A Matter of Race and Character
Engineer Daniels Quarters, Anapondus, Gellix – 19:55 UTC – 3rd February 2183 CE
Not for the first time during this exchange, Gabby wished she'd packed an evening dress.
Something long, red and backless, like that asari number she'd bought on the Citadel to treat herself. Not that she'd have been able to wear it now, of course – the whole base was still too cold for that – but it would have been nice to have something in her closet a little more glamorous than her dress blues.
Gabby stood before the full-length mirror in her room, casting a critical eye over her appearance. The Alliance uniform was a double-breasted navy blue jacket over blue trousers, lined with gold trim and a high collar framed by her dark red shoulder-length bob cut. It had wide epaulettes on both shoulders and tapering leather suppressors at the waist that hugged her figure. She gazed at her reflection and allowed herself an approving smile. It's no evening gown, but it'll do, she decided, wondering what the turians would think of it. The fact turians had a militaristic culture meant that the soldiers in the base would probably appreciate her full dress uniform. But she was a little nervous. She'd never been to a turian party before and wondered what to expect. She exhaled somewhat unsteadily, her breath condensing in the chill air. Despite the cold, she was quite warm. The two layers of thermals she had under her uniform certainly helped. Gabby fiddled absent-mindedly with the jacket's gold chain clasp on her left breast before taking another deep breath and then exiting the cabin.
Erata was waiting in the corridor. The asari's face lit up when she saw Gabby; the dark tribal-like facial markings around her eyes wrinkling in delight and blending subtly with her teal blue skin. She was wearing a simple white full-length dress with long sleeves and no apparent adornments, yet, somehow, she still managed to make the conservative dress look effortlessly glamorous.
"You look very stylish," Gabby said.
"Just something I tossed into my kit-bag," Erata replied modestly. She fidgeted with her collar. "But it's a lot more comfortable when I'm not wearing long johns underneath!"
"Same here," Gabby answered, indicating her uniform.
"You clean up very nicely." Erata glanced admiringly at Gabby's waist. "Who knew there was such an attractive figure under all that armour? You should show it off more often."
Suddenly very self-conscious under Erata's scrutiny, Gabby coughed into her hand and shifted uncomfortably. Luckily, Pella chose that moment to emerge from her cabin. The turian had changed out of her Thermal Armour and was clad in what appeared to be a functional, but surprisingly elegant, short-sleeved black wrap-over dress with a high split in the front over thick black leggings. She was wearing long gloves that swept up to her elbow, and a large belt emphasized her slim waist. The whole ensemble was topped off with a high and wide collar accentuating her neck ridge. From her brief time on Arcadias, Gabby had come to appreciate that turian women were physically different from human women – They were flat-chested, with no bust to speak of, but Pella now seemed to have gained some significant enhancement on her chest.
"What are you wearing?" Gabby asked.
"My formal wear," Pella explained, adjusting the belt around her waist. "It's double-breasted. What? Don't you like it?"
"It's very nice," Gabby admitted. "But… it does make you look like you've got boobs."
"Well, yeah, that's the point," Pella replied as if it was obvious.
"I don't follow. Why would you want that?"
"It's power dressing," Erata stated.
Gabby frowned in confusion "What do you mean?"
Pella smiled and nodded at Erata. "Well, asari are the most powerful race in the Galaxy, this style is trending their physique." Gabby shrugged, still not quite getting the idea. Pella gestured to her new dress in an attempt to spell it out. "It's well known that you don't mess with either asari commandos or the asari Matriarchs, and they're this basic shape, so you walk into a room wearing this dress and everyone knows you mean business and won't take any crap! You know, power dressing."
"Oh, right! So, a bit like wearing kilts or something?"
"No, in human terms it's more like wearing a shoulder padded suit," Erata clarified. Gabby nodded in understanding.
"Plus the asari and salarians seem to like it…" Pella added. She reached up and adjusted the 'padding' on her chest. Gabby found she was following the turian's hands with horrified fascination. "And some humans like it, too, I've noticed. When I wore it on the Citadel last I got quite a few admiring looks from human men and women directed my way, I can tell you. One human even bought me a drink! He was quite friendly. Though, he did seem to spend most of our conversation staring at my chest!"
"You don't say?" Gabby stated wryly.
"This is the latest style, very popular in the Wards. But it doesn't work so well when turian men wear it – They tend to get funny looks – Somehow it just looks wrong on them."
"The mind boggles!"
"We can discuss turian sartorial trends later," Erata interrupted. "We have a function to attend."
Erata and Pella led the way down to the mess hall, while Gabby trailed behind, trying to shake the mental image of turian men with breasts!
Gabby was mingling.
She'd been told by Commander Joric to introduce herself to the other Gellix officers, so she was circulating; walking around the various groups in the mess hall and trying to start conversations with the crew. So far she'd shaken hands with several dozen crewmembers, bowed stiffly to the higher ranking officers, exchanged pleasantries with a few of the women (most of whom were also wearing similar versions of Pella's dress), and, in one memorable incident, been accidently head-butted by the overexcited Liaison Officer, Jerash.
After their chaotic mission to New Veles, Commander Joric – in an effort to keep the visiting team of engineers alive – had decided that Gabby, Pella and Erata should be accompanied by a security squad at all times. As a result, the trio had to get to know their new support crew. At the moment, Gabby was wandering between the groups of turians, trying to remember the names of people she'd met while nursing a lingering headache and gently massaging the red mark on her brow. She was sure it was going to come out in a lump. Turians heads are hard! she grumbled to herself. Well, the 'Rash's' certainly is!
Spotting Pella sitting alone on the other side of the room, Gabby quickly wandered over and sat next to her at the table.
Pella's eyes flicked up at Gabby's forehead; her mandibles twitched with amusement as she caught sight of the red mark, and she leaned in close. "Jerash?" she asked. Gabby nodded resignedly. "She did the same to me." Pella rubbed her brow. "Clocked me one right on the fringe! I think our Liaison Officer is a tad over-affectionate."
"Your bump doesn't show so much," Gabby protested.
"Still hurts, though! She's a little odd that one." Pella nodded towards Jerash who was apologising to the male soldier she'd just head-butted. "I'm not sure she knows how to show restraint. But could be worse, I suppose. Imagine what she'd do if she really liked you! I pity anyone who sleeps with her. They'd have a permanent concussion!"
"Well, at least we seem to be making friends," gabby said.
"Not as much as our asari team-mate." Pella indicated Erata surrounded by half-a-dozen turian men. Most of them were still wearing their blue and yellow armour, but one stood out. A tall crewman in blue and white colours – which looked like a turian version of Gabby's Explorer Armour – was laughing enthusiastically beside Erata. "Especially that barefaced poseur in the shiny suit. Look at him, fawning over her, trying to get in her pants! He's so brazen!"
"He could be genuine? Maybe he's just being friendly and isn't a shameless flirt?"
"Yeah, and maybe I'm Primarch of Palaven!" Pella scowled; the blue colony markings on her brow fringe creasing together as she glowered at the group. She shook her head and turned back to Gabby. "Is this your first exchange working with other races?"
"No, I've worked with a few salarian physicists before now, and did a six week stint with a krogan engineer on the SSV Perugia."
"A krogan?" Pella exclaimed. "On an Alliance ship? I didn't even know they were allowed on Alliance ships! He wasn't staying in the crew quarters, was he?"
"He couldn't very well stay in the cargo hold."
"It's where I'd have put him," Pella muttered. "That must have been difficult for you, sharing the crew deck with a krogan. Weren't you nervous?"
"At first, sure. We'd only heard stories about krogan; never actually met one before. We didn't know what to expect. Our CO warned us to be on our guard for aggressive behaviour, so… that put our minds at ease!
"Actually, Chaill turned out to be the complete opposite of what we'd feared. First thing that came out of his mouth was a joke about a hanar and a volus." Gabby smiled at the memory. "He's a good laugh. And surprisingly light on his feet. He really helped us relax. We eventually became good friends. And, yeah, he knows exactly what the rest of the galaxy thinks about krogan – Even said he could relate to our anxiety."
"Relate?" Pella repeated with a hint of scepticism. "What, he didn't like sharing with krogan, either?"
Gabby shook her head. "He said that the majority of krogan he'd met were a bunch of selfish jerks who spent too much time wielding a gun and not enough wielding a hammer!"
"An anti-krogan krogan," Pella snorted grudgingly. "He may start to grow on me."
The pair looked up as Erata and her enthusiastic entourage approached their table.
"Looks like the networking is going well?" Gabby observed.
"Everyone's very friendly," Erata replied with glee.
"Especially with you," Pella muttered quietly.
Erata gestured to the turian in blue and white armour standing next to her. "Khoris here was just telling me about the time his obituary was published on the extranet. He was working undercover with an army of slaver pirates and he had to pretend to have been KIA and lie low for a full solar year while evidence against the slaver's leader was assembled by the Council."
"That's unusual. Were they turian pirates?" Gabby asked.
"No, the leader was asari, in fact," Khoris explained. "It's a sensitive case because the slaver's sister is a prominent diplomat on the Citadel."
"One of Nassana Dantius' sisters!" Erata blurted out. "Always thought the Dantius family was a bit shady." Erata placed her hand on Khoris' arm. "He had quite the hero's welcome from three female Havoc Shock Troopers when he came out of hiding, apparently."
Pella glared at the turian grinning coyly next to Erata. "Is that so? I know someone on my ship who's into that kind of thing; he's a narcissist, too."
Khoris held up his hands. "Guilty as charged," he admitted. "I've been told I love myself too much. Got to share the love around occasionally."
"I think you're overestimating how much people are interested in you," Pella replied scathingly. "Though, may I just say, you are rockin' that armour!" She gave his suit an approving once-over.
Khoris preened with delight. "Thank you. It's by Devlon Industries; from chief designer Lui'is Vuittani's latest collection. I just polished it."
"Does it come in men's sizes?" Pella asked innocently.
The next morning, after showering and changing into her Explorer Armour, Gabby wandered down to the mess hall and was surprised to be greeted by a troop of her own personal bodyguards. They were soon joined by Pella and Erata, and, following a brisk breakfast, the trio were escorted down to the Garage for the morning's de-briefing.
The Garage doors opened into the large hanger-like area to reveal possibly the most bustling flurry of movement Gabby had ever witnessed. It was like Grand Central Station. Several hundred tonnes of pre-fabricated buildings were being lifted by crane onto large multi-wheeled transporters. Armies of mechanics scurried about like ants around the vast hall, while armed commanding officers barked out orders to sappers. There were so many armed personnel roaming about that it looked like the base had been put on a war footing!
Commander Joric formally greeted the three engineers and the group was escorted to an overhanging balcony at the front of the Garage. Joric stood overlooking the turian workers and barked out an order to her troops. The whole room immediately fell silent as the battalion turned to face her; the soldiers and engineers quickly forming up into neat rows.
Say what you like about militaristic cultures, Gabby thought, but turians are damned well organised!
"Gellix Company, atten-shun!" Joric yelled. As one the turians snapped their heels together, standing ramrod straight. "Your assignment today is the regeneration of the ancient settlement of Dhazig. As most of you will know, we have some new faces joining our happy company." She gestured to Erata. "Firstly, I present Order of Serrice Engineer Erata D'Ceni from the Asari Republic – De facto senior officer and our civil engineering expert. Any queries you have about the pre-fabs she will happily answer."
"Well, I'm not sure about 'happily'," Erata murmured.
The Commander nodded at Pella. "Secondly, our colleague from Arcadias, Artificer First Class Pella Vettiill, is the resident authority on all electromechanical systems. Her knowledge is considerable, so I want all sappers to take the opportunity to learn from her."
Joric then pointed at Gabby. "And finally, to further promote reconciliation between our two races, I am honoured to welcome Alliance Engineer Gabriella Daniels to our crew. She is the energy and power systems specialist. Approach her with any queries relating to the operation of the mass effect cores.
"Your orders are to keep these three engineers safe and obey all of their instructions as if they were my own. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, sir!" the entire company boomed in response.
"Very good. Make me proud, troopers. Carry on."
Saluting, Joric turned and walked back to the exit, leaving the three engineers under the quiet scrutiny of the entire battalion. The three women stared down apprehensively at the rows of turian faces.
"Wow!" Erata exclaimed in a hushed tone. "A whole legion to do my bidding. And it's not even my birthday!"
The colony of Dhazig was an old town set into the mountains north of Anapondus. Located near an ancient natural water source in a prime defensive position, the plan was to build on top of the old ruins flattened long ago to make room for a human penal colony.
The prison itself had been abandoned many years earlier (following some of the worst safety violations in Alliance history), but the infrastructure remained, and all it needed to make it habitable again were appropriate facilities. On the face of it, the assignment seemed simple.
There was little conversation on the journey. Gabby was travelling in a crowded Tyrus infantry vehicle. She glanced around at her personal bodyguards, who sat silently contemplating their new assignment. She made a few attempts to start up conversations with them, but the crew were non-committal in their response, only giving short answers or curt nods to her queries. She gave up trying to talk to them after a while, but was actually glad of the company, even if they weren't very chatty. With such a large group protecting her she reasoned she was safe from another attack by wildlife.
It took four hours to reach the settlement. The convoy of trucks and infantry vehicles pulled up at the base of the prison complex and the troops disembarked. Gabby stepped out from the Tyrus' claustrophobic interior to be greeted by temperatures slightly above zero °C. Pella and Erata both exited their vehicles and wandered over to join their human colleague.
"Another beautiful day in paradise!" Pella spat, pulling her orange coat tighter around her armoured body.
Erata was grinning as she approached. "Look on the bright side, at least the view has improved since last time." The asari turned to watch the army of turian engineers unload the trucks.
Three of the sappers were attempting to override the lock on the prison's garage doors with their omni-tools. A few seconds later the main doors snapped open with a loud crunch and the massive gates rolled down into the ground. The troops levelled their weapons into the dark garage, but there was no movement – The place was dead.
Pella approached the sappers. "You got that open quickly," she congratulated.
"The door wasn't locked, ma'am," one of them replied.
The troops filed in cautiously, keeping their weapons drawn as they moved into the building. Bit by bit, they swept the room until they were satisfied the main hanger was clean.
The rest of the group moved into the hanger and started unpacking the equipment. The sappers were so efficient that Gabby, Erata and Pella had little to do but watch as the pre-fabs were being unloaded. The trio moved to a catwalk overlooking the hanger and observed the turians at work.
"They are a fine body of soldiers," Erata commented, as she ogled a turian bent over one of the pre-fabs. The asari smiled cheekily. "Yes, very fine bodies they are, too!"
"Oh, don't you start," Gabby protested. "I thought I'd get away from comments like that here."
"Am I making you uncomfortable, Kitten?"
"No, I'm used to it, actually. It's like déjà vu. You sound just like Kenneth."
"Oh, you mean that other Alliance engineer back on Arcadias? I knew there was a reason I liked him. He was quite eager that you should 'get friendly' with me, as I recall."
"For which I will probably kill him when I get back!" Gabby replied hotly. "Can't believe you heard that."
"My hearing isn't the only exceptional thing about me."
Gabby rolled her eyes and folded her arms. "The species may change but I keep hearing the same old chestnuts! What do I have to do to get away from it?"
"You're just playing hard to get, Kitten."
"Should I leave you two alone?" Pella smirked.
"Preferably not," Gabby said hastily.
"Relax, I'm just kidding around with you," Erata assured Gabby, and turned her attention back to the troops. "But I still wouldn't mind checking out the indigenous population in more intimate detail… And in a warmer environment!"
"Oy! I think I preferred when Kenneth was saying it!"
Erata was watching Khoris, in his blue and white armour, carrying a three-metre divider across the garage. "What I wouldn't give to be in those arms. Look at him hugging that partition. Wish I was that wall!"
"You pretty much are, Ke… Erata," Gabby hastily corrected herself.
The asari turned and stared at Gabby for a long moment. "Are you sassing me, Kitten?"
"It certainly looks that way," Pella observed wryly.
Erata nodded approvingly at the human. "I like it. Keep it up."
The conversation was interrupted when two female soldiers approached them. They both fired off a salute.
"Sir," the first said, "we've completed a sweep of the upper levels. They're clean. We'd like permission to restore power to the base."
"Granted," Erata replied. "That's Engineer Daniels' area of expertise. She can get it operational." She exchanged a look with Pella. "Mind if we tag along?"
"The more the merrier," Gabby replied.
The main generator was a simple Hydrogen power unit fuelled by a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyzer set two floors down in the sub-basement of the facility. Gabby led the way through the faded brown corridors, reading from the map on her omni-tool and flanked by the two guards.
The generator doors opened to a large room, with catwalks leading to the large inactive metal sphere at the centre. Several dozen hydrogen storage containers lined the walls of the room. The two guards swept down the catwalks first, levelling their assault rifles and moving in a standard search pattern. After a while, the engineers got the all clear and they approached the generator.
Gabby scanned the sphere with her omni-tool. "Been powered down for a few years… H2 and O2 reserves look good. No degradation. This shouldn't take long."
She set about powering up the primary systems. The main console before her sprang to life and she tapped away at the holographic display.
"Initialising start-up procedure – Generator is coming online… Now!"
Light flooded the room. The generator hummed to itself as the power surged back to the core. Gabby looked around at the drab generator room and felt a surge of satisfaction. The base was powering up; she could hear the heating systems starting to run. Very soon everyone in complex would be luxuriating in glorious heat. She allowed herself a smile of satisfaction at a job well done.
Just then a panel below the console popped open and what looked like a hemisphere on a narrow table extended itself outwards. There was a small holographic display on the top with a set of symbols in a language Gabby didn't recognise. The black object beeped quietly.
"What's that?" Pella demanded.
"That looks very much like an explosive device!" Erata said
"Oh, Spirits! The core was rigged?" Pella exclaimed, taking a step away from it.
As if detecting the movement, the device suddenly beeped insistently and glowed red. The display activated. The symbols changed, reforming into new shapes at regular intervals. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the symbols were counting down.
"And that looks like the bomb arming itself," Erata added.
Everyone held their breath. Gabby felt she should say something useful to help, but the only thing that popped into her head was an expletive… So she voiced it.