I'm alive. I quite honestly thought I wouldn't be, after all that.
I sit back in the cafe, beside a park in Nos Cthon. I'm not going back to Nos Astra. I can't face the sights; can't face the sounds. That's what I always say, and I fully expect that I'll end up being pulled back there in a few months, when I get bored, or when people stop wanting me around here. I've always found it's better to leave before you get kicked out. But for now, there is sunlight, and there is quiet.
I've picked up a room for cheap in the Dominaruyan quarter. It's close to the bars, and sometimes I sit at the tables outside, under the cool green shade of the plants. I've always found vegetation to be reassuring, and back in Nos Astra people sometimes forget that. I had a wonderful collection of plants in my office, enough that Erzala used to complain it was walking into a jungle. I liked my plants.
Well, they're gone now. Erzala and the plants alike.
The barman, a bitter-faced turian brings me another drink. She's indentured, I can tell, but I don't care. I did idly consider what had led her to this place in life, but I couldn't bring myself to find out. For now, I revel in ignorance, take joy in knowinglessness. I wave her away, with no tip. She took too long to bring it. The drink is sweet, and tastes of amony and alcohol, but there's some bitter yellow fruit sliced into it. The board said it was the house special. It's not bad. Good enough to down, at least.
I shudder as the chemicals hit my brain, and sigh.
Nos Cthon is smaller than Nos Astra, and rather more polar. It's summer now, so the only difference is that it isn't quite as intolerably hot as Nos Astra can get, but in the winter, there is snow and there is skiing. It's a company city, through and through, on this coast of limestone and chalk. I've been out hiking; and there are birds living in the caves that riddle this place. Some of them have lost flight entirely, their wings becoming forelimbs, that they use to clamber around the caves. They're almost becoming like my very, very distant ancestors, back in the forests of Thessia.
And despite this being away from the too-tight, too-close urban rises of Nos Astra, I can still see it. Now my eyes have been opened, it's hard to miss. The horror of realisation and the realisation of horror is everywhere. Beside me, in the part, children play. They look to be in first decade, running around without a care in the world. The mother of one plays with her daughter, throwing a ball to her; the daughter catches it, and throws it back. The daughter misses one, and the ball rolls away, down a slope. She chases it for a bit, sprinting for all she's worth, and then gives up. She can't be bothered to chase it that far. It's not fun anymore.
A turian child would have chased it all the way down the slope. So would a quarian child, or a human child. A batarian child wouldn't have, however.
The streets are wide and open, boulevards heavy with trees, and between the towers floral walkways blossom like flower-covered branches. The silent hum of aerocars is a background noise as I light up my cigarette, and take a deep drag, blowing green-tinted smoke up. Through the haze, I can see the cars flocking together, the smaller city and more lax civil authorities letting the fliers find their own ways around. There is spontaneous order in these patterns; they flock, they swarm, moving together in convoys which peel off as they reach their destinations, like a destrier and her young. None of them know they're doing it, of course. It's just the way that the permitted airspaces guide them, and their navigation systems recommend it to be done. Any of them could pull right up and fly away, fly free. They mostly don't. There's safety in numbers. Safety in groups. And when one does just break away, fly for themselves, I can guess that they're not asari, turian, human, salarian or quarian, or even a krogan who isn't being a young macho idiot. Even vorcha flock like birds when put behind the wheel of an aerocar.
You know who doesn't?
Sociopaths who haven't learned to hide themselves. I once solved a case and that was one of the clues the psyche-analysis VI picked up on which clued me into the culprit. Funny, isn't it? The rule-breaking outsiders who cut through the red-tape are usually fucked in the head. Not really much of a surprise, is it? The descriptions of the mythological heroes of societies and the champions of legend give pretty interesting results when checked on one of those VIs. When we look at how those are the traits that societies claim to value, and yet condemn, it's all a fucking joke. Look at the turians – and while you're at it, look at humans too, who are basically just turians who look like pink-brown asari when it comes down to the way they think – and look at their cultural heroes. They're both barely civilised as it is, and the worst bit is I know that when I say that, that's just the cultural context produced by asari history and biology talking to me.
It's all a fucking joke. Just as funny as the claim that your median asari has any chance of seeing her Matron stage. You think it's a coincidence we're socially and biologically encouraged to be risk-takers when we're Maidens?
I down the next drink as soon as it comes. I think I could grow to like it. Yeah. Get drunk here, space out the drinks until nightfall so I stay conscious, and then hit the nightclubs. Pick someone up who doesn't even ask my name, and who won't even want to ring me the morning after. That'd feel good. I know it's the drinks whispering that to me, and I'm just missing having my pets around. They burned, along with my office. At the moment, I don't really care. I just want to get drunk, get high and find someone to brain-fuck. And it's not even midday yet.
Because when I'm like that, when the buzzing mix of elements from zero up to... something in the double digits... yeah, when that structure of stuff in my skull isn't thinking properly, the recollections of things I've seen don't paint themselves across my closed eyelids.
I loll back on my seat slightly, and exhale another cloud of smoke, tapping the ash off the cigarette. When I close my eyes, I can see those tanks, the blue-skinned zygotes within flapping their fish-like protolimbs. I can hear the calls in the forest, and my heart beating in my ears like a drum. The silence of the alcoves envelops me; the quiet of being deafened. The first time I met that woman, sleek and black-clad and oh-so-beautiful, and the recognition that she was trouble. The failure to recognise just what kind of trouble she was. Erzala screams, and fire envelops us – I can see it in the embers of my cigarette, even as I shudder and take another drag. And above all, I can see it in the map of my omnitool. Because there, I can see the way the corporations spread and grow, their daughter-colonies owned by the daughters of the founder, the links and ties of the mothers and daughters who are as closely related to their own sisters as they are to their own children. I've had my eyes opened to the incentives of life itself in the roughest way, and they're as pitiless and as cruel as anyone I've met.
It's funny, really. I'm – I am? I was? – a private investigator, paid to find out truths that at least one other person didn't want me to know. But these things that I didn't want to know, these undesired truths which got Erzala killed were set in motion by a family gathering. And I wasn't even paid for finding them.