Why is nothing ever easy?
Sometimes, I catch myself wondering. Wondering if what I'm doing is right, if it's worth it.
Define 'right'. Define 'worth it'.
Everything hinges on that. Is the law right? If not, why not? What is right? Is it right to go after the scum of the galaxy and put them out of our misery? Is it right to act outside the law? Can there be justice outside the law? One given is one returned, that's what I was always taught. Kill, get killed. Only those willing to be shot should shoot. But am I? Is punishment of crime a crime in itself?
Questions, questions. Listen to me. Always moralising. Should probably try to stop that. Gets in the way. But if I don't think about what I do, how can I call it right? If I can't call it right, how can I justify it? If I kill a killer, am I righting a wrong, or doubling it? A lot of people would say the former. The law says the latter. But the law can be wrong.
I've spent all my life in service to one law or another. Academy law. Hierarchy law. Citadel law. And I always thought it held me back. But when you're out here in the wilds, when you don't have a law to turn to, what makes you better than them when you put them down?
I don't know.
Not really the most encouraging of conclusions, but I can work on it. At least it's a start.
It's a start.
MASS EFFECT: INTERREGNUM
ALPHA AND OMEGA
ONE: THE ROOM
Garrus Vakarian sat in a room that stank of old blood and stared down the barrel of a pistol. The grey metal glinted in the dim light from the solitary working fixture overhead, the little suns of the reflection flickering with every tiny movement of the batarian holding it. The blood was worked into the floor, as much a part of the metal as years of dirt and abuse. When they'd dragged him in, he'd seen an ominous dark stain beneath the chair. Blood didn't stain metal unless you had a lot of it. That's it, Garrus. Think encouraging thoughts.
"You should really clean that more often," he said. "You're building up all sorts of dirt around the barrel. Leave that for long enough and one day it'll misfire, blow up in your hands. Happened to a friend of mine once. He wasn't exactly pretty beforehand, but now... well, let's just say he doesn't get many dates these days."
"Shut the hell up," the batarian standing above him said, voice slightly tinny behind his helmet, "and tell me where the fuck the codes are."
If there's one thing I love about the Blood Pack, it's their politeness.
"So, your plan to get the codes that you have no other way of acquiring without me... is to threaten to kill me? Genius," Garrus said. "Your boss'll be happy with that one."
"Tulk," the merc said, stepping back a couple of paces and nodding to the krogan over his left shoulder. Tulk ambled up and slammed the butt of his shotgun across Garrus's face, sending him sprawling from his chair in the middle of the bare side-room. He crashed onto the floor, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth. His arms were chained together behind him, so his head cracked painfully against the iron-grey metal. His vision faded for a second, and purple sparks flashed in front of his eyes like little agonising fireflies. The coppery smell of fresh blood began to overpower the stale as little pieces of glass tumbled down his face; his visor had smashed into innumerable tiny shards, leaving nothing but the frame hanging on the side of his head.
"You know, this room is soundproof," the batarian said, squatting down beside him. "Even if it weren't, we have an... arrangement with the bartender."
Garrus spat a mouthful of blue blood onto the metal floor. His head pulsed with a driving, hot pain, like someone had overcharged a pistol directly into his brain. "A dramatic pause arrangement, huh?" he said. "I knew there was something untrustworthy about that bartender. Probably the fact that he was a bartender."
"My point is, you could scream for hours and nobody would know a thing."
"I'm not a great screamer."
"You think you can come here and steal from the Blood Pack and get away with it?" the batarian snarled, and slammed a durasteel boot into Garrus's stomach. It hurt far more than seemed reasonable.
He grimaced. "Is it really stealing if you stole it first?"
"Take it all and keep it if you can, I always say," the krogan rumbled.
"Interesting," Garrus said thoughtfully. "I assume the ship's legal owner couldn't keep them?"
"He tried," the batarian said, with more than a hint of smugness.
"Well, it's taking part that counts," Garrus said, and tried to push himself up into a sitting position with his legs. One of his boots slipped on his own blood and sent him slumping back to the floor.
"Seems unusual to see a batarian in the Blood Pack," he continued. "I thought your lot mostly went in for the Blue Suns."
"We're an equal opportunity employer," the krogan said, and the batarian kicked him again, this time under the chin. There was a sharp crack as metal met metal. His head snapped back, smashing into the wall behind him, and a million white-hot, unbearably bright stars erupted behind his eyes. Venomous, icy pain rippled through his skull like an earthquake and he passed out for few seconds.
When he came to, his vision swam sickeningly for a couple of seconds, the single light suddenly horribly bright. It left a thick purple stain in his retina. One of them had shoved him up against the wall so that his back leant on it, leaving him slumped on his ass. Ah, dignity, my old friend. How did we ever grow so far apart?
The batarian had removed his helmet to reveal his face. As his eyes slowly rebooted, he saw the top right eye was missing, replaced by a single livid scar that ran across his olive-green skin like an arrow. Knife? Garrus thought muzzily. Too thin to be gunfire. Knowing batarians, though, could be anything. Even their spoons are sharp.
"I want those codes," he said, going down on one knee to look Garrus in the eye. "You have the codes. Tell me where they are or I start hurting you."
"Start?" Garrus said, feeling his teeth with his tongue. They were all still there, at least. That was something. "That was just a friendly greeting, was it?"
"You could say that," the batarian said, leaning in close.
"Then allow me to respond in kind," Garrus said pleasantly, and kicked the batarian in the face as hard as he could. The iron-hard sole of his boot crunched beautifully against the batarian's face and yellowish blood flowered outwards from his wrecked nose.
One given is one returned.
The merc collapsed backwards in a heap without crying out, his pistol flying away to clatter against the opposite wall. That yellow blood had spilled down the front of his scarlet armour, and was still pumping out of his nose and across his face like a miniature fountain.
The krogan looked down at his fallen comrade and then back to Garrus.
"Nice kick," he said admiringly. "I haven't seen anyone deck him with one hit before."
"Yes, he didn't take that well," Garrus said. The merc still hadn't moved, and a pool of blood was beginning to form under his head. Maybe he's dead. It was a comforting thought.
"He'll take this even worse," the krogan said, and shot him. The batarian's body twitched as the shotgun shredded his torso, punching through his armour like paper from that distance. A stray gobbet of blood splattered against Garrus's cheek and dribbled down, faintly warm against his hide. His head started to throb, harder than before. OK, I think he's dead now. Is this a better situation, or a worse one? On the one hand, you've got a batarian who wants to torture you. On the other hand, you've got a krogan, any krogan. Either way, it's still pretty bad.
The krogan turned back to Garrus and pumped his shotgun. Just for show, of course, Garrus thought vaguely. They haven't made a shotgun that needs pumping in a few centuries. They only keep that feature so they can be used to intimidate. As if a krogan needs to intimidate people.
"Idiot thought he could trust me," the krogan said contemptuously, and levelled his gun at Garrus. "Tell me where the codes are. Now."
The krogan chuckled, his laughter like sandpaper on metal. "You've got a quad, I'll give you that. But I want those codes."
"And I want a personalised battle-dreadnought," Garrus said, "but I'm not going to get it." Maybe a fleet of them. That'd be nice.
"But I want the codes, and I am going to get them."
"You'll need me to tell you where they are, and I'm not going to tell you," Garrus said, and spat out another mouthful of blue blood. It splashed onto the floor between his legs, gleaming in the light. "You think I'll let the likes of you get your hands on something like that?"
"It's a nice ship," the krogan said. "Maybe I'll take it for myself."
"I don't care if you take it or your boss," Garrus said. Besides, I want that ship, a treacherous little voice said inside his head. Good luck getting out of here alive, another one told it. "You could kill a million people with that before anyone could stop you. I'm not letting that happen. The codes stay with me until I can destroy that array."
"You'd destroy the array?" the krogan said, sounding genuinely surprised. "Why?"
"Because it's designed solely to kill a lot of innocent people. Strange as it may seem, I'm against that."
"It's worth a lot of money."
"To people who'd use it for mass murder."
The krogan considered this.
"A lot of money," he repeated.
"No amount of money's worth that."
Hell, I hope I believe that.
"Hah. You turians," the krogan said. "Always so honourable."
"You krogans," Garrus said coldly. "Always trying to kill everything."
The krogan sighed.
"Tell me where the codes are, or I start shooting you."
"You're unusually reticent with your shots for a krogan," Garrus said. "Most of them would try that first, then ask questions of whatever steaming remains were left."
"It's your lucky day."
Garrus looked down at his blood on the floor, then shook his handcuffs. They were slightly too tight, the metal forcing his armour into the thick flesh around his wrists, but the movement must have caused some release. His fingers started to burn as the blood rushed back into them.
"Yes, I can see that," he said. I think I remember why I hate Omega so much.
"But not that lucky," the merc said. "Last chance. Codes, or I blow off a leg."
"That's the choice, huh?"
Garrus chuckled softly to himself. This is not going to go well. End of the line, huh?
"Make it the left one," he said. "I like the right one."
"Fair enough," the krogan rumbled. There was a flash of movement over his shoulder. Then his head exploded.
The doors had sprung apart faster than the eye could track to reveal two turians in full combat armour. Both suits glinted a dark grey, and their helmet visors flashed in the light as the krogan mercenary slowly toppled forwards to land with the brain-dripping remnants of his head between Garrus's feet.
"I compliment your sense of dramatic timing," he said.
"Free him. Quickly," the one on the left said, gesturing with her assault rifle. It was definitely a her, as well, her voice a commanding soprano, though he couldn't tell from the armour. Hell, it was hard enough to tell apart the turian genders even without the armour.
The other one was holding a sniper rifle, a nice model. Very slow fire rate, but more than made up for by sheer firepower. He had to have been the one who'd shot the krogan. A weapon like that could probably have put a good-sized hole in the door even if it hadn't opened. He shouldered it, then darted over to Garrus and roughly turned him around to get at the handcuffs.
"Quickly, Sidonis," the other one warned, training her rifle down the corridor outside. "Ninety seconds at best."
"Don't rush me," Sidonis snapped, and pulled something from his belt. Garrus was too turned around to see, but the hiss of gas and sudden burst of heat a few centimetres from his hand was enough to let him know that Sidonis had some kind of miniature blowtorch. His own shadow suddenly appeared on the wall in sharp relief.
"As much as I appreciate the whole rescue thing," Garrus said, as the metal links began to twist and melt in the scorching heat, "who are you?"
"Time for that later," the female said. "Now, we need to get out of here."
"Agreed," Garrus said, and the chain shattered, white-hot fragments whining away and embedding themselves in his armour. The rest of the handcuffs went with them, and blood roared back into his hands.
Ah, sweet freedom. I'd forgotten how wonderfully vindictive you are.
"Crap," he said, flexing his fingers. "Pins and needles. And broken glass."
"You OK?" Sidonis said, and extended a hand. Garrus took it, the fingers thankfully numbing themselves to the pain, and yanked himself up from the floor.
"Move it," the female said sharply. "Where are your weapons?"
"They took them when they ambushed me," Garrus said. "Probably on the main floor somewhere. We can find them-"
"No time. Take this," she said, and kicked the batarian's lost pistol towards him. He stooped to pick it up.
"You know, those guns were expensive," he said pointedly. "I'd quite like to get them-"
"Buy more." The female turned her back on him and opened the door up again.
"Chirin. Sidonis. Friends. Move."
Not the talkative type, eh? Still, mustn't complain. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. At least, not when the giver is watching. Look later, and make sure you're armed.
She set off down the corridor at a sprint, and Sidonis followed her. Garrus stepped gingerly over the krogan's headless corpse and followed them. He couldn't help but notice how shapely her hips were under that grey armour as her legs pumped. Stop it, Garrus. No attraction until you know this isn't a trap. Down, boy.
They came to the end of the hall, and Chirin mashed her hand into the door panel without even slowing down. The door detected the speed she was running and slammed open, just in time for her to barrel through at full speed. Garrus followed, and his mouth fell open.
The bar was decimated. Everything in sight had bullet holes in it. Even the lights were hit, only five or so of the red fixtures still glowing, casting half of the room into deep shadow. The air was thick with the sour, metallic smell of five species' blood mingling on the floor. There'd been about twenty people in the bar when he'd come in, most of them mercs of one kind or another. Now, there were still about twenty people. They were just breathing less.
"Hell," he said, breathing in sharply. "You guys really did a number on this place."
"We can't stay here," Sidonis warned. "There'll be reinforcements coming any second." He ran after Chirin, who was already by the exit. Garrus followed, his boots splashing in the cloying blood. It was an odd brownish colour, the red of human, the blue of turian and the yellow of batarian, the orange of krogan and the dull vermilion of vorcha mixing to create something that wasn't any of them. The smell was overpoweringly strong, far more potent than the one in the side room, and he felt a wave of warm, thick nausea wash through him like dirty dishwater. Who are these people? This is professional. Matching uniforms, killing two dozen mercs between them... and they're here for little ol' me. At least they don't seem to want me dead.
He was vaguely aware that his fingers were still aching like hell, wrapped around the handle of the pistol like limpets. Blood was still leaking into his mouth from a cut he was only starting to feel, and he was sure that damn krogan had put another crack down his face. Still, what's one more? Never was in mint condition.
He took one step towards the door and almost fell as his boot skidded out from beneath him, trailing drops of blood that gleamed in the red light as they flew.
Think, Garrus. Are you really better off with these two? You don't know what they want with you. At least the Blood Pack was nice and upfront about the whole 'torture for information' thing. These two... they're something else. Better. I couldn't take them, not together, not with a piece of crap like this. I go with them, I stay with them.
On the other hand, they seem to think Blood Pack reinforcements are showing up any minute. Somehow, I don't particularly want to be here when they do, although it would make me look pretty damn badass. Maybe they'd be so impressed they'd let me go. And maybe Shepard will come back from the dead. Maybe I'll give up this whole vigilante shtick and become a fringedresser.
Damn it. No options.
Chirin was already through the door. Sidonis stood in the threshold, beckoning urgently.
Garrus sighed, and went.
Why is nothing ever easy?