December 17th

15:14 OST

I hadn't known the base had a room this big until today.

The room was almost twice the size of the rec room, with a strangely high ceiling and very bright lights. There were no furnishings or decorations to speak of besides the short platform at the back of the room and Blue Suns logo emblazoned on the wall above it. It reminded me of an auditorium, and I wouldn't have been surprised if that were its purpose.

We had been led here a few minutes ago, "we" being my team and a number of other teams. The other teams seemed to know what was going on and were at ease, so I tried to relax and wait calmly. Vilnius had the same idea and Brek was simply staring at the platform, but Hyrn was beginning to vibrate and Javern's hands were glowing a bit.

We didn't have to wait much longer before a turian entered the room and walked to the front of the room. The quiet conversations that had been going on around the room immediately stopped when he got onto the platform and faced us. The turian was wearing the standard armor, but held himself a bit differently than the usual trooper. I couldn't tell much about his face from my location toward the back of the room, but his red facepaint was clear from here.

He looked over the group several times before speaking. "It appears that everyone is here. Good." His tone was smooth, almost friendly. "First, general status update." He activated his omni-tool and opened a file, which he enlarged so that it was more visible for us. The file displayed a variety of graphs and charts. "The mission success ratio of 3rd Platoon has increased by 0.23% percent this month, putting us at 1.67% higher ratio than 2nd Platoon and 2.004% higher than 5th Platoon." A handful of cheerful remarks erupted, which the turian paused for before continuing. "We are still behind 1st Platoon by 0.39% and 4th Platoon by 1.7%." A series of muted comments burst out again.

"Our roster is currently sitting at 34 members, with a single casualty and a team of five recruited. Team 31 has been preforming admirably, as usual, with six completed contracts this month. Team 32 was assigned four but regretfully failed one, losing one of their members in the process." The turian's voice softened slightly at relaying such news before moving on. "Team 33 is still on their extended contract and are due back in two weeks. Team 34 and 35 had three contracts each, 34 preformed successfully, 35 had one failure. Team 36, our newest recruits, completed their initiation slightly above expected parameters and have successfully completed one contract since."

The announcements about the other teams hadn't provoked much of a reaction besides a slight murmur at the mention of the casualty, but when the turian came to Team 36 a few people turned to glance at us with indecipherable looks. I almost felt the rest of the team beside me bristle or flinch at the attention.

"Moving on," the turian at the front said, tone indicating that our attention was necessary as he pulled up a bird's eye view image of what looked like a district of Omega on his omni-tool, "there have been reports of Blood Pact activity near Zeta District. Now, Cherek has been too… conservative," he lingered on the word, the emphasis implying a desire to use a much harsher adjective, "to volunteer our assistance, but if the order comes from higher up for us to go in I expect 3rd Platoon to be ready and at its best." Scattered assents rose from the group.

The red-painted turian nodded and shifted his stance. "Now, none of you are going to like this next bit. HQ on Zorya has sent word that they're over capacity. Again." Groans came from nearly everyone in the room. "So they're sending us a few of their rookie teams. There's nothing certain yet, but word is we're getting one of them." He looked around again, pinning a few people in particular with a sharp look. "I expect you to greet them like you would any other team of velites. If they start trouble, feel free to put them in their place. But while they behave, you'll behave as well."

"Finally," he sighed, bringing up a map of the local area with line drawn through it, "the number of patrols along the west side of the District have been increased. Some of the businesses there have been complaining of a vorcha infestation. If while on patrol in the area you spot a vorcha, you are to track it back to its nest and exterminate the lot of them." He deactivated his 'tool. "Questions, concerns?" The crowd was silent, and the turian nodded again. "Alright, dismissed."

The turian got down from the platform and left quickly, but the other teams seemed to not be in as much a rush to leave. Most started talking amongst themselves. I looked over at my teammates, who all seemed a little uncertain of what to do next. I saw Vilnius open his mouth to say something, but before he could speak someone was walking up to us. He was human, perhaps in his early thirties, with short hair, tanned skin and a thin scar over his mouth.

"So, you're the new velites," he said.

Vilnius stepped forward and nodded.

The man held his hand out to Vilnius, who paused for a few seconds before shaking it. "I'm York, with Team 31. I'm one of the instructors at the range." I hadn't recognized him since he wore his helmet at the range, but his voice was definitely familiar. The man's eyes glanced between us and smiled. "I think I've seen you before. Sniper, right?" Vilnius dipped his head. "And I've seen you," he gestured to me next, "trying to get used to that assault rifle. Last I saw you were improving."

"Marginally," I replied.

He nodded and looked us over again. "Odd little team you've got here. We don't get many salarians. Or biotic batarians, for that matter." Javern tensed at that comment but said nothing. York moved on. "I thought I'd talk to you guys about some things. I'm willing to bet that all you got out of the Sergeant was that mandated spiel?" Vilnius nodded, and York let out a short laugh. "Yeah, he hates those things so damn much that he rushes velites right out of his office and forgets to tell them the important parts."

"Important parts?" Javern asked. "Such as?"

"How to get promoted and earn the armor, for one. It's not just a matter of doing all the contracts sent your way. The average Blue Sun trooper is expected to have basic training consisting of comprehensive lessons in a combat skillset and a crash course in environmental survival." The man looked at our expressions and chuckled. "Bet you didn't know that, huh?"

"No, we didn't," Vilnius confirmed, sounding slightly uncertain.

"I wouldn't worry too much about the combat training. From what I hear, you guys have been looking for lessons on your own anyway. The environmental training, however, is a different story. Every six months, two trainers round up all of the velites and take them out for a month-long course. You survive the month and the trainer doesn't think you'll get yourself killed later, you pass. You'll be able to choose whether you want the planetary or the ship training. I think the next round of training is in March." He paused and gave us a sly look. "My advice? Take the ship. You'll have extranet access. For some people, a month away from the extranet alone is enough to kill them."

I was inclined to agree with him. I'd take the nice clean ship with extranet over some dirty, horrible planet any day.

"Thank you for telling us," Vilnius said after a long pause. "Is there anything else we need to know?"

"A couple things." York shifted, watching one of the teams leave the room. He waved to them as they passed, and they nodded back. The man then turned back to us. "Firstly, while the gene mods are obscenely expensive up front, there are ways for you get some right now. You can sign a contract with the company that will dock a small amount of your paychecks for the next year or so, and they'll get you set up right away. I highly recommend you do so, you'll need every advantage you can get."

I snorted lightly. "Yeah, no shit. We can't complete contracts if we're dead."

His lips twitched, but York's tone was strangely hard when he spoke. "Sure, but that's not what I meant. Now that you've done your first contract, you're not just another bunch of dead men walking to these people. You're possible comrades. Allies. Enemies." He gave us all a sharp look. "Don't get me wrong, we generally don't backstab as a rule. It's unprofessional. But we sure as hell compete with each other. And the more you manage to be successful here, the more people are going to see you as competition."

"And the gene mods help us be competitive," Javern stated musingly.

"Pretty much," York confirmed. "You guys should seriously think about getting some soon, within the next few weeks at least."

Vilnius glanced back at the rest of us. "We'll consider it."

"Good. One last thing. If you guys don't already know where you all live, you should. Invite one another over, have dinner, a game night, whatever. Besides getting to know each other, knowing where your teammates live can be important when one of them gets sick or disappears."

Disappears? That's… worrying.

"Anyway," York made to leave, "you all seem like good guys. I hope things go well for you." Hyrn, Javern and I muttered replies of thanks as he walked away.

"I don't trust that guy," Javern muttered.

Vilnius crossed his arms. "Everything he said made sense. Why would he lie?"

"Because he wants us out of the way! You heard him, we're competition now."

"I-I don't-t know… h-he seem-med nice," Hyrn spoke up.

"Sure, he's nice and helps us out now, but what's in it for him, huh?" Javern shook his head. "What will he want from us later?"

"Maybe he wants to make sure we're not a waste of resources," I cut in, irritated with the batarian's paranoia. "Or, god forbid, maybe he's just helping because it's the right thing to do."

The look Javern gave me was downright poisonous, but he didn't say a word. Vilnius spoke instead. "Whatever his reasons, we should look into the things he talked about. If what he said is true, we should see about acquiring those gene mods." He thought for a moment. "And seeing each other's residences is not a bad idea either. What do you all think?"

I thought of my tiny room. The lack of personal items, the obvious cheapness of it, and what it might say.

"I mean…" I hesitated "Sure it's good to know where we are, but do we really need to see them?" Hyrn likewise gave a noncommittal answer.

Javern sighed. "Sure," was all he said.

"I would not mind having you over," Vilnius finished.

"Looks like you two are outvoted," Javern said with a smirk.

"How?" I demanded. "It's Hyrn and I against you and Vilnius."

"Brek and I live together." Javern seemed to realize something. "You're okay with having them over, right?" He asked Brek.

Brek made a vaguely affirmative sound.

"There, three on two." The batarian sounded so damn smug.

"Ugh, you're such an ass," I grumbled. "Like, all the time."

"Yeah? I wonder how it feels to be so damn conceited all the time," Javern shot back.

"A lot better than being a slave-owning asshat, that's for sure!"

Javern froze, looking like he wanted to kill me on the spot. He opened his mouth to say something a few times, then turned around and left the room. Something seemed to change in Brek's face before he followed Javern out stiffly, not even looking at us as he passed.

"Well…" Vilnius said. "I guess we'll discuss this at a later date."

"Right," I muttered. In short order, we had all left the room and headed our separate ways.

Thinking over the argument in my head on the way home, I was more and more confused as to what had caused Javern to storm out like he had. He clearly had no issues with slavery, and I'd called him an asshat more than a few times before. He had been avoiding me in the past few days, but I hadn't really paid it much attention.

In the end I put it down to him being a temperamental asshole and left it at that.

Upon reaching the apartment complex, I was greeted in the lobby by Dolgan, my overly-friendly krogan neighbor.

"Off from work a bit late today," he said cheerfully, standing between me and the stairs down.

"A bit yeah. There was a meeting." I replied.

He seemed interested. "Must have been an important meeting. I'm sure they have to discuss the recent vorcha problem, after all."

"Yes, they did. Excuse me, I'd like to get to my room now." I really wasn't in the mood for chitchat.

He started a little. "Of course." I quickly headed down the stairs, and he called down to me. "Have a good night!"

Really, really weird guy.

I finally got to my room and locked the door. Glancing around the room, I started to really notice how small it was. For the price it was a good deal, but the fact was it was about the size of a bathroom. Aside from a few empty wrappers that I quickly cleaned up, the space was bare, no pictures or knick-knacks. The little standing closet didn't have much in it besides three shirts, two pants and my coat.

It was the room of someone with no money and no past, at least not one that wanted to keep with them. I had some money now, but the past was still very much absent and I couldn't hide that.

Well, not much that can be done about it now.

I tried neatening up the place a bit, but eventually I settled down for bed.

It was as I was checking on my alarm clock that I realized something.

Dolgan knew I was late coming home from work. He knows when I normally get off work. He's been watching me.

It could have been nothing. It could have been innocent curiosity. But it could have been something not so innocent.

I had a harder time than usual getting sleep that night.

AN: I found myself unwilling to leave you guys with just the bonus chapter for now. Don't take this as a sign of productivity to come, I can't promise the next chapter anytime soon.

As for this chapter…. I had to cram in so much set-up in so little time. So many plans, I tell you! Things are going places! Eventually!