Mass Effect: Void (In Character)
Elysium, three weeks ago…
At the time, all was heavy and dark, dulling the senses as the water was the entirety of the world, amplifying the darkness of a dying day. Her muscles ached as she pushed them to their limits, her lungs screaming for air as she willed herself to continue, racing against the blanket of the fading light. Tanya Carson knew that the sun was quickly dipping below the horizon, already obscured by the forest on the far side of the lake. Soon it would be night, and the temperatures would plummet. Making her way home in the darkness of the Elysium countryside in a wet, form hugging swimsuit on her bicycle in the cold would not be a pleasant experience. It was exactly what she was hoping for.
The demand for oxygen and the approaching shoreline forced her to surface, the quiet, serene night broken by sounds carried by the air, a dozen chirping insects and the few nocturnal amphibians that called Lake Helios home. Far to the west, the white-orange skyline of Illyria shone like a beacon, guiding the way home. Tanya rose from the water, feeling the water prick like needles in the night air on her skin, taunt and smooth like an athlete but blemished by the occasional scar from combat injuries sustained as her time as an Alliance Marine in the 63rd Expeditionary Force and during her time with Nova. She smiled at the memories, as enough time had passed to only keep the positive things in focus. She had tried to keep in contact with her former team members to various degrees of success. The Extranet packets the galaxy used to keep in contact with itself used an overwhelming amount of information and memory, where Citadel and military agencies had priority access to the packets and could receive updated information in as little as 15 minutes, and it trickled down through smaller government agencies and businesses, where the wait times were somewhat longer. What wasn’t claimed by such purposes was auctioned off to service providers, who in turn sold plans for packet use to individual consumers. Tanya paid a modest fee to receive updates twice a week, which was a hell of a lot better than some plans. Some people had to wait up to two weeks to receive updated information, which would be hell for someone waiting for important news. Tanya was a woman who liked to keep up to date, and what few close friends she had resided several systems away. She had no regrets paying for the service.
Water shoes protected Tanya’s feet as she walked towards where her bike was leaning against a steel bench, unchained as the beach was remote and the odds of anyone stealing her property was slim. Not that she worried about that, Elysium was relatively crime free, a community forged tightly after the Skyllian Blitz. People tended to band together when a larger, external threat was known. It had been less than a decade since the Blitz, and scars still remained from the hostilities. It was because of Nova’s efforts that the Alliance was able to effectively respond, potentially saving countless lives in the process. While Elysium had been costly to the team and nearly broke Tanya mentally due to her post traumatic stress disorder, she felt drawn to the world she had helped save. It reminded her of what it felt like to be a marine, only instead of dealing with crushing loss and crippling mental trauma, she knew what it felt like to succeed in doing something good. She never told any of her neighbours or pub patrons about her involvement during the Blitz, but she enjoyed being in their company, reflecting that the people she saw on a weekly basis may not have been there had Nova not intervened. It was an empowering feeling, and for someone who had their life completely shattered in the past, it was redemption. Her hand brushed over a largely faded scar as she mounted the bike, smiling. While she’d never be rid of her scars, physical or otherwise, they healed enough to no longer be the burdens they used to. She recalled the young, eager woman who joined the Systems Alliance, determined to follow in her father’s footsteps. It had only been the past couple years she was able to look into the mirror and see herself once again. She still woke up from time to time in a sweat or with a scream from the scars, but it no longer defined her and she better coped with it. She could actually look at a batarian and not see a heartless, bloodthirsty monster cutting a little girl’s throat, no more than nine or ten, with vicious, bladed armour as she tried to reach the safety to the Alliance line that was on the verge of collapse. They were no longer all nothing but slavers, rapists, and murdering monsters. They were people, and despite their crimes, she’d also seen the good in them as she fought alongside men and woman who put their lives on the line to free the humans of Anhur from the cold, cruel batarian run government. Many of the abolitionists were batarian, wanting to find peace with humanity. A couple of her Friday night drinking buddies were even batarians. I’ve come a long way, Tanya reflected as she kicked off her bike down the dirt path towards the glow of the city, the pedal powered light illuminating the way.
Twenty-three minutes later, she arrived at her home, one of the first non-prefabricated homes on the planet that was a log cabin with modern sensibilities, including granite countertops, interior stone walls, large bulletproof glass windows and doors overlooking Lake Helios, and décor that wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a decent Citadel Ward apartment. It had quite a few automated security features, and due to the remote location of the cabin, where the nearest neighbour was a ten minute walk away, it never hurt to take extra precautions to secure her home. The garage door slid open at a signal from her omni-tool to the side, into the heavy carved stone base under the cabin itself, where a motorcycle and a buggy with retractable panels sat under clean white light. Elysium had a much more alpine climate than Earth, and certainly Terra Nova, and the spring and summer months rarely got above long sleeve weather. Despite this, the winters weren’t overly brutal due to the much slighter tilt of the axis when compared to Earth. As a result, the difference between summer and winter was usually about ten degrees difference on average. There was a reason it was considered an alpine paradise, after all.
She let gravity and momentum carry her bike down the ramp into the garage and Tanya gracefully guided it into its rack. On various tables across the garage, tools and parts were laid out neatly with a dozen projects on the go with various states of completion, and the largely underground garage also doubled as a workshop where she had a hoist to raise vehicles up, a small crane to lift out engine blocks and other heavy hardware, and several other specialty tools she had collected over the years. It wasn’t as nice as her workshop on Tyrus, the old frigate she used to call home, but it worked. After all, she had to start from scratch after the Shadow Broker’s agents took everything. While she missed her old, well-worn tools, new ones did the job and still had legible markings, being not abused by years of constant hard work and use. Besides, it wasn’t as if she had to keep up on the demanding requirements the Mako and Kodiak demanded. Her bike and buggy were almost too easy to entirely dismantle and throw back together compared to proper military hardware. Tanya sighed, thinking about that made her miss Tyrus and her crew.
Closing the garage door, Tanya headed up the stairwell and unlocked the door towards her home, coming into the kitchen, feeling the heat wash over her cold, still-damp body. A housecoat hung on a hanger by the entranceway and she draped it around her shoulders, hugging her body with a familiar warmth. She headed to the refrigerator, putting a glass from the counter under a dispenser built into the door to fill it. As she watched the glass fill with water, a sharp rapping sound caught her attention.
Somebody was at the door. But who the hell would come this far out of the city to knock on her door at this time of night? Her mind wandered to the Hanhe-Kedar Kessler pistol in her utensil drawer, but she smiled at her instant suspicion instead. If somebody was out to get her, they probably wouldn’t be politely waiting at the door. Besides, she didn’t have any real enemies she could think of. Come on, Tanya. You’re being paranoid. It’s probably some lost bugger who got turned around looking for someone. The thought of terrifying some confused old man by the sight of a woman in a one piece swim suit with a housecoat, a crazy hairstyle, and a pistol nearly made her laugh out loud. Maybe she should grab the half-empty bottle of Sampson whiskey on her counter to complete the effect of entirely detached hermit lady.
Instead Tanya called out, “Be there in a second!” as she fasted the string around her waist and tied it into a quick, lazy knot before crossing the threshold towards the hardwood door that barred the way between her and her mystery guest. Perhaps it was one of the old team, making a surprise visit. She had run the idea back and forward with more than a few of them, so the idea wasn’t as farfetched as it initially seemed, even if she did reside on a fledging colony world with limited transportation options instead of a bustling home world or the Citadel. The engineer reached out for the handle, her omni-tool unlocking the door, and opened it to see who waited on her landing.
The moment she saw him, her heart nearly stopped. The turian stood waiting in a long Western-style duster coat with his hands in the pockets, his face smooth and unblemished, accented nicely with red facial markings. His dark-blue eyes contrasted quite a bit with the bright red markings, drawing attention to them like a void. Tanya involuntarily took a step back, wishing she grabbed the damn pistol after all.
“Oh what the fuck? Fucking… what are you doing here, you bastard?!” she demanded, feeling both indignant and afraid. Her heart felt like like was preparing to burst as it hammered hard in her chest. Their first and only encounter seven years ago was a rather violent, troubling experience that involved her arm being shattered by a pistol round, being kidnapped and held hostage, embarrassed, and given the impression she only had about 20 minutes to live. And now Darius Ryloc, one of the Shadow Broker’s elite hand-picked operatives, stood less than three feet away, looking slightly uncomfortable.
“It’s been a while. Can you excuse me, I need to find your bathroom.” He said, in the way of greeting. The turian pushed past her, searching the ground floor hastily for his destination. It was certainly not what she expected. Ryloc tossed his coat over one of her dining room chairs, revealing a fine red and black suit. It was something that had caught her off guard that she gave the turian directions. “Down that hall, second door on the right.” She said, walking to close the front door.
“Ah! Appreciated.” Came the reply, followed by a door closing. Soon, the sound of urine filled the hallway, and Tanya took the opportunity to grab the Hanhe-Kedar pistol and took at seat that table, keeping it concealed but easily accessible should she need it. Was Ryloc here to kill her, to rub in one final insult before pulling the trigger? Like hell, she thought. The bastard would bleed for what he did to her. Although, it was hard to be petrified or even furious about the man’s appearance as he called out in obvious relief. “Oh, thank the Spirits!” before the sound of the toilet flushing was heard and the sink turning on. At least the turian had the courtesy to wash his hands.
Ryloc appeared around the corner a few moments later, wiping his hands with a towel before folding it and setting it nicely on the bar that separated Tanya’s kitchen from the living room. He produced two of the all-too familiar M-77 handguns from two holsters on his strong frame and set them on the towel gingerly before walking over to the table where his coat was draped and helping himself to a seat.
“First, you can put the pistol away. If I were here to cause you harm, you would have known it by now.” Ryloc said, pointing towards the table, indicating he knew about her handgun. She sighed before setting it on the table, although well within hand’s reach. This seemed to suit the turian fine. He turned over his empty hands over the table. “I apologize for my intrusion, but we do need to have a talk, you and I.”
Tanya rose from her chair and grabbed herself a glass and filled it half-way with the half-finished bottle of whiskey. She wasn’t much of a drinker these days, but the situation more than called for it. She leaned against the counter, resting on one hand and holding the drink in the other. “And what do we have to talk about? The last time I had the pleasure of your company, you’d killed several men, shattered my arm, drew goofy shit on my face, and told Roland and I we were about to die while reading a disturbing amount of Fornax magazine.” She said, taking a drink and shaking her head. “And if you had to take a piss that badly, why not just do it outside? Are all turians ashamed of their cocks even in the middle of nowhere?”
Ryloc grinned in response. “To be fair, you’ve never seen what dextro-based piss does to levo-based grass. Let’s just say a flame thrower would be a less effective defoliant. I decided not to deface your properly.” He paused, frowning. “Wait, you’re still upset over all of that?” he asked, seemingly genuinely confused.
Tanya blinked hard. “You have to be shitting me. You’re a fucking psychopath, and I can’t believe I’m entertaining that question. Yes, I am still very much so pissed off at you and if I had my gun when I opened the door, you would have been slotted on sight. How can you be so casual about it?” she demanded.
“Oh.” Ryloc replied. Confusingly, he appeared to be embarrassed. “Honestly, I always kind of figured people didn’t take it personally, I mean, you all got to go free and with your stuff. I thought you’d all be, well, thankful and shrug off what happened as a business loss.” He said, running a hand along his fringe. “Look, I asked to be the one to keep track of you because I genuinely like you and figured it was nothing personal. I’m incapable of feeling empathy with people, ms. Carson.” He admitted, looking at Tanya with sincerity in his eyes. “I don’t see people after I deal with them. I don’t know what it feels like to hold a grudge or be angry or even comprehend anything people experience. I’m literally incapable of feeling empathy for others, and I always know it’s inconvenient and people feel sad or something when somebody dies, but I mean, who gives a shit about a few guards? It’s a business loss, right? I always thought that you were genuinely happy and got over our little incident, according to your messages and transmissions and shit.” He breathed out a weak laugh. “Well, this is kind of embarassing. Ahem.”
When Tanya didn’t respond, instead draining her glass in a single go with wide eyes at the turian, Ryloc continued. “Anyways, I’m here to let you know that our mutual friend has been keeping tabs on you via myself for the past seven years and is pleased that you’ve kept your end of the bargain.” He began, regaining his composure. “And so, he has decided at last to call in that,” Ryloc made quotation gestures with his fingers. “’Favour’ you owe. There’s a certain Spectre we want to keep tabs on who is putting together a team of specialists all hush-hush like. We want you and a few members of your old team to get back together and take up the Spectre’s job offer.” He adjusted his omni-tool and Tanya’s flickered as a message was received. “It’s encrypted, but the date your old team was disbanded will unlock all of the information you need. I’ve rigged things so Saren Arterius will already be aware of you, and he will be unable to resist making contact. In fact, he already has and you’re leaving to Anhur to join up on his merry adventure. You do the job, and then report your findings back to me when you get back, and then your slate is clean. You may even get a bonus out of this.” Ryloc said, raising to his feet and pushing in his chair. The turian threw on his coat and holstered his pistols casually.
“I suppose I’m not given a choice. So, who’s all going?” she asked.
Ryloc barely glanced at her as he prepared to depart. “Some awkward professor, some skittish Alliance type, a few other surprises. You know, the usual culprits on a suicide mission.” He grinned as he made his way to the door. He stopped and turned around to face her. “Oh, by the way… want to go get drinks? My treat?” he asked, his voice verging on hopefulness.
The glare Tanya gave Ryloc caused the turian to shrug, accepting his fate. “Can’t blame a guy for trying. You’ll find everything you need to get your equipment through customs and any prying agents in that file. Don’t be late. Oh, and say hi to your friends for me. I haven’t had that much fun in, well, seven years.” With that, the turian was out the door and into the night. As Tanya watched the door closed, despite her warm housecoat, a chill ran down her spine. Everything about the arrangement seemed wrong, but at the same time, there was silver lining. This would be the end of the Shadow Broker looming over her life and she was given an opportunity to see her friends again. At least this time they couldn’t possibly piss off the Shadow Broker.
Tanya decided it was time for that shower and began to make her way past the kitchen to bathroom before stopping to double back. The bottle of whiskey remained open on the counter, and tonight seemed like it might be the last chance she’d have to forget about the encounter at the door. And the name, Saren Arterius. Where had she heard that before? On the whole, she had little respect for Spectres. Anyone who could do what they want, kill who they please, and be unaccountable for their actions on the whole weren’t to be trusted. But something about the name Saren struck a nerve that she couldn’t quite place. No matter. Everything would make sense when she got her ass in gear and saw firsthand exactly what the whole job was about.