the warmer air of his bedroom to escape. Pulling out a long white robe, he threw it around his now chilled body, though he didn’t close it.
“Who is ‘Varinius’?” Shepard asked, looking towards Nihlus. Saren bristled slightly; she should be looking to him, not Nihlus! He was her teacher, and it was up to him - Nihlus laughed heartily, bringing Saren out of his mental diatribe.
“Varinius was one of Saren’s students, the one that followed after myself. He was smart, vicious, and dedicated; all traits desirable in a Spectre. He was also about as personable as a piece of rock. No humor at all.”
“You said ‘was’...” Shepard stated quietly, a slight, sad touch to her unspoken question. Her expression morphed ever so slightly to reflect the emotion, her bottom lip quivering as she pouted. Her compassion surprised Saren, and irrationally, he became irritated at her. It wasn’t as though she had known the Turian in question, and neither he nor Nihlus had vocalized a need for comfort or compassion.
“Yeah, was.” Nihlus huffed, his subvocals broadcasting his disquiet. “Poor kid got sniped the third time Saren took him out on a mission.”
“He was an idiot.” Saren snapped, bringing their surprised attention back to him. “I’d warned him twice about the sniper on high ground, and he stuck his head out like an open invitation.” His growl silenced the two, though Nihlus leveled him with an exasperated look. Snarling viciously, Saren turned away, scowling. “Why are we even discussing this? Varinius was training to be a Spectre, one who showed actual promise.”
“I was just pointing out that Shepard’s quick wit should be encouraged rather than discouraged.” Nihlus huffed, then looked at Saren curiously. “But while we’re on the subject of training Spectres, I have to say, I was really surprised when Tevos told me you’d selected a human candidate.”
Saren almost strangled on his own tongue as he sputtered in irate fury. Shepard at least had enough tact to quickly turn her bark of laughter into a coughing fit, hidden behind Saren’s own inarticulate noise. Finally Saren shook the moment of confused indignation off.
“I have most certainly NOT selected anyone as a Spectre candidate, especially a…” Saren choked as the numerous insults twisted his tongue, all begging to be released. Instead, he spat out the rest of the sentence with as much disdain and disgust as he could muster, allowing his subvocals to communicate his full range of negative emotions. “...HUMAN!”
The calm smirk that flicked across Nihlus’ mandibles told Saren louder than words that he was being manipulated, and he privately began to plot out the step by step painful, elaborate demise of his once friend.
“Really? Well, what other conclusion could be reached when you requisition a young human from the Alliance for such in-depth training? And for two years, or rather, the average amount of time to train a Spectre candidate?” Nihlus almost purred, as Saren scowled with such intensity that the older Spectre thought his brow plates must be cracking under the pressure.
“I’m training her for a single mission! That’s all.” Saren hissed, a steady, threatening growl rising from his subvocals almost continuously. “I only assumed that because of the general inept state of every human that it would take that long for her to be prepared. And low and behold, I have thus far been proven right!”
“And what of after the mission?” Nihlus pushed. Saren scoffed, shrugging with indifference.
“What of it? I send her back to the Alliance for them to do with her as they see fit.”
“And that’s it? All that time and effort spent training someone to near Spectre-level standards, just to dump her at the completion of the mission? Seems a waste for someone of your teaching skill.” Nihlus spoke slowly, his words calculated.
Saren’s eyes narrowed dangerously, aware that Nihlus was trying to manipulate him into saying or doing something, but unable to fathom what as his blistering rage robbed him of his usual keen mental edge. He knew that Nihlus and Tavos were unusually close, even closer than he had been with the Asari councilor when he’d first been made a Spectre. He knew Tavos had most likely asked Nihlus to keep an eye on him and report back from time to time, especially when it involved humans. Nihlus’ line of questioning was steering him towards something he most likely didn’t want to go near, and he had a sinking suspicion Tavos had instructed Nihlus to do it. Nihlus was far too blunt to pull off this level of subtlety on his own.
Taking a deep breath, Saren counted backwards for a moment, regaining control of his volatile emotions. After a moment, he loosened, staring at Nihlus with a cold, calm, but still hostile gaze.
“I’m sure the Alliance will appreciate and have use for one who has been properly trained. Whatever that use is, however, does not concern me.” Saren spoke in an even tone, affecting a posture of disinterest. Nihlus’ eyes narrowed, obviously perturbed at Saren having regained control of his temper. Saren couldn’t help the smile that spread his mandibles.
“And what about the Council?” Nihlus crossed his arms, scowling. “They’re fronting the bill for all this training, losing their top agent for the time it takes for him to train his newest student.”
Saren heard a sharp intake of breath. His eyes flickered briefly over towards the female, who looked tense. Whether from fear or anticipation, Saren didn’t care. Instead, he faced Nihlus, crossing his arms to mimic the younger Turian’s pose. They stared each other down for several moments, the seconds creeping by in silence.
When Saren spoke again, his voice was dangerously quiet. “Why don’t you just tell me what it is the Council wants and stop wasting my time.”
One of Nihlus’ mandibles twitched in suppressed amusement. “They want you to openly declare Shepard as either a Spectre Candidate - “
“Out of the question!”
“Or,” Nihlus snapped, bringing Saren’s attention back. “You need to register her as a Specialist in training.”
Saren fell silent, his expression clearly portraying his displeasure. As much as he hated to admit it, Nihlus had a point. Though a Spectre could requisition whatever they needed for a single mission as often as was necessary, the amount of training required for something like this was going to take more than it’s share of time and money. The Council had the right to turn Shepard into a reusable resource after her training was complete. However, Saren resented the political implications that came with him, their top agent and a well known Anti-Human activist, training the very first human to be a Specialist.
Shepard made a slight sound, bringing Saren’s attention back to her, though she obviously shied away from his angry expression. With a sharp nod, Saren indicated that she was free to speak.
“What exactly is a ‘Specialist’? I’ve never heard of it.” Though her body language bespoke her nervousness, her voice came out clear and strong. One of Saren’s mandibles twitched slightly in amusement.
“Naturally not, since most humans -”
“Long story short, it’s a step below a Spectre themselves.” Nihlus interrupted, ignoring Saren’s exasperated sigh with a slight smile.
“It is not a step below a Spectre! If you’re not going to explain properly, don’t interrupt me.” Saren snapped. Nihlus managed to keep his expression neutral.
“And don’t bother explaining if you’re just going to take it as an opportunity to lace it with insults”
The two stared at each other viciously for several moments, before Saren finally shook his head, muttering to himself in a language that didn’t translate for either of the other occupants. Turning back to Shepard, Saren did his best to keep some level of calmness.
“As I was saying, most humans wouldn’t have heard of of the title, since they have no experience in the field of Spectres, limited access to human-friendly media that would report on it, and little interest in learning of issues that rarely, if ever, involve them. I was not trying to be insulting - merely stating a fact.” Saren adjusted his robe, his eyes flickering with irritation towards Nihlus, who was busy groaning and covering his face. “A Specialist is an individual who works directly for the Spectre offices and can perform a wide variety of simple, though still highly classified, tasks. They may also be well educated in certain areas that a Spectre may not have the time to research.
“Though we are expected to know a great deal about numerous areas of study, we cannot be experts at everything. That’s where the Specialists provide assistance. When we expect to run into a certain type of situation that is outside our comfort area, we can requisition a Specialist to aide us during that mission.”
“So how is it different from a regular expert?” Shepard tilted her head slightly. Saren was reminded of a young Varren pup listening to music.
“As I’ve explained before, Spectre mission are all highly classified. Bringing in an average individual into those situations is dangerous and a great liability. An enemy could easily capture one and torture vital information from one.”
“In order to be a Specialist, you have to undergo similar physical and mental training.” Nihlus leaned forward, his elbows braced against his thighs. “You won’t have the open access that a Spectre does to our resources and information, and you’ll need a Spectre’s authorization to purchase any equipment, but you will be working for the Council and a lot the benefits that come with it. Not to mention that several Spectres have begun as Specialists, so it’s a good place for humanity to start and show what they’re capable of doing.”
“Let’s not give the human false hope, Nihlus.” Saren sat up straighter, his expression more serious than usual. “Most Specialists remain as such their entire lives. There is no shame in that, but there is a reason most don’t move on to become a full Spectre. Even then, there are very few individuals who can withstand the rigorous training required to become a Specialist.”
“You must have thought she was capable though, or you wouldn’t have recruited her for this mission of yours. Or were you intending to use her and discard her as though she was disposable?”
The seemingly mild look Nihlus gave Saren was a challenge, threatening violence if Saren so much as breathed the slightest affirmation. Saren returned the look with a cool indifference.
“Why do you think I’m taking my time training her? Obviously, if she were disposable, I’d have simply gone on my mission and be done with her. Clearly that is not the case.” Saren’s expression morphed ever so slightly, hostility bleeding into the corners. “I am well aware of my personal prejudice, and I will not allow it to further disrupt my mission preparations. Her continued survival is and will continue to be my responsibility until she has concluded my extensive training. I don’t care how long it takes or how vicious I need be during her training. When I’m through with her, she will either be fit for my work and the mission will continue as planned, or she will be returned to the Alliance as a failure.” Saren relaxed slightly, giving a slight shrug. “If, however, she wishes to keep living after the mission, she’d best take my lessons to heart. I won’t be responsible for her welfare anymore, and I certainly won’t feel any driving need to protect her from her own stupidity once I’m done with her.”
“So nice to be so well thought of.” Shepard sighed, bringing the attention back to her. Nihlus gave her a guilty shrug.
“We’re not ignoring you, Shepard. However, Councilor Tevos wanted me to see whether Saren was going to follow through with the process or if he was going to be sloppy on purpose and allow you to die. If that was the case, I was to remove you from his care immediately.”
“As if I would ever do anything ‘sloppy’!” Saren bristled, offended greatly. He straightened, holding his neck proudly. “I have only ever excelled at everything I have done, and passed that excellence on to those I have taught. I take pride in my work, and will not tolerate failure on any level, especially from myself or my students!”
“Then you’ll go through with registering her as an asset of the Council and a Specialist in training?” Nihlus pushed. For a moment, Saren hesitated, choking on the prospect of a human being given that that level of responsibility.
As if sensing his displeasure, Nihlus gave him a sympathetic smile. “You’re always saying that humanity needs to learn it’s place in this Galaxy. What better way for them to learn it from the best?” Nihlus’ smile turned mocking. “Or are you incapable of training someone you can’t stand?”
“Don’t push me, Nihlus. I have little patience left.” Saren huffed, growling deep in his subvocals. Finally, he threw up his hands in defeat. “Very well, since it appears I have little choice in the matter. I’ll contact the Council and get the appropriate paper work started.” Saren shook his head in disgust. “Why did I invite you on board again? I seem to recall you were supposed to be helping me.”
Nihlus barked with laughter, loosening the tension that crackled heavily in the room. “I am helping you. You’re just too stubborn to see it.”
Saren didn’t bother to respond.
Things go wrong, and then they go right.
Sorry this chapter took awhile. I rewrote it about four times before settling on the current version.
Faith rolled her neck, the vertebrae crackling like popcorn kernels. Stretching her sore, stiff muscles did little to alleviate her frustration; she’d been seated for far too long on a metal floor that ate through her clothing with a bone-biting chill despite the sweat that clung to her pale skin.
Stationed across from her were three little boxes, all happily blinking with blue lights. Saren had devised the little test before leaving to help Nihlus with a mission. The two Turians had been absent for over two days now, and Faith knew if she didn’t have something to show she’d kept busy, she’d be in for it. Saren might have mellowed slightly since Nihlus had dragged her to the Spectre’s bedroom a few days prior, but Faith still wasn’t willing to risk his displeasure.
Sighing heartily, Faith leaned forward, switching each of the boxes back into a ready mode, their lights flickering back to yellow. Sitting back and trying to get comfortable felt like a futile effort, but Faith did so anyways, refusing to budge until she managed to get the effect she wanted. Ignoring the elevator as it pinged, announcing the arrival of someone to the cargo hold, Faith concentrated on the middle box as the green energy along her arm sizzling coldly. Resisting the impulse to raise her hand and point, Faith did her best to send the energy forward, tightly controlled so it’d only touch the center box.
“Still practicing, Ms. Shepard?” Leonis Octavius drawled from just behind her. Faith gave a startled yelp, her energy lashing out and striking all three boxes. All three of them began merrily blinking blue in time with each other, forcing a groan from the human’s throat. Octavius chuffed. “What exactly is this exercise supposed to accomplish?”
Faith shrugged, cracking her neck again. “Ever since I was little and discovered this thing I’ve only ever played with it. Never seriously practiced. As such, I never learned precision. I tend to just smack every electrical piece of equipment in a wide radius around me. Saren built these little bastards and gave me a bunch of exercises to practice to fine-tune my control.” Faith snorted with derision. “So far, all I’ve proven is that I have none.”
Though Faith knew Octavius had no love lost for humans, he kept any insults or criticism to himself. Instead, he opened up a datapad and passed it to her.
“Spectre Arterius just called in and reported that he and Nihlus are almost finished and should be back in less than four hours.” He nodded towards the datapad, which she glanced over in confusion. “He... requested you make that dish for when they return.”
Faith’s eyebrows raised in mild amusement. “Bad enough mission that he’s requesting comfort food?”
“Considering he’s asking that we meet him with water, medical care, and the spare cots set up here in the cargo hold, I’d say yes.” Octavius nodded again, excusing himself as he busied himself around the hold, apparently taking it upon himself to fulfill Saren’s other orders. Faith glanced at the datapad again, frowning. Shaking her head at the complexity of the dish, she resolutely headed for the kitchen, muttering under her breath.
* * *
Faith felt her eyes growing heavy as she sat waiting in the cargo bay. Dr. Venicius sat off to the side, snoring slightly, his medical supplies sitting ready only a few feet away. Octavius paced the length of the hold, his footsteps methodical and relaxing, dragging Shepard further and further towards welcoming sleep.
Saren was extremely late. The shuttle containing the two Turians should have arrived over six hours prior, Faith mused as she glanced at the chrono on her newly returned omni-tool (thank you Nihlus, Faith fervently praised). It was the middle of the night watch, when most of the crew should be asleep. However, nobody felt inclined to seek their beds when their Spectre was missing.
Faith glanced around the hold, trying to keep herself from falling asleep. The large tray containing the hot food Saren had requested sat cold and forgotten off to the side. Sighing through her nose, Faith glumly concluded that, while sleep would be welcome, she had probably better reheat or refrigerate the food. Stretching lightly, she stood, grabbing the tray and heading for the kitchen. The slight clatter of the metal tray woke Venicius, who grumbled and glanced around in annoyance before settling back to sleep as Shepard climbed the stairs.
Yawning mightily, Faith looked back and forth between the fridge and the oven, mentally weighing her options. After a moment of indifferent indecision, Faith opened up the oven and set it to a low temperature. If they burned or became dry, she could always blame Saren for not keeping to his own timetable. Leaning against the cabinets, Faith felt her mind wander, sleep reaching up through the empty void to embrace her.
A sound like an explosion and voices yelling ripped Faith from her peaceful slumber. Shaking off the last of it, she glanced at the chrono on the stove. She’d fallen asleep, on her feet no less, for over an hour. Quickly shutting the oven off, she raced down the stairs to a world of chaos. The shuttle was covered in scorch marks, mute evidence of the fight the Spectres had struggled with. Several crew members were attacking the various fires with extinguishers, yelling orders to one another. Octavius was struggling against the shuttle door with a man-sized crowbar, trying to wrench the broken thing open.
“I need some help over here!” Octavius bellowed. Faith flew over the distance, her feet barely touching the ground as she rushed to his side. Together they managed to wedge the device into the door’s crevice. For several pain-laced moments, there was no movement, Faith’s skin exploding with sweat as she grunted and pushed with all her might. Then, with a final grinding sound of defiance, the door finally gave way, opening so rapidly that it sent both Octavius and Faith sprawling. The overpowering smell of blood, offal, smoke, and sewage strangled the people working around the broken vehicle.
“Over here.” Nihlus weakly waved from inside the shuttle, his every movement vocalizing his exhaustion. Leaning heavily against him, a hand pressed to his bleeding side, was Saren. Wheezing, the Spectre wobbled as he tried to right himself. Without pausing, Faith scrambled to her feet and put a supportive arm around the Spectre, being careful not to touch his injury. Saren grunted slightly in protest but otherwise gave no resistance as he was assisted over to Dr. Venicius.
The doctor glanced once at the injury, mentally running over the supplies he had available in the cargo bay, and shook his head. “Take him up to the med-bay.”
“It’s nothing. Just give me a stim.” Saren protested, his voice cracking and weak. The doctor stood to the side as Nihlus ignored his friend’s protest and began hauling him towards the elevator. After only a moment of hesitation, Faith followed. Saren eyed her as she slipped her arms around him once more. His head tilted slightly to the side, nudging the top of her skull gently. “Ped Merek?”
Faith blinked in confusion, then straightened. “If you’re asking about the that overly intricate dish you asked me to put together, it’s in the oven staying warm. It’ll probably be horribly dry, but that’s the price you pay for being late.” Faith kept her voice firm, though she couldn’t help the half smile that spread over her lips as Saren chuffed, shaking his head. “Once you’re settled down in the med-bay, I’ll carve you both a chunk.”
“The calories would be welcome.” Nihlus drawled. Faith could feel his limbs shaking, sympathy welling up for the two exhausted Spectres. She had every intention of leaving to get them food the moment they arrived at the med-bay, however Dr. Venicius pressed her into service as a medical assistant.
“You’ll need to know some basic field medicine for your training anyways. Might as well start now.” Was all Venicius had muttered on his decision. Faith quailed a bit at helping during a surgery, but she swallowed her queasiness.
It was almost time for the morning shift to begin when Faith finally caught a moment to breath. Both Saren and Nihlus were out, the latter snoring loud enough to wake the dead. She’d barely managed to wake him long enough to stuff some food down his gullet before Nihlus was back out. Saren, on the other hand, was so far under that the doctor had simply hooked him up to an IV drip and left it.
“We’ll shovel some calories into him when he wakes up.” Had been Venicius’ non-committal comment before he’d ushered her out of the med-bay to clean up.
Faith had managed to scrounge together a half-hearted breakfast for the hard-working crew before she finally shambled down to her cot to catch a few hours sleep. Much to her chagrin, however, she had become accustomed to being active during certain hours. After sleeping hard for only an hour, she was incredibly tired but horribly awake. Hating herself and knowing she was going to be bone-weary all day, she finally forced herself out of her pile of blankets and into some clean clothing.
Knowing Saren and Nihlus were most likely going to be out of commission for the rest of the day, Faith made herself a mental checklist of chores and training to get done. At least, she mused, Saren wouldn’t be able to fault her for not being productive. Her tired mind in order, Faith walked lazily towards the med-bay to quickly check in on the Spectres before she began her day.
Nihlus was happily snoring away, his left leg unarmored, elevated, and wrapped in thick bandages. Faith pulled the too-short blanket up higher on his chest, watching as he snuggled further into the warmth. A whimper distracted her from watching Nihlus’ mandibles flutter happily, pulling her attention to the white plated form on the main table. Saren’s bare feet kicked slightly, as though he was running or fighting something. As Faith walked around the table, she saw his mandibles were pulled high and tight against his face, a sure sign of anxiety. Saren’s breathing was rapid and shallow, punctuated by unhappy sounds from his subvocals. His right hand began to bat weakly at the sheet and without thinking, Faith took his hand to comfort him.
With a howl of fear and pain, Saren bolted upright, throwing himself off the table and into the cabinets behind him. Medical supplies clattered to the ground as Saren flared bright blue with biotics, his sleep-hazed eyes flickering over the room looking for danger as he continued to howl in alarm. Nihlus bolted upright at the noise, his hand reaching for a weapon, while Faith held out her hands to show she was unarmed. Saren’s eyes flickered between both Nihlus and Faith, no recognition reflected in his scrutiny.
“Saren, it’s okay buddy.” Nihlus spoke slowly, calmly, pulling his hand away from his side. “You’re on your ship, in the med-bay. We had a rough mission. Remember?”
For several moments, all that could be heard was the heavy breathing coming from the alarmed Spectre, the biotics sizzling along his shaking arm. His eyes flickered to Shepard, unrecognizable to his frantic state of mind. Faith extended a hand towards him.
“It’s okay, Arterius. You’re safe now.” She said in her calmest voice, though she couldn’t stop herself from shaking. Saren’s eyes narrowed, the sleep haze very slowly draining from his vision. Glancing around the med-bay with growing recognition, he gradually sat until he was sitting on the floor. After a few moments of orienting himself with his surroundings, Saren seemed to deflate, a sharp breath expelling from a tired and injured body as the blue glow of his biotics dissipated.
The tension in the room loosened, allowing the other two occupants to relax slightly. Nihlus fell back into his bed with a groan, a tired arm flung over his eyes to block out the dim light. Faith stared at the dejected looking Saren, torn between wanting to comfort him and knowing that said comforting would probably be horribly unwelcome. Instead, she turned and made her way to the kitchen, quickly shoveling out a large plateful of food for both Spectres. By the time she’d returned, Nihlus was back to snoring blissfully, while Saren leaned slightly towards his injured side as he struggled to get back into the bed. Faith set the large plates of food on the counter and rushed to the injured Turian’s side.
“I’m fine! I don’t need to be coddled, especially by the likes of you.” Saren snapped as Faith tried to assist. Faith felt her skin prickle as she glared back.
“And when the good doctor proclaims you fully recovered, I’ll be more than happy to leave you be. However, I don’t want to have to play nurse-maid for longer than is necessary so excuse me if I don’t want you ripping open any stitches!” Faith replied with considerable heat.
Saren stared at her, stunned at her tone. An amused snort was quickly turned into another snore from over where Nihlus continued to pretend to be sleeping. Ignoring Saren’s death glare, Shepard pulled back the blanket from the bed, quickly moving to the Spectre’s side to assist him. Thankfully, Saren stopped struggling against her, though his entire being radiated with the disdain of someone mortally offended. Faith got the Spectre settled in, pulling the blanket up, before she brought over the plate of food.
“You need the calories, so I don’t care if it’s cold or tastes horrible, you eat every bite before you fall back asleep.” Faith quickly turned towards Nihlus with the other plate, making a show of waking him and pointedly ignoring Saren, knowing if she made eye contact that he’d start arguing. Instead, she heard several bitter grumbles from the older Spectre, most of the words not translating, though their meaning was clear as they burned her ears. Nihlus did his best to hide his amusement, though his green eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth as he thanked her for the plate of reheated food.
Neither Spectre spoke as they shoveled the food down, cleaning their plates quickly before settling back into their beds to sleep. Faith gathered the soiled cookware and cleaned up the worst of the mess made by Saren’s nightmare-induced fit, then made her way out of the med-bay, pausing long enough to turn the lights further down. She waited by the door, refusing to leave until she heard the two of them breathing evenly, then dropped off the cookware in the kitchen and headed back down to the cargo bay to help further the clean-up efforts.
* * *
Keeping busy helped the day to pass quickly for Faith. Neither Nihlus nor Saren were inclined to roam the ship except to raid the kitchen and head up to Saren’s loft for more rest, allowing the crew to move about unimpeded. Knowing what a stickler the Spectre was for the condition of his ship, the crew spent most of the day cleaning up the cargo bay and their relative stations on board. By the time Saren emerged from his room, blurry eyed but well rested, everything was in order. A brief nod of approval from Saren was all they got for their efforts as he ordered them to yet another port.
Faith wasn’t present to hear the destination, though she knew they were on their way from the way the engines revved up and the steady movement of the ship. Now that she’d been sitting for a few hours, her energy had plummeted. Even so, she sat in front of the infuriating boxes, attempting to light the middle one without activating the sides. Her eyes were heavy, and she was no longer truly focusing, sending out little bursts of energy at random. Saren found her listing to the side, almost snoring as the boxes turned on and then off again to the steadiness of her breathing. The Spectre couldn’t help the slight grin that caused his mandibles to twitch.
“I see you’re keeping busy.” Saren droned in a bored tone. Faith snapped up, her eyes obviously wide.
“I wasn’t asleep!” She barked, almost falling from the crate she was using as a stool. Saren gave her a level gaze.
“Clearly.” He said in a tone that was saturated with sarcasm. He started to cross his arms in disapproval, then winced as it tugged on his injured side. Faith caught the look, tilting her head slightly to one side.
“I will continue to survive. I see you’ve made no progress.” Saren huffed, acting as though he’d expected no less. Faith sighed, rolling her neck.
“Somewhat. I can turn them all off and then on again without moving. Not what I was aiming for, but it’s something. I’ll need to practice control a bit more, but I’ll save that for when I’ve had a full night sleep.” Faith stretched, her entire spine cracking loudly in rapid succession. Saren winced at the sound, but recovered when Faith looked over at him again. “Is there anything you need, or is it alright if I turn in early?”
Saren snorted. “If you feel you can no longer be of any use-”
“Please don’t.” Faith practically begged, her shoulders slumping. “I get it: you hate humans and you hate working with me. You don’t have to beat me over the head with it by turning everything you say into an insult. I’m tired and I just don’t have the energy to deal with it right now.”
Faith waited for the biting reprisal she knew her words would bring. Instead of being angry or irritated at his comments, however, she looked up at Saren, her exhaustion painted clearly across her features. Saren’s brow plates pulled together into a fierce scowl, as one of his hands reached out and cupped her chin, pulling it forward and up so he could see her face better. Turning her head lightly from side-to-side, he shook his head in disapproval.
“Your color is not good, Shepard.” Saren remarked, absently brushing a tangled lock of vibrant red hair away from her eyes with his free hand. “While I expect you able and ready to survive extreme conditions, such as going without sufficient sleep for days if need be, I also expect you to take better care of your health. I’ve noticed as of late that you’re weight has dropped significantly, a sign of ill health in your species.”
Faith blinked, stunned. There wasn’t a scale on board, so her only indicator that she’d lost any weight was how loose her military uniform had become. Since she’d procured newer clothing, however, she hadn’t worn them.
His silvery-blue eyes flickering over her features, Saren moved her head so she was forced to look at him. “My words are not meant to be insulting, Shepard, merely a statement of fact. If you have become too ill or exhausted to be of use around the ship, then by all means, tend to yourself. You are not required to seek my permission to do so. The only instance wherein I expect you to ignore your own needs are when we are on a mission, and you have proven already that you can endure. After all, that was the entire reason behind the torment you endured when you first stepped on board. You do not need to prove yourself further in that regard.
“Tomorrow, I will spend some time teaching you several methods a Biotic is trained to use to control their abilities to see if those will assist you.” Saren huffed slightly, pulling his hand away from her chin. “I suggest you rest now, since I expect you to be focused and at your absolute best. You may also wish to increase your caloric intake with the morning meal; I imagine you will burn through them quickly.”
Saren turned and marched resolutely from the hold, leaving Faith to stare after him in stunned silence.
Good and bad, hot and cold.
“Very well, show me what you’ve been attempting.” Saren settled back on an odd-shaped folding chair. Normally, he would stand while giving lessons, but his injury annoyed him when he stood for too long. Nihlus was settled next to him, repairing and cleaning his shotgun. Apparently Faith had been presumptuous in believing Saren would want her to hide her abilities from Nihlus, a fact that embarrassed her slightly. She really needed to start asking him directly instead of wallowing in suspicion.
Faith eyed the chair, a small glint of curiosity touching the corners of her eyes as she watched him settle before she turned back to the boxes. There was something in his tone that sent a cold trickle of warning down her spine. Not dangerous, certainly, but something else entirely that disturbed her. Breathing deeply, Faith forced herself to relax before staring at the center box, concentrating.
Saren watch her still form, one of his brow plates twitching. “Whenever you’re ready, Ms. Shepard.”
Faith felt her shoulders jerk up slightly with guilt. “...I just did.”
Both of them ignored Nihlus’ bark of laughter. Instead, Saren frowned.
“What exactly are you trying to accomplish, child?”
“Light the middle one but not the sides.” Faith rolled her neck, focusing on the middle box again while pointedly ignoring the ‘child’ comment, though she felt her hackles raise slightly. She stared hard for several moments, fist clenched at her sides as the green energy eked out from her slowly. Saren sighed heartily, forcing himself to stand and walk behind her.
“I’m simply going to spare myself the migraine and point out your mistakes now rather than later. Why are your hands at your sides?”
“I just thought…” Faith fumbled, her cheeks flaming. “Well, wouldn’t gesturing be too overt? I figured subtlety-”
Saren groaned, rubbing his brow. His voice came out slowly, evenly, and with a hint of exasperation. “Human, you’re emitting green, biotic-like energy which is very visible.”
Shepard felt her blush spreading to her hairline. Quite suddenly she felt really foolish. Saren moved to stand slightly to the side, holding her arm up as he pointed it towards the boxes.
“Try again, and this time, use your body to guide the energy where you want it to go.”
Faith nodded, pointing her hand at the middle box and concentrating. The energy very slowly left her hand, wavering in the air before dissipating a few inches from the box. Nihlus frowned as he glanced up.
“Is it supposed to fizzle out like that?” He asked, setting aside the part he’d been cleaning. Saren frowned, mandibles pulled tight against his face. He rubbed the end of one mandible, lost in thought before he finally shook his head.
“You’re putting far more effort into this then you need to, child. The energy comes out of you in waves naturally; we’re just trying to teach you to control its direction and shape. Relax yourself, let it ebb out naturally, grasp it, and throw it forward.” To demonstrate, Saren flung one of his hands out, the biotic glow snapping out to strike a storage box and send it tumbling. Faith nodded, shaking herself to loosen her muscles. Sighting herself, Faith brought the energy to bear, holding it in her hand like an electric ball.
On her first attempt, she did her best to mimic Saren’s exact movements. However, though the energy was controlled as she sent it forward, it scattered and smacked all three boxes. Sighing through clenched teeth, Faith turned them off then attempted again, this time modifying how she held the energy. Again, all three boxes were struck.
For the following hour, Faith tried various different positions and techniques, doing her best to pay heed to any suggestions Saren gave while ignoring his overly patient and condescending tone. Since the green energy was something new and alien to all of them, Saren spent as much time speculating as he did giving her recommendations.
“It’s amazingly similar to biotics, however it doesn’t appear able to move or manipulate objects like dark energy does. Instead, it affects them internally somehow. Electricity seems to be the key…” Saren allowed his voice to trail off, his eyes flickering as his mind moved rapidly. Glancing over at Shepard, he tilted his head ever so slightly. “What exactly have you done with this ability in the past?”
Faith sighed, absently wiping the sweat from her forehead, grateful that he hadn’t called her a child again. “I never did much with it besides make it glow along my hands to impress my friends. I often used it as a night light, especially when the power was knocked out.” Faith shrugged, grinning. “I didn’t even know it did anything until I was about eight or nine years old. I accidentally hit the vid screen with it and it began misbehaving. After that, my dad told me to never use it around anything electronic.”
“And you obeyed?” Nihlus sounded surprised. Faith chuckled.
“Heck no! I just made sure I didn’t get caught. I would mess with the school computers frequently. I once used it to change my grades, though I have to admit there was as much manual hacking as energy voodoo that time.”
Saren sighed heartily, the look he gave Shepard clearly portraying his waning patience. “Have you only ever used it as a lark, human? Have you done nothing to explore its depth and ability?”
The easy smile melted off Faith’s face, a shadow passing over her eyes. For several moments, the cargo bay was silent.
“The slaver attack.” Faith shivered, her voice cracking and quiet even in the silence. Taking a shuddering breath, she looked directly into Saren’s eyes, grateful for the restraint she saw there. He nodded once for her to continue. “When the slavers attacked our home, my sister and I ran from the house together. There were mechs all over the place to help herd or kill the people trying to flee, and I used my powers to redirect them or stun them. Looking back, though, I have to admit I was moving on equal amounts instinct and blind hope.”
Faith rubbed her arms, a chill settling over her that had little to do with the temperature of the ship. Both Spectres waited patiently, her body language saying there was more to her story. A small choking sob threatened to escape her throat, but she quickly swallowed it back.
“A small group of Batarians managed to grab my sister. I knew there was nothing I could do, so I kept running, hoping to find help. Instead, I wound up bumping into a Ymir. One of the slavers grabbed me from behind - called me a tasty piece of ass - and without thinking, I unleashed a huge wave of that energy, screaming for help. Next thing I knew, the Ymir had turned on the Batarians, slaughtering them. I ended up riding in it’s arms back to rescue Hope.”
For a few moments, Saren stared at Faith, her words settling uneasily against his spine. “You reprogrammed the Ymir to follow your orders? Without opening a panel to rewire it or remotely hacking it?” He sounded incredulous. Faith nodded numbly.
“That wasn’t the weirdest part of it. Y’know how a Ymir will talk? Things like ‘system online’ and the like?” Faith waited for both Spectres to nod. With a little shrug, she gave them a half smile. “It may have been the panic of the moment, but I would swear, after striking it with my power, it called me ‘mistress’.”
Nihlus snorted. “You sure you didn’t just hear one of the Batarians saying that? I mean, a Ymir might be powerful, but it’s still just a VI. It can’t spontaneously learn new words, no matter what invisible hacking your powers are capable of. Can it?” Nihlus turned towards Saren, his denial wavering slightly. Saren simply shook his head.
“It’s unlikely, though I hesitate to declare anything impossible. After all, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this before. While I suggest keeping an open mind about it, I would agree with Nihlus. More than likely you overheard a Batarian, not the Ymir.”
Faith nodded, though her expression betrayed her doubt. Saren’s fingers flickered towards the boxes, and once more Faith focused on her control.
* * *
After four hours with minimal results, Saren finally called a halt to the training. “It is, after all, getting close to mid-day and I’m sure you need to replenish your calories.” Saren mocked the sweating and shaking human, his patience having finally reached it’s end. Faith shuddered slightly.
“How is it I’m more tired after doing what feels like nothing than I am after sparring with you?” Faith asked, gulping for air. Saren chuckled wickedly.
“Oh, we’ve only just begun, child. Go eat.” Saren flicked his hand in dismissal, watching as the redhead stumbled towards the elevator. The moment the lift doors shut behind her, Saren picked up one of the boxes, turning it around in his hands. Nihlus watched his friend for a few moments before he grinned.
“Well, other than a few minor issues, I’d say that went very well.” He commented, putting his weapons back together nonchalantly. Saren chuffed.
“Hardly. Her control is laughable at best-”
“I meant you.” Nihlus grinned wider as Saren stared at him in surprise. “You held your temper in check the entire time, even though I could see her lack of progress was frustrating you. Despite the scarcely hidden sarcasm, you actually sounded competent rather than blisteringly angry.”
“I’m always competent!” Saren objected, his entire body vibrating with offense. Nihlus flicked a mandible with humor.
“Maybe so, but usually you don’t come across as such when all you do is bellow at people over minor issues.” Nihlus stood, ignoring Saren as he sputtered. “You were patient, even-tempered, and you explained clearly what she needed to work on. I’m actually rather proud of you.”
Saren snarled several biting words in a language that, while it didn’t translate, the meaning was very clear.
“I’m being serious, Saren.” Nihlus couldn’t help his smile, mandibles spread wide. “If you can continue as you are, you shouldn’t have too many issues. And don’t worry so much about her control; that comes with time and practice as you well know. She seems eager to please, so just a little encouragement will keep her going.”
“You know how I feel about that.”
“Don’t care.” Nihlus shrugged. “Seriously though, you’re doing well. Keep it up.”
“Naturally I’m doing well.” Saren said haughtily. “I do everything well. Now go away, you’re bothering me and I need to set up.”
Nihlus chuckled to himself as he headed towards the lift.
* * *
Nihlus sat himself down at the mess table, watching Faith as she absently finished off yet another ration while she leafed through her omni-tool. Though he couldn’t quite see what she was reading, he caught sight of a few diagrams that looked familiar. Without waiting for an invitation, Nihlus leaned over, looking over her shoulder.
“Engineering, eh?” Nihlus gave her a slight smile. Faith shrugged before turning back to the text.
“It seems logical. I mean, I’ve always been really good at math and science, and what with serving on board ships all the time, it couldn’t hurt to know, right?”
“Already planning to run away, are you? And here I thought the training was going well.” Nihlus teased. “So are you going for Computer, System, Mechanical, or Electrical?”
“Dunno. I figured I’d start with the base classes and figure it out later.”
“Sounds reasonable. Which college are you studying from?”
“None.” Faith grinned at Nihlus’ stunned expression. “I haven’t bothered applying anywhere since I don’t have the money, and the Alliance doesn’t seem interested in helping out.”
“Don’t they have programs that help you further your education?”
“Oh sure, which is all well and good if you’re someone like, say, Hope. They sent her to the Alliance Academy so she could be educated as well as go through training so she’d come out as an Officer. Me?” Faith snorted in disgust. “They don’t want me in charge of anything, and they certainly don’t want me learning anything without their supervision. All they’re interested in is keeping me hidden and under constant surveillance so they can figure me out.”
“They never mentioned sending you to the academy?”
“Once. They wanted me to get a degree in Human Resources and offered to pay for that. When I mentioned being an engineer or a computer analyst, all I got in return was a big lecture on how I needed to be kept away from anything electronic until they’d had a chance-” Faith held up a glowing fist, “-to get this under their control.”
Faith sighed heartily, turning off her omni-tool. “I don’t blame them for wanting to be cautious. Hell, I’d be pretty freaked out if I was in their shoes. What really gets to me is that they don’t even bother consulting me. They all talk about me and to me, but never with me. They don’t care that they’re putting my education and ambitions on hold to reassure themselves that I’m not dangerous. And nothing I do can convince them otherwise, so I come across as stubborn and rebellious.”
“Aren’t you?” Nihlus teased her, bumping her shoulder with his armored one. Faith giggled.
“Yeah, but I don’t even get the opportunity to sugar-coat it.” She smiled for a few moments before sighing, her deep blue eyes distant. “It’s just so infuriating. I wouldn’t hate the Alliance so much if it weren’t for the fact that they treat me so differently from my sister. Even though we’re two separate people, and it’s kinda understood that I’ll always be the less athletic of the two of us, I’m not inferior. They looked at what we went through on Mindior, what we both had to do to survive. My sister gets treated as a hero, gets encouragement, therapy, education, and is on the path to greatness.” Faith scowled, snorting. “Me? I get treated like a delicate flower that needs to be shielded and protected.”
“Hey, you’re not doing too bad, Ms First Human Specialist in Training.” Nihlus knocked his knee against hers, bringing a slight smile to her face.
“True, I imagine Hope is jealous. She’s mentioned in the past that she’d love to be a Spectre, and here I am serving with not just any Spectres, but the top two in the galaxy.” Faith grinned, shrugging, before she spoke in a louder voice. “The thing that rankles me is that people go out of their way to help Hope, while I had to stare down the Galaxy’s most debilitating glare multiple times to get where I’m at.”
From next to the elevator, Saren snorted, though whether with amusement or derision was difficult to tell. Faith gave the Spectre a strained smile as he stepped forward.
“Do not waste your time lamenting everything your sister is being given; she is weaker for accepting it.” Saren snarled, then caught the flash of anger across Shepard’s features. Note to self, Saren mused, Shepard is fiercely overprotective of her sister. Filing that bit of information away for future use, Saren sat across from Faith, gesturing and snapping his fingers until she extending the arm holding her omni-tool. He opened it and glanced through the reading material for a few moments. After browsing for a moment, he snarled in disgust. “Useless. Do not waste your time with this drivel.”
Faith straightened, her expression firm. “While I appreciate your training me, Spectre Arterius, I need to look towards the future-”
“Quiet, human!” Saren snapped, before leaning back, breathing deep, and holding Faith’s gaze. “Saying you are ‘looking towards the future’ tells me you doubt your ability to become a Specialist, and I have less than no use for someone who wastes my time in such a manner.” Saren’s voice snarled dangerously.
“That’s not what I meant-”
“Then say what you mean!” Saren challenged, holding Faith’s gaze until she sneered and looked away. Nihlus sighed, his shoulders sagging. Leaning back, Saren folded his hands in front of him. “I did not say seeking higher education for yourself is a waste. However, that textbook is so beneath what I know you are capable of, it barely can be considered light reading.” Saren huffed at her surprised expression, condescending sarcasm working into his tone. “If you’re truly interested in engineering, allow me to propose that you apply with a credible college that will give you useful knowledge and will take into account your current service.”
“Uh...I’d love to but-”
“And if you say again that you haven’t the money for it, then that tells me you are not smart enough to warrant earning a scholarship, and therefor your educational endeavors are a complete waste of your time as well as mine.” Saren crossed his arms, watching as Faith squirmed slightly. “I will draw up a list of credible colleges in the meantime, while you and Nihlus practice your hand-to-hand skills. Dismissed.”
Saren turned away, opening up his own omni-tool and content to ignore the exasperated glare from Shepard. Nihlus tugged her elbow, barely moving his head to motion towards the elevator. As soon as the doors closed, Faith let out an exasperated breath.
“What was that about?” Faith asked to nobody in particular. “He was oddly fine and patient earlier, and suddenly he’s back to his normal, grumpy self. I can’t keep up with this!”
“Sorry, that might be my fault. I teased Saren about doing a good job keeping his temper in check, and apparently it caused his temper to flare. Who would have thought, right?” Nihlus grinned at her impishly. Faith smacked him across the arm.
“Great, so you give him hell, and I pay the price. Now I gotta apply to college and hope for a scholarship or I have to give up entirely on my continued education? Is there no middle ground with him?”
“Not in the slightest. Saren’s a firm believer in ‘do it right or don’t do it at all’. If you had mentioned you were interested in something - like say dance - he’d lecture you about which styles would be the most useful to your fighting style and sign you up for tutoring, if not teach you outright yourself.” Nihlus grinned down at her. Faith raised an eyebrow.
“Dance.” It wasn’t a question. Nihlus nodded.
“In a completely unrelated topic, both Saren and I know how to tango.” Nihlus chuckled. “Don’t even joke about being interested in something. Learn from my mistake.”
Faith laughed somewhat, then walked out of the open lift doors. The moment the doors closed behind her, she let out a frustrated explosion of air, deflating as the sound in her throat went from vicious snarl to tired whimper. Nihlus chuckled at her.
“Not as docile as you first seem.” He winked at her, causing her to grin.
“I find it’s better to complain in private than to a person’s face.” Faith chuckled. “My dad always told me, ‘Never fight with a stupid person. They’ll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience’. Words to live by.”
Nihlus stiffened ever so slightly, his eyes turning hard, though the smile remained on his face. “An interesting piece of advice. What brought that memory up?” He asked carefully. Faith, too busy stewing in her own trouble, missed the signs of danger written on the Turian’s face. Shrugging, she waved a hand in the direction of the kitchen.
“Trying to argue with Saren. It feels so idiotic. No matter what I say, he’s always going to be right, and if you try to argue, he’ll just physically and verbally beat it out of you.”
“In the end, however, he just wants what’s best for you.” Nihlus said, watching her intently. Faith snorted with derision.
“No, in the end, he’s going to do what’s best for him and this damned mission he -”
All traces of amusement fell off Nihlus’ face as he held up a hand, stalling her angry rant. For several moments, quiet rained through the cargo bay, making Faith shift uncomfortably, knowing she had crossed some kind of line with the Spectre. Finally, Nihlus slowly lowered his hand, though his expression remained dreadfully serious.
“I can see where this is going.” He said, sighing somewhat sadly. Motioning towards the crates they had been seated at the day before, he waited for her to hunker down before seating himself in front of her. Leaning forward to rest his elbows on his thighs, he held her gaze for several moments before he spoke again, his voice quiet even in the silence around them.
“Alright, Ms. Shepard. I think it’s time to the two of us had another long talk.”
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Nihlus explains to Faith about why he's so protective of Saren.
Nihlus settled himself, glancing around the cargo hold, a fond smile touching his mandibles.
“I have a lot of memories built up around this ship.” He chuckled, shaking his head. “Not all of them good, of course, but I did a lot of growing here.” Sighing through his nose, Nihlus finally looked Faith in the eyes, his expression serious.
“I can understand your anger and irritation. Saren is a master at knowing just how to push someone in all the wrong ways.” Nihlus crossed his right leg over his knee, carefully undoing the latches on his boot. “Saren found me when I was in the military, dragged me on board this very ship, and spent six months beating the stubborn and the stupid out of me. I hated him for a long time, resented him and his attitude and his cold brutality. I swore that when I became a Spectre, I’d never have anything to do with him ever again.”
“What happened?” Faith asked quietly. Nihlus sighed, long and loud. Finally, his bright green eyes bored into her, no hint of his earlier amusement coloring his speech.
“I grew up.” Nihlus leaned back, ignoring the open latches on his boot for the moment. “When you’re young, you believe you know everything, and even if you realize you don’t, you refuse to accept that you could possibly be that clueless. When Saren sunk his talons into me, I considered it the worst time in my life. For six months, he tested me thoroughly and constantly, manipulating me with his words and actions. Everything he did was meant to push me physically, emotionally, psychologically, and I hated every second of it.
“I didn’t understand at the time; I figured he was just being cruel. After all, he had a nasty reputation even back then. Out of the two Spectre candidates he’d had before me, only one had lived through the required two years of training, and the one that died had done so just before he was supposed to become a Spectre. Naturally, like most of the galaxy, I blamed Saren and thought him a rotten teacher and a horrible person. I held that opinion for a long time, almost through to the end of my training. I still treated him with the respect and friendliness that I treat everyone with, but I held onto my grudge the entire time.
“Towards the end of my first year, I had learned to tolerate him, and took some pleasure in getting under his plates and tormenting him. Drove him up the wall and made him fight me that much harder, but in a way, it took control away from him and gave it to me. It’s the little victories, I guess.” Nihlus shrugged, looking somewhat smug. Faith laughed lightly, imagining a young Nihlus taunting Saren into a fit. Briefly, she wondered if she’d ever be brave enough to try the same thing. Then Nihlus sighed heavily, and her attention riveted back onto him.
“Those two years…” Nihlus shook his head. “He told me several times to cut ties with my family, to not make friends and to keep people at a distance. ‘Kryik’, he’d say, ‘don’t waste your time socializing. You’re training to be a Spectre. We are, by nature, alone.’ I thought he was so full of it. I blamed him for being anti-social. He tried to impress on me that such things as family, lovers, and friends were a weakness our enemies could exploit. I nodded my head, fully intending to ignore him once I was free of him.” Nihlus shook his head again, his shoulders sagging. “Before I knew it, I had completed the required two years of service and was promoted to Spectre. I called my mom right after the ceremony. She was so proud of me…
“Sure enough, after thanking Saren for putting up with me for two years, I walked away, completely sure that I’d never hear from him again. Then I went on my first mission.” Nihlus chuckled, though there was little humor to it. “I kept wondering why everyone said that being a Spectre was difficult. Sure, you made tough choices, and Saren had forced me to do things I hated myself for, but those first few missions felt like an easy walk through the park compared to what living with him was like. After almost a year on my own, I had grown lazy, confident, and more than a little cocky. That’s when Saren came back into my life.”
Shepard nodded slightly, urging him to continue. Nihlus couldn’t help the smile that spread his mandibles.
“He’d contacted me a few times, simple, short messages that I always responded to with about as much enthusiasm as getting an enema from a nail gun. Now, suddenly, he mentioned he needed to do a ‘follow up review’, to make sure I was holding up to standards. I was so furious, I unleashed on him. Told him to fuck off and leave me alone already. I called him a monster, among other more colorful insults. He endured it all with that stone-like patience that drove me insane. In the end, he got his way, and I went on a handful of missions with him stalking around behind me, watching and judging my every move and decision. He wore an almost constant expression of disapproval, more-so than usual, and made several snide comments about me ignoring everything he’d so painstakingly taught me. He accused me of being ‘sloppy’, ‘impatient’, and ‘careless’. I threw it back in his teeth, making several comments of my own about him and his so-called teaching. He endured it all again, only this time, I hit where I knew it would hurt. When I pointed out he was just angry that I had managed to survive his abuse unlike his other students…”
Nihlus was quiet for several moments, his eyes so haunted with pain and remorse that Faith had to resist the urge to hold him. Finally, his eyes found hers, almost begging her not to judge him harshly. “I swear to you Shepard, I couldn’t have hurt him more if I’d pulled out a knife and stabbed him. Worse, because he barely showed it. After working closely with him for so long, I knew how hard he buried any emotions besides blind rage and hatred. Nobody else would have noticed the way he tensed, how hard he held his mandibles to his face. The way the cords of muscle in his neck stood taunt, and worse - the way his eyes looked so hurt as they stared into me. After having been so close for so long and studying him in every way, I’d finally found his weak spot, and felt like a complete ass for striking it.
“Saren didn’t say anything after that, focusing instead on getting that last mission over with. If it had been me, I would have simply left, knowing I was so unwelcome and unwanted. But Saren always was a stickler about finishing what he started. So we went out together to finish the mission, wiping out one last building before calling it done.”
Nihlus shifted his weight, placing a hand on the ankle of his boot. His eyes were distant, looking back on the incident as though it were unfolding in front of him.
“The enemy knew we were coming, of course, since we’d wiped out eight of their other hide-outs and this was the last one. They’d laced the entire place with traps, and were bound and determined to hold it against us as long as they could. Some people are just stubborn.” Nihlus chuffed. “It’d be poetic for me to say that I was distracted by what I’d said to Saren, but the truth is far more bitter. I’d grown so careless in the past year, over confident in everything that I did, that I grew reckless, just as Saren had said.
“We’d cleared the building, and Saren radioed to let me know the last people had armed the explosives around the base and we only had two minutes to get back to the shuttle. I turned and ran without thinking, forgetting about the various traps I’d dodged to get in there. Before I had reached the last door leading to the gangway where our shuttle was waiting for us, I stepped on a landmine.”
Without taking his eyes off her, Nihlus pulled off his boot. Faith stiffened slightly, seeing the thin, stiff rod of his prosthetic leg. Her skin crawled with goosebumps as a cold finger drew down her back. Nihlus held her eyes then, his expression guarded. “The mine blew apart my foot and most of my lower leg, sending shards of shrapnel and bone splinters into my thigh and knee. I went down, unable to even move from the blinding pain. My scream must have alerted Saren - either that or he heard the explosion. Either way, even in my agony, I could make him out. He was halfway down the gangway, with less than a minute to reach the shuttle and get to a safe distance.
“He’d told me before never to risk my own life to save another, not even a Spectre. ‘Your life as a Spectre is worth everything, and should only be sacrificed if that is the only way to complete the mission. Don’t waste it on pointless heroics.’, he’d say. I remember closing my eyes, knowing he’d leave me behind. And why shouldn’t he? There was no way I could make it to the shuttle on my own in the amount of time left, and there was no way he could carry me. After what I’d said to him, I wouldn’t consider myself worth saving even if there was more time. I gave up, waiting for the inevitable explosion that would end my rather short, pathetic career.
“Next thing I knew, I was being hoisted to my feet. ‘Get off your ass, Kryik, and run!’. Saren had come back for me, supporting me on my injured side, practically holding me vertical with his biotics. He screamed at me until I was able to focus on him, and somehow, I managed to push past the pain and shock long enough to gimp my way to the shuttle, leaning on him heavily the entire time. We had barely pulled away when the entire complex went up. I passed out not long after from blood loss.”
Nihlus smiled slightly, snapping his boot seals back into place. “When I came to, I was in the hospital. Apparently, Saren had administered first aid to stop me from bleeding out, then turned his ship to the nearest port with a medical clinic and yelled at the staff until they almost had to sedate him. He was still there when I woke up, and he was angrier than I’d ever seen him. He yelled at me extensively, calling me an ‘idiot’, along with several other colorful names. I’d learned to tune out his angry rants long ago, and I was still somewhat loopy from the pain medication. I remember I was staring at his hands, and I watched them shaking for several minutes before I realized he wasn’t actually angry; he was upset and scared.”
“Well, to make a very long, boring story a little shorter,” Nihlus winked at Faith, making her grin. “I ended up sitting down with Saren not long after I’d been fitted with my prosthetic and began rehabilitation with it and asking him why he’d broken one of his major rules to save my worthless ass, especially after I’d treated him so badly. He gave me some stiff evasive response, but for once, I didn’t put up with it. I kept pushing for a real answer, enduring all sorts of insults, until finally he snapped that he didn’t want to lose anyone else again. He’d spent too long burying good people to lose yet another when they had shown such great promise.”
Nihlus fell quiet for a few moments, allowing Faith to fully absorb what he’d been saying. He waited, watching as the light of understanding illuminated her, the tension bleeding away from her form.
“Saren didn’t hurt me, or push me around, for his own personal enjoyment.” Nihlus said, his tone firm. “He didn’t tell me to cut off connections with others to be cruel. He didn’t tell me to abandon my friends and comrades because he delights in watching others suffer. Everything he did, he did to ensure I would continued to survive. He felt the death of his student strongly, and was trying to do right by him by pushing me to be better, so I would live long enough to make a difference.
“Saren has served as a Spectre for longer than any currently alive and he knows just how cold and cruel the galaxy can be. Everything he did to me was to prepare me to face all of that on my own, to see the horrors that were to come and not lose my mind or my life. Because of him, I’m still alive, far smarter and stronger because of everything he did. Without him, I’d have died face down in a gutter a long time ago. I owe him everything.”
Leaning back, Nihlus was quiet again for several moments. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper, spoken more to himself, though Faith absorbed every word. “I swore that day I wouldn’t fail him again. I’ve never let my ego get the better of me since then, and I took all his teachings to heart, no matter how brutal they may seem on the surface. In the end, they’ve kept me alive, and sane, over the years.”
With a firm shake of his head, Nihlus focused his eyes on Faith, his expression wistful. “Saren is more than a mentor to me; he’s the greatest friend I’ve ever had. Even so, I know he can be mind-numbingly difficult at times. So if you want to rant about how much he’s driving you up the wall, I’ll listen. Spirits, I’ll probably join in. He can be amazingly infuriating when he gets going.”
Nihlus tensed slightly, his expression turning stern, causing Faith to lean away. “However, don’t you ever insult his integrity in front of me again. I owe him everything, and I won’t stand for anyone trying to cut him down. Are we clear?”
Not trusting herself to speak, Faith nodded. Nihlus relaxed, giving her a slight smile. “I’m not trying to intimidate or boss you into obedience. Everyone has to decide for themselves if training under Saren is worth it. More than one person has left him to train under another, and there’s no shame in it. Even though Saren says he wants you for this mission of his, it doesn’t mean you have to comply. If you want, we can have you transferred under another Spectre, and they will complete your training. I give you my word, Saren won’t be allowed to retaliate against you.”
Nihlus reached across the space, laying his hands over hers, tilting his head to look imploringly into her eyes. “However, Saren has impressed on me how dangerous this mission is going to be. Though he won't come right out and say it, he believes this gift of yours might be what he needs to survive. Losing you won't stop him from going through with it, though. He’ll go without you, and I have a really bad feeling that he won't return from it.”
“Why would you think that?” Faith asked. Nihlus gave her a piercing stare, holding her eyes with his own.
“That day you stumbled into us on the Presidium, Saren and I met up so he could turn over all his belongings to me. It’s what a Spectre does when they believe they’re going on a suicide mission - turn over anything and everything to another Spectre or trusted individual with instructions on what’s to be done with it should the worst happen.” Nihlus shook his head sadly. “In the years we’ve been friends, he’s done that twice. Meeting you made him delay going out on the mission, but once he does leave for it…” Nihlus allowed his words to trail off, a worried look across his features.
“So you’re asking me to stay with him, to endure whatever he puts me through so I can potentially die with him?” Faith raised an eyebrow. Nihlus snorted, withdrawing his hands.
“I was sort of hoping you’d put up with him and keep both of your sorry asses alive.” Nihlus grinned at her. “He may be insufferable, but you’ll never have a better teacher, nor a more loyal and steadfast friend. He’s got a lot of in-built prejudice he’s fighting against, and it won't be easy on either of you. He’ll have days like today where he’s great one moment and insufferable the next. I think, however, if you can just be patient a little longer, he’ll level out. After all, he does like you.”
“So you’ve said before. I’m still struggling to see it.” Faith rubbed the back of her neck, sighing heavily. Nihlus chuckled, then gave her a sly look.
“Just don’t be afraid of him - he hates that from his students. He wants them intimidated and cautious, but not afraid. Besides, he’s easier, and much more fun to mess with, when you stop being afraid of him.”
“Considering he could kill me with glance, why shouldn’t I be afraid of him? Does he have some sort of weakness I can exploit?”
“Kinda.” Nihlus shrugged, still grinning. “He’s actually got a soft side. Once you discover that, he stops being so scary.” He chuckled darkly. “Normally I’m not one for betraying a confidence, but maybe I can help you here. However, you have to swear never to tell another soul - not even another member of the crew.”
* * *
Saren stood with his arms crossed, staring down at the galaxy map with a heavy glare. Muttering darkly to himself, he glanced down at the datapad with the information he had compiled. The college he had chosen was insisting on doing an interview and refused to do so over the comms, wanting to meet with Saren and his human student in person. They also hinted that a donation and public endorsement from someone like Saren would greatly assist in their decision making process, a fact that made Saren disappointed enough to almost look elsewhere. After all, this was the top technical school in the galaxy, not some low-level mercenary asking for bribes.
Saren looked down at his omni-tool, currently open to display his schedule. Naturally, it was filled to brim, making it difficult to work in the time needed to fly to Cipritine for the interview. Though he knew an interview was proper for a school this prestigious, it irked him none-the-less. Sighing through his nose, he cracked his long neck and set to work rearranging his schedule to make room, muttering angrily to himself the entire time.
His crew knew him well enough by now to keep any comments to themselves.
A light, flowery fragrance touched his senses, and Saren suppressed a groan. Holding in the sigh that threatened to escape, Saren steadfastly refused to turn around, growling out his frustrations.
“Human, I am busy arranging things so we can visit the Technical College of Cipritine sometime this week. It’s the best school for mathematics and engineering in the galaxy, and their criteria for accepting students is quite high. Of course, I had no trouble being accepted into their classes. You, however, are causing them some hesitation. As such, I am forced to completely rearrange my schedule so I can deliver you to them for a thorough interview.” Saren huffed, shaking his head. “I expect my diligence and sacrifice to be paid back in full, human.”
“You’re attending as well?” Faith sounded surprised. Saren frowned, almost turning to look at her. Instead, he continued to focus on the task at hand.
“Of course. If I wish to monitor what they’re teaching you, it is easier to simply be there rather than looking into it later.” Saren snorted, still working on his schedule. “It also would behoove me to expand my knowledge of engineering. While I know enough to get me through most missions, one can never have enough education.”
The human fell quiet for a moment, then felt the need to speak once more, her voice filled with something close to awe. “Just how many degrees do you have?”
“Enough. Degrees are worthless, there to aide the mundane in their never-ending quest for validation.”
“How many?” Faith spoke firmly, a tone she had rarely taken with him before, and never about issues this unimportant. Turning slowly, he leveled her with his most withering glare. To his surprise, she neither flinched nor stood down. He was so stunned, and privately proud, that he felt compelled to reward her by answering.
“I believe I currently have somewhere around eight degrees, all Master level or higher.”
Her look of shock was glorious to him. He was forced to suppress a grin. Shaking her head slightly, she turned and nodded towards the galaxy map where Cipritine was currently marked.
“I take it we’ll be attending the classes together online?”
“Of course. I certainly am not going to waste my time seated in a lecture hall.” Saren snorted, turning back to his omni-tool. “Understand that I will not assist you in this; I expect you to pay attention and complete all work they assign promptly and correctly. If you fall behind, I will take it as a disregard for my time and effort. I suggest you show your abundant gratitude for my efforts by excelling at everything. Nothing less than being at the top of your classes will satisfy.”
“Wouldn’t being at the top of our class mean I’m ahead of you?” Faith asked, her tone surprisingly even. Very slowly, Saren turned towards her, his eyes menacing, as though to dare her to continue to speak disrespectfully towards him. The look she gave him was completely neutral, betraying nothing of her thoughts. However, as he searched her face, he could see the faint glimmer of amusement tucked away in the corner of her eyes.
Saren felt a cold trickle of warning worming it’s way under his cowl as he stared down at his student. Something was off, something small and yet profound. Always before she had either become belligerent towards his threats, or she retreated. Now she stood unwavering before him, unafraid. It was so out of character-
Then it struck him.
His eyes flickered over her expression, looking for any hint of fear or hesitation like she normally wore. It was one of the things he enjoyed holding over the human - she had never learned to properly control her expression, or so it had appeared. As soon as she began to think of something, it might as well be painted across her face she was so easy to read. Now, however, there was almost nothing other than a slight amused twitch to one of her eyebrows.
She was smug.
Saren snarled dangerously, assuming a haughty expression. “Oh, isn’t that just so clever. Let me guess, Nihlus taught you a bit about controlling yourself so you’re not constantly smothering us with your mindless human emotions. Remind me to thank him later for doing us all this great service.”
The corners of her lips twitched slightly. Saren’s eyes narrowed. Normally by now the girl would be running for cover, or at the very least turning away. Instead, she maintained eye contact, and Saren felt his stomach clench in apprehension. What was happening? The cold feeling intensified as dread poured through his veins to weaken his limbs. He knew that look. He’d seen it before from Nihlus. Slowly, he walked up to the human, leaning close enough to speak to her in a way none of the other crew mates would overhear.
“What did Nihlus tell you?” He asked, the menace pouring through his words, almost hating to hear the answer. Faith smiled up at him, her deep blue eyes twinkling mischievously.
“I think you already know. Don’t worry, I’ll never tell a soul.”
In that moment, Faith became witness to something very few people had been allowed to see. Saren began to swear sulfurously, describing at length Nihlus’ childhood and the various injuries he must have inflicted on himself to make him the way he was today. The rest of the crew took one surprised look at Saren, then quickly turned away and busied themselves at their stations.
A dark chuckle came from where the lift remained open, and Saren spun to face the offending person. Nihlus slowly crept out of hiding, grinning widely at Saren.
“Why Saren! Such language! Spirits, where did you even learn some of those words?”
“Nihlus, I’ll kill you!” Saren threatened, the taloned finger he pointed at Nihlus shaking with barely suppressed rage. Faith diligently stepped aside, though her expression remained guarded.
“That’s what you always say.”
“I mean it this time!!” Saren’s voice wobbled slightly, showing how disturbed he was. Faith was surprised at the unhappy expression he was wearing. “Why would you tell her?”
“Actually, I didn’t. I just told her how to act and what to say.” Nihlus grinned bigger as Saren looked at him, stunned. “Honestly, I didn’t think you’d fall for it so easily-”
With a roar, Saren launched himself at Nihlus, tackling the bigger Turian back into the lift where they proceeded to fight in close quarters. Grinning slightly, Faith hummed a little tune as she happily walked towards a station to do some studying, feeling more secure about serving under Saren and grateful to Nihlus for all his assistance. As she glanced back at the two Spectres still wrestling, she noticed Leonis staring at her with a question in his gaze. Shrugging, she gave him a smile before turning to her work.
She’d never tell.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
How will Shepard handle Nihlus no longer being there?
Faith couldn’t help but smile as Saren all but snatched the offered bottle of water from her hands, downing the contents in one long, inclined pull. No sooner had he finished and handed the bottle back to her then he was bellowing orders to the crew to make ready for their next destination. Almost absently, he took the meal bar out of her hand, opened it, and ate the entire thing without even making eye contact with the human.
Nihlus had told Shepard that Saren’s moods could be volatile when he was stressed or hungry, so she’d learned to carry snacks with her, especially when he was due to return from his missions. The moment Saren began ranting or seemed irritated, she’d slip him a ration bar or treat, usually without even bringing any attention to it, and Saren would eat and calm down somewhat. It had taken Saren a solid three days to figure out what she was doing, though he hadn’t objected. Saren, she’d learned, loved to be spoiled.
It had been a little over a month since Nihlus had left, and strangely, everything had settled down afterwards. Faith had been filled with trepidation about Nihlus’ departure, worrying that Saren would erupt with all his withheld emotions and frustration the moment the other Spectre was out of sight. However, much to Faith’s amazement, Saren mellowed quite a bit afterwards. He was still insufferable, Faith snorted to herself as Saren bulled his way around the cargo hold, but at least now they could work together. Temperamental eruptions were now few and far between, allowing everyone on board to settle into something close to a normal routine.
Nodding once to himself in satisfaction as the crew scurried to carry out his numerous orders, Saren finally turned his attention to his student, trailing along less than a foot behind him.
“I sincerely hope that during the extended time I was absent you have managed to complete Dr. Caenius’ workload. I understand it’s supposed to be quite difficult.” Saren needled her. Faith couldn’t help but groan.
“I swear that man is a sadist. No wonder you two get along.” Faith hid her grin as Saren glared down at her.
“He is your professor. His job is to educate you, not hold your hand and be your best friend.”
“Yeah, but I swear he takes an unholy delight in every mistake I make.”
“Then stop making them.” Saren shrugged and turned away, as though it should be the simplest of tasks. Faith suppressed a frustrated growl. She’d found out quickly just how smart Saren was after beginning their first round of classes. Naturally, given his high intelligence and penchant for not allowing free time, he took double the normal amount of classes required, breezing through the workloads as though they were nothing.
Thankfully, he didn’t make Faith take any more classes than she was comfortable with. One of the best things to come out of Nihlus’ visit: Saren had learned to respect her boundaries, both physical and mental. He still pushed, but if she pushed back, he stopped.
The two of them made their way up to the CIC, Faith opening up the note taking program on her omni-tool before the galaxy map had presented itself. Among her new duties on board, she was supposed to take notes concerning Saren’s missions. Though he obviously couldn’t tell her everything, it later made writing his reports easier. Faith couldn’t help but muse that it was similar to what Arnold had made her do back with the Alliance. At least Saren had the courtesy not to treat her like she was only a glorified secretary.
“Unless you have an eidetic memory, taking notes is critical for someone in my profession.” He had lectured, furiously typing away at his omni-tool. “It is one of the most tedious skills to develop, however it is also one of the most valuable. Better for you to learn that skill now so it can become habit.”
Thankfully, typing quickly and note taking was something Faith was at least relatively good at.
Saren was staring down at the Galaxy map for several minutes, gloved hands absently stroking his mandible. Finally he nodded to himself, highlighting a random world. “Make sure to pack appropriately, human. Pragia is a jungle planet that has excessively high temperatures. If you faint from heat exhaustion, I’ll leave your sorry carcass there.”
Faith’s fingers froze in the act of typing as his meaning struck her. “Wait….I’m going with you? On a mission?”
“Do not misinterpret my words, Ms. Shepard. You will accompany me to the planet, not the mission.” Saren noticed the disappointed slump to Faith’s shoulders, frowning. “You were told it was average to wait at least a year before you were taken on a mission. Did you think yourself special? A prodigy?”
Faith gave Saren an exasperated look. “Don’t start, Spectre Arterius. You know well enough that the way you worded that statement -”
Saren snorted. “Alright, human, you’ve made your point.”
“So what am I going to do while you’re working? Or am I just going to drop you off and fly the shuttle back?”
“Do you know how to fly a shuttle?”
“Then it is unlikely that I’d ask you to fly one back, isn’t it?” Saren drawled sarcastically. Faith scoffed, a particularly unbecoming sound.
“I remember how you handled my bomb diffusing training.”
“And you worked that much more diligently when you believed the bombs were real.” Saren couldn’t help grinning at the memory of Shepard shrieking after she’d failed to properly disarm one of the bombs. The mere memory of her jumping away as the air was filled with paint still made him laugh. “To answer your question, you will remain by the shuttle. Last time I visited this planet, my shuttle was sabotaged and made my return voyage an absolute pain. As such, you will stand guard and keep away anyone or anything that tries to do it damage.”
“Sounds exciting.” Faith suppressed a sigh, then noticed Saren’s disapproving frown.
“You’d best hope it is not. ‘Excitement’ on a job usually means something has gone wrong, and I’ll be too busy with my mission to aide you in any way. And make no mistake, this isn’t make-work. I expect you to take this seriously and devote your attention to guarding the shuttle. No reading or working on other projects. If you must, meditate to pass the time, but keep your senses tuned to your surroundings. Now go pack. We’ll be leaving the moment we’re in orbit.”
* * *
Faith yawned mightily, her head slumping into her hand. It’d been three days since Saren had abandoned her and the shuttle, and so far the only excitement to happen was when a pyjack decided to try and raid the small kitchen. Faith had bribed the little creature back outside the shuttle with some sweets, then quickly locked the door behind it. She’d taken to pacing outside the shuttle, making a show of guarding just in case Saren checked the security cameras on board.
She could only keep the show up for so long, however. For one thing, as Saren had pointed out, Pragia was oppressively hot. Despite turning the cooling system inside her new custom armor all the way to it’s max setting, she was covered in a permanent film of sweat. For another, there was literally nothing to do. Saren had a tendency to over-prepare (though he would argue there was no such thing), and as such, had given her proximity devices in the event any person or animal large enough tried to sneak up on the shuttle. He’d left it to her to decide where these devices should be placed. As such, Faith felt the shuttle was well guarded.
Sighing to herself, she sat down on the step of the shuttle, leaning her back against the closed door. The pyjack from earlier had brought his friends, and Faith amused herself by tearing off small chunks of her sandwich and tossing it to them. A few of the braver ones crawled over her, snatching the last of the meal directly from her hand. Faith didn’t mind; it was hot enough that she barely had an appetite. Pulling out her workload from one of her classes, she set about trying to get something done. Saren might complain later, but she figured with an army of pyjacks surrounding her, she was at least relatively safe.
As dusk fell over the planet, Faith sighed heartily with boredom. Only positive to having been dumped on the planet: All her school workload was now completed and double-checked for errors. The negative? All her school workload was now completed and she still had no idea how much longer Saren was going to be away.
One of the younger pyjacks was sleeping soundly in her arms, tail wrapped firmly around her arm, it’s little body twitching occasionally as it dreamt. The others were beginning to curl up all around her and the shuttle, apparently claiming it as their new home. Faith almost felt sorry for them, since they’d lose their home the moment Saren returned.
Faith knew she should probably head inside and seek her own bed before she lost anymore of the waning light, but she was warm and content at the moment and didn’t want to disturb the little creature in her arms. Very slowly, she was losing the battle against sleep, as her eyes drifted shut and her breathing evened out.
The next moment, all the pyjacks panicked, screaming in confusion and fear as the sound of a gunshot reverberated through the air. Not two inches from Faith’s nodding head was a deep impact from a high velocity bullet. Faith scrambled to her feet, quickly bolting to the far side of the shuttle. Crouching behind cover, she swore as she pulled out her only weapon: a small pistol with no scope. Not that a scope would have helped her with all that thick underbrush, she groused. Cautiously, she poked her head out from around the shuttle, and almost instantly another shot rang out, just barely missing her head once more. Shaking as she jerked back into cover, Faith tried to reason out what her next course of action should be.
Moving to the other side of the shuttle seemed asinine; the sniper was probably keeping an eye on the entire shuttle. Getting inside the shuttle wouldn’t help since it was a tight, enclosed space and she didn’t fancy whoever was shooting joining with her. Calling Saren for help was right out, Faith snorted at the thought. The entire reason he’d brought her along was for this very scenario. She couldn’t well let him down. That really left only one option.
The shuttle would provide just enough cover for her to make her way into the trees behind her. From there, hopefully she could wait out the sniper and draw him out. Once in the clearing where the shuttle was parked, she’d be able to attack whoever stepped into the opening. Possibly even get a clear shot of the bastard. Tensing her muscles, Faith spun around to dash into the woods, only to run straight into a closed fist.
Sprawling on the ground, Faith somehow managed to roll to her feet before the attacker was on her, grappling with her. With a howl of defiance, Faith reached deep inside herself, finding a buried pool of rage and frustration built upon months of dealing with the galaxy’s most infuriating individual. Ignoring the stinging pain in her fists and face, Faith unleashed on her helmeted attacker.
Other than noting that he appeared to be a Turian, nothing else registered as Faith leapt into the attack again and again. No matter how many times her attacker managed to get her down, she continued to rise and strike back, slowly forcing the Turian back towards the tree line. She heard him grunt several times as she kicked and bashed out her issues on the poor man. Finally, driven beyond endurance, the Turian backed off, reaching for his sidearm, but Faith beat him to it. With one last rage-filled scream, Faith unloaded her pistol’s cartridge into the Turian, watching in sick fascination as he fell to the ground.
The pistol clicked over, overheated, and refused to fire further as Faith stood over her vanquished foe, breathing heavily. Slowly, the adrenaline leached from her veins and her knees began to shake. Hot tears trickled down her dirt and blood smeared face, and she very nearly dropped her weapon. Leaning against the shuttle for support, Faith very slowly sank to the ground, thoroughly shaken, unable to peel her eyes away from her foe. With sickening horror, she could see the Turian still breathing, his limbs shaking somewhat.
Sucking in a pained breath, the Turian very slowly sat up, sending a jolt of panic through Shepard. Bunching up a fist, she lunged at him, determined to put him out of commission. The Turian held his hands up in supplication as he yelled. “Dammit, Shepard, it’s ME!”
Faith felt her eyes grow to twice their normal size as the Turian removed his helmet, revealing a shocked and exhausted Saren underneath. Shaking his head, he looked at his student with a mixture of fear and respect. “I forgot how vicious human females got when cornered.”
A slightly hysterical laugh escaped Faith, growing until she slumped back against the shuttle, unable to catch her breath as relief washed over her, sapping what little strength she had left and leaving her sprawled on the ground. Saren shook his head in disgust, wincing as he moved. Gingerly, he placed a hand over the bullet wound where his shields had failed him. Saren was immensely thankful that his armor had stopped the worst of the impacts, but they still stung and throbbed painfully.
* * *
“I hope you realize how disappointed I am in you.” Saren grunted angrily as Faith assisted Dr. Venicius in removing Saren’s armor and checking over his various injuries. The slight stab of guilt Faith had felt about shooting her mentor vanished as she remembered how close he’d come to shooting her.
“We’ll talk about that after we’ve treated your injuries.” Shepard held up a hand to stall him as Saren opened his mouth to admonish her. “Please don’t argue, Spectre. I heard you wheezing on the shuttle ride back. Either I hit something vital-”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You may have lowered my shields, but those impacts did little more than irritate me.” Saren huffed, then winced and unconsciously placed a hand on his side. Immediately Dr. Venicius moved to that spot, ignoring Saren’s protests as he removed the top portion of the Spectre’s under suit. Saren hissed as the doctor pulled a hastily applied and heavily bloodied medical pad away from the Spectre’s side, revealing a long, deep gash. Faith cringed in sympathy, handing the doctor a cleaning swab before he could ask. Turning her back on her injured mentor, she rummaged through the cupboards until she found a numbing solution, passing the thick needle into the doctor’s waiting hand.
“Plenty of time for you to berate me after we’ve patched you up. At least none of my bullets caused you any damage.”
“You realize why that’s a bad thing, I hope.” Saren drawled lazily as Shepard and Venicius maneuvered his body into a prone position. The Spectre yawned as the drugs numbed him and pulled him towards unconsciousness. Faith just shook her head, eyeing Venicius with mild amusement.
“Never thought failing to maim or kill my own teacher would be considered a negative.” Faith joked. Venicius snorted as he quickly pulled on a medical smock, passing one to Shepard.
“Welcome to working with a Spectre.”
* * *
Shepard sighed through her nose, her shoulders slumping as though a weight was pulling her to the floor. While Dr. Venicius was cleaning up from the various repairs to Saren’s slumbering form, Faith had decided to download the shuttle’s camera log to double check her performance, hoping to find something to fight Saren with when he began to tear into her.
The results were not what she had hoped they’d be.
Watching the entire footage in fast forward, she was forced to realize she had not been as diligent as she had believed. What had seemed like an extended time marching and guarding around the clearing vanished as she stepped back and viewed it as a whole. She had obviously spent more time studying, playing with the pyjacks, and otherwise goofing around. The realization made her stomach clench painfully.
Shaking her head, she sighed with regret. Saren was going to rip her in half, and for once, Faith believed she had really earned it. She was in the process of silently berating herself when she heard an angry rumble from behind her. Not bothering to turn around, Shepard habitually hit replay on the recording.
“I really screwed up, didn’t I?” Faith spoke quietly, a slight, humorless laugh escaping her. Quiet permeated the cargo hold, thick and heavy as it pushed her towards the ground. When Saren finally spoke, his voice was low, quiet, and dangerous.
“I will give you this one chance. Tell me exactly what you believe you did wrong.” Saren’s voice hissed through the air, raking cold knives over Faith’s nerves. Strangely, she wasn’t afraid. Her self-loathing was strong enough that even the hidden threat laced throughout Saren’s words didn’t phase her. Instead, she barked a laugh, shaking her head, finally turning to look at the angry Turian. Saren seemed somewhat taken aback by the tears streaming down her cheeks, but otherwise showed no signs of forgiveness.
“When I was a little girl,” Faith spoke, her voice breathless with disbelief, “I was a master of hide and seek. There was no place anyone could hide that I couldn’t ferret out. And when I hid? Nobody could find me. I’d find some secluded space and watch their efforts to locate me, stifling a laugh the entire time. Hell, I was so good at it that one time I fell asleep where I was hidden and woke up during a bad storm. Nobody had been able to find me, and I was too far from home to find my way back in that howling gale. The only reason I made it home was because our prize Varren, Maximus, who I fed and played with constantly, broke out of his cage and bolted into the woods to find me.”
Saren remained quiet, arms crossed and weight shifted to his back leg, as Faith turned back to recording, she shook her head. When she spoke again, her tone was angry and filled with disdain.
“What did I do wrong, you ask? How about we start with ‘everything’. I was so focused on doing a good job and keeping busy that I forgot everything. Here we were, parked in a heavily dense jungle - a hide n’ seeker’s dream - and I sat in front of the shuttle like I had a fucking target painted on me.”
Faith felt a light rap on the back of the head, incredibly gentle considering it’s source. “Language, Ms. Shepard. What else?” Saren’s voice was even, betraying none of his thoughts. Faith snorted, shaking her head.
“It would be faster to tell you the nothing I did right.” Faith scoffed, absently wiping away some stray tears and sniffling audibly. “I stayed within the vicinity of the shuttle, making a grand target of myself. I worked on my school work rather than fortifying a hidden position. I played with Pyjacks rather than keeping an eye on my surroundings, and even fed them just to keep me company. Don’t even get me started on the stupidity of sleeping on the shuttle’s steps.” Faith shook her head, sighing heavily.
Faith glanced back at Saren, her expression curious to his neutral one. Apparently, she was expected to evaluate everything, not just the obvious. Swallowing the painful lump in her throat, she shook her head.
“Even though you and Nihlus told me about what happened to your former student, I still stuck my head out like an invitation when I was fully aware there was a sniper targeting me.”
Faith struggled to think of something else. “Uh…” She hesitated, then gave him a half smile. “I fought badly?”
Saren closed his eyes, sighing heavily. After a moment, he began pacing, gesturing angrily. “You didn’t fight ‘badly’, you didn’t fight at all! That was panic and nothing more. Had I not already been injured and exhausted, you would have been dead. While I give you credit on drawing your weapon faster than I could grasp mine, you caused it to overheat. Without a backup weapon, you took your only means of defending yourself and destroyed it. It takes precious seconds for a weapon to properly cool down, the entire time you are vulnerable.
“However, that was not your biggest mistake. All the other lapses in behavior could have been overlooked if it hadn’t been for your one abysmal mistake.” Saren glared down at her. “Between my first shot and the second, you should have known what course of action you needed to take. Had you already planned in advance, you wouldn’t have hesitated, wasting precious time deciding what you needed to do. Instead, you stood there, debating your options, allowing me ample time to sneak around and catch you unaware.”
This time when Saren sighed, he sounded genuinely upset. “I was expecting a few errors in your behavior; nobody is perfect their first time, which is the entire reason we spend so much time training a person. But this?” Saren shook his head. “I expected far better from you, Ms Shepard.”
Faith could no longer look the Turian looming over her in the eye. Her entire bearing was of one who fully expected to be sent home a failure. Saren would be well within his rights to discard her after her horrendous failure, Faith mused. However, after several moments of mulling it over, Saren turned to leave, shaking his head.
“I will allow you this one gift, human. You may remain and continue to serve. However, you will not make any mistakes the next time. Is that understood?”
Faith perked up, hardly believing what she was hearing. Frantically, she stood and gave him as proper a salute as she could, despite the fact that his back was to her. “Yes, Spectre Arterius! I won’t let you down again!”
“See that you don’t, human.” Saren’s voice drifted back ominously from the elevator, leaving the human alone in the cold silence of the cargo hold once more.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Exposition Ahoy! Saren sits down with Shepard and explains a few things about Spectres.
Edit: I went back and fleshed out a little of Saren's long-winded lecture about Spectres. Some of the phrases didn't sound right, and I know it was worded in an odd way. Hope this is a little cleaner!
The harsh wind blew violently, black sand scouring every surface bare within moments. Already Saren’s visor was scratched beyond repair and was showing multiple fractures. It wouldn’t be much longer before it shattered completely, possibly taking out his eyes before he suffocated in the howling sandstorm. Only the tracking beep coming from his omnitool kept him on coarse, allowing him to find his way back to his shuttle.
As he reached the area it should have been located, Saren felt a groan rise from his throat. Ever since he had lectured Shepard about hiding herself better, the irascible human had taken to not only concealing herself, but also the shuttle. Glancing around the area his tracking device told him the shuttle should be, he couldn’t see any sign of it.
Not that I can see much in this blasted storm, Saren thought bitterly. Though normally Shepard’s increasingly creative ways of hiding herself had silently earned Saren’s approval, today was not a day he felt like playing ‘hide and seek’, as Shepard had called it. Swallowing his ire, he flipped on his radio.
“Shepard, I am well aware we have a standing agreement for each time I neglect to locate your hiding spot, however, this storm might very well kill us both. Just open the door, and let me in.” Saren huffed, trying not to sound tired. “I might even be inclined to reward you regardless.”
At those words, a small line of light appeared to his right. Hidden by a taunt canvas covered in so much sand it was almost buried, he saw the door to his shuttle crack open. Saren resisted to urge to run towards it.
Faith waited just inside the cabin as Saren made his way towards her. No sooner had he crossed the threshold then he had to turn and help her reseal the door, the wind powerful enough to make it a struggle even with the automated systems straining. The silence that fell as the door finally hissed and sealed itself was near deafening for the Spectre. With a tired groan, he sank into a seat, his whole body deflating, his helmet dropping to the floor with a loud ‘thud’.
“Lovely weather we’re having.” Faith drawled with heavy sarcasm, absently handing Saren a bottle of water. Saren snorted, too busy downing the contents of the bottle to reply. “Are we gonna try taking off now, or are we waiting until this storm lets up?”
Chucking the bottle in the general direction of the trash, Saren weakly got back on his feet, shuffling towards the driver’s seat. Instead of seating himself, he pulled up a map of the area, the storm highlighted in bright blue across the orange ground. Shepard couldn’t help but cringe at the size of the storm.
“It is more likely that this storm will rage for days, possibly weeks. This region is prone to these types of powerful storms, so even if we were to wait for this particular storm to pass, there’s no guarantee there wouldn’t be another one occurring afterwards.” Saren sighed, running a gloved hand over his facial plates. The dark sand had become embedded into the many fine lines cracked across his plates, making him appear much older. After a few moments, he sank into the co-pilot seat, sighing loudly. “However, attempting to fly in a storm like this has an entire data cache’s worth of high risks.”
“Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” Shepard echoed his sigh, coming to stand by his shoulder. Saren snorted in tired amusement.
“Eloquently put, as usual.”
“So what’s our plan?”
“Attempt to fly out. Hopefully not die in the process.” Saren motioned with a finger for Shepard to have a seat in the pilot’s chair. For a moment, she hesitated, seating herself with a growing sense of unease.
“Why do I have a bad feeling right now?”
Saren hid his grin, leaning back comfortably into his seat, eyes closed as if to go to sleep. “The general tactic in this case is to drive straight into the storm at the highest speed the shuttle is capable of maintaining, allowing the wind to aide you forward. It’s difficult, since the same wind will try to buffet you in every direction. If the ship has enough acceleration, it will have too much momentum to go anywhere but forward. Somewhere in the storm will be a pocket with less wind, which is when you take the opportunity to drive upwards, but be careful. Sometimes these pockets aren’t all that large, and if you’re ship is moving upwards and gets hit just right, it’ll tumble upside down and out of control within seconds.”
“Permission to speak freely, sir…” Shepard growled. Saren flicked a mandible in amusement.
“You’re an asshole.”
“I know.” Saren lightly smacked her across the side of her skull for swearing, then proceeded to yawn. “Wake me if we start to crash.”
* * *
Octavius saluted smartly, his left fist planted over his heart as the shuttle door opened. Saren returned the salute before stretching, looking about the hold and the crew gathered there.
“Make sure to scour the shuttle and hold free of sand. The slightest amount allowed to remain could mess with our wiring and computer systems.” Saren ordered, quickly stripping off his armor and passing it into the waiting hands of a crewman to be cleaned. Octavius glanced behind Saren for a moment, his expression carefully guarded.
“Was the human left behind, sir?” Octavius asked, though his subvocals said he didn’t mind if that was the case. Saren frowned, turning to look behind him. An exasperated sigh escaped him as he turned back to his second.
“The human has never flown before; you may be required to peel her fingers off the controls before you will be able to clean their surface.”
Octavius was slightly startled as a despairing wail could be heard inside the shuttle. Saren turned again, looking irritated.
“Oh, stop your complaining already! We’ve landed!”
From inside the cockpit they could hear terrified sobbing, as well as a choked voice telling Saren exactly what the driver thought of his teaching methods. Saren shook his head, walking away towards the lift.
“Send her up to my cabin when she regains what little sense she naturally possesses, Leonis.” Saren called over his shoulder.
* * *
“You’re a psychopath.” Shepard had finally stopped shaking long enough to march up to Saren’s cabin, standing at the threshold. Saren chuckled slightly from inside the shower.
“At some point when teaching an individual how to fly, you have to instruct them how to fly in hazardous environments. Why waste a perfect opportunity?”
“Learning how to fly in normal conditions first usually helps.”
“Perhaps, however I was certainly not inclined to wait for another sand storm to grace us.” Saren ducked his head under the flow of hot water, pretending not to hear his student’s biting reprisal. “At the very least, your pathetic floundering told me where you need excessive work. From now on, unless I say otherwise, you will fly the shuttle. Consider it your reward for hiding with moderate competence these past missions.”
“We agreed that my reward for passing your little hiding tests was a hot meal at the next port.” Shepard groused. Saren was forced to hide his chuckle.
“This so much greater a reward - more than you deserve, certainly. After all, more responsibility is a good thing in your position. You should be showering me with gratitude.”
“I think you need the hot water more.” Faith muttered, crossing her arms angrily.
“I didn’t quite hear that. You care to repeat that comment?” Saren growled dangerously. Faith sighed heavily.
“No, sir. Thank you, sir.” Faith replied in complete insincerity.
Saren shook his head, sighing with regret as he turned the hot water off. Though he longed to luxuriate in the hot steam, there was much work to be done. Patting himself dry with a rough towel, Saren walked naked out into his room, unperturbed. He was mildly pleased to note that Shepard gave no indication that she either cared or noticed. Good. He never wanted to deal with humanity’s narrow view of ‘modesty’.
“You have shown a modicum of improvement as of late, Shepard.” Saren noticed the human’s surprised expression at the unexpected compliment, but pretended to ignore it. “However, you still require an enormous amount of work to achieve the level you need. See to it that you continue to push yourself and your limits. Dismissed.”
Faith paused a moment, before giving a slight bow of her head in acknowledgment, turning and leaving without a word. Now free of distractions, Saren put on a loose robe and sat at his desk, knowing he would need at least an hour to browse through the numerous messages left for him.
* * *
After spending more time than he felt should have been necessary to go through the numerous messages and requests left for him, Saren finally leaned back with a heavy sigh. Although he could smell the delicious aromas from the dinner meal being served, he felt no urgency to eat. Instead, as he leaned back and stared blankly at the ceiling, he felt somewhat pensive, one might even think it reflective. Had he believed that one day he’d be training a human of all things, he might very well have quit his work as a Spectre and taken up some other job. Perhaps gardening. To acknowledge that he was grudgingly beginning to see promise in one?
Instead, here he was, after all these months, training Ms. Shepard. And for what? Saren glanced over at the well worn datapad that more or less lived by his bedside. Just thinking of the contents gave him pause. Could he truly go through with it? Was he strong enough? The soft whispering in the back of his mind both filled him with great longing and made him grow cold with fear. Shaking his head, Saren forced himself to his feet. Questioning himself like that would only cause him grief.
Resolutely, he dressed himself, gathered up some material to work on, and left his room, refusing to dwell any further on disturbing subjects. Instead, he made his way towards the kitchen, knowing that most of the crew would have already eaten. Sure enough, the table was almost completely cleared of all signs of the crew’s ravenous appetite, leaving an open and inviting space for him to continue working. However, Shepard was busy bustling around the kitchen still, apparently working through her aggravation by spotlessly cleaning the area.
Not that Saren minded.
Upon spying the Spectre, Faith quickly washed and dried her hands, raising an eyebrow in his direction.
“We missed you at supper, Spectre Arterius. Would you like to have me warm something for you?” She asked cautiously. Saren snorted as he sat himself.
“Just throw any food that doesn’t require an eating utensil on a plate and leave it here. I need to stay busy.” He replied, setting up his work area. Faith frowned, but did as he requested. The plate she brought him was almost bowing with the amount of food she piled onto it, but Saren appreciated her silent concern for his need to replenish his calories. She also set a small package of cookies nearby and poured him a glass of wine. Almost absently, Saren grabbed a cookie and swallowed it whole.
“Make sure you eat real food and don’t just stuff yourself with sugars.” Faith admonished. The tone was so motherly Saren had to bite back a laugh. He wasn’t some whelp in need of her supervision.
“Yes, dear.” Saren mocked her. Faith looked at him strangely, then shook her head.
“Or go ahead and become a diabetic. Excuse me for caring.” Faith muttered quietly. Though Saren overheard her, he stared at a datapad, willing himself to actually read it and get work done rather than getting lost in his own thoughts. Perhaps it was his distracted frame of mind, but he found himself replying without thinking first.
“I’m touched that you care, Ms. Shepard. I would have thought you’d privately be wishing for my untimely demise. Indeed, I’m shocked you haven’t once tried to poison me.”
“Of course I care!” The heat with which she spoke caused Saren to look up at the human in surprise. Faith stood before him, hands planted on her hips and glaring down at him as though offended. “I thought we were past trying to murder each other, Spectre Arterius.”
“Not so much past it, more that it has proven somewhat boring as late. Allow me some time to work myself back into that mindset.” Saren countered, hiding a grin. The exasperated look Faith gave him caused him to chuckle.
“You’re in rare form this evening.” Faith drawled, rolling her eyes and walking back into the kitchen. Saren couldn’t help but grin.
“I’m in a good mood. Cherish it while it lasts.”
“Working on anything Earth-shattering?” Faith asked, out of sight from where Saren sat. He frowned.
“I should say not. Destroying an entire planet, even one that produces such vermin as yourselves, is a horrible crime.”
“That’s not what that phrase means.” Faith sounded exasperated.
“Speak plainly, then.”
Shepard reappeared then, holding a small bottle of some alcohol Saren couldn’t identify. Without asking, the human sat herself in front of him, opening the bottle and taking a short draught. The bottle gave off a woody smell, heavy and thick, and Saren briefly wondered what the drink was made from.
“I was hoping to talk.” Faith spoke quietly. Saren set his datapad down, his expression guarded.
“Is something amiss?”
Faith shrugged. “Not really. That last mission put me on edge is all. I feel….I dunno. Like I want to work until I pass out, but somehow I don’t think that would calm me down.”
Saren nodded with understanding, being much of the same mind himself, a look of sympathy seen around the edge of his usually hardened features. “That does happen frequently when one undertakes such high risk missions. Every person who works with a Spectre must find their own method to decompress after a particularly difficult or stressful mission. Most Turians prefer to engage in more physical activities, such as sex or sparring, in order to regain composure. However, on board a ship with limited personnel, that’s not always practical. Personally, I prefer to bury myself in work.”
Faith grinned. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
“Probably because I’ve never attempted to cover that fact. I take it then, that this conversation you wish for, is simply idle talk to assist in calming yourself?”
Faith shrugged again. “Pretty much, which was why I asked if you were busy with anything important.”
“I take it that is what that phrase is supposed to mean.”
“Yeah.” Faith waited until she saw Saren lean back and get comfortable, taking the opportunity to drink from her bottle again. Once he seemed settled, she leaned forward on her elbows. “So, tell me about yourself? I know almost nothing about you.”
“I would prefer to stay far from any personal details about myself.” Saren frowned with disapproval. Faith nodded as though she had expected that answer.
“Worth a try.” Faith smiled, unperturbed. “All right then, what about Spectres? Is that subject off the table?”
“Depends on what you ask.”
“Well, once again, I have very little information about them. I’ve been able to pick up a few things, but it’s all still a big mystery to me.”
“What would you care to know?” Saren crossed his arms. He didn’t appear defensive to Faith, and waited patiently for her to continue.
“How about the basics? How exactly is a Spectre chosen?”
“Ah, a worthy subject, although a slightly convoluted one.” Saren flicked a mandible in amusement, his eyes moving to a spot on the wall as he gathered his thoughts. “There’s no official reference for choosing or training a Spectre. Once you’ve achieved the rank, you’re encouraged to recruit a Spectre candidate should you happen upon one that seems promising. However, there are certain characteristics that we look favorably on, such as the psychological ability to spend years alone. Having family isn’t exactly a negative, but how devoted a person is to their family can be disqualifying. Usually if a candidate tests well enough but is too attached to family or a particular place, we recommend them as a Specialist or even an employee that works directly with the Councilors themselves. It’s not uncommon for those individuals with high combat abilities to wind up as a personal bodyguard.”
As Saren paused to eat some food, Faith leaned forward on her elbows. “I guess that makes sense. A Spectre has to be on their own for their missions. But you have a crew to socialize with, right?”
Saren shook his head, a tongue snaking out to lick at some stray food on his mandible. “Not precisely. For one, my crew are not my ‘friends’. While I may grow fond of them, I am still their employer which calls for a certain degree of distance and restraint. That is also why I don’t hire women for long term positions; it’s not because they’re lacking in any skills, but because I don’t trust myself to maintain a professional distance when those lonely nights get tedious, and such on board relationships can become troublesome.
“As for other Spectres, not everyone has a crew. Some Spectres have a full frigate with a crew somewhere between twenty to fifty people serving on board, while others have very small, specially designed ships that can be flown and managed by a single person. When I first began my work as a Spectre, I had a ship modified so I could control it remotely with my omni tool. It was convenient at first, however as I began to take on more complex missions, I realized a crew would make things expidentially more simple.
“No, when you’re a Spectre, you can’t expect to have much friendly contact with other people. Nihlus is about the only person I communicate with on a casual level with any regularity, and even then we can go months without messaging one another.” Saren paused, taking another mouthful of food and swallowing without really tasting it.
Faith stored the information away in the corner of her mind to be dissected and evaluated later. “So what’s the actual process like once you’ve found a candidate?”
“As I stated before, there’s no set process for selection and training. I attempted to write an expansive training guide at the Councilor’s urging, however they were less than pleased about the methods I had dictated. Though I’m allowed to continue teaching and training in such a manner, apparently they didn’t wish for other Spectre’s to follow suit.” Saren snorted with derision “About all that’s regimented is that once we’ve found a candidate, we inform the Councilors that we’ve have someone and are commencing their evaluation. Myself? I observe the candidate for three months to evaluate their potential, and if they show promise, two years of vigorous and extensive training both physical and psychological, though obviously each candidate is different and might require some adjustment. If at any time I feel they are lacking in the proper abilities to perform satisfactorily, I send them away. There’s no dishonor in failing to becoming a Spectre; it’s a difficult job. One that very few people are capable of performing for an extended time.”
Saren took a short sip of his wine, making a happy noise with his subvocals at the taste. “As for how we locate these candidates, I must confess it is usually simple luck. Perhaps we stumble across someone that shows competence when we’re on a mission. In other situations, we might work with a certain specialist enough to encourage them to attempt becoming full Spectres.” Saren gave Faith a look that spoke volumes about his opinion of her achieving such a level. Faith snorted, returning a look that said he needn't of bothered; she already knew.
Silent conversation finished, Saren let out a frustrated sigh, staring at a point on a table. “Often, while we Spectres are spending down time on our respective species’ military base or port, we’re invited to ‘inspect’ the troops. It’s an opportunity for the young soldiers to show off and possibly catch the approval of a Spectre, so they’re on their best behavior. It almost never gains us a prospective student, however, we encourage it since it’s an easy way to keep our respective military happy, which allows us to continue using them as a resource, and it costs us nothing but a little bit of time and quite a bit of patience. Although I will admit that it’s always rewarding to see youngsters performing to their best. It fills me with pride to see those young Turians striving to impress either myself or their own officers.” Saren smiled at some memory, before shrugging and looking back at Faith. “Often, however, the individuals the military show off are good soldiers, not Spectre candidates.”
“You don’t think a soldier makes a good Spectre?” Faith asked, head slightly tilted. Saren shook his head, frowning.
“No I do not. All Spectres must know how to defend themselves and have an extensive knowledge of weaponry. A record of military service tells us they have been given a minimum of training in those areas, meaning we do not have to bother ourselves. To put it mildly, it saves us time. However, I have yet to meet a military that does not prioritize itself and it’s people over others. They spend a great deal of time instilling that loyalty into their soldiers, and it creates conflict when they are promoted to Spectre. The only loyalty we are supposed to have is to the Council.”
“So why does your military bother to show off their soldiers if you rarely pick from them? ”
“First, they don’t always show off their soldiers to have one selected as a Spectre. Being selected to perform in front of someone of high rank, such as a Spectre or Senator, is a great honor. All troops are encouraged to believe it is a reward for performing exemplary work. The military officials get improved morale within their troops, and the Spectre gets to earn favor with their military for simply being in attendance and offering an expected amount of criticism and praise.
“Second,” Saren huffed slight, one mandible raised in a grimace, “I have yet to meet a military that understands the fact that what they see as desirable in a soldier and what a Spectre wants for a potential candidate are so very different. Occasionally, during one of these inspections, I’ve been pressured to watch a certain Turian who has shown great skill, usually leadership or command. The Officers praise them and then wait expectantly for me to do the same. It’s always irritating.”
“Sounds like fun times.” Faith drawled with sarcasm. Saren scoffed with amusement.
“Strangely enough, that’s how I recruited Nihlus. He was part of a troop that had performed exceptionally well and were chosen to be inspected. They positioned the squad in a large arena, where they attempted to demonstrate their numerous skills in a simulated raid. The leader of their group was the one I was supposed to be watching, and I’ll admit he was everything a Turian soldier needed to be and more. However, as he and his fellows were entrenched and moving forward at an agonizingly slow pace, my eyes were on the rogue member of their group, already towards the back near the goal, keeping silent and out of sight while his teammates drew all the fire.”
Faith chuckled. “Sounds like Nihlus, and I barely know the guy.”
Saren chuckled in response. “Indeed. Nobody else seemed to realize what he was doing until the raid came to a sudden end, with the automated system congratulating them on breaking the time record for completion of that course. When they realized what Nihlus had done and that the raid had been completed successfully, they arranged the squad for the formal inspection. The entire group stood shoulder to shoulder, as they should, except for Nihlus, who stood almost a foot away from the next person. His own officers barked and yelled at him for insubordination, abandoning his squadmates, disobeying orders, etc. It was painfully obvious he didn’t belong, and after I’d recruited him, I discovered he’d spent most of his career being passed from unit to unit. Nobody seemed to want him.” Saren chuckled again. “His expression when I told him to pack his belongings and report in to my ship was pure bliss. I honestly believed he was going to turn on his fellow soldiers and laugh until he was sick.”
Faith burst out laughing, shaking her head. “Yup. Definitely sounds like Nihlus. So you saw him disobey and thought he’d make a good Spectre?”
“No, I observed him doing what was necessary to finish the mission in a creative and intelligent way and thought he might make a decent Spectre.” Saren smirked. “That, and after my own experience with how the Hierarchy mangles handling anyone who does not fit the norm, I’ve learned that’s a good place to start looking.”
“So a Spectre goes out into the numerous worlds and just keeps an eye out for someone who fits the right temperament?” Faith asked. Saren shrugged.
“More or less. Each Spectre is going to be interested in various and different qualities, and simply because we have located someone that we believe would make a good Spectre doesn’t necessitate that we have to be the one to instruct them. If I happen across someone I think would make a decent Spectre but I don’t believe we are suited to working together, then it’s up to me to make sure they’re sent on to someone else to learn from.”
“Huh. Learn something new everyday. I always believed it was the Council that chose the candidates and assigned them to a Spectre to be trained. It’s much more involved then I thought.” Faith commented, then saw the look Saren gave her. She couldn’t quite describe the emotion she saw there. Anger? Sadness? Within moments Saren looked down at his wine glass, tilting it to admire the color, leaving Faith wondering what was wrong with her statement. Before she could ask, however, Saren sat up straight, setting aside his glass and looking her directly in the eye.
“I see I have a chance to further educate, and I can hardly pass such a moment by. However, this is a subject that tends to be dangerous ground with Spectres, so I want your word that you will not question it further, nor bring it up around another Spectre again.” Saren held her gaze until she nodded in compliance. Sighing heavily, Saren broke eye contact, looking at the wall with a heavy gaze.
“When the Council first initiated the Spectres, they had no organizational process to follow, and as such, built as they went. To say it was horribly disorganized at first would be a gross understatement. At first, all Spectres were elected by the Council, and for many years that was the norm. However, as the Spectres began to settle into their role and the weaker, less capable Spectres died off, those left were forced to admit that the Council had a completely different idea for what was needed than the Spectres who were actually doing all the work. For one thing, becoming a Spectre was a great honor, and sometimes the Council would hand out the rank like it was a medal of some kind, whether or not the person could actually do the job efficiently. After several years of this, the Spectres put their minds together and finally brought their grievances forward. To put it bluntly, the Council was told that the selecting of their fellow Spectres should be our job, and not theirs.
“There were quite a number of arguments back and forth. Eventually, it was decided that the Spectres would be in charge of selecting the majority of new recruits, so long as they continued to keep the numbers steady. If we fell behind, the Council would begin to elect replacements. It was fair, since most Spectres would probably elect not train others, and then our numbers would fall quickly. The ever looming threat of the Council saturating our numbers with know-nothing well-to-do individuals who would treat the rank like a prize keeps the rest of us honest.”
Faith couldn’t help grinning, and surprisingly, Saren returned it, before he became serious once more.
“To become a Spectre is difficult. Each one of us goes through fire and blood to become what we are. It’s a brutal system; if you’re worthy, you’re successful, if you’re not, you die quickly. And even so, there’s always random chance that you’ll be brought down by one well aimed bullet. There’s not a Spectre that has survived the required five years of service that hasn’t had some major, lingering injury. Every day that I wake up breathing is an accomplishment, because I’ve fought hard to get here.”
Saren leaned forward, folding his hands before him in a menacing manner, his voice dropped low and anger rippling through his subvocals. Faith felt much like prey as she unconsciously leaned back.
“So when I see a nobody who has the Council’s favor being granted what I endured torture to earn, it tends to make me hate them. And I am not alone in that mindset.”
Saren leaned back, hissing out the last of his rage before relaxing once more. When he continued, his voice sounded as before, disinterested and matter-of-fact. “Sadly, the Council will occasionally hand out the rank and responsibilities of Spectre to someone, and the poor soul has no idea what he’s in for because he has no training. And nor will he.
“When the Council bypasses the Spectres, it’s an insult to us - plain and simple. Spectres aren’t supposed to be seen as ‘disposable’, however there are always missions that are seen as suicidal. For those, the Council elects someone who has favor with their people, hands them the rank of Spectre, then puts on a face of nobel grievance when the idiot ends up completing the mission at the cost of their own life. The Spectre Memorial on the Citadel is overwhelmed with the numerous deaths that occur every year. Our numbers remain steady at around one hundred Spectres, but the names of those Spectres change so quickly I don’t bother learning them anymore.
“The Council is well aware of how we Spectres feel about these ‘temporary assets’, and yet will often ignore those feelings in order to gain political clout. The idiot they elevate is someone who owes them their rank, so they’ll do whatever the Council says. If they fail miserably, the Council seems gracious for allowing them the opportunity. If they succeed, the Council feels validated in their decision. However, one thing has proven universally true: Every single candidate the Council grants Spectre status to who somehow manage to survive their first few missions causes nothing but trouble for the true Spectres. I can think of only one instance where it went favorably for us, and that was a very special case.”
Saren finished the last of his wine, and looked at the empty glass with such longing that Faith got up and poured him another. Shaking her head as she sat back down, setting the bottle of wine in front of Saren, she couldn’t help sighing.
“I had no idea the politics around Spectres was so involved.” Faith breathed, taking a drink from her own bottle. Saren snorted, giving her a guarded look.
“It’s why I’m taking the time to tell you. Humanity has been pushing to have one of their own to join our ranks, but they look to the Council, rather than to us. It tends to be very irritating.”
“So I have to ask.” Faith couldn’t help asking. “What was the special case?”
Saren barked a laugh, though it was without humor. “The first, last, and only Batarian to have earned a Spectre status. And I say earned, despite having been promoted by the Council, because he proved himself to be a true Spectre. The Batarians, like humanity, had been pushing to get their own Spectre for ages, and the Council found someone with moderate ability and achievement who appeared to be a dolt they could control. So the Council made a bit of noise for the media, welcomed him, gave him the same boring speech about Spectres being ‘born’ or ‘made’. Then, when they tried to send them on a do-nothing suicide mission to get him out of the way, he rather bluntly told them where they could cram their ideals.”
Faith burst out laughing, her eyes dancing with glee. “I imagine that went over well with the Councilors.”
“They immediately tried to revoke his Spectre status, but the other Spectres were so proud of him that several offered to mentor him.” Saren grinned. “The bastard got the proper training, and went on to be one of the most successful Spectres in our history. I may not care for Batarians, but I would have given anything to have met him.
“Sadly, it’s a rare case.” Saren sighed. “More often than not, whoever the Council elects ends up dead in a week. Those that don’t tend to either abuse the system and make trouble for the rest of us, or worse, go rogue with their new power.” At Shepard’s confused look, Saren elaborated. “There’s a little thing called a ‘Spectre Hunt’, one of the darker parts of our job, and it is invoked when a Spectre goes too far. It’s all well and good to say we have free reign to get the job done, but there are limits. If we go too far, not only will our Spectre status be revoked, but we’ll be arrested. However, there have been cases, almost always with a Council elected Spectre, where they use their power to ill use then try to run or hide.
“There was a certain Turian who used his Spectre status to inflate his slaver business, as well as several other less reputable enterprises. By the time the Council revoked his status, it was too late; he’d already set everything he needed into place. Worse, because he had access to whatever classified information he wanted while he was working for the Council, he now knew how to avoid Spectres and use our system against us. It took almost ten years and cost two Spectres their lives before five of them teamed up and brought him down. To make matters worse, he knew we’d want to keep collateral damage to a minimum to protect our fragile and failing reputations, and continued to hide in places more populated. In the end, he decimated a large part of a city, killing almost five thousand individuals before he was finally killed.”
Saren paused, taking a long drink from his glass, his eyes sad. “However, the true damage was done. He succeeded in destroying the reputation of every Spectre for a long while, which made it more difficult for us to do our jobs. I was still new at the time and hadn’t been involved at all, but there were many ports that refused to let me land because of the incident.”
“So if the Council ever tries to offer me the rank, I’ll just go ahead and tell them no thanks.” Faith shook her head, chuckling without humor. Saren smirked at her.
“Doing so would get you ostracized by your own people and the Council would despise you. However, it will make you respected by Spectres, which in the long course of things, will be better for you. One may even step forward and offer to mentor you just to spite the Council.”
“Isn’t it a little odd that a Spectre would do things to spite the very people they work for?”
Saren barked a laugh. “Not really. It’s politics, and politics have no place in a Spectre’s work unless we choose to participate in such. And as much as I would like to say only the Council is guilty of these crimes, sadly most governments have no idea what is required to be a Spectre. And that includes the Hierarchy, as painful as it is for me to admit. Only another Spectre can truly understand what it means to be a Spectre. There’s a certain unity to us, owing to the fact that we all went through much the same in order to get to where we are. There are Spectres out there I despise to the teeth, and yet I’d stand by them if called to, simply out of brotherhood.”
Saren looked at Shepard intently, his words reverberating down her spine. “I hate humanity. With every fiber of my being, I despise them. In my view of the galaxy, we’d be far better off without them. However, if one were to stand apart and actually earn the rank and title of Spectre, I would stand with them and welcome them, albeit grudgingly, to our secluded family.”
For several moments, everything was quiet within the kitchen. Faith felt that her mental image of Saren shifted somewhat in that moment, the real person behind the terrifying image becoming a bit more clear. After several agonizingly quiet minutes had passed, Faith cleared her throat uncomfortably.
“Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Spectre Arterius. I can’t say I feel more at ease, but you’ve certainly given me quite a bit to think about.”
Saren smiled up at the human as she stood, an impish gleam to his eye. “When you do return to your people, you needn’t necessarily be quiet about what I’ve told you. Perhaps then humanity will begin to realize what exactly it is that they are asking for.”
Saren has a very rude awakening while trying to bust a smuggling operation.
Saren glanced around the numerous stalls set up around the market. The blazing sun overhead beat down on the numerous Batarians and their slaves as they browsed through the wares. Here and there were other species, leading around their own slaves. Saren’s omnitool ran a continuous scan on each person he passed, their information stored and uploaded to his computer back on the Daedalus. Right now there was nothing he could do to these individuals without compromising his own cover, but if he ever ran into them outside Batarian space?
That would be an interesting day indeed.
He left the main market, traveling down a back alley. There were a few booths set up in the darker corners, selling their less than reputable wares. Saren walked past a loud jewelry seller without a glance until he heard them speak to the person trailing just behind him.
“Hey there, pretty girl, I’ve got some nice adornments for your collar. Maybe talk your master into-” The Batarian fell silent as Saren’s angry fist wrapped around his thin neck. All four black eyes went wide, and the loud mouthed seller was suddenly very quiet.
“I must be mistaken. You did not speak to my slave without my permission, did you? If you had, I’d be forced to end your life quite painfully. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?” Saren purred almost sweetly, though menace rumbled through his sub-vocals. The Batarian tried to shake his head but couldn’t. With force, Saren released the idiot, watching as he scrambled underneath his booth in fear. Sneering, he tugged sharply on the leash that dangled from his slave’s neck. “Stop attracting attention to yourself! You’re nothing but trouble!”
“Y-yes, Master Tanilin.” Shepard kept her face downturned, her eyes on the ground. Saren sneered, allowing the leash to slacken once more as he spun around and marched forward. Privately, he was rather pleased.
His current mission had taken him to Erszbat. Though he’d used the guise as a slave owner before, he’d always shown up alone. Other Spectres had bought slaves then returned them to citadel space after the mission was over, but that had always seemed problematic at best. Slaves panicked when violence erupted around them, smelled awful, and often those brought back to freedom were in need of years of rehabilitation to function. Saren had even heard of the occasional ‘freed’ slave returning to Batarian space on their own because that was all they knew. While Saren pitied the slaves, nothing short of a nuke dropped on every Batarian alive was going to free them permanently.
His lack of followers however, had always drawn attention to him. Though he could lie through his teeth quite easily, more than once, before he’d firmly established himself, someone had tried to convert him from owner to slave himself. He’d been forced to get blood on his fine clothing. Batarian blood never washed out properly. He’d lost quite a number a suits over the years because of it.
However, a chance comment from Shepard about having thought herself a decent actor had landed her a role as his personal slave. Saren grudgingly admitted that she was playing the role decently, though he’d never say as much to her. She kept her head down, didn’t gawk at anything around her even when others tried to get her attention, and stayed quiet. The only break in character he saw was when she’d allow her eyes to roam. No true slave would be interested in their surroundings; they were too busy trying to not give their master or anyone else a reason to beat them. Moment they were alone he’d have to correct that behavior. If someone else caught her glancing around, and he didn’t publicly punish her in a painful and humiliating way, his cover would be blown.
Saren continued walking, paying no mind to the various individuals lurking in dark corners. His guise had developed its own reputation over the years on this planet and so he was allowed to move with relative ease. His plates had been dyed a dark gray, almost black, and he sported white colonist markings. Hereus Tanilin was well known in some parts as being a respected businessman with a sharp temper and an eye for young, shapely women. He was considered one of the best if you were looking for demure, obedient, and beautiful women who could double as bodyguards. He was intentionally walking around more than he needed so whispered rumors would reach the correct ears about not only his presence, but Shepard’s as well. With luck, parading Shepard around would get him some interested buyers. And those buyers might potentially lead him to further missions.
It had always worked in the past, after all.
After marching around town for over an hour, he finally made his way towards his intended target. Located near the quieter parts of the market and, thank the spirits, as far from the slave sellers and the smell of their wares, was a seller of bootleg and stolen goods. Saren had dealt with the Batarian many times, and exchanged pleasantries as he paused at the stall.
“Hereus, good to see you again.” The Batarian gave him an oily smile, glancing momentarily at Shepard. Saren grinned back, one mandible twitching slightly.
“Quen, always a pleasure. I understand you have some fun new items in your inventory.” Saren replied in a nasally tone, leaning against the booth.
They bantered back and forth for a few minutes. Saren knew he needed a code-word to acquire the items he was looking for, but over a week of hunting down individuals and torturing them for information had brought up little, only something about children. So, failing at that, he had decided to wing it.
Thankfully, he could see Shepard out of the corner of his eye and she appeared to be sticking to character. Her eyes remained riveted on the ground, not glancing about. Good, he thought. That was one less issue to worry about.
“That’s all the new material I have, Hereus. I dunno what you’re looking for, but it must not be here.” Quen replied to Saren’s numerous probing questions.
Damn. He might have to get creative.
“That’s disappointing.” Saren drawled, leaning back and trying to look upset. “I had been told you were the person to seek out for a new type of toy not available on other markets. My children were so excited about them and I really was hoping to get them each one as a gift.”
At the words ‘children’ and ‘gift’, the Batarian’s eyes turned shrewd. Saren privately celebrated inside his head as the Batarian leaned closer with a grin.
“Well, technically I’m not supposed to sell those just yet. They’re brand new and in high demand. But I might be persuaded to sell you a set if you ask nicely.”
Saren resisted the urge to grin. Instead, he slipped the batarian a loaded credit chit.
“I understand you have children of your own. I hope this will help you to get them something nice.”
“You’re too kind. I suppose for the sake of your children’s happiness, I can let you purchase the toys, but only if you swear not to tell anyone.” The Batarian smiled. Saren kept his expression neutral.
“Tell them what? We’re just too old friends exchanging pleasantries.”
The Batarian left, coming back with a medium box that was still sealed. Saren paid quite a bit for the contents, standing to the side so Shepard could take the box. He threatened her greatly if she left greasy fingerprints on it, then thanked his friend and stalked away. Unwilling to make it too obvious, Saren decided to browse and buy a few other items, unimportant and useless, to make his real purchase appear less suspicious. Shepard’s arms were heavily laden as they finally began to make their way back to port.
“This is getting really heavy.” Shepard quietly grumbled as they stood before their ‘borrowed’ shuttle. Saren looked at her sharply before slapping her across the face.
“Quiet slave! Don’t assume just because you’re back to your master’s home means that you’re safe. When working undercover, if you leave your ship or base with nothing and come back with something, always assume someone has marked your goods. That kind of slip could cause your Master his life!”
Shepard straightened, her eyes going to the numerous items in her arms. Apparently she got the hint. “Yes, Master Tanilin! I’m sorry for my ignorance.”
“Do not be sorry. Do better.” Saren snarled, while nodding his head slightly in apology. Though he was fairly certain nobody had slipped a listening device into the goods he had purchased, he wasn’t one to take chances. He continued to order Shepard around like a slave being trained as a bodyguard as they flew back to their ship, punishing her for complaining by telling her she was to report to the gym immediately and double her weight lifts. Shepard went along with it, though the look in her eyes was slightly angry for having been struck.
Shepard set all the supplies down in the hold as instructed, then went through the motions of setting up the weights on Saren’s workout equipment. Saren pretended not to notice that she’d neglected to change out of her slave rags. The wispy bits of cloth barely covered her. She’d garnered many looks as he’d paraded her around. Though he would never consider it, it was obvious other species than human found Shepard attractive. He would have to exploit that in the future.
Running a scanner over the numerous objects, he visually inspected each item, tossing to the side the ones he didn’t care about. Shepard eyed a few of the shiny bobbles, raising an eyebrow in question at him. He shook his head, motioning briefly towards the weights. Swallow her sigh, she lay on the workout bench and began to lift weights. It wasn’t much, certainly not as much as he had ordered her to do, but she was careful to make it sound as though it was. After inspecting and clearing all the miscellaneous items, he finally turned to the box.
Weeks of hunting for the individual selling Spectre supplies to mercenaries came down to this moment. If his cover was blown… He refused to think on that. All scans said he was clear and safe to open it, but whatever they were transporting the supplies in had already fooled multiple scanners. He paused as he inspected the box, noticing that Shepard had crept up beside him, smiling. He turned back to the task at hand.
“You may wish to step back, slave.” Saren purred. “You never know when someone might try to assassinate me.”
“That is why I’m here, master.” Shepard teased with a gleam in her eye. “If someone tries to assassinate you, I’m here to defend you. Failing in that, I shall make sure their last moments are filled with pain and suffering.”
“Good girl.” Saren couldn’t help grin. She was a decent actor, and with a bit of work, she’d do well. Though it likely wasn’t going to help in the mission he’d recruited her for, it didn’t hurt to indulge in other areas where she showed promise.
Slowly, Saren peeled away the lining holding the box sealed shut. Another scan revealed nothing. He tapped along the outside of the lid, listening for any inconsistencies. Nothing. Using all the care he was capable of, he very slowly lifted the lid, pausing now and again to listen for anything moving or catching. The lid finally came off, and Saren stared into the box, seeing several mid-sized and fluffy...things.
Nothing. No explosions, no contact poisons, no traps. Letting out a heavy sigh, he set the the lid aside. Shepard chuckled.
“Are we in the clear yet, Master?”
“Hardly. It would appear there are multiple items in here. Each must be processed. After all, I wouldn’t want to get the wrong ‘toys’.” Saren chuckled. Shepard frowned, a crease appearing between her brows.
“‘Toys’ would be right. Are those plushies?”
“I believe they are stuffed fabric dolls.”
“That’s what a plushie is.” Shepard couldn’t stop grinning. Saren blinked in confusion, then looked back at the box.
“Ah. Well, these ‘plushies’ are most likely just a cover. Or at least they’d better be. If I just paid 500,000 credits for a box of kids toys, I’m going to murder someone. Most likely everyone.” He frowned, pulling his mandibles in towards his face. His omni tool was saying everything was clear to handle, but he still was hesitant to reach in and grab anything with his bare hands. Putting his gloves on, he gingerly reached inside, pulling out one of the tightly packed toys. It was an exaggerated form of a Salarian, with a giant head and small, fat body. It looked ludicrous.
It also looked vaguely familiar.
He examined the toy, flipping it around. It was cheaply made, stitched together badly, and smelled horrible. The fabric, he realised, was made of a special material that he’d used for his own clothing in the past. It was made to reflect almost any kind of scanner. Anyone who opened that box, however, would take one look at the contents and only see cheap toys and nothing else.
The more he visually examined it, however, the more familiar it seemed. There was something about the skin pattern and placements of scars. The armor wasn’t a replica of any standard STG equipment. Saren couldn’t rightly figure out who or what it was supposed to represent.
Shrugging his shoulders, he tore the head off the thing.
“What are you doing?” Shepard exclaimed, though thankfully she sounded more curious than demanding. Saren tapped at his aural canal, reminding her to stay in character. She nodded.
“That will be 20 lashes later for forgetting to refer to me as Master twice just now.” Saren growled threateningly before turning back to the toy. “If my guess is right, these toys are just a cover. At least they’d better be given what I paid. If we pull away that cover…” Saren smoothly pulled the thing apart. There, nestled in the soft, squishy center of the doll, was a plastic contained piece of dark material. Saren lifted it out. Shepard frowned.
“Interesting. What is it, Master?”
“A very effective way to smuggle equipment past authorities.” Saren grinned, discarding the torn bits of toy and setting the piece aside. “If I’m not mistaken, and I never am-” Saren ignored her eye rolling “-then all these pieces hidden inside the various dolls should assemble into something very nice.”
Shepard eyed the box. There had to be almost twenty plushies of various sizes. She stood straight and stretched.
“Well, Master Tanilin, unless you’d prefer I remain here and assist you in unwrapping your new toys, I would like your permission to bathe.” Shepard lifted a dirty arm to her nose, sniffed, and cringed. “I smell horrendous.”
“You do, and you have my permission.” Saren ignored her as he lifted out another toy, this one shaped like an asari that was hauntingly familiar. He grabbed a small bottle he’d bought earlier and tossed it to her. “Use this rose oil when you have finished. I like the way it smells.”
Shepard rolled her eyes slightly before she gave him a mocking bow. “It shall be as you say, Master.”
* * *
Saren had unpacked, beheaded, and torn apart almost all of the dolls by the time Shepard returned. Steam was slowly drifting off her bare arms as she approached, looking at the pile of discarded remains. Saren sniffed at the air as she approached, a twitch of the mandible looking almost pleased before he turned away.
“I see the vivisection continues, Master.” She commented. Saren shook his head.
“You don’t need to continue the subterfuge Shepard. I’ve already cleared the entire box. No listening devices.” Saren replied curtly. Shepard couldn’t help but grin.
“I’m surprised you admitted to that. I would have thought you’d enjoy having a pseudo-slave girl calling you ‘master’.” She teased. Saren gave her a disgusted look, making her laugh. She glanced down at the pile of items pulled from the toys. They were somewhat assembled already, and their shape was horribly familiar. “Is that…?”
“An M-33 Paladin, a high powered version of the Carnifex pistol.” Saren snarled. “They’ve been using cheap toys like this to smuggle all sorts of Spectre grade weapons and devices to sell to mercenaries and private buyers.” Saren’s voice warbled with suppressed rage. Shepard was glad it wasn’t aimed at her, though she sensed something else was bothering him. This was accentuated by the fact that the remains of one of the dolls was held in his lap, his fist curled around it in anger.
“So what’s the next step?”
“I have a few leads on where the manufacturer could be located. We go and burn the place to the ground with everyone involved still inside!” Saren snapped. Shepard frowned.
“Okay.” She held up her hands, catching his gleaming eye and hoping she wasn’t overstepping any bounds. “I know smuggling Spectre grade supplies is the sort of thing that would set your teeth on edge, but you seem angered by something more. What happened?”
Saren sat there, almost shaking with the emotion, as he swore under his breath. Shepard carefully kept her expression neutral, though anything that caused Saren to swear, even in a foreign language that only he seemed to know, was usually really bad. After a few moments, Saren stood up sharply, almost strangling the plush in his hands. Finally, he turned to look at the human, his rage almost palatable.
“It is crime enough to steal from the Spectres. It is crime enough to sneak them past us. It is crime enough that they sell equipment meant for us to lowlife scum. But this?! Saren shook the toy, snarling with pure hatred. “I will murder them and everyone who has ever loved them! This is unacceptable!!”
Saren threw the toy at Shepard’s feet. He stormed around, swearing sulphurously, waving his arms in agitation. Shepard was slightly alarmed to see his biotics sparking. She’d never seen him lose control like this before. Stooping down, she picked up the mangled plushie and turned it around, wondering just how a toy could piss him off.
And then her eyes went wide.
At the sight of what the toy represented, her mouth fell open. Saren turned and watched her stunned expression as it spread over her face, snarling as he gestured.
“You see! This is the final insult-!” Before he could run full tilt into another tirade, Shepard gave voice to the happiest, most high pitched squeal of pure joy, pulling the irate Spectre up short. Her entire face split into the largest smile he’d ever seen a human wear. She even began to bounce in place, almost shaking the toy. She looked at him, so happy that his previous anger seemed to freeze in place.
“It’s YOU!!” Shepard sang with joy, turning the mangled toy that was a poor replica of his own visage around for him to see. She hugged it to her chest, almost hunching over it. She began to laugh hysterically, and Saren’s anger came back. Though now it was mixed with extreme annoyance. Why the spirits would she be happy about the damnable thing?!
“Yes, Shepard. It’s supposed to be me. I thought the other toys were somewhat familiar.” He snarled, trying to stress the severity of the situation and the insult implied. “They smuggled out Spectre equipment inside the bodies of toys made to look like us! It’s an outrage!”
“Is there a Nihlus one?!” Shepard asked excitedly, looking at the pile. Once again, Saren was horribly confused by her seeming enjoyment of the situation.
“Yes, but that’s not the point! They-”
“Oh, I wish you hadn’t torn them all to heck! I wonder if they could be repaired…” Shepard mused, ignoring the now shocked Spectre watching her as she shuffled through the various disposed toys on the ground.
“No!” Saren bellowed at her, causing her to look at him in alarm. “They’re abominations! They must be destroyed!”
“Are they dangerous?” Shepard quickly pulled her hand back, though she still clutched Toy Saren’s remains to her chest. The real Saren made a disgusted sound in his throat.
“Only in the sense that they make me want to go on a murdering spree. The fabric itself is harmless.”
“Then where is the harm in keeping them?” Shepard asked sweetly. Saren stared at her in growing horror.
“Absolutely out of the question! They….they’re….” For once, Saren was at a loss for words. “They’re a complete offense to everything I stand for!”
Shepard rolled her eyes, still smiling. “They’re toys. Just let me keep a few? Please?”
Saren almost pulled out his gun and shot her. “No.”
“I’ll deep clean the bathrooms how you like.”
That caused him to pause. Technically, he should order her to do it anyways with the way she was trying to negotiate with him. However, they’d been working well together lately, and he didn’t want to upset the balance. His eyes drifted to the dreaded toy she held.
“I’ll do that reorganization you wanted of the storage boxes.” Shepard almost sang the offers. Saren began to waiver. He hated that stupid toy so much. He knew if he let her keep it he was not just setting a precedent, but he’d also have to live with the knowledge that that thing would be somewhere on his ship.
“I’ll help deep-clean your facial plates to get all the dye off.” Faith offered, smiling in an overly innocent fashion. Saren snarled as the toy’s oversized head dangled by a thin strip.
“Fine, FINE! You can keep one! I expect everything to be cleaned and organized. But do NOT let me catch sight of that damned thing unless you want me to set fire to it!” He snarled threateningly. Shepard squealed with joy again, hugging the toy to her chest again. Saren had never seen anyone so happy with anything associated with himself, and he could only conclude that she intended to perform evil with them.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Another adventure on the ground with Saren goes sideways.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Saren grumbled as he watched Shepard bustle about the crew cabin. She’d already made good on her offer to deep clean the bathrooms and rearrange the storage area. It’d kept her busy for a few days, allowing him some peace and to do more research on his Spectre supply smuggling mission. He had a few leads on where these toys were being stuffed with stolen goods, but he wanted to narrow it down before he started blowing things up. Hitting the wrong base was a huge risk since there was always a chance the real target would hear about the attack and pack up and leave before he could hit them.
Absently Saren scratched at his plates. Normally he’d have done his best to remove the dye by himself, but it was horribly difficult. The compounds to remove it were harsh enough that he needed to keep his eyes closed for the duration, which made it difficult to get it all out, especially from the deeper cracks and crevices. Though he normally hated people touching him, it was preferable to have Shepard remove the dye for him than to have it itching and bothering him for weeks.
“Okay, dinner's in the oven. That gives us about two hours to get that gunk off your plates.” Shepard cleaned her hands at the sink, giving Saren a bright smile. Saren just grunted. She’d been overly pleasent since he had allowed her to keep the doll. Apparently, she knew how much it disturbed him and was going out of her way to be nice to him.
He certainly wasn’t going to complain.
Faith sat herself in front of him, moving to look over his face, one eyebrow raised. “Okay, I’ve never done this before so let me know if I’m doing anything wrong.”
“Naturally.” Saren pulled out a bag of various bottles containing oils and creams. He unstoppered one that smelled acrid, passing Shepard a pair of thick gloves that extended up to her elbows as well as several clean cloths. “Use this to strip the dye off. It’s powerful and will badly burn hide or skin, so make sure it only gets on my plates. Take care to thoroughly cover all of the plate, including under the mandibles and crest. Use the swabs to get to the harder to reach areas near hide. I’ll have to keep my eyes closed, since the fumes will burn them.”
“Do I need eye protection?”
“I sincerely hope not. Keep your distance just in case.” Saren ignored her disapproving look, turning to the jars of cream. “Once it’s eaten away the worst of the dye, wipe my plates down thoroughly with the cream. That will neutralize it and moisten my plates to keep them from cracking further.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“It will take about an hour or so for the chemical agent to remove the dye. Don’t leave, in case something goes wrong.”
“Got it.” Shepard nodded, grabbing a few of the swabs and soaking them in the acidic oil. Moving closer to Saren, she looked into his eyes, waiting. He nodded once, then closed his eyes firmly. He felt his left mandible gently spread by small fingers, then the cold burn of the oil as she scrubbed it underneath on the thick plates around his mouth.
As the treatment continued, Saren found himself relaxing. His shoulders dropped and his hands hung limply on his lap. It dawned on him that Shepard was massaging the oils into his plates over the major areas. It wasn’t...unpleasant. If nothing else, he noted how careful and thorough she was, making sure to use the swabs to get into the cracks and crevices. She was especially careful around his eyes and under his crest. He had expected to receive a few burns (Nihlus had done a number on his scalp once), but she appeared competent.
Oil applied, there was nothing to do now but wait.
“How’re you feeling?” Shepard asked quietly. Saren snorted.
“My plates are burning and cold. It’s horribly irritating. But thank you for asking.” Saren drawled sarcastically. Shepard chuckled, then sighed. Quiet reigned for several moments, though Saren could hear her re-stopping the oil and putting it away, cleaning the table space. It took her roughly two minutes to finish and immediately he could tell she was already bored.
A sense of being stared at made Saren uncomfortable. He growled slightly. “Don’t stare. I can feel it.”
Shepard snorted, then paused. “Would you mind if I did some work on your talons?”
That surprised Saren. Most species shied away from Turian talons, seeing them as dangerous and threatening. Even the ‘treat everyone lovingly’ Asari wouldn’t usually hold a Turian’s hand unless it was gloved. He frowned.
“Exactly what are you intending?” Saren asked cautiously. He could feel Shepard shrug, mildly amused that she would give a visual indication when his eyes were closed.
“I used to clean and file Lorik’s talons. Humans like to groom others, and I remember him really enjoying it. It might help take your mind off your plates, and give me something to do while we both sit here.”
Saren didn’t bother pointing out the level of intimacy indicated in working on a male Turian’s talons. He knew Shepard meant it in innocence, and his talons could use a little work. He hadn’t had much time lately for self care.
“Very well. How do you propose to perform this activity?”
“Let me call someone down to keep an eye on you while I grab some supplies. Do you have a talon care kit?”
“Of course. It’s under the sink in my cabin.”
“Do I have your permission to retrieve it?”
Saren almost laughed. He couldn’t tell if she was teasing or genuinely that polite. “Very well, as long as you do not trifle about. I’ll know if you do.”
Shepard laughed as she left, calling to a crew member over the comms to come and ‘babysit’ Saren. Had she not moved out of range he would have smacked her for her insulting terminology.
* * *
Octavius sat quietly, reading from a datapad for the few minutes until Shepard finally returned, thanking him profusely. He didn’t bother to respond, but left with minimal disturbance. The only reason Saren knew it had been his second mate had been by the smell of him, and even that had been difficult with the acidic fumes. Thankfully they weren’t overly dangerous to breath in, at least in the short term. He really didn’t want to think about what long term exposure could do to him.
Saren felt Shepard lay something on the table before sitting back in front of him. One of his hands was taken from his lap and placed on the surface. She removed his gauntlets and gloves, rolling back the sleeve of his undersuit to expose the lower half of his forearm and fingers. Before he could question why so much of his arm needed to be bare to work on his talons, his wrist was held in between two firm hands that massaged at the rough hide. The sensation of liquid pleasure poured through his arm and to his spine, causing him to sink further into the chair with a quiet groan.
It’d been so long since he’d had a proper massage.
Faith chuckled quietly as she worked over his hide, pressing over the leathery plates rather than going around them. She paused only a moment, and he could hear her opening something. When her hands returned, he could smell a special Turian brand of massage cream that had a slight flowery scent to it.
“Exactly when did you pick that up, Ms. Shepard?” Saren asked, pleased that he managed to keep his voice neutral. Faith smiled, but didn’t stop massaging.
“When else could I have picked anything else up? The last time we were at port when I bought all my clothes and supplies. When I was buying my hygiene products, I saw a shelf with a bunch of stuff on sale, and this was on there. I figured being on a ship with nothing but Turians it’d eventually come in handy.”
“Remind me to compensate you for it.” Saren almost purred. Shepard raised an eyebrow at the comment, not bothering to hide her smile.
“It’s not necessary. I actually enjoy giving massages and grooming people. I toyed briefly with the idea of being an esthetician or cosmetologist when I was younger.”
“From what I’ve gathered, you had many aspirations as a youth.”
Shepard sighed, and Saren could hear the sense of loss in that sound. She was quiet for several minutes as she continued her massage of his arm and hand, taking care to work around his fingers.
“It doesn’t matter now. Those were the dreams of a child, and I need to be an adult now.” She spoke quietly. Saren frowned.
“Just because you ‘need to be an adult’ doesn’t mean you should lose your passion for learning. I thought you were enjoying the classes we are taking.”
“I do, it’s just…” Shepard struggled to find the right words, busying herself by rooting through the bag to produce a metal file. Taking his hand again she began to file down his talons, being careful to not blunt them. “It just seems like there’s always something else I have to be doing. I feel like indulging in my interests is a waste since I could better spend that time learning more important things.”
“First off, there is no such thing as useless knowledge.” Saren said firmly. “Just because it may not seem relevant now does not mean it never will be. Having a varied number of skill sets has saved my life on many occasions.”
“Like what?” Shepard asked.
Normally, Saren wouldn’t have answered, but she had been behaving well lately and he wished to encourage that. There was also a note in her voice to told him how distressing this subject was to her and he didn’t wish for her to be distracted, especially since it would probably mean an end to the attention he was currently enjoying. She needed something, though what he couldn’t tell. Briefly, he wondered what had happened recently to bring her confidence down; her performance lately hadn’t warranted more than a few words of criticism. Sighing through his nose at the fragility of the human ego, he deigned to answer her just this once.
“I was given to the priesthood on Palaven when I was a child. My...family was insistent that each member learn Turian history and honor, and each of us had at some point entered the priesthood and served for a time. I hated it, but I went through with it and kept up with it even as an adult.” Saren shifted in his seat to get more comfortable. “I was convinced it would never be relevent. However, that knowledge has saved me many times, revealed opportunities that I never could have guessed, and created connections that I use frequently.
“Having been a Spectre as long as I have, I can tell you, with complete confidence and assurance, that what you are doing to my hands, right now, would be as useful as knowing how to fire a weapon. Being able to sooth and coerce an individual into relaxing and dropping their guard is a difficult skill to master, but it is incredibly useful. Someone who is relaxed feels safe, and are more willing to be free with information.”
“Like you are right now?”
“Indeed. So stop asking questions.” Saren smirked slightly. “I currently don’t have the mental fortitude to say no.”
“So if I were to ask for a spa day on the citadel…?”
“You are more than welcome to do so next time we dock there.” Saren’s smirk spread to a full grin. “You’re also welcome to pay for it yourself.”
* * *
The shuttle entered the atmosphere, shaking somewhat through the turbulence. Saren watched as Shepard’s fingers stiffened with the stress of keeping the shuttle airborne. Though she’d only been flying for a short while and still had yet to learn everything, she was a fairly competent pilot. Saren made a mental note to add that to the list of skills he was keeping on a datapad. If and when she was returned to the Alliance, he wanted to show them just what skills she had developed while under his tutelage.
It would make it easier to bill them for his services.
As the shuttle rocked unsteadily, Saren tightened his grip against the ceiling support. He had never enjoyed running off moving vehicles, but this particular drop dictated that he be ready to bolt the second the ground was close enough. For once, Shepard would not be parking, but instead flying the shuttle back to his ship. He’d already threatened her thoroughly if she nicked the paint on either the shuttle or his ship.
She’d rewarded his threats with an eye roll. She was slowly becoming immune to his threats, which worried him.
He was mulling over how to keep her in place when he glanced at his gloved hand gripping the rail. Though he couldn’t see them now, he’d been impressed with what she’d done to his talons. They’d been shortened somewhat due to the numerous cracks and weak spots, then filed to a fine point. That in itself would have been enough, but then she’d applied a coat of black substance she called ‘nail-polish’ to them, followed by a glossy clear coat. The effect was impressive, and he found himself wanting to show them off. Perhaps if he found someone to interrogate he’d take the opportunity.
“Ground’s coming up quick.” Shepard spoke over her shoulder, her voice warbling slightly with her taut nerves. Saren snorted.
“Try not to wreck my shuttle. You’re easy to replace; it is not.” He retorted, hitting the release for the doors. The ground was barely visible in the dark night of the planet. Faith huffed slightly as he disappeared into the darkness.
* * *
Shepard lounged in her little hammock, humming tunelessly while she examined a few of the little trinkets Saren had purchased the other day. Several were bits and pieces of fine jewelry for Turians and Asari, while others were long strings of beads. He’d already told her he didn’t care about any of it, so she’d pulled out a few pieces and hoarded them in her little corner. Several of them now dangled from the bottom of her rope hammock, since wearing jewelry and sparring with Saren didn’t go together. However, once everything was done? She’d at least have something shiney for all her effort.
Setting aside the finery, she pulled out Saren Jr, as she’d named her new toy. She’d managed to sew together the worst of the tears, begging Dr. Venicius to assist in ‘emergency stitches’. The look he’d given her spoke volumes of what he’d thought of the idea. However, not one to waste an opportunity, he went over how to properly stitch together two flimsy sides, saying such information could be used on Turian internal organs.
All in all, her sutures had come out decent. Saren Jr now glared through a single glassy eye (the other had been lost in the dismemberment), and the fluff of all his destroyed brethren had been cannibalized to make his body extra squishy. Going through the remains had allowed her to locate the Nihlus plushie without Saren noticing. She’d snapped a holo and sent it to the dark plated Turian after Saren had been dropped for his current mission.
Nihlus had been theatrically distraught at the demise of his miniature self.
Giggling over his reaction, Faith had been careful to say that all the plushies had been destroyed. Though she couldn’t put her finger on why, she wanted to keep Saren Jr a secret. Hugging the large plush to her chest, she closed her eyes and allowed her memories to wrap around her.
For a moment, she could smell a fresh summer breeze billowing through the lacy curtains of her bedroom. The soft, patchwork, well used comforter that covered her bed pressed against her thighs. All around was plain, rough wood furniture, everything doubled and mirrored inside the small room. Her sister and herself had always had everything big be the same, but all the little differences spoke of each twin’s personality. Faith’s side of the room was covered in movie posters and inspirational people, her vanity covered in makeup and hair pieces. Her desk was disorganized, but littered with books on various subjects, mostly mysteries and sci-fi novels. Her sister’s vanity was almost bare, mostly containing medical bandages and tape, and various other implements from her life in sports. Her desk, almost as disorganized as Faith’s, contained mostly cheesy romance novels and books on Earth’s modern history.
The impression was so real, Faith felt a slight trickle down her cheek, her tears coming unbidden as she almost heard her mother calling up to her children to come down for lunch. In the room beside the twins, she could hear the excited squeal of her little sister, Grace, and the scrabbling of long claws from the family pet Varren, Maximus.
“Are you okay, Ms. Shepard?” Sellik’s voice sounded concerned. Faith’s eyes flew open, and the memory vanished. Sheepish at having been caught crying, Faith quickly wiped the tears away, giving her Turian friend a smile.
“I’m fine. Just thinking about home.” Faith shrugged, tucking Saren Jr away. Sellik eyed the stuffed figure, but didn’t comment. Instead, he motioned with a thumb over his shoulder.
“We just got a message from Saren. He said to be ready to pick him up in three hours.”
“Considering it took two hours to get from the planet’s surface back to the ship, I’d better get ready.” Shepard pushed herself off her cot, changing into gear that was better suited to combat. Though Saren had yet to allow her to join him in any fighting, she’d learned that with him it’s always better to be prepared. She heard Sellik chuckle from behind her as she pulled on her undersuit. “Something funny?”
“Just remembering how you were when you first arrived.”
Shepard grinned sheepishly as she zipped herself up. “Yeah, I was pretty pathetic.”
“Also modest. Now you just strip in front of anybody without any issues.” He sounded amused. Faith gave him a stink eye.
“At this point it’s less modesty and more that everyone on this ship has seen me in various states of undress already. Besides, you guys get naked all the time and nobody says anything, so why shouldn’t I?”
Sellik chuckled, giving her a slight bow. “We’ll make a Turian of you yet.” He teased.
* * *
The shuttle settled down at the predetermined rendezvous point without any issues. Though still nervous, Faith was beginning to grow more comfortable in the driver seat. She briefly wondered when and if she’d ever be brave enough to pull a barrel roll while Saren was on board.
Considering he was usually well armed when on a mission? Probably never.
Checking her time, she knew she was somewhat early. Leaving the shuttle running in low power mode so they could take off quickly, Faith stepped outside, doing a quick but thorough perimeter search. Seeing nothing of interest, she settled down nearby to wait. For once, she didn’t bother hiding the shuttle. Saren had given her a mild lecture after the desert trip about not hiding it from him anymore. Faith sighed, thinking that she’d never get treated to that nice dinner. Then she caught her train of thought and almost laughed at herself. Hiding and snooping around in highly dangerous situations to outsmart a thoroughly overtrained Spectre, all in exchange for a nice hot meal. To think, there was a time men had fawned at her feet, giving her whatever she might desire in order to earn her affection. She almost missed it.
Checking her time once again, she huffed, knowing Saren still had at least forty-five minutes before he was considered ‘late’. She wasn’t going to make the mistake of getting distracted ever again, but it was annoying staying focused for so long. Her anxiety always spiked when waiting, because her mind fed her a constant vid stream of all the horrible and unspeakable evils that lurked all around her. She almost wished something would happen, though she was quick to crush that feeling. Anytime someone wished for more interesting happenings, usually they got them. And despite her boredom, Faith really didn’t need anything terrible happening to earn her yet another lecture.
Instead, Faith stayed on the move, constantly watching and looking for potential escape routes, ambush areas, and other little things Saren had tirelessly coached her on after her first abysmal failure.
As she moved about, she heard a rustling in the distance, heading in her direction. More than likely her wayward Spectre. As she moved forward to intercept him, something made her pause. Something felt off about the sounds she was hearing, the way the person was moving through the foliage. Sinking low, Faith pulled out her pistol, eyes and ears suddenly very alert.
Four heavily armored men stepped out, all human, their weapons sweeping the area cautiously. One of them set his gun on his back, moving towards the shuttle and working on his omni-tool quickly. The others appeared far more nervous and ready to shoot anything that moved.
Faith was busy cursing her bad luck.
The door to the locked shuttle slid open, and the man with his omni-tool open stepped inside, seating himself in the pilot’s seat. One of the others cringed as a bird took off nearby.
“Would you hurry it up? We’re targets out here!” He barked. Inside the shuttle there came a scoff.
“Keep your panties on! The virus is uploading.”
Shepard felt her blood run cold. Feverently, she hoped Saren would arrive soon and take these bastards out. Then she remembered with a sinking feeling: this was her job. She was supposed to guard and protect the shuttle. She needed to neutralize this threat.
Glancing at the four heavily armored and well armed individuals, Shepard felt her stomach clench.
Option 1: Observe the men and all they do, wait for them to leave, then try to undo the damage the virus was doing.
Option 2: Wait for Saren to show up, tell him she’d cowered until they’d left and that his shuttle was now compromised. Possibly get left behind on this planet or shot. Or lectured. Or sent back to the Alliance as a failure.
Shepard’s gun found it’s way into her hands at lightening speed. Though her pistol wasn’t good for long range, three of the men had failed to wear helmets. Queueing up an overload onto her omnitool like Nihlus had shown her, she looked over each of the men. One of the helmetless men appeared to be giving the orders and carried the largest gun. Taking a deep breath, Faith aimed her weapon right at the center of his head.
Letting her breath out slowly, she hit her overload and fired.
The man’s shield’s went halfway down, and the shot took them down the rest of the way. However, his weapon was now trained in the direction Faith had fired. Without thinking, she shot again, this time the shot hitting him in the torso. His armor absorbed the worst of it, and now three of the men were moving towards her location, firing into the heavy brush. Faith quickly backtracked, getting out of the immediate area and looping around towards the opposite side.
Thankfully, Saren’s tireless lessons on stealth appeared to be paying off (either that or those men were deaf as posts, Shepard corrected herself as she tripped over another tree root). She paused at the edge of the forest clearing as her overload recharged slowly, wondering what to do next. It was clear those people would discover she’d moved before the trick was ready. Glancing down at her omnitool, she saw a little green spark dance between her fingers. Before she dismissed it, she drew in another deep breath and bolted for the shuttle.
Determined not to overthink the half-formed plan she’d started to consider, she eased her way quietly to the door, drawing on her inner abilities. Not bothering to make it subtle, she snapped the energy at the person still inside the shuttle, hearing a muffled ‘huh’ as the telltale sound of shields, both the shuttles and the man inside, were disrupted for an instant. Before he could recover, Faith dodged around the door and fired inside where she’d heard the man exclaim. For once her luck held, the bullet tearing through the man’s neck and leaving him choking on his own blood as he fell to the ground.
Unfortunately, her luck ended there. Her weapon was hardly silent, and the three remaining men whipped around and opened fire on her. Faith’s shields went down with a sharp detonation as she scrambled back into cover. Strangely, none of the numerous bullets seemed to hit her even after her shields failed. Back into the cover of the forest, Faith was forced to keep moving as the leader of the group charged after her, bellowing obscenities as the other two waited at the shuttle.
Faith felt her entire body pulsing as her blood pumped, forcing herself to move slowly and quietly even though her instincts were screaming for her to run. Instead, she focused on climbing a tree, gaining a slight vantage point from which she could see the man scouring the bushes for her. Every few moments he would fire into a bush or tree, swearing sulphurously as he hunted for the elusive red head. Faith checked her overload, noting it was ready, but also knowing the soldiers’ shields would have recharged by now.
Focusing her weapon onto his unprotected head, she closed her eyes a moment, pulling in her power. It felt strange, unnatural, and took a great deal of concentration to do in such a high stress situation. A glow formed around her hands and she opened her eyes, only to realise with horror that the man was looking up at her with murder in his eyes. His weapon swung quickly towards her, and unleashed a barrage of bullets as she activated her power enhanced overload. His shields went down as several bullets struck her, knocking her out of the tree with a sharp cry of pain.
Though hitting the ground hurt badly, Faith rolled as she landed, coming to her feet and turning to return fire. To her shock, however, the man was now dead. It took her a moment to locate his body, a well placed high-velocity bullet turning his skull into a pile of mush. Shepard resisted the urge to regurgitate her breakfast, and instead began moving back towards the shuttle. To her continued amazement, both men outside the shuttle were also dead from similar shots. The air smelled faintly of eezo, and she could hear someone tapping away at the ship’s computers. Looking through the door, weapon ahead of her, she saw a sight that both relieved and worried her.
“Spectre Arterius. Have an eventful day?” She asked delicately as she eyed his heavily damaged and blood covered armor. He snarled.
“Don’t get coy with me, human. I’m furious you allowed anyone this close to the shuttle.” He snapped, still typing. The screens flashed and wavered, the virus doing number on them. Faith went to another station, glancing quickly behind her through the open door to make sure nobody was sneaking up on them. Pulling open another interface, she glanced at the damage being done, wincing.
“I’ll keep comments to myself until after we’ve dealt with...whatever this is.” Faith grumbled. As she glanced through the lines of code, she noticed that it was primarily attacking the guidance system VI, attempting to program it in such a way that any coordinates inputted would automatically change to drive them directly into the local star. Any attempts to change course afterwards would cause the ship to go into FTL.
Faith began attempting to isolate the virus and undo the damages, trying to ignore Saren’s increasing ire as he attempted to do the same and was repeatedly shut down. After a few minutes, Faith noticed the slight glow had returned, and immediately began cheating as she hacked through the system, using her powers to finally isolate and obliterate the virus. With a little crow of triumph, she turned to smile at Saren.
“I’ve managed to kill the virus-” Faith stopped as Saren snarled in frustration.
“Go guard outside!” He snapped, grabbing her by the arm and shoving her towards the door. Faith quickly complied, not bothering to ask for an explanation.
Okay, for anyone who hasn't read the books/comics in the Mass Effect Universe, Saren lost his beloved older brother Desolas after the Relay 314 incident. Though the comic is presented as the backstory of the Illusive Man, it's really also a backstory for Saren and how he became the way he is. In it, Saren is forced to call down an Orbital Strike on Temple Palaven, located, if memory serves me, in the heart of Palaven's capitol.
Because of this, I assume there are other temples dotted around as well, still in use and kept up to present day. Given how easily Saren and his brother gained access to this ancient building without any problems (if I remember correctly, it was supposed to have been sealed at some point), I figured they both had to have been part of whatever priesthood can be found with Turians. Either that or they had to have had some sort of background in archaeology. The idea of the priesthood teaching mostly Turian ideals and history is my own head canon however.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
A breakthrough! ...Kinda.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Faith pouted and simmered as she sat in her hammock. Saren had been waspish since they’d returned from the mission. It was no secret why he was mad at her: he’d spent the entire return trip, with him flying, ranting about her mistakes. Though Shepard had managed to scrub the virus from the system, she had used her powers rather than manually hacking it. He called her relying on her unknown and largely untested in the field powers a handicap, among other things.
Thankfully, she hadn’t been forced to endure him for long. Apparently while on the mission, he’d finally managed to get a definitive location for the smuggling ring production line, and they’d made haste to the nearby system. As ‘punishment’ for failing him, Saren had told Shepard to remain behind, driving the shuttle down by himself and sending it back by it’s autopilot.
Why Saren had ever asked her to pilot his shuttle when it could fly itself was baffling to her. In his mind, he was most likely ‘rewarding’ her, as he’d previously stated. In hers?
Faith pouted further, crossing her arms. It felt so good to pout right now.
Faith toyed with calling Nihlus and asking for guidance, but finally decided against it. She couldn’t rely on him every time Saren was nasty towards her; she’d never be able to hang up with him if that were the case. Instead, she decided to take her ‘punishment’ time to let herself relax and allow Saren to cool down before she felt comfortable approaching him again. He’d been running her ragged lately, and she was loathe to head back to work.
Not having anything to do, however, was forcing Shepard to sit and mull over her own thoughts, which only worsened her temper. Worse, but several months of working near round-the-clock with Saren and his crew had made it almost physically uncomfortable when she sat for too long. In a fit of desperation, she finally forced herself to her feet, grabbing the three dreaded boxes of flashing lights she was supposed to practice with on a regular basis. Setting them up with rough, angry motions, she stomped several feet away, then turned and gathered her strength.
“Take that!” She yelled at the boxes as she unleashed herself. It was a silly thing to say, but it made her feel somewhat better. Naturally, all three boxes began to blink wildly. With a flick of her hand she turned them all off again. Taking a deep breath, she struck again and again, growing more and more frustrated. She didn’t mind that her energy hit them each time, making them wobble slightly, though she was careful to keep herself from hitting anything else. Last thing she wanted was to turn off the engines again; she was fairly certain Saren would just shoot her for real if she did that again. Just being able to unleash herself was making her feel better.
Faith clenched her teeth, pouring all her built up hate and spite at the boxes. Her vision began to tunnel, focusing on just the middle box. Bellowing at the top of her lungs, she roared at it. “LIGHT DAMN YOU!”
The wave she unleashed set all three boxes teetering, and left Faith drained. She didn’t even bother looking up. Instead, knowing they would all be lit, she wearily lifted a hand to turn them all off. To her surprise, someone grabbed her hand. Looking up, she saw Octavius standing beside her, his eyes wide with shock. Without a word, he motioned his head towards the boxes. Blinking the sweat out of her eyes, Faith glanced over at the three, heavily abused devices. It took a few moments to process what she saw, then she went stiff.
Only the middle box was blinking.
* * *
Saren eyed the sprawling complex that, if his sources were to be believed, housed the dreaded insult that was the Spectre gear smuggling ring. He’d developed an unreasoning hatred for that place and all the people within. Though logic told him that there was a chance some of the workers had no idea what was happening, he nonetheless wanted everyone inside very dead.
As he studied the complex from a safe distance, however, he began adding victims to the list of people who needed to die with all those inside. The genius who had built the building into a mountain side so there were limited approaches? Dead. The person who had decided there should only be one door into the facility, right at the very front? Dead. Person who had sold them state of the art security equipment meant to keep out any and all intruders? Dead.
Organization who had sold them the five Ymir mechs along with almost half a hundred normal mechs?
Tortured, humiliated publicly, then dead. So very, very dead.
Saren had been scouting the building for hours, trying to find a way inside that didn’t involve going through the single door. However, all the ventilation shafts had been dead bolted from the inside of the vent, with multiple security measures taken to insure nobody could either pull the grating off or cut out the center. There were no side doors, employee only entrances, nothing! Though Saren grudgingly respected the lack of security breaches available, he hated it as well. The only consolation was that all he had to do was secure the one entrance, and nobody would be able to slip past him. Although there was always a chance there was a hidden tunnel leading deeper into the mountain and out a secure entrance, Saren doubted that anyone so prepared would make such an entrance easily found. That meant for the vast majority of the people inside, there was no escape once he secured that door.
If he could just take out the mechs, he mused, then he could ensure nobody got out. Even better if he could gain control of the mechs somehow, ready to turn on anyone who came out the doors. However, that would require hacking each mech individually which took time and left him horribly exposed. Even a virus would be questionable; he’d have to find the main control terminal for the mechs, and given how secure the building was, it was most likely inside and heavily guarded. Meaning he’d have to get past the mechs, which would shred him in an instant, rendering the entire idea moot.
As he glared at the mechs milling around in front of the main gate, he felt a glimmer of an idea. It wasn’t something he wanted to do, and it was a little early for a field test, but he didn’t see any choice. If everything went wrong, he had a large number of explosives that could be utilized. It wasn’t pretty, and it would use up all the munitions he’d planned to use to take out the building itself, but it would get rid of the mechs rather effectively. It would also alert everyone inside to the fact that they were now under attack.
Sighing with frustration, he opened up his communicator, silently ready to berate Shepard if she didn’t live up to his expectations.
* * *
“What did you do?”
The question was so simple, offered in complete innocence, but it left Faith speechless. Weakly, she shrugged, her own mind tumbling over the various reasons and possibilities.
“I have no idea! I was just unleashing-”
“Do it again.” Octavius ordered, though Faith thought she detected a hint of excitement in his tone. Turning back to the boxes and switching them back to the ready position with a flick of a hand, she took a deep breath to calm her over-stimulated nerves. Focusing on the middle box, she hurled her energy at it as roughly as she could.
All three boxes began blinking joyfully.
Faith growled in frustration as she stared angrily at the middle box, irritably waving a hand to turn it off. With shock, she noticed only the middle box turned off. Octavius sucked in a breath as Faith shivered, her mind firing rapidly. What had she done differently? Her energy was striking all three of the boxes; she wasn’t trying to contain. All she’d done…
Shaking herself, she focused on all three boxes, turning the other two off. Taking another deep breath, she forced herself to focus only on the middle box, mentally pretending the other two didn’t exist. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she concentrated.
With a hiss, she unleashed her energy, not bothering to control where it went but keeping herself mentally focused on the middle box.
Only the middle box began to blink.
With a happy cry of triumph, Faith turned and launched herself at Octavius, who stumbled a little as the exuberant human hugged him tight. “Calm yourself, human! What did you do differently?” Octavius admonished the girl as he disentangled himself. Faith almost bounced happily.
“Before, I was always trying to contain my abilities so only one thing would get hit, and that took all my concentration! This time, I’m just unleashing it and focusing my mind on what I want to effect! All the boxes are still getting hit, but only one is responding!” Faith crowed with triumph. Octavius watched her bounce around in joy for a moment before putting both his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to stop and look him in the eye.
“That’s good, Shepard. Now, keep doing it, and try to change which box turns on and which one doesn’t. This was an important first step, but you still have a long way to go. I’ll make sure to report your progress to Spectre Arterius when he returns.” Octavius nodded to her, then turned and left.
Faith felt crushed. Pouting, she turned back to the boxes with a spiteful glare. “I hate you.”
The boxes didn’t care.
For the next several hours, Faith practiced the entire list of exercises Saren had given her initially. She had been struggling with the first step, but now that she at least had an idea how her powers worked, she was able to perform with an increasing amount of success. Some of the exercises were more biotic than anything, and she still couldn’t ‘lift’ anything. However, if she struck hard enough, she could ‘wobble’.
Saren would probably not accept ‘wobble’ as a viable alternative to ‘lift’, Faith mused.
After a few hours, Shepard was thoroughly exhausted. She’d completed the entire list of exercises, the ones she could perform anyways, and then had gone back and done them a few more times just to be sure. It took a lot of effort to concentrate, and it wasn’t long before she tired, but she was determined to be thorough if only to avoid getting yelled at by Saren. Again.
Now that she’d completed her exercises to what she hoped was a reasonable level, Faith shuffled up to the showers to wash away all the stink and sweat. Once more, she wished the showers would run cold water, but at least the usual hot water that was available in Turian showers would help relax her muscles. Since it was mid-day, none of the other crew members would want to use them, so she looked forward to a long, uninterrupted, relaxing shower.
She had only been under the stream of high pressured scalding water for about five minutes however before Sellik charged into the shower. At this point, Faith no longer even responded to the invasion of her privacy.
“What’s wrong Sellik?” She asked calmly as she rinsed the shampoo from her long hair.
“Just got a transmission from Saren. He wants you to suit up and join him on the ground.”
Faith was genuinely startled. “On the mission?”
“I guess so!” Sellik grinned, then paused. “Although, more than likely he wants you to do something small. It’s a bit early to have you officially ‘helping’. I wouldn’t expect to go along with him the entire way.”
Shepard quickly rinsed herself off, stepping out of the shower. Sellik handed her a towel, briefing her on the mission details as she dried herself. Piling her damp hair on her head and tying it in a loose knot, she wrapped the towel around her frame, grabbed her casual clothing and dumped it into the laundry pile, then walked with him down to where her gear was stowed.
“Mechs?” Faith paused, her eyes wide. Sellik nodded.
“I heard you managed to get some semblance of control over your powers. The timing couldn’t be better.” Sellik grinned at her distressed look. “Don’t worry, I doubt Saren wants you to take them all out. It’s probably nothing serious.”
“You say that like you don’t know him, Sellik.” Faith scoffed, turning so Sellik could fasten the latches on her torso while she pulled on her boots and gauntlets. Between them, they got her geared up and ready to go in a little less than three minutes. Octavius stood by the shuttle, which was already running and ready to go. Faith’s heart rate increased, as it usually did when she needed to fly. Nodding to the two of them, Faith boarded the shuttle and made her way towards the coordinates Saren had sent them.
* * *
“You’re late.” Saren grumbled as Shepard stepped off the shuttle. Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Faith busied herself walking quickly to catch up to the retreating Spectre.
“Good to see you too, sir.” Faith replied, only slightly sarcastic. Saren grunted, walking at a pace that forced Shepard into a jog. “Sellik was only able to give me some of the details-”
“There are five Ymir mechs and around fifty normal mechs guarding the only entrance to this facility. I need you to neutralize them so I can get inside.”
Faith almost stumbled, her eyes going wide. “You want me to do what?!”
Saren snarled in exasperation. “You heard me, human! Either you can do it, or you can’t. Decide now and stop wasting my time.”
A groan escaped Faith. “In other news, I managed to figure out how to control my powers somewhat today and was able to perform the vast majority of the exercises you gave me.”
“Then why are you complaining?”
Faith didn’t bother responding.
At the pace Saren set, they arrived within an hour at his make-shift shelter overlooking the mountain facility. Faith took a moment to take in the sight of the beautiful valley with numerous trees that stretched on for miles, nestled between the sharp slopes of the mountain range. Then she caught the disapproving look from Saren and resigned herself to never having a moment to enjoy anything ever again. Instead, she took the binoculars from him, taking a look at the facilities’ entrance. A loud gulp of pure nerves managed to escape her as she spied the Ymir’s.
“You said you reprogrammed a Ymir without touching it. If you were lying or exaggerating in any way, now is the time to confess.” Saren challenged her. Faith shook her head as she handed the binoculars back.
“I was under a little more stress back then…”
“Would it assist you if I chased you into the base with the intent to murder you?” Saren replied sarcastically. Faith snorted, speaking before stopping to consider who she was talking to.
“Considering what I’ve dealt with these past few months, that’s par the course with you.” The look she received from him was definitely less than friendly, urging her to change the subject. “So exactly what is it you want me to make them do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” Faith floundered under Saren’s gaze, causing him to glare harder. “Exactly what order do you want me to give? Stand down? Murder, death, kill? Do a dance?”
“You can program it with exact orders?”
“In theory.” Faith shrugged, giving him a lopsided smile. He stared at her for several moments, then sighed heavily, lowering his head into one of his hands. Faith threw her arms up in frustration. “Well what answer did you expect?! I told you, I haven’t had much opportunity to experiment, and I only just learned how I’m doing it today!”
Things fell quiet as the Spectre collected himself. Faith could hear him counting backwards in the language Nihlus had told her was his native tongue. Looking back at the facility from a distance, and idea nudged Shepard. Without mulling it over too much, she spoke up, hoping an alternative plan could be discussed. “Why don’t I just take control of one of them?”
“If you haven’t noticed, human, there are several mechs down there; any of which could bring a rather painful end to this mission.” Saren spoke irritably, obviously at the end of his patience. Still, Faith felt the need to persist.
“What if I program it to escort you?” She mentioned, then saw the incredulous look Saren gave her. Before he could argue, she kept running with it, speaking her thoughts aloud as they occurred to her. “I mean, there’s probably a control booth that gives orders to all of them, but most mechs are programmed to communicate between each other. All I have to do is give one an order, and it should send that order to the others as well as the control booth. If I do it right, nobody should notice. You cloak, it escorts you into the building none the wiser-”
“Except I’d have no way to leave. Finishing the mission is imperative, but I’d like to survive long enough to go on another afterwards. I’d also prefer, if at all possible, to keep them focused on the entrance. If anyone other than me tries to leave it would be quite lovely if those mechs could discourage them.”
Faith inwardly flinched, but didn’t comment on how cold blooded that sounded. “But once inside, it wouldn’t be much of an issue to find the control booth and reprogram the lot of them. We should also consider that taking over one would allow me better control over my power. If I try to take them all, anyone who happens to be in the area is going to see it. As you pointed out before, I am quite visible.”
Saren paused, apparently to mull over what she said. He began pacing in the small space, leaving Faith to stand and worry. To take her mind off the situation, she began glancing around the valley again, taking in the beauty of it. There was a sense of serenity to the area, a calmness that left her relaxed. The fact that they were there to shatter that calm with potential explosions and a reign of death? Faith tried not to think of the irony.
Eventually, Saren sighed heavily, bringing her attention back to him as he ran his talons over his long crest. Turning back to her, he gave her a slight nod.
“Very well, Shepard, you have proven your point. We will try it your way first. If that fails, taking control the all the mechs can be our back-up.” Glancing back down at the area, Saren spoke quietly. “You may wish to visually plan your escape route. Once inside, I will move quickly to neutralize the threat. I can not guarantee you will have sufficient time to return to this base before the building collapses, and I’d much rather not have to dig your corpse free.”
A bit of an update on this story. There are some words and beliefs that are very common in the Mass Effect fandom, and because I was fairly new to it all when I started writing, I didn’t partake in their use. Now, however, I’m feeling more comfortable with my writing and with being a part of this wonderful fandom and all the numerous ships therein. As such, I’m going back and editing my earlier chapters. For the most part, everything stays the same, though a few minor word tweaks will happen here and there. At the intro to each chapter will be a credit given to whichever artist’s terminology is being used. Hopefully this will encourage new readers to check out other fiction and get drawn further into the fandom, as well as make this story a little easier to read for those more seasoned readers. Thanks so much for understanding, and I hope you continue to enjoy my little story as it continues to unfold.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Faith learns about Intergalactic Child Labor Laws (or the complete lack thereof).
Warning: Child Slavery mention.
This is the first chapter written with more common fandom terms and usages. Please click here for an explanation.
Faith eyed the lone guard walking between the numerous mechs, a line of sweat dribbling down her spine. So far, she’d managed to get this close without setting off any alarms; a feat that normally would make her feel proud. However, pride would have to wait until she successfully grabbed a single mech and coaxed it into following her back to where Saren lay waiting.
As she watched the mechs pace in very visible patterns, however, she inwardly groaned. The moment she pulled one, it would stand out, alerting the few non robotic guards. Saren, for once, had listened to her idea and was willing to go through with it, and she was bound and determined not to let him down.
Glancing around the courtyard, she spied only a single living guard, leaning against the building in a lazy fashion. Apparently he felt safe with so many mechanical guards pacing the perimeter. However, he was still glancing around the yard, meaning she needed to change the course of the mech in such a way that didn’t alert him to anything unusual going on. Her mind buzzing with various ideas, she took a deep breath. Sitting there thinking about it wouldn’t do her any good. At least, if everything went tits-up, she could unleash and attempt to control all the mechs. Then again, she didn’t know if she could, and might very well get gunned down before she could even get a flicker of her power out.
Faith bit off a swear word at her own brain, hating it for making her worry even more. Forcing such thoughts off to a deep corner of her mind, Faith focused on the two closest Loki mechs. Drawing a deep breath, she waited until the one non-mechanical guard turned to look away from her before sending her energy out. The green energy raced along the ground, hitting a few of the mechs in the feet. With an inward groan, Faith saw one of the Ymir’s turn to look at her, waiting for the inevitable barrage of bullets. After a few moments, it’s facial lights flickered, and it turned back to it’s normal routine.
Allowing her breath to escape slowly, Faith waited for the two mechs she wanted to reach a certain point along their normal route. Then, at a simple thought from Shepard, she told them to change their route and begin to march towards Saren. Faith felt odd about being able to give apparently psychic commands, but figured she’d worry about it later. Hoping that it looked completely normal, she waited tensely as the two pivoted, turning towards where Faith knew Saren was waiting. As they walked past her, one turned it’s head slightly, as if to glance at her. Not knowing why, she gave it a slight smile and a wave.
* * *
Saren sat, waiting impatiently as he watched the human weave in and out of cover. Making a mental note to work with her about how far down she should crouch when moving stealthily, he checked his equipment one last time, reminding himself of the overall plan. Get in, kill everything, get out, blow it all up.
In other words, his favorite kind of mission.
With growing impatience, he watched as Shepard maneuvered around, somehow managing to remain quiet and undetected. He grudgingly approved, though he’d sooner bite off his tongue then tell her so. He winced as her energy lashed out, highly visible and without any sign of control as to where it went. He had thought she was better than that.
As a nearby Ymir turned to look at the human, he found himself bringing up his sniper rifle, taking aim at it’s large head. To his continued surprise, it apparently saw the small human as non-threatening and returned to its patrol. Though Saren didn’t blame it for seeing a tiny, meek appearing human female as a threat, he knew that wasn’t part of its programming. He was forced to push down the feeling of elation as he lowered his weapon. She’d done it! Despite the impossibility of it all, she’d managed to reprogram multiple targets without any seeming ill effect. The urge to delve into how and why burned through Saren, and he grudgingly smothered those thoughts. He had a mission to complete first.
The trio made it back to him without any issues, though he spied his new escorts with unease. Turning to the human, he nodded once in approval. “Get to a safe distance, human. You will not wish to be within the vicinity when I am finished with the personnel inside.”
Shepard looked decidedly uncomfortable, but moved quickly and quietly to obey. Turning back to the task at hand, Saren cloaked himself as the two mechs turned as if returning to their patrol.
* * *
As Saren glanced once more through a window into the factory proper, he allowed himself a moment to swear in frustration. Everything had gone surprisingly well. The mech security room had been just inside and to the left of the main door, and there’d only been two guards on duty in the room. It had been child’s play to neutralize them and upload new instructions to the entire mech assembly. Now, if anyone stepped outside those doors that didn’t have his omni-tool signal, they’d be pulverized in a matter of seconds. Even better, Saren had managed to reprogram a Ymir to leave its station and follow Shepard’s omni-tool should fighting break out. He could think of a few things to use it for. And if nothing else, he could make space for it inside the hold of his ship for future missions.
Saren thought for a moment of telling Shepard about that detail, but decided against it. She’d figure it out when it started following her.
Or she wouldn’t. Funnier that way, he mused.
On his way to the main offices to personally thank the proprietor for his extensive donation to the Spectres and subsequent execution, he had passed by the assembly area, where the broken down tools and weapons were sewn into the fluffy abominations. He had intended to hit that area with numerous bullets and explosives after the main offices, and had paused to take a moment to see what defenses they might have set up. He was also curious as to what manner of people would be performing such work; slavery was not unknown to these regions.
To his chagrin, not only were the toys being made by slaves, but ones with detonation devices added to their collars for good measure. To further confound him, these were not just any slaves, under a heavy guard that would kill them if they misbehaved or attempted to escape. As Saren bit off swear words, he realized his entire plan was crumbling around his feet as he stood there.
The bastards running the operation were using children.
Glancing back into the room, the Spectre spied multiple young Batarians, a gross amount of Humans, and the odd other race. He bristled at the sight of a badly scarred female turian. Odd, he thought, that there weren’t any Asari. Then again, Asari were the favored ‘pets’ of the rich and corrupt. Doubtful that anyone running a sweatshop like this would bother paying the premium for an Asari just to have them do menial work.
Backtracking to a room he’d already cleared, Saren took a moment to rethink his strategy. While he might have a reputation for ruthlessness, the level of destruction he had been initially planning was a bit much. And though the Council would stand behind him in destroying such an operation, they would be hard pressed to excuse the deaths of so many younglings.
That and he already had enough issues haunting his consciousness, he thought morbidly.
Clearly, he needed to find a way to take out the ones in charge without alerting the rest of the factory. Once that was done, he could come back and find a way to disable the collars’ explosive properties, evacuate the children, then brutally murder everyone else in the building.
Silently, he breathed a prayer to the spirits to watch over the young and keep them safe until he could return.
The trip up to the main offices was much more interesting then he had initially intended now that he was forced to use stealth. Saren had dealt with this type of situation before. Those slaves would quickly turn into hostages if he was found out, and then he’d be forced to condemn them to an explosive death. After all, once you’d negotiated with a terrorist once, others would use the same tactic against you each time. He’d learned that the hard way. The only way to save them was to not be discovered. While his reputation leaned towards explosions and other less stealthy activities, he wasn’t the best for no reason.
He passed numerous guards patrolling, allowing them to pass unmolested at the moment. Though he had checked around, there wasn’t really a good place to hide any bodies. He kept a mental note of what routes they seemed to be taking and how spaced apart they were. After all, he’d need to hunt them down later and he hated wasting his time searching.
It took Saren twice as long as he’d intended to reach the offices, and he silently cursed his bad luck. The entrance was located at the end of a long hallway; no doors or nooks to hide in. The guards would see him coming long before he could reach them and would most likely raise the alarm. Pulling out his brand new Carnifex, he did some quick field modifications. Pulling the silencer off his sniper rifle, he worked furiously for several minutes. The end result was a Carnifex with an oversized silencer welded to the end. It wasn’t pretty, but it would do the trick for at least a few shots. Now he just needed to make sure to take the two guards out fast enough that neither could cause problems.
Taking a deep breath, he sighted down the barrel, mentally weighing the consequences for failure.
Two shots later, and Saren was slowly moving down the hallway, pausing every few moments to listen. As he approached the door, he glanced around, allowing himself a moment to sigh about the lack of closets or any other receptacle in which to hide the bodies. Once the office was cleared, he could stash them in there, but until then, they ran the risk of being discovered. No help for it, he shook his head, focusing on the locked doors.
* * * *
Faith yawned, glancing at her chrono again. While she knew mission timeframes were rough guesses, Saren was taking far longer to blow up the factory than she’d expected. She’d nearly broken her neck scrambling to get out of blast radius, making it all the way back to their base camp overlooking the building. And then she’d sat and waited for several hours.
Saren hadn’t left her any other instructions, though logically she knew she needed to guard the camp from any dangers. However, the camp was very small with no room to pace, set on a cliff edge with a wall of rock on one side and a sheer drop on the other sides. Climbing up to the location through all the foliage had proven a fun activity, and Faith doubted anyone would make the attempt. If anything, the smart route would be to climb a different cliff that was slightly higher than theirs and try to snipe them. As such, Faith had begun looking through her binoculars for any signs of snipers.
Which had turned into bird watching.
Then spying on a pair of creatures fighting by the river.
And finally, trying to count the number of large white flowers on a particular bush.
Faith was almost near tears from sheer boredom.
As such, when her radio crackled to life, Shepard was startled out of her drifting mind. Quickly, she cleared her throat and glanced around to make sure Saren wasn’t sneaking up on her to give her grief before answering.
“This is Base Camp Explosion Watch, home to all your explosive visual pleasures. How may I direct your call?” Shepard answered in a receptionist style tone. A huff greeted her, Saren sounding irritated even through the puff of air.
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself, human.” Saren snarled, though there was little bite to it. Faith couldn’t help her grin. Then she heard gunfire in the background, and all thought of teasing left her mind.
“What do you need, Spectre?”
Saren huffed again, though strangely it almost sounded humorous this time. Clearly, the boredom had driven Faith mad. “The mission parameters have changed. I need you to take some of those fancy mechs of yours and march them into the assembly area. The people here, or what’s left of them, were using child slave labor. Use whatever you need to get them out and away from the building.”
Shepard was already scrambling down the side of the mountain again before he’d finished. Moving faster than was safe, she jumped down from ridge to ridge, her heart hammering with anxiety against her ribcage. “Are there any guards, explosive collars-?”
“I’ve already disabled the collars, so they’ll be safe to move. I’ve drawn quite a number of the guards to my location, however I’m not sure if any are left in the assembly area. Hence why you need to take a few mechs with you.” Saren drawled sarcastically as the gunfire sounded much closer. Faith nodded to herself as she made contact with the small dirt path they’d used earlier to sneak towards the base.
“I’ll get them out.” Faith promised fiercely.
“Radio me when you have them at a safe distance. That will be my signal to evacuate and blow this place back to the abyss.”
* * *
Faith growled to herself as she remained behind cover, swearing heavily as the numerous guards kept her pinned. She’d only taken three mechs, and under the heavy fire of the guards, they’d gone down quickly. To make matters worse, one of the guards had yelled something to the others, something about a virus and the mechs, and had taken off running down a side hallway.
As she glanced back at the numerous tables, she spied the children, all under cover and not making a sound. They weren’t whimpering or crying, not showing any sign that they were at all aware of what was happening. Some of them had even grabbed their supplies and were still working on sewing the dolls together. Faith’s heart labored at the sight, her mind barely able to comprehend what must have been done to them to get them into such a mindset. At least they were out of harm’s way for the moment, she reminded herself. It was a small comfort.
Much to her dawning horror, she could hear the sound of a Ymir mech approaching. She hadn’t given any orders, and with a sense of dread flooding her veins, Faith could only conclude they must have successfully scrubbed the virus and regained control of the mechs outside. Clenching her teeth, she knew she’d only have maybe half a breath to unleash her power and take control of the Ymir and whatever else was following it before she was riddled with bullets. And possibly missiles.
The rapid fire keeping her in place was beginning to slow as the mercs began to move and prepare for the upcoming assault. Faith did her best to calm her breathing, her eyes riveted on the entrance just before her. The double doors wiggled with each step of the approaching Ymir, and Faith found herself feeling oddly calm. There was nothing to think about, nothing to consider. She’d either unleash and take control, or she’d be dead in a matter of seconds. The thought was oddly calming.
She could see it’s ‘head’ through the windows. It was here. Faith held her breath, drawing in on that strange, alien feeling power. Before she could unleash, however, an explosion knocked her to the side just as the Ymir entered the room. One of the guards was laughing, as her vision swam.
Knowing they must have spied her taking control of the mechs earlier, Faith cringed, waiting for the inevitable even as she scrambled to re-gather her wits and her power. A hail of rapid gunfire filled the air.
It was the sound of surprised yelling and screaming that brought her eyes back open. Rather than opening fire on her, the Ymir was firing at the guards, having taken out two before the others scrambled behind cover. Faith stared at it in confusion, then saw a slight greenish flash to its circuits, and smiled.
Apparently they could scrub the virus from the mechs, but not what she’d done to them.
Faith waited for the cooldown in the Ymir’s fire before she peeked around her cover. Sure enough, the mercs were waiting until that same lull to move to cover and riddle the Ymir with return fire. Spying one of the guards taking aim, Faith ducked out of cover and fired a few rounds at him. She heard the merc swearing as he quickly dodged back into cover, just as the Ymir fired up again. Taking a deep breath, she took the opportunity of the Ymir’s cover fire to dodge to a better hiding place. Her current one was falling apart from all the bullets and explosions.
Settling behind a collection of large metal crates, Faith checked her pistol, noting it was growing rather warm. She’d have to be careful and conserve her fire to keep it from overheating. At the sound of heavy, metal footsteps, Faith glanced over and saw the Ymir repositioning itself, moving to stand between her hiding spot and the enemy. Faith blinked in confusing, then sighed with frustration. Apparently it had taken it upon itself to act as a bodyguard. It was a nice gesture, Faith conceded, but ultimately a bad one. Not only did it block her shot of the mercs, but if they managed to wear it down enough, they could cause it to explode. Given how close it was to her, she’d be taken out with it.
Grumbling to herself, she did her best to fire around it at the mercs whenever they popped out. Her aim was abysmal, and she was silently happy that Saren wasn’t there to see how bad she was floundering at the moment. It was by sheer luck that she managed to get line-of-sight at one of the mercs as he tried ducked into cover. Two shots later and there was one less slaver to worry about. A well placed missile from the Ymir took out two of the other guards, sending one of them flying over the railing to land with a gut-wrenching ‘thud’ on one of the work tables the kids were hiding underneath. A few of them jumped, but they still didn’t make any noise.
The remaining mercenary apparently didn’t like his odds, so the moment there was a lull in the Ymir’s gunfire, he bolted. Faith attempted to shoot his fleeing figure, but barely managed to clip one of his legs. Gnashing her teeth in frustration, she holstered her pistol after doing a quick visual sweep. With no more slavers in sight, Faith turned her attention to the children.
“It’s okay, kids. It’s safe now. The bad men are gone.” Faith used her sweetest, most comforting tone. None of the children so much as budged. “It’ll be alright; I’m going to take you someplace safe, okay?”
Still nothing. This was going nowhere fast.
Faith approached one of the children, holding out a hand. To her shock, they all moved, getting back into their previous spots and picking up their work again. The children at the table with the dead body across it simply ignored him and moved to a different table. Faith stood there, hand still outstretched, completely dumbfounded.
“You need to speak their language.”
Faith yelped, then swore as she turned to glare at Saren, standing in the doorway with his Carnifex still in hand. His armor was covered in varied colored blood and burn marks, and his expression was one of grim satisfaction. He also looked completely done.
“Well, there’s several humans, and I’m speaking English-” Faith offered lamely, then paused as Saren sighed heavily. When he straightened, he looked sternly at the children and barked something in a language she didn’t recognize. Immediately the children set down their work and moved to stand in a single file line in front of Saren, their heads down. He looked over and gave Shepard a mocking grin at her confounded expression.
“They’re slaves. They were probably born into slavery, and know nothing else. Those who weren’t born into it had any hope of escape beaten out of them. All they know is how to obey orders.” Saren huffed, then snapped his fingers. As he walked away, the children followed. Not knowing what else to do, Faith moved to walk next to Saren. The moment she was within arm’s reach, his hand snapped out, smacking her across the head.
“That was for your horrendous aim. We’ll work on it once we’re done with this miserable mission.”
Faith growled, rubbing her head. Saren paused in his walking, allowing Shepard to proceed him. Before the children could stop, he barked at them, pointing at Shepard. He caught her eye and nodded once.
“Get them to a safe distance quickly. I fully intend to decimate this pit.”
“Don’t forget to loot it first.” Faith grinned at him. At Saren’s questioning look, she smiled wider. “After all, they stole Spectre gear. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste, would we?”
The look that came to his eyes caused Faith to chuckle as she continued to usher the children with their oversized Ymir guardian out of the soon-to-be-crater.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Faith goes shopping with Saren, while Saren is at his very worst.
If you haven't read 'Secret Weapon', you're in for a real treat. Those who have read it: you had to have seen this one coming. Either way, I've been wanting to write this chapter for AGES.
The sound of happy humming reached Shepard’s ears as she finished bandaging the last child. None of them had looked her in the eye, each looking far too quiet and down turned. It broke Shepard’s heart, so she tended to them with gentle touches and as much kindness as she could. She knew there was little else she could do to help them; years of therapy awaited them. She had thought to try and keep them entertained while the Daedalus sped towards the Citadel. However, none of them would look up. They wouldn’t budge unless given an order. Shepard had to fight back tears the entire time she was treating them.
Looking around the heavily crowded cargo bay, Faith spied Saren sitting amongst the many weapons, armor, and the various Spectre-grade gear he’d insisted on collecting before he’d blown up the building and half the mountain side. Faith had thought he’d only grab a crate or two; instead, he’d ordered her to send all the mechs to him and had done his best to confiscate everything.
At least he’s in a good mood, Faith mused, giving the child she had finished with a motion to rejoin the others. The Batarian child sat down with his fellows without a word, all of them silent and staring at the floor. Sighing heartily, Faith wandered over to where Saren was having far too good a time assembling, cataloging, and sorting his loot.
“Quite the haul you’ve got there.” Faith commented, crossing her arms. She was surprised when Saren smirked up at her.
“Indeed. I called the council to inform them of our success. Not only will I be paid for this mission, I was told by Sparatus that I could have my share of the recovered equipment if I so desired.” Saren glanced over at the already sealed crates, marked with the Spectre logo. “Though all my current equipment is of the very latest models, modded to suit my needs, it is still gratifying to sift through the recovered equipment and select various extra mods and replacements for myself.”
“What’s going to happen to the excess?” Shepard eyed the numerous crates. Saren followed her gaze for a moment then shrugged.
“They will be delivered to the Spectre offices for distribution, as was intended for them before they were confiscated by mercenaries.” He shrugged, going back to working on a pistol. Another Carnifex Faith noted, though he’d modded it with extra light materials and a short scope.
“What about the kids?” Faith asked, unable to help glancing back at the sullen group. Saren looked up at her, the smirk melting away.
“You may wish to guard yourself better, Shepard.” He rumbled, giving her a slight nod when she looked back at him. “Spending too much time with those who’ve been enslaved such as they will only hurt you psychologically in the long term. Better to keep a distance.” He set the weapon down, sighing. “There will be several rehabilitation specialists waiting at the docks to begin treatment on the children. It would be better to limit our contact with them before they are turned over; we may end up doing them more harm than good.”
Getting to his feet, Saren extended the pistol towards her, ignoring her stunned expression. “The moment we return, we’re heading straight for the Spectre training gym. Apparently you are only able to hit targets that hold still, which will come in handy if we ever need to fight off deadly plant life.” Saren drawled, looking into her eyes with a hard expression. “Become accustomed to the weight and balance of this weapon before then; it will save time.”
Shepard took the gun, amazed at how light it felt in her hands despite its size. Frowning, she looked it over. “Will the lighter material weaken the frame at all?”
“No. The material used is far stronger than its original casing despite how much less it weighs. That should make it easier for your puny, human limbs to handle.”
Shepard didn’t bother to comment. As she flipped the weapon over in her hands, her eyes landed on the three deactivated Ymir mechs crouched by the shuttle. The one that had come to her rescue was simple to identify; it easily had the greatest number of burn marks and bullet holes. Saren followed her gaze, noting how uncomfortable she looked.
“I’m surprised you brought that one along. It’s already highly damaged and will need quite a bit of repair before it’s field-ready again.” Shepard commented, turning her gaze away as the Ymir in question raised its head to look at her, not moving otherwise. Saren saw the movement, frowning.
“I have my reasons. Perhaps you should retire to your place in the kitchen? I believe it is nearly time for supper, and the crew has apparently missed your cooking.” Saren gave her a look that brooked no argument. Shepard gave him an almost offended look, then shook her head and stormed off, rolling her eyes and muttering about about pig-headedness in all males, regardless of species. Saren waited until she was gone before he turned to look back at the damaged Ymir with a severe expression.
* * *
The crew slowly staggered away from the communal table, groaning as their stomach’s bulged. Saren’s rather offhand, albeit still sexist, remark had put Faith in a foul mood, and as had become her custom, she relieved her stress by cooking. She’d made several loaves of fresh bread because it was one of the few things she could punch and claw without ruining the flavor. As a result, the crew had far more filling dishes than normal, and under Faith’s flinty gaze, they had devoured everything without comment.
As she cleaned up the area, she caught the smell of gunmetal and oil cleaners. Sighing heartily, she bit back any number of remarks knowing full well they’d be wasted on the Spectre. Instead, she put aside her cleaning supplies and turned to face him. She was mildly surprised to see him covered in black oil and other debris; normally he’d clean himself up before eating. Raising a red eyebrow at the discrepancy, she noted his rather intense stare at her person.
“Hungry, Spectre? I think the crew left a few crumbs of bread…” She drawled, then fell completely silent as the Spectre didn’t budge nor change his expression. He just continued to stare at her, his eyes flickering slightly. Faith could almost see his genius mind at work, running from one thought to the next. However, there was something almost malevolent in his eyes that made her blood run cold. The kitchen remained quiet for several minutes as the two stared each other down, the sounds of the ship’s engines the only thing heard.
When Saren spoke, his voice was deathly quiet. “Where did you get your powers from?”
Shepard blinked, the question coming from seemingly nowhere. Shaking off her initial surprise, Faith tried to think back, finally shrugging. “As far as I can remember, it’s always been there. I guess I was born-”
“No human, no person in this galaxy, has ever displayed a power like yours before.” Saren snarled, clenching his fists. Faith resisted the urge to back up, unsure why he was so angry. As if reading her thoughts, Saren seemed to catch himself. He closed his eyes, breathing evenly for a few moments before speaking again in a more even tone. “I just finished dissecting your little pet Ymir, the one you apparently were able to psychically control after accidently striking it with this ability.”
Saren allowed the statement to stand there, and Faith felt her frustration rising. Finally she shrugged, staring at him with growing incredulity. “...And?”
Saren continued to stare at her, and it dawned on Faith that he was trying very hard to hold himself together. Whatever he had discovered down there didn’t anger him; he was unnerved. Still, his speaking in a quiet, overly controlled tone was unsettling her greatly.
“Think. Try to remember when this ability first manifested itself. How old were you? Where were you? What did you do?” Saren pushed. Apparently this was important. Shepard looked at the ceiling while she searched back through her mind. After several moments of reaching back through her memory, she sighed heavily.
“It’s all the way back, Spectre.” Faith said quietly, her eyes still on the ceiling. “As far back as I can clearly remember, it was there. Always faint, but there. I don’t remember it not being there. And at some point, it’s hard to tell what is true memory and what is fantasy. I have memories from my youth, but things before I was five begin to get fuddled.”
She finally spared him a look. The expression he was giving her was one of grave disappointment. All she could do was shrug with guilt. “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you exactly when it started. I wish I could, but I just don’t remember.”
Saren continued to stare at her for several moments, before he nodded. The tension Shepard hadn’t realized she was holding in her spine seemed to relax. Shaking his head slightly, Saren said, “I thought as much, however I felt the need to ask.”
“What did you find out?” Faith asked, her head tilted slightly as her eyes flickered over his oil and grease covered form. Saren looked at her for a moment, before turning to look at the table.
“Do you have any formal wear?”
The question came out of nowhere. Faith blinked a few times before giving Saren a guarded look. “Uh...no.”
“I didn’t believe so. We will have some down time while docked at the Citadel, so finding you a reasonable dress will not be a problem.” He nodded to himself, then turned and left Faith standing alone in the kitchen. No sooner had he retreated then she let out a frustrated shriek and made strangling motions at where he had been standing.
* * *
Faith knew better then to pester Saren with questions, though having stumbled upon the remains of the controlled Ymir had spoke louder than words that he had dissected and studied it thoroughly. She couldn’t point as to why, but seeing the discarded remains had made her sad. Still, she remained silent, waiting patiently as Saren gave orders to the crew as to what was to be done while they were docked. She felt a pang of sympathy for the hard working crew; it felt as though Saren was barely giving them enough time to get everything done and still have time left over for them to relax and enjoy themselves. Then again, he apparently had plans for her, and the thought made her stomach clench painfully.
At least the slave children were now in the hands of good people, Faith comforted herself.
“Move, human. We only have two hours.” Saren put a gloved hand on the back of her neck, forcing her to move quickly to keep up. Apparently he expected her to lead the way at a pace he prefered without giving her any hint as to where they were going. Despite having said initially that they would be heading to a practice range so Faith could become familiar with her new weapon, Saren had given no indication since that they were still heading there. His comment about formal wear had left her baffled, so perhaps he wanted to head for the shopping district? Maybe he wanted her to wear a formal dress while shooting at targets?
At this point, Faith wouldn’t put it past him.
Faith sighed quietly, straightening her back as she marched onto the ST&R’s private dock. A few workers nodded towards Saren, but most avoided making eye contact at all.
As they made their way into more public areas, Faith changed direction towards the skycar stand, wondering if that was what he wanted. Since she didn’t get yelled at, grabbed, or otherwise treated in a negative, she went ahead and hailed a car. Saren snorted as he waited with crossed arms for one to arrive. No sooner had one landed than Saren moved to the passenger door. Faith was about to open the driver’s side when she heard Saren growl. Glancing at him, she saw him open the side door with a glare.
“It will be a pleasant day in the abyss when I let you drive.” He snarled, still holding open the passenger door. Faith eyed him warily as she moved around the vehicle, taking a seat. The door shut and she quickly fastened her seatbelt; she had no idea how Saren drove but she was fairly certain she wanted a restraint of some kind. However, as Saren sat himself in the driver's seat and took the controls, smoothly guiding them into the heavy traffic in the presidium, she felt herself relaxing. One of Saren’s mandibles lifted into a slight smirk as he saw her lean back into her seat.
“You were expecting what from me, exactly? To weave through traffic like some youth on the run from C-Sec?”
“Considering you’re general impatience and mentality of being above the rules, can you blame me?” Faith couldn’t help smirking back at him. Saren snorted, his attention on driving. As it turned out, Saren was an overly cautious driver, and seemed content to take his time. When he finally settled them down it was in the center of one of the nicer shopping areas found on the Presidium. The walkways were lined with trees and flowers in full bloom. The area seemed to lack the hustle of the wards, with Asari, Salarians, and many Turians walking about. As Shepard stepped out, she saw a severe lack of humans.
“Are we here because of your comment earlier on me not having formal wear?” Faith ventured. Saren nodded slightly, gesturing towards an Asari clothing store.
“One should always have formal wear on hand when presenting themselves to people of value.” He spoke conversationally as they walked. Faith couldn’t help raising an eyebrow.
“Are we talking awards program formal, business formal-”
“A simple gown will suffice. You will be meeting with a revered Matriarch later today, so some semblance of finary is expected. I have several articles I can choose from. We must see to your appearance now.”
Without another word, he marched towards the Asari store, Faith trailing close behind with her mind running a mile a minute. The very idea of meeting a Matriarch, an Asari who had reached the far end of her thousand year lifespan, filled Faith with more questions then she could possibly give voice. However, it was clear that Saren had only one thing in mind at the moment, so Faith kept her questions quiet.
The store was very simple and streamlined. There were multiple mannequins wearing various designs on them, with swaths of fabric on each side of them. Saren walked right up to the hostess, who bowed towards him respectfully.
“Spectre Arterius, welcome! How may I help you today?” The Asari spoke in a friendly, though professional, tone. Faith thought she sounded just like the Avina VI that assisted tourists. Saren gestured towards Shepard, who was staring up at a particular outfit.
“The human requires a dress, one suitable for meeting with a Matriarch.”
“Of course. I’d be delighted to assist you.” The Asari smiled, moving over to stand by Faith. She glanced over at the dress Shepard had been looking at, a forced smile on her face. “Let’s look at a more appropriate design, shall we?”
Faith felt herself shrink somewhat. “Oh...I didn’t…-”
“Meeting with a Matriarch is a great honor. A dress that is more modest in both cut and color is expected.” The Asari moved them over to a kiosk that displayed even more designs. Faith felt herself turning slightly red, though it was less from embarrassment and more resentment towards the Asari’s tone. Saren stood to the side, smirking. Apparently she was supposed to flounder through this herself. Steeling herself, Faith turned to glance through the kiosk selection.
What followed was one of the most polite series of disagreements Faith had ever been a part of. The Asari smiled as she politely pointed out the fallacy in every dress and color selection Faith liked. Apparently certain color combinations or uses of two different fabrics together gave negative impressions. However, when Faith rather curtly told the hostess to just pick for her, the Asari gave her an overly reasonable speech about how Faith’s selection would tell the Matriarch about her personality and she should try to be more open to their differences in culture.
All the while Saren kept smirking at her. Faith was quickly running out of patience.
After debating for almost a half hour, Faith finally ground her teeth together and gave in. Rather than buying what she wanted or what she thought would look good, she simply began choosing designs and colors at random. Anytime the Asari said something good, she added it to the final design. The result was an outfit that looked horrifying to her own eyes, a design that would be horribly unflattering on her figure in colors that she knew Asari tended to favor. To her continued chagrin, the hostess told her what a wonderful design she had picked! The Matriarch would be so please.
Faith just wanted to scream.
“Okay, so how do we go about this? Do you have my size on a rack in the back or - “ Faith immediately felt silly for asking as both Saren and the hostess looked at her like she was crazy. Saren shook his head, muttering to himself as the Asari caught herself, giving an overly sympathetic look.
“You’ve never worn Asari clothing before, that’s obvious. Our fabrics are made of a special material that will conform on contact with heat. Once the fabric has melded to your body, I’ll pin it in place, then quickly trim and sew it up. Your new dress will be ready and fit perfectly within less than an hour!” She said, smiling big. Faith felt her momentary irritation melt away.
“That’s….Actually, that’s rather handy. I wonder why more people don’t buy Asari clothes.” Faith mused. Saren’s smirk suddenly grew, and Faith knew there was something she was missing. The Asari wandered over to her small register stand and began typing a few things.
“Now, before I start sewing together your wonderful new dress, let’s go ahead and settle the bill, alright?” Again with the big smile. “With the cost of materials and labor, your total comes to 25,000 credits.”
Faith blanched. “That would be why…” She muttered to herself, then looked over at Saren expectantly. His smirk instantly melted away, replaced by an expression of stern disapproval.
“I’m certainly not paying for your clothing.” He actually sounded offended. Faith’s look hardened.
“And how exactly am I supposed to pay for it? I don’t have nearly that much; I used most of what little funds I had in my bank account to buy all those supplies for myself last time we were in port.”
“You should have considered the fact that you might need a wide variety of clothing types for various situations rather than wasting your money on bobbles.”
That tore it.
“YOU are my teacher!” Faith snarled, her face turning as red as her hair while her eyes flashed dangerously. “It’s YOUR job to inform me of such things! FURTHERMORE you removed me from my only place of income, kept me in poverty, then have the GALL to give me guff for buying NECESSITIES?!” Faith’s voice rose in volume. Her unexpected rage directed at him caused him to take a half-step back, hand reaching towards his side where his pistol rested, though his eyes remained locked with hers. “YOU are the one who randomly decided to visit this Matriarch! AFTER refusing to tell me anything!! If you want me to wear an overpriced, ugly, piece of shit outfit like the god-awful one you snickered at, after leaving me floundering for a half-hour, to meet with some elderly Asari I don’t even know, YOU CAN DAMNED WELL PAY FOR IT YOURSELF!”
Without a backwards glance, Faith stormed out of the store, back into the cab, and flew off before Saren could catch up to her.
* * *
Faith had driven herself to a more human-friendly shopping area and was busy perusing through some of the nicer clothes on the racks when Saren finally found her. She was still simmering, so though he approached her with all the appearance of an encroaching storm, for once, she wasn’t afraid.
She was thoroughly annoyed.
“Just when I think you can’t behave any more childishly, you manage to further disappoint me.” Saren snapped as he towered over her. Faith gave him a glacial look to match his volcanic temper.
“And just when I think you’re getting over your tendency to bully me for the sake of your own entertainment, you still pull immature stunts like you did earlier.” She replied, deliberately turning her back on him. The insult apparent in the action wasn’t missed by the Turian, who had to take a few moments to collect himself to keep from blasting her across the room with his biotics.
“I was anticipating for you to figure out for yourself what was to be expected of you! Yes, it was amusing to watch you flounder like a fledgling, but I had thought you’d shown some modicum of intelligence recently and had confidence in your ability to rationalize! Clearly, I was so very wrong!”
“NO!” Faith whipped around, glaring him down. “You were being deliberately mean and misleading! I’m so sick and tired of playing these little games, Spectre!”
“It is NOT a game!” Saren barked. Both he and Shepard were causing quite the scene, he realized. Several surprised gasps stopped him, and he glanced around. The humans in the store were all moving away from the two of them, several recording the argument on omni-tools. He already had a bad enough reputation amongst humans, and here he was fighting like a fledgling with one in public. Taking a grudging, deep breath between clamped mandibles, Saren closed his eyes and tried to relax, though his fist remained clenched. “This is...not the place for this sort of discussion. But mark my words, we will talk about this further at a more appropriate time. For now, we need to pursue your garment for our meeting.”
“Then wait outside. I already found a dress I like; I just need to find my size.” Faith turned back to the rack of pre-made outfits. Saren’s eyes flickered at the dresses, his expression unreadable.
“From there?” He asked, eyes on the dresses she was leafing through. Faith leveled him a glare.
“Yes.” Faith drew out the word. Saren looked positively sick. He pulled one of the hangers off the rack, holding up the dress in question. It was a knee-length, short-sleeved dress a shade of green dark enough to wash out her skin tone. Rough, gold colored trim laced the edges. Faith was busy looking at the tags on the numerous dress, so she missed the sight of Saren gagging. “If you’re going to insist on being here, could you find me a size twelve? An eight is way too tight across my curves, ten is what I wear when I want to show off my boobs or butt which doesn’t seem appropriate right now, and the fourteen makes me look baggy.”
“Human, this is trash.” Saren said with disdain, deliberately allowing the dress to fall to the ground. Faith gaped at him as he casually swept all the duplicates of the dress off the rack and onto the ground. Turning red from second-hand embarrassment, Faith immediately stooped to pick them back up, only for Saren to move onto other racks, casually pulling off clothes, examining them, then making disgusted noises as he flung the clothes around. A rather annoyed looking employee ran forward at the moment, standing in front of Saren as he moved towards a fourth rack.
“Can we help you, sir?” The woman asked, her expression clearly stating that she’d love to show him the door and lock it behind him.
“I doubt it.” Saren looked down at her as though she was a bug. “This store lacks the basic supplies to outfit the scum on Omega. However, if this is where my student is insisting on buying her clothing, then at the very least send for your dressmaker so that accurate measurements can be taken. While you’re at it, bring me your cloth samples. With some extreme luck, and a severe lack of prejudice on my part, I’ll be able to find a selection of cloth that isn’t grossly unfit to be worn.”
“This is a clothing store…” Faith almost sobbed as she continued to clean up his mess. “They don’t employ a dressmaker!”
If she had spoken in gibberish, he would not have given her a more confused look. Instead, he ignored both humans and continued along his path of destruction, pretending not to hear the employee as she tried to get him to stop. Muttering to himself, he left his student amongst a pile of discarded clothing, looking very much like she wanted to just scream and apologizing profusely to the employees who were trying to clean up the Turian’s mess.
“This is appalling!” She heard him gasp, then to her continued horror, heard the sound of tearing fabric. “Look at how weakly this is sewn together! An infant could destroy the seams!”
“Sir! You’re going to have to pay for any damaged apparel!” The employee who’d shown up first bellowed at him, clearly losing her patience.
As Saren began to argue back with her, Faith quickly activated her cloak and bolted from the store. Tears of shame trickled down her face as she made strangling motions back at where she could see him still towering over the employees, apparently giving them a lecture on how appropriate clothing should be made. Knowing he’d be occupied for a while, Faith quickly made her way to a different store, determined to buy something reasonable before he could find her.
At a store several blocks away, she managed to locate a cute thigh-length summer-style dress in pale blue with white lace around the chest and throat. She had just tried it on, admiring how it fit her, when she heard the crash of a clothing rack, along with Saren’s bellowing voice.
“What is it with humans and their garbage! Get this disgusting, pre-made from cheap fabrics, unfit to bath an Elcor’s backside, sorry excuse for clothing out of my sight!”
Faith wanted to curl up and die from embarrassment. Much to her horror, Saren barged directly into her changing room, took one look at the dress she was wearing, and made a disgusted sound. Reaching her breaking point, Faith gave him a hearty shove out of the room.
“GET. OUT.” She all but screamed, slamming the door. Though she knew her shoving was both weak and disrespectful, he thankfully went along with it. He waited outside with his arms crossed, and she could hear his talon tapping on his arm. Stripping herself of the dress and changing into her normal clothes as quickly as she could, she finally stepped out, the chosen dress draped over her arm. Saren glanced at it, his eyes narrowing.
“Dump that insult to fabric this instant.” He snarled. Faith wanted to pull her hair out in frustration.
“According to that Asari shopkeeper, what I wear and how I present myself is supposed to tell this Matriarch-”
“You are NOT some cheap whore!” Saren bristled. “No student of mine is going to insult themselves by wearing…” For a moment, he swore at length in a language that didn’t translate. Faith grit her teeth as she saw the store manager stalking towards them, his expression telling her louder than words that they needed to leave. Beyond him, she could see a rack being reset in its upright position while other workers gathered up scattered clothing. All of them were giving Saren the stink-eye.
Faith waited until there was a pause in Saren’s dialog. “This is perfectly reasonable clothing! Not everyone can afford the dressmaker quality outfits that you seem to favor! This is serviceable for my income level, and cute to boot! If you don’t like it, DON’T LOOK AT IT!”
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to take your Turian accomplice out of our store and not return.” The store manager said pointedly. Saren looked positively scandalized for being referred to as an ‘accomplice’, but Faith moved quickly, handing over the dress to the manager.
“Of course, sir. So sorry for all the trouble. I’ll make sure he gets the help he needs.” Faith all but grabbed Saren by the belt and dragged him from the store, her face flaming. No sooner had they exited the store than Saren knocked her hand away.
“Clearly we need to have that discussion sooner rather than later.” Saren snarled, then took a half-step back as Shepard rounded on him. He’d never seen her look so ready to kill, and it was directed at him. Worse, she looked as though nothing he could throw at her would stop her rampage. And she still had the weapon he’d given her strapped to her hip.
“YOU! WHAT, IN ALL THE DEITIES UNDER THE PANTHEON, WAS THAT?!” Shepard shrieked. Several people began giving the two standing in the middle of a busy walkway a wide berth at the volume of her voice. Saren’s mandibles fluttered as his mind rapidly fired through several responses.
Apparently, he’d crossed a line somewhere.
Faith ran two claw bent hands through her hair, gripping her skull in exasperation. Saren remained absolutely still while queueing up a singularity in his amps, just in case. After several moments of heavy, angry breathing, Faith fixed him with a glare.
“In all my years, I have NEVER seen anyone act as childishly as you just did!” Faith spat out. “A Krogan on a rampage would cause less destruction and disrespect! Just what in the hell came over you!!”
“I don’t approve of scams, especially ones that feel secure enough to display themselves publicly.” Saren spoke simply, shrugging his shoulders like it should be obvious. Faith gave him an incredulous look.
“What scam?” She asked, exasperated. Saren was looking at her with as much confusion as she was giving him.
“Those so-called clothing stores that you were so liberally perusing.” Saren watched the play of expressions across Faith’s face. Humans were completely unable to hide their thoughts when the muscles in their face practically screamed, Saren mused. Faith paused long enough to take a deep breath, though she was clearly still angry with him.
“Would you care to elaborate? Just how are those clothing stores, which both have multiple stores back on Earth as well as other, more populated, human settlements, running a scam?”
Her tone spoke of her exasperation, Saren thought as he stared down at her. At least her temper was waning somewhat. He allowed his biotics to relax. If she attacked now, he was fairly certain he could throw her away before she could do much damage. Sighing through his nose, he answered slowly, as though he was explaining to a child. Which was how he felt at the moment.
“Human, clothing is meant to be worn for a period of time. While not all clothing is built to be equal, the so-called clothing in those stores were obviously built specifically to fall apart quickly, thus forcing the wearer to buy more. The fabrics they used were cheap and easily torn, showing signs of wear despite never having been worn! The needle they used to sew the pieces together was far too large, creating weaknesses in the fabric. The thread they used was also feeble and not tied off correctly, meaning the entire piece would unravel quickly. The dyes they used on the fabric were harsh and had more than likely burned the fabrics they were applied to, making them even weaker.
“A well made garment should be constructed of sturdy fabric, with the correct needle size, appropriate thread to match the fabric it is holding together, and dyes that are naturally absorbed and strengthen the fabric without changing its quality.” Saren nodded to himself. He thought he had explained well. However, the look Shepard was giving him was hard to decipher. She almost looked like she was going to start crying.
“Saren, those clothes are supposed to be cheap so the average person can afford them. Y’know, someone like ME!” Faith finally exploded, making strangling motions with her hands. Saren frowned.
“You are hardly impoverish, human. Even a student working towards becoming a Specialist is paid for their services.”
Faith stared at him numbly for several moments. With a heavy sigh, she typed in a few things on her omni-tool, then flipped the screen for him to see. There, displayed in bright orange, was the number 330.
“I have three hundred and thirty credits to my name. That dress you so insulted was two hundred credits. The blue one was three-twenty. I could afford those. Where is this magical money you’re referring to?”
Saren glared at her. “You haven’t done anything worth getting paid for.”
“THEN WHY DID YOU EVEN BRING IT UP?!” Faith bellowed, once more looking ready to kill him. Saren crossed his arms defiantly.
“Because I never figured you’d be the type to squander their finances so carelessly. I had assumed you’d have something to cover basic necessities.”
“AN OVERPRICE, CUSTOM MADE DRESS IS NOT A NECESSITY!”
Saren was getting a little tired of being yelled at. He growled threateningly. Faith ignored him.
“Besides,” She snorted with derision, “You think the Alliance paid me anything worthwhile? I barely made enough to cover the cost of my uniforms and food. I didn’t have much when we started this venture, and I haven’t been paid since you kidnapped me!”
That got a reaction from Saren. Faith had never thought he looked so stunned.
“They haven’t been giving you your wages?”
“Of course not. I’m not there, working for them-”
“You are representing them!” Saren shouted. “When a student is taken away from the military, whether it’s training to be a Specialist or a Spectre, their government continues to pay their wages until they either fail out, in which case they return to them without being destitute, or they change over to the Council’s salary! They should still be paying you!” He sounded exasperated. Oddly, Faith thought, he almost looked somewhat guilty. To further surprise her, he actually gave her a slight head bow. “I apologize, Shepard. I had thought you still had income coming in and assumed you were simply careless with it. Clearly I need to have a long discussion with your superiors about this issue.”
Faith suddenly felt the need to mark that day on the calendar as being significant. She’d actually received an apology from Saren ‘All Humans Must Suffer And Die’ Arterius! And it had sounded genuine! Granted, it wasn’t for being an absolute terror in the clothing stores, but she’d take what she got. She left her expression carefully neutral in order to stay on what little good side he had. And if he actually got the Alliance to continue paying her? Maybe even retroactive from the day she’d left? Bonus.
Saren sighed heavily, shaking his head. “Since there is no helping it, I will cover the dress for today. However, you will pay me back at some point.”
“Does it have to be that horrible Asari dress? I really didn’t want to wear it.” Faith almost pleaded. Saren gave her a long, unreadable look.
“I suppose I can take you to my usual dressmaker. However, you will behave yourself and do as you’re told.” He threatened, leveling a glare at her. Faith was sorely tempted to say she would behave as he had in the human stores, but decided against it. After all, she still needed to live with him after this entire disaster was done with.
Faith dealt with Saren while shopping at her preferred stores. How will she respond when forced to shop at his? Also, meetings.
Saren marched them back to the nearby transit station, once again going to the passenger side and holding the door until Shepard sat down. She was beginning to understand what Sellik had told her all those months ago: He might blister your face off with his angry lectures, but apparently Saren believed in and practiced common manners. At least, as long as said manners didn’t interfere with his deep-seated hatred of discount clothing stores, Faith mused, still somewhat peeved. Faith contemplated it while he drove them towards the more Turian-friendly stores.
The store he led her to contained no store windows to display what their wares were. Instead, a glossy, gold sign out front written in Turian Common said the name of the business. The walls were a deep brown wood, polished to almost a mirror shine. Natural stones were worked into the floor and gold colored curtains hung everywhere around the inside. A small runway was situated off to the left, and the entire place smelled expensive.
Faith felt decidedly intimidated.
“Ah, the scion of the Arterius family graces my humble shop once more! Welcome, welcome!” A tall Turian in simple but expensive looking midnight blue robes swept towards them. His mid-gray plates were smooth and sleek, not a crack or scar to be seen and the paint on his face, his familia notas, looked fresh and clean. He and Saren gripped each other’s forearms, and Faith was shocked to see them both lean forward and press their foreheads together for a moment. The two of them exchanged pleasantries for a few moments, before Saren finally gestured her over.
“I have a bit of a project for you, my friend.” Saren placed a hand on the back of her neck, pulling her closer. The other Turian looked her over, even circled around her, running talons through the ends of her hair. Faith felt decidedly uncomfortable.
“I take it your friend here is the shop’s dressmaker?” Faith smiled nervously. Saren scoffed.
“Calling Malcion a ‘dressmaker’ should be construed as a grievous insult. Here standing before you is an artist of the highest standards when it comes to fashion, and I wouldn’t trust anyone else.”
“You’re too kind, Arterius.” Malcion and Saren exchanged a few more pleasantries, trying to out flatter each other. Faith resisted the urge to roll her eyes and sigh. After all, Saren still had a grip on the back of her neck, and she was fairly certain he could snap it without any effort. Instead, she waited patiently until the two of them turned their attention back to her.
“So, are we looking for something casual, modest, formal…?” Malcion asked sweetly.
“We’re meeting with an Asari Matriarch later.”
“Ah. Say no more. Are you paying homage to the idea that the Matriarch will judge her based on cut and color?”
“Last time I let her choose she combined a set of colors that made us both nauseous. I will be choosing for her, if only to preserve my own sanity.” Saren gave Faith’s neck a warning squeeze as she opened her mouth to protest.
“Well, with her rather…unique coloration, it’ll be difficult to find a good color scheme that doesn’t clash or wash her out.” Malcion sighed with remorse. “Allow me a moment to grab my current cloth and color samples.”
“Of course.” Saren gave the torin a slight head bow, waiting until he was out of sight before leveling a death glare at Faith. Faith gave him as innocent a look as she could.
“What’d I do?”
“Nothing…yet.” Saren hissed. Faith rolled her eyes, then straightened as Malcion came back into view, carrying an extremely heavy binder with him. Handing the binder to Saren, he pulled a long cord from around his neck, holding it up to Faith.
“Go ahead and strip and then walk to that wall and back.” He spoke matter of factly. Faith gave him an incredulous expression as her eyes flickered to the very open doorway.
Saren scoffed, looking at his friend. “You see what I have to put up with? Nothing but stubbornness and questions.”
Faith felt that comment was highly unnecessary.
Malcion nodded to agree with Saren. “It is silly, but for the sake of saving what little time you have left, I will close the front doors. I have a feeling I won’t be able to take on any other clients in the meantime anyways.”
“You are a Titan of efficiency, Malcion” Saren flattered him further, perusing the catalogue. Faith glanced at the thick binder as Malcion went to close the doors to his shop and saw that it was filled with hundreds of cloth samples. Saren glared at her, then snapped his fingers and gave her a motion to start undressing. Faith caught his eye, then deliberately put her hands on the back of his carapace and turned him to stand facing the opposite direction. Saren scoffed at the effort. “I’m only humoring you, you realize?”
“Noted.” Faith drawled, then looked around at the highly open space around her. You’d think I’d be used to this by now, she grumbled to herself. Stripping down to her skivvies, she folded the clothes and tossed them to the side, crossing her arms uncomfortably. As Malcion returned, she quickly stomped to where he had pointed earlier and returned. To her growing irritation, Saren had turned to watch her with his friend. Saren looked annoyed whereas Malcion looked alarmed and concerned.
“Tell me the poor creature doesn’t actually stomp around like that naturally?” He asked Saren, his eyes still on Faith, who was growing red-faced and more irritated by the moment. Saren sighed heavily, shaking his head.
“I forgot who we are dealing with. Human, walk normally to the wall and back. Malcion needs to see how your body moves to properly design your gown. We wouldn’t want you to flop around, would we?” Saren spoke in a slow, overly wheedling tone, much like if were speaking to a small child. Faith growled then huffed, walking as casually as she could back to the wall and back. When she turned, she saw Malcion was cringing slightly while Saren continued to sigh.
“You have all the grace of a blood-raged Krogan, do you realize?” Saren sounded exasperated.
“I could do without the running commentary.” Faith snarled through clenched teeth. Malcion had her perform a few more moves, including bending and stretching. Faith resisted the urge to point out it was unlikely she’d be fighting or doing yoga in this dress, and instead did as was asked. After almost ten minutes, Malcion clapped his hands twice in a quick staccato, turning to Saren.
“I’m thinking something a bit more wispy. Perhaps if the gown moves with grace it will cover the fact that she has none.” He said. Saren immediately agreed, pulling out a large handful of swatches. Faith was about to get re-dressed, walk out, and flip them both off, but Malcion stopped her, guiding her barely-clad form to a series of mirrors that stretched from floor to ceiling. Here, he called up a drone who began to taking numerous photographs while he measured Faith with the cord. Faith wanted very much to threaten him about said photography, but stayed silent. Instead, she eyed the simple cord. It wasn’t even a measuring tape.
“Wouldn’t using the drone to take accurate measurements make things easier?” She drawled. Malcion scoffed as he measured along her back and shoulders.
“If I was making clothing for an unmoving display, then yes. However, beings of flesh move and bend and stretch. No drone can properly record the information I need-” He continued to rant about the overuse of technology in all fields and how he was a master because he always used ‘proper techniques’. Faith resisted the urge to roll her eyes again, realizing instead why this particular torin got along so well with Saren.
It took far longer than Faith was comfortable with, but she stayed quiet and allowed Malcion to go through his entire routine. The moment he flipped his hand at her, indicating he was finished without even bothering to look at her, she almost dove for her clothing. She had barely struggled back into them when Malcion threw his store doors open once more. Faith leveled him with a glare as she buckled her gun back onto her hip. Saren saw the glance and a low growl issued from him. Faith gave him an exasperated look, rolled her eyes, and finished dressing as Malcion joined Saren to further discuss the dress.
Since they were obviously going to take their time, Faith ignored them both and walked outside the store to wait.
Twenty minutes later, Saren walked out, not bothering to look at Faith as he turned and walked further into the shopping district. Sighing through her nose, Faith rose from the bench she had sat at and followed behind him. He browsed for a bit, stopping by a weapons store and chatting to the clerk for a bit. Faith had the impression that they knew each other rather well. Saren didn’t purchase anything, though he showed interest in a new mod for his shotgun.
Once again, he exited the store, glanced once at Faith, then continued window shopping. Faith frowned, noticing how uncomfortable he seemed with her following him. Sure enough, he’d only gone a short distance before he whipped around, growling at her.
“Why are you following me?” He hissed. Faith raised an eyebrow at him.
“And I’m supposed to do what exactly?”
“Anything! I couldn’t care less! Just stop following me. It’s unnerving.” Saren shook himself. Faith hid a smirk. Apparently he couldn’t shake off the feeling of her staring at his back.
“When should I pick up the dress?” Faith asked. Saren snorted and turned away.
“I’ll message you when it’s ready. Now leave.” Saren huffed. Faith sighed heavily and turned towards a transport station.
* * *
Faith sighed with pure bliss at the first bite of chocolate strawberry cake, moist and soft and oh so delicious. She’d been forced to eat nothing but dry, tasteless rations for months, not having the necessary food stuffs on board the Daedelus to really make anything more complex than a sandwich. She’d almost forgotten how nice the citadel could be when it came to food selection, and had been thrilled to find her favorite little cake shop was still in business. Though she normally only indulge in such a cake twice while living on the citadel, both events having been her birthday, she felt she’d earned this piece. The thick, white cream sandwiched between the fluffy chocolate, mixed with fat, ripe strawberries throughout made for a meal by itself.
Faith was fairly certain she’d died and gone to heaven.
At least, that was how she felt until, halfway through eating the cake, the devil himself tracked her down to ruin her enjoyment. Saren had apparently returned to the ship and dressed himself in all black attire, the outfit looking nothing like Faith had ever seen a Turian wear. Giving the vicious glare he leveled at her, the billowing cape rustling down his left shoulder made him look nothing more than a villain facing down his dreaded nemesis. Then again, Faith mused, that was probably how he saw her.
“Move it, human. Your dress will be done shortly and we need to hurry to make our appointment.” Saren barked. Faith made a small whining noise, ignoring Saren’s glare, and picked up the small paper plate her cake was on. Saren looked at in disgust and motioned towards the trash. Faith glared at him viciously.
“Absolutely not, Mr. ‘Never waste food’! This is too good and cost a pretty penny to boot! You drive; I eat.”
Saren muttered something under his breath, but thankfully didn’t say anything as he held open the skycar door for her. As she sat, she saw the bag he was holding contained the exercise boxes she’d been forced to work with for so long. Frowning, she wondered why he was bringing them along to this meeting with the matriarch.
It took almost no time to return to Malcion, who proudly showed off his dress. Faith, having finished her cake by then and being in a better frame of mind, squealed with joy over the long, wispy dress that would hug her upper body nicely while billowing out from the knees down. Even the gowns Lorik had bought her were not nearly as magnificent as the cream and pale aqua dress with matching pin-heel shoes. No sooner had she tried the dress on and Malcion had done one or two last moment touch ups then she spun around, delighted in how the dress moved. Malcion, however, was wearing a worried expression. Turning to Saren, he bowed his head.
“I apologize for the rushed appearance of the dress, but I did what I could, Spectre.” Malcion sighed heavily. Faith stopped in her tracks and stared at the Turian, stunned. From where she stood, this was a gown worthy of the red carpet. Saren gripped the Turian’s forearms, pressing their foreheads together.
“It is I who must apologize for putting such a cruel time restraint on an artist such as yourself. If you prefer, I won’t tell anyone who asks that we purchased the dress from you.”
“Thank you. You’re always so considerate.” Malcion seemed to relax.
Faith looked at them both like they were crazy.
The ride to the nicer, quieter areas of the presidium was uneventful. Faith contented herself with watching the gardens and buildings they passed. The tall, ornate building he finally steered them towards was obviously one favored by the Asari. The white-silver stone with blue details reminded Faith of their ships. Saren settled them on the roof parking and held the door for Faith once more.
The ride was a short one, with them descending only a single level. The space opened up into a large entry way with a single door at the other end. Two well dressed attendants stood at the end. They both bowed deeply as Saren approached, and he returned it in kind. Feeling awkward, Faith curtsied, earning an amused glance from Saren. Holding her head high and refusing to allow him to ruin her current happy mood, Faith stepped through the door the moment the Asari guards opened them, acting all the world like she belonged there. Let Saren think her ungraceful and foolish; Faith felt fabulous and she was going to own it.
On the other side of the door was an open space with graceful curves everywhere the eye roamed; from the stairs that led down from the landing to the arches over every door. Directly in front of her was an indoor garden, filling the room with a gentle fragrance that relaxed her aching muscles and brought a smile to her face. The entire room was painted in soft neutrals with touches of silver and blue and green throughout. To the right of her was an area strewn with couches and divans, all covered in pillows for lounging and facing the large panoramic windows that stretched over the far side of the room to give a fantastic view of the presidium and the gardens just outside. Seated at one of the divans was an Asari in a pale yellow dress, surrounded by several servants and guards.
“If you’re going to take the lead when we walk somewhere, I would suggest you keep moving. I will walk through you if you don’t move.” Saren growled darkly just behind her. Faith snorted lightly, but didn’t bother commenting. She heard Saren following just behind her as she approached the couches, only for one of the guards to step in her way.
“Forgive my rudeness.” The Asari said simply, pulling up her omni-tool and running a series of scans over Faith. The red-head noticed that nobody bothered to do the same to Saren. After a moment, the guard nodded and stepped to the side. The Asari in yellow, whom Faith assumed was the Matriarch, smiled at the two of them as she rose to her feet. Saren moved around Faith, holding out both his hands. The Matriarch gripped his forearms, and pressed her forehead to his.
“Welcome, my friend.” The Matriarch said simply, her smile warm but slightly mischievous. Saren grinned at her.
“You’re as lovely as always, Beni.” Saren chuckled, then half-turned and motioned Faith forward. Faith stepped towards them, and curtsied deeply to the matriarch in a show of respect. The woman’s smile turned gentle, and she gave Faith a slight bow. “Faith Shepard, allow me to introduce Matriarch Benezia. She’s been a friend of the family since before I was born. Show her respect.”
Or else, Faith mentally finished for him. Benezia was looking her over, and reached out to touch some of Faith’s long, loosely hung hair.
“What a lovely color. Red such as yours is so rare among humans.” Benezia commented. Faith just smiled, unsure how to respond. Benezia turned back to Saren and motioned for them to sit. Saren took a single seat across from his friend, while Shepard chose a nice couch to the Matriarch’s right, seating herself on the edge. As Benezia sat, several servants silently set down tea and little snacks on ornate plates on the tables between them then withdrew. Faith was surprised when even the guards withdrew, leaving just the three of them in the large room by themselves.
“So tell me, friend, what was this matter you wished to speak of so urgently?” Benezia asked, sipping at a steaming cup of tea. Saren sat up straight, not touching any of the delicacies being offered.
“I’m afraid I need your assistance. Ms. Shepard has an odd ability, the one I mentioned in our last exchange. In order to better understand it, and thus teach her how to better use it, I need to know what it truly is and where it came from. I doubt she was born with it, as I have never heard of any human possessing such a skill. However, she does not remember it’s origin. I was hoping you might help her in remembering.”
Faith blinked in surprise, a sense of growing unease spreading through her stomach. She’d heard of the Asari’s mental abilities to coerce and even influence another’s mind, though she was old enough to know that most of what she’d heard was more than likely just wild rumor. Still, she couldn’t help the gnawing worry that ate away at her confidence as Benezia set her tea down.
“I thought that might be what you would want to ask of me.” Benezia’s eyes flickered towards Faith, who sat up straighter. “Tell me, child, do you know what he is asking of me?”
As Faith opened her mouth to speak, Saren cleared his throat. “She does not, and I feel that may be for the best. She is, by nature, skittish - “
“Be that as it may, you know my rules about such requests. I do not meld with those who are ignorant or do not consent.” Benezia spoke firmly. Saren huffed, though from his expression he had known something like this had been likely to occur. Faith raised an eyebrow, but schooled her expression when Benezia turned back to her, holding out a hand to Faith. Faith took the offered hand, and was surprised with how gentle a grip the Matriarch had. Benezia smiled with some amusement.
“You thought I would harm you, child?” She asked. Faith grinned sheepishly.
“Am I that obvious?”
“When you have lived as long as I have, you learn to read people. There’s more than one way to know what a person is thinking.” The smile faded from Benezia’s face, turning serious as she gave Faith’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “There are many ways in which an Asari can bring forward memories, some more invasive than others. Other, more commonly used methods involve something close to meditation, where we encourage you to relax and allow the memories to come forward on their own. However, when necessary, an Asari adept in mental manipulation can also delve into a person’s mind and pull the memories out. This can cause harm, however, and if done forcefully can even kill. It is not something I take lightly.
“Though it is likely that the memory Saren wished to access has simply become buried over time, as memories from our youth are want to do, there is always the chance that they were buried because of some form of trauma.” Benezia released Faith’s hand and leaned back into her couch, her eyes focusing on her cup of tea. “If you consent to the meld, I will do my best to bring the memory forward in the most painless way possible, but I want you to be prepared should the worst occur.”
Faith felt her mouth go dry, the uncomfortable feeling twisting her gut painfully. She glanced down at her open-toed shoes, noticing the little flower that had been added to just above the portion covering the top of her foot, and feeling a momentary appreciation for the seemingly unimportant detail. Saren must have taken her hesitance as fear, and leaned forward.
“We need to do this, Shepard. We need to know more about this strange power of yours before we go meddling with it any more.”
Faith was quiet for several moments, not looking up.
“Tell me what you found when you dissected the Ymir.”
The question seemed to catch Saren off guard. However, Faith finally looked up, her eyes hard with resolve.
“You’re always keeping information to yourself.” Faith accused. “It leaves me doubting, being left in the dark like this. If I’m going to do this, I’d like a little show of trust.”
Saren huffed, glancing at Benezia, who lifted her tea cup with an encouraging smile. Saren sighed, then pulled forward the bag he’d been carrying, setting the three boxes on the table. He switched them into ready mode, then looked at Faith.
“Go ahead and switch them, however-” Saren stalled her as Faith lifted a hand to send out her strange green energy. “ - Don’t use your power. Just send them a mental command without doing anything. Like you did with that Ymir.”
Faith blinked, then glanced over at the boxes. To her astonishment, they all switched from blue to yellow before she’d even finished the thought. Her eyes went wide as Saren reached forward, turned off the boxes, and stowed them again.
“I had thought that you would need to use your abilities more or less constantly to keep something like a Ymir or an advanced system under your command, but it would seem I was wrong.” Saren sighed, looking at Faith with a guarded expression. “It would seem that you only need to touch something with this power once, and it is at your command. For how long remains to be seen.
“You ask what I found with the Ymir?” Saren spoke quietly, his expression looking almost accusatory. “It had been reprogrammed. Completely. And not just as one might reprogram it to turn on its own people; it obeyed you absolutely. To the degree that when you and I had a disagreement, it tried to kill me.” Saren paused, allowing his words to sink in. Faith’s eyes went wide, and Saren nodded. “You apparently left for the kitchens upset with me, and the Ymir took that to mean that I was a potential threat. Within seconds of you vacating the area, it stood up and opened fire. I’m amazed you didn’t hear the commotion, but thankfully, since it was already damaged so heavily, I was able to take it down without much effort. After I had destroyed it, I went through it’s programming and only found command prompts and programming that made no sense.
“I have no explanation for it.” Saren crossed his arms, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “The level of control and how you’re controlling them should be physically impossible without some kind of implant. Yet in all the medical scans I’ve run, I have come across nothing of the sort inside you. Every aspect of study I have subjected your abilities to says that this ability shouldn’t exist. And yet it does.”
Saren took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment before opening again and leveling Faith with a severe glare. “And I want to know why.”
Faith remained quiet, stunned. She had never really given it much thought; she’d always assumed that someone else out there had to have the same kind of ability. Even when recruited by Saren, she had held onto that belief. Now, seated on the edge of a couch between Saren and Benezia, Faith was beginning to realize that there was a chance that she was truly, frighteningly unique. The idea terrified as much as it fascinated her.
She shuffled uncomfortably as two powerful individuals continued to stare at her, waiting for her to answer. Faith felt cornered, afraid. She wanted to say no and run back to her sister. She wanted to take her someplace safe where they could live peacefully. She never wanted to use her abilities ever again. But reality continued to assert itself into her panic induced fantasies, and the weight of her responsibilities pushed her into a slouch. She couldn’t run away from this; not forever. And she had been the one who had promised to be useful to Saren in exchange for being taken away from the Alliance. If finding out the truth...
Eyes on the ornate carpet beneath the polished wood table, Faith croaked out her answer.
“I’d like to make a Will first.” She said quietly. Saren continued to stare at her for a few moments, then nodded.
“As you wish.”
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
From mind meld to modeling.
“...And that should be it.” Saren did his best to hide his sigh. They’d spent a good hour hashing out Shepard’s Will; something, in Saren’s opinion, that should have been taken care of the moment she stepped aboard his ship. She’d been shot at multiple times and serving with a Spectre was never what one should consider safe. Rather than waste time lecturing her on wasting their time with the Matriarch, Saren opted to simply push through the unpleasantness of assembling a rough Will as quickly and efficiently as possible. Judging by how pale Faith had become while working through it, he thought a lecture would not have gone over well.
Faith barely acknowledged him, nodding her head ever so slightly as her eyes remained off focus. Benezia reached over and put a consoling hand on Faith’s shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze as Faith finally brought her focus over to the Matriarch.
“Don’t worry, child. I will do everything in my power to make this as gentle and non-invasive as possible.” Benezia reassured her. Saren forced himself not to laugh. Describing a mind meld with an Asari as ‘non-invasive’ was as great a lie as he’d ever heard. Thankfully, Faith just gave a weak smile and nodded towards Benezia, forcing her shoulders to relax.
“What do you need me to do?”
Saren felt his mandible twitch slightly, threatening to smile. He might give her constant grief, but he couldn’t fault Shepard for lack of bravery. Lack of intelligence, obedience, focus, or ability to shoot a moving target, yes, but never bravery.
Benezia covered for Saren’s momentary lack of emotional control, smiling gently at Faith. “First of all, relax. It’s normal to be afraid, but don’t let that fear repress your other emotions. Think of it instead as a great puzzle, and I am but a friend that will help you discover a missing piece.”
Saren zoned out somewhat, having heard similar words from other Asari in the past. He watched absently as Benezia coached Shepard through a few deep breathing exercises, his hands clenching into a tight fist and then unclenching as he waited. After what felt like an agonizing amount of time, Benezia finally told Faith to shut her eyes, winding down her speech. Saren pulled in his breath, not daring to make a sound.
“Relax, and embrace eternity.” Benezia said as her eyes went jet black. Saren shuddered and turned away. He’d mind melded with Asari before, usually for sexual reasons, but watching it occur to someone else always made his blood run cold. One of the many reasons he never fully trusted them. Instead, he stood and began to pace.
The minutes continued to drag by as Saren marched from one end of the room to the other, his eyes remaining on Faith’s expressionless face. Whatever was happening inside her mind didn’t appear to be causing her stress, which made Saren feel a small ounce of relief. Then the little voice in his mind that liked to keep him on edge muttered that Benezia simply may not have reached the memory yet and that the worst was yet to come. Biting off a huff of irritation towards his own thoughts, Saren continued to pace out his frustrations.
Minutes continued to drag on further, and soon the light outside the windows began to dim as the Citadel Presidium began it’s switch from the day to night cycle. Saren had stopped watching for any sign of change and had instead gone over a few mental challenges to keep himself focused and busy while he paced. Faith was about to take her first exams at the end of term. Though not the mindless regurgitation of information that human schools seemed to favor, it would take a great deal of focus and creativity on her part to pass them. And she would pass them the first time, or Saren would triple her workload as punishment. However, in the meantime, there were multiple things he could do to decrease her stress and aid in her studies.
Saren was in the midst of planning out the next month’s meals that he himself could make to free up her time to focus on studying when a scream tore through his concentration. Turning immediately towards the sound with one hand reaching for the pistol at his side, he saw that Faith had almost launched herself backwards halfway across the room until she hit a wall, then slumped down to the floor with eyes wide and staring at nothing.
Saren moved quickly, knowing that blank, horrified stare meant answers of some kind. Benezia was shaking her head, her own eyes wide and shocked. Faith was babbling incoherently, her entire body shuddering and shaking as Saren approached.
“What happened?” Saren demanded sharply as several of Benezia’s guards rushed in to make sure all was well. Benezia waved them off, a hand still over her face as though it was all that could hold her up. Saren turned back to his distraught student, kneeling by her and reaching out to her. Faith shied away from him, though he knew it was from shock rather than disgust. Slowly, he managed to get his arms around her, pulling her in close.
“D-dark!! Too dark!!” Faith cried. “F-fingers and eyes and dark and so many eyes!”
“Hush now.” Saren rumbled soothingly in an attempt to calm her. He held her close to his chest so she could feel his sub vocals rumbling with comfort and sympathy, stroking her hair. Faith collapsed against him, wailing with hysteria as she continued to babble about darkness and whatever was there. Saren resisted the urge to slap the shock out of her. This was more than an emotional response to finding the memory; whatever it contained had horrified both human and Asari. With a patience that came with many years of practice, Saren continued to soothe Faith while looking at Benezia for answers.
The Asari only shook her head when she finally made eye contact with him. “Just keep comforting her.” She said brusquely. Saren snorted, but did so as Benezia shakily got to her feet and shambled over to a cabinet nearby. She proceeded to pull out a large bottle, rip off the top, and down the entire thing in one long pull. Taking a deep breath, she set the bottle down and pulled out a second one along with a large wine glass, this time opting to bring it back to the table. She poured the glass, then sat back down and drank again from the bottle. Upon spying Saren’s amazed look, she managed a weak smile.
“I was a maiden once. I wasn’t always grace and poise.” Benezia grinned. Saren huffed.
“I know that. However, it’s the fact that you’re drinking anything at all that has me concerned. Just what did you pull out of her mind, Beni?” Saren asked, completely flabbergasted. At least Faith’s hysterical sobbing had quieted somewhat, though her thin frame was still shaking with enough intensity to alarm him.
Benezia sighed heavily, leaning back. “It… was not like anything I’d ever encountered before.” She breathed the words, barely above a whisper. Taking another long pull from the bottle, Benezia closed her eyes, breathing deeply for a few moments. Finally, she set the bottle on the table before her, folded her hands on her lap, and appeared more like her usual self. “At the beginning, nothing seemed out of place. Faith has strong memories, and those concerning her abilities were numerous. I drifted through them, reliving them with her, and traveled as far back as I could go. We had just gotten to her youth before she began standard education when I stumbled into...something I can’t quite describe.”
Saren felt himself tensing, arms tightening around the human as though to protect her. The instinct was so powerful, it took Saren a moment to realize what he was doing. Clearing his throat, he attempted to dislodge himself from Shepard, only to have her cling to him tighter. For someone so terrified she could barely speak, she had an amazingly good grip. Saren resigned himself to the overly needy human desire to extract comfort from all those around them, rubbing her back in slow circles. Instead, he looked back at Benezia, waiting for her to continue.
“There was...something foreign. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; no mind I’ve ever touched. It was painful and violent, for both myself and Ms. Shepard. It took all my effort to draw us both back away from whatever it was. I sensed that whatever it was did trigger some sort of flashback for her, but we’ll have to wait for her to pull herself together to let us know what it was.” Benezia shrugged, leaning back into the cushions again. “I’m sorry, Saren. I wish I could tell you more.”
“It’s fine, Beni. I didn’t expect this to go smoothly; nothing has when it comes to this human.” Saren drawled. In his arms, Shepard coughed, shaking her head slightly as she continued to lean on him. At least the shaking was subsiding somewhat, Saren mused, continuing to rub her back.
“I believe,” Benezia sighed, “the best course of action right now would be to take that young human someplace more familiar and comfortable. This-”
Saren was somewhat startled by the firmness in Faith’s tone, considering she was still clinging to him. Slowly, she lifted her head, Faith’s storm blue eyes still looking haunted despite her stern expression. She gently pushed herself away from Saren, staring at the floor as though embarrassed.
“I’ll live. That was…” Faith shuddered, rubbing her arms rapidly as though chilled. “Let’s just say I never want to do that again.”
“What do you remember?” Saren asked quickly. Faith shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut as though to block out the memories.
“Nothing coherent right now. I...I need time.” She said, then looked at him with such a pleading expression. Saren resisted the urge to sigh.
Benezia smiled at them both as Saren assisted Faith to her feet. “I am glad you two respect each other’s boundaries. I got the impression that the two of you are headed towards something dangerous, and it’s important to trust one another even if you do not like one another.”
Saren heard Faith huff quietly, and resisted the urge to smack her upside the head. Instead, he gave Benezia a deep bow, seeing Faith curtsy again out of the corner of his eye. Benezia nodded once towards them.
“Thank you, Beni, as always for all you do. I appreciate it.” Saren spoke genuinely. Benezia smiled at him.
“I wish you luck and good fortune, my friend. Stay safe.”
Saren didn’t answer, instead taking Faith by the elbow and escorting her back out of the room. The two of them remained silent as they walked, Faith seemingly not watching where she was going. However, as he released her arm to call a transport down, Faith finally broke the silence.
“I think I need to walk.” Saren looked about to argue, but she held up her hands, not meeting his eyes. “I need to clear my head, and I can’t do that when you’re around. I know you want to be on your way as soon as possible, but I need some space and quiet to think about…” Faith swallowed hard. “...well, what just happened.
“I do not believe you should be left alone right now.” Saren cautioned. Faith finally looked up at him, and Saren was stunned to see how tired her eyes looked. In the dimming light of the Presidium, the lines under her eyes were startlingly clear, the skin surrounding them dark like bruises.
Faith lowered her hands, shaking her head. “I’ll stay on the Presidium, and do my best to stay out of trouble, but please, I need this.”
Saren’s eyes flickered over her face, and finally he nodded once. Opening the driver’s side door to the car, he glanced at her again. “I’ll set our departure time two hours from now. Report in before then. If I have to hunt you down, I’ll be very cross.”
Faith nodded once and walked away before he could say anything else.
* * *
The hustle of the Presidium Commons barely registered to Faith as she drifted aimlessly through the crowds. There was something about getting mindlessly lost in a crowded area that had always been soothing to her, and right now, Faith needed whatever comfort she could get. Whatever the Matriarch had pulled forward was dark and frightening, and Faith needed the warmth and light surrounding her to distract her from her own thoughts.
Despite her rather distracted frame of mind, she wasn’t completely unaware of the goings on around her. Several eyes seemed to follow her, or rather her unusual dress for casual meandering in, and heads seemed to turn as she walked by. The idea of being the focus of so many admirers helped to bolster her lagging spirits, and slowly she began to straighten, walking with her head held proudly rather than feeling slumped. Faith shook out her hair, letting the light flash across it for the benefit of those watching, then found a railing to lean against where she could watch others in their day to day activities.
For several minutes, Faith relished the quiet and solitude brought by the constant white noise of people chatting and moving about. No singular sound seemed to stand out or demand her attention, so she was content to simply relax and let her anxiety melt away. Though she consciously knew she’d have to eventually face the horrors now running loose inside her mind, she steadfastly refused to let them take hold of her at that moment.
A half-hour passed quietly, and Faith was happily watching a family of Elcor try to herd their children across one of the many bridges spanning over the Presidium lakes when a sound intruded on her senses. At first, she ignored it, but it came back with increasing regularity. A slight click and a whir, then another. And another. Irritated at having her calm disturbed, she turned and saw a short man with a greasy black comb-over taking pictures of her. He wasn’t even trying to be subtle about it, a large grin in place. Faith felt her hackles rise in disgust. While she didn’t mind being admired, she did not like being photographed by strangers without permission. She squared her shoulders, turned, and stormed directly at the paparazzi in as aggressive a manner as she could muster, but the stubborn man continued to take pictures with a smile.
“Wow, you’re a natural, kid!” The man proclaimed so enthusiastically that it brought Faith up short. He lowered his old fashioned camera, flashing her an amazingly white-toothed grin. Now that she could see his entire face, he looked much more friendly. Faith gave him a half-smile.
“I’d thank you, but I guess that depends on what you think I’m a natural at. After all, my sister refers to me as a walking, talking, natural disaster all the time.” Faith quipped. The man laughed heartily, then extended a hand towards her. Faith shook it, noting his firm grip.
“Roger Eckleberg. I’m a recruiter for Aud Photography.” Roger reached into a side pocket on his jacket, pulling out a card and handing it to Faith. She took it, eyebrows raised in surprise.
“I’ve heard of you guys. You’re people use a lot of old fashioned techniques rather than modern drones and the like, right?” Faith commented, remembering vaguely an article she had read years ago to that effect. Roger seemed pleased, smiling wide.
“Indeed! Glad you’ve heard of us. I know my taking random photos sometimes gives the wrong impression.” He winked, apparently well aware of how she must have interpreted his actions. Faith smiled sheepishly. “Don’t worry about it; at least you didn’t run at me swinging like an Asari did once. Apparently, they really don’t like candid photos.”
“Well, I can kinda understand that. So what were you taking photos for, or is this a personal project?” Faith asked. Though he was polite and friendly, she still didn’t want her image used for anything unscrupulous.
“I’m trying to find some new talent. Glamour Gene Modding has been breathing down my neck, wanting some ‘new blood’ for their Gene Enhancement project. ‘Make Your Baby Beautiful Before it’s Even Born!’ is their new angle. I guess they figure they need to reel ‘em in young; really young.” Faith made a disgusted face, and Roger nodded in agreement. “I know. I don’t always agree with their methods, but a paycheck is a paycheck, and staying on the Citadel, even the lower wards, is expensive as hell. I’ve been trying to find people with glamour gene mods, and I saw your hair. Do you mind if I ask which mods you or your parents had done to get it that color?”
Suddenly, it clicked inside Faith’s head. This man thought her hair color had come from gene modding of some kind. It wasn’t the first time that had happened to her, and she gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Sorry to burst your paycheck, but this is natural. My parents were scientists turned farmers, and barely had enough money to get by for several years when we were little. However, redheads run on both sides of my family, and both me and my twin wound up with it. My baby sister’s hair was more copper in color.”
“Wow.” Roger seemed genuinely impressed. “Natural color like that is really rare.” He pursed his lips, eyeing her up and down for a moment. “You have no gene modding at all? No augs?”
“Farm bred, organic, all natural.” Faith shrugged, though the calculated look he was giving her made her feel cautious.
“Huh.” Roger suddenly smiled. “You’re right, then. You wouldn’t be viable for Glamour. However, you might just be a blessing in disguise. Tell me, have you done any modeling?”
“Would you be interested in doing so for a small project? You’d have to pass a screening to make sure you’re totally natural as you say; can’t always trust just a word, you understand.”
“Well…” Faith hedged. Normally, she’d have jumped immediately at the chance. However, she had a deadline to keep, and there was no telling when she’d be back. “I have a commitment today that’ll take me away from the Citadel for an unknown amount of time. It’d have to be in the next hour or so-”
“Perfect! Follow me!” Roger turned and moved quickly through the crowds, with Faith following behind at as brisk a walk as she dared in her pin heels. They made their way past the shops and into the more business friendly areas. Faith felt a slight pang as they walked past Lorik’s old workplace. Even though she knew he’d left for another facility, the sight of the building brought back bittersweet memories.
“And, we’re here!” Roger finally announced, then turned and looked at Faith. “You did really well keeping up, even in those heels. You really have a knack for this stuff.”
“My sister used to say I was terrifying because I could sprint in stilettos.” Faith grinned wolfishly, then looked at the building they’d arrived at. The bright red letters ‘Vibe’ were scrawled over the door, but Faith didn’t recognize the brand. Roger entered, showing his ID to the security guard just inside and motioned towards Faith, who was following at a polite distance as she glanced around. Roger continued to move forward rapidly, winding through the crowded hallways with ease. When he finally stopped, Faith was surprised to see a full photography set-up. A brunette model was posing with some soap products, looking slightly bored.
“Hey, Frank!” Roger called out. A thin, wiry person standing with a capture drone looked up, their wild, multi-colored hair pulled into a loose bun on their head. Frank blinked owlishly through their large coke-bottle glasses, then smiled a toothy grin.
“Hey, Roger! I was just finishing up.” Frank turned to the rest of the crowd. “Okay people, let’s take five.”
As the group dispersed, Frank and Roger hugged briefly, before Roger motioned Faith forward. “Ms. Shepard, this is Franklin Baptiste, one of the best in the business.”
“And Roger here still flatters like no tomorrow.” Frank shook Faith’s hand with a grin, looking her over with a professional eye. Faith smiled.
“I noticed that as well. So what’s this all about? Roger wasn’t very forthcoming with the details.”
“Troublemaker.” Frank admonished Roger, who just smiled wider. Turning back to Faith, Frank guided her towards a table where they had mock-ups of various advertisements. All were spouting the words ‘All Natural Beauty’ with some kind of makeup or hygiene product, and young woman. “There’s currently a movement to have all-natural, non-chemical derived products on the market again. Though some people still subside on the cheap and easy to ship products still on the market, Bebe Beauty is trying to corner the market on fresh and natural.”
“Looks expensive.” Faith commented. Frank nodded in agreement.
“It’s the way of the galaxy it would seem. If you want what’s healthiest and most natural, you gotta pay out the arse for it.” Frank shrugged, leading them over to a small table with a med kit laid out. “So, to further the advertisements, Bebe is looking for young people, women mostly, with no augmentations or enhancements. You can imagine what a challenge that’s been.” Frank rolled their eyes. “If you pass the screening, the offer is free product for a year, up to 1000 credits worth a month, 2000 base pay for showing up, plus 8000 for every image used. Interested?”
Faith blinked. “That’s...rather generous.”
“It was a lot less until Bebe found out how difficult it is to find people with 100% natural beauty these days.” Roger quipped. “Just about everyone has some kind of augmentation. Hell, I ain’t much in the looks department, and I have augs!”
“You’re better looking than some.” Frank flirted lightly. Faith felt a slight blush creeping up her cheeks.
“So, how do we go about this screening?” Faith asked quickly to change the subject.
“It’s a simple prick test. One drop of blood, and we’ll be able to confirm the presence or absence of any gene mods in about two minutes.” Frank said, pulling out an alcohol swab. Faith hesitated for a moment, then straightened.
“Normally, I’d say no since I hate getting poked and bled, but you lucked out and found me on a day when I’m in desperate need of a distraction. Prick away.”
The entire process seemed to go quickly, and before Faith could fully process what was happening, she was in a seat with someone applying a thin layer of makeup to ‘enhance her looks’ with another doing up her mass of red hair. A contract was handed to her, and she glanced it over quickly. Not seeing much more than the usual legal mumbo-jumbo meant to protect the company over the employees, Faith signed the bottom, determined not to think too much about the whole situation. She knew she was being somewhat reckless, and Saren would murder her in a heartbeat if he found out, but she was beyond caring.
Anything to help keep her mind off what had happened earlier.
* * *
Saren glanced at his chrono, feeling his ire rise. Faith was over ten minutes late, and he was both worried and annoyed and annoyed at being worried. He was debating whether or not to go hunting for her when he heard the decontamination chamber hissed, announcing that someone had just boarded. Since the rest of the crew was accounted for, that meant only one thing. Standing straighter, Saren readied his most blistering remonstrances, ready to unleash them the moment she stepped on board.
Instead, he was greeted by the sight of multiple shopping bags and boxes, being carried by a pair of pale human legs in pin-heels. The sight confounded him for a moment, then he remembered she was late.
“Human! You’re late! I had thought you were moping-”
“I was.” Faith cut him off with a grunt. “Can I please get some help? It’ll be easier to yell at me once we’re face to face.”
“Don’t interrupt me.” Saren barked, though he did move and start taking some of the boxes from her arms. Once he had revealed her face, he was surprised to see her smiling shyly despite the obvious lines of dried tears on her face. Carefully schooling his expression to remain harsh, he glared at her. “What took you so long?”
“Funny story, that. I was busy, wrapped up in my own inner turmoil, and somehow wound up getting recruited for a photo shoot. Next thing you know, I’ve got some spare money, so I ran around, did some shopping for essentials, including a semi-formal dress of my choosing in the event you drag me along before another Asari Matriarch.” Faith gave him a meaningful scowl, but Saren didn’t even blink. Faith shrugged, re-balancing the boxes and bags she still held. “I had just finished my shopping when I realized I needed to get back here. So I found a quiet spot, bawled my eyes out, then ran back here as fast as I could.”
“Wait.” Saren held up a hand to stop her from walking towards the lift, his tone confused. “You found a quiet place and cried? Why?”
Faith looked at him as though the answer should be obvious. “Because I was in emotional overload? I needed to reset myself in order to think clearly?” Faith could tell by the flicker of Saren’s eyes that he didn’t really understand it. From the other side of the bridge, Dr. Venicius hid a slight chuckle behind a cough, bringing the Spectre’s attention to him.
“Humans cry because there is an excess amount of the chemicals that make up their emotions in the brain. A sort of emergency release valve, if you will. By crying, they remove the excess, allowing them to feel calm and collected once more.” He spoke matter of factly. Saren made a surprised noise in his throat, then turned back to Faith.
“I take it this means you are emotionally stable once more?” He asked cautiously. Faith shrugged, giving him a half-smile.
“Better than I was earlier, though I know I still need to confront...everything. That’s a bit stressful, but I won’t break. There may be more tears later, just to warn you.”
“Then I will excuse your lateness this once. I would rather you take the time to keep yourself in check than to have you become an emotional burden on the rest of the crew. Go shower up, then report to Venicius.” Saren lowered his arm, allowing Faith to continue towards the lift. Faith gave him a slight curtsy in thanks, then moved quickly. She could feel the ship moving out of dock already, and wanted to get her supplies stashed before Saren found a bunch of other work for her to do. Behind her, she heard the doctor picking up a few of the packages Saren had removed from her, following after her. As soon as the doors closed, Faith smiled at him.
“Thanks for stepping in.”
“Don’t thank me. I just didn’t want to listen to one of his rants.” Venicius snorted. Faith chuckled, shaking her head. Venicius side-eyed her. “While psychology is not my strongest area, I am certified to listen to any issues this experience has left you with.”
“Considering your usual bedside manner, I have a bad feeling any advice you give me will be along the lines of ‘suck it up’. Faith drawled.
“I think I’ll pass.”