The metal detector started whining and I hit the power switch, irritated by the incessant clicking noise it produced. Probably just another stupid lost paperclip or something. I can't believe Martin. Come treasure hunting, he said. It'll be fun, he said. Yeah, sure thing, mate. I'll come and freeze my bollocks off in a cornfield with a metal detector all day while passers by look at me like I need to be sectioned. Glad you asked.
Ah, I do him a disservice. Martin's an alright guy, but more than that, he's pretty much my only friend, which is admittedly more his fault than mine. On my first day we had been lab partners in Chemistry, effortlessly synthesising simple organic molecules and shooting the breeze while everyone else blew up their conical flasks and gave us the evils. By the time lunch came around, I liked the guy too much to jump ship when it became apparent that associating with him was bad for your popularity. We were pretty tight, me and Martin. Contrary to the popular image of the school nerds, we kept ourselves in shape with weights and rock climbing (my idea) combined with archery and fencing (his idea). Turns out double-teaming your way to gold and silver at the National Youth Fencing Championships would be considered cool if anybody but me and Martin did it.
In order to stave off the social vultures we cultivated a false reputation as a pair of unstable psychopaths. The charade was fun most of the time, but occasionally one of the teachers caught wind of our 'antics' and tried to send us off to the School Counsellor, a middle aged Scottish bloke nicknamed Aberdeen Angus. He was a great guy, Aberdeen. Unlike pretty much everyone else in the teaching staff, he understood what high school was like, and he understood exactly what we were up to. He found it uproariously funny when we regaled him with stories of scaring the living shits out of the rugby team. He wasn't a surrogate father or anything wishy washy like that, he was just a great counsellor.
Come to think of it, my relationship with Martin has come to pretty much define who we both are. When I first met Martin I was a loner, the Russian kid who barely spoke English and came with a boatload of daddy issues, and he was a nervous wreck, unable to do anything but hang his head as life walked all over him. We taught each other to fight by watching his entire collection of martial arts movies and trying out moves on each other. We also taught each other first aid trying to stick ourselves back together after teaching each other to fight. He practically carried me through Physics, as I somehow managed to land him an A* in Biology. I taught him how to play the piano and the guitar, while he taught me the harp, of all things. So really, I suppose that I could put up with a few idiosyncrasies, such as treasure-hunting in a cornfield during my university summer holidays. Oh yeah. We're at university now, but we both still live at home at 24 years of age. Lucky us. Although I pretty much live on my own with my mother gone most of the time.
Forcing a smile onto my face I call him over.
"I got something!"
He bounds over, all restless and enthusiastic. I point vaguely at the floor.
He goes to town with the trowel, displacing a couple of corn stalks as he hacks at the ground until his trowel hits something with a solid clunk. Excited beyond belief, he scrabbles with bare hands until he has unearthed a small box with strange symbols on it.
"The hell is this?"
He prises open the box to reveal what looks like two pendants. Each one consists of a small, diamond shaped shard of a black crystal I don't recognise, with thin silvery white strips of metal spiralling around them until they reach the peak of the crystal, where they link with a silvery chain that looks like it is meant to hang around the neck. I pick up one of the pendants, admiring it as the light glints off the silver, seeming to collect at the tip of the shard wherever it goes. Eventually Martin says something, but I'm not listening to him as I slowly put the pendant around my neck. It feels ... right somehow. I can't explain it, like the pendant was a part of me that I hadn't even known I was missing. I hand the other one to Martin.
"Try it on."
After a moment's pause, he slipped it around his neck.
"Wow. It feels ... I dunno ... Like it's supposed to be there, you know?"
"Yeah man. I know."
"This is awesome."
We high five.
"Hey, you want to come round mine? My mum's in Moscow again."
"Yeah, sure. How long will she be there?"
"Until the end of the month."
Martin grins. His family is, shall we say, suboptimal, so whenever my mother is abroad (i.e. 75% of the time) he spends most of his time round my house, getting away from his overbearing father, his disengaged mother and his obnoxious siblings. We sit around, play our various musical instruments, eat unhealthily, work out to assuage the guilt stemming from the unhealthy eating, play PC games and laugh for hours. Honestly, the amount of time we spend together is approaching bromance levels.
As we trudge along the path back to my place, strange pendants around our necks, I start to feel a throbbing behind my eyes.
"Ah shit. I think I'm getting a headache."
"Same here. Let's get back to yours and slug back some aspirin."
By the time we reach my house the headache is approaching a full blown migraine, and judging by Martin's pained expression, his is approaching the same magnitude. I knock back three aspirins as soon as I get to the medicine cupboard before sliding the pill box and the glass of water to Martin, who takes the same. I manage to haul myself over to the living room, collapsing on the sofa. Even the tiniest sounds send daggers shooting through my brain and stars burst behind my eyes every time I move my head. Martin lies on the floor about six metres away, clutching his head and moaning softly. The aspirin seems to be having little effect - I guess our only option is to ride this one out.
The pressure won't stop building in my head. It feels like there's something trying to force its way through my skull, displacing my brain in the process. Suddenly a jolt of lightening shoots through my body and I tense up, muscles screaming in protest as I start to convulse wildly. I have to admit, at this point in time I'm scared, more scared than I have ever been in my life. My limbs are spasming of their own accord and my head feels set to explode. Then all of a sudden it's over.
When I realise I'm not dead I tentatively open one eye. I am confronted with a very close view of the ceiling. Huh. I open the other eye, look around a bit. So I'm somehow lying on the ceiling. That's ... unexpected. Almost as if it had just noticed me, gravity kicks in again, sending me plummeting to the sofa. I land with an oof sound and peer around just in time to see Martin reintroduce himself to the carpet with a resounding thump.
"Martin? Mate, you okay?"
"The fuck just happened?"
I try to sit up and find that I have done some badnesses to my ribcage as I lever myself into the vertical, subconsciously switching to Russian as I unleash a torrent if foul language. Martin, who has been around me long enough to pick up quite a bit of Russian, joins in as he clutches at his shoulder.
"I have no idea what the hell that was."
I reach over for a glass of water on the coffee table. It glows blue momentarily and zips into my hand. Thirst forgotten, I stare at the glass. Then I put it down and reach for it again. Once again, the same blue aura and the same movement of the glass. Martin watches with fascination, his glasses seemingly forgotten as he stares avidly at my telekinetic back and forth with the glass. He reaches out a hand and the glass moves towards him. Before it can reach his hand however he pushes it back away, continuing to bandy it back and forth until with a flick of his wrist he sends it hurtling towards the heavens. However the ceiling got in the way and so the glass promptly shattered, shards flying everywhere and water splashing downwards. Without thinking I raise a hand and the whole scene stops, blue energy flickering across the glass and its contents as they freeze in position. Martin looks at me.
"Holy shit, man. We're friggin superheroes!"
I shake my head as the glass and water tinkle to the ground, ignored by both of us as we lock gazes.
"No mate. We're cattle-fucking biotics."
Neither of us saw that one coming.
"Well, I intend to celebrate our newfound magic powers by getting absolutely hazed. Booze is under the bed in Mum's room. I'll pick the lock."
Martin follows me up the stairs, flapping his mouthparts a mile a minute as he nervously fiddles with his pendant.
"What? You don't even drink. And why now? We should be trying to figure out what's going on!"
I turn to him, raising a hand.
"Look Martin. Contrary to popular belief I don't really know the protocol for discovering you have magical powers. So I have two options. Freak out or get drunk. If it's all the same to you, I pick two."
"Okay, okay. Drinking, yeah. But do you think it has something to do with the pendants?"
I tune him out as I find the large stash of wine hidden under the bed. I pull out two bottles at random and hand one of them to Martin, decorking the other with my teeth before upending it down my neck. Martin reluctantly takes a sip, then grimaces and starts chugging away too. Before long we have polished off the bottles. Martin almost looks disappointed.
I pull out two more bottles.
"There's always more."
Agh, my fucking head. My cattle-fucking head. Goddamn wine.
I slowly push myself into a sitting position, the acrid scent of vomit assailing my long suffering nostrils as I try to make out my surroundings. Some sort of hallway with white walls only interrupted by a nasty looking puke splatter a ways away from my position. Martin is passed out slap bang in the middle of said puddle of puke. Oh, he's not going to be happy. And what is ... HOLY CATTLE FUCKING FUCK ON A FUCK STICK! That's a cattle-fucking Keeper! I'd recognise the aphid head anywhere. The only reason my brain doesn't start dribbling out of my nose is because memory of me and Martin's little biotic display earlier returns to me. Okay, so Mass Effect. Of all the games to get stuck in, this isn't so bad. Wait ... Maybe I'm dreaming. That notion is dispelled when in my semi-inebriated state I manage to biotically charge my pinch, resulting in another venomous utterance in the mother tongue as I rub the rapidly bruising flesh.
A Turian in C-sec armour rounds the corner and sees the two of us.
"What in the spirits is going on here?"
I manage to weakly grin.
"Uh ... Hi Officer. I was just trying to recall how I got here."
The Turian grinned and shook his head. Surprising that I'm not freaking out over the goddamn Turian, but hey. I guess I'm plumb out of freak-out.
"Uh ... We didn't cause any damage, did we?"
"Thousands of people get drunk on the Citadel every night."
"Uh, okay, but not many of them started getting drunk on Earth."
The Turian does what appears to be a triple take.
"Well, I think you boys have just broken the record when it comes to bar crawls."
"Is there somewhere I can clean up my friend?"
The Turian nods.
"I'll take the two of you back to the C-sec academy. You can use the showers and change your clothes there." He looks pointedly at our 2012 fashion statements. "I assume you can remember your names?"
"I'm Ivan Borodyov. That's Martin Blackwood."
"I'm Officer Vakarian. Garrus Vakarian."
Suddenly my day just got a whole lot more awesome.
Turns out that from somewhere both me and the semi-conscious Martin sprawled in the back of the C-sec cruiser Garrus has us in have got Omnitools and one hell of a lot of credits from somewhere. I sincerely hope they're not stolen. That would be suboptimal.
"So ... Where are you boys from?"
"Earth. Like I said, it appears we somehow bar-crawled all the way to the Citadel. I'm no expert on travel arrangements but I don't see how that's possible."
The Turian nods.
"Right. You must have been wasted for a while then."
I look out the window at the Presidium whizzing by below. I can see Asari, Salarians, Turians, Humans, Hanar, Elcor, Volus and even the odd Krogan or Quarian. I briefly wonder if one of them is Tali or Wrex, or even maybe Shepard himself. Or herself. I chuckle to myself.
"It's funny. I always dreamed of seeing this place for real. The games and the vids don't really do it justice. But of all the ways I could have got here, I was not expecting it to involve alcohol in such amounts."
I hear a mumbling from the back seat.
"Ivan, I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed we found magical necklaces that gave us superpowers and then we drank lots of tasty tasty wine and holy shit there's a motherfucking TURIAN!"
Garrus gave a friendly wave.
"Officer Garrus Vakarian at your service."
I lean back and pat him on the shoulder.
"Look man, we're on the Citadel. Just go with it until we figure out exactly how we got here, okay?"
He nods and his hand steals to the pendant he somehow still has. I catch his eye and nod slowly. Although we can't be certain, there has to be a link between the pendants and the crazy turn of events that somehow wound up with us on the goddamned Citadel, of all places.
Once we're back at the C-sec Academy, Garrus takes us into a locker room where I hose Martin off and he brings us some spare C-sec uniforms to wear. Outside we can hear an assemblage of officers jeering at a news channel that was reporting on a scandal in which a C-sec officer paid three Asari for group sex in his patrol car. In true tabloid style, the headline was 'C-SEX SCANDAL'. Some things never change.
The crowd suddenly falls silent and I strain my ears to catch two words.
Hangover forgotten, I barge my way through the crowd to the front, staring at the images on the screen. The game really doesn't do the attack justice. The Husks, all of which looked the same in the game, still bear fragments of hair and clothes and faces, things that betray that they aren't just more enemies to fight, they are real, living, breathing people that have been murdered and corrupted for the needs of the Reapers. Some of the sights and sounds make me feel sick but at the same time keep me riveted to the screen. The footage of the Geth is a little disturbing too. In the game they move like any other enemy, but in real life their movements are strange and alien, using both knee joints to run at speeds no unaugmented human could hope to match, their assault rifle fire deadly accurate even when sprinting at full tilt and their movements somehow fluid yet jerky at the same time, an oxymoronic mode of motion that made it patently obvious to anyone watching that they are not a creation of evolution. The images on the screen of Sovereign descending from the heavens are equally terrifying. I'm not even going to describe the sheer presence it has, even just on a screen. Nothing I could say would do it justice.
I become dimly aware of Martin standing next to me and I squeeze his shoulder as he stands there, dumbstruck.
"Hey Martin. Come on, let's figure out a way to get back to our place, okay?"
He shakes his head.
"I want to meet her first."
By her I know exactly who he's talking about. Tali. I resist the urge to facepalm. Martin has always been a paid up member of the Tali Fan Legion. He always romances her, has her on his squad, the works. I'm somehow not surprised he wants to meet her.
"Alright, we'll meet her. But then we figure out how to be gone."
"Fine by me. Let's roll."
This time I do facepalm.
So we ran the length of the Citadel, looking for this goddamn Quarian and passing the time by practising biotics. We take the liberty of using some of the credits we somehow have to purchase some custom-designed weapons and armour. Apparently our order will be ready in three days - even using nanofoundries, a custom designed suit of armour takes a while. We don't really expect to use them - it's just a memento for when we get home. We actually bought three sets of armour - one light, one medium and one heavy. Martin came up with a killer design that it turns out he borrowed from one of his other favourite games, Tribes Ascend. According to him, the armour suits are faithful replicas of Diamond Sword armour from the game. That means nothing to me, but I have to admit the designs are pretty sexy, with the base layer a very deep blue-grey, almost black, with ornate patterning in gold. Each suit also comes with a sweet-looking sword attached to the back by a magnetic strip. But enough about our armour. Back to where we are now, hiding at the point where Tali meets the three assassins sent by Fist. We see them skulking around and then Tali herself appears. Even through the suit I can see what Martin sees in her - namely, her killer T&A. We watch silently, save for Martin's excited quivering. We can hear her lines from the game from our little spot. Then the sound of her slapping away the Turian's hand, and moments later the pop of her grenade as she dives for cover. Shooting starts up. I glance over at the alley. Shepard isn't showing up. Oh shit. Shit shit shit. Martin tugs my arm.
"We have to do something!"
"Do what?" I hiss back. "We've got no guns!"
"We're biotics, remember?"
Before I can protest, he steps out, throwing a Singularity that traps one of the Salarians and following up with a Warp. I join the fray, picking up the other Salarian and smashing him head first into the ground. What happens next seems to be in slow motion. Shepard crests the hill, sees the biotic confrontation. Tali steps out of cover and finishes off the second Salarian with a shotgun blast. The Turian raises his Blood Pack Executioner pistol and levels it at Tali, who is trying to draw a bead on the first Salarian. As he squeezes the trigger Martin leaps in front of the gun, despite the fact that his barrier is down.
And just like that, Martin takes a bullet for Tali.
The force of the weapon's impact sends him flying across the room, knocking into a wall and then landing at the feet of Shepard's group. A red haze descends over my vision as dark energy coruscates through my body. The Turian is bodily picked up into the air, surrounded by a nimbus of my biotic power. He starts to scream, a grating, flanging shriek of agony as I slowly pull him apart, tearing his limbs into shreds, slashes opening across his body, the dark energy starting to colour with Turian blood. I pour more and more of my hatred into the energy field until all that is left is a cluster of organs held together by tubes that still managed to scream. Then even those started to liquefy under my furious assault until all that was left was a lumpy blue soup. I flung it away from me, painting the floor, walls and ceiling of the alleyway a vivid blue as what used to be a Turian assassin was distributed down the hall. Then I turned to Martin.
I dropped to my knees by his side, holding his hand, feeling him weaken as his life flowed out through the fist-sized hole in his chest. Through tear-stained eyes I was dimly aware of someone else kneeling on his other side. He looked up at me and spoke, each word rattling in his chest.
"Ivan ... This is ... Don't lose yourself ... I know you. Revenge ... but don't lose your ... your ..."
His hand wanders to the pendant, seemingly unharmed, and he pulls it off, handing it to me.
He drew in a shuddering breath and turned to the other person.
"Keelah se'lai ..."
I looked up at them, the Human, the Turian and the Krogan, all standing with a look of grim sadness on their faces, the Quarian clutching my best friend's hand, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.
"Do something! You have medigel, or get a doctor, or, or ..."
Garrus grimly shook his head.
My howl of grief echoed down the passageway.
A/N: A heavy start for this fic. Please review and follow if you want more. Also please check out my other fics, Awake and Gethsemane. And if anyone asks, yes, I do call people cattle-fuckers. All the cattle-fucking time.