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Wrong Side of Heaven, Righteous Side of Hell

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Commander Shepard leaned against the railing at the docks. She looked out through the broad panes of glass that lined the bay at the long, silver ship glistening in the artificial sunlight of the Citadel. NORMANDY was emblazoned on her hull. Shepard had seen the ship at the unveiling ceremony, but this was the first opportunity she’d had to really look at it without a press of people in the way, each of them trying to vie to have their image taken with the pride of the Alliance fleet. The stealth frigate was a joint human/turian venture, a physical representation of how far the two species had come since the First Contact War. She still couldn’t believe that Anderson and Hackett had recommended her to be its captain.

She was also still trying to come to terms with the fact that her name had been put forward as the first human Spectre and by a turian at that! Her evaluation had gone better than she had expected. Nihlus Kryik, the turian Spectre who’d recommended her, had proven to be very different from the other members of his species. He didn’t resent humans, he saw past their flaws to the potential in her species, and—most surprisingly—he had a sense of humor. Most of the other turians she’d met seemed to have sticks shoved so far up their asses it was a wonder they could sit down.

Like Councilor Sparatus, she thought darkly, and the one he’d assigned to train her, Saren Arterius. Sparatus didn’t have any reservations about displaying his disdain for humans. To be fair, however, she did have to admit that she would likely have a negative view as well if Ambassador Udina was the one with whom she spent most of her time. Udina didn’t make it any easier on any of them with his blatant political maneuvering and his ceaseless demands for more concessions for humanity. They’d already been made a Council race and been given an embassy. They’d been given this ship. They had been granted permission to have a Spectre—something many older races did not yet have—and yet he still didn’t think it was enough. No, she couldn’t particularly blame Sparatus for disliking them.

Saren Arterius, on the other hand, was a different story. His hatred of humanity was the stuff of legend. It bordered on obsession. He was as different from Nihlus as volus were from krogan. Where Nihlus was open and friendly, Saren was cold and distant. Where Nihlus preferred mercy, Saren was ruthless. Nihlus enjoyed humor. Saren didn’t seem capable of comprehending it. She could imagine Saren having that icy glare even as a child. He’d probably held magnifying glasses over bugs just to watch them burn and called it play. It amazed her that Nihlus had been his protégé and that the two were somehow friends. She didn’t think Saren knew what a friend was.

What she did know was that her placement under him had been deliberate. The Council had granted the humans a Spectre, but Saren had already sabotaged that once when Anderson had been in training under him. Anderson had been livid when he’d found out she’d been assigned to Saren and had put her suspicion into words. “They’ll pay lip service to granting us a Spectre, but the Council has no intention of it ever happening. They’re setting you up for failure, Commander. Mark my words. You can’t trust Saren. Watch your back, Shepard.”

Quiet footsteps came to join her at the rail and a blue-armored shoulder bumped up against hers. “Ready for the big day, Shepard?” his flanged voice asked warmly.

Shepard looked up at one of the only other turians she’d met whom she felt she could ever call a friend. She’d met C-Sec Officer Garrus Vakarian a month ago when he’d responded to a call to Flux down in the Wards. A group of Alliance marines had been harassing a female turian in an alleyway behind the club. Even the turian females looked predatory and capable of defending themselves, but this one had been backed into a corner. When a dressing-down hadn’t worked on the drunken soldiers, Shepard had taken them down.

C-Sec was called and Garrus was one of the responders. It had turned out that the female she’d rescued was Solana Vakarian, his younger sister. Sol, as he called her, was tough and had been a special forces operative herself, but she was newly pregnant and something about turian physiology and the way the females’ plates were situated meant that a strike to her abdomen could kill the developing child. Shepard and the Vakarians had formed an instant friendship after that.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she answered.

“I heard they assigned you to Saren Arterius,” he said casually, moving to lean against the rail in an echo of her posture.

“Yeah,” she said. “Do you know him?”

Garrus shook his head. “I know of him. Arterius was a big military family back on Palaven. His older brother, Desolas, was a general.”

“Was?” she asked.

Garrus nodded. “No one really knows what happened. It was all covered up and kept very hush-hush, but he died and Saren was somehow involved. Saren himself fought in the Relay 314 Incident. I suppose that’s why he hates humans so much. I’m afraid there isn’t much insight I can give you. This all happened when I was a child. He was already a Spectre by the time I joined the military and I never met him.”

He paused and looked down at her consideringly before saying, “How much do you know about our culture?”

“What I learned in xeno-studies mostly,” she answered. “Nihlus explained some things during my evaluation missions.”

“Do you know what our markings mean?” he asked.

“Something about your clans or colonies?” she said. Nihlus had grown closed-mouthed when she’d asked about them.

He nodded. “Our markings identify our home colonies, but more than that, they tell people where we belong. They give us a sense of both belonging and accountability. For example, any turian who sees me knows that I am a Vakarian because of these markings. My family founded Cipitrine, the largest megatropolis on our homeworld. Rather than the generic Palavenian markings like Sparatus and Nihlus wear, we have the right to wear the original Cipitrine markings. From there, it’s a simple matter to discover which Vakarian I am. So, if I were to commit a particularly heinous act and get caught or be seen by another turian, it wouldn’t just be my identity that would be known and affected but that of my entire family.

“Lacking those markings is a sort of taboo in my culture. ‘Barefaced’ is one of the worst insults a person can sling at one of us. It implies certain things and none of them good. Either one’s family originates outside of turian colonies—like a mercenary group, has been exiled or cut off from their family, or has chosen to deny their family. They’re no one. They have no accountability and no sense of community. A barefaced turian can’t be trusted.”

She wondered why he was telling her this and then remembered her trainer. “Saren is…”

He nodded again. “Exactly. Just…be careful, Shepard. You’re the only human friend I’ve got, and honestly, one of the only real friends I have,” he said and tapped the railing with his hand. “I’ve got to get back to work. Good luck.”

“Thanks, Garrus,” she said. “And you take care, too. That red sand dealer you’re looking into isn’t going to be happy when you catch him.”

He grinned widely and said, “I know.”

Yet another person was telling her that she couldn’t trust her mentor and this was one of his own species. What the hell had she gotten into?