Chapter 23: Held Captive

Adrien couldn't be sure how much time had passed since he'd been captured. An hour? Two? It was impossible to say, and quite frankly, he couldn't bring himself to care.

After all, time was something he was going to have plenty of.

The APC drove on, far smoother of a ride than one might have thought such a vehicle capable of. In any other circumstance, Adrien would have admired the engineering behind it. As it was, the fact that it was ferrying him and his companions off to be prisoners of war didn't make him feel particularly appreciative.

In the more embellished Turian action flicks, this would be the moment where the main protagonist would stage a daring escape. Somehow, they would slip their restraints, casually take down the guards while doling out witty banter, and then commandeer the vehicle to head back to friendly lines to raucous cheers.

There was no chance of that happening here in the real world. Adrien's restraints were quite firmly secured and the human guards that watched them were laser-focused. Horonius had shifted himself to try and get into a more comfortable position a little while ago; one of the humans had his gun pointed at him faster than blinking. Any attempt at an escape would be brought to an abrupt and messy end.

So, with nothing better to do, Adrien sat there and tried not to think about what might be in store for him. His fellow Turians seemed to be taking the same route; there wasn't so much as a whisper from them, just a collection of tired and forlorn stares directed off into the distance or the floor.

The APC trundled on for what felt like another few minutes, when it suddenly stopped with a low screech of gears. There were a few startled gasps and fearful mutterings from the Turians. For his part, Adrien managed to keep the sudden feeling of apprehension from getting too much of a hold over him.

"Okay, birdies, ride's over!" one of the humans said, pacing up and down the middle of the vehicle. "Now, we're going to unlock you from your seats, so just a friendly reminder: you try any funny business, and you'll be pushing up daisies. For those of you not familiar with human sayings, that means you'll get shot."

So saying, they began to unlatch the seat restraints and haul the Turians to their feet. Once they were all standing, the soldiers herded them out of the APC and back into the world.

It was still dark out, so Adrien guessed that they hadn't been travelling for too long. It had also stopped raining, for which he was grateful. His gaze drifted around his new surroundings and saw that they were in the middle of what looked to be a major forward operating base. All about, human personnel went about whatever duties they were assigned; they performed maintenance on equipment, went through training exercises, and a host of other activities, all carried out with supreme productivity.

Say what you want about the Federation, but they were incredibly well-organized.

Their guards organized them into a single-file line and ushered them forward. Despite their terse commands, there was no malice or violent intent on their part, only quick and efficient professionalism. They were doing their duty, nothing more.

As they walked, human personnel paused in their tasks to take a look at them. Some appeared curious, others smugly satisfied, and a few even seemed slightly pitying, but surprisingly, there was no obvious hostility. There were a few jeers and insults thrown their way, but on the whole, the humans didn't seem to be all that interested in them. They just looked at the marching Turians for a brief moment and then went back to what they were doing. Indeed, there reactions were so indifferent that one might not realize that they were at war with each other.

Then again, given our performance, they probably don't even consider this a war, Adrien thought dryly.

The humans lead them over to a section of interconnected tents, each the size of a modest dwelling. They then divided the Turians up into individuals, and escorted them into one of the sections. Adrien knew what was coming: it was time for the interrogations.

As his escort pushed him through the canvass flaps, Adrien tried very hard not to think about how the humans might go about extracting whatever information they wanted out of him. He'd heard plenty of rumors, and he was not eager to see if they were true. Worse, he didn't even have his suicide vial; it had been confiscated along with his medallion.

Inside, he found himself facing another human, a male with pale skin and face full of short whiskers. He was dressed in fatigues instead of armor and was seated behind a small table with an electronic tablet in his hands.

"Greetings, Turian," he said in a thickly accented voice. "My name is Lieutenant Duncan MacTavish. I'm here to get you processed and squared away." He pointed at a vacant chair opposite of him.

"Sit down," he commanded.

Adrien did as he was told and settled himself down as comfortably as he could. The soldier who had brought him in took up position behind him, ready to act in case his prisoner became rebellious. Adrien grunted in irritation as the zip-tie cuffs bit at his wrists.

"I don't suppose you could take these things off?" Adrien asked, gesturing with his head at his bound arms.

"Sorry, but no. We've found that keeping you Turians restrained helps prevent you from getting ideas," the human said, tapping something on the tablet. "In any case, you won't need your hands here. All you need to do is answer my questions."

Adrien took a deep, fortifying breath, steeling himself. Might as well dive headlong into this ordeal, he thought.

"All right, let's get on with it," he growled. "How's this going to work? Are we going to start with a beating? Or are we going to skip the foreplay and go right to the heavy stuff?"

MacTavish's eyes flicked up to Adrien and he gave a derisive snort. Leaning back in his own chair, he said, "I'm sure you've heard all kinds of horror stories about what we do with our prisoners, most likely involving copious amounts of torture and sadism. I can assure you, none of them are true. We don't need to resort to those methods to get information; we have other ways that are far more reliable. Just cooperate, and this session will be over with soon."

"And what if I refuse to cooperate?" he asked.

The human shrugged. "It wouldn't really matter. It'll take longer than if you worked with me, but in the end, I'll find out what I want to know. Being defiant will do nothing more than waste time." His eyes bored into Adrien. "And while those other methods I mentioned before won't constitute torture in the strictest sense, they still won't be very pleasant to go through. The choice is yours, Turian."

The complete confidence the human spoke in was, if anything, even more frightening than any promise of physical pain. Still, Adrien could at least take comfort in the fact that bodily harm was apparently off the table for the time being.

"Fine," he said. "Let's get started."

MacTavish nodded and consulted his tablet. "State your name, rank and service number."

"Adrien Victus, Captain, 23568-948."

"What is your branch of service in the Hierarchy's military?"

"Hierarchy Army, 201st Legion."

"Date and location of birth?"

"Nocrus 14th, 2128. Born on Thracia."

The human continued to ask questions for the next several minutes on everything from Adrien's medical history to education. They were simultaneously straightforward and thorough, but to his relief, none of them pertained to anything sensitive.

And then, the questions suddenly became very strange.

"Have you, at any point in your life, been a member of a religious sect that was not officially recognized by your government?" the human asked.

Adrien blinked owlishly. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Have you, at any point in your life, been a member of a religious sect that was not officially recognized by your government?" MacTavish repeated with a hint of irritation.

"Uh…no," Adrien hedged, not sure where this new line of inquiries was going.

The human's fingers danced across the tablet. "Have you ever been in contact with objects that could be described as having mystical properties?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Adrien's mind suddenly flashed to Sarissa's medallion, but he dismissed it. It was just a hunk of metal; it didn't actually give him good luck. At least, he didn't think so.

"Have you ever experimented in fields of research that would be classified as 'occult,' 'arcane,' or otherwise exist outside of established practices?"

Now Adrien was thoroughly baffled. What the hell did this human mean by that?

"Is this some kind of joke? Because if it is, I really don't get the humor of it."

In an instant, the human's expression morphed from bored disinterest to coldly incensed. He slowly set down the tablet and laced his fingers together, skewering Adrien with a pair of diamond-hard eyes.

"I am not joking, Turian, not in the slightest. You Citadel races have been lucky so far, running around the galaxy in blissful ignorance about how the universe really works. If you think we're something out of a nightmare, then you're in for a real shock. There are things lurking in the dark void that would make you curl up into a ball and weep in terror if you even glimpsed at them." He tapped a finger on the tablet.

"Things like this are absolutely critical to ensuring everyone's safety; the consequences for being unprepared are more terrible than I can put to words." He leaned across the table, eyes blazing.

"So answer the fucking the question."

Adrien knew a good time to be amicable when he heard it. Crazy though the human's questions were, it was clear that he was deadly serious about them.

A little while later, the questioning came to an end and the human made a few last notes on the tablet. "Thank you for your cooperation, Captain," he said, using Adrien's rank to address him. "Just a few more things and we'll be done here."

He stood up from his chair and pointed to a section of the tent. "Stand over there," he ordered.

Adrien toyed with the idea of staying in his seat for a few extra seconds, just to tweak the human's nerves, but quickly discounted the idea. If he tried that, the human behind him would have just hauled him up and made him stand. So, rather than suffer that indignity, Adrien stood up and trudged over to the indicated section.

"Hold still," MacTavish said. He raised the tablet until it was level with his head. "Now, look straight ahead at me."

"But you told me to hold still." The moment he said that, Adrien cursed himself. Dammit, keep your mouth shut. Don't give these guys a reason to use you as a punching bag.

"Funny," MacTavish said, fortunately sounding more sardonic than angry. He moved the tablet around a bit until he was satisfied. There was a bright flash of light from its top, illuminating the tent and filling Adrien's vision with little spots of color. MacTavish consulted the tablet and was apparently satisfied with the result, as he didn't have Adrien do it again.

"One last thing," he said. His fingers once again danced across the tablet and what looked to be a thin strip of plastic emerged from its bottom portion. MacTavish pulled the strip free and strode over to Adrien.

"Your identifying serial number is D-O3-568990." He held up the strip in front of Adrien's eyes to make sure he saw it, and then pressed it against the top-left portion of his breastplate. There was apparently an adhesive on it, as it clung to the metal as surely as a barnacle on a sea vessel.

Adrien glanced down at the new decoration and said, "I hope you don't expect me to wear my armor all the time. Even we start to chafe after a while."

"This is just a temporary measure," the human said with a dismissive wave. "You'll get an official identification document when you reach your destination."

"And where is that, exactly?"

"You and your fellow soldiers will be shipped to Camp Horton, where you will spend the rest of the war." He offered Adrien a small, dry smile.

"You should be happy, Captain. As far as you're concerned, you're out of the fight."

#

Adrien was of the opinion that he had never had a more surreal experience in his life. As he was led out of the tent, he went over the past several minutes in his head, trying to make sense of them. The first part of the interrogation made sense; he'd been subjected to it as part of his officer's training in the event that he was ever captured. However, none of the regimens he'd gone through had covered questions involving things like occult studies and unknown cults.

Ridiculous as the whole thing seemed to him, it was obviously a big deal to the humans. While Adrien had no idea why that was, it ultimately didn't matter; they took it seriously and they were the ones in control right now, so he was perfectly happy to humor them.

After a brief walk, his escort led him to a chain-link holding pen. It wasn't a particularly large enclosure; Adrien doubted it would hold more than twenty or so Turians. It was already half full with members of his unit, he could see. They were sitting on long benches, their hands still bound behind their backs. Some sat with heads bowed, the rest leaning back against the fence, staring dully off into the distance. Taeden was among them, and as he was pushed through the pen's entrance, Adrien moved to sit down in front of him.

"Already finished with you, huh? These guys work fast," said Adrien. "How'd it go?"

"A lot better than I had feared," admitted Taeden. "No lie, I thought for sure I was in for something straight out of a Batarian prison, but all they did was ask me a bunch of questions, give me a number and send me here."

"Did they ask about anything odd?" Adrien inquired. "Like, if you belonged to a cult or dabbled in magic?"

"Yeah. It was weird as hell. I thought it was a joke at first, but the human interrogating me was dead serious. What about you?"

"Same thing: some general personal questions and then they went straight to crazy-town." Adrien shrugged. "But, considering how seriously they take them, I intend to nod politely and say 'Yes, sir. As you say, sir' whenever those subjects get brought up."

"Works for me," said Taeden, shifting himself into a more comfortable position. "I guess all things considered, we're not so badly off."

"What are you talking about?" one of the other Turians demanded, raising his head to glare at Taeden. It was Ganis, Adrien saw, and he looked even more like a petulant child than before.

"Perhaps it's escaped your notice, but we are prisoners of the Federation!" Ganis went on in a voice so full of whiny self-pity that Adrien felt an overwhelming urge to punch him in the face. It was probably for the best that his hands were still tied. "How exactly are we 'not so badly off'?"

"Well, for starters, we're not dead," said Taeden with an air of a long-suffering parent attempting to once again instill some bit of wisdom into a particularly unruly child. "If the humans were just going to kill us, they wouldn't have bothered bringing us here. The worst they've done so far is throw some mean words our way."

"So, because they haven't already brought out the pliers and hot irons, you think we don't have anything to worry about?" Ganis practically shrieked at Taeden. "Have you not been paying attention to what they've been doing to us? Do you really think a race that makes flesh-eating monsters to fight their battles is going to be inclined towards mercy? This is probably just some sick ploy to make us feel hope before they chop us up and feed the pieces to their pets!"

"Oh, for fuck's sake, pull yourself together!" Taeden snapped. "You're an officer in the Hierarchy's military, so act like it!"

Ganis skewered him with a glare of pure murder. "You're right; I am an officer, and unlike you, I earned my rank legitimately and properly! You're just a trooper, who only got command of our group because Tarkin made it so!" Ganis sneered contempt at Taeden. "The most skilled commando under his command? Hah! I can only imagine what the other options were if you're anything to judge by!"

"And I suppose you could have done better?" Taeden asked in a voice so acidic that it could have melted the fence around them. "Was huddling under that counter, whimpering and pissing yourself, part of some master plan to deal with the Engel? If so, I'd love for you to explain it. I am just a trooper, after all; I can't always grasp the intricacies of such brilliant tacticians."

It was at this point that Adrien decided this whole exchange had gone on long enough. Tarkin may have given Taeden command, but as far as he was concerned, that authority ended the moment they were captured. He was the highest-ranking Turian of the group, and it was time to reassert that order.

"That's enough!" Adrien shouted, standing up to tower over the two soldiers. "Look at you two, fighting like a pair of drunken Krogan! Where's your self-respect?"

Their bickering ceased immediately and looked up at him with suitably chastised expressions. Adrien took a moment to rake them over with his best commanding officer's glare before continuing.

"Yes, this isn't exactly a good situation we're in, but by the Spirits, we are not going to devolve into a pack of backbiting Vorcha! We are going to stick together and support each other against whatever might be in our future! Now, I want you both to stop acting like a bunch of petulant children and start acting like the soldiers you're supposed to be!"

Adrien made it a point to be staring at Ganis as he made this last point. He had been the instigator, so most of the blame rightly fell on him. Yes, Taeden had contributed, but if Ganis hadn't wanted a response, then he should have kept his mouth shut.

His outburst had the desired effect; both Turians ceased their bickering and fell silent. They didn't offer any apologies to each other, but it was good enough. Discipline was restored.

Before Adrien could sit back down, he noticed a large group of human soldiers coming their way. One of them stepped away from the group and opened the gate, surveying the Turians within.

"All right, everybody, the pen-pushers are done with you lot." The voice was distinctly feminine and sounded surprisingly pleasant to Adrien's ears. She was slightly shorter than her comrades, but still looked big enough to throw him around if she had a mind to. The soldier beckoned them with one five-fingered hand. "Let's get going; we haven't got all night."

Silently, the Turians rose up from where they'd been sitting and trudged out to the waiting humans. Once again, they organized them into a single-file line and took up position alongside them. One of the humans barked a command and they marched off to whatever new destination awaited them.

This reminds me of boot camp, Adrien thought wryly. If it weren't for the cuffs and the possibility of death hanging overhead, it would be almost nostalgic.

They rounded a corner of the encampment, and Adrien let out an involuntary gasp. Their escorts had brought them to a gathering of other Turians. The fact that there were more of his people held prisoner wasn't surprising; it was how many there were.

Within an area at least the size of a sports arena, rows upon rows of Turians sat on the damp grass, either with bowed heads or looking around with sullen resignation. There was no fence around them, but it wasn't necessary considering what was standing guard. Engels loomed above the crowd, watching out for any sign of resistance, while throngs of Nephilim prowled between their massive legs. A concrete wall topped with barbed wire would have been less of a barrier.

The humans ushered them past a group of growling Nephilim and sat them down in the first row they came to. As they did, one soldier removed the cuffs with a quick slash of a knife. Obviously, they didn't think that they'd have to worry about the Turians causing trouble.

I sure as hell won't be, thought Adrien as he massaged the lingering soreness out of his wrists. He stared up at one of the Engels standing nearby. It had to be at least forty feet tall and bore a long, whip-like tail with a wicked curving point at the end. Unlike the other Engels, it didn't have hands, but a pair of immense pincers like an oversized crab. They looked like they could snip an aircar in half and Adrien could only too easily imagine what they might do to a Turian body.

His observation was interrupted by a tapping on his shoulder. Adrien turned to see a bedraggled Turian with tired, sunken eyes and a long scar across his snout that looked freshly healed.

"Hey, where are you guys from?" he asked.

Initially nonplussed, Adrien quickly regained his senses and replied, "Carista, freshly caught as of just a few hours ago."

"No shit?" said the Turian, sounding genuinely surprised. "Last I heard, you guys had been surrounded by the Hueys. Thought for sure they'd have wiped out the whole sector by now."

"They ended up deciding that it would be easier to just keep us penned in and wait to see what happens," said Adrien. "We're still holding out so far." He neglected to mention that the situation was about as perilous as it could be. From the look of him, this Turian hadn't had any kind of hopeful news for a long time. "What about you?"

"Me? I got caught in a mag-rail station by Lariza. Everyone here is from the southern army groups." He made a sweeping motion with his arm. "The Hueys have been picking us up from all over the place."

"All over?" asked Adrien. He could feel a cold pit beginning to form in his stomach. "What do you mean? Are our forces still intact out there?"

"If they are, then they won't be for much longer," the Turian said. "The Hueys have been hammering us for weeks now. Lariza and the other major cities have pretty much been wiped off the map, and there sure as hell won't be any help coming from the northern parts." He gave a shrug. "Even if I were a committed optimist, I'd still only give the remaining units a few more days before they give up. The officers—those who were still alive, anyway—were already talking about surrendering when I got picked up."

The news hit Adrien like a physical blow. This whole time, he'd been working under the assumption that the rest of the Hierarchy's forces in the south maintained a steadfast position against the Federation's advances. The idea had been a slight comfort, that he had been captured carrying out a mission that could have saved the defenders at Carista.

Instead, it turned out that the southern front was on the brink of collapse and the Federation was most likely going to declare victory over them in a few more days. All that effort to try and scout out the enemy now seemed entirely pointless.

I might as well have just stayed in the bunker, thought Adrien bitterly. At least then I'd still be with my troops.

He thought back on his men, huddled and starving back in the underground shelters of Carista. What would happen to them now? Would they end up as prisoners like him? Or would they die in a blaze of fire and bullets? What if they didn't even receive that much dignity and succumbed to hunger and sickness?

Guilt and shame welled up inside Adrien; he'd failed them. Siros, Viggo, all of his stalwart soldiers, who had followed him loyally despite his reputation for unorthodoxy, were now doomed because he'd let them down.

Fortunately, before he could truly begin to wallow in his misery, the air was suddenly split by the roar of powerful engines. Adrien looked up to see aircraft descend from on high and make their way towards the outskirts of the holding area. There were four of them, each one big enough to carry a squad of Tyrus tanks and still have room to spare. They were born on a pair of massive anti-gravity turbines that maneuvered the ships with a grace that belied their size.

One of the immense crafts touched down almost directly in front of the row where Adrien sat, the rear turned to face them. A ramp was lowered with a low whine of gears, exposing a cavernous hull.

"Looks like our ride's here," muttered Adrien.

Sure enough, the humans began barking orders for the Turians to stand up and head inside the vehicle. Silently, they clambered back to their feet and shuffled forward. Some of the surrounding Nephilim growled at them as they passed, warning the Turians that there was no point in trying to be a hero.

The interior of the craft seemed even more spacious up close. The roof was high enough that even the biggest of the humans' Engels could stand upright and have room to spare above its head. The hull was completely empty; there weren't even any seats, just bare metal on all sides with an interlocking screen of bars blocking off access to the cockpit and other key areas. Adrien guessed that it was some sort of cargo carrier that had been repurposed to transport prisoners. And by the look of it, the comfort of those prisoners was not something they bothered to take into account.

As they filed into the plane, they were greeted by a platoon's worth of soldiers, who went about sitting them all down. There were more than a few grumbles of protest, but nothing more. The humans went about their business with the efficient brusqueness Adrien had come to expect from them, and soon everyone was crammed almost elbow to elbow against each other. While it wasn't stifling, there certainly wasn't much room to spare.

Adrien found himself hoping that it wouldn't be a long flight.

Once the hull was full almost to the brim with Turian bodies, the ramp rose back up, sealing them in with an ominous clunk. The human soldiers retreated past the caged section and up a ladder. They spread out across a narrow walkway that ran around the entire upper hull, far out of reach of any reprisals from their captives. One of them went over to a section of wall and took hold of a microphone attached there. There was a click and a voice rang out from somewhere overhead.

"Attention, all prisoners. This shuttle will be heading for Camp Horton momentarily. We anticipate the flight to take roughly an hour."

Oh, goody, thought Adrien. We wouldn't want to delay our arrival at a POW camp, now would we?

"Before we begin our departure, there are some rules we have to go over," the human went on. "First of all, do not attempt to escape or cause trouble. Any such actions will be met with lethal force. Second, you are to remain sitting for the duration of this flight; if you need to use the facilities, raise your hand, but do not stand up until you are given permission to come towards the gate. Just to forewarn you all, that's a privilege here. If anyone abuses that privilege, it will be taken away and you'll all have to make do with a bucket. Third, you are free to talk amongst yourselves during the trip, but there is to be no shouting or screaming; that will fall under the category of 'causing trouble.' Is that understood?"

The hull reverberated with murmured affirmations from the Turians. Adrien added his own voice to the chorus. While he doubted that his captors would have noticed if he had chosen to remain silent, doing so just seemed petty to him. After all, it wasn't like he had an overabundance of pride to assuage; that had been thoroughly drummed out over the years of constant haranguings from superior officers who didn't like the way he did things.

"Good," said the human. "Then all I have left to say is: enjoy the flight."

And with that bit of sardonic humor, he clicked the microphone back into its slot. As if that were a signal, the craft rumbled and Adrien could hear the thrum of powerful engines firing up. There was a slight lurch as it lifted off the ground and into the air, but after that, it was as if they were moving across solid earth.

And in about one hour, they were all going to see what the inside of a human POW camp looked like.

#

For the first ten minutes or so of the flight, it was dead silent inside the hull. The only thing that could be heard was the low thrum of the aircraft's engines as it ferried them towards their final destination. No one uttered so much as a peep, as if afraid that even that would be cause for immediate execution, regardless of assurances to the contrary.

But, eventually, the Turians bowed to the inevitable and hushed conversations broke out among them. Some wondered what was in store for them when they arrived at the camp. Others reminisced about loved ones they hoped to see again. Apprehension and cautious optimism permeated the atmosphere of the shuttle.

Adrien didn't join in. He wasn't in a talking mood right now. Instead, he retreated into himself, letting his thoughts swirl around in his head. He thought of Sarissa; she was probably working long hours at her office, seeing case after case of mental trauma brought on by the war and wondering if her husband would end up the same way. He thought of Tarquin, his little boy; he was probably walking by now, saying his first words and getting into all kinds of mischief. He thought of home, and how much he wished he were back there. So deep was his morose reflection that he didn't realize they had arrived until their human guards started shouting orders.

"Prisoners, stand up!"

Every Turian leapt to their feet as if they were faced with a drill sergeant about to perform an inspection. They stood ramrod straight, staring straight ahead at the metal wall in front of them. Adrien was no exception; refusing to stand would be nothing more than an insignificant gesture of defiance that would accomplish nothing.

"Prisoners, about face!"

In almost perfect unison, the Turians performed a neat one-eighty and now faced the back of the shuttle where the ramp was just now starting to be lowered. A few seconds later, the ramp settled down ponderously and a crisp, cool breeze wafted in, chasing out the stale air that had built up during the flight. They didn't get time to savor the feeling, for there came another command from the humans.

"Prisoners, forward march!"

As one, they trudged down the ramp and into the night. A host of smaller mecha was waiting for them, holding position on either side like a parody of an honor guard. The Turians marched forward, some casting wary glances at the war machines' huge weapons clutched in their equally huge metal hands.

They continued to march forward until they came to a series of processing stations, staffed by uniformed humans. To Adrien's mild surprise, he saw that his group was not the first arrival. Other Turians were already there, waiting in line or being interviewed by one of the humans.

A command to halt rang out and the Turians stopped in their tracks. Several human soldiers moved towards them and began directing individuals to the queues. Adrien noticed that females and males were kept separated. Eventually, one of them reached him and pointed at a vacant station down the line.

Adrien walked over to it and found himself in front of a bored-looking female human with tightly bound yellow hair underneath a cap. She didn't ask any questions, just glanced up at his identification number, entered it into the tablet she held, and pressed a button on some sort of machine next to her. It whirred and hummed for a few seconds before producing a rectangular plastic card about six inches long. The human snatched it from its slot, reached down under her desk and came out with a lanyard with a case attached to it. Briskly, she snapped the card into the case and held it out to Adrien.

"This is your identification card," she said dully, sounding like a customer service agent who had been on call for hours and had long since stopped giving a shit about anything. "You are to wear it at all times except when sleeping. If it gets lost, stolen or damaged, go to the nearest camp official and report it. Go to the facility marked with a red cross for sanitization. Afterwards, you'll be provided with a kit and other amenities. Get moving." She went back to her tablet, signifying that this part of the processing was over.

As Adrien headed off towards the structure he looked over his ID card. His face was plastered right at the top, in surprisingly high-definition as well. Beneath the picture was his name and serial number in big, bold print. Under that was the information that Adrien had previously given out during his interrogation.

How's that for thorough? Adrien thought as he slung the lanyard around his neck. The case clacked against his armor with every step. That, he decided, was going to be annoying.

The facility that the female had told him to head to was easy enough to pick out. It was a great white dome of hard canvass and metal supports. A bright red cross was emblazoned above the entrance, which was guarded by four human soldiers. The eye-lenses of their helmets stared coldly at Adrien as he passed by, almost daring him to start something.

No sooner had he stepped passed the threshold when he was accosted by another human wearing a dull green hazmat suit, complete with respirator and faceguard. Grabbing hold of Adrien's arm, he tugged him over to a narrow stall.

"All right, strip down and set all clothing articles off to the side," the human commanded, pushing Adrien into the stall.

"Strip down?" Adrien asked, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. While he was no stranger to forsaking modesty every now and then, in this case the idea made him feel particularly vulnerable. Absurd though it was, taking off his armor seemed like he was giving up his last bit of protection.

"Right down to your birthday suit," the human affirmed. When Adrien didn't move, he huffed with annoyance. "Listen, Turian: one way or another, you are getting bare-ass naked. You can either do it yourself, or I call in some help to make it happen."

Adrien wasn't about to surrender whatever dignity he still had being forcibly stripped by human soldiers. Bowing to the inevitable, he began to remove his armor piece by piece.

He was not the only one going through the same thing. At least twenty other Turians were present, occupying their own little corner of the domicile with a hazmat-suited human attending them. While most appeared well enough, Adrien noticed that several of them bore obvious signs of poor health in the form of rashes, open sores and other ailments. One Turian in particular was being treated for an absolutely horrific case of scale mites. Even at a distance, Adrien could see the blue-black forms scurrying over his skin, and the inflamed portions of his body where they had burrowed in. Just looking at him made Adrien's own skin itch.

In short order, he had removed every item of clothing and placed them where he'd been directed. It occurred to him that, while wholly unclothed, he wasn't helpless; the humans couldn't take away his talons, after all, and that hazmat suit was hardly an invulnerable barrier. It would be no trick at all to plunge them into something vital and Adrien was almost tempted to try it.

Fortunately, his common sense wasn't to be overcome so easily. Even if he managed to kill this human, what would he do about the guards that would immediately come in? He'd be nothing more than a lump of shredded meat before he could say, "Bad idea." So, he waited, naked as the day he was born, save for the lanyard around his neck.

His attendant brought out a canister with a hose and nozzle attached to it and sprayed Adrien with a foamy white substance thick as the froth on malt beer, warm and smelling pleasantly like the perfumes Asari favored. In spite of himself, Adrien enjoyed the feeling of being lathered up in whatever kind of cleaning solution this was.

Once the human had finished with the foam, he grabbed hold of another hose and doused Adrien with a torrent of water. This part wasn't nearly so pleasant, as while the water was warm, the human wasn't all that concerned about where he shot it. Twice, Adrien caught a blast in the mouth, revealing that the stuff didn't taste anywhere near as good as it smelled.

This went on for a few minutes until the human was satisfied that he'd purged every trace of the lather off of Adrien. He then pressed a button on a control panel and hot air suddenly blasted Adrien, filling his ears with a roar like a fighter engine. This lasted for a few seconds, and the dryer powered down, replacing the roar in his ears with a ringing like wind chimes.

Adrien shook his head to try and rid himself of the lingering sound, and was nearly hit in the face by a bag the human tossed at him. He caught on reflex and peered in at the contents of the clear plastic. It was a bundle of clothing; a shirt and a pair of pants made for a Turian body, light gray in color and without any kind of pattern on them. They came with a pair of footwear, also light gray, and boasting thick rubber soles and toe-guards.

There was no need to be told what to do with this. Adrien ripped the clothes out of the plastic and put them on. They fit snugly on his frame, though loose enough for him to move without issue. It was almost like wearing a set of sleepwear. The shoes were another story; putting them on proved to be a monumental effort, and when he got them in place, it felt like his feet were being squeezed by a vice.

"I thought you didn't believe in torture," Adrien grunted, trying to make the rebellious shoes ease off on their grip.

"They'll loosen up after a while," the human responded, completely unmoved by Adrien's plight. "Head out the back and pick up your amenities kit."

Adrien stalked off, his new footwear squeaking and pinching him with every step. He resolved that, if the things didn't become more tolerable soon, he would shred them and go barefoot.

His path led him to a large desk, behind which sat what he first took to be a human with skin dark as a midnight sky and intricate tattoos tracing around his face. Upon closer inspection, Adrien realized that this was a Nazzadi, a genetic cousin of the humans. The eyes were what gave it away; they were a deep crimson, hard and sharp as knives.

There were several stacks of plastic boxes surrounding the desk, and the Nazzadi snagged one at random, placing it on the desk. He snapped the two latches holding the lid shut and opened it up to show Adrien the contents.

"Toiletries, dental hygiene kit and bedding," he recited and then snapped the box shut again, shoving it towards Adrien. "Go out the back and head to the main courtyard for orientation."

Adrien picked up the box and went off to the rear of the tent, wondering where exactly the courtyard was. Pushing aside the plastic flaps, he found his answer.

A great square of paved ground was laid out before him, almost the size of a small parking lot. It was half full of freshly-processed Turians, each one wearing the same type of clothing and holding their own amenities box. They stood facing a raised platform guarded by half a dozen mecha, trying their best to stand rigid, but for the most part failing. It was readily apparent that they were tired, most likely hungry, and were long past the point of caring about anything other than alleviating those two afflictions.

At least it stopped raining, thought Adrien as he ambled over to one of the lines. His new attire might have been more comfortable than he'd expected, but he doubted it was waterproof. Standing around in the open air in wet clothes was not something he was eager to experience.

More Turians filed in, freshly processed and awaiting whatever came next. The minutes ticked by and Adrien was beginning to feel his legs cramp up; the last time he'd stayed standing for this long had been back at boot camp, where the drill sergeant had decided that his unit was insufficiently disciplined.

Finally, after what felt like hours, a human walked onto the platform, a high-ranking officer, if the colorful stripes on his lapels were anything to judge by. He strutted up almost to the edge of the platform, arms crossed behind his back, raking the crowd of Turians with the dispassionate stare of a store manager looking over the new inventory.

"Good evening to you all," the human began. His voice echoed out from across the courtyard, amplified by hidden speakers. "I am Colonel Rashid Al-Asiri, commandant of Camp Horton, and as of this moment, you are all prisoners of war under my jurisdiction for the foreseeable future." He paused to let his words sink in and went on.

"Now, I am not one for long speeches, so I will keep this brief and straightforward: behave, and you will be treated well. Cause trouble, and you'll suffer the consequences. However pleasant your time here is will depend entirely upon you. You will find a list of the rules to follow outside the camp's mess hall; I advise that you familiarize yourselves with them intimately. Any questions that you might have, you can address them with either the guards or the senior inmates. That is all. Dismissed."

With that, he strutted off the platform and out of sight. The mecha that surrounded it stomped forward, herding the Turians like a flock of domesticated shatha towards an immense wall. No mere chain-link fence, this barrier was made of some kind of solid material, possibly concrete or something similar. Lookout towers dotted its length, which seemed to stretch as far as Adrien could see.

As they drew near, a section of the wall parted with a low groan. Adrien felt a sudden sense of apprehension well up in him. This was it; the final destination of the journey. They tramped through the gate and into the camp, silent save for the tramping of feet.

Once they were all through, the gate began to slide shut. Adrien took one last look at the world he was about to leave behind and might not see again for a long time. Then, the gate closed with terrible finality, taking with it Adrien's last view of freedom.

His life as a soldier was over. Now, his life as a prisoner well and truly began.

#

The first impression Adrien had of the place was that it was huge. The towering walls that marked its borders stretched around an area the size of a small city. Rows of long, rectangular buildings rose up on the far side of the camp, which Adrien guessed were their lodgings. There were other buildings whose purpose he couldn't tell, but was bound to find out soon enough.

With no further directions or orders forthcoming, the recent additions to the camp's population began to disperse. Some simply wandered off aimlessly, exploring what was to be their home for however long it took for the war to end. Most, however, opted to head towards the lodgings, no doubt intending to secure a good place to bunk in. For his part, Adrien stood where he was, taking in the sight of the place that was to be his home.

"Gotta say, this isn't what I was expecting."

Adrien started and turned to his left to see who had spoken. He saw that Taeden had managed to pick him out and moved up beside him. He was clutching his own amenities kit under an arm, tapping a talon against it in contemplation as he stared out at the prison camp's expanse.

"Same here," said Adrien. "If it weren't for the walls and watchtowers, I'd say this was a rural town."

"It could certainly be worse." Taeden adjusted his kit. "Speaking of, we should go find ourselves some accommodations before all the good places get snapped up."

That sounded good to Adrien. "After you."

Together, they strode briskly over to the cabins. While nothing fancy, were sturdy and well-maintained, big enough to house a full company without issue. They were all the same color, white walls and gray roofs with small windows dotting their lengths on either side. Adrien had seen actual houses that weren't half as robust as these dwellings. If this were some ruse by the Federation, then they were really committed to it.

"This one looks as good as any," Adrien said, stopping in front of one cabin. "Let's see if they've got room." Adrien pushed open the door and stepped inside, Taeden trailing at his heels.

The cabin was populated by Turians, though not intolerably so. Adrien was quick to notice that none of them looked ill-treated. On the contrary, they appeared to be healthy, well-fed and in obvious good spirits, occupying their time with card games, small talk or relaxing in their beds. To say Adrien was astonished was a vast understatement.

His eyes fell on one such Turian who was lounging in a chair, feet propped up on a small table in front of him. His face bore the red and yellow markings of a Gothis native, which were marred by a patchwork of scars on the right side. A magazine titled "Weird Tales" was in his hands, which he read with no small amount of interest. His eyes, a hard gray-green hue, suddenly flicked up towards him and his mandibles spread out into a wide smile.

"Well, hello!" he exclaimed jovially. "You two must be from the latest catch the Federation hauled in." He stood up, dropping his magazine onto the table, and walked over to them. Up close, his face looked even more of a ragged mess; in Adrien's opinion, it was a wonder it was still intact. The Turian noticed where Adrien was looking, and let out a chuckle.

"Compliments of an artillery strike," he said, tapping the scar tissue. "You should have seen what it looked like right after; my jaw was literally hanging on by a sinew."

Adrien was not ashamed to admit that he felt a little queasy at the image. "It looks a lot better now."

"Tell me about it! Fortunately, the humans have some really neat healing tech. It only took them an hour to fix me up and send me on my way." He suddenly clapped a hand to his chest in mock dismay.

"Oh, where are my manners? Calogerus Strabo, Sergeant-Major, but you can just call me Calo," he said, extending a hand.

"Adrien Victus, Captain," Adrien responded, taking the proffered hand. "And this is Taeden Gilis."

"Just a private," Taeden put in wryly, taking Calo's hand after Adrien was through.

"Well then, let me be the first to welcome you to Camp Horton, our new home away from home." Calo gestured expansively around at the cabin. "I take it you're both here to snap up some accommodations?"

"Pretty much," said Adrien.

"You're in luck, then! We've got a few vacant bunks down in the back." Calo jerked a thumb in the direction. "I'll show you to them if you like."

Without waiting for a response, he strutted off down the cabin, Adrien and Taeden scurrying after him. As they walked, Adrien took the opportunity to examine the cabin more closely. The setup was rather impressive, as far as prison accommodations went. Bunk beds lined either side of its length, with actual mattresses in them. A few tables and chairs ran down the middle. It honestly resembled nothing so much as a well-maintained barracks

"I have to admit, this was well beyond what I was expecting," Adrien remarked.

"I bet," Calo said with a laugh. "Everyone thinks the prison camps to be hellholes of mud and rickety shacks where the humans prowl around, using half-starved Turians as target practice when they first arrive. As you can see, none of that's true. No torture chambers, no mass executions, or anything like that."

"Really?" asked Taeden, sounding as if he found that to be very hard to believe. "So they just let you guys loaf around, doing whatever you want?"

"More or less," Calo agreed. "We do get work shifts a few days out of the week, usually farming or something similar, but nothing particularly taxing. So long as we don't cause trouble, the humans leave us to our own devices. They give us plenty of options to keep us occupied; you can even schedule some time with the female prisoners here."

"What females?" asked Adrien. "Near as I can see, it's just guys here."

"They're kept in a separate section of the camp. The humans aren't exactly keen on little Turians popping up, so they take every step to make sure that only pre-approved relations happen. Trying to score without permission is one of the things they will punish, just so you know."

"I'll keep that in mind," said Adrien. "Still, it does seem…strange that the humans are so easygoing."

"Oh, they're not doing this entirely out of the goodness of their hearts," said Calo. "The Federation is also working to maintain a good image with the rest of the civilized galaxy. They want to make sure that everyone knows that they are the aggrieved party in this war and are only fighting to defend themselves and their way of life from the Hierarchy's unprovoked aggression. They put some of us in front of a camera every now and then to say a few words. You know, 'Hi Mom and Dad, I'm doing fine, the humans are treating us all decently, fuck Sparatus and the varren that sired him,' things like that." Calo paused and looked over his shoulder.

"A word of advice: don't voice any support for Sparatus in here. Our illustrious Councilor isn't exactly popular among the soldiery these days anyone who does speak positively of him tends to come down with a sudden case of bludgeoning fists and feet."

"I don't think that will be a problem," Adrien assured him. Spirits knew, if anyone was going to be a cheerleader for that barefaced asshole, it wouldn't be him.

"Good!" Calo walked a few more paces forward before stopping in front of a set of bunks. "And here we are. Make yourselves at home! You might want to get squared away pretty quick, because it'll be lights out soon and roll call happens bright and early."

With that, he strode off to where he originally had been, leaving Adrien and Taeden standing beside their new lodgings. Taeden glanced over at him and asked, "You want the top, or the bottom?"

Adrien shrugged. "Makes no difference to me."

"In that case, I'll take the top," said Taeden. He clambered up the ladder and onto the bed, where he began pulling out the bedding from his kit. "You know, this actually reminds me of the times when I had sleepovers with my friends. I don't think I'll mind staying here. What do you think, Captain?"

"I suppose I won't mind either," Adrien said, taking out his own bedding.

But in fact, he had no intention of staying. Now that he had recovered from his broodings and regained his wits, there was only one thing he intended to do, what any self-respecting prisoner of war would:

Plan an escape.