One Eye Open - Chapter One
Ayuda sighed as he latched his standard issue pistol into the holster along the inside of his dirty locker. He inwardly cursed the events that lead up to his demotion and subsequent removal from his post in the turian fleet. For a turian, there was nothing worse than having a rank revoked, and that he had been foolish enough to find himself in such a position caused him to fume. Every one of his father's harsh words about responsibility, and separating private life from duty, played like a broken audio in his head. In order to teach him a lesson, his father thought it best to send him back to basics. As it turned out, 'back to basics' meant being transferred from active military service to common, civic duties, where he would remain until such a time as a satisfactory improvement in his disposition became evident.
The resulting reassignment to the lower dregs of C-Sec's standard patrols was proving to be not only an embarrassing social stigma, but a bore as well. To make matters worse, his partner was tight-lipped, even by turian standards, and it was becoming patently obvious to him that she was neither impressed nor pleased by his presence. In fact, she didn't even seem to notice him at all, and he was beginning to wonder if she was indeed human.
With her calm rational, adherence to Citadel policy, and general courtesy, she wasn't how he'd imagined the race from Earth. Not up close, anyway. He'd encountered her kind in public and other informal social situations before of course, but to work so closely with one on a day to day basis was outside of his experience, as well as his level of comfort. Still, there seemed a mutual respect, and given her quiet nature, that appeared to be all he could hope for.
Well, that's just fine with me, he thought to himself angrily. There was no point in making acquaintances with someone that he wouldn't be around for long. With luck, this pit-stop at C-Sec was just one of his father's stunts, and he'd be back to a suitably sized battle-cruiser within a couple months.
He quickly finished depositing his C-Sec equipment then activated the compartment's airlock. It slid into place with a soft hiss that echoed his moody thoughts.
While he clocked himself off duty at the division's terminal, his human counterpart filed in, chatting happily with a few other officers that tagged along behind her.
She was tall for a human female, with black hair, curled loosely in a way that lent it a perpetually wet appearance. Large brown eyes loomed over a narrow nose and thin, pale lips, all set in an ivory face. Though she was young, her forehead bore the small creases of someone who was used to having a lot on her mind, and she moved with the purpose of someone who was used to doing something about it. Not a remarkable woman, Ayuda thought, but not one to be easily dismissed either.
"I still can't believe an asari socialite invited you to a party as elite as an Upper Ward opera, Shanxi," one of the young men said.
The young woman shrugged as she slipped a holster off her shoulders, "I don't see why it's so surprising that an asari takes an interest in the arts, Jacoby."
"I don't think it's the arts she's interested in," he replied with a boyish grin.
Shanxi just laughed lightly and shook her head.
"You lot have very active imaginations."
"But you're going right?" another chimed in.
"Of course I am, it would be rude not to."
A chorus of exaggerated chortles and whoops filled the locker room, followed by many good-natured slaps on the back. Ayuda rolled his eyes at this ostentatious display of human camaraderie, but nonetheless, the short discussion had allowed him to glean a sliver of insight into his coworker's veiled personality, and the mention of a notable asari had his interest piqued. After the rowdy crew went on their way, Shanxi sat finishing some paperwork at a bench, and it gave him an opening.
"Asari socialite, is it?" he asked gruffly, feigning indifference by keeping his sight locked onto the computer terminal's glowing orange interface.
She looked up and eyed him with a blank expression for a moment, perhaps surprised, before her eyes danced with private mirth and her mouth curved into a small smile.
"My mother was once employed by Devaki Tenari. When my mother died, Devaki raised me herself," Shanxi explained, "She told me she citied her siari beliefs as an excuse to keep me from getting lost in the human foster system, but I think she pulled some strings. I owe her a lot."
Ayuda's artificially stoic face shifted in surprise. Devaki Tenari was a popular asari soprano, and it was said she had a voice so ethereal that it haunted the listener for the rest of their life. That such a talented asari and this nondescript human were somehow related seemed ludicrous to him.
"The guys don't know of course," Shanxi continued with a laugh, "But I figure their wild fantasies aren't really hurting anyone."
"Is she the one who gave you your name?"
"Devaki? I'm not really sure to be honest. My mother died when I was very young, but Devaki says it was given to remind me of my people's past and how much we have since accomplished."
The turian shifted where he stood. Such ridiculous patriotism was a waste as far as he was concerned. Still, it was a more practical approach than rehashing the past in a bar somewhere…
"Do you always speak so freely?" he asked bluntly. When you bother to speak at all, his mind added in irritation. He certainly hadn't expected his passive line of questioning to produce such intimate information.
The female officer shrugged as she closed her locker, either missing or ignoring his peevish tone.
"I suppose I didn't think it would really matter to you," she said plainly, "And besides, you did ask."
She promptly gathered her things and stood.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be late. See you tomorrow."
Ayuda hesitated in his response, but it didn't matter because he understood that the woman's abrupt departure meant she didn't expect, or want, an answer.
When Shanxi arrived in the lobby of the Upper Ward Opera House, the glittering assembly gathered there took her breath away. High ranking members of the prominent races were there dressed in their very best, rubbing elbows and exhibiting the strict code of conduct that such a diverse gathering required. Anyone was welcome to attend the performances, of course, but after a few unpleasant incidences, certain House guidelines were put into place to help insure a harmonious atmosphere amongst the patrons. It was a haven of civilized society that almost made one forget the violence found outside the confines of the Citadel, and the political tension within.
She made her way down the shallow steps to the carpeted chamber, scanning the crowd to see if she could recognize anyone. After proceeding only a short distance, she bumped into a massive elcor, who lumbered around to face her.
"Enthusiastic welcome: Shanxi, it is good to see you well," the elcor droned in their trademark monotone, "Sincere request: Please, forgive me for being in your way."
"Not at all, Zatran," she replied, trying to be conscious of the courteous speech that the venue called for, "I wasn't paying attention to where I was going, the fault is mine."
"Friendly forgiveness: No harm done. Your apology is not necessary."
"You are gracious as always, Zatran. There is much to be learned from your example."
"Appreciative observation: And from you, Shanxi. The life of a C-Sec agent isn't easy. We all sleep well thanks to you."
A flourish sounded through the hall suddenly, summoning everyone to their seats. Shanxi was always welcome to sit with the well-mannered elcor whenever he attended, for which she was grateful - it kept her from having to make awkward exchanges with strangers that she feared would reflect poorly not only on herself, but also on her asari guardian.
Once everyone was seated, the lights in the grand gallery dimmed, and an expectant hush fell over the colorful audience. It always unnerved her, those few moments before the curtain raised. Butterflies crept into her stomach in much the same way that danger made the hair on her neck stand up. Perhaps it was merely the awe induced by such a talented performer, or the presence of so many people gathered at one time, but the more Shanxi thought about it, the more she realized it was the feeling of insignificance that Devaki's nearly seven hundred years of life instilled in her.
Despite the fact that Devaki was virtually the only mother she'd known, and Shanxi loved her dearly, she was undeniably intimidated by the stately matron. The asari was wise, beautiful, intelligent, and poised in all situations. Shanxi could physically feel the effect of the odd, ineffable air that surrounded the woman; the sheer force of her presence. As a child it was comforting, like a favored toy or blanket, but as an adult, it was overwhelming. Shanxi found herself wondering how she could ever match that kind of standard.
The thoughts were driven out of her mind as the curtains ascended, pulled upward into voluminous folds of black. On the stage stood Devaki, in a pale lavender dress that perfectly complimented the slight violet undertone of her unblemished blue skin. A cold, bright light filtered down onto her, making her beauty all the more radiant, and the audience gave a collective sigh of adoration. The music began slowly, an Devaki swayed in time with it, her arms arcing gently, trailing her long ribbon-thin sleeves behind them. The music stopped, then, and the performer gave a dramatic pause.
Shanxi felt dizzy as Devaki's painted lips parted and, at the most absolute moment, the glorious sound of an army of angels escaped into the air around her. It was the heartbreaking sound of perfection, as if every voice in the cosmos sat under her tongue to be commanded at will. Her voice rose and fell with masterful precision, and the asari's flowing gown floated around her with a life of it's own, free of gravity, as if suspended in a great glass bubble. The ends of her sleeves whipped back and forth with intense emotion, pantomiming the greatest epics of the universe. Her expression took on a plethora of universal roles, no need to understand the song's elaborate, foreign speech was necessary. The ground moved for Devaki's voice, worlds turned.
All too soon, the show was over, and tidal wave of applause descended down the tiered rows of audience seating. Devaki bowed with preternatural grace, and a shower of flowers decked the stage around her. They were quickly gathered up by a troop of young asari under studies. The soprano waved to her fans in the most modest appreciation, with a beaming smile that stirred sensations of peace and hope in even the most hardened hearts.
"Amazed praise: Beautiful, simply stunning. I am convinced that no experience can match what I have just witnessed," Zatran raved happily, "Would that more had even a modicum of her talent."
Shanxi's heart became troubled again at the elcor's innocent words, even while she heartily agreed with him. She'd been to many of her mother's performances, but this one stood apart for some reason. As the performance's unearthly aura dissolved, Shanxi found the room to stand, and returned to the lobby where Devaki would now mingle with her patrons before they prepared to return home.