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"SHE'S WITH ONE OF THOSE FUCKING THINGS. Jorvan mentioned it in passing. I had to bite down on my tongue to keep from screaming. Wrong. She's so Wrong. Why does she ignore me?! Doesn't she know our love is eternal?! I will fix her. I will show her what an abomination humans are. How they took everything from us.
I hope he comes along. She will know our pain. I will make her see.
The pain is so much. The meds do nothing. I stopped taking them some time ago. I saw a weak one in the Mech bay. He hurts himself. It's pathetic. The only true pain is inflicted by others.
Trafalgar Inpatient psychiatry Ward 4 July 2186
"You really should take it easy. Your muscles have atrophied from the sedentary nature of your illness." The doctor said archly as he watched Max offer Ree his arm.
"To be honest Doctor, I've grown rather tired of sitting." Ree countered with a determined grunt as she used Max to lever herself out of her chair.
They were in the clinic's courtyard, the bright morning sun stabbed through the surrounding trees with beams of intense light. The trees branches danced and wavered as the wind began to pick up, as if in greeting. Max's exo-frame stood waiting for them by the clinics front entrance. Its braces hinged open like a steely maw of hydraulics and straps. Max had adjusted the restraints as best he could to accommodate Rees anatomy but he was still leery of having her moving about so soon.
He wanted to side with the doctor, but he knew she wanted to do this for herself. So he gently guided her to the frame, keeping pace with her wobbly steps as she leaned on him for support.
"That contraption isn't even medically rated, in fact I've never seen anything like that before." The Doctor continued.
"Because its military. Don't worry Doc, ill be close by." Max Assured as he hoisted her into the frame by her upper thighs.
Ree watched with interest as he began strapping her in, enclosing her within the machine as if it where some sort of iron maiden. She winced when he began to close the shackles around her ankles, the angles not meant for turian digitigrade feet.
"Oh sorry. Tell me if this is more tolerable." Max said as he stood and noticed her pained expression.
He made a few adjustments, removing a few straps around her double ankles and instead secured her feet better.
"Yes, that feels better, but I don't feel really that secure now."
The human scratched his head as he mulled the problem over.
"I'm sorry, I just don't have the tools with me to fix it right now. It should still work though, just no jumping or running." He said and took a step back.
She did look like she was about to fall out of the thing. The frame was built for Max and his armor, making her appear almost childlike in size compared to the frame. On top of that her shorter arms could barely reach the control nubs built into the palm grips.
"Hmmm. Semi Autonomous mode, follow all physical pressure inputs within limited range of motion. Begin learning range of motion now." He said to the frame and motioned Ree to move about.
She took a shaky step forward, the frame hesitating until it felt her legs pull. The delay made her feel as though she where about to trip so she put her arms out to brace for a fall. To Max it looked like she was doing a Frankenstein's Monster impression and he couldn't help but smile.
"Good, just move to where you feel comfortable a few times and it will store the information." He encouraged as she took another step, determination burning in her eyes. And her arms. And her legs. And her everything. Everything burned. It felt as though she had conducted an ultra marathon in the span of a few minutes as her weakened muscles fought to respond to her commands. Soon she was panting, a cool trickle of sweat running down her neck and into her cowl.
"Are you ok?" Max prompted as he took a step closer and offered a steadying hand.
"Yea. Spirits I feel like I'm twenty meters tall in this thing." She grunted and steadied herself into a standing position.
"I mean I suppose it's a handy way to smash your head on every doorway. I would know, it happens all the time."
The Doctor looked on with a façade of professional detachment but privately wondered how fun it would be to run around in such a device. "30 Minutes, and no more. I don't want your kidneys failing from all the lactic acid build up in your muscles." He said tersely as he stared pointedly at Max.
"Oh, just enough time for a 4 mile run." He murmured to Ree as the Doc turned on heel and left the two.
"Hah. I think I would quite literally die."
"I mean I could just set the frame on Full Autonomous and have it follow me." He persisted with a grin.
"No, Max. Not going to happen. Come, It's fairly nice out and I want to get some fresh air."
Her gait grew more and more fluid as they progressed until she got to a point where she settled into a slow loping rhythm due to her increased stride. Max stayed close beside her and had to get used to looking almost up at her as her tiny frame maneuvered the Exo with growing confidence. The burning subsided as the machine became more proactive and began anticipating her movements, easing the amount of effort she had to put into walking.
They followed a winding trail lined with mulch that threaded its way through the copse of trees. It melted away to reveal a grassy knoll with a few crude duracrete park benches arrange in a semi circle. Max knew from his time spent at the clinic that this was where some of the outpatient group sessions occurred. They crested the knoll and absorbed the vista it provided of Trafalgar city below. The early morning light cast the impossibly tall and slender skyscrapers in chrome. The flow of aircar traffic was minimal, threading broken lines of headlights between the buildings. This was set against the luscious green backdrop mountain range. The juxtiposition was jarring in how they dwarfed the tallest building.
He had come from those mountains. The long trek had been grinding and hazardous, He didnt give it a second thought as he took his seat beside Ree. They sat in silence for a while, taking in the scenery.
"Could you help me get my arms out of this thing?" She prompted as she tried to undo a latch herself. Max obeyed, a faint smile ghosting his face as he freed her upper torso from the frame. Her hand sought his and they pressed close to one another. A content sigh came from Ree as Max kneaded her hand in his. She looked over at him, taking in his features in profile before curiosity got the better of her and she reached out to run her hands through his beard. The bristly hair felt odd against her palm, he covered her hand in his and guided her hand over his cheek.
She extended a finger and traced the scar she had given him down his neck, pausing at the brown wrinkle of scar tissues banding his throat. He sensed her trepidation and turned, kissing her palm softly and pressing into her touch.
"I don't even know what happened after I blanked out." She said after he had pulled her hand back to his lap.
"There was an explosion. Her prosthetics malfunctioned." He said a bit too sharply. He regretted it instantly.
She wanted to press on but his tone gave her pause. It was understandable how raw the memory was for him, so she stopped, instead squeezing his hand.
"Its ok. I'm still kinda there, ya know? Still trying to make sense of it all."
She nodded weakly, her heart beat in pained strokes as she saw the pain in his expression. She felt suddenly trapped in the frame and began unlatching the lower half. Max helped then eased her on to the bench beside him. Her hospital gown had been replaced by a simple set of gray sweatpants and long sleeved shirt. She tugged at the loose fitting shirt and pressed her head into his chest. Curling her small hands into his shirt as she leaned against him. Max cupped her chin as stroked her jaw line with a thumb as he wrapped his other arm around her waist and pulled her close. She nuzzled into his hand, craving closeness as she gave a small purr of contentment.
"I have faith in us." The words came unbidden, but Ree felt herself nodding in agreement.
"Ree." The vulnerable tone in his voice made her look up, concern clouding her delicate features.
Max stared into her eyes, holding on to her as he traced her fading colony markings from her small nose slits across her cheek and down her ear plate. He felt lost in her eyes, a sea of glinting blue and purple that threatened to swallow him. She reached up and touched his face in kind, inahling his scent in deeply and edging closer to his mouth. His eyes flitted to her lips, her mouthparts slightly ajar as she breathed languidly.
"I never want anything or anyone to come between us. Ever." He whispered as his hands traced her crest plates.
"Max. I can never forgive myself."
"You don't have to. I'm here. And I always will be so long as you'll have me. For you and only you."
He wiped her tears away, kissing the rest away as he held her closer. Her legs dangled limply over the side of the bench as she lay across his lap. She keened in a low tone that was both joyous and mournful as she shivered with energy.
"Max.. I think I love you, and it scares me. I don't want to hurt you or be hurt again." She breathed, her lips grazing his.
"I love you. And I'll do whatever it takes to help us mend."
She closed the distance, eagerly tasting him as she held on to his face with both hands. He pressed back into her, arms wrapping around her narrow waist and pulling her closer.
When they pulled apart after what felt like an eternity they both searched each others expressions before smiling and embracing once again. He slid his legs on to the bench, lifting Ree so that she could lay on top of him as he reclined, using the Exo as a headrest.
They spent most of the morning holding each other and occasionally kissing each other as if it where the first time.
Dhal's Folly 10 July 2186, Digeris
"No Dalatrass, I have not managed a scan of him yet. I have, however, located him. He's with the female turian Cabalite in Trafalgar. I have received word that her condition has improved and that she will be ready to be discharged within a week."
Sighra clasped his hands neatly behind his back, mentally bracing for a reprimand.
"Very well Operative Bau. Please exercise caution, we've had a few more cases come to light and our grasp of the situation is becoming more solid. I would recommend having an isolation cell on standby, just in case."
"Would that really be necessary? He's hardly exhibited any violent tendencies save for acts of self defense."
The Salarian counselors ghostly holoform flickered briefly, giving the impression that his concerns had somehow caused the interference.
"Yes Operative, this is a requirement. We've scrubbed his personnel file and can find no active ties to Cerberus, however there is still cause for concern given some of his relationships."
His eyes narrowed at the tidbit of information. The news of his missing father had not changed, and given the partial evidence left behind at the scene of the two slain C-Sec officers it was easy to see the correlation. It had been Max's father who had been detained by the Counsel. Presumably by a Specter given the tight lipped nature of Counsel. It wouldn't look good on them to be seen holding Alliance members captive without notifying them. There had to be a fairly good reason.
"Very well Dalatrass, I will make the necessary preparations."
She nodded and cut the call.
Bau stood in silence for a while, his mind working through the situation from multiple angles. The fact that she had not been upset by his lack of contact with Max signaled some other development. Either that, or there had been enough information collected to deescalate the urgency of his assigned mission.
He left the QEC chamber set in the basement of the HQ building and checked his Omni as he walked. According to his tracker Max was still in Trafalgar, in close proximity to Alarees. They where somewhere in the commercial district. The fact that Max had his Omni still on meant he wasn't so concerned about being found.
So he took a chance and gave him a call.
"Shhh!" Max urged as his frame rocked steadily in the changing room.
Ree stifled a whine with both hands as she looked down at him. "Oh spirits Max I don't know if I can take anymore."
He stopped, a bead of sweat running down his temple as he looked up at Ree. She sat on the edge of the changing rooms bench seat, Max kneeling between her legs.
"We can stop if you'd like."
She shook her head slowly.
"No I need this. Its been too long."
Max's lips pursed with determination.
"Ill try to make it fast."
He turned back to his work. The file poised in his hand as he surveyed what was left to shave off her overgrown toe claw. He placed the to be purchased shoes beside her foot for comparison before resuming. The feeling of having her talons filed never bode well for her, it was akin to having nails dragged across a chalk board -only the board was her body and the nail was the file. But they had already made their selection and had entered the changing room only to realize she needed further grooming.
She had taken to her unruly crest plates herself back at the clinic with a tool that gave Max pause. They looked like short handled pruning sheers and toenail clippers had a baby. They had made the most disturbing crunch snap noise when she had taken to snipping the long curling plates protruding from her crown. He recalled watching as the solid chunks of bony material clattered into her cowl, which she deftly fished out with practiced ease and tossed into a waste bin.
"Doesn't that hurt?"
"Only if I quick myself. There's a blood vessel that grows along with the plates if you let them get too long. Most females don't want to deal with constant trimming and have the vessels cauterized so they don't grow crest plates. For males it's a bit harder since theirs grow from birth and are thicker, Its also kinda a sex appeal thing."
"So males don't view female crests as sexy?" Max had asked fascinated.
"Some do, some don't, most don't care. Its about the fringe plate and hips for most though." She had replied as she tapped the plate above her brow. "Oh and some have a weird fetish about females with more than two calf spurs." She added with a shrug
Presently Max was embattled with a squirming Ree as he finished filing her talon.
"Ok, try them on now." He said as he stood and wiped his brow.
She wormed her foot into the shiny black leather boot and tugged at its tongue to get it to settle.
"A little snug, but better." She said with palpable relief in her subvocals.
Max offered his hand and helped her stand. She turned to the floor to ceiling mirror and looked herself over. Max couldn't help but grin as she tugged at the sleeveless dark red vest she now wore over a simple white undershirt and black leggings.
"I think the red stitching around the spur holes is a nice touch. Hell if you tossed some red laces for those shoes I'd say you were going for a look." He grinned as she took a few tentative steps around the changing room.
"Well all of my belongings are back at Dhals Folly, so I have to wear something." She replied distractedly as she bent over to stuff her old clothes into a small knapsack.
Also the memory tied to those clothes are a bit overwhelming for me at the moment. She thought as she lingered over her deep blue foot wraps. She could still see bits of dirt and grass embedded in the cloth material from that day.
Max opened his mouth to say something but paused as his Omni chirped. He chewed on the inside of his cheek as he decided if he should take the call. When he read it was from Bau he pressed answer and sat down on the bench.
"Hey, long time no chat." He started and mouthed "Bau" to Ree when she stopped packing to look at him.
"I cant read human lips." She pointed to her ear plate. "Translator"
"Yea, im doing ok." He replied to Bau as he slid his Omni pad out of his pocket and brought up a picture of a salarian.
Ree caught on and gave dip of the chin. She felt conflicted about Bau, but felt he had tried all he could to alter the course of events after what Max had told her about the trial.
She moved to mouth something back at Max but thought better of it and sent a message to his Omni.
I'm going to go pay. Ill be out front.
"No really I'm doing fine. Some odd twinges here and there, but I'm ok." He replied to Bau as he shook his head at Ree and scooped up the shopping bags.
Like weird heat vision abilities and a an ability to strangle myself with time. Ya know, perfectly normal side effects of having a bunch of alien shit shoved inside you. He thought as he followed Ree out to the sales kiosk.
"Well I don't know. Id have to check and see if she's available for dinner." He replied as Ree paused to look up at Max. He mimed eating and pointed at her, himself, then the picture of the salarian on his Omni. She shook her head vehemently.
"Yea, well actually I don't think now is a good time." He added as he scratched his head and looked at his shoes. "I didn't know you were still on Digeris, I thought you packed up and left months ago." He said as he tried to change topics. He watched as Ree waved her Omni at the till and the female turian clerk behind the counter nodded, and began chatting Ree up good naturedly, as most retail puppets are trained to do. He could tell by the way she was leaning against the counter she was losing the will for small talk.
"Hey, so I gotta go. But yea, lets try again some time soon. Thank you once again for helping out." He said and cut the call.
He stood beside Ree, sliding an arm around her waist in as much an effort to rescue her from the overly energetic clerk as to keep her from toppling over.
There was an audible "Oh" from the clerk as her demeanor shifted upon seeing the human. Ree grinned and slipped her arm around Max as well.
"Well its been good talking, farewell and good luck with the academy." Ree said cheerfully as she lead Max away.
Max winced as the automatic door sensor sent a flash of energy out, then hummed and sent another longer pulse over the both of them before sliding open smoothly. The sensitivity to scanners and sensors hadn't gotten better as much as he was able to handle it by mentally bracing. When they had turned back on to the street Ree sighed gratefully.
"I think she took me leaning against the counter for support as permission to give her life's story." Ree grumbled as they walked slowly down the street.
"Was that a good "oh" or a bad "oh" she gave back there?" Max replied.
"That was genuine surprise. Aside from the bar district and commercial ports, Trafalgar is largely turian. She'd probably never seen a human before, much less an interspecies couple."
"Oh so we're a couple now." He said lightly and gave a small "Oof" as a spiked elbow jabbed him in the stomach.
"Strength is coming back, that's for sure." He added as he rubbed the sore spot.
Ree raised her Omni and hailed for an aircar to take them back to the ward. Technically Ree wasn't supposed to leave the facility unless with a guardian, but through some colorful language provided by Ree and a calm assurance by Max to the Administrator, they allowed him to serve that roll.
"Do you require anything?" Ree asked as she realized the trip had been all things she had wanted to grab.
"No, I'm ok, getting kinda hungry though. But we can wait until were back at the clinic and hit up the cafeteria." He replied as he rubbed his temple. Something about that door sensor had left a tingling sensation that had his mind buzzing. He caught Ree's concerned expression and gave a carefree smile.
"Really, I'm fine. Just some twinges."
Back at Dhals Folley Bau reviewed the limited data the door sensor provided before frowning and set about hacking another camera feed. A street corner security camera had the two within their field of view as they waited for their ride. Content that he could track them he turned back to the results and rubbed his chin.
An orderly and a doctor was waiting for the two of them when their air car touched down at the clinic.
"You're late." The ancient looking turian male doctor grumbled as the orderly pushed a wheel chair forward to scoop up Ree.
Max checked his Omni.
"By like 15 minutes." He protested.
"My word is my Bond." Ree and the Doctor echoed eerily.
Ree shook her head "Sorry, it was my fault. We got delayed at a store because I of me."
She shooed the wheelchair and orderly away, instead snaking an arm around Max's as they all made their way back into the clinic. The doctor fell in step beside Ree and bowed his head as if he were a monk on a sacred journey.
"I'm not Hierarchy anymore, but in my day you planned 15 minutes prior to your 15 minutes prior so if things like this happen you're never late. -Anyway, I'm here because you're due another physical assessment. Mr. Barrett if you'll be so kind as to wait outside. We don't have the funds to replace another MRI." He spoke in a slow methodical cadence, almost fatherly in its tone.
Ree looked up at Max.
When they had finished Ree emerged from the exam room with her head held high. Max was already beaming.
"Doc says my levels are good, its just a matter of strength conditioning and a few boosters to get my metabolism back on track. -Which is done." She said as she showed him a small bandage in the crook of her arm.
"That's the Physical bit, you still need to check in with Dr. T'Pero tomorrow for a psych eval." The elder turian called out cantankerously from the exam room.
"Food?" Max prompted.
"Food." Ree affirmed, ignoring the Doc.
The Cafeteria was mostly deserted when the two arrived, it being late evening. A few night staffers huddled in a corner and talked amongst themselves as the two entered and set about filling their trays. The conversation dimmed as the two were noticed but picked up again as the curiosity passed.
Max settled down with a tray of some sort of lettuce analog and a few vat grown meat cubes, lightly seared and seasoned. When ever he ate the vat grown stuff his mind screamed SPAM but it had the consistency of a medium rare cooked steak. -That tasted like SPAM. Ree on the other hand had decided to test capacity of her tray by heaping on a mound of dextro rice and apatarae meat, all slathered in a sauce that smelled sweet and a tad like over ripe mushrooms.
"So, this MRI thing." She lead with as she slid into the seat opposite Max.
Max managed to get a mouthful down before responding, a hand covering his mouth politely as he spoke. Ree smiled internally, recalling bearing witness to the odd motion before.
"Yea, so, things that emit energy, particularly scanners, don't like me. And I don't like them. Sometimes I have issues with powercells as well. My Omnipad will overheat on me if I'm not paying attention." He said and took another quick bite as Ree chewed thoughtfully.
"Is this all because of… you know" She said in a low tone.
"That night of the drugging" He affirmed with a scowl directed at his plate.
Ree recalled the incident with the security guards and the rifle overheating. She felt a twinge of disquiet and set her fork down.
"Max, do you recall when they woke you? Do you remember what happened?"
He set his utensils down as well and edged his plate away.
"Yes and no. I remember this feeling of falling, like something swallowed me up. I recall feeling your presence but not seeing you. I remember feeling the draw of power from above and then waking up omni-cuffed to the bed. What happened exactly?"
Ree finished a small nibble of her food before replying. She felt partially guilty for eating at all given the gravitas of the conversation, but she felt absolutely ravenous as her body craved proteins and nutrients to rebuild muscle and bone.
"You were there, then it felt like you weren't. I damn near killed you with a chair. Bau tried to sedate you but the IV's just popped out. It was scary Max."
"I wonder if I'm even me sometimes." He said as he rubbed his hands together under the table. "Like I feel like me, but I feel like I can see me. Like there's a part of me that's able to wander off and see me from the outside. It's the same part that makes some sensations really intense, like the electronics thing. But other times it feels like it's a record keeper."
He looked up at Ree, his eyes questioning.
"I remember things Ree. Like stuff in vivid detail. And it seems to be going farther and farther back in my mind. Every time I wake up I feel as though another chapter of my life has been queued for review behind my eyelids."
"Maybe we should both go see Dr.T'Pero tomorrow." Ree said cautiously as she reached across the table for his hand.
He ceased rubbing his knuckles anxiously and took up her embrace.
"I've talked to her already. Not about any of this, but about us. I get the sense this would be more of a Dr. Bau thing. I'm worried Ree, am I going to continue to change?"
She felt helpless in that moment. Both sat in silence, their food forgotten. It was Ree who finally broke the silence.
"Then we should definitely go see him."
Max nodded in agreement.
"Yes. But I'm still worried at what they might find or do."
"Well go together Max. You were by my side, and I'll be by yours."
"You sure we cant sabotage your psych eval tomorrow and just stay here?" He said halfheartedly.
"And what would I tell them to sabotage my eval Max." She goaded with a mischievous glint in her eye.
"Oh I dunno, maybe that you're in a relationship with a human. And if that's not bad enough it's a human full of weird alien bullshit in his body." He shrugged as he pulled his plate back towards himself.
"I don't know Max, I wouldn't call it "bowl sheet" when you've been in my body."
She giggled at the open mouthed stare Max gave. "Ree!" He hissed
Her giggles turned into muffled snorts of laughter as Max flushed a deep red and he stared into his food.
They settled back into their meal, talking idly intermittently before depositing their trays in the scullery and making their way back to her ward room. Alarees stripped down and carefully folded her clothes before depositing them on a small cart that had been used to leave meds for her earlier. When she noticed Max unrolling his sleeping mat and laying it in a corner she cleared her throat and placed her clawed hands on her hips.
"What? There's hardly any room in here." Max replied as he felt himself flush.
Her lithe frame seemed to be swallowed by the darkness in the room. Her eyes glittered glittered from the depths of shadow as she extended a hand and walked towards him, leading him back to the bed and nudging him towards it. He settled under the cool crisp white sheets and lay on his side, trying to make as much room for her as possible. She oozed into the bed after him and tucked in close, her frame pressing into him as she curled up and yawned. He slid and arm under the pillow while the other wrapped around her waist.
She gave a low throaty purr of contention and writhed against him. She eagerly soaked up his warmth as her cool plating pressed against him. He smiled as his lids became heavy, absently rubbing the soft skin of her un-plated stomach as he began to nod off.
"I love you." He whispered. He felt a rush just saying that, the conviction was absolute
"I love you more." She sighed and pressed harder against him. It still didn't feel close enough. She felt out Max and realized he was still wearing his undergarments. She battled internally if she should say anything but settled on a more subtle approach.
Her hips slowly rocked, her supple rear grinding against his sex.
"We're definitely not gonna be able to do that in this tiny thing." He mumbled through a sleepy smile.
"No, not how we've done in the past no. Only if you want to, though. Its something bonded mates do." she breathed back.
"Ree, are you sure you want to move this fast?" He said in a low voice.
She hesitated before answering, his questioning tone making her own concerns feel tangible. She had her own misgivings, a feeling that she was falling into the same trap as Jaa. But it felt different with Max, it felt like it had been with Kantose. If anything his caution had affirmed her decision.
"Yes. Unless you don't feel the same." She whispered as she turned her head to eye him.
He would be lying if he said he didn't feel a tad bit uneasy, but he trusted her. So he slipped out of bed, gasping at how chilly it was outside of the warmth of their body heat and sheets, and slipped his boxers off before sliding in back behind her. She gave a small shiver as he dragged the warmth away but writhed under the sheets with him to build the heat back up.
For a while nothing happened. Max wondered if he was supposed to do something but then she sighed and began slowly grinding against him. He felt himself begin to stir and hugged her a little tighter. She shifted and brought his swelling sex between her thighs. He could feel the heat of her slit as she slowly emerged, her petals like hot little tendrils of velvet seeking him out.
It all happened over the course of the night, with both parties partially nodding off at times as things slowly progressed. He recalled waking briefly, vaguely aware of being inside of her as she slowly drew him in deeper with each breath. Her mandibles flexed languidly, every exhale was colored by a faint whisper of a moan in her subvocals as her hips continued to roll slowly. Another period of dreamless sleep, the sensation of velvet pressing in all around him as he felt an up-welling of pressure at the base of his soul.
His presence was like a beacon of intense heat as she rolled though soul rending ecstasy. She could feel his heartbeat within her as she dove deeper and deeper, taking him to the hilt. She nodded off again pressing against her lover as she finally felt close enough. There where times where he would swell and diminish, like the ebb and flow of the tide. She pulled on him, ever so slowly, her petals gently messaging and savoring his presence before the tide would come in and she was breathing his scent deeply as his pulse intensified.
Then the moment came when both where sleepily aware of each other. The pre dawn glow from the window bathed the room in a deep purple. Max was trembling against Ree, his sex feeling as though it was made of pinpricks and static as a tidal wave frothed madly within him, seeking a exit. His breath was shallow as he could feel his entire existence tense. Ree's voice hitched in her throat as she felt him swell and press deeper into her than she though possible. Her stomach tensed as she began to feel feverish with energy. Her trigger was a breath away as he pressed against her, his arms a steel cage as he pulled on her. She angled her hips willing him to go deeper as she began to pant. She tensed as he pulled on her hips to an almost painful degree and drove even further into her, touching off a spark that made her seize around him.
It was too much to bear, the damn broke and he released his soul with a rasping moan as he felt himself course inside of her with the beat of his heart. She whined in a low rumbling tone as she felt the hot sear of his seed fill her, making her sex spasm again and sending her over the edge as her entire body curled up. He chased after her, their entwined forms becoming a ball of infinite sensation as they became one being.
They panted and twitched for what felt like eternity before they were desensitized enough to slowly, ever so slowly separate. Ree felt a chill in the base of her cowl as it felt like a part of her was being taken away from her. Max couldn't help but shiver despite being drenched in sweat as his entire body seemed to ache from the release.
She rolled on her back, feeling the chill of his seed race down her sex. She was silent as she regarded him, her eyes wide and searching, her mouth partially open. He ran a hand down her fringe and crest and kissed her softly on the mouth.
"Max, I love you."
He smiled and traced her markings with a thumb.
"I love you too."
"You don't understand. I like, really love you."
His expression sobered as he felt the depth of her words. He held her tight, whispering into her ear plate.
"I love you more than life itself."
They eventually hauled out of bed after holding each other and washed up. The tiny in suite shower made it a close and intimate affair, which neither minded as they took turns scrubbing each other down. Max grinned as Ree's head lulled about sleepily while he scrubbed a spot on her back where her cowl faded into a series of overlapping plates.
"What's wrong, didn't get much sleep?" He teased. "Remember, that was your idea, what ever that was." He shook his head in disbelief. He could have swore he felt his life shorten by a few years as they reached their bone crushing climax the following morning.
"Ah, no, I feel rested, its just that spot right there is undoing all of that, but I cant complain." She bubbled through the stream of water as her crest rested against the shower wall.
When they switched rolls Ree carefully tipped the water out of her cowl, but not before Max tried to use the water as a sink, which earned him a snap of her jaw with its full arsenal of fang like teeth.
"No! Stoppit! Not for washing!" She said in a semi annoyed tone as she batted his hands away.
"C'mon, your wasting water!" Max begged with a shit eating grin on his face.
"No!" She glared briefly before lightly digging her talons into his flanks.
He cowed from her touch, a primal panic making him flinch at the dig. She ceased and wielded a new weapon; a soap laden loofa which she applied liberally to his frame. She couldn't help but inspect his body up close as the loofa glided over his muscles. She smiled with contentment when they met each others gaze as she worked her way up to his chest and neck.
"I have no Cabal now and none will take me. I'm an outsider. Forgotten to the world. I don't know what to do with myself. I spoke with Prefect Ferkan, my old Commanding Officer, and he offered to have me transferred to some new base on Digeris. Father seemed a bit too eager for me to go there.
I hear Denae went to earth."
Trafalgar Inpatient psychiatry Ward 3 July 2186
"Please, have a seat."
The prompt by the asari counselor went unheeded as Max stood in front of the counseling offices' tiny window. He could see the Wards small courtyard and reception area from his vantage point. A lone turian orderly in white garb pushed a rather ancient looking salarian across the courtyard in a anti-grav chair to a fountain. Max shook his head fractionally. He was probably barely 35 years old at best. Meanwhile the asari counselor sitting patiently behind him was in her early 100's. The disparity in lifespans was just enough to distract Max momentarily.
He took a long deep breath and turned away from the window, sliding into the offered over-stuffed love seat and leaning back into its padding with a sigh. She looked young, almost to the point of innocence.
"Have you ever taken a life?"
The question cut the air like a knife. Max briefly wondered if he had in fact said it, judging by the widening eyes of the counselor he had. So he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together as he pressed on. He knew how these sort of things went. He's been through all manner of counseling following the death of his wife, but it was something he'd always gone through the motions of doing. He would typically nod and agree with whatever nonsense the counselor had said based on his few replies to questions and go on about his day.
Now it didn't matter. He had always felt he was wasting time. Time he could spending working and burying his grief. But time was all he had now. He didn't feel the guilt of "wasting time" with counselors. So he did what he probably should have done so many years ago, he opened up.
"Up until the tribunal, violence had always seemed to be just another part of the job. Sure, emotion is involved. But it was always impersonal, a necessity to survive, fight, and win. I remember being told by my old instructor that it is ok to Kill. But to murder is to kill without justification. Regardless it would still make me feel ill. Being justified in doing such things served only to rationalize an inherently insane deed."
More stunned silence ensued as the counselor remembered she had a note pad and began scribbling.
"I.. I see. What about the Tribunal has changed that?" She said as her head tilted, genuine curiosity lifting her thin brow markings.
"I wanted her to die. I didn't want to kill her, but I wanted her to die. But when she was on top of me and I could see the end coming I would have given everything to murder her slowly over everything she'd done. And in that moment I felt like I was no better than her."
He was absently tracing the scar along his throat as he stared off into oblivion. He shook from his reverie and refocused on the asari.
"But when I saw Ree collapsing and I felt like I was already dead. That no matter the outcome, we'd lose each other. That bitch was right." He added with a disgusted shake of the head.
"What makes you think that?"
He shrugged mentally and went for the first thing to cross his mind. He figured offering placating statements hadn't worked the first time, why do it now.
"Jaa had her proverbial claws in Ree long before I came into the picture. She knew exactly what buttons to push. I ended up being just another tool used to hurt her. I mean did you not see her reaction when she came too? The first thing she sees is the person who murdered her lover."
The Counselor nodded, adding another note before speaking.
"I do admit, the lengths that were travelled to achieve such damaging results are fairly breathtaking. It speaks of a being with nothing to lose." She set the pad down and crossed a leg elegantly as she folded her hands neatly in her lap. "But I would say that perhaps you are projecting your expectations of her reactions based on your experience and species-centric psychology."
Max rubbed his palms together as he felt a sense of unease grow within. He forced himself to still and rested his bearded chin on the tips of his fingers as he cast a questioning stare at the counselor. He found it oddly refreshing to be so open, if not a little bit worrying that he be so open to a complete stranger. Normally it would take several sessions to get to this point.
"What do you mean?"
Her soft blue complexion creased as she searched out the best way to explain it.
"Well, based on what you've told me, you're no stranger to violence. And I am fairly certain you've experienced some form of loss in the past. It may sound callous, but that's fairly common of someone involved in military service. So does the expectation of domestic emotions. By that I mean you relate your own emotional state to other humans."
"But.. I. We've felt things, together. Things I know mean the same thing, even if they're expressed differently. I've seen her laugh, cry, angry, upset. Things I know have the same impact as when I feel them." He could feel his throat tightening. His hands balled as he calmed his breathing. "I felt a connection. I could look in her eyes and see someone. A soul. Someone I.."
He couldn't bring himself to say it. The ache in his chest took his breath away.
"You care about her."
"Yes. And now all I'll ever be is the human who murdered her lover, or a source of guilt."
She nodded politely, biding her time as he processed his emotions. When he had taken a few calming breaths and swept the hair back from his eyes she resumed with a empathetic tone.
"I think you may be surprised Max. What I am trying to get at is that while there are similar emotions, different species process them in their own ways. But we haven't even talked about the nature of her catatonia; When beings typically undergo such a dramatic shift in both physiological and psychological behavior, its typically a form of self preservation. In the moment she collapsed her mind became so overwhelmed it shut down what was causing it harm. She needed time to let wave activity calm before she could emerge."
Max nodded uncertainly, his doubt plainly evident she continued. She motioned to him as she uncrossed her legs and leaned forward as well.
"Which leads me to my earlier point. Turians process great emotional distress differently. She came back from her state as if someone had hit un-pause on a holo vid. For all we know the last thing she saw was the horror at the Tribunal."
"Only to wake up and see me leering at her." Max replied bitterly.
"Max, she's most likely just now started to realize how long she's been away. She hasn't even begun to reconcile events. There are some fairly lengthy neurochemical reasons for this, which I will spare you. But basically her body and mind needed time to recuperate before being able to function again."
"But what if all this changes her?"
"If you mean she becomes unstable like her former mate, that's highly unlikely. I've pulled what I can of her file and it appears there are some glaring developmental issues stemming from her upbringing."
Max nodded, but still felt uncertain. It was too reassuring, too convenient. The asari watched the emotions play across his face as her poise remained stoic.
He looked up, confused.
"In answer to your earlier question, I was a commando for 43 years before I decided I would rather help people. My first area of study was the Ardat-Yakshi and how our isolationist policy has bred a sense of dread and extreme violence within the population. I wanted to change minds and help reintegrate them into the population, still do, but it's a very long lived task to take up. So in the mean time I gather information on other species and cultures and how they deal with both genetic and psychological disorders in the hope that I will be able to use my experience to sway our government some day."
He smiled a sad smile and nodded.
"Yea. I'm thinking a change in jobs might be in order as well. You have any opening here?" He said half jokingly.
"Although your services were greatly appreciated in the care and maintenance of Ms. Jorst and her life support equipment, I can say with reasonable certainty that that was a rare exception to the rather strict requirements for working within this Ward."
Max chewed on a corner of his lip as he recalled the shocked looks he had received when he had shown up at the Ward like a wild creature. The eyes had gotten wider when he told the receptionist who he was and who he was here to see. News had travelled fast evidently, at least amongst the turian staff whom the Director was amongst. He had begrudgingly allowed him to stay as an "special visitor" and had turned a blind eye as the human had taken over most of the care of Alarees.
"So what now?"
The corner of the asari's counselors mouth curled in a small smile.
"Now the real healing can begin."
Dhal's Folly, Digeris
Vaul stood at the counter of his new kitchenette as he wavered drunkenly. The bottle of ryncol gripped in his massive hand emptied most of its contents into the glass, but some of the vivid green liquid spilled on to the faux marble counter. Vaul watched with some amusement as the green smear bubbled as its mildly corrosive properties bit into the material.
The bottle was set with a solid thud and he moved off, glass in hand, back to the small bedroom area. His massive frame settled on to the bed and he resumed a holo vid with a swipe of his hand at the screen. The frozen images of two fighters locked in battle resumed their bloodied movements as one of the krogan fighters grazed the other with an elbow that sent some teeth flying before following up with a knee to the stomach.
"Yeaa! haah haah haah." Vaul cheered before taking a sip of his caustic beverage.
A chime at the door signaled company, to which Vaul grumbled at as he heaved off the bed and swayed his way to the door. He pulled up his loose fitting shorts as best he could given that the belt had been lost ages ago.
He was greeted by the gray plating and gold tattoos of Narn Verfher as he stood at the door clad in a black long sleeve and rust colored trousers. His usually smug demeanor wavered as he took in the krogans state.
"House warming party? And you didn't invite me?" He said with feigned injury. Vaul rolled his massive eyes and ambled away from the door.
"Yea, yea. What do you want?" He grumbled as he made his way back to the bedroom.
Narn was taken aback, so much so that his open mouthed stare was presented to Vaul's retreating backside. He recovered with an awkward tug at his collar and followed the krogan inside. Ever since the tribunal the krogan had been fairly illusive. At first Narn had dismissed it as shock of some sort, now that the indifference had been laid bare he didn't know quite how to proceed.
"Well.. To see how you're doing mostly. They sure did a good job of keeping everyone busy up until graduation." He said as he closed the door smoothly behind him and rounded the small parapet wall that separated the entryway from the bedroom.
Vaul rounded and sat back down on the edge of the almost too small bed and lifted his glass off the nightstand. He swayed slightly as he took another healthy drink and set the glass back down. His blood red eyes glanced at Narn briefly before turning back to the fight on the Holo.
"I'm fine." He rumbled.
"I'm surprised you're still here. On Digeris."
"I could say the same for you."
Narn cracked a smile.
"Well I've actually got orders to my next Unit. Which is another reason I wanted to stop by." A small vibrato of hopefulness colored his subvocals as his eyes flitted over the krogans frame.
Narn's mandibles twitched in annoyance. This wasn't the uncertain krogan he had met, the one who was eager yet terrified of his own identity.
"Look. If this is about my testimony. I was duty bound to report it after what happened to my Kin."
"Was ganging up on a lone human like coward pyjacks your duty as well?" Vaul sneered as his massive head tilted to level a narrowed eye at the turian.
An icy chill coursed through Narn, the air felt charged as he floundered. He knew. Somehow he knew.
"What I did was for the protection of my Kin. Had I known I was serving merely as a catalyst for someone else's schemes I would have obviously abstained from such actions."
He was meat with a small shake of the head before Vaul turned back to the Holo. He had half a mind to stand up and punch him. His blood began to chill as the anger began to build on itself.
"See your self out. Quickly" He rumbled menacingly.
Narn tried to come up with a reply, a retort, anything. But no matter what angle he looked at the situation from he couldn't see a way out. His head hung in defeat as he made his way back to the door.
"You're a stronger person than I, in more than one respect." He managed before silently slipping back into the brisk Digerian night.
Vaul sat in front of the Holo, picturing Narn as one of the fighters getting pummeled by his opponent before his anger made him tremble. The glass went sailing into the Holo resulting in a shower of sparks as the device shorted from the thick green contents of the glass.
When that didn't seem to have any effect on his agitation he angrily stormed to the kitchen and gripped the bottle of Ryncol before storming out of his trailer. He didn't know where he was going, but whomever did cross his path was probably going to end up in a hospital. His bare feet found their way to the Mech bay where he almost ripped the door from its hinges entering it.
The normally brightly illuminated warehouse was a cacophony of dark shapes and jutting machinery. Vauls reptilian eyes quickly adapted to the darkness as he picked his way around some the bigger equipment and shoved through tool carts and the like. When he arrived at the OLS entryway he took a long draw from the bottle before plunging inside ad descending.
He leaned heavily on the guard railing of the lift as it moved. His thick plated fingers dragged along the smooth duracrete elevator shaft as his eyes struggled to focus from the drink. He tumbled out of the lift and staggered to the OLS loading chamber where Ruhe had been working the day before. All the panels were back in place, only the telltale shine of newly installed components gave any clue that she had been working there.
His mottled green and brown hide practically collapsed on to the decking as he sat. He stared blearily into the infinite abyss of the launch tube as his mind finally wandered from how bad he wanted to hurt someone to how fucking big this gun was. A gun that was used to help stem the tide of the Krogan Rebellions. Was that why the place was called Dhal's Folly? Was it all just to rub it in the face of his kind?
"Yea well I'm here and FUCK YOU" He bellowed into the shaft. His voice echoed back at him, a few octaves lower.
"The hell did you say?" He slurred as he stood and approached the tunnel.
Another long pull from the ryncol bottle before it was hurled into the abyss.
"Yea, that's what I thought." He sneered before falling back on to his rear, painfully.
His stubby tail protested being landed on and he growled in pain as he rolled on to his side and fumed. The decking was cold, at least to any non-Krogan. He slumped, bare save for his ill fitting shorts as his eyelids began to feel heavy.
"I didn't like that asshole anyway." He mumbled before falling into dreamless sleep.
Harrison looked up at Ruhe as he crouched beside the sleeping Krogan. The tuning rod in his hand was poised a few inches away from Vauls nose.
"But how do we know he's not dead?" Reeve countered.
"Vitals are stable, blood pressure high. Trace amounts of chemicals and fermentation detected" Ruhe whispered back as she finished a scan with her suits built in systems.
"Why do you hate fun?" Reeve pouted as he stood and turned to the quarian female. "Well its almost noon. Doesn't he have a job or something to do around here?" He added as he surveyed the krogans barely clothed frame. He couldn't help but make the comparison to a snail or a turtle since Vaul was on his stomach, his massive hump perched atop his head plate protectively.
"Ya know I've never seen a krogan sleep before. It looks uncomfortable as all get out." He thought aloud before tossing the rod aside and walking away. Ruhe glanced over her shoulder at Vaul one last time before following suite.
"Well it doesn't look like he destroyed anything down here. The mess he left up in the bay is pretty rad in a bad way." He continued as he stepped into the control room and booted up a few systems.
Ruhe watched with keen interest up until the point she saw Reeve pan a security camera at the krogan and began booting up the launch alarm klaxons. It was at that point she scrambled to lock the doors of the control room and drop the emergency blast shutters over the windows.
Narn was perched on Vauls lap, his bare upper torso rising and falling rhythmically as Vaul guided the turians hips with his hands. Narn mouthed something which the krogan strained to hear. When he leaned closer the turians mouth hinged open to an impossible degree and emitted the most ear piercing shriek imaginable. Vaul felt himself begin to fall and jolted awake as the cold steel decking beneath him slammed into him.
He was on his feet instantly, albeit with an imbalance to his posture as his mind reeled to catch up with his surroundings. The noise ceased mid shriek and the OLS chamber became deathly silent as the krogan surveyed his surroundings warily. He took a wavering step forward, narrowing his blood shot eyes as a monster of a hangover sent its opening volley of nausea shooting down his throat.
Ruhe wasn't prone to violence, or anything really. However the current state of Harrison made her eye a particularly large wrench as the human laughed hysterically, doubled over the control console. What small amount of mirth Ruhe may have felt was lost the moment the krogan began angrily stomping around the launch chamber.
"Oh man. I'm gonna die. Heeehahahah."
Ruhe's faintly iridescent eyes turned to slits as her gaze went from the wrench, to the human, to the video feed.
"You may get your wish." She breathed and began looking for a hiding place as the krogan disappeared from the video feed.
"Hey, hehehe, hey, C'mon Ruhe. Where are you-"
The knocks sounded more like gunshots as Vaul pounded on the door.
Reeve reached the quarian just as she slid the access panel shut and sealed it from the inside. The narrow crawl space pressed its mechanical innards against the quarian's envirosuit as she shimmied sideways, away from the soon to be scene of carnage.
Reeve looked around wildly, panic chilling any vestiges of humor from him as Vaul continued to pound on the door.
"I heard you talk human, open up." He growled.
Reeve frantically went to the control console and killed the video feeds before scattering some tools around and hurriedly making his way to the door. He was greeted by a noxious wave of ryncol laced breath accompanied by a very unhappy krogan.
"Oh, hey. Didn't know you were down here. What brings you by?" Reeve huffed as he nervously tugged at his mechanics jumpsuit.
Vauls low rumble of a growl made the human visibly reel as Reeve could feel the alcohol permeate the air and soak into every pore.
"Woah, oh my god my eyes are watering." Reeve coughed as he stepped back.
"Who were you talking to?" Vaul said with a humbling flash of large jagged teeth.
"Oh I do that sometimes when I work. I kinda like talking through the problem I'm working on out loud, helps me focus." Reeve said with an easy shrug. "Say, you wouldn't know who was in my shop last night? They really tore the place up." He added with a curious raise of a blond brow. His heart felt as though it would explode from his chest at any moment.
Vaul sneered, taking a menacing step forward before eyeing the room and grumbling again.
"Watch it human. The best cure for a hangover is to eat something greasy." He said as he focused back on to the human and stooping to put himself at eye level with the human.
He stood slowly after holding Reeves gaze for an uncomfortably long moment and ambled his way out of the control room, pulling up on his loose fitting shorts as he scratched his unmentionables. When Reeve heard the lift activate he released a breath he didn't realize he had been holding and slouched against the console.
"Wowie wow wow. Some friend you are. Notice how I covered for you?" Reeve managed after a few deep breaths.
"Help. I'm stuck." Came a slightly panicked whisper from behind the wall.
For a bone chilling second it appeared as though she had reverted back into a catatonic state. Max looked upon Ree from the rear, his lips pressed into a thin line of apprehension. She sat in her wheel chair facing the window as still as she had been when he had first arrived at the clinic. He could just make out the small rhythmic motion of her mandibles as she took long deep breaths.
He opened the door further, his movements slow and gentle so as to not upset the air of fragile calm that seemed on the verge of shattering at any second. The Asari counselor gave a reassuring squeeze of his shoulder as she stayed behind in the hallway. Max looked back at her, nodding and taking a deep breath before sliding the rest of the way in and closing the door with a soft click.
Ree's head turned fractionally, her profile presenting itself as Max froze. Her crest plates had grown to the point of peeking out past her crown, almost looking like a males. They curved sharply downwards, following the contour of the back of her head almost to the point of touching her cowl. He could see where the plates had chafed against the cowl, rubbing fine grooves on them and marring the dark luster of her black plating.
He felt a gust of cool air and caught the scent of trees as he noticed that the window was open. Neither dared to break the silence, each unsure of the stance of the other as they were drawn into a stalemate. Max moved further into the room, taking a cautious step forward, as if he were approaching skittish fawn. When she turned further he held his breath. A single electric blue eye flitted over him before her chin dipped and she turned back to the window. He took that as tacit acceptance of his presence and slid into the seat beside her, facing the window as well.
He chanced a sidelong glance, noting how her eyes had closed while she entered a meditative state. Her throat muscles moved as she shaped words but left them unsaid. Her stark white hospital gown hung loosely on her slender frame as she clutched the placard in her clawed hands. He was still searching for words when she emitted a low deep hum from her lower vocals before letting the placard slip from her grasp into her lap and rubbed her hands together. Max fidgeted with his own hands as he stared at them, a numb throb filling his mind as tidal waves of emotion settled into a ceaseless churning of indecision.
Ever so slowly a three fingered hand slid into view as Max stared at his lap. Black dagger like talons spread wide as she opened her hand. Max felt his nose tingle as his eyes watered, not quite realizing how on the verge of tears he was until it was too late. He slid his hand into hers, his human anatomy finding purchase in her touch in an ungainly tangle of fingers and claws. Her palm was warm to the touch, her grip weak, as if she would change her mind at any moment and withdraw.
"I need you to lift my arm back. I'm too weak."
His head jerked up to meet her gaze. Her voice was scratchy, the usual soft flange to her subvocals hoarse. Be it from screaming or from the fatigue Max couldn't be sure. So he lifted their entwined hands and placed them between them, resting on the armrest of her wheelchair. For a while the faint rustle of the trees outside was the only sound as the air gradually thawed.
A soft rapping at the door had Max's brow arch curiously as an orderly slipped inside with a cart in tow. Steam roiled off a covered tray filling the room with an aromatic medley of spices and cooked louza. Max nodded to the orderly as he deposited the cart in front of Ree and uncovered the tray. The female turian swallowed hard as her stomach rumbled in hunger. She felt ravenous having been off her IV for the better part of two days. She reached for the tray with her free hand but it felt as if it was made of lead. Her arm fell on to her lap as the fatigue won out.
"It's ok, I'll help."
"But why?" She sighed as her shoulders sagging.
Max shooed the orderly away and pulled the cart in front of him, buying time as he began to preemptively shred the louza with long slender forks meant for turian hands. Ree watched silently, the wrongness of it all making her breathing shallow.
"Because… Well you need help and I want to help you." Max said eventually and felt like an idiot before he finished speaking. "I know, not what you meant. It's… It's just hard." He added and loaded a fork with food before gently slipping it into Ree's hand handle first. She stared at the morsel, willing her arm to raise but only succeeding in a tremble.
Max gave an encouraging nod as she tried, but saw the defeat in her eyes as her mandibles raised in effort. He beckoned her to allow him to help and gently reclaimed the fork. He met her gaze as he raised the utensil to her lips and stopped.
"But why?" She repeated, eyes wide and vulnerable as she searched Max's face for answers.
"Because I want to be here. With you. But if you don't want me here I'd understand." He replied, his voice barely above a whisper as he lowered the fork.
She nodded, her mind sluggishly trying to process what he said as well as take in his ragged appearance. She spied the ugly brown line peeking out from the thick bramble of a beard and met his gaze again. His expression was uncertain, if not a little fearful. Of her?
He watched her eyes wander, feeling them penetrate him like an X-ray as he waited in silence. Her hand moved again, sliding across the armrest to his with a sort of agonized lethargy that was painful to watch.
"Please." She beckoned as she pulled weakly at his hand.
Max couldn't recall a time in his life where he had willed his hands to be steadier as he fed her the first bit of food. -Which was saying a lot given his frequent involvement with things that explode. He had to force himself to look away as she chewed slowly and tilted her head back to swallow. He had almost forgotten how peculiar it was to watch a turian eat. When she settled and looked back up at him he chided himself for not preparing the next bite. He hastily began shredding the Louza, his cheeks flushing.
"So what now?
"I think you should probably finish this, I sure as hell can't eat it. I don't want to end up like that turian aid back on earth."
He glanced up to see a faint smile as she recalled the incident he referenced. How everyone had sat around the table in horrified silence as the aid frantically shoved ice in his mouth to counteract the sear of a habanero pepper.
"Terminal phase event" She said with a hint of amusement. Her smile waned as she met his gaze and held it as long as she could bear. She told herself she should feel embarrassed to have to be cared for like this but she felt too drained to worry about it. A part of her was still in disbelief that he was even here at all. She tried to place herself in his situation and couldn't see beyond the need to put as much distance between himself and her as possible.
She murmured after a few more bites where taken in silence.
Max bit back an almost automatic response
'Its ok' Wont cut it, its almost an insult.
"Alarees, you have no blame in this."
"But I should have seen this coming."
"No one could have seen any of this coming. We were used."
The fork clinked faintly against the plate as Max set it down and moved to hold her hand in his. He paused, not wanting to rush sudden contact. Ree cowed in shame, taking the hesitation as some form of fear response. She nodded, a distressed tremble coloring her subvocals.
"You don't deserve this. You don't have to be here caring for me like some wounded varren."
"I'm not doing anything I don't want to Ree. I respect you, and I care about you. In a sense I owe you a bit of gratitude for what you did for me back on earth."
"What, like stalk you like some creepy Drell assassin and punch you a lot?" She deflected.
He gently squeezed her hand in his before softly rubbing her palm with a thumb. The effect was soothing as much as it was a little jarring seeing his clawless fingers moving with such dexterity.
"Well no, not that stuff. But that night you stopped by my place after I had gone hyper gliding… Well you did punch me in the face that time, but it was a wake up call. Id kept my grief so tightly bottled up I was bound to snap eventually. You made me confront those things and start to put them behind me. Now I wish to repay you in kind."
She squeezed his hand weakly and slumped in her chair towards him. Max pressed closer, wrapping an arm around her cowl and holding her in companionable silence for a while.
"So what your saying is you want to punch me."
He couldn't help but give a small snort of laughter as he rested his head against hers.
"I don't hit people in wheelchairs. Maybe when you get your strength back we could have a sparring rematch."
"Yes because that ended so well."
"It was a learning experience, for both of us."
"How long have you been here?" She said as she lifted her head to look at him. She could feel the heat emanating from him as if he were a torch. It made her realize just how thin and pointless her hospital gown was as she shivered involuntarily.
Max hesitated in answering as he stood to retrieve the spare blankets from a cupboard set beneath the in suite sink. He draped the thick blanket over her lap and tucked it in about her midriff as he spoke.
"As long as it was going to take."
She reached for him again, making it clear she wanted him close. He felt a sense of deep contentment and relief as he settled back into his seat. His fear of rejection and malice slowly fading away as he gently massaged the cool skin of her palm.
For Ree she felt her disbelief being supplanted by longing, a niggling ember of panic making her feel as though this was some sort of hallucination. No one in their right mind would stick beside the person who nearly got them killed because of their willful ignorance. So she clung to him as much as she was able.
She felt her thoughts begin to spiral out of control and held him even tighter.
Oh Spirits what if I'm already doing it again? What If I'm being blind to my surroundings all over again. What if he's just luring me into a false sense of security.
"But why?" She whispered as they leaned against one another, side by side.
"Well figure that out together. You should probably rest. The doctor tells me we shouldn't over do the stimulation this early on." He replied softly.
"Please don't leave."
"I'll be right here in the corner."
She gave a tired sigh and nodded. She felt like nothing in his arms as he scooped her out of the wheelchair and laid her gently on her hospital bed. He brushed her cheek plate softly and pulled the sheets up to her chin as she curled up on her side. She reached for him, holding on to his had for as long as she could stay conscious before the murky depths of sleep swallowed her whole.
The doctors tell me they can grow and graft new legs for me. I told him that such an abomination will never touch me. It's disgusting, as if you could simply grow back what's been taken. I hate her. I love her and I hate her. She was everything and she left me for dead. All I feel is a cold ball in my stomach. I wanted to die. The doctors say I came pretty close after that human came into my room.
Jorvan came to visit. I could feel him, his warmth and love. He pulled me from despair, he gave me a new purpose. I will show Ree how wrong she is. I will break her and give her all my love. She must see how flawed she is, that only I can love her.
Trafalgar Inpatient psychiatry Ward 27 June 2186
The shape in front of her silently made notes in its Omni Pad before making a noise and leaving. Soon the familiar feeling of coolness spread from her inner thigh as her IV was replenished with another bag of nutrients. She didn’t feel it though. That would require thoughts. Thoughts didn’t matter. Only the steady drone of tunnel vision as shapes came and went was what existed.
She would blink and the scene would change. A scent would come and go or a sound would penetrate the fog long enough for a hazy memory to play through a frosted pane of glass. Its accompanying sound track would drone like music barely heard through a bedroom wall. Its tune was recognizable but its source untraceable as it played in halting staccatos just beyond the reach of conscious thought. Each day played out the same with rare exception. The months barely registered as her talons grew unruly and her fringe plates curled and thickened with neglect.
Warmth across her legs. A bright square in front of her. The steady drip of her IV echoing like the steady beat of a bass drum.
Softness beneath her. Flat white fills her vision. Its dark.
More shapes, a orange glow. The shape makes noise to another. They leave and the coolness returns.
A bright square, more warmth. A scent. Sharp and cloying. The sensation of movement as a shape wipes her down while she sits in her anti-grav chair.
Softness against her, the blank white of the ceiling. Darkness.
Loud noises. The milieu. Other shapes move about, a few are like her. One shape tugs on her arm and she's nearly pulled from her chair as shapes in white pull the other shape away. It stinks of something rotten.
The bright square, warmth across her legs. A scent. A foggy memory plays. A noise, its shape unseen. The noise becomes painful.
The scent, a shape. It sits in front of her making noises occasionally. Another shape in white, its arm glows and the other shape makes a distressed noise.
Softness, darkness. The scent. A noise, rhythmic like breathing. A memory. Warmth remembered.
Coolness, the scent is gone as shapes pass glowing orange lights over her.
The scent is back, but unseen. Warmth across her legs. The bright square. Something blocks a corner of it. The big square is green.
Softness and darkness. The scent and the sound return. It becomes quiet then calls out. The noise it calls is familiar.
The green square, there is motion in the green. A window. The small square blocks a corner. The scent is beside her, silent.
Softness and darkness, the scent brings warmth as her vision shakes. The feeling of more weight as it places another blanket on top of her. The coolness of her Iv makes her shake occasionally. The shape fills her hand with warmth. Its soft. Another memory, the shape of legs, one pair plated in deep onyx while the others are a fleshy pink. They are shaped differently.
Warmth, window, trees. The small square is brown. The scent is gone. The shape makes noises in the other room.
More orange glowing, more coolness. The shape returns with its scent when they leave. It makes some noises then grows silent. Warmth fills her hand. The shape makes noises that are familiar. Its fake. Her ears hear two things; Noise that sounds familiar and the alien noise of the shape. They are one in the same.
The shape is gone. The window and square accompany her. The square has something written on it. She blinks and its closer. The words take shape:
Chuckwalla Valley Raceway
The figure staring back at Max bore the hallmarks of the Gunnery Chief, but everything was a little off. His green eyes were gaunt and stared blankly at the unruly black locks of hair that hid his brow and threatened to cover his eyes. A long thick beard hid most of his neck, if he tilted his head just right it hid the ugly dark brown scar across his throat.
The hiss of water breaks the silence as he cups water in his hands and splashes it over his face. His lips disappear as he tastes the water. Its cool and refreshing, but he cannot shake the feeling of filth that seems to fill every pore.
The human towels himself off, all the while staring at his reflection. He searches for himself but the person before him looks haggard and drained. His clothes hang loosely on his frame. His rationing and wilderness living has taken its toll on him. Despite having been afforded the use of the facilities amenities there's a level of grime that persists in his tattered clothes.
I look like a crazy ass hermit, or the brand logo for some sort of deodorant.
He braces mentally before going back into Ree's ward room. Each time he sees her it breaks another fragment off of his soul. He starts to hum but stops as an idea strikes him.
Music. Maybe something familiar will help. Shit what does she even like?
He scrolls through memories until he finds one of her humming while they shower together. It’s a light melody, her natural voice sounding strangely melodic to the point that he turned off his translator implants and listened intently. He pulls out his Omni Pad as he comes back into her room.
"So this may take some doing since most programs are geared for human vocals when it comes to music finding buuut…"
The Omni pad in his hands fell to the floor as he glanced up at her. Max is on his knees in a heartbeat, clasping his hands over hers as she stares blankly down at the plaque clutched loosely in her hands. He feels a rush of panic and excitement as his mind races. He's torn between running to fetch a doctor and staying by her side. But then he looks up at her face and time stands still.
The Lead kicks in as she blinks. Not the languid shuttering of her eyes to keep them from drying out, but there's something there. Max drinks in every detail as her eyelid's movement slows to a crawl. Deep brown skin unfolds like a curtain over a stage cast in electric blue. Soon they're ascending, long black lashes scything up as pupils darker than the oblivion of space shrink to slivers. The muscles around her eyes twitch and begin to flex as they swing ever so slowly towards him.
He starts to feel his mind buzz with stimulation overload as he pushes the moment harder and slower than he's ever done before. He can feel the drone of a migraine coming as he watches her mandibles twitch, her mouthparts begin to spread as her throat flexes in such detail that he can watch the air fill her throat like a wave. He tries to hold on a little longer but its too much. He gasps and bows his head as the overload becomes unbearable. Its after a few ragged breaths that he realizes that the shrill noise isn't his mind.
Dhal’s Folly Digeris, 2 July 2186
Shath Vaul stood silently beside Sighra Bau as Prefect Ferkan typed away at his terminal. Bau knew the tactic well, place people in a position of secondary concern in order to create an atmosphere of authority. When Bau's internal clock reached roughly the 10 minute mark he moved to leave. He didn’t dare look at his omni, for that would play into the Prefects petty gamesmanship.
"I didn't say you could leave. We have unfinished business." Ferkan sneered from behind he desk as he didn’t even bother to look up.
Vaul shifted uncomfortably at the sudden escalation in tension and gawked rather openly.
"Later. I have council business to attend to. You can reach me via Extranet. I'll get back to you when I finish speaking with them." Bau waved a hand dismissively not even breaking stride.
That did draw Ferkan's attention. He looked up just as the door closed and was instead greeted by Vaul grinning ear to ear.
"You serve at my leisure, krogan." He snapped and pushed away from his desk.
Vauls grin hardened and he took a step forward.
"And that’s supposed to mean what? I didn't say a thing." Vaul said with a small measure of menace.
Ferkan sighed and pinched his brow. Things were getting out of hand. He was growing tired of dreading every message and phone call. The looming threat of being relieved hung heavily over his head. Learning that not only was the Salarian back, but that he had a direct line to the council didn’t help matters. Whatever machinations Ferkan had to "deal" with the STG operative went right out the window when he received both Hierarchy and Council endorsed orders to "make up a position" for the Salarian doctor.
"Calm down. I brought you up here to discuss the next cycle of students. We're looking to only host two species at a time or, failing that, break them up into mono-species platoons."
Vaul widened his stance and crossed his massive arms.
"That’s against everything I learned. The Gunnery Chief understood this and made us embrace the diversity."
"Yes, however we don’t have the luxury of the Gunnery Chiefs… Personal touch or drive." Ferkan countered and fought the urge to mirror the krogans stance.
"And you're assuming we'll all have the luxury of forming nice neat little cohesive units when shit goes south?" Vaul shook his massive head and pointed at the turian. "The whole idea of JSC was to be ready for un-ideal battles. You're a warrior -supposedly, when has anything gone according to plan?"
Ferkan didn’t take the bait but instead nodded. He knew the krogan had a point, which in and of itself was troublesome, but he couldn’t admit to it just yet. So he tried a different track.
"Look, we're down two of our primary instructors, and the humans wont send another representative until we've either brought Gunnery Chief Barrett back on board, or he has returned to the Systems Alliance for reassignment."
"Hmm. I'm not seeing how your personal problems effect me." Vaul grumbled as he feigned serious contemplation of the issue. He even stroked his chin for good measure.
Vaul blinked as the turian slammed a fist on to the desk but didn’t budge.
"Spirits DAMN IT!" He spat as he seethed.
"Calm down." Vaul mocked.
Ferkan was visibly shaking, and for a moment, the krogan wondered if he'd gone too far. But that moment came and went as the turian stilled and very deliberately and slowly poured himself a glass of water, which shook in his hand. Vaul was disappointed, after witnessing a mockery of a fight which was revealed to be a complete farce he had built up a few choice words for the Prefect. And by words he meant limbs he would like to break.
He shook his head and brushed aside the turians anger with a wave of the hand.
"Whatever. Look, we can work around the gaps in faculty. That’s not the problem. The problem is the students need to see first hand how other species function and live. Keeping them all isolated sounds perfect if you've been burned. But we might as well keep everyone home and send out brochures for all the value they will get out of living like that."
Ferkan nodded fractionally but didn’t trust himself to speak.
"As a Battlemaster I would want my Krantt to know the enemy just as well as his allies. Every bit of strength is only as useful as the warrior wielding it. If he doesn’t know how to counter or use a Biotics abilities, then what the hell is he going to do when he encounters it in battle?"
"Very well, I will take your recommendations under consideration." Ferkan murmured as he became anxious for the krogan to leave.
Vaul gave a small "humpf" and shrugged as he turned and left.
Bau stood just outside the door, waiting with a small grin.
"He's about to lose it." Vaul murmured as they walked together.
"Good. Such a misuse of power should have some consequence." Bau said tightly.
Vaul tilted his head, leveling a blood red reptilian eye at the salarian.
"So what's this about council stuff?"
"Sorry, mostly need to know. But what I can tell you is that it concerns our mutual friend."
"Ah, I'm kinda disappointed it isn't about shit canning Ferkan."
"In due time, in due time. Also I will say that you were very well spoken in there."
Vaul gave a toothy smile, his missing tooth showing proudly.
"Well I did learn from our mutual friend that I should try to see beyond the problem and try to figure out what's causing it. Ferkan's panicking. He doesn’t want another incident and he thinks putting everyone in their own little corners will keep everyone under control. Except turians tried that once before, then neutered my race when that didn’t work."
Bau blanched internally, intentional or not, mention of the genophage was still a sore spot for most salarians. They walked in silence until they exited the HQ building where Vaul hovered uncertainly. Bau stopped and turned, the bright Digerian noon making him squint at the krogan.
"Speaking of our mutual friend, I have a hunch where I might get more information on his whereabouts. Would you like to accompany me?"
"Sure, beats the hell out of sitting around and lifting weights all day." Vaul grunted in acceptance.
Vaul had to stoop to enter the Mech bay, his large frame barely fitting through the rear access door. When they entered the cavernous enclosure they were greeted by total silence as the assortment of equipment lining its walls stood vigil. Bau glanced around before heading to the rear office and rapping on the door with his slender fingers. When no answer came he stroked his chin briefly before breathing a small "ah" and striding purposefully to the far side of the bay. Vaul shuffled after him, eyeing some of the more lethal looking vehicles with keen interest as they walked.
The salarian stopped at a small door that had been hastily cut into the metal paneling set beside the massive hanger doors of the Bays front. He opened it and stepped into a small hall that terminated into a staircase set in duracrete.
"What the hell is this?" Vaul said as he blinked and tried to focus in the darkness.
The staircase terminated with a utility lift lit with luminescent strips along the walls and floor which they followed as Bau spoke.
"O.L.S. Orbital Launch System. It predates the Krogan Rebellions. In fact it had a hand in breaking the Krogan Blockade of Digeris during the rebellions. Warlord Dhal had placed his ships between the planet and the turian fleet, making it hard for them to fire on them without the potential for hitting a population center.
Originally it was made to deliver goods and materials into Orbit before atmospheric entry with early Mass Effect starships were robust enough to sustain many such entries. During the rebellions it was used to insert mines into orbit as well as a few direct attacks with volatile payloads." Bau recited as if reading from a codex.
Vaul eyed his surroundings more thoughtfully as the salarian spoke and watched with great interest as their descending elevator emerged from its narrow shaft into a moderately sized cavern lined with huge stone blocks and steel beams. The roughly oval shaped space had a ceiling of only 10 meters in height but was wide as it housed several steel slot tracks meant for cargo carts and capsule loading. The center of the space was taken up by huge lifts and pistons for loading the chamber of the giant rail gun. A control room was set against the back wall, where the elevator had emerged, and was set high enough to overlook the happenings of the loading platforms and cart traffic.
When the two stepped out of the utility lift they where greeted by the tang of ozone in the air and the fizzle of a welding tool as bright white light strobed from within the "chamber" of the gun. Bau shielded his eyes as he threaded his way around the myriad of rather large looking components and the carts being used to store them. When he approached the lone figure welding he waited until they finished their bead before making his presence known.
Ruhe touched the side of her helmet to de-tint her mask as she turned to face him. Her grey and blue envirosuit was marred with streaks of oil and soot from working on the launcher
"Where's Technician Reeve?" Bau prompted and was provided a gloved finger aimed at the control room.
Vaul lingered behind, surveying what the quarian was doing. He crouched and looked down the "barrel" of the gun. Its length was hidden by shadow as well as a barely detectable curve. Its was rectangular with conductive railing lining the walls of the barrel. It was large enough for Vaul to stand fully upright and was almost twice as wide.
"Just how long is this thing anyway?" Vaul wondered aloud as Ruhes faintly iridescent eyes glowed at him through her mask.
"10.2 Kilometers. 2.2 is dedicated to current generation and regulation. The last Kilometer phases out conductive railing and helps aim the capsule since it can articulate vertically." Ruhe whispered.
Vaul merely nodded and stood with a grunt. His mind was still trying to wrap around the concept of a gun almost 10 kilometers long buried under ground slinging "volatile loads" at breathtaking speeds at ships in orbit.
"So what are you working on now?" He said as he glanced over the panels peeled back and scattered around where Ruhe was working.
"New contact rails for the sled mechanism. None are made anymore. So I'm making them." She replied with a small shrug. A memory came to her just then, the shapes of four turians scurrying away from the Barracks the night Max was attacked. She had seen one before they had left, removing his unit and rank markings from his armor. He was gray plated with gold tattoos. Vauls roommate.
"Centurion Verfher was one of the four." She breathed and shook her head as the warning tinge of a migraine throbbed weakly in her head. She set the welding rod down gently and cradled her head In her hands.
Vaul looked on with confusion, then concern.
"Are you gonna keel over or somethin?" he rumbled as he knelt back down.
"I'm ok. Please I must work."
New, she needed something new to keep from falling back into her memories. The endless loop playing like the echoed image of a holo screen showing the feed of a camera pointed at itself. She grunted as she could feel the throb worsen and hastily grabbed at the welding rod.
Contact rail needs to be at a deflection angle of 5 degrees to ensure smooth transition to acceleration rails..
She filled her mind with the math needed to align her work with the other parts and began taking measurements, Vaul's troubled stare went ignored until he shrugged and left her to her work.
"Shotguns or a Revenant is more my thing." Vaul remarked as he caught up to Bau who was talking to a scrawny looking human male. A niggling feeling persisted in the back of his mind however, something in how the quarian had stared at him as she whispered Narn's name and rank.
The krogan pushed the unease from his mind as he looked Reeve up and down. He vaguely remembered the whelp, shouting until he turned blue when Jaa'Quans prosthetic had exploded. He had ran to the Omni barrier only to bounce off of it harmlessly as he made incomprehensible noises. When security and a medical team had arrived he was already gone.
Vaul was too busy trying to get Alarees out of the way of the stampede of people to really fixate on the kid. Bau had told him a little about him, namely how Jaa had used him. But aside from that he struck the krogan as flighty and weak. Perhaps even more so based on the wide eyed look he was getting as he neared the two.
"Y-yea. Uh. So like I don’t know how to help you man." He continued after Bau and Reeve had glanced at Vauls mottled green and brown frame.
"Please. I bear no ill will to either him or yourself. Your flight on the night of 22 June was to these following grid coordinates." Bau said calmly as he showed him the path Ruhe had taken to the Gunnery Chiefs location as well as the slightly more erratic path Reeve had taken on the way back. "Those coordinates are the site of a burned structure as well as trace evidence of all three of you being there."
Reeves eyes widened as he looked at the salarians Omni, included with the graphic overlay was the time of flight as well as altitudes. None of that information should have been available anywhere unless they had been actively monitoring him, which was hard to do considering the crafts tiny size and skeletal makeup -All features not quite entirely unintentional. Or.
Reeves eyes narrowed as he looked back up at Sighra.
"You put a tracker on my skimmer." He accused.
"Yes. If there was a chance that Barrett would reach out to anyone it would you or myself. I'm guessing his Exo frame broke, hence why he called you. If he had gotten sick I'd imagine I would have been the one." Bau said as he slipped the Omi pad back into his lab coat pocket and jammed his other hand into the other pocket.
"I really need to see him. I fear for his health, especially given all that has happened. When you saw him, how did he look? Is he still being reactive to any sort of active scanning?"
Reeve lost his train of thought on how much trouble he could get in to if that tracker data fell into the wrong hands when the salarian brought up Max's health. If there was a chance at denying seeing the Alliance Marine it disappeared the moment Bau said "reactive."
He rubbed the nape of his neck and took a deep breath, nervously eyeing Vaul who looked on with only mild interest. -And possibly hunger, Reeve could never tell with krogans.
"Look. Uh. What could happen if those things where happening?" He said as his voice broke.
"It means his implants still haven't dissolved and may, in fact, be causing more harm than good now."
Reeve fidgeted in silence as he warred within before speaking up, his mind made up with a heave of the shoulders.
"I really cant help you man. I don’t know where he went after we left. But If you can find Jorst you might find him. I dunno. Dudes pretty messed up, and that’s saying a lot coming from me." Reeve said as he met Bau's gaze briefly.
Bau's orange eyes probed the human, as if more information could be gleaned from something in his appearance. When his piercing stare netted nothing save for an uncomfortable rub of the neck he thanked the human for his time and turned to leave. Harrison was left with the terrifyingly large krogan before he to turned and followed Bau.
"You get anything useable?" Vaul asked as he chanced at glance at the quarian as they passed by her on the way back to the lift. She was busily toiling away, their presence not even registering as they walked by.
"More than enough. I should have figured as much. Since he hasn’t left the planet there would be very few places I would imagine he would go." Bau replied as he crammed into the corner of the lift to make room for the krogan.
"Hmm. I suppose you don't need my help with finding him then? Unless there's a bar involved, or you'll be working close to one." Vaul looked down at the salarian, only to see him shaking his head with a wry smile.
"What? It gets dangerous in bars. You might need back up." Vaul said defensively as the salarian keyed the lift and they began to ascend.
"In answer to your question, no I am afraid. However I do not intend to go straight to her. Such an abrupt presence would be suspicious and would be met with hostility if he was with her." Bau said as he rubbed a dark blue scale on his head.
"Sighra. How many people would you say were present when Max was attacked?"
Bau dropped his hand, his eyes fixing on the krogan as he wondered why the sudden change in topic.
"Four to Five. There was a lot of masking and smearing of the forensic evidence from all the movement and violence. Why?"
"Nothing" Vaul scowled.
"What did I do? What fucking Spirit did I offend? Kantose is dead. Ree visited after the mission. It was too much. But I see now. I understand. How does Sol even deal with this? If he's even fucking alive. I feel dead to the world, left behind like some Varren eyed child.
Mother and Father supposedly came to visit but I was still in an induced coma.
And they fucking left before I woke."
Orbital Transfer Station, Palaven 20 June 2186
Sighra Bau stood amongst his own thoughts as the sprawling vista of Palaven rotated slowly below the station. Its usually cloud swept face was mostly clear allowing for him and the other transients to make out the urban centers and oceans of the turian home world. A small turian child just barely out of cowling age clung to the leg of its parent as they both stood transfixed on the site beside the salarian STG operative.
A glint caught Baus eye and they all watched as a transport streaked out of the thin gauzy bubble of atmosphere and into the blackness of space before disappearing in flash of FTL energy. Bau glanced over at the turian family and nodded to the male as he scooped up his child and delicately slid him back into his cowl after the child had made a small whine of distress.
Surrogate father. No sign of hormonally induced plate growth from parentage. Markings denote spacer origins with some ties to Parthia colony. He observed casually as the male and child left for a loading gate.
"Dr. Bau I presume?"
Bau turned from the crowd the turian male and child had disappeared into to face the voice. He guessed asari based on the breathy overtones. He was greeted with the deep purplish blue of a commando in full kit standing an arms length away.
"Ah yes. The council's point of contact I presume. They didn’t say who it was going to be exactly."
Her full lips curled into a thin smile.
"Specter Tela Vasir. Jondum Bau sends his regards. If you would follow me?" She said as she motioned to the lifts.
"Of course, and thank you."
Bau trailed behind the asari specter a respectable distance, his large eyes flitting over her gear as they walked. Her armor bore the marks of several intense conflicts however her weapons were pristine. Bau figured she either relied heavily on her biotics, as most asari do, or her Specter funding allowed for some discretionary spending when it came to armaments.
They huddled into a lift along with a few other passengers and ascended to their target level in silence. It wasn’t until they had passed through a few security doors that she spoke up finally.
"I don’t know to what extent the council informed you about the matter at hand, but the sooner we get things moving the sooner I can get back to doing Specter work." She said with a small measure of disdain as she scanned her palm at a wall terminal.
She opened the door and motioned Bau inside almost theatrically.
"Understood, however I do regret to inform you I am also in the dark about what it is they need."
Vasir merely snorted in disgust as she followed Bau inside and strode to another terminal. "Figures." She muttered as she powered up the QEC terminal.
The Specter joined the salarian in the view box of the QEC terminal and crossed her arms impatiently as three ghostly images shimmered into focus. Bau nodded to the Dalatrass when her image turned to him.
"Greetings Dalatrass, I trust this day finds you well?"
"Yes. Thank you."
An awkward pause followed as the asari councilor and Vasir merely nodded to one another while the turian councilor looked on with a blank expression.
"Very well, yes, the reason we've assembled." The asari councilor prompted as she looked expectantly at the Dalatrass. The salarian councilors hooded face was inscrutable as she cast a sidelong glance at the other two before speaking.
"Yes. The STG high command forwarded me a report. Your report. Specifically on the techniques and technology utilized to heal the Systems Alliance human. It came to my attention because a recent intel report lead to the capture of a Cerberus operative who was also implanted with the same technology."
Bau cast a wary glance at the turian councilor before replying.
"Yes, the synthetic nerves were grown and spliced based off of captured geth technology recovered from the citadel. However my databases do not match known geth systems and organic circuits."
"We understand the implication Doctor, how ever that topic is still up for debate. What does seem likely is that Cerberus may have been the source of the technology to begin with. We are pursuing leads in that regard as it implies a troubling alliance if the human terrorist faction is working with the geth." The asari councilor said with a glance to the turian councilor.
"Doctor, your report states that you have only used this technology once. Is that still true?" The Dalatrass added.
"Yes Ma'am. That I have used. However there is an injured Cabalist whom I believe received a version of it as well. That was done without my knowledge or permission. I have since wiped the data from non secure sources to not allow it to happen again."
"Vasir." The turian councilor finally grumbled despite the shade being cast in his direction. "We need you to track down this Cabalist and collect any data you can on her condition as well as any ties you can find between Cerberus and the Geth. That intel report that lead to the agents capture came via the Shadow Brokers representative on Omega. I would start with the Cabalist and pursue the Brokers point of contact last."
The asari Specter perked up at the mention of the Shadow broker and nodded with small measure of enthusiasm.
"Why not use the data I have gathered on the human Maximillian Barrett? I am assuming this captured agent is human as well? It would be useful to compare and contrast their data." Bau asked as he looked to each counselor in turn.
"This is a sensitive matter doctor, but what I can tell you is that the captured agents implants were localized to the brain, as would this turian cabalists implants. There were distinct… abnormalities with the agents behavior and abilities." The asari counselor replied with an appeasing wave of the hand.
"-However. We still want you to monitor this human. Closely. Report any changes to his baseline. Otherwise you are under Council orders to not make any further mention of the human or his implants unless it is via a direct QEC link to us." The turian councilor added stiffly.
"But my term is over at the JSC compound?" Bau said with a surprised blink at the turian.
"You'll be reinstated and given clearance for QEC access. It will be taken care of by the time you're back."
Bau mulled over what constituted a "change in the baseline" after all that had happened to Max as he made his way back to the docking bays.
Somewhere in the Digerian wilderness 22 June 2186
Reeve peered over the side of the open top skimmer as Ruhe sat motionless beside him. There were times Reeve could have sworn he was sitting next to a statue along the way, but the occasional yaw or pitch adjustment put those fears aside. When they neared the coordinate Max had provided Reeve pointed out a thin column of smoke rising from the canopy far below. Both the Digerian moons were in full view, casting the dense treetops in a silver light. Reeve tightened the collar of his loose fitting Alliance Technicians jacket against the cold as Ruhe nodded and began descending in a slow corkscrew to the smoke below.
"I don’t get why he hasn’t made contact yet." Reeve wondered aloud into his headset as the canopy went from being a carpet of ghostly green to a patchwork of treetops with blotches of blackness below. The wiry young human technician could make out the dull glow of smoldering ruins as they drew level a few hundred feet above the forrest and made tighter circles.
"Because I was waiting on you to break radio silence and give yourself away." Came a gravelly voice over their net.
Reeve's eyes widened and he shot a look to Ruhe who only smiled faintly under her tinted mask.
"Well, since the cats out of the bag, you gotta a good spot for us to land?" Harrison replied as he leaned over to try to spot the Gunnery chief.
"Call what you see." Came a cryptic reply.
Harrisons brow furrowed in confusion up until the point a pinprick of intense blue light erupted from the treetops by a clearing.
"Ah, right. I see a flare. Acknowledge Blue"
"Affirm, approach bearing 080 degrees magnetic"
Reeve briefly chided himself for not remembering friendly recognition protocol and pointed to the flare for Ruhe.
Max watched the skimmer descend on four jets of brilliant orange and blue light from his vantage point nearby before descending from his tree stand and making his way to the clearing. When he arrived the small utility craft had already settled in the grassy clearing and was ticking from its engines cooling. Reeve was busily rummaging around the bed of the skeletal tube steel and plasteel paneled craft as Max approached.
He smirked briefly at the craft, most likely something of Reeves design since it had the hallmarks of the techs preferences; Light, nimble, and fast. Its oversized engines resembled that of the nacelle mounted engines of a Mantis Gunship, which is probably were Reeve had salvaged them from. The over all shape of the small vehicle looked as though a dune buggy and a pickup truck had made love to a jet aircraft. Where wheels would be, four engines jutted out on articulating outriggers. Behind the two person crew "compartment" which was barely more than a few seats welded to the tube steel frame with some panels to deflect the worst of the wind was a massive fuel tank. The rear of the craft flared out into a cargo bed of sorts lined with welded in place tool boxes and winches.
"So how fast does it go?" Max smirked as he crept up behind Reeve.
The Tech half jumped half dove into the bed as he emitted a yelp in surprise.
"Holy crap! Jeez man -er Gunny." Reeve croaked as he clutched his chest.
Ruhe turned from the control console and peered down the side of the craft at the sound of the commotion before shaking her head fractionally and going back to shutting down the crafts systems.
"Sorry, here, let me help."
"I'm good. I got it. And Mach .9 -officially" Reeve replied as he recovered and smoothed out his oil stained uniform. He shouldered the tool bag and nodded in the direction of the smoke.
"I'm guessing that’s you?"
"Yea, time for a bit of spring cleaning. Oh Hi Ruhe." Max replied as he noticed Ruhe for the first time.
The small female climbed out of the craft and waved briefly before making her way around the craft, checking it over.
"It must be really busted if you brought a quarian along. Also, officially?" Max remarked as he turned and made his way towards the Frame. Reeve shrugged and followed suite.
"Naw, I got this. Just figured she'd like to get off base for a bit. And yea, that’s about the max I can go officially. Anything over that speed requires a mono-hull and mass effect field reinforcement as well as a litany of safeties and licenses.
And this is heavily theoretical, if I had a shield generator to control aerodynamics and a small ME field generator set purely to control balance and weight, then maaaybe it could go about Mach 8."
Max shook his head as they neared the still frame.
"Theoretically" He echoed.
"Purely." Reeve replied with a knowing smirk.
The Human tech realized just how much he missed small talk as he knelt down and begun laying out his tools. Truth be told his counselor had remarked that one of his coping mechanisms was isolating himself. He would often counter that Ruhe was around typically. Only he left out the part where she would seldom, if ever, reply to his ramblings.
Max cast an appraising stare at Harrison as he set to work on the frame before glancing at where ever Ruhe had wandered off to. He had to admit, the lone survivor of Horizon had made some remarkable progress personally. He remembered how skittish and uncertain the Tech was when he had first arrived to Digeris. Compared to the quietly working person before him now, Max would have a difficult time picturing them as the same person.
"Hey Ruhe. We got processing chips. You wanna do your thing?" Reeve called out absently as he removed an access panel on the Frame.
Max glanced down and nearly started as the silent figure beside him both seemed to materialize out of nowhere and move suddenly. Max fought back the rush of adrenaline before it became another mind bending episode and sauntered back to a fallen log. He grunted as he sat heavily and ran his fingers absently through his thickening beard.
Reeve soon joined him on the log as he scrolled through a Technical Manual on his Omipad.
"I hate Processing chips. You gotta like take a pic before you pull them since none are labeled. I swear the design team did that on purpose to keep their contract since no one else has that crap memorized." He said distantly as he pulled up some schematics and began studying them.
Max squinted at Ruhe as she methodically pulled the chips and placed them in neat rows on a work mat Reeve had laid out. He blinked a few times and focused until the dimly lit scene playing out before him became a wash of grays and whites. Max could swear he could just barely make out Ruhe's form inside of her suit and looked away out of some sense of shame. He briefly recalled how Ree had teased him about his almost comical level of modesty and second hand embarrassment and sighed.
Harrison looked up from his schematics at the noise, his jaw setting as he felt a twinge of regret.
"I should have said something."
Max glanced over at Reeve, confused at first.
"Its ok. You didn’t know any better. You were hurt and it preyed on you."
The Omni pad was set aside and forgotten as Harrison turned to face Max. He felt terrified to be talking about it, but his counselor had been encouraging him to speak his mind more and bottle up his feelings less.
"Its really not ok. I was here almost a year before you got here, and not once did I think that what she was doing was wrong. Your right though; My counselor says that I was still wounded from what happened on Horizon and I was so eager to fill the void left behind by my lost family that I looked to anyone or anything to fill it. Even if it brought me more pain."
Reeve could feel the ball of anxiety give way to an immense feeling of release as he finally got it out and in the open. His catharsis was short lived as Ruhe waved to him.
"Hey, do you think you could pull the…" Max trailed as he leaned over to spy Reeves Omnipad. "Primary Guidance control Module and Gyro stabilization unit."
Reeve grinned wistfully as the Gunny covered for him. "Its actually the Primary and Secondary that need to be pulled." He added.
Ruhe shrugged and nodded, turning back to the frame. Max placed a comforting hand on Reeves shoulder when the quarian went back to work.
"Look, you’re a good kid. I don’t blame you. Some people are just fucking nasty and evil, and they bring those around them down. It’s a cancer that loves company." He reassured.
Reeve nodded and moved to hide his face in his hair but shook his head in annoyance when his hand rubbed at a shaved scalp instead. The moment hung, emotionally charged until Max released Reeves shoulder and took a deep breath.
"I was in a similar situation when I lost my wife. I put off dealing with it for so long. Id work myself to death and fixate on my hobbies to not think about it. My sense of loss became my tormentor. I started doing reckless and suicidal stunts to feel alive. I had to be pulled back into reality by someone to realize what I was doing was self destructive and wrong."
Although it was a loose interpretation of the events on Earth, Max didn’t think telling Harrison that Alarees punched him in the face over thinking he had committed suicide would be taken quite the same way. It dawned on Max then that that’s what Ree had done for him. In all the time he had spent out in the wilderness avoiding his problems, he had never had such a crystal clear thought.
He realized with a heavy hearted sigh that he was just doing what he had before; burying his grief in other things. Sure he could stay out in the wilderness and fill his time with just surviving and living off the land, but for what? He rubbed his brow as he felt a sudden surge of deep sadness. She was still here. Alone. When he pictured her sitting alone with a vacant stare he felt his eyes water. Reeve shifted and returned the comfort, patting Max on the shoulder and squeezing. He wanted to hate Max for taking away his master, but that was the old him. He hated himself for teetering on that path again and chewed his lip nervously.
"So where to after we get this thing fixed."
"I think I got a long journey ahead of me. Did you bring a spare power cell?"
"I think I can scrounge something together. You sure you don’t want a ride?"
Max wiped his face and smoothed his beard.
"No. I need to do this my way."
Reeve nodded and heaved himself back on to his feet after a moment of silence. He joined Ruhe and helped speed up the process. Max watched distantly as the Tech snorted in disgust at the culprit, a busted module, and began it apart.
"You didn’t bring spares I take it?" Max asked as Ruhe took her leave and wandered around the smoldering ruins of the cabin.
"All the spares are packed up along with the rest of the gear. So I gotta fabricate some kinda mounting bracket to keep this thing from working loose again." Reeve replied as he shook the component next to his ear.
"Glue it back together you mean?"
"Yeap" Reeve grinned.
Ruhe finished her tour of the area and sat beside Max. The gunnery chief could feel her eyes probing him and looked down at the small female.
"Uh.. Hi. I never did thank you for freeing me at the hospital." Max said as she continued to stare.
She shrugged, but didn’t look away. Max could see part of her face as her internal helmet readouts flickered and changed color.
"Not geth, but similar." She said in her whispery monotone.
"You said something like that at the hospital. What's that about?"
Another infuriating shrug and then a flash of stabbing pain as she activated a scanner.
Max leaned away and shielded his head with his hands as the scan sent white flashes across his vision.
"Hey! Knock it off" He grunted. Reeve briefly looked up from his work, frowning as Max rubbed his brow.
"Like an AI core, but no intelligence detected." She replied cryptically.
Max shook his head then busted out laughing. He knew she was probably replying to his thanks for the hospital incident, but her awkward prose left him wondering.
"You're a Gem Ruhe. Never change."
When Harrison finished "fabricating" he motioned Ruhe back over and gave her some space as she deftly snatched up chips and stuck them back into the frames control board. Harrison caught Max's look of disbelief as she seemed to do so at random and grinned.
"Neat trick right? Damn near photographic memory. I could mix them up and she'd still know which one went where as long as she saw me mix them." He said with a tinge of pride.
Max merely arched his brows and nodded appreciatively.
So maybe the whole memory thing is common among other species. Just what the hell did Bau put in my head anyway?
The gunnery chief had mental images of Frankenstein's monster replete with the Salarian laughing manically as he crammed random bits of other species in Max's body.
When the two had finished they booted up the frame, taking a cautious step back as the machine righted itself and stood slowly. It ran through its calibration cycle, twisting and bending to test its range of motion before folding itself up neatly and giving a small beep of functionality.
"Ah, we had to reset its calibration data. So its gotta relearn its user." Reeve said as he approached the frame and scanned it.
The Gunnery Chief pursed his lips in dismay. That was over two years of data lost.
"Serves me right for playing George of the Jungle." He surmised.
When all was said and done Max stood in the clearing in his newly repaired Frame and waved as they lifted off in the skimmer. The high pitched whine of its engines deepened a few octaves as they rotated out of VTOL mode and flared under hard acceleration. Max watched as the pinpricks of light disappeared into the night sky and smiled when he heard the tell tale boom of the craft going Mach.
He turned to leave and paused as he heard another boom, then another. He chuckled to himself as he pictured Ruhe holding on for dear life as the Tech took the craft beyond its "official" speed limits. He sobered as he neared the silver crate holding all that he needed to survive out in the wilderness. He turned around and squatted, letting the frame scoop up the cube with its winch before setting off into the wilderness. When he reached a ridgeline he paused, one path lead to further solitude. The other to more pain, but hopefully closure.
He checked his compass one last time before setting off.
Are your trying to start an Inter-Galactic War? What the hell is wrong with you!
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