-Skins Beneath Skins-
Other notes: I've had this idea in my head for a while now. I really wanted to explore quarian life and culture, and this was the perfect opportunity to combine sci-fi with mystery and maybe some future romance. I've always viewed quarians as living in a mobile dystopian world. Cramped, living in suits etc. For the most part, Lhoc was created in the hopes of portraying a worn down mechanist. Lhoc is not an actual character in the game, he's of my own creation. Anyway, there's a lot more going on in the story than the summary can give credit for. It's more of a mystery with some romance, even a little adventure as the plot progresses.
P.S. I also haven't had time to edit this, so please ignore any errors, I'll get to it later.
Captain Faas' words kept burning in the back of his brain. No matter how hard he focussed on his task in front of him, the older male's lashing tongue crept back. A long, winded sigh escaped his mask. This was simply not fair.
How could he accomplish such a task? Surely the rest of his crew mates would deem him insane.
'--repair a modulator.'
Lhoc took a small wrench in his hand and tinkered with the severely damaged device. The parts he had on had were minimal, there was no way he would be able to even make it remotely work with half the materials he possessed.
'Keelah...' he muttered as he looked at the mess before him.
He needed a break.
Pushing himself up from the ground, he teetered along the borders of his rug, making sure not to step on the delicate parts strewn about. Colourful fabrics hung all around, denoting whose space was whose. It was required, seeing as it was very cramped. His space consisted of a small rug, a few pillows and a few books. Besides the encumbering environment, it was cozy, and he called it home. Peeking out from behind a panel of cloth, Lho'c could make out the shadowed form of Ebi.
He could pinch the bridge of his nose, he would. Instead, he balanced his hand on his hip, watching as she fiddled with a seemingly broken omni tool. He wanted to help, but he knew he would regret it later. The curious little female was very annoying; always touching his things.
He had better leave before she caught sight of him; wouldn't want to waste the rest of his day explaining how to program the broken tool.
She was short; for quarian standards at least. Her pale-green mask let off an eerie glow; her eyes staring up at him with acute fascination. 'Were you heading somewhere?' She asked innocently.
'Nedas.' He replied, well aware of the irritability in his voice. He was tired and hungry, he didn't have time to deal with her pestering.
'Would you mind--' before she could shove the broken omnitool to his chest, he was already gone.
Lhoc sighed. He didn't mind Ebi, but her presence was grinding on his nerves. Perhaps a good meal would clear his brain.
The cafeteria was just as cramped as the cargo bay. Dishes and strange devices littered the floors and tables. More cloth hung from the roof, giving off the appearance of an exotic marketplace. A few patrons could be seen amongst the mess, which wasn't surprising, seeing as it was late at night. Most of the crew down in the cargo hold were asleep. A grey ambience flickered about the room, catching various dust particles in its ghostly light.
A 'good meal' was an understatement. Most of the items available were purified turian food and dextro-paste. A few dishes were cooked to resemble quarian cuisine, but none the less, it was still turian and smelled awful. He decided to stick with the 'space macaroni and cheese', a human dish adapted for dextro-protein beings like himself.
Finding a spot beside a pile of broken wires, he removed the bottom portion of his mask. This exposed his mouth, everything around the pale flesh sealed off to eliminate the spread of contaminates; which was rare, seeing as the ship was stripped of any harmful microbe. He balanced the tray of food on his crossed legs.
He chewed on the piping hot food--and was pleasantly surprised.
Not bad, he mused.
The male decided to observe passer-bys as he ate in silence; a favourite pass-time of his. He recognized a few crew mates strolling in the distance, some occupied with conversation.
After finishing his food, Lho'c proceeded to make his way back to the cargo hold. The quarian raised a brow as Ebi ran past. No doubt her older sister Jahi was threatening to 'tear her a new one' (one of his favourite human terms) for damaging her omni tool.
He grumbled as he stood before his work-station once more. That damned modulator would have to be fixed one way or another.
The void of space was startling to her, so empty and ominous. Her large eyes flicked between passing stars as the ship picked up speed. The crate she was pressed against was making her back ache; no doubt it was filled with illegal goods. She pushed herself further into the window, admiring the icy feeling against her cheek.
How had she gotten into this mess in the first place?
The young woman let out an audible sigh. Her stomach rumbled valiantly, and she was again reminded that it had been almost a day and a half since her last meal. That wasn't even a meal, she thought, more like a pile of crumbs. The 'pile of crumbs' in question was a left over piece of munch-fungus bread. She wasn't very fond of salarian food, but it was better than nothing.
She smacked her dry lips together in sudden awe as the ship passed a small cluster of stars; so tightly compacted together she had to shield her eyes from the light.
Occurrences had left her with few options in this new and frightening world she was forced to adapt to. Krogans on her left, salarians on her right; not to mention Darus. The imposing turian was suspicious of the pile of crates; the way he eyed her hidden corner with dark eyes whenever he was in the vicinity. He knew something was making his operation run rather un-smoothly, thanks to her busting up the ship's warp drive.
She sucked in her breath and pulled her knees to her chest as the sound of footsteps approached. She recognized the voices instantly. It was Klaar and Ithovi, a krogan and salarian who would often play cards and drink beside her little hide out.
'Rachni rat-screw?' The salarian, known as Ithovi asked. The sound of shuffling cards could be heard along with the sound of sloshing liquid.
The krogan grunted his response, his lips pre-occupied with the bottle of alcohol. The salarian dealt the cards, his slender fingers working fast. She could see almost everything from a small crack between two crates.
'I heard Darus is planning to stop by the Migrant Fleet,' Klaar commented roughly, his voice wet from the rum.
'That would be unwise,' Ithovi put down a jack, 'the quarians are not welcoming to outsiders.'
Her heart almost leapt from her chest as Klaar slammed his hand down onto the pile of cards. He must have put down another jack.
'I wouldn't mind getting my hands on some ryncol, it's been awhile.' The salarian snorted at Klaar's response.
'That stuff is disgusting, not as bad as that turian radioactive goo, though.'
The two of them chuckled mindlessly as the game progressed.
Migrant Fleet, she repeated in her head. That was it; her break for freedom. While the ship was docked, she was sneak off unnoticed and seek refuge within the Flotilla. It's not like they would notice a human girl wandering about, she heard it was very cramped onboard.
'I had the queen, put down two already!' The krogan impatiently barked.
Ithovi scoffed and slapped his cards down. An exasperated sigh escaped his lips as he lost the large accumulation of cards to Klaar.
'You only have two cards left, want to re-start?' The krogan added tersely.
'No, I'm in the mood for a game of crazy eights.'
She watched in subtle boredom as the salarian dealt once more. Her mind wandered back to the Flotilla. What would life be like on the Migrant Fleet? Would the quarians even accept her on board? She almost laughed a loud to the thought of herself in an environmental suit; mask and all. But it was a chance at freedom, and it was a risk she was willing to take to get off this god-forsaken ship.
Her breath caught in her throat as the door opened.
'Shit!' The krogan cursed. The two scrambled to hide their infractions as the audible sound of turian growling became apparent. Darus stood before them, she could only make out his legs and part of upper body, but from his stance, he was pissed. His mandibles flared momentarily as he looked down at the two.
'I pay you two idiots well over what you're worth,' he folded his arms behind his back, '-and you repay me by getting drunk and playing cards?' His voice was dangerously low; almost a whisper. Ithovi tugged at his fingers nervously.
She was sure he would strike them. Instead, he stood perfectly still.
He inspected his armor non-chalantly, his eyes dragging between Ithovi and Klaar. There was a moment of pro-longed silence before he spoke again, his voice rasping into the air with his emphasization. She hated how he did that, it made her heart beat faster with anticipation.
He motioned for the two of them to stand, both of their heads hanging low.
'Get back to work, and if I catch you once more--' he dragged Ithovi up by his collar, '--I will personally throw the both of you out the airlock.' He roughly pushed the salarian back against the wall. She cupped her hands over her mouth as his head turned towards the pile of crates she was hiding behind. With a curt nod, he exited the room, leaving the two alone once more.
'I knew he would catch us!' Ithovi pointed an accusing finger to the large krogan. Klaar shrugged.
'I hate that bastard.'
The salarian grumbled some inaudible curse and packed the cards back into their box.
She exhaled softly, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear as her breath whistled quietly through her pursed lips. The next time he came in here could be her last; she hoped they would be docking soon, she didn't know how much longer she would be able to live like this. Then again, she imagined the living spaces onboard a quarian ship would be much the same as her living space now.
The only difference would be freedom.
Lhoc tapped his fingers against his thigh as his eyes scanned over the parts laid out before him. Two lug-nuts, a few scraps of wire, five brass screws and a few pieces of holo-tape. It simply would not do. He didn't want to pester his fellow crew mates for supplies, it felt wrong to him, supplies were limited onboard and the last thing he wanted to do was taking something away form someone who really needed it.
He cradled his head in his hands and looked over to his small computer. It was the only thing keeping him entertained these days. That, and Ebi's constant squabbles with her sister.
'-Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, a female quarian on her pilgrimage, was committed to the Med Clinic after suffering a gunshot wound-'
Lho'c turned up the volume on the news.
'-it is unknown at this time as to how she received the injury...'
He shook his head and turned the console off, praying to his ancestors that she would be alright. The news, however, worried him. Rarely did quarians suffer any injury from their journeys on their pilgrimage. Had she gotten into some sort of trouble with the wrong person or group?
He knew Ebi was leaving for her pilgrimage next week. She said she was traveling to some human colony on Eden Prime, apparently a Geth attack left some valuable technology behind.
As his thoughts drifted, he soon grew tired of tinkering with the device before him. Placing all of his scraps in a small metal box, he carefully wrapped the capacitor in a piece of cloth and stored this in the box as well. Lho'c hid the container behind his pile of books; stealing was a very common crime in the fleet.
He yawned and stretched himself over his sleeping pallet. He picked up the book he was currently reading, The Two Towers (he had finished the first book last week), and flipped to where he dog-eared the page.
'They rode on through sunset, and slow dusk, and gathering night. When at last they halted and dismounted, even Aragorn was stiff and weary. Gandalf only allowed them a few hours' rest. Legolas and Gimli slept, and Aragorn lay flat, stretched upon his back; but Gandalf stood, leaning on his staff, gazing into the darkness, east and west--'
The detailed imagery had always perplexed Lhoc.
'--the night was barred with long clouds, fleeting on a chill wind, when they arose again. Under the cold moon they went on once more, as swift as by the light of day.'
After four pages, he could feel his eyes begin to droop. Stretching his neck, he marked the page and rested the book back on the pile beside his bed. Bidding the rest of the ship goodnight with a small flick of his head, he shut his computer, which was his source of light, and soon he dozed off into dreams.
It had been almost three hours since the confrontation with Darus, Ithovi and Klaar. She had occupied herself in that time-span by napping and drawing pictures on the window with her breath. When her stomach growled with hunger, she ignored it. There was no possible way she would be able to make it to the mess without being caught. It also wasn't likely that she would find another piece of food lying around.
She groaned and gritted her teeth as the grumbling slowly became more audible.
The watch on her wrist read two am. Everyone onboard would hopefully be asleep, including Darus. Maybe she would be able to sneak out and rummage for something to eat. She needed to stretch her legs, anyhow.
She pushed aside the crate blocking the entrance to her hideout. It took a few tries to wriggle her small frame through the opening she had created, but soon enough she was free. The cold metal felt oddly comforting against her feet as she padded silently down the hallway.
In all honesty, she had no idea on where the mess was. She had run onto this ship in such a hurry that everything appeared as a blur. Luck be had that she found the pile of crates; Darus would have found her no doubt if they weren't there.
Running her fingers against the side of the steel wall, the audible sound of breathing could be heard. Low, raspy, flanging...
This must be Darus' room. Pressing her ear against the door, she could hear his steady breaths. It was him, seeing as he was the only turian aboard the ship. Making sure not to make any sound as she peeled her frame from the door, she pressed onwards - food was to be found. Feed the stomach. Steal more for later. Dextro food on Flotilla: her mind was a-mess with these thoughts.
There was a set of stairs leading down to what seemed to be the crew quarters. To her surprise, the crew didn't seem that big. Peering inside, she could make out a few krogan and salarians, but not in intimidating numbers- she chuckled at the thought of an intimidating salarian.
Thankfully the crew didn't run on shifts. They worked usually for six or nine hours, and then retired for the night or bet their money away on space-craps or card games. The salarians, as she had observed, usually kept to themselves-minus Ithovi-and found solace in research or science. True, some were mercs, but highly valued for their skill with tech. Darus had obviously thought this out.
Teetering along the edges of the crew-quarters, she kept her eyes focused ahead in the darkness. She guessed the ship was a stolen commercial freighter, that unfortunately, didn't come with any auxiliary lights.
'--damn it, Klaar! I thought you were asleep!'
It was Ithovi. When she didn't say anything, the salarian stopped and inspected her shadowy form in front of him. She knew he was pondering why Klaar had shrunk to the size of a human female. She pressed her fingers to her lips in a motion to shut the amphibian up before he woke up the whole goddamn ship.
'So, you've finally decided to show yourself? I was wondering who stole my bread.'
She crossed her arms over her chest.
'No time for chat, show me where the food is.' She tapped her left foot in general annoyance as he stood their speculating. He was awfully slow for a salarian. He nodded. He turned around with a terse flick of his body, and began to descend down towards the mess. She followed suit, her eyes affixed on his horns - they seemed to provide her with a sense of direction.
The mess was small and contained little to no food, at the moment at least; krogans have an insatiable appetite.
'What brings you aboard the Ardent Specter?' Ithovi asked while he balanced himself on a stool.
'Nothing in particular,' she blatantly lied.
'Well, you picked the wrong ship to stow-away on, Darus-my boss-is a real hard ass. If he finds you, he'll kill you, no doubt.'
She finished the rest of the food he had provided for her and asked if there were any provisions she could bring with her for the Flotilla. She glared when he laughed.
'Sorry, that was the last of what I had.'
'Ithovi...' He jerked at the knowledge of his name, '-you're going to have to keep me hidden until we dock, Darus is getting suspicious.'
The dark-red salarian nodded and blinked his large eyes twice. 'I can keep you in the crew quarters, granted Klaar and the rest of them will know you're onboard. Word will travel fast. Krogan...unreliable.'
'I'll pass, I've made a cozy little niche behind those crates.' She finished the rest of the water. 'Granted, just keep out of the cargo bay until we dock.'
He nodded, not saying anything as he observed.
'Oh yes, do you know when we'll be docking?'
'I think some time tomorrow. We're almost done in our preparations.'
The young woman thanked Ithovi for the food and exited the mess. Getting back to the cargo bay without waking anyone up would prove to be a challange. She didn't know when the salarian part of the crew would be waking up, seeing as Ithovi was already up and about.
Tip-toeing as best she could along the cold, metal floor, she passed Darus' door once more on the way down. She stopped, and listened. Turian sleep-patterns were unknown to her; she guessed they were the same as humans, and seeing as it was around two thirty am galactic standard time, he would probably be fast asleep.
She wriggled her frame in-between the crates, and nestled down beside the window. Hopefully, by tomorrow, she would be on the Flotilla.
'-Commander Shepard of the Normandy has been granted the honour of becoming the first human Spectre...'
Lhoc awoke with a start at the sudden, and unexpected Galactic News report. He groaned as the time flashed across the screen. He would never be able to get back to sleep now. Turning to his book, he began to read again. Hopefully he would fall into sleep soon.
'You little bosh'tet!'
Spoke too soon...
It was Jahi. Peering out from his little corner of draped fabric and rugs, he could see the female's light-blue mask in the distance. She was chastising one of the male crew members, Kenn probably, for an unknown reason. He groaned. This was not the time for those two to be arguing.
Pushing himself up from his sleeping pallet, he walked over to Jahi and Ebi's quarters; privy and secluded near the two couplings that Kenn had installed.
'-I'm telling you, I need to get behind your area to get those couplings.' Kenn was an especially shy quarian. He was around seventeen, and would be embarking on his pilgrimage in two years.
'Lhoc! I'm glad you're here, this little rat was trying to sneak a peak at us sleeping!' Jahi was visibly rigid.
Kenn put his hands up in a act of defense. 'No, no! I was just trying to get those couplings, they'll sell at a high price and I can sell them on Omega.'
'Idiot, you could have just come at a decent hour instead of sneaking around like a vorcha.'
Balancing himself on his limbs, Lhoc-in truth-hadn't really been listening to what the two were saying. Scratching his left arm, he turned to the both of them.
'Jahi, go back to bed,' he looked to Kenn, 'as for you...nevermind, I'm too tired. Good night. Keelah sa'lei.'
He watched as the two of them dispersed, each going back to where they belonged. It was going to be a long night, and now that these two had woken him up, no warm glass of dextro-milk in the universe would be able to lull him off.
The extranet seemed like a good idea as he sat back down again-it offered useless tidbits of information he would store for a later time. That, and he liked reading the various news reports featured on the Citadel. As if the incident had happened yesterday, Lhoc recalled when Ebi had made a pass at him. He laughed. So, you're...single, right? Oh! I was just wondering...
He thought it cute that she admired him on a more 'intimate' level.
'Incoming message from Captain Faas'Roka--'
The holographic image of the Ensha's captain appeared on Lhoc's omni-tool. He groaned; another annoying occurrence to add to his night. He hoped the intimidating quarian wasn't going to be on his case about that stupid modulator.
'What can I do for you, captain?' He asked politely.
'A salarian has sent a message to the Dock Warden earlier today, apparently his captain wants to dock here to make repairs.'
Odd, very odd indeed. Rarely did a ship come to the Fleet for help. Quarians weren't very reputable for having resources on hand, and his people wouldn't let them go easily, either. This had trouble written all over it.
'Why does this concern us?' Lhoc asked. Faas' image flickered violently. Damn omni-tool...
'If you have forgotten, Lhoc'Riigh, you're going to be the one doing the repairs.' He hated it when the captain used his full name. 'Get some sleep and see me first thing tomorrow, we have some issues that need discussing.'
The quarian let out a wavering sigh and shut the hologram off. This was beginning to get ridiculous. Ever since Vil-the First Mate-had left, the captain had made Lhoc his little go-to person. He can see now why Vil left. Faas was arrogant-opposing, a down-right vagrant who put a bad name on his people. Although he had the right idea (on some issues), Lhoc couldn't see why he was made captain. Of course he respected his captain, but only because it was his built-in quarian 'code'.
Mystery? No, he had read too many of those. Horror. Romance. Thriller. Adventure. Fantasy. He riffled through his ever growing pile of genres and decided to stick with his current book-it seemed to get the job done in making him sleepy. Lhoc had no idea on why he was so fascinated with human literature. Quarian prose was rare, and often littered with ideas on rebellion and taking back the home world: riddled with politics and too many vast ideas. Humans have imaginations the size of the whole galaxy.
He was told his books were a waste of space. 'Everyone reads with their omni-tools, Lhoc, no one has room for all those heavy books,' he replayed in his mind. The feeling of paper against his gloved finger-pads was comforting, and he wasn't going to give the sensation up. Not yet, at least.
She wavered uneasily on her feet, belongings swaying at her stomach. It wasn't much, but the large piece of fabric held some books, a credit chit with enough money for about three months living time on the Citadel, and an emergency Nexus Intergalactic Calling Card. She watched from the slim space between the crates as the door slid open, revealing the thin, but tall frame of Ithovi. He handed her a small mask to wear.
'We've docked,' he whispered, 'but be careful and hold onto my hand, Darus is in the decontamination chamber onboard. We can slip by once he's done.' She nodded quickly and as instructed, grabbed onto his three-digited hand. He steps were quick down the metal halls of the Ardent Specter. She could see a group of krogan up ahead as they stepped onto the solid ground of the Ensha. Ithovi kept his distance and gently pushed her behind him. She tried peeking over his shoulder, but the krogan in front were making it nearly impossible to see any better.
Once the group had dissipated into the chamber, Ithovi ignored the quarians guarding the chamber's doors and slipped inside.
'Decontamination in progress. Decontamination in progress--'
A ray of light swooped over them not once, but three times. She could hear the satisfying 'fzzzt' of the tiny bugs being fried by the high-frequency germ-killing ray. When the chamber doors opened, Ithovi quickly dashed outside, darting in and out of puzzled looking quarians as he tried finding a secluded spot. She was having a hard time keeping up. She mumbled as he pushed her against the confines of a shaded wall.
'Good. We're out of sight, for now.' He brushed off his clothes. 'You are free to roam around as you wish, try to avoid me and Darus. The quarians will probably make you were a enviromental-suit, but it's for the best.' He turned to leave, but she firmly grabbed the edge of his sleeve.
'Wait--Ithovi...I want to thank you, for everything.'
He gave her a pleased smile.
'It was my pleasure...'
'Well, Viet, I'm sure we'll meet again.' He bowed his head and stepped out of the shaded area and was gone, his horns visible as he mingled with the crowd of quarians. Viet sighed and slumped down against the wall. Unravelling her bag, she pulled out her book and flipped through the pages until she found what she was looking for. It was a photograph. She used it for a page marker, but it was nice to have a reminder of your family once in a while.
She tucked the photo away and did up the bag once more and steadied herself as she rose.
Colorful masks of light purple, blue, black, green, and grey came into view as she stepped out into the warm light of the central plaza. Colored cloths hung above her like great tapestries, and varied quarian symbols were carved into the rock above varied doors. She was receiving a few strange glances from people, but she did her best to avoid the large groups of aliens. A series of steps led led down into a small hall of sorts, with a raised podium. This was probably where public issues were discussed, or where the Admiralty Board stood. Quarian life was interesting.
Viet made her way towards one of the doors. Without her omnitool, she could read nothing. The translator chip was implanted, but hell, why couldn't they make optics that translate text? She decided on asking the nearest quarian.
'Excuse me,' she tapped the nearest - presumably female- quarian on the shoulder.
'Yes?' Viet stared into her pale-mint visor.
'Could you help me with the doors? I don't have my omnitool and don't know where to go.'
The female quarian giggled.
'I'll show you around, if you like.'
'That would be nice.'
'I'm Ebi,' the quarian said.
For some time the two of them wandered throughout the halls of the Ensha. Viet was having a hard time keeping up with the energetic quarian, but her efforts were soon rewarded when they stopped by the mess. Food. Real food.
She then remember that quarians only ate dextro-based foods. Great.
Sensing her inner turmoil, Ebi touched her shoulder.
'I'm sure we have some human food lying around in the back.'
She took the time to find a seat in the vast cafeteria, some pre-occupied with what looked like pockets of technicians and mechanists. She was curious to see as to how they ate, but she didn't want to stare. Turning her attention back to her own table, she noticed a few lingering quarians that sat on opposite ends.
'Chicken soup.' Ebi had returned and handed her the bowl of steaming liquid.
'Thanks,' she said quietly. Viet watched from the corner of her eye as Ebi sat down beside her, her hand propped up under her mask, her head wavering on her flat, gloved fingers as she looked at the bowl in front of her.
'Uh--can I take this off?' Viet asked, pointing to her mask.
'You went through the decontamination chamber, yes?'
'I'm sure it will be fine, just make sure to sanitize your hands after.' She nodded and brought the spoon to her mouth, thankful the soup actually tasted decent.
After her meal Viet was met Ebi's older sister, Jahi, who didn't seem to pleased that she wasn't in an environmental suit.
'She should speak with the captain, Ebi, you know better than to tote a human around with out proper protection.' Ebi looked slightly embarrassed from her sister's chastising statement, but she turned back towards Viet, seemingly unscathed.
Captain Faas drummed his fingers against his desk rhythmically. This was not good. He looked over the ship's manifest and groaned. The Ardent Specter, he read aloud; unregistered and presumably a stolen frigate from the Alliance. When he ran the serial numbers, nothing came up, only some mention of a small docking yard on Palaven. The serial numbers were probably fake.
This could only mean one thing, either the crew of the ship were a bunch of slavers and pirates, or the ship was somehow misplaced. The latter seemed more comforting, but Faas knew better than to go with what made him, and his whole ship, feel better.
'Captain?' There was a light tap on his door.
In stepped a female quarian he had probably met some time or another, for now her name escaped him. Behind her tailed a human, a human without a suit.
'Ah--Captain Faas'Roka, this human was onboard the ship that just docked and is without proper protection...'
The quarian seemed tentative, even afraid. For now, he was focussed on the human.
She was shorter than Shepard by a head and almost a decade younger, if he were to guess, but a full grown woman nonetheless. She was also unusual. Not military, but certainly not a native to some colonized world like Faros, or even the vast world of the citadel. Her clothes and rugged appearance suggested she'd been abroad. Her eyes appeared troubled as she shifted her weight cautiously, avoiding his appraising glare.
A pretty little thing, despite the grime, he allowed himself.
He scowled at the bizarre train of thought his mind had taken; he didn't have time for this. He needed to know why she was on that ship, and why she was here.
'Why are you on the Ensha?' He asked carefully.
'I was a crew member, I repaired the cooling devices.'
'If you are to stay aboard this ship, you are going to have to do your part to provide, I can't allow a 'free' ride.'
She wavered on her strange, unbent limbs momentarily before her face brightened.
'Yes, I could do basic work, do repairs and the likes,' she tucked her hands behind her back.
'Good. I'm sure this young lady here has an old suit you can borrow. Good day, ladies.'
Faas shooed the two out, he needed a break.
'Uh--what do I do about the...this is really uncomfortable.'
'It's not my fault you have five toes and straight legs!'
Ebi giggled at her sister. The suit forced her knees back and separated her toes, it was slightly uncomfortable, but she would get used to it. The mask she received was the same color as Jahi's, light blue.
'I'm not going to be able to do anything with my fingers like this,' with her four fingers separated into two, Viet was almost certain she wouldn't be able to pick up a wrench.
'--about earlier, why did you lie to the captain about be a crew member?' Jahi seemingly ignored her previous statement.
'I don't know, I don't think he would take lightly to stow-aways.'
Jahi nodded, but waved a finger in front of her face. 'Don't try that again, if he finds out that you lied, you may be exiled from this ship, and the fleet, forever.'
'Hey, I thought quarians weren't allowed two children?' She asked.
'We're not biologically related,' Jahi motioned to her younger sister, 'Ebi's parents were killed on a 'home' planet.'
'It was an experiment, to try and see if quarians could live outside of their suits on a planet similar to our own. They died from exposure, I was Ebi's babysitter at the time, so I continued taking care of her.'
Viet only nodded.
'-Executor Pallin would not give a statement on the current situation regarding the rogue Spectre...'
Lhoc groaned as his computer went off, the Galactic News blaring through his ear drums as he reached for the 'off' switch. He was still lying flat while searching for his tool kit, hand outstretched, feeling and prodding the familiar surfaces of his living area. When the tip of his finger grazed the leather, he pulled it towards him, head still buried in the pillow. The feeling of the metal tools underneath his finger pads were reassuring.
Pushing himself off his sleeping palette, he looked at the time.
'5:00 am,' he muttered. This was going to be a long day; he wasn't looking forward to repairing the ship that had docked, at all.
Lhoc would make his usual trip down past Ebi and Jahi's dwellings, say good morning and decline their offer of joining them for breakfast, and would then use the back door near the couplings to the loading bay. Strapping his tool belt around his waist, he had the sense that he was forgetting something. Patting his waist, he could feel the absence of the usual heavy weight of the crowbar he used to pry open panels. He found it lying beside his pillow, beside his book. He nodded with slight accomplishment as it slid neatly beside the philips head.
The main lighting in the cargo deck was still dimmed, the auxiliary lighting offering its atmosphere of cool ambience; one you would find on a ship seasoned with a large crew. The floor was cold on his covered feet, the small lights entrenched in the floor casting illuminated shadows up his calves as he walked towards the familiar corner of the cargo bay where Jahi lived.
Lhoc pushed back the fabric partition and peered inside the dimly lighted room. Ebi was curled up on the farthest wall, and there was...two Jahi's?
'Hello, Jahi,' he said quietly, wondering who the other quarian was. He couldn't see her face or body very well, her side pressed against the metal of the far wall adjacent Jahi. He body language was peculiar, limbs pulled to her chest.
'Good morning, Lhoc, care to join us for breakfast?'
'You always know the answer will be 'no', yet you still ask me.'
'People are receptacle to change,' she said coyly. He smiled faintly and turned his head to the female. 'Oh, this is Viet,' he watched as the female, now known as Viet, turned her head to meet his gaze. He could see nothing behind the mask, only the familiar darkness that surrounded the whole den. 'She'll be helping you with the repairs on the ship.'
'What?' He wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose again or rub his temples, but he only clutched the fabric in his hand harder; he was sure his knuckles would be turning white under his gloves.
'Did Faas not inform you?'
Faas, you boshtet, he thought bitterly. He had no time to be training some female quarian like a school teacher, he had work to do; he worked alone.
When Viet rose from her seated position, he turned around and briskly walked from the cargo bay, not giving her a chance to catch up. He didn't want to be late because some little quarian needed a new job. His callous temper was getting the better of him; calm down, he thought, you'll get through the day just fine.
The comforting coolness of the loading bay greeted him pleasantly. The ship he was to work on was a small speck along the various other vessels, each neatly lined up beside the last, various tarps and canvas draped over each to keep the dust from settling. He brought the lamp down from its usual hanging position and hooked it onto the side of his work space. When she finally came huffing up to his side, his tools were already laid out before him.
'He-hey! Why'd you take off like that?'
Her voice surprised him, had she been away from the fleet for so long she lost her accent? It was a probable answer, but for he was focussed on his work.
'Do you want me--'
'No.' He cut her off and continued working, detaching various parts of the ship and re-attaching them, cleaning out the pulse valves and bearings, getting the gunk out of the threading of various pipes, re-wiring circuit boards. He had no time to teach.
He watched from the corner of his eye as she sat, defeated, on the floor.
'Are you sure you don't want any--'
'--you didn't even let me finish my sentence!' Her voice was not shrill, but assertive, he was obviously making her angry. 'Look, I came on this ship hoping for a new life. At lease let me help.' She emphasized the word 'help', it rolling off her tongue like a command. Did he really have a choice? Why was he such a masochist, a slave to his job? Wiping the grime from his mask, he turned to her.
'Fine. You can do the job that nobody likes doing. Haul the scraps over to the recycling bin and sort them out, anything that can be re-used goes in the parts container, anything beyond repair gets scrapped to be melted into new metal.' He smirked to himself as she eyed the heavy looking pile of scraps beside his tools.
When she loaded up the pile of metal onto the dolly, he noticed something as she began walking away: her legs. Why on earth were they deformed like that? He watched, the backs of her knees not bobbing up with every step; instead the backs of her calves and knees snapped back at a forty-five degree angle, and then were brought forward on a slight slope. This stride was familiar; he had seen it before, he was sure.
Work, he chastised. He didn't have time to think about her odd defect.
Lhoc had to restrain himself from laughing when she returned a puffing mess; her mask was blinking madly from all the breath she exhaled. He watched, with slight curiosity, as she bent down and braced her upper body on her knees. When she finally collected herself, she leaned on the ship, arms crossed over her chest.
'Are you going to let me work on the ship or not?' She asked tersely.
A long-whinded grunt was his response.
'I'm not an idiot, you know, I've had my fair share of working hours on various ships-worked on the Destiny's Ascension, even.'
He laughed. 'Oh? And what was your job? Polishing the nuts and bolts?'
'I fixed the cooling systems when they needed fixing. That's all. Not a big, glamorous job, but it paid well.'
That wasn't the response he was hoping for. Now he had to let her work on the ship, he didn't want to seem like a grumpy fool by continuing his barrage of the cold shoulder.
'Fine.' He slid her a wrench. When it slipped from her grasp, he eyed her curiously. She ignored his appraising stare and picked it up once more, balancing the metal handle between the hole of her index and thumb. Oddly enough, she used both hands when using the wrench; had she suffered a hand injury? Lhoc shook his head and continued his work, he was not the type of person to ask personal questions; not now, anyhow.
When the day was over, he packed his belongings up and waited for Viet. When she ran to his side, he closed down the docking bay and escorted her back to Jahi's dwellings.
'Strange having a human on board, isn't it?' It was Ebi.
'What?' This was the first time he was actually interested in what he had to say.
'Viet, she was a stow-away on that ship you guys were fixing. She's using Jahi's old suit.'
The quarian shifted uncomfortably on his feet. He had barely squashed the urge to chase after her and demand to know what was going on. The girl had the maddening ability to make his loose all interest in what he was doing.
But Lhoc hadn't reached his position as head mechanic by following foolish impulses. He had learned quickly to smother those feelings by remaining cooly detached from everyone; to ignore those who made him feel anything but what he had always been accustomed to feeling, which is all the more reason to be wary of her.
And now she was sharing his home.
AN: I've always wanted to write a fic about a human/quarian, but I didn't want to do the simple 'Shepard and Tali sittin' in a tree', I wanted to make my own characters in the Mass Effect universe before and during the events of Shepard's investigation into Saren. I'm nervous about how it will be received, because both of these characters aren't even in the game, I was originally going to make Lhoc Ken from the second game, but you don't learn a lot about his character from the game, so I decided to make my own quarian. A lot of the stuff I put in this story are not actual fact, we know very little about quarian life outside of the suits, so many of the chapters to come will be my own speculation.
Please let me know what you think!