Author's Note: So, I'm not really big on these things, and especially not ones that are at the start of the story, but I've got some important things to say, so bear with me.
First: The first two chapters of this story are going to be identical to the two chapters that originally belonged to Delicate Beginnings. This is intentional.
Second: Delicate Beginnings has now been removed, given that their content is now contained inside of this newer, larger story. If you're looking for the back-story I had on Thane, have no fear, the first part of it is just below.
Third: I promised myself that I wouldn't publish anything new until it was complete, and I've done just that. Synodic Day is complete. I write all my stories the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. This means that I still have to type them up and edit them before they will be publishable, but the material has been created. Stick around long enough, and you'll get the whole story, have no fear.
The beta for this story is Dreamer in Silico, who has graciously agreed to help me improve my writing, despite her busy workload. Many thanks to you, Silico!
It was with a mixture of fear and pride that Mr. and Mrs. Krios left their son with the hanar elders. Thane Krios was turning six today, and he was going to be an assassin. He was so excited!
Thane's parents bowed deeply to the hanar elder who waited patiently at the edge of the sea for them to say their good byes.
"Thank you, Honored One, for this gift to our son," Thane's father said.
The hanar lowered its glowing snout slightly, ripples of color traveling up and down its flank.
Thane had recently received the optical surgery that would allow him to see the full range of hanar bioluminescent communication, and the beautiful ripples of color dazzled his still-healing eyes. Seeing the new colors entranced Thane so much that he could only stare rudely at the elder hanar as it carried on a fluid, but polite conversation with his parents.
When the conversation was done and the transfer of responsibility completed, his parents laid gentle hands on his shoulder, breaking his attention away from the rippling waves of violet that streamed down the hanar's flank – a smile.
"Mother? Father?" He said in surprise, blinking both sets of eyelids in rapid succession as he looked at them.
"Thane," his mother said with a watery smile, 'today, you go to meet your future." She pulled him into a tight hug. "I am so proud of you," she said, almost fiercely. She stepped back, fighting tears.
Thane's father reached out, placing a hand gently on his son's head, tenderly tracing the deep green scales he found there. "May Arashu protect you until Kalahira welcomes you to the sea," he said gravely to his son.
"Thank you, Father, Mother," Thane returned, just as gravely. He'd always been a somber child. Taking a half step backwards, he bowed to his parents, hands held out formally away from his sides, wrists barred. Straightening, he flashed them a quick smile before turning and going to stand by the side of the elder hanar.
Violet rippled along its flanks again, aimed at him, before it returned its attention to his parents. It spoke again, one last time, and this time, he retained the presence of mind to translate the flashes of color into words without getting too caught up in their beauty.
"This one deeply regrets the need for your son, and humbly sends its deepest gratitude for your sacrifice."
Confused and unsettled by the hanar's words, Thane nonetheless held his tongue. To speak out of turn was incredibly rude.
Nodding its snout deeply, the hanar gave its own version of a bow before turning slowly in place and heading into the sea. Thane followed, pulling the breather that all drell carried out of his pocket and fitting it over his mouth and nose with practiced ease. With over 90% of the planet covered in water, it was only practical for the drell to learn early on how to swim and use the breathers that made life on Kajhe possible for them.
Just before the waves closed over his head, Thane looked back to see his father tenderly kissing his mother's tears away as she clung to him.
He would not see them again for ten years.
Thane lay still as a statue against the cold metal of the table. His hands and arms were wrapped around a scaled down version of an adult's sniper rifle, elbows supporting his weight. Before his eyes, an oversized data pad scrolled through information, all of it material he had seen before.
This was a lesson on more than one thing. The chilled table was to teach him how to keep him mind and trigger finger sharp, even as the rest of his body's functions slowed sluggishly. Drell weren't truly cold-blodded, but they were still more susceptible to heat and cold than other species, their bodies conserving energy by taking on whatever the ambient temperature was, up to a point.
This lesson was about control as well. Lying on a metal table was uncomfortable under the best of conditions, and his hands and arms had begun to cramp due to his unusual posture. Even so, he remained motionless.
Patience was the last lesson. The drell's eidetic memory meant that members of their race spent a relatively small number of years in school, compared to their typical lifespan. Few failed. Why would they, when they could voluntarily replay every lesson with perfect clarity? But here Thane was, watching the same information scroll by for the third time. Bored of the lesson – he already knew the weak points on a krogan, they didn't have any – Thane decided to drift into his memories, sure that he could keep himself from slipping into them so deeply that he began to vocalize.
Sifting through his memories was a lot like digging through a box of glass beads. Each segment in time was its own self-contained unit. Yet, he knew that should he wish, he could string them all together to make a necklace of memories that became his life. It was dangerous to do so, however. Each memory took time to review, even if it could be played faster than life, and it was possible to starve while viewing happier memories.
Finally selecting one, Thane held the memory-marble up in his mind's eye before delving into it. It was the day he'd completed his first painting.
His hands tremble with anticipation, his eyes blink too rapidly. The white lights seem to hurt his eyes, but maybe it's the glare from the protective glass of a hundred paintings. He shuffles his feet about nervously as the hanar cluster about it, each one flashing nothing but polite interest as it studies his seascape.
Turning as one, they leave, filing past him, flashing indigos and violets at him. They had liked it!
One hanar walked up to him, alternating colors of green and yellow, telling him it wished to speak to him.
He opened his mouth to welcome it into conversation…
The lighting in the room shifted, a shadow cast over his form where there should not be one. Pulled abruptly from the memory, it took Thane several long seconds to process the changes in his environment, and several more to convince his stiff neck muscles to allow him to tilt his head, peering about the room in surprise.
Before he'd entered the memory, Thane had been alone in the small metal room, laying on a large metal table, with many smaller tables scattered about the rooms perimeter, weighted down with weapons of various types and sizes. The walls also bore weapons, though most of those were of the projectile variety, pistols and sniper rifles and the occasional shotgun. Now the room was filled with hanar, each one wearing colors of orange and red – dissatisfaction and anger.
The eldest hanar took two steps towards him, snout lifted unhappily. Through the gap formed in the ring, he saw another drell, his teacher, lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl. He was unhappy.
The eldest hanar spoke, "this one wishes to know where it is you go when you leave us for your memories." It spoke with bright flashes of color, though the orange dominated its words. They were very angry.
Nervous and uncertain, Thane answered its question the same way he always did, with the truth, "I was remembering the day I showed my painting to you," he said. The elder would remember; it was yesterday. There was a pause as all the hanar in the room processed his words.
Eventually, the elder spoke again, "this one wishes to know why you were remembering, instead of watching, as it asked you to do." The colors were crisp and bright. No lazy melding of colors as the patterns shifted from one to the next. It was very angry indeed.
Again, he answered honestly, "because, the lesson was on patience and control. I didn't move, still haven't, and I have already memorized the lesson. Why would I need to watch it again?" Thane strove to be polite, as his parents had taught him, but it was difficult. He was only eight.
A ripple of color went around the room – the shade of silver he knew was really ultraviolet – passed from one hanar to the next in a pattern Thane could not translate.
When it touched the elder, it flashed yellow in a momentary request for attention, before asking the others to leave. When the room was empty, save for the Elder and his teacher, the eldest hanar flashed Thane a small smile, a barely there ripple of violet down its side.
"This one wishes to know what you remember about the first lesson on krogan anatomy."
Released from his position on the table by the smile, thane brought himself up to sit on the table cross-legged, swinging his weapon across his body to lay on his lap in a disarmed position that would still allow him to bring it to bear upon an enemy should it become needful. Closing his eyes in an extended blink, Thane quickly searched through his memories and pulled up the appropriate one.
"Krogan come from the planet Tuchanka, the fourth planet in the Arakakh system, at the center of the Krogan DMZ. Once covered in thick jungles and shallow, silt seas, it is now a mostly barren wasteland, made so by the nuclear war the krogans fought against each other. They had been surviving it for two thousand years when the salarians found them and used them to end the rachni wars, a testament to their strength. They have primary, secondary, and in some instances, tertiary forms of their major organs, and they even have a back up nervous system, a free flowing neuro-fluid that makes them impossible to paralyze. Krogan naturally live over a thousand years, and it has been hypothesized that they may not even have a natural lifespan as other species. Their supreme body structure and regenerative abilities allow them to recover from things that would kill others, and the oldest recorded krogan is Warlord Okeer, who is still alive even now, over a thousand years after the end of the krogan rebellions.
"When approaching a krogan for an assassination, it must be noted that one, two, or even three well-aimed shots are not usually enough, and only massive damage to the body results in death. It is best to snipe them twice, set their bodies on fire, explode the remains, and then watch warily for them to get back up."
Finished with his summarization, Thane reopened his eyes only to blink rapidly at the gun his teacher held pointed at his face.
He recoiled immediately, doing a backwards summersault to disappear beyond the edge of the table, even as he brought his gun around and fired blindly in his Teacher's direction.
The move was flawless in its execution, he knew, but something told him that his aim had been off anyway. He had failed another test. Even as he had twisted his body around, Thane had felt the unmistakable sting of the jelly-like bullets his Teacher used in training hit his neck and back. They would not kill, no matter what gun they were fired from and at what range, but they would leave a nasty welt at close range. If they had been real bullets, he would be dead.
Thane held his breath for a few seconds, straining to hear any tiny sounds that would tell him his teacher was sneaking around to pop him again. Eventually, he risked peeking over the top of the table. All he saw was the eldest hanar, flashing a message.
"This one wishes for you to stand, Mr. Krios. This lesson is at its conclusion."
Thane brought his head back down and studied the part of the room on his side of the table. Shadows, corners, shadowed corner…his gaze swung back towards the space he just checked. It wasn't empty! He started to swing his rifle around, only to have a blunted knife whistle through the air and hit the bundle of nerves at his wrist that made his hand spasm and drop the gun. Bowing his head in defeat, Thane stood up from behind the table. He'd failed.
His Teacher came up behind him, "this lesson is at its conclusion, Krios." He said softly. All three beings in the room knew that the only person who could call off a lesson was his Teacher, the drell assassin who he was training to replace. The only test he'd passed.
Bending down, Thane picked up his rifle and slung it over his back, keeping his eyes trained on the ground as the hanar padded slowly out of the room. He could see its soothing blues and greens reflected off the metal flooring. It didn't want him to feel bad, but he'd failed. Why wouldn't he?
His Teacher placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, leading him towards the room's exit, "why did you not watch the vid, Krios?" His voice was soft, non-judgmental. It gave Thane the courage to respond.
"I didn't see why. I've already seen the vid on krogan biology. Twice now. I remember it, I do!" Thane's voice increased in volume at the end, and he abruptly cut himself off, struggling to maintain the calm demeanor an assassin must hold to at all times.
"Krios…Thane. The lessons weren't all the same. Yes, they were on krogan biology, but the first one was on their planet and their major organs the second was on their reproductive cycle and the genophage, focusing on how it has colored their psychology." His Teacher brought them to a stop, slowly turning Thane by gentle pressure applied to his shoulder until they were facing one another. "Did you think I'd forgotten how good your memory was? I'm drell too."
If it was possible, Thane bowed his head further, his neck ridges flushing with shame, "No, I didn't think you'd forgotten, I just, didn't…I don't know!" He burst out.
His Teacher lowered himself until he was the same height as Thane, then he forced the younger drell's chin up with one finger. "I understand your frustration, as well as your mistaken assumption that they were the same vid, they did have the same opening sequence. But let me ask you this: what was different about the room from before the hanar entered, and after? No," Teacher placed one hand over Thane's eyes, blocking his vision of the metal room they hadn't quite managed to exit, "use your memory."
Once again, Thane shuffled through his memories at the request of another, "Nothing. Nothing is different. There's the table, the vid, the smaller tables with the weapons…You're hiding in the corner, behind the Eldest. But there is no difference."
Thane heard an amused rumble from his master, a deep sound that vibrated his chest and made him relax a little involuntarily. With his eyes blinded, his Teacher sounded like Father. "Look again," Teacher said, removing his hand from Thane's eyes.
Obediently, Thane looked around the room, and saw all the things he'd missed. Hidden amongst all the weapons on the tables were little blank spaces that hadn't been there before. Small knives of various shapes and sized were gone, hidden by the shadows cast by the larger weapons left in place. "What-? How?" Thane gasped.
Teacher smiled, "While you were busy watching the hanar file out, I wandered around the room, snatching weapons. Where did you think the knife I threw at you came from?"
"I…thought it was yours," Thane stuttered, amazed at the things he hadn't seen.
Teacher shook his head, "Mine are sharp, Squalo. Remember this about our memories, we can perfectly recall what we experience, it is true. But only things that we take specific note of are recalled in detail. When you looked around the room the first time, you noted the tables only as 'metal tables with weapons' not which weapons were on it. That was why you didn't see the difference; there were still weapons on the table."
"I did not know." Thane spoke in a hushed tone. "I thought we just remembered everything."
Teacher chuckled deep in his chest, "now you know. Your memory will be both a great asset and a burden for you in the years to come, but you have an advantage over many others because of it. You already remember everything you experience now you must simply learn how to notice everything as well."
It was a lesson Thane would never forget.