Author's Note: For Iunctio readers, this bookends the events of "Killer".
Urdnot Wrex absently popped another snail into his mouth as he regarded the weather-beaten datapad in his hand. The marinated, hard-shelled morsel made a satisfyingly loud crunch as he deliberately crushed it between his broad teeth, a noise that made the salarian patrons of the restaurant falter in their concerted attempts to ignore the brutish intruder in their midst.
With the broad field of view that was a trait of his species, Wrex could easily watch the assemblage of reed-thin aliens around him, quietly amused by their obvious discomfort. The krogan mercenary had made a long-standing habit of continually reading the moves and reactions of those near him at all times, a tendency to which he attributed his continued existence.
The restaurant's owner fluttered about behind the bar, the only salarian unperturbed by Wrex's presence. Since he'd developed a taste for a certain hard-shelled delicacy from the salarian homeworld, Wrex had made a point of visiting the unassuming eatery nestled in the Citadel's Fifth Ward whenever he was in need of laid-back entertainment. Not that the visits were cheap, but a considerable tip ensured the owner was always happy to see him and decorously overlooked the fact that one wasn't supposed to eat the multicolored shells.
Wrex resumed scowling at his datapad, flipping between display panes representing the various accounts he had scattered liberally about the sprawling financial maze of the Citadel economy. Given the dubious legality of the sources of Wrex's money, he'd learned early in his life that it paid to spread one's self out. Thus, sudden account freezes or the necessity to quickly vacate a system never left him far from a source of cash.
Wrex didn't live extravagantly - visits to salarian restaurants notwithstanding - but mercenary work could hardly be counted upon for a steady income. He flipped the small display back to the message he had received an hour ago and read it through again, digesting the fact that the job offer it contained had to be seriously considered.
He didn't like taking jobs on the Citadel. Guard work was usually painfully boring, and anything else risked a run-in with Citadel Security. C-Sec agents were a nosy and persistent lot, and expensive to bribe, if you could at all. Wrex considered himself a pragmatist, one who disliked needless complications.
He turned off the datapad and tapped it lightly against the table as he savored the last crunchy snail. He knew full well that aside from the money, being a hire in good standing with the Shadow Broker wasn't something to be dismissed lightly. To his knowledge, it was a rare event when the Broker went so far as to put a hit out on someone, and it aroused a certain amount of curiosity.
More than money, Wrex needed relief from boredom. It had been too long since he'd faced a serious challenge, and this job was potentially interesting. It was time to get into the city and start asking pointed questions. He quickly transferred the amount of his tab to the restaurant and headed for the door. A ripple of relief from the salarians preceded him as he exited into the crowded lower Ward.
"Fist, huh?" he said to no one in particular as he ambled into the crowded street. "Stupid name..."
Wrex surveyed the patrons of Chora's Den with narrow eyes. His entrance had already attracted attention, but he opted to ignore the curious stares in favor of sizing up potential threats. He knew most of the patrons could safely be counted on to hide or flee at the outbreak of violence, but there could always be that upstart who decided to try and be heroic. Usually a fatally stupid decision.
The biggest potential unknown remained the asari entertainers. With their long lives and indeterminate age, there was a significant chance some of them had combat training or were skilled biotics. Still, it seemed unlikely to Wrex that any of them held any particular loyalty to Fist, and they would probably simply melt away into the Wards at any sign of trouble.
That left the one obvious challenge to this contract standing on the far side of the room near the door to the offices- the bouncer. Wrex was careful to keep the other krogan in his field of view as he ambled through the crowded room, and knew his opponent must surely be doing the same to him.
Wrex could tell immediately the other krogan was relatively young; his black and blue crest smooth and lacking the deep lines and grooves that accentuated with age. The dark blue was the color of the Gorgoth clan, one of the largest and most populous of the first stage colonies that still clung to life out rimward of Tuchanka. But the jet-black peak indicated mixed blood, and Wrex pondered its implications. The bouncer's armor was heavy-looking but old and worn, likely scavenged and rebuilt to look more impressive than it really was.
No doubt the blue-crested krogan cut an impressive figure to the other aliens, but by the time Wrex changed course and walked purposefully toward the offices, he already had a good idea of what he was dealing with. A young warrior, probably down and out with his clan, picking up whatever job he could while trying to make a name for himself, enough that he could start securing good mercenary work. In the meantime, he was window dressing; hired to look intimidating and stop fights before they started with the promise of swift and brutal reprimand.
Few things rankled Wrex anymore, but seeing one of his own people being used for such an obviously menial job penetrated the usual broad sense of ambivalence that permeated his life.
"I'm here to see Fist," Wrex announced bluntly as he stopped in front of the bouncer, calculating his distance from the other krogan as just close enough to get into the bouncer's space, a subtle but unmissable challenge among the deeply territorial krogan.
"Fist is busy," the Gorgoth growled, bristling at the intrusion.
"Yeah, I bet. Having his pole polished by one of the blues?" Wrex smirked. "Or maybe finding whole new bad choices to make in life. Step aside, or better yet, find a new job."
The bouncer fidgeted but stood resolute.
"What's a Gorgoth mutt like you doing waiting on a humpless human, anyway?" Wrex said with calculated disdain. "Does pushing around drunk salarians pay well?"
The young warrior's expression didn't change, but Wrex caught the telltale widening of his slitted irises, an involuntary reaction that usually presaged an attack. It told Wrex not only that his guess as to the younger krogan's heritage had been more or less on the mark, but also that the young warrior still valued his clan ties enough to be nettled by Wrex's barbs.
It was a risky move. Wrex normally approached his targets in a pragmatic manner, and provoking a brawl in a crowded bar wasn't really the most efficient way of seeing the contract through. But he was in a bad mood, and deep down he craved action, a real challenge. He distantly hoped some of the asari would get involved, just to make things interesting.
But seconds passed, and the Gorgoth krogan didn't take the bait.
"Get out of here, Wrex," the bouncer finally growled. "Fist isn't coming out." His hand dropped meaningfully onto the grip of the pistol clipped to his waist as he shifted his weight into a ready posture, defiantly inviting the older mercenary to start something.
Wrex had to admire the younger warrior's bluster, even if it was misplaced. The pup might even make for a decent fight. Wrex was weighing possibilities in his head when he caught the subtle shift in the mood of the crowd around the bar. In the outer edge of his field of view, three armored figures were making their way between the tables, causing a stir among the patrons.
"I'll be back soon enough," Wrex said bluntly.
He turned and stumped away from the bristling bouncer, shouldering negligently past the new arrivals to cover a quick but careful appraisal of them. They weren't C-Sec as he'd expected, but rather human Alliance Military, wearing slate-gray hardsuits and all armed. The lead human, a female, simply ignored him, while the other two eyed him warily as he passed.
C-Sec or no, the sudden arrival of the human soldiers didn't provide him any new advantage, so Wrex made his way toward the exit. As he passed through into the gangway overlooking a grav-car highway, he wondered idly if anyone in the bar realized how close they'd come to having front-row seats to a show few got to see these days- a krogan battlemaster in action.
Down the walkway, a portal cycled open and a pair of turians and a human stepped through, wearing the ubiquitous dark blue of Citadel Security. Wrex sighed inwardly as they headed in his direction, the turians fingering their blocky Haliat rifles. The mercenary tried to ignore them, but the human stepped boldly into his path.
"Urdnot Wrex?" the man asked, his voice betraying a hint of nervousness.
Wrex stopped, looming deliberately over the human and fixing him with one eye. "Yeah?"
"We'd like to have a word with you," the human announced, squaring his shoulders, "down at the garrison."
Wrex glowered at the little man. The krogan had little doubt he could overpower the three of them, but he would have to kill them, and killing C-Sec agents never ended well. Still, the human was obviously not oblivious to the fact that his life hung in the balance of that instant, so Wrex let him stew in that knowledge for a few long moments.
"Well, lead the way," Wrex rumbled finally.
Wrex ignored the flanking C-Sec agents as he planned his next move. He wondered how much money Fist had to have been promised to do what he did, to volunteer to live the rest of his short life looking over his shoulder. The fact that the crooked human had so quickly resorted to actually calling for C-Sec's help told Wrex the man was probably already regretting his decision. The human mobster's much-vaunted power didn't amount to much when the Shadow Broker decided his actions were an insult...
Once at the C-Sec garrison, the agents made Wrex wait for a while. This was standard, and for anyone else might have served to make them nervous and frustrated, but the mercenary's experiences had granted him a streak of patience that most would consider uncharacteristic of his kind, and he simply waited out the time unperturbed.
By the time the agents returned to question him, Wrex was fairly sure they'd let him go. While the Citadel did have a set of laws, the profusion of races and traditions on the station made it hard to enforce all but the most basic laws of property and safety. As usual, the more money and politics that were involved, the more likely someone would be prosecuted, but Wrex doubted Fist could boast such influence.
The krogan was only half-listening to the human agent's half-hearted threats of incarceration when he spotted three familiar figures standing across the room, watching him- the Alliance humans from Chora's Den.
"Are you done?" he asked the C-Sec agent bluntly.
"Stay away from Fist, Wrex," the human declared.
Wrex ignored him and turned to stump across the room, straight up to the human soldiers, stopping abruptly in front of the leader. She folded her arms and regarded him steadily, showing no sign of worry at his looming presence. Her dark gray armor was slashed down the front by a red stripe, broken by an angular symbol on her chest. Wrex guessed it was a rank insignia.
By and large, Wrex had trouble taking humans seriously. Scrawny, soft-skinned and short-lived, they were a flighty bunch, most of their population not even combat trained. They also had an unsettling tendency to show their teeth as an expression of happiness, a habit that Wrex didn't doubt had cost a few of them their lives when dealing with the more backwater krogan. To natives of Tuchanka's unforgiving food chain, showing your teeth categorically said 'I'm going to eat you'.
"Do I know you, human?" Wrex growled irritably.
The other two soldiers watched him warily, the female's hand resting on her pistol. Wrex had to wonder what the male was doing subservient to a female warlord. Perhaps he was simply weak or deficient, but the way the leader carried herself suggested something more. As it was, Wrex always had to remind himself that humans organized themselves in a rather more convoluted manner than he was used to among his own kind.
"My name's Shepard," the leader declared. "I'm trying to bring down Saren. Barla Von said to talk to you."
Wrex controlled his surprise, unused to such blunt declarations of intent from other species. Shepard... he'd heard the name before. Just how much did the human know, and why did she care about Saren? Pleased to skip the usual prevarication, he quickly decided this situation could be turned to his advantage and changed his tactics.
"Von is a wise man," he said casually. "We share a common goal."
"I've been hired to kill the owner of Chora's Den, a man named Fist. He did something very foolish."
The human's eyes narrowed. "He betrayed the Shadow Broker."
Wrex nodded. "Someone went to Fist with information to trade- a quarian. He promised to arrange a meeting between her and the Shadow Broker... Instead, he contacted Saren."
Shepard seemed to consider this for a moment before speaking again. "What does Saren have to do with this?"
What indeed? "The quarian has information that Saren doesn't want to become public," Wrex answered. "Fist was paid a small fortune to get her."
The male soldier stepped forward. "This might be what proves Saren's a traitor!" he said quickly, addressing Shepard. "The Council will have to listen to us."
She glanced briefly at her subordinate, then back to Wrex. "Where's the quarian now?"
"Last I heard, Fist still had her inside his club," Wrex said in a predatory tone. "You help me kill Fist, she's all yours."
Shepard didn't hesitate. "Let's move."
Wrex watched as the door to Chora's Den cycled closed behind Shepard's group as they hurried away to find the quarian. He surveyed the damaged bar, littered here and there with the bodies of Fist's unfortunate bodyguards. Mostly unarmored, Wrex guessed they hadn't had time to properly prepare for Commander Shepard's abrupt assault.
The battle had been quick and brutal. The Alliance humans had fought well, displaying efficiently capable teamwork. But he had been particularly intrigued when Shepard and the one called Alenko both displayed biotic abilities of not inconsequential strength. He knew human biotics exsisted, but he'd apparently mistakenly assumed their powers would be as weak as their thin bodies.
For a moment, right after he'd fulfilled his contract and ended Fist, it seemed like Alenko and the Williams female might challenge him then and there. But Shepard had called them off and the humans had left quickly in search of the quarian whom Fist had indicated was in danger. Wrex was mildly disappointed, but respected Shepard's end of the agreement and stayed out of their way.
In the corner of the bar, movement suddenly caught Wrex's eye. One of the haphazardly strewn tables shifted, revealing the Gorgoth bouncer as the young krogan rolled over and suddenly spotted Wrex. The mercenary ambled towards the bouncer, watching with amusement as he fumbled for his pistol and brought it to bear. Orange blood streaked his heavy armor from a vicious-looking wound in his abdomen.
"I'm not here to kill you, pup," Wrex said. "My job's done."
The gun stayed poised; the wounded krogan scowling up at Wrex along its sights. The Gorgoth would probably live- his regenerative tissues were already staunching the flow of blood.
Wrex chuckled. "If you're gonna shoot me, you better use something stronger than that cheap piece of junk." He edged a toe under one of the rifles on the ground, its former owner no longer among the living, and flipped it towards the Gorgoth warrior.
He caught the rifle neatly in his left hand, eyes flicking uncertainly between it and Wrex.
"A well-timed attack," Wrex commented dryly. "Probably would have worked, too, if your target hadn't been biotic."
Wrex had seen it coming, when the blue-crested bouncer had charged straight for Shepard, but did nothing out of curiosity. He had to admire the way she'd popped the surprised krogan off of his feet with a biotic burst, then neatly shotgunned him in the chest as he went flying overhead to crash unceremoniously into the tables along the far wall, trailing orange blood. Not many people could boast a cool head when faced with a headlong krogan charge.
"How was I supposed to know she had the heartfire?" The Gorgoth snapped, using an archaic krogan term for biotics.
Wrex snorted. "Stupid to assume she didn't! The humans are learning, pup."
"Don't call me that!" the young krogan fumed. "I earned my name! Gorgoth Naq!"
"Yeah?" Wrex taunted. "Gonna get up and do something about it?"
Naq growled a curse and began climbing to his feet, dropping the pistol and rifle and pulling a carbon-steel knife out of the sheath along his back.
Wrex let his corona boil up around his body, marshaling the eddies of dark energy into a concerted force that pitched the local gravity field away from him, slamming the young warrior into the back wall. Naq snarled in frustration as he struggled against the tidal pull.
Disappointment gnawed at Wrex. The Gorgoth youth seemed endemic to the krogan race as a whole these past years- wrapped up in their own little world, thinking only in terms of their own pride and where the next fight would take place.
"Maybe you shouldn't have dropped your gun," Wrex said bluntly as he scowled at the squirming warrior.
Part of him sincerely hoped Naq would learn something from the day's battle, but cynical experience said otherwise. Wrex turned and stalked out the bar's main door, feeling the biotic field weaken and give out as he did. He didn't normally like leaving witnesses, but he had no stomach for killing Naq, arrogant and stupid as he was acting.
Not that one more krogan mattered much in the scheme of things, anyway.
Three days later, Wrex turned off the news vid and sat back in his broad seat, staring at the now vacant space where moments before a prim-looking human had been blathering excitedly about the Citadel Council's surprise announcement of the appointment of the first human Spectre.
He went over the facts in his head, putting pieces of hearsay and rumor together into what he suspected must be the larger picture. Out of the politics and maneuvering, two things were clear- Saren Arterius, Council Spectre, had broken rank and gone rogue. This alone was a stunning bit of news, but the interesting twist was that a human had been assigned to find him.
Wrex left the bar and walked purposefully through the crowded streets of the Citadel Wards towards the inner ring. Whatever backroom political game had led to this outcome didn't interest Wrex overmuch; instead he focused on the opportunity suddenly presented to him. An opportunity that sang its imperative straight into his blood. Others might have taken a longer time to come to such a decision, but for Wrex, there wasn't any hesitation.
He made his way towards the Ward's C-Sec hub, which also conveniently happened to be the gateway for the human Alliance's ship docks. Sooner or later, all Alliance military personnel passed through this place, and so Wrex installed himself in a conspicuous location and waited patiently.
A few hours later, he was rewarded. Across the broad plaza, Wrex spotted the trio of Alliance humans headed in his direction, accompanied by a blue-clad turian. While he wore the colors of C-Sec, Wrex noted the absence of any rank insignia on the turian's shoulder. This was getting more interesting by the hour.
Wrex found it easier to respect turians as compared to other Citadel races. At least they sported a crest and something that could vaguely pass for a proper hump, they were all combat-trained, stolid, and generally reliable, if a little inflexible. Their reputation for directness appealed to Wrex, but he had learned that a turian who intended to be deceptive only went to more elaborate lengths. Perhaps it was what made Saren all the more dangerous.
Wrex knew how much he stood out, and so didn't bother flagging down the human Spectre as she approached. True to his appraisal of her, she seemed to sense his intent and stopped, regarding the krogan with that same air of pointed scrutiny, the gaze of a warrior squaring off against an opponent. Wrex knew it well.
"What do you want?" Shepard asked evenly.
"You're going after Saren," Wrex said. There was no point in asking the question.
"I want in."
She regarded him steadily for a few seconds. "I'm not paying a mercenary."
Wrex had expected this, though he was somewhat surprised at himself at how little he cared. "Just give me a space to sleep in and a pick of the salvage," he said with a shrug.
"Why exactly would I need someone like you?" Shepard asked. Wrex casually admired the way she carefully pitched her tone to be direct instead of insulting.
"Because you know Saren won't play by your Alliance rules," he answered bluntly. He let the various implications hang in the air, unsaid. There wasn't any point in belaboring his skills- Shepard had already witnessed them firsthand.
She seemed to digest his statement for a long moment, then stepped forward and dropped her voice. "If you're on my ship, you're under my orders. One step out of line and you take a long walk out a short airlock. Do we understand each other?"
Wrex smirked. "Perfectly."
"Good." She stepped away. "We're leaving tomorrow at oh-six-hundred. I'll send your dock authorizations an hour before."
Wrex watched with faint amusement as the expressions of her two human subordinates shifted into incredulous surprise. The turian, for his part, merely raised an eyebrow.
"Commander, you can't seriously-" the one called Williams started, but shut her mouth with a snap when Shepard turned a level stare on her.
Wrex turned and walked away, satisfied, leaving the Commander to deal with her squad.
Saren. Not only a Spectre but one of the very best, with an army of geth at his beck and call. And Shepard... Wrex had seen just enough to be genuinely intrigued by the fierce little human biotic. She too would be an interesting opponent.
Finally, a real challenge.