This is my entry for the mass effect big bang 2013, and it was just one of those stories who kept feeding itself and turned into a goddamn mastodont. I had a ton of fun writing it though =) Thanks to Robotkumo and Asylumfarm for being my voices of reason. Thanks to Lisbet for taking it upon herself to beta all of this mess! And thanks to bioticbooty I am so glad you are you *laughs. And to Heaven on Fire who made the gorgeous art work, I am still in awe of your work sweetness. I have a playlist here if anyone is interested.
Artwork by Heaven on Fire
You cannot kickstart a dead horse
You just crush yourself and walk away
I don't care what the future holds
Cause I'm writin' out today
With your fingers you can touch me
Be your black swan, black swan
I'm for spare parts, broken up
"Have you ever seen anything like it?" Shepard asked in a hushed voice, elbowing Grunt.
Grunt shook his head, and strained his neck to look out of the window at the Citadel outside.
"God, it's huge!" Shepard whispered.
"And beautiful," said Nudrel, the youngest of the two Batarians travelling with them.
"You know," Grunt said, "I heard someone once claimed there were fish living in the water on the Citadel."
"That's such bullshit," Shepard laughed softly, not taking his eyes off the view.
"Yeah?" Nudrel said, ready to side with the Krogan. "And how would you know?" He fixed his four eyes on Shepard's back, glaring at the tattoo that peeked out from his collar and spread across his neck.
"I don't," Shepard stated flatly. "It just sounds like bull, that's all." He was about to say something else, but the door opened with a soft sound and all chatter ended.
"Ladies," Ozafat said, crossing his arms over his chest. "And human."
Shepard reluctantly pulled himself from the window and turned to look at his master, the huge Batarian, Ozafat, who had bought him off his former master for a small fortune. Ozafat was the fifth master that Shepard had had since he was sixteen, but he was by far the most demanding of discipline, and also the cruellest. He expected nothing less from his crew than outright victory. Since this was the case, Shepard had thought it was ludicrous to bring Nudrel. He was young and inexperienced, but he had never dared voice his concerns. It simply wasn't his place to question his master's decision.
"You know the drill, just because we are at a special event, doesn't mean that you are allowed to slack off." He looked at Nudrel, "You have a day to train while we wait for the main events to start tomorrow. You need more practice with a shield. This is the big league, and you will not disappoint me."
"Of course not, Sir." Nudrel said, straightening his back, looking determined.
"You two," he pointed at Shepard and Grunt, "You practice the pull and charge routine." He looked at the older Batarian in the cabin. "Ezel, you make sure they actually do it."
"Yes, sir." Ezel said, and leaned back in the shadows. Ezel was the oldest of the gladiators in Ozafat's house, and there had been whispers in the corners that he would be too old to fight soon, and what then? Would Ozafat offer him another position? Or would just be done with him? Either was a possibility, even if Shepard believed that Ezel would be fine since he served his master with a loyalty the human had not seen in any other gladiators, in any house he had served.
The shuttle slowed and docked ungracefully at the station. With practised routine, the four fighters grabbed their gear, and made their way through the airlock to the docking bay. They were used to bystanders when they arrived at any gladiatorial event. People wanted to see who they were betting on or against, before the games. But this was just overwhelming, and Shepard heard Nudrel suck in his breath in awe, before taking a small step to stand behind Grunt's massive form.
A dark haired woman in a skin tight dress hurried toward them, a camera bot darting to and fro behind her. "Diana Allers with the Alliance News Network, with breaking news from the Citadel's docking bay level E where the Batarian Gladiatorial Team has just arrived. Team, what do you think of your chances?" she said, pushing her microphone at them.
Ozafat snatched the microphone from Allers, and bellowed in his best dramatic tone. "I am Ozafat of Anhur, and these are my fighters." He stepped aside and Shepard hoped that Nudrel would get out from behind Grunt before he got in trouble. Apparently, the young Batarian had already figured that out on his own, slinking into a space next to Shepard, his hands clasped on the small of his back, so the crowd wouldn't see them shaking.
"Ezel is a seasoned warrior of the arena, a skilled expert in the trade. And has not lost a fight in years!" Ozafat beckoned like a salesman on a market. "And the Krogan, bred for war, not many have been able to withstand his charge!" Ozafat looked over at the four gladiators, "And of course Nudrel, a natural born killer!" He skipped fairly quickly on to Shepard without saying too much about Nudrel, and really there wasn't much to say. Nudrel had not even been in the ring a total of ten times. And he had only landed his ass here because he had deserted from the Batarian forces, and had been stupid enough to be caught in a whorehouse on Omega. "And lastly!" Ozafat yelled, "The human biotic! He is a deadly freak of nature!"
The crowd buzzed for a while, before Ozafat nodded at Shepard, who then stepped forward and let his body ripple with blue static.
"It's true!" one onlooker said. "He is a freak!" another yelled, "Is he even safe to have on the Citadel?" a third cried. Shepard ended his demonstration and looked down at the ground between his feet. He was used to this reaction, but he would never really get used to it, somewhere deep down, in a part of him that wasn't ruined by extensive training and what this occupation brought with it. He still hurt hearing it. He remembered his parents fighting over it, if it was natural or not. Before they died that is, murdered at the hands of the very creature who would later claim him for his own, and would force him to parade what he had spent years hiding.
"This is a strong team!" Ozafat continued, "A winning team!"
"But the Turians have Garrus!" a Batarian yelled, as he stepped out of the crowd.
"He is not a ghost, he is flesh and blood, and he can lose," Ozafat said, conviction in his voice. "Remember these four when you place your bets tomorrow, good citizens of the Citadel!" Ozafat returned the microphone and let the reporter finish her segment, leaving nearly as quickly as she had appeared. Ozafat turned his attention to some Batarians and an Asari who wanted to know more about his contestants.
Nudrel inched closer to Grunt again. "You really think that Garrus is here?" he whispered.
"Don't know, don't care," Grunt huffed, getting tired of standing there like an idiot, being eyed by the morbid, fascinated, crowd.
Finally Ozafat was done, and he let the guards guide them through corridors. Even Ezel would twist and turn trying to take in the clean, lavish beauty of the Citadel. It really was miles away from the dirt patches where they would normally fight, and none of them had ever seen its equal. None of them spoke, they just stared at the city above, below and around them with large, childlike eyes.
They stopped in front of a large gate, and waited as Ozafat spoke to the guards stationed there. Shepard shifted his feet, watching his master, who looked like he was about to get into an argument with the C-sec guards. Wouldn't that be something? If the great, magnificent, flawless Ozafat had borked the entry fee? That wouldn't have been a first time he had tried to cheat the arena out of their profits. When Ozafat finally returned he looked angry, making all four men antsy, not sure what to expect. "Apparently the good quarters are taken by inhabitants from Citadel space, the fucking racists! So, we have to make do with what we can get." He turned on his heels, and walked with long angry strides through the now open gate.
Shepard looked up at the balcony where he saw groups of Asari and Salarians in deep discussions. It was clean and flawless everywhere, which made him slightly uncomfortable, like some sort of faceless nightmare. A little too polished, a little too without a soul.
Ozafat and the group followed the C-sec guard down halls and ended up in the far end of the facility. Shepard could have sworn they had even walked past the utility room. "All right," the C-sec officer said, "You guys need to check in with the medical bay." He placed a hand on Ozafat's shoulder. "You come with me to administration, and I will show you where your room is after that."
Ozafat nodded, and wordlessly just followed the C-sec guard, leaving the foursome in the modest room.
"Holy fuck!" Nudrel grinned, "This place is cleaner than a nun's ass!"
"How would you know?" Shepard laughed while he dropped his bag.
Nudrel flopped down on a bottom bunk and sighed blissfully, "I never kiss and tell."
Grunt huffed, and Ezel just ignored them while he unpacked his meagre belongings, mostly battle enhancing shots and weights.
Shepard tossed his bag on the top bunk, and stretched his back. "Wonder if the food is as weird as this place, 'cause that would be creepy as fuck."
"I hear you!" Grunt huffed. "Think we're gonna get fed in sterile containers?"
"I wouldn't count on it," Ezel said drily. "Come on, let's find the med bay. And then you can sleep, drink, play cards or whatever the hell you do."
"Yeah," Shepard agreed, following Ezel as he left. "Ezel?" He asked casually as they walked down the long white corridor. "What do you think the exam is for?"
"Illegal substances, most likely," Ezel shrugged.
"Oh." Shepard nodded, recalling the master he had had prior, who had used to administer shots to them all, telling no one what it was, but Shepard had felt strong as a Krogan, and light headed. As if Ezel had read his mind, he said "You have nothing to worry about."
"What about all them shots of yours?" Nudrel argued from the back.
"They are legal," Ezel said. "If you are Batarian, that is."
When they arrived at the med bay, there was a long line waiting for blood tests, and a crude medical exam. The medical exam was mandatory, but he had never heard of drug tests before. Maybe that was because he had never fought in a venue this big. It did make sense, however. There was a lot of money and influence in this place, and he knew that the better gladiators lived the life of goddamn rock stars here. He scanned the room they stood in, and took in his competition, or at least that portion of it which was represented in this room. There were Asari, Turians, Humans, Krogans, and even Vorcha and other Batarians. He noticed that there were no Quarians or Salarians in this line up. The Quarians made sense, they would never risk their health on something as pointless as a fight for money. But Salarians? That was puzzling.
A Salarian doctor came out and scanned the crowd as well, and then looked down at the datapad in his hands. "James Vega, Corey Conrad, Jeremy Knight, Gustavo Perez, Jack O'Neill, Ross Clune and John Shepard. Follow me please."
"It's you, man." Nudrel elbowed Shepard who was miles away in his head.
"Oh!" Shepard jolted into action and hurried after the people who followed the Salarian doctor. The med bay was no different from the rest of this place, too big, and too sterile and busy at the same time. Shepard obediently sat down next to the other men on a metal bench, watching the doctor.
"First we're gonna do some blood tests, and then a medical exam." The doctor said, "It won't take long." He turned around and yelled "Isek! Find the human template!"
The seven men sat shoulder to shoulder, squirming a little at the uncomfortable close contact. "You, you aren't on the Earth team, what are you doing here?" the man next to Shepard said.
"Who me?" Shepard asked, feeling like an idiot instantly 'cause it was pretty obvious he was talking to him. "Uh, yeah. I'm from Anhur."
"Really?" The man asked.
Shepard looked at the man with a little smile, "Yeah, really."
"There is still a human minority on Anhur." The man named Jack objected, turning his head to look at James, who looked slightly annoyed with being corrected.
The Salarian doctor came back and pulled out a box with seven syringes. "Hold out your arm," he said to the first man in the row on the bench, and injected the needle, which then automatically sucked the blood needed with a soft swoosh and click. "Stay seated," the Salarian said, already uncapping the next syringe. When all blood samples were done, the Salarian gestured for the men to stand. "Come with me, please." He gestured to a door which led deeper into medbay.
Shepard was the first in line this time, and he looked at the giant machine with healthy scepticism. "What is that?" he asked, nodding at the giant metal monster.
"You remove all metal, and step into it," the Salarian explained. "Much more efficient than the exams." He swirled a long hand in the air, and ushered Shepard on, when he kicked off his boots, and removed his pants and belt. "Are you wearing an omnitool?" the Salarian asked with his back to the row of men.
"Yes, I can't remove them," Shepard said, ignoring the surprised stares, holding out both arms to the Salarian's gentle poking on the metal and plastic.
"Suppose it can't be helped," the Salarian sighed.
"Sorry, Doc." Shepard squirmed a little under all that attention while he quickly finished undressing, stepping gingerly over to the entry point of the machine. "Just in here?"
"Yes, yes." The Salarian said, slightly rushed. "Stand still in the white square and await instructions."
Shepard took a deep breath and walked into the machine, coming to a halt in the white square just in time to see the blue grid slowly make its way up his body, mapping every bit, internal and external.
"Shepard, John." The Salarian said through a microphone, "Turn."
Shepard turned and the grid ran over him again, and for a moment he wondered if there was something wrong, because the Salarian didn't ask him to do anything new for a while.
"Your implant, what model is that?" the Salarian said through the intercom.
Shepard hung his head, he should have seen this coming. "I don't know, doc," he answered honestly. "It is Batarian, and I was never told anything about it."
"Fascinating," the Salarian said dreamily. "I have never seen an implant like this on a human, and your skull even recovered nicely from the procedure, minor scarring... simply fascinating. I must do some more tests on you, John Shepard."
"You'd have to ask Ozafat, of Anhur," Shepard mumbled, he could feel his cheeks heat up just imagining what the other humans had to think. He had met other humans in the arena, but mostly they were either prisoners of war, set for a spectacular ending, or they were soldiers who had for one reason or another been offered a position in the Arena, and had chosen to do so.
"Will do," the Salarian said, still a little hurried. "You can step out and get dressed now."
"So am I good to go, doc?" Shepard asked when he came out, from what seemed like the weirdest physical exam in his life.
"Yes. But you must come back so I can look at that Batarian tech of yours."
Shepard hurriedly pulled his clothes back on, ignoring the glares of the other men. "Suppose it makes sense now." James said looking at Shepard with a puzzled expression.
"He's one of them freaks," the man named Ross peeped.
James Vega crossed his arms over his chest and studied Shepard. "I for one think you just made a hell of a more interesting opponent."
Shepard looked up while pocketing his hand. He had expected anything but that! "Really?"
"Really," James said. "What the fun is it if it doesn't even makes me break out in a sweat?" He grinned, and the other men nodded.