Shepard looked down on the training area below. They were standing on a observation platform close to the ceiling of a high domed hall, the stage below a close approximation of a vast warehouse with containers, crates and walkways.
From here she had an excellent view of the two contestants below who were hunting each other through the simulated terrain.
There was a display conveniently located on the handrail that allowed her to view the contestant's stats, vitals and current positions. As she watched, one of the two, a turian, was clearly setting himself up to wait for his asari opponent to come into range.
They were using training ammo, of course, and wore specialised armour that had a VI interface which kept count of simulated damage. If a combatant took enough damage to a specific part of their armour, that part shut down. With too much damage, the armour shut down completely, and the soldier wearing it very effectively went 'dead' and had to wait for the simulation to end before being able to move again. It was an effective way to simulate the effect of stun damage or explosives, and a good way to avoid disputes about whether a shot had been a proper hit or not.
Of course, close combat was still realistic enough, and training ammo or not, getting hit still hurt.
"This looks like fun." Shepard remarked to Saren, who was viewing the proceedings with an expression that would amount to a slight frown in a human. He didn't answer. That didn't come as any sort of surprise, though.
Something had changed in their dynamics, presumably when she'd been granted full Spectre status, something she was at a loss to explain, and it hadn't been a change for the better. Towards the end of her training, they'd almost gotten along, despite all their fighting. In two instances had led to some more personal competitions, but that wasn't something she wanted to dwell upon. She still wasn't sure whether she even have wanted a repeat of that experience, but the question hadn't even come up again.
They'd had a rather stressful, high-risk mission that began as a simple investigation into a break-in into a high-security biotech lab and had turned into the uncovering of a full-fledged conspiracy. After resolving that situation with a liberal application of brute force, high firepower, trickery, a good display of tactics and a generous measure of pure dumb luck, Saren had declared in his usual charming manner that he had enough of training a human, and since by some miraculous coincidence that had nothing whatsoever to do with her ability she was still alive she might as well become a Spectre and be useful for once. She wasn't sure when she'd started to find his caustic remarks amusing instead of downright infuriating, but it had happened at some point, and she'd been quite amused at the time.
Now, he was acting very different. He no longer insulted her, or made snide remarks, but he was also distant and in some sort of permanent bad mood that didn't result in direct violence as it usually did. She didn't miss the insults, but she had enjoyed their verbal sparring in a fierce, competitive way, and the sudden change confused her, because she didn't understand the reason for it. Maybe he was just irritated that she was still hanging around, even if that was his own fault. It would fit. Damned turian.
This trip here to Nabol had been his idea, not hers. That had been his condition, anyway; he'd declare her training successfully ended and over, she'd be made full Spectre by the Council, and she'd join him for a few days in the training facilities of Nabol.
Similar to what the Alliance did with Pinnacle Station, the Citadel Council kept Nabol, a small station in the middle of a very restricted section of scape that specialised for training Spectres and other specialists, as well as C-sec personnel. Sometimes they temporarily accepted trainees from other military associations from the Council races, as a courtesy, but that happened only rarely. It was the playground of the best, and Shepard hadn't minded coming here, really. It was always fun to play with the rest of the class, especially if one was the new kid and needed to crack a few heads in order to gain some respect. It was not as much fun to do that with a bad tempered turian in tow, though.
She regarded the match in progress critically. "Are they any good?"
"Not really", another voice judged rather cheerfully, and Shepard turned sharply, annoyed that she hadn't heard the newcomer sneak up on them. Or, rather, newcomers, she noted with even more displeasure.
The one who had spoken was a dark-faced turian with elaborate white markings, wearing heavy armour in dark grey and blood red. His green eyes glittered with amusement at her, and she responded with an especial cold stare. She had heard his name before, and knew him to be a Spectre, too.
Just behind him, there was another turian, this one a female, with sparse yellow markings on a light grey face, her medium armour a shiny black with blue accents. She had some narrow metal bands around parts of her curved fringe in seemingly random places that looked like partially embedded in the spines, and Shepard wasn't certain whether those were ornaments or prosthetics as a result of injuries.
Both of them moved with a confident, competent air that spelled possible trouble to Shepard.
Saren hadn't even bothered turning around. "Hello Nihlus. Nysana." He seemed to be still watching the fight below. "You're correct. That's a lacklustre performance." He turned away and gave the two turians a nod.
Nysana was looking at Shepard in open appraisal, her fierce yellow eyes full of curiosity. "You're Shepard, the human Spectre."
"Guilty as charged." she replied, her tone cool. "I take it you're a Spectre as well?"
"Yes." The turian tossed her head back.
"How nice." Shepard stated. "It's almost a convention, then. Somehow I must have missed a memo, though, so what's the appropriate protocol for that? Getting together in some pub, lots of drinks, brawling optional?"
Nysana laughed. "That's a possibility." She nodded her head into the direction on the training area. "Or we can go for a few rounds down there." She tossed her head again, and Shepard knew that expression from Saren. Challenge. "Nihlus and me, we're set up for a short bout with a squad of military trying out for C-sec, but later on the area should be free. So how about it?"
Shepard stared at her, then started to smile. "I'm game if you are. Just tell me the rules."
The turian's expression shifted into something Shepard would have been ready to bet was something similar to her own. "There are rules?" she enquired, with an undertone of polite surprise. "I wasn't aware of that."
Saren gave a warning hiss. "Shepard."
He refrained from saying anything more, but he should have known better. Shepard just never had learned to back down from anything and wasn't going to start now.
"Deal." she told Nysana.
Saren just shook his head.
Nihlus chuckled. "So, Saren. Are you running with the human Spectre now?"
Shepard turned around to face him, a sharp reply already on the tip of her tongue, but Saren was already shaking his head. "No, of course not. Shepard's here for some training, that's all."
His tone was calm, dismissive, and Shepard decided not to comment after all.
Nysana looked downwards, then addressed her companion. "Come on, Nihlus. Looks like those two are finally done, and the field is clear for us."
The dark-faced turian chuckled again. "Fair enough. We'll see you later."
Saren waited until the slightly clicking footsteps of the two other Spectres had faded away, then gave Shepard a look.
"What?" she asked, automatically defensively.
"You might want to watch them in action."
"By that I assume you are trying to imply that I'm in trouble."
He didn't even dignify that with an answer.
She took her place beside him and for once followed his advice.
After a while, she cautiously said. "Uh-oh."
Shepard shook her head, amazed at what she was seeing. Those two weren't just good, they were damned amazing. They had a dozen military against them, competent ones, not just grunts, and they walked through that resistance like nothing. It was clear from their tactics that they were very much used to each other's tricks, but even so...
"Did you see that? He didn't even look to see what's on his left when he went for that soldier over there. How can he leave himself that open?"
"Nysana's on that side. He doesn't need to check, he knows she's there. He can spend that time for something more useful."
They both watched as Nihlus took out another soldier in close combat, sketching a blow that, if it had been a real fight and he'd allow it to connect, would have taken the unfortunate wretch's throat out. As it was, the soldier obediently dropped down and played dead, although she thought she heard him cursing.
"That's a very risky thing to do. Depending on your partner is one thing, but that's taking things a bit too far. It's foolish, he can't know that she's there, and alert, and on top of things."
Saren didn't reply, and she continued."That sort of trust is pretty to look at, sure, but it's going to get him killed some day." She shook her head. "I don't think any human would ever be stupid enough to do this."
"You probably are correct." Saren stated, his tone uncharacteristically mild, which usually meant he was angry. "If you are still taking suggestions from someone no longer your superior, however, I'd recommend watching Nysana."
He did have a point, she had to grudgingly admit, and it didn't improve her mood any, especially as she very well knew she was in trouble here.
"How would you measure up to the two of them?" she asked, as she watched Nysana go into close combat with yet another turian. That woman moved like a damned velociraptor, she thought with grudging admiration. She seemed faster than her fellow Spectre, and the more aggressive of the two.
Saren shrugged. "In training, like this, one-on-one I can take down either, and in fact have done that before. Against both, I wouldn't stand much of a chance. As you see, they're used to fighting as a team, and they're both very good at it. I couldn't disable either of them fast enough without injuring them seriously."
She raised an eyebrow. "In a training fight, you mean. What about if it were for real?"
He shrugged again. "I don't know. It depends on luck and the exact situation, of course, but odds would be that it would end up with one of them and me dead on the ground, and the remaining one in very bad shape. Not that that is likely to happen anytime soon. We're on the same side. And Nihlus was my trainee, once."
She hadn't known, but refrained from commenting on that.
"Right." She looked at the turian woman again. "Any advice regarding that?"
He thought about it for a moment. "Don't get into a shooting match with her, her aim's better than yours. Set an ambush, or rather, several, with explosives, maybe stun. If that fails, which is a likely possibility, and you try close combat, remember that she's somewhat fond of using her claws, and her gauntlets have reinforced edges that match her natural claws. She has better reflexes than you, but she's got a bit of a temper, which makes her vulnerable to being distracted when her pride is challenged, so taunts may work well on her. Compared to you she's lacking imagination, which means she can be surprised by unusual tactics. That's where your strength lies, so try to use that against her."
Shepard blinked, then nodded.
"Oh, and Shepard?" He wasn't even looking at her. "It's no concern of mine if your habit of talking before thinking gets you into trouble once again, but don't even think of challenging the two of them at the same time and dragging me into that. Or accepting the challenge if they happen to come up with the same bright idea."
"Of course not. The thought has never crossed my mind." she lied, probably not very convincingly, as she turned away from the handrail to make her way down to the training ground.