Of Citadels And Castles, Part 8: Machias Castle, US Marshal...and Council Spectre?
By C. Mage
"You're not making my life easy, Shepard. Firefights in the Wards? An all-out assault on Chora's Den? Do you know how MANY…?" Councillor Udina stopped as he looked at the rest of the people starting to fill the foyer of his office. "What are you up to, Shepard? At what point did you feel it was necessary to invite half the population of the Citadel to my office?"
"We're here to make your day, Udina. We've got new evidence, implicating another turian Spectre by the name of Nihlus. Nihlus has been covering up his activities." Shepard stood to one side as Tali stepped forward. She'd been standing in Machias' shadow since the ambush, and she looked up at Machias as if looking for permission or reassurance.
"It's all right, Tali. You're among friends." Machias smiled gently.
Tali nodded and walked in front of Udina. However, Udina did little to hide his skepticism. "And you are, Miss…?"
"My name is Tali. Tali'Zorah vas Neema."
"And what evidence do you have?" Udina asked skeptically.
"I salvaged a chip from the memory core of a geth." She took out a small metal box. "Normally, geth will self-destruct once defeated, in order to keep their secrets from being revealed, but if you know what you're doing, and you're lucky, it's possible to salvage information."
"Stands to reason," Garrus said knowingly, "since the quarians created the geth to begin with."
Tali activated the data reader, and a new voice was heard. "Eden Prime was a major victory. The beacon has brought us one step closer to finding the Conduit."
Then another voice came from the device, this one female. "And one step closer to the return of the Reapers."
"I know that first voice." Eyes turned to Garrus. "That's another turian Spectre. Nihlus."
"This would be a catastrophe if it got out that Saren covered up the crimes of a rogue Spectre, not to mention generate sympathy for the Alliance." Anderson turned to Shepard. "No wonder Saren doesn't want this getting out."
"I'll call the Council to reconvene immediately, now that we have proof." Udina walked quikly to a terminal and started typing away.
Shepard turned to the others assembled there. "Thank you, all of you. The truth came out, but only because our combined efforts. But there's more and I'm going to continue to need your help. Nihlus is working with the geth, and he needs to be stopped."
Machias turned to Megani. "What do you think?"
Megani looked taken aback. "About what?"
"I think these people could use some help. You saw what they'd be up against. We've got a common enemy, here."
Megani looked at Machias. "I do not think you would be better off working in a military group just yet. There's still too much you have to learn about this galaxy, and I think your abilities would be better served working on your own. Plus, you still need my care, and it is my professional opinion that you need more time to properly transition to where you are."
Machias looked at her, then nodded. "All right. I've asked you to trust me about magic. Wouldn't be right to ignore your advice when offered. But if we're going to keep doing this, we're gonna need a ship of our own, and a crew to take care of it."
Megani nodded. "Fair enough."
Machias and Megani turned to Shepard. "Yes?"
"You might want to join us for this. We're heading to meet with the Council now."
Machias nodded. "Lead the way."
"You wanted proof of treachery. There it is...and Saren was complicit in covering it up."
The council debated for a moment, then the Turian Councillor said, "Nihlus is hereby stripped of his Spectre status, effective immediately. All efforts will be made for his arrest and have him answer for his crimes. An investigation will begin immediately to measure the scope of Saren's involvement, and to determine if punishment is warranted." Megani didn't need a psych degree to understand why the Councillor was grinding his beak over this. Both Sarem and Nihlus were heroes to their people.
"I recognize the other voice, the one speaking with Nihlus," the Asari Councillor said, "Matriarch Benezia. She is an asari, a powerful biotic, and a spiritual leader with many followers. She will be of great assistance to Nihlus if she's working with him."
The Salarian Councillor interjected, "I'm more interested in these... Reapers. What do you know about them?"
Udina turned to Shepard, who turned to Tali. Tali spoke hesitantly. "According to the geth memory core, the Reapers were a hyper advanced machine race that existed 50,000 years ago. Reapers hunted the protheans to total extinction, then...vanished. The geth see the Reapers as Gods, the pinnacle of non-organic life. And they believe Nihlus knows how to bring the Reapers back, most likely through the Conduit."
Machias nodded. "That's what I saw. Connecting to the beacon transferred...information, images and memories of the protheans being wiped out by the Reapers!"
Shepard nodded. "That's it!"
Captain Anderson turned towards the Council. "You must send the Citadel Fleet to find Nihlus. Obviously this Conduit is the key to bringing back the Reapers."
The Salarian Councillor shook his head. "We don't even know what the Conduit is."
"I've heard of Reapers before, but listen to what you're saying. Nihlus is attempting to bring back an extinct race, with the help of the geth, to exterminate all life in the galaxy? Impossible." The Turian Councilor shook his head.
"Where did the Reapers go?" the Salarian Councilor mused aloud.
"Vanished. No trace of their very existence," answered the Asari Councilor, not a shred of doubt in her tone.
If they were real," the Turian Councilor confirmed, "we'd have found something."
Shepard listened to this exchange, barely able to believe his ears. "We tried to warn you about Nihlus. You're making the same mistake again!"
The Asari Councilor looked sternly at Shepard. "This is different. You proved Nihlus betrayed the council."
The Salarian Councilor added, "And we now agree Nihlus is using the geth to find the Conduit."
"What we don't know," the Turian Councilor said skeptically, "is why. The Reapers are clearly just a myth."
"A convenient lie to cover his true purpose. A legend he is using to bend the geth to his will."
"What about what we saw?" Machias said, his fists clenched, "What we BOTH saw?"
"Your visions are still not admissable evidence," said the Turian Councilor warningly.
"Fifty-thousand years ago the Reapers wiped out galactic civilization. If Nihlus finds the Conduit, it will happen again."
"Nihlus is a rogue agent, who will now be on the run for his life without the resources of being a Spectre. It's a matter of time before he's caught." the Turian Councilor said slowly.
"We're already out of time!" Anderson countered. "The more we talk, the stronger position Nihlus is in. Send in the Citadel fleet!"
The Turian Councilor looked irritated at the points being pressed. "Out of the question! We are not starting a galactic war over this."
"Then allow me to go after him. Give me the backing I need to bring him in!"
The Turian Councilor shook his head. "No. It's too soon. Humanity is not ready for the responsibilities that come with joining the Spectres."
"Funny thing, that," Machias said dryly. "It was a Turian Spectre who betrayed this Council, another Turian Spectre who covered it up, and it was humans who exposed them!"
The Council looked at them, then began to talk amongst themselves.
Garrus turned to Wrex. "What do you think?"
"I think things are about to get a lot more interesting," he rumbled, a smile on his face.
They stopped, then faced the group again, apparently reaching a consensus and nod to Shepard, who took a step forward. Machias noted the Asari Councilor was looking at him for a moment, unsure what to make of that. Then the councilors turned to make a note on the data pads in front of them.
The Asari Councilor said, "Commander Shepard. It is the decision of the Council that you be granted all the powers and privileges of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch of the Citadel."
The Salarian Councilor continued, "Spectres aren't trained, but chosen. Individuals forged in the fire of service and battle. Those whose actions elevate them above the rank and file."
The Asari Councilor smiled slightly as she added, "Spectres are an ideal. A symbol. The embodiment of courage, determination, and self reliance. They are the right hand of the Council. Instruments of our will."
The Turian Councilor took it from there. "Spectres bear a great burden. They are protectors of galactic peace. Both our first, and last, line of defense. The safety of the galaxy is theirs to uphold."
"You are the first human spectre," finished the Asari Councilor with a slight smile, as if she'd been hoping for this outcome already, "Commander, this a great accomplishment for you and your entire species."
Shepard nodded gravely. "I am honored, Councilors."
"Shepard, we are sending you after Nihlus. You are authorized to use any means necessary to apprehend or eliminate him."
"I won't let you down."
The Council seemed satisfied with Shepard's answer, the Asari Councilor said, "The trial is adjourned."
Shepard turned to Anderson, who nodded approvingly. "Congratulations, commander!"
Udina, however, was not as enthusiastic. "There's a lot of work to do, Shepard. Best get to it. This is but a small victory. I'll be awaiting mission status reports."
"Of course...but I'm going to need a ship."
"And a crew," Udina added.
Shepard looked at Tali, Garrus, Ashley, Kaiden, Wrex, Machias and Megani. "I've already found a worthy team," he said with a smile.
Anderson nodded. "Then you can have my ship, and the operational crew who comes with it."
"Excuse me, folks, but before I get branded, I'm going to have to decline your invitation. For now," Machias added quickly. "There's a few things I need to understand about this galaxy and the people in it, and until I do, I'm afraid I'll be more of a hindrance than a help."
Shepard nodded. "If you want it, there'll be a place for you with my team whenever you feel you're ready."
Megani smiled. "Let me get your comm numbers. Just in case."
"In the meantime...I've got to look into getting my own ship to get around in. Problem is, I don't know a whole lot about what makes for a good ship."
"I will help...if you don't mind me joining your crew."
Machias and Megani turned to look at Tali. "You want to ride with me?" Machias asked.
"If you mean join you, yes, I-I would. I have lived aboard ships all my life, and I could make sure you'll find something that would suit your needs. I could also help you select a crew, and make sure it runs efficiently and safely."
Megani turned to Machias. "She's right about that. Few people can handle running a ship like a quarian."
Machias nodded. "Tali'Zorah, you're on. Welcome to my crew."
Tali nodded quickly, then said, "I can lead you to the reliable dealers and mechanics, help you get the best deals…"
"Whoa, Tali, hold your horses. I say we get something to eat, first. This is my first ship, I want to make sure I know what I'm getting."
"Your FIRST?" Tali looked awestruck...well, as awestruck as body language could display. "I've never helped someone get their first ship before."
"Yes, so please, be gentle with him," Megani said with an impish smile.
Machias sighed. "Why do I get the feeling someone is having fun at my expense again?"
"Maybe you're using the Sight," Megani snickered.
"The Sight?" Tali turned to Machias.
"Yes, it's...well, it's a long story." Tali leaned forward, resting her chin on her hands. "Ah. Well, it's also somewhat hard to believe."
"Try me," Tali said levelly.
When Machias finished with his story, Tali was still facing him, but behind the visor, it was hard to tell if she was simply looking at him...or staring. Machias sipped his coffee. He was starting to really like the way it was made in this time period. "So. Be honest. Just how badly do you think I require the services of Dr. Y'Kasia?"
"If it were anyone else, I would say you were categorically insane...but there's no denying that what you were using to fight the Shadow Broker's men was clearly not any sort of biotics I've ever seen." Tali sat up. "What else can you do?"
"Everyone wants a demonstration." Machias took another sip. "Well, I've made food, caused taxis to malfunction and brought a guest into the Nevernever. What did you have in mind?"
Tali considered, then stood up and walked over to a nearby rock garden, picking up a large specimen, roughly the size of a softball, and brought it over to the table. "You say you can work with the elements. What can you do with this?"
Machias set the cup down. "I feel like I'm showing off, but here goes." Tali watched as he traced designs over the rock, then held his open palms to either side, closing his eyes and muttering. The rock began to glow a dull orange, and in the space of thirty seconds, reshaped itself into a rather good sculpture of Megani in her Wild West outfit, about a foot high. He opened his eyes and moved his hands to the table. "Well?"
Tali and Megani were both staring...not to mention a few onlookers from some nearby tables. "...KEELAH…!" Tali said in awe. "YOU ARE A PRISI'LAI…!"
Tali picked up the statuette, moving it over and over in her hands, "In the beginnings of quarian time, there were males and females born with the ability to manipulate matter and energy using their own force of will. They shaped the surface of Rannoch itself, literally terraforming it to suit their needs. They made the planet safer for our people, eradicating sickness and plague long ago. Until we left our him, it was unfathomable for any quarian to become sick." She sighed. "Little did we know that our autoimmune systems atrophied as a result. By the time we realized what had happened, there were no more prisi'lai left. The more we depended upon technology, the less we needed them, and they faded away into legend, then into myth. The power they used was called laisei. It might translate into Terran as 'lifeblood of the world'."
"That's not that bad a translation, actually."
Tali looked at Machias intently. "If you can help me solve a mystery for my people, I shall pledge myself to you as an indentured servitude indefinitely. I think you may be the only one who can solve this."
"Wait. 'Indentured servitude', last I checked, sounded way too close to the concept of 'slavery' for my tastes. I don't keep slaves, and I don't much cotton to the idea of it to begin with."
Tali slumped. "But it's the only thing I have to offer, except…"
Machias blinked. Megani smirked. "WHOA WHOA WHOA!" Machias said quickly. "I ain't that kind of man!"
"Then you won't help me?" Tali said, a little confused.
"I never said that, Tali."
"But I have nothing else to offer you for this."
"Who said you had to offer me anything?"
"Wait. I do not understand."
"What Machias is trying to say, in his own adorably confusing way, is that he's offering to help you for free." Megani chuckled.
Tali looked between the two of them. "It has been my experience that humans never offer to do anything for free...and most seem to desire payment involving physical intimacy and...I should really shut up now, shouldn't I?" Megani saw that, right below Tali's eyes were a slight color change and Megani realized Tali was blushing, and she wasn't the only one. Machias looked like his cheeks would start spontaneously bleeding any second.
"Criminy, girl...look, Tali, just tell me what happened, and that way, I can see what I can do to help."
"I can't talk about it here. Not in public. Follow me."
"This is where you live?" Megani asked incredulously.
"For now. Hopefully, my new quarters will be a little more comfortable."
Megani looked around. "That is almost a certainty. This is a SHIPPING CONTAINER."
Machias looked inside. "I don't see what the problem is. This is bigger than the house I grew up in."
"Was your house in danger of being lifted into the air and carried off to somewhere alien?"
Machias turned to Megani. "One of my parents was a Wizard. The possibility of that DID exist."
"Machias, whatever ship we get WILL have proper sleeping quarters for the crew," Megani "advised" firmly.
"Of course." He turned to Tali. "So, tell us. What is this all about?"
"It's about the ship I grew up on. The Rayya."
"What happened to it?"
Tali leaned closer. "It crashed almost seven galactic years ago. Barely half the people on the Rayya managed to escape before it crashlanded on an unexplored planet."
"That sounds horrible..what happened?" Megani asked. "Was it mechanical failure?"
"That's just it. The Rayya was in perfect mechanical condition. Something happened to it that caused every single major system to fail, all at once. Even the failsafe systems...and that's never happened before. It's supposed to be IMPOSSIBLE." Tali spoke in a hushed tone. "No one has been ever been able to determine what happened, but there were rumors that it was sabotaged, that the captain caused it to happen, that it was caused by geth interference. But to have it happen like that...I think something else happened."
"I do not know…" She turned to Machias. "But then, before, I was not in the company of a prisi'lai, especially not one trained in detection and deduction. Help me find out what happened to the Rayya and there will be no place in the universe where I will not follow you."
Machias looked at Tali for a long time. "Tali, I'll do everything I can to help you, but on one condition. No more of this servant or slave stuff. The only thing I want from you is the chance to earn your friendship and your respect, on its own merits, not because I'm helping you."
Tali nodded. "If that is what you wish."
"Well, right now, I wish you to pack up your kit and come with us. We've got to find us a ship."
As they walked, Megani caught Tali's visor was mostly looking at Machias. Megani wondered if there were any cultural issues with relationships concerning the prisi'lais, and if there were any privileges that came with the title. "Tali, tell us more about what being a prisi'lai means in quarian culture."
Tali was only too eager to share. "They were considered natural leaders, and some were even worshipped as divine beings, either out of respect or out of fear. Quarians in that time period lived in territories, each governed by a leader who was either a prisi'lai or worked in cooperation with one. Good and noble prisi'lais were protectors, defenders, healers. Evil prisi'lais were conquerors, despots...or lone destroyers. It is rare to find a prisi'lai is somewhere in the middle, who is neither leaned towards one side or the other."
"For good reason. White magic creates and heals. Black magic not only corrupts and destroys, but eats away at the user, until one day, he's not using the Black, it's using HIM."
Tali nodded sagely. "Prisi'lai were often given great privileges as a result of their status, although the evil ones weren't given privileges, they just took them. For example, it was rare for a prisi'lai not to have more than one wife or less than three concubines."
Machias blinked. "Excuse me? That seems a little...exhausting."
"At the time, it was accepted simply because it increased the likelihood that any offspring born from the union would have a better chance of being another future prisi'lai. Our population was not as numerous as it was before...the geth...back then."
"The more of these powerful quarians per territory, the more powerful the territory itself. Makes sense," Megani agreed.
"Wizards are the same way. While you don't have to have Wizard blood in your veins to do magic, being a Wizard means you have a hereditary advantage over other practitioners."
"Do you have additional wives or concubines?" Tali asked.
Machias' reply was in a voice that seemed to weigh as much as the Citadel as it hit the air.. "I had a wife...once."
Tali missed a step as she got the implication. "When you travelled in time?"
"When I got kidnaped through time."
Everyone was silent after that until they got to the docks. Megani knew Machias was still hurting over the loss of his family, but he was getting better at grieving. It was clear that it would be some time before he started thinking about other women in any way that could be considered romantic.
For some reason, she found that thought rather disappointing...and she wondered if Tali might've also had similar thoughts. She'd been walking around in a state of near-awe ever since she saw him using magic, a walking myth, and one that was one of the proverbial "Good Guys" to boot. Tali'Zorah seemed rather young...odd, since they usually referred to themselves with the "nar" designation while they were on their Pilgrimage and "vas" after they'd made it through their rite of passage… "Tali?"
"Yes?" Tali replied, seeming relieved at the possible change of subject.
"Are you on your Pilgrimage?"
"...yes. About that…" Tali said sheepishly.
"I noticed the designation you were using," Megani said simply.
"Yes...the survivors of the Rayya are considered...cursed. To avoid being ostracized, we took on the names of the ships we were re-assigned to after the catastrophe. It's the sort of thing everyone knows, but nobody wants to talk about. As long as we keep our heads down and do what we're supposed to, no one will harass us for it."
"That ain't right," Machias said darkly, "and I had enough of things that ain't right. Come on, pick yer feet up. I ain't putting my head to rest until we got us a ship."
"So," Machias said as they arrived at the brokerage offices, "how does one get a ship?"
Tali pointed to the message boards. "Each of those boards indicates a ship manufacturer. Most manufacturers have different models for purchase of ships already designed and made. You pick the ship that suits your needs and your budget and the manufacturer has your ship piloted from the shipyards to you. You pay the money, which goes into an escrow account while the ship is being delivered. The manufacturer doesn't receive the money until the buyer is satisfied with the ship and any extras."
"Extras?" Machias asked. "What are 'extras'?"
"Changes made to the stock design. Better engines, better weapons, better hardware, better furnishings, options to add functions to the ship. Many quarians often work as indentured servants in the shipyards due to our natural aptitudes with building and fixing starships." Tali smiled behind her visor; it was gratifying to be able to provide this information to Machias. It had been somewhat intimidating, being around him. Seeing his power and hearing about his exploits only proved in her mind that he must be a truly powerful prisi'lai, and one noble in character, to boot. It was like something out of one of her story datacubes, a legend come to life.
Her chances of finding out the truth about the Rayya just got considerably more promising.
"They better be treated well…" Machias said ominously. "All right. I understand the concept of a 'stock' model. What about something made from scratch? How long would that take?"
"It could take months to create a design from scratch. It would have to be built, tested for design flaws, modified…"
"Yeah, scratch that out. The Reapers ain't gonna wait." He looked at the screens, but the more he looked at the ships, the less he understood about them. "Aw, this is gonna take forever. I don't get half the stuff these boys think is so important."
"Machias, wait. You travelled all over the world you knew on a horse, right?"
"A what?" Tali asked.
"Quadrupedal pack animal," Megani explained.
Machias considered. "Of course."
"And what sort of qualities did you look for in a horse?"
Machias considered. "Well, he had to be big and fast, with plenty of endurance. One that wouldn't spook easily in combat. Not too picky about his feed. Loyal and brave. Smart, too. One that wouldn't mind carrying an extra load now and then, bring lawbreakers in to be imprisoned." He turned to look at Megani, who was smiling. "Why?"
"Tali, what can we find that'll have similar qualities?"
Tali looked at the boards, paying close attention not only to the ships available, but the manufacturers as well. "Hmmmm...it would something that could be staffed by a minimal crew. That means it would have to be an advanced design, and advanced designs are rarely affordable."
Megani chuckled. "Humor us. If money were no object," she said, adding mentally, because it isn't, "what would be the ship that YOU would choose?"
Tali walked over to a manufacturer that, from the looks of their product lines, dealt with a lot of luxury ships and military-grade ships in equal measure. "This one. It's expensive, but worth every credit. All of the systems can be controlled with a complex VI, but a larger crew can have different functions transferred to manual control. It's a small frigate, normally crews no more than seventy, but as long as we don't get involved in too many space battles, this is a ship I would get if I had a bottomless credit account."
Megani turned to Machias. "She IS the ship expert."
Machias nodded. "Just one more thing I'd like to know."
"What would be the cheaper choice?" Tali asked, somewhat disappointed. She liked Choice #1..
"No." Machias smiled. "Does it come in black?"
Thelo Ken was a very frustrated volus.
The company he worked for, Cord-Hisplop, made all kinds of ships, but the department he was assigned to was always working for making quotas for ships that normal customers couldn't afford or really need, leaving the remainder of the clientele towards the very rich and the military. And Citrala Yus, damn her to the Void, had most of the military contracts in the area sewn up.
Thelo Ken may not have been the top salesvolus in the company, but he hadn't missed his quota since he was a newcomer in the company. But unless he made quota in the next few days, it would be a black mark on his record, one he couldn't afford to have. There were no wars going on, which meant a lack of reliable means of providing one of the more lucrative means of income, extended maintenance plans.
So when he saw the human, the asari and the quarian walk over to his station, he knew that he wasn't going to go out having given up. The human wasn't dressed like a rich man, but Thelo Ken decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Good day, Earth-clan. I am Thelo Ken, and I am a fully-authorized vendor for Cord-Hislop Aerospace. How may I assist you today?"
The human reached over, offering his hand. "Machias Castle. A pleasure to meet you." Thelo was well versed in human cultural aspects, and understand this was a common greeting, but the undertones indicated a predilection towards a serious inquiry, instead of the normal lookie-loos, as the human salespeople often referred to them.
"The pleasure is mine, Earth-Clan. Please, have a seat."
"Thank ya kindly." Thelo felt a few stirrings of hope. This human was particularly polite. "Now then, let's get down to business. I've been looking to purchase a ship, something reliable, a workhorse, but versatile enough to handle the unexpected. As I understand from my colleague here," he said, indicating the quarian, "your Theseus model would fit the bill perfectly."
Thelo brightened considerably, but was guardedly hopeful. "It is indeed a fine vessel. Am I to understand that you wish to work with a VI to handle the bulk of starship operations?"
"Yep. In fact, I want the most advanced one you have. I am somewhat particular about the company I keep."
"Of course. I can certainly add that in."
"Good. Got one in black?"
"I do have one in that color. In fact, there is one currently docked at our corporate docks. If it meets your specifications, we can begin the installations of the VI and any other hardware you wish." Thelo was still guarded, then decided to take a risk. "If you are determined towards a sale today, I can have our computers run the appropriate credit checks while we tour the ship."
The human blinked. "Credit checks? Pardon my ignorance, but could you explain what that means?"
"Well, it means that we run your information against the extranet financial network to measure what sort of payment plan you could afford on a periodic basis, along with whatever interest applies." Thelo Ken was a little surprised, not to mention suspicious. "If your credit level was below a certain range, you would be making larger payments, but that is…"
"OH! Oh, sorry, you don't understand, Mr. Ken. I'm not interested in making payments. I want to pay for it all, in full, today."
Thelo Ken blinked. A payment in full would not only put him over quota, but would be a sizable commission, to boot. "To do that, Earth-Clan, I would need a confirmation of the funds needed to make the payment. Your credit stick, please?"
Machias nodded, then handed over the the ebony cylinder. Thelo Ken took it, glad to see his suit didn't display facial expressions. He'd only seen an ebony credit stick twice in his professional life...and this was the second. He slid it into his terminal and ran the check.
According to what he saw as the result, this human could afford a small FLEET of those ships...with all the options! He withdrew the slim cylinder from the terminal and handed it back, acting as if this happened to him every day. "Earth-Clan, I am pleased to say that, from what I have learned, not only will we be able to conduct business, but any options and other requirements for outfitting the ship can be conducted within the space of a week."
Machias nodded. "That'd be just fine. Look, I am somewhat under a bit of a deadline, here. I have been instructed that your company has places all over the galaxy that can handle repairs, and that you have a service that makes it easier to have those repairs made quickly and less expensive. I want one of those, that covers the ship and all the equipment on it. Also, I want you to walk me through what can be done with the ship to make it tougher, better armed and provide some amenities like cooking food, storing provisions." Machias put a hand on Thelo Ken's shoulder. "When I make a deal with another person, I want there to be ongoing trust between myself and them. I don't make deals with big companies, I make deals with a person. You deal with me as a volus of honor and integrity, and I will not deal with any other person in your company except for you. If for some reason your company makes the mistake of firing a person with that honor and integrity, then whatever company you do go to, that's where I'll take my business. Do we understand each other?"
Thelo Ken was silent for a time. This human didn't ask for things other customers did. And there was something...formidable about him. "Earth-Clan, if that's the kind of customer service you require, then I, Thelo Ken, will be your volus."
"Good man. Now, let's go look at this model."
Thelo Ken almost floated all the way to the docks.
"What do you think?" Thelo Ken said, once the tour was completed.
"I gotta say, this is mighty impressive. Tali, what do you think?"
Tali nodded. "It is well-built, agile and powerful." She walked over to Thelo Ken, activating her omnitool. "These are the changes we would like to make to the stock model. Upgraded engines, armor, weapons, two shuttles for the shuttle bay, upgraded sensors, changes to the furnishings and floors, and upgraded kitchen and food storage."
Thelo Ken looked over the changes. "We can have the changes made in a week. We can have them made sooner, but there will be an additional cost."
Machias turned to Thelo Ken. "Can you have it ready in three days?"
Thelo Ken thought about simply saying yes to keep the client, but then he remembered what Machias had told him. "No. The soonest I can have it ready is in four days. I apologize."
Machias smiled. "Four days will be acceptable. Let's get back to your office. I want to get started as soon as possible."
"Of course, Earth-Clan."
"Uh, one more thing." Machias turned to Thelo Ken. "I would appreciate it if you would call me Machias, or simply 'Mac'. Trust begins with first names."
Thelo Ken nodded. "Of course...Machias."
"Do you prefer Thelo or Ken?"
"Good." As they walked back to the office, Machias continued. "I was serious about how I do business, Thelo. I want it stated on the bill of sale and the extended service contract that I will talk to you and no one else in the company. If you are out, I will wait until you come back in. I will accept contact with no other person unless you say it's okay first. That company loses you, they lose my business. Make sure they understand that."
"As you wish, Machias."
"Good. I hate having to do business with a group. Makes my head hurt."
"Once payment is rendered, Machias, we can begin registration of the starship. Did you have an idea of what name you wanted to the registry?"
"Yes. Call her, 'Tin Star'." Machias smiled.
"Done. May I ask the significance of the name?"
"It's my badge, the one I wore when I was a lawman on my home planet. I guess you could say it was my world's version of a Council Spectre."
A law-enforcement human? That explained a great deal, Thelo Ken thought. "Do you still uphold the law on Earth?"
Machias chuckled. "You might say my jurisdiction got a whole lot bigger."
They made their way back to the office, and Machias completed the transaction, including the extra work, the extra service and the extra maintenance, along with a healthy tip for Thelo Ken. Machias and Thelo Ken stood up, and this time, it was the volus who stuck his hand out first. "It's a singular pleasure having your business, Machias."
"A pleasure doing business with you. Keep me posted on the progress."
After they left the office, Megani spoke up. "I know you wanted me to play the silent partner on this, but I was curious. What made you choose him out of all the salespeople in that office?"
"Easy. I checked out his aura. Of all the people there, he gave me the impression of being the most honest and most forthright. I've dealt with horse traders, cattlemen, shopkeepers and big business types, and I used the same rules with all of them. Never regretted it." He turned to Tali. "Thanks for keeping track of all that. I couldn't make heads or tails out of almost everything he said and thanks to you, I didn't seem like an idiot."
Tali nodded, suddenly feeling warm inside her suit.
"All right, let's get something to eat. All this jawin' about the Tin Star has got me working up an appetite...and both of you can help explain to me in terms I can fathom about what it is I just bought."
As the transaction was recorded and the details sent up to the main databank at Cord-Hislop Aerospace, certain factors about the transaction, including the name, were copied and sent to a different location. From there, it was sent through different relays to cover its true point of origin, where it ended up at a space station out in the middle of nowhere.
The person in charge of both the station, as well as Cord-Hislop, opened the data and added it to an ongoing file started a few months ago. He looked it over carefully, checking to make sure the data was correct, then compared it to the other data he'd gathered on Machias. The information from the Marshals. The events of Eden Prime. The mysterious incident in the mess hall on the Normandy. The attacks on the Citadel. And now this.
It was time to see if it was all true.
He tapped a button on his chair. "Tell Operative Lawson to come to my office. I need fresh eyes on an operation, eyes I can trust not to be fooled by a charlatan."
"Right away, sir."
The man in the chair tapped the button again to close the comms, then dared a smile. The implications of this being true were too important to overlook. If it was true...then Humanity's Superiority was assured.
"THAT'S what that does?" Machias shook his head. "I didn't even know that was a PROBLEM before you mentioned that."
Tali nodded, feeling full and satisfied. Going on the Pilgrimage might be necessary, but roughing it was one part Tali had never liked.
As they walked back to Machias' suite, Tali asked, "Where am I going to sleep?"
"Oh, I've got more room than I know what to do with. I'm sure we could find you a…" He stopped. "Megani?"
"Yes, Mac?" she asked, right before she saw what Machias was looking at.
"Is it a good thing or a bad thing when you find two asari in dresses flanking your front door?"
Megani moved forward until she was halfway between Machias and the two asari. "May we help you?" she asked in a neutral tone.
"The Consort awaits you," said the asari on the left.
Megani took a closer look at her. "Wait, you're Nelyna's friend, Asreai. Why is the Consort here?"
"She is here for guidance." Asreai pointed to Machias. "She wishes to speak to him."
Machias blinked. "Well...I'll try to oblige. Let's go."
"No. The Consort wishes to see him alone."
Machias turned to Megani, who nodded, seeming to understand more about this than Machias did. "Don't worry, Machias. It's not what you might think."
Machias turned to Tali, who nodded, however reluctantly. Machias stepped forward and opened the doors to his suite, closing them behind him. As he walked in, he noticed the lights were slightly dimmed, and there was flickering light coming from the main room. He walked further in to see the Consort sitting on the sofa, looking towards the fireplace. She turned slowly as he came in. She was smiling...and crying at the same time. Machias walked over in front of her. "Are you all right?"
She wiped her eyes, then gestured for him to sit beside her. "You cannot know...I thought I would never see one like you. You have the Gift. The ability to perceive into the soul of another, to understand them like no one else can."
"You mean, the Sight?"
"Is that what you call it?" The Consort smiled. "I have never known of anyone else with the Gift. I thought I was the only one in the galaxy burdened with such responsibility."
"That's it...that's how you're able to understand what all your clients need. You read their auras using the Sight, and provide them with the help they require." He nodded. "Nice work, if you can get it, I suppose."
"You disapprove of what I do?"
"No, I don't disapprove. It's a tough galaxy out there, and you're not using the Sight to be a spy or someone malicious. You're really trying to help people. Of course, you make it a job, and a well-paying job at that, but that's not wrong. Just not the choice I'd make."
"Of course. I saw you, Machias Castle...I've never seen an aura so powerful before in my life. The others that come to me...compared to you, they're simply shadows. Who are you? What are you? I HAVE to know."
Machias saw and heard the intensity in her body language and voice. "I'll tell you… but I want everyone outside my suite in my suite before I tell you."
"Because you're not the only one who needs to hear this."
"We all here?" Machias looked around. Four asari, one quarian and himself. "Good. Now, all of you have ideas about what I am according to your own cultures and perceptions. But this is getting a little out of hand, here. Everyone's been telling me what they think I am. Now, I'd like the chance to say what I really am." Machias sat down. "I am a Wizard. On my world, that means someone who possesses the power to use magic, all kinds of magic. There were other kinds of practitioners out there, but many of them weren't as powerful, or limited to a particular type of magic. Wizards can do it all, but not everyone can be a Wizard. For one thing, Wizards come from bloodlines of other Wizards. It's a hereditary talent, and although not every member of that bloodline can be a Wizard, many usually are. Also, even within the same bloodline, some members have more potential than others."
Megani saw the Consort's reaction when Machias mentioned "bloodlines". It was clear that Sha'ira thought quite favorably of the idea of seeing what such a human bloodline would do for an asari family line.
"Now, what this means is that I have a responsibility to use magic for good. Magic comes from life and embodies life and creation. Magic used maliciously, or murderously, is a violation of that, and it comes with consequences. It corrupts, like a festering wound that won't heal. The more you use it, the less of the original you there is, until you find the Black is in control...and you're just the vehicle it's driving."
"Why are you telling us this, Mr. Castle?" Asreai asked.
"Because there are two things I need to tell you. One, I've discovered that humans aren't the only ones who can use magic. I have seen proof of that. Two...I've also seen what can happen when people get too much power, too fast...or want it badly enough to do something they might not normally do. So I want to ask a favor of you. If you know of others who might have power like this...contact me. I don't want them going down the wrong path if there's a way I can teach them to use magic to help others instead of harm them."
Megani smiled. Machias had cleverly put people in a position to not only seek out others who might have answers...and he had recognized that the Consort may well have wanted more than to have a gift recognized. She might have thought to secure that gift, and others, by having Machias provide a few...genetic advantages. At one point, I'm going to have to teach him more about how asari have children...so he can avoid having any unwanted ones. You know, because the Consort may have taken advantage of his lack of knowledge. Right. The Consort.
"I want to thank you all for being here, because it helps me realize I may not be as alone here as I originally thought. Megani will give you all the means to contact me. Call anytime."
Sha'ira smiled. "You may count on that, Machias."
Tali and Megani watched as they left. Machias was over at the bar, pouring himself a shot of whiskey, and taking a pull on it. "That...was close. I thought she was going to rip my clothes off and have her way with me."
"She DID?" both Megani and Tali said, outraged, then turned to each other, suddenly embarrassed. Machias looked at them, then shrugged. "I am going to take myself a little siesta. Let me know if any other celebrities show up."
"What's a 'siesta'?" Tali asked.
"His way of saying 'a nap'," Megani said with a smirk.
Machias went to his room and closed the door behind him, then started taking off his shoes. A knock at his door stopped him just as he was about to remove his shirt "This had BETTER be important…" he muttered, opening the door…
...and looking out into a field of barley. Standing a few feet away was a thin, young man, with blond hair, piercing yellow eyes and wearing an outfit similar to Machias' old outfit.
Machias recognized him immediately, then stepped back into the room. "Come on in."
The man entered and walked over to the desk, pulling out the chair and sitting down. "It's been a long time, Castle."
"Was only a year for me, but you already know that, don't you?" Machias sat down on the bed. "Want to tell me what's going on here?"
"Are you asking me to explain how problematic chronomancy can be? I thought you knew that all too well long before now."
"YOU KNOW PERFECTLY WELL WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. What happened? The magical races, the Fair Folk, wizards, Red Court, EVERYONE. GONE! The Nevernever on Earth locked against me. WHY?"
"You already know why."
Machias considered, but didn't have to think long. "The Reapers."
"You weren't the first to get visions, and the others didn't have a Prothean Beacon to help them. A threat so destructive and total, the magical races came to an accord for the first time in millennia. The Pact."
"What is the 'Pact'?"
"To migrate all magical races into the Nevernever, or other realms that would hold them, and to close the doors until the storm was over. Then they could clean up the mess and keep going."
"WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THEY DECIDED THIS...INSANITY?"
"Don't get angry at ME, Castle. You know me, remember? They made a choice, out of their own free will. Free will, remember? I could obliterate a galaxy, but I can't punish people for using a gift God gave them. My hands were tied."
Machias looked at the man for a very long time, then closed his eyes and nodded. "I'm sorry, Uriel. I lost everything, my life, my family, and now I'm out here…" He hung his head.
"I know, Castle. You're out here...outside of the Pact. Where you're needed."
Machias looked up suddenly. "What are you saying?" he asked, turning to look at Uriel.
"I have waited hundreds of years for this day, Machias Castle. The only question that remains is...what are you going to do, now that you know?" He smiled, then disappeared.
Machias looked around, then sighed. "I really, really hate it when he does that." He stood up, noting that the chair was back in front of the desk. He could see through the window outside, seeing the arms of the Citadel, all the structures there, all the people that lived in them...and beyond them, a galaxy of living beings that laughed and cried and loved and hurt.
And didn't deserve to be obliterated.
Machias sighed. "Shepard...I'm going to be seeing you again a lot sooner than I thought."
TO BE CONTINUED….