Written By Kenneth White
Elli'Neda nar Geddes drifted out of her once peaceful slumber to the sounds of metal scraping against metal and the rhythmic squeaking of greased bearings and wheels. This was perfectly normal to her of course, for even the newest ships of The Migrant Fleet were rarely quiet, and if they were it meant repair crews would either have it rattling and banging again soon or there might be trouble. Still, when one was used to sleeping in a different ship with different sounds, it wasn't hard to be brought out of the land of dreams and into harsh reality once more.
Feeling a slight chill upon her bare arms, Elli tugged at the sheets and blankets to cover herself some more. She pulled a little too hard, expecting some resistance from the bedding, and ending up with far more than she had expected. Turning her head she noticed an empty space beside her. Rolling over and sitting up a little, her eyes moved from the bed to the far wall. It was dark in the sleeping quarters, but starlight from the adequately sized windows nearby bathed the room in a soft cerulean glow that didn't take her sleep infused eyes long to adjust to. A smile came to her quarian mouth shortly before words left it.
"You're lucky your ship drifts at the edge of the fleet, or you might give some poor elder a fright."
Her playful words were understandable, for the quarian she regarded was standing before one of the windows without a stitch of clothing upon him. Yalo'Pala nar Lerta stared vacantly out at the endless expanse of space before him, taking it all in. He let out a sigh, Elli's attempt at humour clearly failing to have the attempted impact. If he thought it was funny, whatever part that did was keeping it hidden within. With eyes still fixed on something beyond, he eventually responded.
"How many billions of stars do you think are out there, Elli?"
The blunt and serious nature of his question seemed to catch the female quarian off-guard, as whatever remained of her already waning smile dissolved into an expression of uneasy puzzlement. She stammered to try and come up with an answer to satisfy Yalo, but he spoke before she could get out anything coherent.
"Billions upon billions of worlds. And that's only what we know. The universe is endless." A pause. "All that out there, and none of it for us. For we are a race forever doomed to fly amongst the stars and not be one with them."
There was a long, awkward silence between them, during which Elli could only be reminded of the fact that this was why she both loved and hated him. He had always been somewhat of a philosopher, often contemplating the universe and life. He had a unique way of looking at things, almost like that of a child, but wrapped in a maturity and wisdom no child could possess. It wasn't uncommon for him to just come up with a seemingly unrelated comment in the middle of any conversation, or even during moments of silence, of depth and insight about the world around them. Sometimes it would be something beautiful and poetic, with a purity and elegance to it, even if the subject was one that few would find any beauty in. However, sometimes it could be grim, cynical and even morbid, and therein lay the problem.
Elli would sometimes worry about Yalo and the fact his mind would sometimes go to such dark places and explore such horrid subjects. His thoughts would drift through ideas and concepts, theories and practices, and she thought if one were to actually experience some of these for real they'd be scarred for life. He could make what many would consider a worst case scenario seem pleasant by comparison to that of his own. These disturbing moments didn't come up often thankfully, but enough to make Elli feel a little scared. Of what she never quite knew. Of him? Of the thoughts themselves? Of the idea that he might be right? Probably all of these to a certain degree, and more.
"Don't think so negatively," Elli stated. "Now is the last time we shall have together for a long time. Try to be happy while we have it."
"That's what makes these moments all the more hard to live," Yalo responded, finally looking over one shoulder to meet Elli's gaze. "These moments may be the last time we have together at all."
Yalo's heart sank as he looked at his loved one. She had joined him aboard the Lerta that evening and they had made love that night for the first time, and likely the last. That very fact was the only reason such a moment of intimacy had even come up, quarians traditionally waiting until their return before copulating. It wouldn't be long until he was on his pilgrimage and alone in the galaxy. Away from his people. Away from her. It was a day he was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. Unlike many others of his species who went out to find something of value out of chance, he had plans he had been formulating for quite some time. He knew what he was bringing back to the fleet. Aside from Elli, it was all he cared about, and he found himself now caught in the abyss between one love and another. But he had decided that despite what his heart might tell him, he had made the right choice in leaving her. He would always love her, and probably find himself regretting his decision in the future, of that he had no doubt. But sometimes one must give up something precious in order to achieve a goal.
His gaze shifted from Elli to an open locker on the wall nearby, in which sat his environmental suit. Staring at his naked reflection in the thick visor, he attuned his senses to the feel of the room around him and breathed in deeply, savouring it. This would be the last time he'd exist as a pure quarian, for soon he would put on that suit and it would never come off again. Not while he drew breath.
"Don't say that," he heard Elli say from behind him. His last words had left her speechless for a while. "We'll be together once you return to the Migrant Fleet." She paused. "Unless I'm on my pilgrimage at the time."
A smile came to her mouth, the first in a while. "It's a shame we can't go off together."
Yalo's response was sharp and loud, which made Elli jump. He looked angry as he had spun around, but her look of confused fear caused both his features and his voice to soften again soon after. As he spoke, she noted how full of concern and fear his voice was.
"I can't... I can't let that happen. You have to be free of me. My future is my own, and I won't let you follow the path I've set before me. I can't let you. You must remain pure, as you are."
Elli didn't know how to respond to him. He approached her, sitting on the edge of her bed. She pulled the bedding up to her chest, as if to shield herself from him. As he stared at her with loving eyes that didn't seem to match his words, she could only manage to whimper his name quietly.
"Like all of our people, you mustn't be contaminated," he said, placing one three-fingered hand upon her shoulder gently. "You must be safe. You must be clean. You must be untainted. I will only contaminate you."
"I... I don't understand."
Yalo sighed, rising from the bed and returning to his place before the window. Several seconds passed before he said anything else, with only the dulled sounds of chugging and grinding from the engines around them on the filtered air. When he did, there was a weight to his voice unlike Elli had remembered hearing before. His words were no longer poetic and musical, but blunt and serious.
"There's something I need to tell you, Elli. I don't expect we'll see each other again, and I think you need to know some things about what lies ahead for me. That much I owe you at least."
"Don't talk like that," Elli said, fighting back sobs and tears. "Very few quarians lose their lives out there, despite the danger. You'll be fine."
"You don't understand," Yalo went on, her words seeming to have no emotional impact on him. "My journey will be long. Very long. In fact, I don't expect any quarian will have ever, or will ever, embark on a pilgrimage that will span so long a time." He paused. "I have a purpose. It is my destiny. A destiny of success or failure I do not know, but it is my calling, that I do know."
There was another long silent period. Elli was the one to break it.
"I'll wait. However long it takes, I can wait." A pause. "I love you... Yalo'Pala nar Lerta."
"Again, you don't understand. There's more." Another sigh, deeper than the previous ones. "I'm going to... I'm not..."
Yalo trailed off, then muttered a rare quarian curse into his chest. Another loud sigh followed and he started again.
"Our people are going to hate me."
The statement shocked Elli. She wasn't sure whether it was what he said or the fact that he stated it so bluntly that shocked her more. He turned back to face her, a look of seriousness upon every inch of his face.
"I'm going to be branded a traitor. Probably worse. Every quarian will say that I not only turned my back on our people, but betrayed them."
He paused to let it sink in, then turned back to the window again. The words that followed seemed soaked in venom.
"And they would have every right to."
Once again, only the sounds of engines dominated the room for a while. Elli couldn't fathom thoughts, let alone words. When Yalo spoke again it came out in a very casual tone, despite his revelation.
"How many years have we been out here, drifting through the stars on piles of rusting metal, held together by nothing more than trash and luck? We gave the Geth life, and they proceeded to take ours. We've become the joke race of the universe, seen as nothing more than the galaxy's roving mess of vagrant scavengers. If we were nothing we'd be worth more than we are now. But we're not nothing. We're an annoyance. We're a plague."
He turned back to Elli, and she swore she saw half a smirk on his face.
"Do you know why we're who we are? Do you know why we've been doing nothing but drifting the stars aimlessly in this same pathetic cycle for centuries now?"
Elli's answer was nothing more than a whisper, and came as a question itself. She wasn't sure if he was being rhetorical or not, or whether the answer was the one he was looking for if he wasn't.
"Wrong," he said matter-of-factly. "The problem is not The Geth. The problem is us. We're the reason we're stuck like this." A pause. "And before you say it, no... the reason is not because we created the geth. That's only the reason we became exiled and lost. That's not the reason we're still exiled and lost."
He turned back to the window, eyes meeting the bright specks once more.
"How many quarians have gone on their pilgrimage and returned over the years? Gone and returned, with a small gift to earn their way into adulthood. Gone, searched and returned with nothing." A pause. "Nothing at all. Just trinkets. Pointless, useless trinkets. Little things that do nothing and serve no purpose and help us in no way at all."
He turned back to Elli, now fully smiling.
"I'm not making the same mistake, Elli. I'm not bringing back nothing. I'm going to make a difference. I'm going to change the quarians forever. We won't be a joke any more."
He turned back to the window, looking at his own visage in the glass rather than what lay beyond. Seeing his own smile seemed to give him confidence and vigour.
"History is going to repeat itself, Elli. And this time for the better."
And as fast as it had come, the smile disappeared. An emotionless grimace adorned his face as he faced Elli once more.
"And they're going to hate me for it. All of them. They're going to detest me."