Mass Effect: "All Along The Watchtower – The Thief"

Prelude – Death Begins With You

-Seven Years Ago-

In the classroom of Blue Team, deep within in the space facility known as Jump Zero, Kaidan Alenko biotically manipulated a glass of mineral water up to his mouth and took only a small sip. He knew that he had to make it last until their next exercise. Drinking the whole thing at once never helped in the long run, and he only recently discovered this through trial and error.

The twelve students of Blue Team were sat down in the classroom with their hands tied beneath their desks. In front of each of them were a pen and a sheet of paper. It had been a long three months since their instructor prohibited the use of their arms for common tasks like writing, eating, and training in the weight room. He called it stability training, saying that mindless, brute force can move a mountain, but only a stable mind can thread a needle—which all of the students hoped was just a metaphor.

For six hours a day, the children were instructed to use their biotics exclusively to write the random, yet spiritually discouraging, phrases their teacher could come up with.

Their phrase for the day: I am the quiet in the room.

"You should be improving, not getting worse." Commander Mathran Vyrnnus initiated his bi-hourly hazing of his students. This was predictable in a sense, but the students could never foresee exactly how he'd act during these times. "If I can give your species credit in any field, it's your inane sense of adaptability. You're like a constantly mutating virus. When you lose your right arm, you learn to use your left. When you lose your eyes, you see with your hands. When you lose your legs, you push yourself to move again. It's commendable, but ultimately pointless.

"I've read so many selected works from your archives pertaining to your race's history. Every major advancement for your people came as a result of war. You're almost defined by it. Even the Prothean technology you discovered on your Martian settlement came after the conflict to claim majority colonization rights. You take on these gargantuan tasks during one generation that the second generation has to finish. It seems so futile for what you've become. Do any of your leaders ever ask what the point of it all is?"

No one replied.

"Exactly." Vyrnnus began moving through the rows of desks. "You just continue without question. Mindlessly toiling along, hoping to find some sort of meaningful place in the galaxy. You keep looking to find the final frontier that your ancient explorers hoped to claim, but you never stopped to think that maybe someone else had gotten there before you.

"What's left for you to do?"

On the other end of the room, Rahna Kaster winced with pain as she tried to manipulate a glass of water up to her mouth. The cup wouldn't budge. Giving up, she loosened the ropes around her wrists and grabbed the glass. Just as the first drop wetted her tongue, a cold grip wrapped around her arm. She turned to find her instructor standing over her.

"Maybe you missed the point of this exercise," Vyrnnus scolded the girl. "I had you tie your hands together for a reason."

She started to tear up. "I'm sorry, Commander, sir, but…it's my head. It hurts so bad. I couldn't lift the glass to get a drink."

The turian didn't look the least bit empathetic. "Don't presume to think you know your limits. I'm the only one in this room that has walked this path and lived. A cabal, my kind calls me. The fist of Palaven. Only I know how far you can go, and only I can tell you when you've had enough."

Without looking away from Rahna's terrified gaze, Vyrnnus brought girl's arm up, and down onto the edge of the desk. Her arm snapped in two on impact.

Rahna screamed and fell to the floor, clutching her broken arm. Pens all over the room dropped from the air as the teammates immediately lost their focus.

"This will be a great learning experience, human!" Vyrnnus bellowed through his laughter. "It wasn't pain that provoked you to disobey me, it was temptation! I've removed that from you now. You should thank me!"

"Leave her alone!" Kaidan was on his feet before he realized what he had done. An innate sense of conformity had been impressed on him over his three year stay on Jump Zero, and that part of him shouted in his mind to let all of this go. But that voice, so loud before, was nothing more than a murmur now.

Vyrnnus turned away from the girl to face Kaidan. He strolled forward, unyielding. "You should sit back down, boy—or I promise you that the pain you will experience will be so great that you'll beg me to let you step-out."

Kaidan recognized that tone of voice. It was the same shallow warning that the turian had bestowed upon their classmate, Dante Graves, two years ago. It brought forth the memory of painful loss, and only persuaded Kaidan to stand his ground. "This has gone far enough. It's been three years, like Branson said. Our training is over, and I'm taking my team home."

"Ha!" The turian seemed genuinely amused. "Well doesn't this sound familiar? Listen, human, you should have known that the staff here was quite unprepared with what could've gone wrong here. That's the whole reason I was brought here in the first place. So, I'm sorry to tell you that you're very wrong in this matter. I'll need at least another two years from you before you're even fit to walk in a crowd."

Vyrnnus continued. "Anyways, I understand that after those younger human children died, Captain Branson shot himself out of an airlock. He's probably still trying to catch up with the coffins even as we speak."

Kaidan shook his head as his eyes pooled with tears. "That's not true!" he shouted. "That's impossible!"

"Maybe it's not true. Maybe I'm lying! Maybe he's still lounging around somewhere on the station. The point is that you don't know. You don't know anything here. I am the only one here who can help you, like it or not. You are the blind, and I am the pathfinder—leading you to your final destination by my favor."

Without warning, Vyrnnus tackled Kaidan into a desk, landing on the boy with full force. From his boot, he pulled a short, curved dagger and pressed it up against the boy's throat. Kaidan tried to push the arm away, but it inched closer and closer until it drew blood.

"This will be your end," Vyrnnus explained indifferently. "This will be your final destination. Admit it, boy, this is what you've always wanted. I remember the first day I came to this class. I could tell by the look in your eyes that you had given up a long time ago. Whatever was left was just going through the motions."

Vyrnnus pressed in harder. "Why don't you let me put an end to your torment? Let me free that broken soul of yours."

Gripped by the pain of the blade, Kaidan could only stare into his attacker's eyes—afraid.

The turian grinned, satisfied that his offering of an exit was denied. "Have a pleasant flight, boy."

Time stood still in that moment. The collective emotions of years long gone and friends long buried flooded his mind. They flickered in front of him faster than he could process it all. It tortured him more than the dagger at his throat, and he used everything within him to push it all away.

"NO!" Kaidan unleashed a wave of concentrated dark energy directly into Vyrnnus' head. Whatever protection the turian had been using to protect him before shattered with a sharp ringing noise, and his neck twisted around completely in the ensuing concussion.

Vyrnnus' body flew violently across the classroom and into the poster-covered wall, denting the steel with his body on impact. The turian crumpled to the ground like a rag doll, with dark blue blood pouring out of his mouth and icy blue eyes. Before everyone could properly take in the scene, the Spanish poster overhead floated delicately over Vyrnnus' lifeless form—the words across it reading: "La muerte comienza con usted."