Chapter 15: Contemplation and Contrition
"Yeah, you better believe I booked it. I messaged Thane back to let him know I was coming, but man, did my imagination run wild on me 'til I got there. All of a sudden, I remembered Deena begging me, Just don't let him do anything rash. And if he was thinkin' what I thought he was thinkin'… well…
"The address brings me to a house—Thane's, I assume—that looks out over the ocean. I arrive to find the front door unlocked, but there's no answer when I knock, so I go in. 'Thane?' I call out. 'You still with me, kid?'
"He still doesn't answer, which worries me, big time. I start to look around, but it looks like nobody's home. Doesn't sit right at all. I'm gettin' more and more nervous as I go from room to empty room, until I finally spot him out back on a balcony, leaning on the railing and staring out over the water. And he's got that coin in his hand again.
"'There you are,' I say, and I'm practically sick with relief.
"'Here I am,' he murmurs absently. He doesn't turn around. 'You came.' The only emotion in his voice is the barest hint of surprise.
"'Of course I came!' I protest. 'Didja really think I wouldn't?'
"His only response is a halfhearted shrug.
"'So, what's goin' on?' I ask. 'Are you okay? How's Kolyat?'
"He flinches at his son's name. Just a little, but just enough that I notice.
"Of course, I'm thinkin' the worst. 'Thane? Where's Kolyat?' I'm almost afraid to ask.
"His response is so quiet I can barely hear him. 'He is with Kaedi. Where he will remain.'
"Yeah, exactly. 'Whaddaya mean, "where he will remain?"' I demand. 'I thought the whole point of our little road trip was to…' I trail off as an awful thought hits me. 'Shit. Did something happen to them?'
"'No,' he says flatly, and I relax a little.
"But he doesn't elaborate. 'Come on, talk to me, kid,' I say. He turns his face away as I come up to stand next to him. 'What's goin' on? What's the matter?'
"Now he does look at me, and his eyes are… haunted, I guess is the word. 'Nicolas is the matter,' he says. His voice is hoarse. 'That innocent boy was killed simply because he was with us. With me. To get my attention.' He shakes his head, and looks back out over the ocean. 'This entire… incident… it isn't the first time my life has been threatened. It's an… occupational hazard. But it is the first time my family has been targeted, and I fear it will not be the last. I… I'm terrified it will not be the last. Kolyat would not… he would not be safe in my care.' He takes a shaky breath and bows his head. 'If I'm to be honest, Kolyat will never be truly safe until I… until I'm…'
"Of course, this is exactly what I was afraid of. 'Hey now,' I growl. I grab him by the shoulder and force him to turn around and face me. 'Don't you go talkin' like that. Don't you dare!'
"He doesn't meet my eyes at first. 'Drack… there's nothing left for me here,' he says softly. 'Irikah is gone. Those responsible are dead. I must abandon my son for his own sake. And I have nothing to look forward to but perhaps ten years of slow deterioration as my illness inevitably progresses.' When he finally looks up, there's tears on his face. 'Give me a reason,' he begs. 'Just give me one reason.'
"Do any of you guys know what total loss of hope looks like? 'Cause I do. And how do you reassure a man who's just lost everything that ever mattered to him?
"But I had to say something. I wasn't about to stand by and watch him take his own life. 'Way I see it,' I say, 'just the fact that you're askin' me for a reason? That oughta be reason enough. You don't really want to die, kid. You wouldn't have called me if you did.'
"He closes his eyes. 'Perhaps… perhaps I simply didn't want to die alone.'
"I can tell that's not true, though. 'Look, Thane,' I say as gently as I can. 'I know you don't got a whole lotta time left. But… d'you really think she'd want you to throw it all away?' Yeah, I know it's a cliché, but it's the best I could do.
"'…No,' he whispers. 'She wouldn't.' He looks down at the coin again, studies it for a long moment. 'I was given over to the Compact at the age of six,' he says, and his voice is almost expressionless. 'I knew nothing else, until I met Irikah. And so when I convinced the hanar to release me so we could marry… it was as unnerving as it was liberating. She gave me this coin one night when that anxiety drove me from our bed in the small hours of the morning. It was her father's; he used to say that rubbing it brought him peace of mind. She thought it might do the same for me.
"'Of course, it was merely superstition, but it had great sentimental value to her. That she would give it to me was nothing short of astonishing. I have treasured it ever since, as a means of… of keeping some small piece of her with me, even when we were parted. It has gained… additional significance since her death.' He turns back to the railing and holds the coin out over the water. 'But we all must walk the paths we are given,' he murmurs, as much to himself as to me, and it sounds like he's repeating something he was told long ago. And he lets the coin slip from his fingers.
"He turns back to face me, and it's like a huge weight's been lifted off him. Not in a good way—it's more like his anchor's been severed. He's not so much unburdened as… drifting. The look on his face is one of weariness and resignation. 'Drack,' he says, 'I must thank you once again. You have saved my life on more than one occasion, not the least of which was today. I shall endeavor to make it one… worth saving.' He reaches out to shake my hand. 'Goodbye, my friend.'
"That was the last I saw of him for ten years."
"Ten years?" Ryder demanded. "You didn't try to stay in touch?"
Drack grunted. "Thane was a master at flyin' under the radar. I sent him a few messages, but I never heard back. Eventually stopped tryin'. After a few years, I figured either his Kepral's or one of his contracts finally got the better of him." He shrugged. "You live as long as I have, you kinda get used to it. But then one day, a couple of months before we left, I got a letter."
Cora's eyebrows shot up. "From Thane?"
"From Thane," Drack confirmed. "It said—here, I saved it. Lemme pull it up an' I'll let you read it."
The crew gathered around the old krogan as he activated his omni-tool and opened the letter.
Drack, it began,
I pray this letter finds you well, my friend. As for myself, I fear I am not—my final days are upon me, and I find myself living on borrowed time.
Though we have lost touch in the years since, it is still with gratitude that I look back on our travels together. You helped me in my darkest days, and thus far I have been unable to repay that very great debt. Please allow me to do so now.
By now, you may have heard of the Andromeda Initiative, a massive project spearheaded by the Systems Alliance that aims to send colonists on a bold journey across dark space. I have attached all the relevant literature for your perusal, and I implore you to consider joining them. A great darkness threatens this galaxy, like a mighty hammer suspended over all our heads, and I would rest easier knowing you are safe when it falls.
Ah. Perhaps my motivation is not entirely selfless, after all.
Nevertheless, I do hope you choose to go to Andromeda—it sounds like an adventure more than worthy of your warrior spirit. And it would please me greatly if, before you depart, you would come and visit me. I will be at Huerta Memorial Hospital on the Citadel from now on, under that old alias you saw right through when first we met.
I would very much like to see you again, if only to thank you one last time, and to say goodbye.
"I booked passage to the Citadel the same day, and I fretted for the whole trip. What he'd written about bein' on 'borrowed time' had me worried I might not get there in time. But when I got there, and found him at the hospital, he seemed to be doing… surprisingly okay.
"Seems a lot of things had gone right for him recently. You all remember that big to-do with Commander Shepard and Cerberus, savin' the galaxy from the Collectors? Turns out Thane was part o' that crew. And somewhere along the way, he'd got back in touch with Kolyat, too. Things were kinda rocky between them, but they were gettin' there.
"Heh-heh-heh, and he had some damn good stories of his own, too, about the other folks on the Normandy. Couple names you mighta heard: Garrus Vakarian, Tali'Zorah vas Neema, Joker Moreau. And there were some other colorful characters on that crew, too: an asari Justicar, a thief, a little biotic firecracker named Jack, and—I shit you not—a geth. Yeah, you heard me. I think they called it Legion.
"And Grunt! 'You would have liked Grunt,' Thane tells me. 'He's a young krogan, tank-bred by the warlord Okeer, and later accepted into Clan Urdnot. Commander Shepard and I had the honor of being his krantt for his Rite of Passage. We took down a thresher maw on foot—it was quite an experience.' He smiles fondly. 'And as it happens, Drack, you're no longer the only krogan to whom I owe my life multiple times over.' His eyes get that familiar distant look, and he launches into another memory.
"'We're under attack. I scope in on a Collector Guardian across the battlefield. Suddenly, my line of sight is blocked—a Drone rises up in front of me. It shoots from point-blank range. Automatic fire tears through my shields, knocks me down. The impact makes me cough, and intense pain flares in my right shoulder. I'm hit, bleeding out.
"'Shepard sees me go down. He fires at the Drone, misses. The creature prepares to finish me—and suddenly explodes in a cloud of ash. Grunt stands over me, holding the remaining Collectors at bay. "Get to cover! I can't keep them off you forever!" I manage to drag myself to relative safety.' He smiles ruefully, unconsciously rubbing at his shoulder. 'Not my finest hour, I'm afraid,' he says with a chuckle.
"'Hey, we can't all be krogan, am I right?' I tease. But then I stop smiling, 'cause I got something important I have to tell him. 'Cause I know if I don't do it now, I'll never have the chance again. 'Thane,' I say, 'I got a confession to make.'
"He frowns. 'A confession?'
"'Something I shoulda told you years ago.' I take a deep breath, and I can't look him in the eyes. 'It was me. I'm the one who gave the Shadow Broker the information that led him to you. If I hadn't—' I stop suddenly and look up at him, 'cause I can't believe what I'm hearing.
"Gently, quietly, Thane is laughing.
"'I know,' he says. 'I've known since we left Illium, Drack. And I forgave you a long time ago.'
"'You mean I've been haulin' around a guilty conscience for ten years—for nothing?' I growl, half kidding. 'But, seriously, kid. Not that I ain't glad to hear it, but… why? Why would you just forgive me for that?'
"'You're a poor dissembler, Drack,' he says wryly. 'It's the surest sign of an honest man.'
"I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. 'Uh… thanks?'
"'Your behavior was strange when we met on Anhur,' he explains, 'and something you said on Illium all but confirmed my suspicions. When I expressed disbelief that Orander would have betrayed me, you said, "Maybe he just got too trusting with someone he shouldn't."'
"I remembered that. And I remembered the way he'd stared at me afterward. 'So you contacted him.'
"He nods. 'I contacted him. And he told me exactly what information he'd leaked, and to whom.'
"'And you weren't… angry?'
"He sighs a little and bows his head. 'On the contrary, I confess that for a moment I was prepared to murder you in your sleep. But when I forced myself to think rationally, I found myself more saddened than angered. The Broker would have found the information one way or another, and you had no way to guess what he would do with it. And it was no great leap of logic to conclude that you were helping me as a way to make amends. Even in my… emotionally compromised state, I could appreciate that.'
"I didn't know how to respond to that, so I said, 'Well, for what it's worth… I'm sorry.'
"I think he's about to say something, but a sudden coughing fit doubles him over. It's bad. He can barely catch a breath, and I can tell he's in pain just lookin' at him. I call for a doctor, and she tries to shoo me out of the room when she arrives. But Thane manages to call out to me before I go. 'Drack,' he croaks. 'Andromeda?'
"I nod. 'I'm going, kid.'
"And then the door closes in my face."