The hum of the Vidyna was louder than normal, a side effect of the constant strain on the massive liveship's mass effect fields to maintain it's girth and length. Rael'Zorah nar Vidyna usually just ignored it, having lived his whole life with it's background noise, but now the sound bothered him as he waited impatiently for the Conclave to greet him.
He stared at his new enviro-suit in the mirror, dawdling in the luxury of the clean room. The mirror on the wall was floor length, one of the few he'd ever seen, giving quarians the privilege of looking on their bodies one last time before sealing themselves away for who knew how many years while on Pilgrimage. He'd already slowly put the suit on – first the self-sealing undersuit, laced with medigel dispensers, cleaning flushes, and the like, it's silken texture so much finer than his earlier, patchwork suits he'd worn growing up. Then the idekka –the oversuit, the armored segments clasping around his legs, torso, arms, and shins, each one snapping into the undersuit and linking to the support system.
He glanced out the one window at the stars beyond as he slid into the support pack, rolling his shoulders to adjust it's fit, and crossed the straps across his broad chest. For a quarian, Rael was a big man, standing almost 6 and a half feet tall, wide shoulders and heavy, muscular arms a gift from his years loading cargo by hand in the docking bays. His legs curved , also thick with muscle, as he swayed to one side, then the other, testing the balance of his air-pack. The pack contained not only six hours of air, but the myriad gel filters, DETA filters and purification matrixes that kept him from the outside world's germs.
Raal sighed, as he picked up his helmet, his gaze straying the mirror again. He had his mother's eyes, his father had told him, pale silver with a hint of bronze. His cheekbones were high and angular, making his strong jaw look almost jutting, the black hair atop his head savagely braided down in the spacer's mat that would allow his helmet the best fit. He ran his gloved hand over his face one last time before sliding the helmet over his head, his vision turning a faint purple as the visor snapped on and powered up when he hooked it into his suit.
His omni-tool beeped, sending a HUD spiraling into existence on the inner surface of his suit. It displayed the Fleet time and date, air conditions, contaminant levels, and other function that he could tab through using his tongue on the four studs at the base of the mask. He brought up the omni-tools multifunction interface and powered on all the environmental systems, the suit inflating slightly and the kinetic barriers snapping to full power with an angry buzzing sound. Cool, faintly scented air from his pack blew over his face, and the undersuit inflated with shock-absorbing gel, clinging to his body and conforming to it's shape.
As he finished, the door chimed, three times. The light over it went from purple to blue, and then to yellow, the color of fire and danger. He straightened, nodding to himself, and walked to the small shelf in the wall. He picked up his pistol , a lightweight Raptor model his father had bought him on Naming Day, and the heavy and ugly sniper rifle he'd picked out himself from the Marine armory. The pistol went into the loose leather holster at his belt, along with his knife. The sniper he snapped to the maglock on the small of his back, and with one final look in the mirror, he hit the airlock control, cycling the room clean and exiting the airlock that lead into the rest of the ship.
The hallway he stepped into was typical of quarian ships: the ceilings, covered in cargo netting festooned with boxes of supplies and spare parts ; the walls, dented and adorned with shelves, cargo cannisters, and open power conduits; the floor, rubberized to avoid shocks and slips, the rubber matting thin and worn to the steel decking below in places.
Across from him, his father stood stolidly, his reik head covering in purple and black cloth gleaming faintly in the starlight from the nearby window. His father was huge for quarians, standing even taller than Rael, and his massive arms were folded as he leaned against the bulkhead. "You primped long enough in there, Rael. Are you ready?"
Rael'Zorah nodded. "I am, father. Today I will transition from child to man, and I will make you proud." The older quarian laughed, and placed hand on his son's shoulder, squeezing. "Son, you've already made me proud. I want you to come back alive, and to help me in my work with the Migrant Fleet Marines when you do so." He gestured, and the two walked down the hallway towards the Ampitheater. "You've already packed, I presume?"
Rael nodded, his voice blurred by the voder in his helmet. "Yes, father. The supplies and starmaps are in my pack, and the platinum nuggets are embedded in the base of my air-pack. I have enough concentrated sterilized rations to last 12 weeks ,which is more than enough time to get to the Citadel and find work."
The two rounded a corner, the smaller hallway merging with the much larger main thoroughfare that lead to the ships amphitheater. The larger corridor was lined with cloth hangings, hand-sewn from various cloths to provide varying textures, then hand painted for contrast. This series of cloths showed the Morning War, the flight from Rannoch. In the lead were three stylized liveships – the Vidyna, the Rayya, and the Narghas – flanked by the rest of the quarian fleet.
Rael always found the hangings to be depressing and beautiful at the same time, and this one was no different. Instead of focusing on it, though , his mind was on his Pilgrimage. "You … still disapprove of my plan, father?"
Dal'Zorah vas Vidyna, Commandant of the Migrant Fleet Marines, shrugged his shoulders, making his heavily armored enviro-suit clank. "I think that the Citadel is a confusing place that is cut off from the reality of the rest of the galaxy, son. I agree that if you can make your way there, you can make it anywhere, and certainly that blasted salarian owes me his life for saving his egg clutch from those batarians...but I don't know how far gratitude will take you, son. The Citadel is … dangerous. The Council races are dangerous in their ignorance and disdain, and now with these humans coming out of the woodwork, we don't know what will happen next."
Rael nodded. "I know, father. But I will be careful." Their steps took them to the amphitheater, where over 200 quarians sat waiting, along with the ship's Captain, and Admiral Tatha'Raan. Next to the admiral was Shana, his sister, and her newly wedded husband, the admiral's son, Urthan. The admiral rose to his feet as the two entered, his black armor imposing and stern in the filtered light of the large room.
Zael walked calmly to the front of the platform , and bowed his head. "Captain, I am this day of age to undergo the Pilgrimage. I thank you for the gift of air and shelter, but now I must prove my worth and repay the debt I owe the fleet. Do I have your leave to depart?"
Captain Tonsae'Kael was a rarity in ship captains, a female engineer who had once been a Fleet Marine. Her own Pilgrimage was legendary – taking out an entire mercenary slaving ring with the help of an asari justicar, and bringing back two entire cruisers as her Gift to the Flotilla. The woman was small, but her gaze was as heavy as her voice as she spoke. "It is time, indeed, young Rael. The Vidnya will miss you as you depart, but know that you go with the will and grace of our ancestors, and all of our prayers." She held out her hand, and Rael withdrew his knife and handed to her.
Rather than gift her with her own, she glanced at the Admiral, who nodded. "Rael, go forth this day, and return to us a man." The admiral pulled his own knife, a gleaming blade with an adaptive haptic edge, and handed to him handle first. Rael was glad he'd cut his speaker or his gasp of surprise would have been heard, but he steeled his stance to show only appreciation and gratitude. "I will, sir."
The quarians sitting all stood, then, each one giving the quarian salute, the balled fist over the heart, and his father stiffened as he did the same. "My son, go. Return in pride ...or not at all." Rael exhaled, and without a look backwards walked to the far wall and the airlock set there. Next to the airlock was his supply pack. Every step was heavy, a mix of exitement, worry and fear churning in his gut, but he kept his spine ramrod straight as he shouldered his pack and then stepped into the airlock. "Prepare for decontamination routine. Stand by."
The airlock shuddered as UV lamps and bleach sprays erupted , then the lamps flared and the spray stopped after a few moments, followed by blastingly hot air. The airlock snapped open on the far side, revealing the docking tube to the volus trade ship that was his transport to the Citadel. A single volus stood there, his pressure suit black with pale copper trim, and highlights of white here and there. Glowing blue orbs in the volus' helmet regarded him calmly. "Welcome, Rannoch-clan. -hssk- I am Juras, enumerator third of the Unrestrained Avarice. Please follow me, -hssk- we have quarters prepared for you."
"Thank you, Juras. I am Rael'Zorah nar Vidyna. I'm pleased to be aboard...my father said I would be paying my way by dealing with some engineering issues you had?" He followed the lumbering little volus into the ship-bay, while the volus nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, indeed we do need -hssk- a little help. Our main engines are very powerful, -hssk-, but they are also very .. finicky."
The docking bay of the Vidnya was mostly filled with light quarian assault craft, but the smooth lines of the volus ship stood out. Her hull was a pale grey color, and she was small ship, a bulbous center section flanked by two boxy engines and a long train of cargo modules. The docking tube ran to one of these modules, and the volus triggered his omni-tool to open it. "We were actually -hssk- hoping to obtain a quarian engineer to work with us over -hssk- several runs...but none of your people were interested."
Rael suppressed a laugh. "Oh, they were probably interested, but the Captain doesn't like her engineers going off doing work outside the Fleet. As far as employment goes...well. If this thing on the Citadel doesn't work out, I might take you up on that offer."
The volus opened the interior hatch, revealing a cargo module interior turned into a cargo loading area. "Yes, well, that would be -hssk- most acceptable. I'm sure the Captain would love to discuss it with you when you have the time. For now, though... let me show you your quarters." The volus passed a set of cargo boxes and opened another hatchway, leading to a short stairwell leading up. "Since you are in your -hssk- envirosuit, we've taken the opportunity to pressurize the ship to our usual -hssk- levels. So if you need something, please make sure -hssk- to use the airlock door into the rest of the ship."
Rael nodded absently, taking in the differences in the volus ship. The cargo module had been split into two floors, this one clearly serving as a living area. There was a loose hammock, a charging station, a table with a small food storage unit next to it, a pair of rather comfortable looking chairs, and some shelving. The volus glanced around, almost nervously, then bobbed up and down. "And here we are, your room. -hssk- Once we get the current passengers off the ship we can put you into actual quarters but for right now -"
Rael interrupted him and laughed. "These are fine , and more than four times the space I had allotted to me on the Migrant fleet. If you will let me do a bit of unpacking and settling in, I see no reason why I can't go ahead and get started working on those engines." He set his pack down on the table, and glanced back over his shoulder.
Juras merely nodded again, and the volus backed away. "Very well then, Rannoch-clan. We'll be pulling out of dock in about 20 minutes...after that, the captain will probably call for you. Just head up the last stairs on the right if he does." The volus departed, and Rael sat down wearily on one of the seats, leanin his head back and exhaling.
"Now...just need to fix some engines and figure out how to make a ton of money once I get to the Citadel."