He was choking her to death and feeling the pleasure of it like a cool balm on his tattered and broken heart. She struggled weakly and her eyes rolled back, those beautiful blue eyes that he'd dreamt of so many times, that had torn him apart with their falseness and betrayal. Just before she lost consciousness, he let off some of the pressure and waited with sadistic eagerness for her eyelids to flutter back open, for her gasping breaths to revert to something like normalcy before squeezing again, taking her to the brink of death time and time again. Her blood flowed freely from the many wounds he'd inflicted on that perfect body, that perfect face, dotting his hands and clothes with splashes of blue. It was so blue against his dusky gold-ish plates and it reminded him suddenly, painfully of his brother, the way his markings had shone out of his face, a contrast that had garnered Paulus much attention from the ladies over the years.
His brilliant brother, dead at this female's hands, he snarled and reached down to lick her blood up into his mouth. It was thick, cloying, it seemed to burn his tongue, but nevertheless, it was like the sweetest ambrosia. Part of him, way back in his mind, clamored in a tiny voice that this was wrong, that he was better than this and he laughed, no, no he really wasn't and let that part witness in horror, torturing it as much as he was torturing her, as he leaned back in to seize some of her flesh between his teeth and tear it free, chew it with gusto and swallow it. She didn't even have the wind to scream, though the agony in her eyes was enough for the demon in him to grow fat and gleeful. His cock grew hard at the thought of violating her as he devoured her and he ripped away the thin shift she was wearing, his hand found her open and slick like a wanton whore and he grinned into her shame filled face, no longer pretty with a chunk bitten out of it and he spoke to her, and to that part of him watching with growing madness, 'Look, see me. This is what you made of me.'
He felt that voice of reason howl with terror and relished each mouthful of succulent meat as it passed his lips until the lump of organic matter below him, moving in time with his thrusts, became barely recognizable as a person. This was retribution, it was sweet and burned in him with blinding triumph and it quieted the voice of guilt, shunted it back into his hind brain.
But he wondered briefly why it didn't dim the fire of hate in him. No matter, his hatred would be slaked soon, surely. She still moved, she still breathed through her ruined flesh. When she finally stilled, when he let her die, the hate would go with her. And then, when Paulus was avenged, finally he would be free to join her, as it should be.
He woke with a start, feeling nauseated at the visions that haunted him. He still tasted her blood in his mouth and desperately swigged a large mouthful of water to try to get rid of it. He must be sick to dream of such things, to feel the want of it coil in his soul. And worse, he knew in his heart that he was more than capable of doing those things to her. Even at the thought of Aleia, the hate rose in him, choking in its intensity.
He fought for control, it was so hard to find, he had no balance, no unshifting rock to cling to. He pleaded with his mind, begged for reprieve from the twin titans of hate and guilt as they wrestled in his psyche. And it ebbed, but didn't abate, he was functional but was far from whole, would never again be whole. Not while that bitch still breathed. He only hoped that when the time came to end her, if he got off this rock, no, when he got off this rock, he had the restraint to do it cleanly, that he wouldn't shame himself too much and give into his baser self, which desperately desired to paint the walls with her blood and revel in her entrails. He choked off the thought with a cry through clenched teeth, forcing his heart to slow, his breath to become even and regular.
He opened his eyes and saw the blowtorch there, that's right, he had things to do. Things that would take his mind off...other things. He dressed and gathered his tools and slid the door open, only to freeze in place when it revealed a gently rumbling shaggy hillock right outside the mako. His heart tried to climb up his throat and he bit back a yell. The beast from the wreck, it had followed him. It lay curled upon itself, nose tucked tightly to tail, paws stretched out before it.
Slowly, Marcus slid the door back shut, wincing as the ungreased rails squeaked overloud as he did so. Just as it closed, he saw one lamp like eye open and watch him calmly. That eye slid shut just as sedately and he breathed a sigh of relief. He'd expected the animal to rush him, throw itself against the side of the tank. He sat back and thought about what he could do. Having that thing out there would seriously put a damper on his plans. He couldn't stay in here forever. He'd need water, he'd need to use the latrine. Maybe he could scare it away with the rifle, or kill it, if he had to.
With rifle in hand, he opened the door again by a fraction. It was still out there and stirring, waking up and he took aim at the ground near its feet. Curious, he watched it stretch, pulling back to flex forelegs before it, wiggling its stubby digits, then leaning forward to do the same with its hindlegs. Then it sat abruptly, looking about it with tilted head, blinking in the bright sunlight. Marcus breathed softly, it was now or never.
The shot rang out and the snow puffed up into the animal's face, which he swore took on an indignant scowl. The beast shook its long fur free of the white particles and yawned hugely, large canines flashing, standing and walking toward his hiding spot with an easy amble, unconcerned it seemed and he took aim again. Maybe a bullet in the backside would send it running, though now he felt a certain...reluctance for some reason. He paused as the beast started rubbing itself all along the mako, rumbling in its throat. Marcus was pretty sure he was relatively safe in the mako and in any case had a hand on the door to slam it shut if need be. He nearly started back when one golden eye, lit from within, appeared in the small aperture, locking onto him. He froze and the eye moved on. He heard the animal walk away, the pace picking up to a lope across the crunching snow. It was gone. He breathed a sigh of relief.
He waited for a bit to make sure it wasn't coming back before resuming what he had been doing before it had so rudely interrupted him. Blowtorch in hand, he approached the plinth, looking about him with new perspective now that he knew what ship this had been. The ice shroud retreated swiftly from the fire's onslaught and he saw that it was a monument. Someone had left a monument here to the dead crew of the SR-1. A round dais with a plume of stylized fire above it, topped with a tiny version of the Normandy at its pinnacle. The whole thing was lit from within and he heard a faint hum from the bottom that told him where it's power source was. It vibrated gently as he ran his hand around the cold metal of the base as he wondered why it had been left derelict, this lost piece of history had clearly been visited at least once since it had crashed on this forgotten planet.
He was just about to go back to the mako and get Ushal when his fingers encountered rough grooves around the side of the statue. Upon closer inspection, he saw that someone had carved words, in galactic common, in the metal. He read them aloud, "Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses..."
What did it mean? He scratched his fringe in confusion and stood to get the geth. Movement out of the corner of his eye had him freezing in place. Turning his head fractionally, he espied the animal walking around the edge of some of the mako, slow and almost casual in its movements. It was between him and his shelter. He fought the welling panic and slowly drew his rifle from where it was slung across his back, wincing at the loud hissing noise it made as it unfolded in his hands.
The beast merely looked at him curiously before plopping down adjacent to the tank's hatch. It rolled onto its back and thrashed in the snow, a pleased rumble coming out of its throat. Marcus lifted his rifle, sure that he was in for the fight of his life. No shields, no armor, no medigel dispenser. All he had was his wits and an ancient rifle that had the tendency to overheat. He despaired at the thought of how terrible his odds of surviving were, then clamped that down under the determination that this animal wouldn't be the one to end him, he had so much left to do. So much...retribution to hand out.
It rolled over onto its side away from him and stilled, clearly going to sleep and he calculated the odds of firing his two or three shots and killing it before it had time to leap on him. He paused and cocked his head, it didn't seem at all interested in him, not as food anyway. On pure intuition, he started forward, the snow crunching underfoot as he made his way to the mako. Keeping his eyes firmly on that snow covered furry mound in case it moved, he edged around til the handle of the tank's door was in reach and slowly opened it, alert for trouble.
He gingerly stepped in and grabbed the geth and the gauntlet and turned to see the animal watching him through slitted eyes. Keeping his movements slow and deliberate, he pulled on the gauntlet and slotted the orb into it, "Ushal."
"Vakarian-CO, have you acquired the power source?" The geth's voice sounded weak, almost tinny.
"I've freed the monument from the ice and I'm pretty sure we have the tools to unhook the battery, but there's an...animal out there. Large, possibly dangerous." He eyed the beast as he said this, though on its back, it hardly looked dangerous.
"Has it behaved aggressively?"
"No. It watches." He shook his head as he said this, thoroughly perplexed at the animal's behavior. It acted like no predator he'd ever encountered and yet it clearly was. He shuddered as he remembered the huge canines displayed in its mouth as it had yawned.
"Vakarian-CO, based on my information regarding the behavior of large predators, it will not attack unless provoked...or hungry."
"Thanks, Ushal, that's so comforting." He wondered if sarcasm was lost on the geth. Possibly, but what did it matter.
"Stop calling me that, I'm not your CO any more. I don't have a ship, I don't have a crew, I don't have-" -anything. He bit that last part back, trying not to whimper as his sharp teeth perforated his offending tongue to still it. "Just...just call me Marcus."
The geth continued, sounding almost reproachful, "...Marcus, I need access to that power source. My internal power is at 15% and without resources, I cannot begin to rewrite lost code."
"What happens if your power drops to zero? Will you...die?" Silence was his only answer and it spoke clearly to him of the consequences of his failure. Even if it didn't kill the geth, he would be alone on this rock. Grimacing, Marcus clenched his fist, "No. I'll get you that power."
He stepped back out into the snow, never taking his eyes off the sleeping behemoth laying in the tank's shadow. It did nothing but snore quietly at him and he felt moderately reassured. He turned to the statue and got to work, one ear trained on the soft sounds behind him. He freed the monument's power cell and saw it had convenient cables that could be converted easily to his uses. Much snipping and soldering later, he finished just as the cold was starting to really seep past the meager protection his improvised parka provided and shivering, he patched the geth into the power cell's grid.
A surge of light from within the orb told him that he'd succeeded and he sighed, gathering all the tools and Ushal and the lump of circuitry and wires that used to power the dead ship's memorial and headed back to the mako, sidling past the animal with something approaching haste. It didn't stir or snap at him as he'd feared, just shifted slightly and continued rumbling as it dreamed whatever it was that shaggy beasts dreamed about. He slid the door closed behind him gratefully, finally relaxing in the dark safety of the tank's interior.
The heater took its time heating the small enclosure and he tinkered with the geth's interface to take his mind off how numb his fingers were, how there was a large carnivore just outside his abode that may decide to eat him someday. "Ushal, did you get what you needed?"
"Yes, Marcus. I will need a few days to recharge. In the meantime, I believe I have devised a way to boost this omnitool's signal to reach the closest comm buoy."
Marcus couldn't help but feel a surge of hope at that, "How?"
"We will need to build a transmitter and a dish. I regret that I do not have hands to assist you in this task." Ushal seemed to hesitate as the lights deep within the sphere whirled and blinked, "It will take some time to gather the necessary components and even then, it may take time for our distress signal to be noticed by a passing freighter or UAF ship. "
Marcus swallowed back the rising anger to reply tightly, "How long?"
"No data available. There are too many variables." Ushal sounded almost chagrined at his inability to generate hard numbers and Marcus growled a bit in his throat, then shook it off. It wasn't the geth's fault, he knew that only too well.
"Ushal, we're going to get off this rock, I swear it. I'll get you home." Home, the idea seemed fantastical to him now. Was he able to go home? No, there was no way to explain what had happened to Paulus. He squashed the longing in his heart and told himself to be grateful that he'd have the chance to settle the score with Aleia before he met his just end. It would have to be enough. He didn't deserve more. "Tell me what I have to do."
The next weeks passed quickly, having a goal gave him some focus, often exhausting him to the point where the dreams sometimes didn't haunt him. His shadow was everpresent, watching him with solemn golden eyes as he went about his daily tasks. It got increasingly closer in proximity, burgeoning on invading his personal space, but he was fairly sure it had no designs to eat him, not that an animal could really have plans, as it were.
He was slowly adapting to the cold, he'd been on the cusp of hypothermia for so long now, it almost seemed natural to be chilled all the time. Turians weren't coldblooded like reptiles, they'd just evolved on a hot planet where the need to maintain an internal body temperature through arctic weather hadn't been necessary. But one thing that evolving on a high radiation planet had granted him was adaptability. Total adaptation was never going to be attainable so while he could function outside for hours on end, he was thoroughly grateful to whoever had thought to put a heater in the survival kit.
The dish was nearly complete, made from pieces of hull he'd managed to salvage from both wrecks and weld together piecemeal. It wasn't pretty but it would do the job or so Ushal assured him. Power was still at a premium so he tried not to 'wake' the geth too often though he sometimes did just to hear someone else's voice. Anything to anchor him, he still felt brittle, like glass.
He sat before the monument and puzzled over its inscription again, as he had many times since discovering it. The animal stalked by and he tensed as it sat nearly in arms length of him, but it only sat and washed itself, licking giant paws in unconcerned and languid strokes. There were hints of red around its mouth, it must have just hunted itself dinner. Ruefully, he wished he could go hunting for himself, nutrient paste was getting old, he'd kill to have some fresh meat. His mouth watered as he thought of steak, rare, juicy steak and he almost groaned aloud as his stomach woke up and growled at him for his cruel thoughts. Even if he managed to find and kill some prey animal, there was no guarantee that it was dextro.
He wrenched his thoughts away from that depressing thought and looked at the dais again, finally asking aloud to the glowing orb nestled at his wrist, "What does this mean, Ushal?"
"What does what mean, Marcus?" Marcus imagined a playful note in that mechanical voice and nearly smiled.
" 'Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses.' "
"It is part of an old Earth poem."
"A poem..." Marcus wondered who had put it there, indeed who had put the whole monument there. Someone who cared obviously, but an etched quote, made by some being's hand, that said whoever it had been had had a personal stake in the first Normandy, "Do you know the whole thing?"
"I do. I have a large selection of poems, songs, stories and images of artwork from many cultures in my databanks."
"To better understand organics, to find...commonality."
Marcus was silent for a long time as he thought about this. It was...good that the geth were trying to understand organics, maybe it would prevent another Reaper War in the future, "Do the geth have...art, or literature?"
"We understand the need to express ourselves in the abstract."
Marcus rumbled his own understanding, then tentatively asked, "Will you tell me the whole poem?"
"Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.
They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.
They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.
They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.
They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot
say: it is you who must say this.
They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a
true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us."
Slowly, Marcus unclenched his mandibles from where they'd drawn tight to his face. He was moved, no, more than moved. His heart ached with the thought of that woman sitting here in the snow, carving the metal with a loving regard to the fallen. There wasn't a word for what he was feeling. He knew now who had written on the plinth with their own hand, had come to visit the dead in this mausoleum. He echoed softly, breath frosting on the dusk air, "They are heard..."
And yet, they hadn't been really. These men and women had been forgotten in this wasteland, but he'd never forget them, having lived with their ghosts for nearly two months now, used the bones of their cemetery to build the hope of surviving this planet and he was humbled in the face of their generosity, surely wasted on him if he didn't succeed. In his melancholy daze, he didn't notice the shifting shadow next to him until its radiating warmth flowed over his cold plates. He leaned toward the heat instinctively, then shook himself free to look, alarmed, up into a looming bestial face, with its liquid gold eyes that were at once gentle and fierce. He froze, as he had so often when his erstwhile companion did something unfathomable.
It settled its long body at his back and he resisted melting into its warmth, no matter how welcoming. The fur covered face with its long muzzle settled on its paws beside him and closed its lambent eyes with a contented sigh.
Marcus considered, this was definitely a friendly gesture. Predators don't normally nuzzle their prey, unless this thing was even more alien than he could possibly understand and with halting movements, he reached out and ran a hand through the surprisingly soft fur on its head, feeling the stiff cup of its long ears in his wind and ice chapped palm. It shifted under his hand and rumbled but otherwise accepted his caress. Dazedly, he thought, Will wonders never cease?
And looking back off into the distance with its howling zephyrs and windswept snow dunes, he felt acceptance of this strangeness in his heart and spoke, more to himself than the others in his company, "Well, alright then."
A/N: And that's the end of book one of Marcus and Susan's story. Hope you liked it, oh people of . Please review if you have the inclination. We authors eat reviews up, they sustain our fervor, push us to go further, go higher. But it's enough that I see this story getting lots of foot traffic. Good good. Anyway, I love you all, just thought I'd let you know, for dreaming with me for a time. Thank you.