The Candidate was written in response to a prompt at Mass Effect Kink Meme.
I recommend reading Unnerved & Unnerving by yours truly before proceeding. It is not required, but definitely recommended as a sort of prequel.
Nihlus went two steps in front of Saren. That was the appropriate order of things. They were not yet equals. Nihlus often wondered if they ever would be, even once he was appointed as a Spectre. That was supposed to be a matter of formality now, but still. Nothing was certain with Saren.
Doing things this early in the morning made him derailed as usual. They were on a nondescript rocky moon of a giant gas planet orbiting an ordinary yellow dwarf in the Saeclum Cluster. The Spectre training camp moved to a different location each year; Nihlus had always imagined those would be challenging, unforgiving places, like Invictus. But from what he'd seen yesterday, staring through the viewports of the civilian transport during the three-hour silence that took to fly from the colony to the camp, Ganima was nothing if not tame. Tame and boring. Perhaps that was the challenge? Whoever manages to get through the training without once getting drunk and laid, gets to be a Spectre candidate.
He chuckled for himself, then raised a suspicious browplate. How long had it been since he last got drunk and laid?
The camp consisted mostly of long, thin-walled buildings for recruit housing, prefabs for officers, a tiny spaceport and various training grounds. It looked clean, maintained and again, boring. Nothing like boot camp, oh no. Even his advanced training programs took place in overcrowded underground compounds where everything and everyone perpetually smelled like sweat and boots but you'd only be shocked in the beginning and later you'd get used to it completely. This was… a luxury camp. Yes. All with little patches of imported greenery and water dispensers disguised to look like they were made of stone. More like a shore-leave spot than a training facility. That made no sense whatsoever. Probably there was a quirk he wasn't seeing.
"So what makes this place deserving of a Spectre training camp?" he said, turning sideways.
It took several more steps for Saren to answer. "If you'd read the files I gave you, you wouldn't have to ask. They even had pictures."
Someone was cranky this morning. Nihlus almost said that aloud, but checked himself in time. "I skimmed," he shrugged. "Come on. Just tell me."
"Try running and you'll see."
A year ago, Nihlus would have actually tried running. He knew better than that now. It was too early for riddles, but he decided to give it a shot anyway. Why would running be a challenge? He looked around and up. The sky was perfectly clear but an unusual dark shade of blue. And he could see the brightest stars even though the sun was pretty high already. "Ah," he smiled. "It's the air. The moon isn't massive enough to keep a lot of atmosphere."
He turned to flash his smile at Saren, and got a dismissive flick of the left mandible in return. Which was more than he'd expected.
They walked through a ramp, got a series of salutes, and emerged on a huge clearing. There was enough room in it for the whole battalion and the two small units in the middle stood out like specks of dust on a turned-off console. There were two terrain vehicles parked behind the little gathering, and a couple of officers talking and gesturing. The men were all wearing identical green and gray combat suits, standard military Elanus issues equipped with fast-response kinetic barriers and additional ablative padding covering neck and waist. Each had a side arm attached to their right thigh, and an assault rifle on their back. The weapons were of better make: Armax service issues. Nihlus was jealous; he'd never had a chance to play with such nice toys before Saren took him in. He had to admit things worked out quite well for him, though. He touched his own prototype pistol with a mixture of pride and gratitude and a pinch of melancholy. A gift from Saren, used to save his cranky ass more than a few times. Oh yes, Nihlus was jealous; for one of these men, training was about to start. For him, it was about to end.
When they got close enough, the officers snapped to attention and saluted, the men following suite. Two squads in two tidy lines, still, perching as tall as they could, backs straight, shoulders wide apart, gazes fixed ahead, fringes shining in the bleached light; they were the best the turian army had to offer. And they looked magnificent. Like ancient hunter-angels in the murals under Temple Palaven. Yes, Saren, I watched the documentaries you gave me. All of them. And I didn't even yawn. Much.
Now Saren stepped forward and stood in line with him, as an equal. Curious.
"What do I do?" Nihlus said in a low voice.
"Act like a Spectre."