Hellooooo peeps and peepettes of the internet! I worked long hours to get you this chapter from my door to yours. So go on, have a go at it and I hope you enjoy this installment, where the plot...well just read on! I'll let the text do the talking.
Also, I noticed a lot of you asking about a certain human spectre's involvement in this fic since Klenon is off to the same military as him/her. You wanted to know if our dear friend Shepard will making any sort of appearance. I can't say anything because nobody likes spoilers. But I will let you know that familiar faces will show up. Who's, you may ask? You'll just have wait and see.
Chapter 10: First Steps
"Hey, wake up."
Klenon's eyes slowly opened. The moonlight shining from the sky left a white glow on the hill. He turned his head and smiled. Kasumi was resting her head against his shoulder. Her dark eyes stared up at him.
"Hey, how long was I out?" he asked in a low voice.
"About thirty minutes."
Klenon groaned. He was out far longer than he planned to be, but for obvious reasons he didn't want to move an inch. From looking at Kasumi's comfortable position, he had to guess she didn't either. "A perfect end to a perfect day, huh?"
"Absolutely, but I should probably get you back home. Don't want to break your curfew after all." Kasumi teased him. Klenon chuckled. As much as they wanted to stay there, she had a point. Kasumi reluctantly got up to her feet and held out her hand. Klenon took it and Kasumi pulled him up. The soft crunching of dirt beneath their feet rippled through the air.
A cool rush of wind flew past them. The tree's leaves rustled, joining the wind in a flowing dance of nature. Klenon felt a ball of warmth grow in his chest despite the chilling cold. Tonight was going to hold a special place in his heart. The euphoric high of giving and receiving affection from Kasumi was something he had never felt before. He genuinely felt like he belonged with her. But the good feelings dampened when he remembered what would happen tomorrow. Klenon scanned the rich landscape. If there was ever a good time to say their goodbyes, he figured now would be the time to do it.
"Kasumi, I-I want to let you know that…"
Kasumi whipped around and playfully nudged his shoulder, "If this is supposed to be our last goodbye tiger, let's save it for the morning."
"Why? I thought that it would be better to get it out of the way now, save ourselves the trouble; not to mention the awkwardness between us and my parents." Klenon muttered. Kasumi stopped in her tracks.
Putting a hand on his chest, she said, "I know, but I want to be there when you take off. I think that would be the best time to say our goodbyes."
Klenon stared at her thoughtfully. He was touched that she would get up that early for him. But considering the last few minutes, he shouldn't have been surprised. They were only a stone's throw away from being an actual couple. He gave her a nod before saying, "Can you make it that early in the morning? It's pretty early."
Kasumi removed her hand. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Klenon let a small smile play across his lips. He could swear that his heart was skipping in his chest. "Still, can I at least say that I owe everything to you? Really, I wouldn't have gotten this far on my own. I don't think I have it in me."
"You're better than you think, believe me. I only pushed you out the door; you showed yourself where to go." Kasumi replied. Once they reached the base of the hill, Kasumi turned to Klenon, a lock of her hair flew in a graceful dance against the wind. "And I have to say, you do know how to show yourself around."
"Yeah, maybe. I guess we'll find out once I leave. I don't know anything about…out there." Klenon said, pointing up at the sky.
"It's not much different than down here; just a few different faces and cultures. It's nothing you can't handle." Kasumi said. They continued to make their way back to the colony. The music that echoed through the streets of Cuervo had stopped and Klenon could see a few couples leaving the party.
"Well tonight was nice. I don't think I could have had more fun at home. So uh…thanks." Klenon said as they neared his home. He was grateful to see all of the lights turned off inside. No doubt his mother would have thrown a fit if she caught him coming home this late. Klenon stopped just short of the front door and turned to Kasumi.
"So…I'll see you in the morning then?" he said shyly. Kasumi responded by wrapping her arms around him.
Klenon returned the gesture and sighed. He was going to miss these talks. They were one of the few times of the day where Klenon could express himself to someone else. Sure his parents were always there for him, but when he was with Kasumi, he felt like he could truly tell her anything without worry. The past few hours were evidence enough to let Klenon know that they'd always have each other for support.
Klenon pulled himself away from her and took a step inside. Before he closed the door behind him, he looked at Kasumi one last time. "Goodnight."
Klenon shut the door, leaving him in pitch-black darkness. Klenon heaved another weary sigh and leaned his head against the door, shutting his eyes. He had less than ten hours before he left the only home he ever knew. Pushing himself away from the door, Klenon quietly made his way to his room and collapsed on his bed. He stared at the nightstand next to him and dug into his pocket. Without taking his eyes off the stand, he held out the paper crane and dropped it on the nightstand. He turned so that he was lying on his back and looked around his room.
He didn't have much in the way of decoration. A colorful tapestry that his mother brought with her to Cuervo was the only thing hanging from the walls. Three pins sat against the wall to his right. It was what Klenon practiced on to sharpen his biotic skills. An old baseball sat on his nightstand along with his crane. He and his dad would sometimes pass the ball to each other when he was younger.
Overall, his room was bare and most would think it was uninteresting but it was home, his little slice of paradise. Klenon turned onto his back and closed his eyes. He needed as much sleep as he could get. Tomorrow was going to be a momentous occasion for sure. He was leaving the nest to explore the world around it. It made him excited, anxious, and nervous all at the same time. Whatever the galaxy had to offer was waiting for him out there; he wouldn't be late to see it.
Oddly, Klenon didn't feel any desire to stay in bed once morning arrived. He didn't try to take another few minutes to enjoy his bed one last time. Instead, he got up and entered the living room. His feet came to a stop when he saw his parents packing up the rest of his things. There was no breakfast this morning, this was going to be the last time he'd be with his parents for a very long time. Michael zipped up Klenon's duffle bag and looked up. A proud smile crossed his face. Wrinkles creased around his eyes and cheeks, emphasizing the years that have passed. Pranae looked up and immediately pulled Klenon into a motherly embrace. Quiet sniffles could be heard from her as she held him tightly.
"You ready, pal?" Michael asked as he patted his son on the shoulder.
"As ready as I'll ever be." Klenon replied. Pranae pulled away from her son while Michael handed him his duffle bag. Together, as a family, they left their apartment. The early morning sun greeted them as they walked. The shuttle terminals were downtown but Klenon could already see a few ships lifting off. The closer they got to shuttle port, the more visibly anxious Pranae looked. She placed a protective hand on Klenon's shoulder as they walked. Every step Klenon took made his heart beat a little faster. Nothing could really prepare him for his date with destiny.
Once the shuttle port was in sight, Klenon froze. Other soldiers were around the shuttle he would leave on, saying their last goodbyes to their friends and families. All around him were other people feeling the exact same way he was. Fear, worry, and unease showed itself in all colors. Klenon was fortunate to be able to hide behind his mask. He had no problem hiding what he felt.
Klenon quickly found his shuttle and came to a sudden halt. Once they reached the stairs that led up to the shuttle, Klenon's parents turned to him. Sadness and pride filled their hearts. Michael patted his son on the shoulder again.
"Well, this is it, pal. You're going out on your own, but I know you can make it out there if anyone can." He said. He hesitated before adding, "I know I've said this plenty of times before, but…I love you, son. I couldn't love you any more if you were biologically mine. Heh, I can hardly believe how much you've grown. I watched you grow up from a baby in my arms to an upstanding, intelligent man. Like father like son, huh?"
"Dad…" Klenon muttered. His voice cracked. His throat tightened into a vise grip. It almost made it difficult to breathe. Michael said nothing but pulled him into a loving bear hug that Klenon returned without hesitation. A single tear ran down his cheek, but he couldn't help but smile.
"You don't have to say anything, Klenon. You're the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I swear that I wouldn't trade this for anything else in the galaxy." His father said sincerely. He held Klenon in arm's length and chuckled. "And your mother told me about you and Kasumi. I have to admit that I didn't expect it to happen. Just chalk it up as something else you've done to make me proud of you."
"Thanks, dad. It…it means a lot." Klenon said, his voice cracked with every word.
"Don't mention it, pal. Just…be safe, okay? Be careful. I don't need to tell you that we want you to come back home, safe and sound." Michael said. He heaved a shaky sigh and patted him on the back one more time before letting go.
Pranae walked up to his side and wrapped her arms around him, holding him in a tighter hug than his father, "I can't believe that my son is finally going off on his own. It seems like only yesterday that you were born. Keelah, how much time has passed. My little boy isn't so little now, is he?"
Klenon didn't bother holding back his tears. He let them flow freely as he listened to his mother. She took his hand in hers and massaged it lightly, "Please, please take care of yourself, Klenon. I can't afford to lose you after everything that's happened."
Klenon could feel more tears fall. He almost couldn't bear letting her go. He almost couldn't bear letting either of them go. The only solace he could find was that he was leaving only to help them. Still, leaving now didn't feel right. There was still one last goodbye he had to give, "I know, mom. I promise you that I'll come back."
Klenon could hear footsteps approaching him from behind. He didn't have to turn to know who it was. Deep down, he knew she'd come through.
"I'm sure you'll want to save time for her. Don't let me keep you." His mother whispered in his ear before breaking away. Klenon swallowed a big gulp of air to soothe his anxiety before turning to Kasumi. She had changed back to her casual clothes but Klenon was surprised to see the purple lipstick on her lower lip.
"Kept the lipstick?" Klenon asked as he came closer.
"Thought it looked nice. And my mother is always going on and on about prettying myself up a little." She said with a slight smile. It quickly disappeared when she lowered her head. "So…this is it, huh?"
Klenon paused and lowered his head too. Every word that came out of his mouth was accompanied with a sharp pang of gloom, "Yeah. It is."
Kasumi sighed and looked back up to him. For the first time in his life, Klenon could see a tear of her own threaten to fall. It only made him regret putting her through this.
"Stay safe, Klenon. I don't want to lose you." She whispered to him. Klenon nodded and wringed his hands.
"I will. I promise." He said to her. Kasumi held out her arms and the two came together in a warm embrace. Klenon tried to savor it as much as he could. He wasn't going to be able to feel this way for a long time; he had to remember every little detail to help him get through the hard times. Whenever he felt troubled or terrified, he had to remember what was waiting for him and remember the little thigns like this.
"Do you remember when we first met?" Kasumi asked him in a tone low enough so that only he could hear.
"Yes. You told me why I couldn't get out of my bubble. You said that you'd be my friend." Klenon recalled.
"Yes, and after all these years, I've never forgotten." Kasumi answered him. Klenon let her go and gave a small smile.
"You were always my only friend. Somebody I could hold onto whenever I needed. I can't thank you enough for that. Sure, I'm a little worried that we aren't going to see each other for a while, but I feel like after everything we've been through together I can take care of myself better than I could without you." Klenon said warmly. "So uh…thanks again."
Kasumi cracked a small grin. She gave him another hug and rested her head against his shoulder, "I don't suppose that you can still spare some time for me, huh?"
"I'll do whatever I have to, to spend time with you. I'm sure they don't mind if I message you, but I promise you that we'll keep in touch somehow. I just hope that you stay safe too." Klenon replied. Kasumi gave him a light squeeze before letting him go.
"Don't worry. I will. And I hope you're right. Things wouldn't be the same otherwise." She said. Her grin faded as she lowered her head. "Well… I shouldn't keep you. You have a shuttle to catch."
Klenon looked back at the massive shuttle. It was unlike anything he had seen before. The main cabin looked like it could hold more than a hundred people. The Alliance logo was stamped on every side of the ship and the hull was painted a deep blue. Some recruits were already boarding while waving farewell to their loved ones. Klenon could see the tears falling from their eyes as they entered the shuttle.
Klenon felt a large hand rest on his shoulder followed by a slender one on the other, then a familiar one around his hand. Something slipped from Kasumi's palm to his and she closed his fingers around it before pulling her hand away.
"Go on, pal. Take care." His father said to him. Klenon picked up his bag without looking away from the shuttle and took one shaky step after another. He could feel their hands slipping away from him with every step until they were completely gone. Nothing was left to guide him in the right direction. Every step he took from now on would be his own. The closer he got to the stairs that led up to the airlock, the more his heart begged him to rethink things. But his brain told him he had to. He knew why he was going, he knew that this could be the last time he'd touch Cuervo soil, but it didn't matter. He had one goal, one purpose in his life now. He wasn't going to let his feelings get in the way of it.
As he climbed the stairs, he gave himself one last chance to look back. His parents stood side by side, holding onto each other for support just like they did for him. His father looked up at him, managing a proud smile through his lone tear. His mother, though her face was hidden, still showed her immense love and compassion. Kasumi stood still. Her arms were crossed but her smirk still shined.
Klenon gave them one last wave goodbye before he found himself inside the ship's cabin. The calming blue lights did nothing to steady his furiously beating heart. Klenon took a deep breath to steady himself and looked up and down the aisles. There were some people that looked about as nervous as him. Others looked more relaxed, as if they had done this plenty of times before.
Klenon felt uncomfortable when he noticed how many people were giving him curious looks. He tried his best to shove it aside while looking for his seat. Following the small plaques above the rows of seats, he eventually found his spot in the very back of the shuttle.
How fitting. He mused. Shifting his way into the aisle, he collapsed into the soft chair. Klenon heard the quiet crinkle sound coming from his palm as he did. He looked down and opened his palm. There in his hand lay the crane Kasumi had given him. Part of him wondered how she was able to get it but he really didn't care. It was enough for him to know that he'd be in her thoughts.
With a content smile, Klenon carefully placed the crane in his bag. He leaned his head back against the cushion and glanced outside the small window next to him. His family still stood there, watching as the rest of the passengers climbed inside. Small conversations began popping up inside the shuttle. Klenon, however, stayed silent, satisfied enough with just looking out the window. His bright, white eyes fell on Kasumi one last time.
She looked beautiful in the rising sunlight. A lock of her hair glided with elegance in the subtle winds just like last night. Klenon absently raised his hand and pressed it against the glass.
"Take care of yourself." He whispered. The shuttle suddenly shook, knocking him out of his trance. He could feel his entire body being elevated as the landing pad grew smaller and smaller. The whole ship thrummed with energy like a giant waking from its slumber. Klenon could feel the power of the ship's drive core humming beneath him. The floor vibrated as the hulking metal beast climbed into the sky.
"This is your pilot speaking; we are on our way to the colony of Amaterasu. How are y'all doing today?" the pilot asked with enthusiasm. Cheers and whoops erupted from the cabin. The humans' eagerness forced a chuckle out of Klenon. He had to admit that humans had a sort of charm in their spirit.
"Alright, now it'll take a few minutes before we hit the system's mass relay. So everyone enjoy the smooth sailing."
Mass relay? What was that? Klenon had never heard of it and nobody ever brought up anything about a mass relay. Klenon was ripped out of his thoughts when he noticed the cabin getting darker. Klenon looked back at the window and gasped when he saw the warm sunlight slowly fade to black. The familiar stars that he observed back on the surface started popping up all over the empty vacuum of space. Klenon placed a finger on the glass and felt a cool sensation wrap around the end of his finger.
He pulled away and stared at his finger as if something was stuck on it. Klenon shrugged and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes to try to get some rest. His mind was all too keen to oblige.
A sudden and furious humming tore Klenon away from his nap. A blinding blue glow filled the cabin. Klenon's heart leapt to his throat. He could barely make out other people covering their eyes. For a moment he thought something terrible was happening. It was only after the engine began the hum to life was he able to let his guard down.
Then without warning, the ship was suddenly catapulted forward. Klenon could feel the jolt of energy pass through him as the ship sailed at an unbelievable speed. The energy soon died down and Klenon was able to relax. Whatever just happened, Klenon had to guess they used that mass relay the pilot as talking about.
Klenon's body stayed rigid. He didn't want to be surprised by another unexpected jolt. After what seemed like an eternity of him sitting still, he eased himself back into his chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the flurry of colors zipping by. Blue, red, and purple rays rocketed passed him.
The vibrant colors were oddly relaxing to him. Resting his arms on the armrests of his chair, Klenon stared blankly out into space. He could feel his eyelids drooping again and welcomed the coming sleep. Within seconds, his eyes closed completely and he drifted to sleep.
Kasumi relaxed into her shuttle seat. Next to her Keiji shifted in his seat to find a comfortable spot. It had been two hours since Klenon's shuttle left. Once the shuttle was out of sight, Kasumi went back home to prepare for her own departure. She and Keiji were on their way to the Citadel to go on their own adventure.
"So, got any idea of where to go once we set foot?" Keiji asked.
"Of course. It's me, remember?" she replied with a grin. She opened her omni-tool and pressed a few keys. A small menu popped up, displaying a holographic image of the massive space station.
"Wow. It's much bigger than I expected." Keiji said as he gazed at the picture.
"Yup. Those five arms are the wards and the presidium is that middle ring that holds them all together. My guess is that all the action happens on the arms. That's where we'll go first." Kasumi said while pointing at the various areas of the space station.
"Sounds good." Keiji said. Kasumi shut off her omni-tool and stared out her own window to her right. She couldn't help but let her mind wander back to Klenon. She thought back at the promises they made to each other and whether they would really be able to keep them. She knew that she'd always make the time for him. The only thing that worried her was whether he'd be able to do the same.
"So how'd things go between you and Klenon?" Keiji suddenly asked. Kasumi turned to look at him and forced a small smile.
"As well as one would hope." She told him. Her eyes casted downwards. She really didn't want to think too much about what would happen with him in the following months.
Keiji, sensing her troubled state, said, "Don't worry about it, I'm sure he'll be fine."
Kasumi reached into her pocket and pulled out an OSD. She twirled it expertly between her agile fingers, deep in thought. The best she could hope for was that he'd be fine. The frustrating part was that, that was all she could do.
The OSD flipped into the air and Kasumi snatched it in her palm. She shouldn't have been thinking like that. She knew that Klenon was able to take care of himself. Deep down, she had faith that Klenon was smart enough to survive.
The shuttle rocked back and forth, signaling to both of them that they were about to take off. Kasumi put the OSD back into her pocket. Like her best friend, she was leaving her home planet and going off to bigger and better things. With Keiji by her side she was confident that they would make a mark on the galaxy, whether the galaxy would know who did it or not.
Untia finished the rest of her Thessian wine and dropped the glass on her desk. A batarian followed behind her, wearing heavy, black armor. A scar ran down the right side of his face, a sharp contrast from his dark skin.
"Tell me Kahan, how is it that you can continually fail to disappoint me?" Untia asked. It was clear in her tone that she was not amused.
"Initial reports were inaccurate, mistress. Hegemony support is too scattered to be of any use to us." Kahan defended. Untia sat back in her chair, the blank expression on her face never changing.
"Kahan, you should know by now that I don't accept excuses, only results." She scolded. Kahan rubbed the back of his head and the top row of his eyes blinked rapidly.
"I understand, mistress. Forgive me. Though if I may, my associates and I have an alternate course of action that can be executed; with your permission of course." Kahan said while tilting his head to the left, a gesture of respect among his people. Untia crossed her legs and arced her brow.
"Out with it, then. This better be good." She said.
"Of course, mistress. You won't be disappointed." Kahan assured her. His omni-tool lit up and he pressed a finger against its orange interface.
"Our mole in the Alliance has the files of over a thousand of their recruits with more to come. These humans are healthy, fit; the best humanity has to offer and prime test subjects for the project. In war, people are taken prisoner with every battle. I will be able to capture a substantial amount of prisoners. More lab rats for us mean more results for the project." Kahan said with a conceited sneer. Untia sat back against the leather cushion with a skeptical look fixed on her face.
"And how do you suppose you'll start a war? You have no troops. Certainly you haven't overlooked that part." She said. Although she didn't say it, her tone warned Kahan about the consequences of forgetting that important detail.
"I have a plan, mistress. Over recent years, the Alliance has been stretching itself thin in protecting their colonies. Their military can't keep up with their colonization efforts. Prime targets for assault. Most of their outposts and colonies on the edge of the Skyllian Verge are lightly-manned but ripe with supplies and credits. A certain group of criminals can't resist that kind of haul." Kahan said with a clever grin. Untia stayed silent before doing the same.
"Pirates." She said.
"Yes. We'll start small, but as we accomplish more and haul in more loot, we'll become a sizable threat to the Alliance and destabilize them while taking their soldiers for our own benefit." He finished. Untia unfolded her legs and tapped a button on the armrest of her chair.
"Impressive, Kahan. Your plan shows promise. I'll supply whatever you need to start, but after that you're on your own." She said. Kahan bowed to her, pleased to have her approval.
"Yes, mistress. I will be able to take things from there."
The door to her room opened and a dark humanoid figure walked in. Untia pressed another button on her armrest and multiple graphs and maps spread around her, "You are dismissed."
Kahan gave her one last bow and showed himself out. As he moved towards the exit, he passed by Untia's visitor. She stared straight ahead, not even casting a quick glance to him as they passed. Kahan just snorted, thinking it was just another one of her lackeys.
Untia continued to stare at the holograms until she heard the door close. The room lay silent; only the quick footsteps of her protégé could be heard. Her dark presence soon stood by her side. "The mole has proven to be very useful. In due time, we'll know more about the Alliance than they themselves do."
"What do you need?" Minerva asked bluntly. Her every word came out synthesized by her helmet. Untia grinned at her enthusiasm.
"I'm setting up a meeting with our friend in the Alliance. He's going to have a document about their new recruits on him. Retrieve it and bring it to me." Untia ordered. Minerva nodded and flexed her fingers, she always felt restless in the beginning of her assignments. There was usually only one way to relieve it.
"None. You're meeting him in a secluded location. But of course, I'm not saying you should go unarmed." Untia said. Minerva said nothing. The small red lenses that circled her left eye shifted their positions with a quiet, whirring noise.
"I'll leave as soon as I can." She finally said. She turned on her heels and left Untia alone. The old asari held out her deep blue hand and ushered a hologram closer. The galaxy floated proudly before her, a marvel of the universe that boasted so much life. Her fingers flew around the image, each digit making a chirping sound as she touched the picture. Soon a single planet materialized before her. White clouds swirled around a blue planet. The planet was famous in council space, a perfect harmony of land and sea, an Alpine Paradise, the Gem of Humanity. The planet went by many names, both human and alien. Untia, however, preferred to call it by its given name.