Saren leaned back in his CIC chair, elbows propped on the arm rests and fingers steepled together. He was trying to figure out how best to handle his current mission.
The problem was thus: the council wanted access to the contents of a Prothean vault on Cariose. Both the cache's location and the key to it were well known in intelligence circles. The vault itself was in the southern quarter of what passed for a capitol city on the lawless world. 'Ownership' of different sections was dictated by whosoever had control of each quarter's defense grid. Generally speaking it was a mercenary company, such as Eclipse, as they liked to use the constant battles for supremacy as a 'sink or swim' test for their ranks. As luck would have it, a smaller mercenary group known as the 'Stone Corps' had control of the south, -for the moment-, and their leader had agreed to trade access to the as-yet unopened vault in exchange for a risky favor involving a rival group.
Now he simply needed the key. Which was inside another vault, the private archives of Matron Shi'leen of the Omoi family dynasty.
He'd gotten the schematics for the vault from an information broker, and had run the designs past a contact of his that specialized in artifact retrieval from just such places. Sometimes an owner refused to turn over or admit to having a Prothean relic that should rightly have been in the hands of the Council's carefully trained and put together team of archivists and Prothean experts. In such cases the items were forcibly removed from the care of the selfish individuals.
At least the Council sponsored team operated openly and released their findings for all species to benefit from. Mostly. Saren had seen the closed files that weren't shared with anyone, and he couldn't fault the data kept secret. It was largely bio-weapons such as omni-species adaptive viral strains, or AI research.
His specialist had... whistled at seeing the design. Apparently it was a copy of particularly impossible set up, of which he had three others of the exact same layout that had pending requests for him to find a way into. He had yet to crack it, nor had anyone else he knew.
The window of opportunity to get to the vault was limited, only existing so long as that quarter was held by the slightly desperate small time group that needed aid to remain in power. The Spectre needed that key sooner, rather then later.
He reviewed the design, making a list of what he could and couldn't manage to thwart in the vault's security.
A retinal scanner, easily: his optical implants could take the image layout of any eye and project a holo-image over itself to match.
Standard DNA scanner, already taken care of. He had a tissue sample in stasis.
An electrocardiographic sensitive laser suite that lasted the length of an entire hallway. Tricky, to be sure. Any heart that didn't beat in a perfect ECG rhythm to an accepted signature would cause a system lock out for 3 hours. That was the first issue he had no solution for.
Inside the vault, a tiny army of drones patrolled with a VI programmed to watch not for biometrics, but suspicious behavior. They were networked only to each other. Mildly difficult, but he had written three different hacking programs based on the latest in behavioral assessment software to counter them. However, there was no way to know if one of the three would work until it was attempted live. At the very least, they were written to fail quietly, and Saren presumed he could modify them on the fly to try and get a foot hold into the VI network to disable them if they weren't sufficient as is.
Next, each item in the vaults was sealed inside a stasis field to prevent wear and tear. The fields were hardwired into a private power grid, and not designed to be turned off easily, if ever. All of the options for taking out power directly involved getting into the floor of the vault. Difficult, as the vault's lining was made of meter thick titanium. He would need to cut the power at the base of the stasis unit instead, but they were each protected from tampering by a biotic field generated by eezo drives inside the mechanism, and the access panel would need to be hacked while the barrier was down to get into the wiring.
While he could suppress the field with his own biotics, he could not manage that and getting into the components simultaneously. Diminishing a repulsive gravitational field of that complexity required his full concentration, and was only possible because of his exceptional skill at the more delicate aspects of the biotic arts. A partner would be needed, or alternatively a device that could repress the field for him, but those were bulky things, not easily carried.
Finally, the room was 'mass locked', anyone who manged to subvert the rest of the security could enter, but their perceived mass was added to the expected total of the room. Attempting to leave the room with more mass then you entered with would result in a lock down as well. This one was laughably easy, and Saren wondered why it had been added as a feature at all. He would take several packages of omni-gel and scan the key once in hand, using his Omni-tool to create a mass-equivalent false key, perhaps even one that resembled the original, to leave behind.
If done properly, the stubborn Matron may never even realize the loss.
The silver-grey Specter needed a partner of sufficient skill with electrical wiring and hacking, and also a way to deal with the laser suite. The rest he could handle alone.
He considered the first matter. Nihlus might do, he was a decent engineer... though speed hacking was not precisely his protégé's forte, much to his own chagrin. He had tried to improve his former student's skill in that arena, and still did work with him on the matter occasionally, but some minds were better at certain things than others. Saren hated to admit to it, it felt like a failing on his part, but it was true. So, other options for an engineer should be run through, but he would take Nihlus if no other options proved acceptable.
There was also a need to find another source to consult with for outmaneuvering the ECG biometrics. A doctor perhaps? Speaking to a security specialist had not illuminated a solution, so perhaps coming at the issue from another angle would be beneficial.
His next steps were then: Alternative engineers, and a cardiac specialist.
Saren didn't know any medics that worked with hearts or biometric data personally, so he would need to consult with the Spectre Offices for a reference. As for engineers... it suddenly occurred to him that he knew someone well suited to the task. Well then.
A third tiny figurine was lined up with it's peers in a row on the edge of the Widmanstat's sunken command seat. Long legs kicked up onto the deck, Nihlus was sprawled in a casual lounge as he folded tiny paper animals. Well, to be fair, the sheets of randomly patterned material he was using to make them was just a paper-like weave of soft metal alloys. It felt a lot like particularly sturdy tin foil, but it was the closest to paper he could get the smallish onboard mass-fabricator to make with the base materials on hand.
So, tiny metal animals.
He pinned the next sheet between graceful fingers, and folded in in half. Using his keel and the back of a talon he smoothed over the crease to make the line crisp and flat.
It was delicate and complex work for a six fingered person to do, but it was exactly what the green eyed Spectre needed right now. Something to keep his hands busy so his mind could slow down and think.
The metal-paper was unfolded, and a new crease was made going perpendicular to the first. Nihlus clicked his tongue at a minutely bad angle, and pulled the misalignment into a straighter fit before smoothing it.
He glanced at his Omni-tool, -no new messages-, and returned his focus to the pale green pattern of waves embossed into the brushed metal 'paper'. He sighed, and stared at it for a moment while he worked on organizing his thoughts and gathering the will to face himself in a mental mirror.
The carmine plated torin had been trying to protect Garrus by running away, but he hadn't thought that the running would do damage too. It hadn't occurred to him until the hurt and angry subvocals bled through the sniper's tone in a barely-there waver when he was too busy focused on whatever asshole he'd been chasing to watch his words, so to speak.
One hand came up to scrub over faceplates in exasperation with his own misdirection. At first, he'd been so sure that Blue would never in a million years be interested in him, it didn't make any sense that a low tier colony kid would catch the eye of a home worlder. Then he'd, -and this was not one of his prouder moments-, basically begged for it, and oh, fuck... Blue had delivered.
Nihlus felt his plates loosen at the memory of it; that first plunge into Reverie with him, the slick heat of the sniper's sheath as he pressed himself into the trench of splayed plates right along side Garrus' length.
He grit his teeth, and flipped a corner of the metal-paper over to touch another edge, and concentrated on lining up the corners just right. Determined to focus on his own complications and not just give in to the resurgent desire to suddenly show up at an apartment door with a case of beer and take out food they'd probably have to reheat later, because it would be cold by the time he'd finished saying 'hello'.
Or just masturbate, that sounded good too. Screwing those twins had brought back old fantasies from last year involving Saren and Garrus at the same time. They weren't even vaguely related looking, but both had that pale stone color to their plates that shone silver in the right lighting, and having them at the same time would...
The green eyed Spectre made three more careful folds before he managed to get his hind-brain under control. His fourth little figure was beginning to resemble more of an animal, and less of an oddly folded metal sheet.
He had been wrong, entirely. The scion of Clan Vakarian had been willing to touch him when he needed it, and had been more then happy to carry on while Nihlus was there.
Was it just the cover?
He was female looking at the time as well...
Maybe he was just... an easy mark...
The Spectre shook his head angrily at himself. Yes, obviously it was part of the cover, but Blue's subvocals had been clear about enjoying it, and wanting it. Convenient? Who was he kidding? That torin could walk into a bar, spin his finger in the air, and half the room would follow him home. Any gender or species. No, Blue had instead spent time each day paying attention to him, anything he asked for, and even when he didn't, the sniper would draw up behind him and nuzzle into the back of his neck so sweetly...
Figurine number four was finished before he managed to get back on track. He set it up on the ledge with the others, and checked his 'tool again before starting in on five.
He needed to not be such a sucker for attention, he really did. It was part of why he and Saren got along so well, his former mentor would give him plenty of attention if he asked for it in a constructive way like programming lessons, but would only occasionally entertain selfish or hedonistic pursuits. It kept Nihlus in a better balance of work and play then he could manage himself.
Garrus... did not. Garrus just spoiled him, lavished him with attention both sexual and otherwise. So long as the icy eyed Officer wasn't at work, or in the middle of a tech project, he had spent all his free time doing whatever made his 'girlfriend' happy.
Fuck, that torin would make some Palaven-born bitch a perfect bondmate someday. He would have to play nice with her too, not kill the twat on sight...
Nihlus turned the current sheet of light orange metal over, folding it back in on itself in a clever way that would make a central horn to a beast that had a triple pointed crown of them in real life.
So now it was clear that while Blue enjoyed being around him, -who fucking knows why-, the sniper... wasn't good for him. He was amazing, in a bad way. On the other end of the equation, the green eyed Spectre thought he was also pretty bad for Blue. The tech junkie had a generous nature and a tendency to throw himself wholly into whatever he was doing. To a normal person that kind of devotion and selflessness would be a gift. To Nihlus, it was an exploitable situation that he couldn't help but to take advantage of.
He couldn't lie to himself and say he hadn't seen the tired droop of mandibles or hazy unfocused look that Garrus had borne after a few days of having him there as a guest to cater to.
That was... probably why he kept feeling like a leech off and on while he had been undercover. When Nihlus was 'Asla', he was an entitled soldier girlfriend enjoying every second of a limited shore leave. When the quiet hours came, and Nihlus was almost himself toward the back of his mind, he was more aware of what was really happening. That damn seductive cover, how easily it settled on him... the Spectre promised himself he'd never actually go back to it again. Handy pre-made disguise, ready and waiting for him or no. Not unless the situation was really dire.
He checked his Omni-tool again, still no message, though it was still early enough in the day that the C-Sec Officer wouldn't be off for several more hours if he worked the maximum thirteen hour shift that he preferred to. Four hours to go then, so he started on another figurine, determined to actually be waiting for the call like he'd promised.
The next sheet of metal-paper was a vivid purple with a bunch of tiny triangles embossed into it. He began folding it into the base for a bird like shape, and considered further what to do about the situation. Blue obviously was hurt that he'd dropped off the grid without warning him, and he felt sort of bad about insinuating that he'd been busy with Spectre stuff the entire time. He'd really only done two short missions, stopped by Azure for some fun, and ambled around on his ship during the travel time. He could have texted or called... but every time he'd gone to do so, he felt 'Asla' creeping back into him, and his knee jerk reaction had been to run fast and far away from that.
It didn't help that he missed Blue's stupid apartment. The place wasn't even nicely decorated, or well equipped, nevermind spacious. It was small and plain and should have been boring. It had been sort of dull during the day when no one was there. He shouldn't want to go back so much, damnit. But he missed the cubitura, the terribly punny mugs, and the gorgeous sniper with a clothing closet full of gun parts and linen shelves stacked with circuit boards instead of towels.
Spirits damnit! Why was the torin so fucking adorable? He needed to knock that shit off, for both their sakes.
Nihlus made himself breathe calmly, letting the frustration and anxiety wash over him and away as he set the latest itsy bitsy metal-animal on the deck and went for another sheet of material. He had a small horde of wild life, and who knows what he would do with the finished assembly. Probably recycle the lot of them. It wasn't the product that was important, it was the diversion making it provided. Sorting his thoughts had never been a strong point, self reflection didn't suit him, but he needed it right now. Needed to get his head on straight.
So, he'd hurt Garrus with his back and forth, and that hadn't been what he'd intended. What he needed to do was make up for it, and then take a nice long solo mission where he'd be out of communication. That way, he wouldn't have to lie to Blue about why he wasn't going to be able to talk for a while. The carmine plated Spectre preferred not to lie to friends if he didn't have to, and it wasn't really much of a stretch to take on a mission that suited the circumstances.
His Omni-tool pinged and he tossed the half-done creature aside to answer it.
The sniper get off on time that day, clocking out and heading home at a reasonable hour. The front desk staff might have looked at him strangely, but he ignored them and hurried home. As soon as he arrived his armor was shucked off into a pile, and he put himself through a fast shower before flopping onto the cubitura with a beer. Garrus breathed in air, held it for a moment, and exhaled as much of his stress and negativity as he could.
Then he dialed up the absent Spectre and waited for it to connect. As promised, it clicked over almost immediately to show cheerful green eyes and sheepishly grinning mandibles.
“Hey Blue. All done for today?”
“I am, how about you?”
“Yup, just on my way back to Citadel Space. Mission complete.”
“Oh yeah, how did it go?” Garrus felt the bulk of his ire fade away. It was stupid, but... just this little stuff was what he had wanted, what he had missed the most about having... a roommate.
“Pretty damn good! I stole the idiot's data right from his Omni-tool, banged his daughter, and left him a massive bar tab.”
The sniper burst into laughter at the classically Nihlus shenanigans. “The bar tab really was the finishing touch, wasn't it?”
“Yep! It wasn't a small one either. Something like four hundred creds.”
“You drank that much at once?”
“Hell yeah I did.”
“I don't believe it, you're too thin to hold that much liquor and still manage to escape a tab. Or walk for that matter.”
“You severely underestimate my sneakiness, Blue.”
“Ha! Put your money where your mouth is, Hurricane. I wouldn't bet on you out-drinking a Volus ”
“Oh it is on. Next time we go out I'm going to drink you under the table, ya mollycoddled home worlder!”
“Or more likely, I'll show you how it's done, parvenu colony kid.”
“Pffft! I can't wait to shoot you down, eventually.”
“Eventually? Not going to have time when you get back?”
“Not, ahh... not this trip, no. Have to get some work done before I can slack off. Tevos would let me get away with murder, but Sparatus gets snippy if I'm lazy.”
“Haha! Fair enough. Hmm... Thanks for calling by the way. It's nice to hear from you. Normally the only calls I get-”
“Are from your mother!”
The sniper groaned at the come back. “Family in general, thank you! Cute tarin sometimes too, depends on the day.”
“Sounds like someone is stretching the truuuth~~~.”
“Considering you think you're going to drink me under the table? I think we know whose stretching the limits of rationality here.”
The Spectre leaned back in the command booth with a smirk, opposite arm stretched out over the back. “I am going to make you eat your words, Blue.”
Garrus grinned right back, subvocals dropping low with cocky challenge. “When you fail, you'll have to offer me something else to eat.” The emphasizing subvocals on 'eat' practically dripped with sexual innuendo. Nihlus felt his plates slip right the fuck open, imagining that silver crest between his legs as he was held partially closed and eaten out. He worked to keep his reaction cool and sly, instead chuckling with pleased amusement, then redirecting the conversation.
“Pffft. We'll see. So what the hell does parvenu mean?”
“Info-net it, slacker.”
“I don't wanna.”
“Oh well then, here, let me help...”
The central screen array on the Widmanstat popped up with an incoming email message. The main text body read: '[Link: exnet.info-net/let_me_info-net_that_for_you_'parvenu'].
“Ha. Ha. You're Hilarious.”
“I know, right?”
“Arrrrrrg, no .”
“Hahaha! Alright, alright. It means something like 'upstart', and I was just teasing... but ah, I suppose I'll let you go. You probably have a report to write?”
He did actually, and that was as good an excuse as any to wind this up. “I do, yeah. I should get to it, but ah... I'll send you a live chat later?”
“That would be great-, oh the doorbell just rang.”
“I'll let you get that then, talk at 'cha later.”
Garrus nodded goodbye and closed the call.
Nihlus felt... a lot better. They were okay. He could talk to the sniper for a few days over chat, and then disappear off the face of the galaxy for a month or two. Perfect.