Thanks to all reviewers! I appreciate all your kind words and hope to hear more from you soon!
Chapter 3 – Maladjusted
My first night on the Citadel went about as well as the first night staying in an unfamiliar place could have. I had trouble sleeping, the food didn't taste as good as I might have hoped, and it took me forever to figure out how the damn TV worked. It wasn't all bad, though. In spite of my unfair situation, some things actually happened to go my way on that first afternoon. There were several delivering food joints close by, and new clothes were actually brought for me by a courier, apparently purchased by my "father" back on Earth.
Speaking of which, I was starting to doubt the whole thing with my father leaving me to rot here. For one thing, my father, while knowing that I still needed to learn what it truly meant to be an adult, was not the sort of man to just leave his only freaking child lightyears away from Earth without so much as a call. I tried to request his calling address from that C-Sec guy I'd dealt with, but the address he used to send me the block number turned out to be one of those "don't respond to this or send messages to this address" addresses.
For another thing, I was in freaking Mass Effect and highly doubted that my father had just magically made the jump with me. Then again, the cop did read off my actual family and history to me, so there was obviously something there. Who was I to question anything? Maybe I had actually lived in Mass Effect the entire time and the life I had before in 2013 was an illusion. I didn't know anymore.
Hold your breath, count to one, and for Pete's sake, get the fuck over it.
Also, even before the clothes arrived for me, I got paid a visit by a C-Sec turian. He was unexpectedly polite as he informed me that they were tracking my movements through my omni-tool and, if I were to remove it in some attempt to hide, I would instantly become wanted. That was going to be my situation until my criminal fines had been paid off. He also told me where I was to report for my first day of sanitation duty in the morning. I was going to be working closer to the far tip of the ward, in and around the 900 Blocks. My orders were to meet someone named Dolis Kraine, so at least I knew what I had to do. He made sure to add that, were I not to show up, I would be taken back to the precinct and shown back to my cell in preparation for a more strenuous way to serve my sentence. He didn't elaborate past that, nor did he need to.
I awoke that morning with a headache and the need for some caffeine. Thankfully, I had managed to track down my bank account, courtesy of a miraculously still-functioning Wells Fargo. It had some money in it, but not nearly enough to pay any fines. With a little direction from Donny, I'd managed to go out while I still had the chance and buy some necessities. Food, fresh toiletries, a towel, and coffee were at the top of the list. There was a coffee maker in the kitchenette, thank God. Starting the day with a cup of the good stuff was just what I needed.
"Nng!" I grunted at the first sip. Unfortunately, I'd neglected to buy sugar or cream.
Beyond that, I whipped up some eggs to call breakfast, showered, put on some of my new clothes, and got on my way. I'd only managed to wake up an hour before 0400, so it wasn't like I had all morning to dawdle.
Just to say, Galactic Standard time, for those uninitiated, is comprised of twenty hour days. An hour is one hundred minutes, and a minute is one hundred seconds, but the seconds are half as long as an Earth second, or, rather, a Terran Coordinated Universal time second. This means that the days are actually longer than Earth days, but certain other parts were shorter. It was complicated, so I just kept the clock on my omni-tool handy.
Getting a move on, I took a taxi to the station closest to where I had to meet Kraine. I'd been hoping for some greater instruction than just "show up or go to jail", but I just assumed that not getting a proper explanation for things was to become a pattern in my life and rolled with it. It was 0356 when I arrived at a relatively small building with some big hologram sign on the front. I couldn't read it, although it appeared to be posted in three different languages, but it was certainly the right address. The side entrance was where I'd been told to wait, so that was where I found myself standing.
Taking advantage of what precious time I had left, I leaned up against the wall and wished I had something to waste my sorrows upon. Some people might smoke a cigarette at this point, or maybe they'd do a crossword. They'd do something to pass the time instead of moping like a sad plant. Unfortunately, due to the stupidity and randomness of my situation, all I had to do was fiddle with my omni-tool. Something in the back of my mind told me that being seen screwing out with a gadget wouldn't make a good first impression on my new boss, however. I just stood there, then, waiting like a chump.
At 0302, the door to the place finally opened. I turned to look, seeing a gray turian with green facial markings poking his head out. He eventually noticed me.
"Parker?" he asked.
"That's me," I nodded.
I followed him into the place, finding a rather dreary interior to the building. Dull gray on the floor, cold steel metal on the walls, no windows, no pleasant smells, and certain no friendly faces. Eventually, we entered a small room filled with things that I didn't care to take full notice of, where he handed me a gray jumpsuit. I took it with a retracted grimace, praying silently that it wouldn't smell before noticing that my guide was wearing the turian equivalent. Thankfully, I hadn't dressed in anything more than simple pants and a t-shirt, because the jumpsuit didn't leave me much room for comfort. I'd made sure to wear a pair of working-class shoes that had come with the clothes courier, which the turian noticed.
"Good choice of footwear," the turian spoke in gruff voice that reminded me slightly of some character in an anime I might have liked. "The only other pair of boots we have were made for an asari. They'd be a little tight on you."
I didn't return his conversation, instead going for facts. "You Kraine?"
"Dolis Kraine," he said his full name. "Chief sanitation worker for Bachjret Ward, Blocks 900 through 909. The populace dumps their shit on the streets, and it's my job to pick it up."
The emotion in his voice struck me somewhere between sarcastic and unenthused. He'd obviously been in the business for a while now and probably didn't like it all that much.
"What'd you do?" he asked as he pulled down what seemed to be one of those things people use to pick stuff up off the ground. This gave me an inkling of what it was we were going to be doing, but that wasn't as important as the question my new alien cohort had just thrown my way.
"To get stuck here- What'd you do?"
"Came here the wrong way, stood in the wrong place," I sighed as I took the grabber he offered me. He then got his own before reaching into a box and pulling out a pair of large, disposable bags. They reminded me of those large black trash bags we'd use to throw away heavy stuff and leaves, except they were clear and not quite as heavy. He handed me one of those as well.
"A proper vagrant then," he almost laughed. "Good. For a while there I thought they were sticking me with a petty thief or someone actually dangerous."
This was supposed to be insulting, but I wasn't much for arguing semantics. For what little good fortune I still had in my life, though, he went ahead and got to business instead of going on with the lame insults.
"Here's our job, kid. We're gonna walk every damn street from here to the other end of the 909 Block and pick up every speck of trash we see on the ground, and then we're gonna walk back and do it again. Then, several hours from now once we've returned here, we're gonna do it again. Sound simple enough?"
I sighed one more time for good measure.
Several hours later, and by that I mean several more than the several Dolis mentioned, I arrived back at my apartment and practically fell into the shower. I smelled terrible, primarily because I had been walking around the Citadel with a poorly ventilated jumpsuit on over my jeans, and secondarily because I had forgotten to buy deodorant. I ran hot water over me until it turned cold, which, in a remarkable turn of events, actually took more than five minutes. Once I finally got around to smelling less bad in some degree, I went ahead and collapsed onto the sofa bed I hadn't bothered to roll up.
I didn't move for the vast majority of the rest of the day. I ordered food, nursed my aching feet, and watched stupid videos on the extranet until I could finally fall asleep.
I wasn't feeling any better for the second day of work.
"I'm surprised," Kraine said to me as I walked into what I'd discovered was the public works building for that sector. "I thought you might have given up and headed over to lockup."
To be honest, I don't know why I didn't.
"Let's just move."
The walk from the 900 Block to the 909 Block was pretty basic in terms of mapping. It was laid out like a grid, with most stuff that might take up more than one basic building spot having tunnels through it so as not to impede walking traffic. There was, remarkably for me at the time, a lot of walking traffic on the Citadel. I had thought that with public services like rapid transit in use, people would just ride around everywhere.
Then again, I guess that wouldn't be very healthy, would it. Outside of Donny, the vast majority of people I saw while walking the streets were in relatively good shape. Five years before, I would have stuck out like a plank of wood on a brick house in that crowd. I'd been chubby as hell at twelve. That was why I took up martial arts, to fend off the bullies. Thankfully, I grew out of it. As my extended family liked to point out at family gatherings, I had somehow gone from a cute, tubby little boy to a sadly scrawny teenager. Even with martial arts, I wasn't exactly bulky and muscular. That took actual effort.
Also, just like in the games, there seemed to be an overt lack of kids on the Citadel. I don't mean kids like immature or relatively young people. I mean actual small children. I think the youngest person I saw the entire time I working sanitation was a roughly sixteen-year-old girl. Of course, I highly doubt she noticed me as I was picking up a food wrapper off the ground in my sweaty jumpsuit.
The days passed slowly. Several times I wondered if time was even moving at all. By the end of the third day I was officially homesick. By the end of the first week I was ready to blow my stack. I made a pittance from the work, with the rest going towards my fines. Thankfully, I worked so many hours in a day that I actually was earning a good amount of money. I wasn't going to be buying any houses or sports cars, but I noticed that, were I to stick with it, I thought that I could probably hang around and get something of an existence going.
I thought that because, to be perfectly honest, something in the back of my head seriously believed that whatever was back on Earth telling these cops to keep me here wasn't something I could go home to. No contact from my "father" during that first week all but confirmed it for me. I thought that C-Sec would have probably passed along the omni-tool contact information to him. Hell, I didn't get any outside contact for quite a while.
…and, when I did, it wasn't what I'd been expecting.
It was nine days after my arrival on the Citadel that I received a message.
Please make yourself apparent at Kano's Klub on the 14th day of July, 2180, somewhere between 1600 and 2100.
2180 was the year, just to clarify. That was one hundred and sixty-seven years removed from my original timespace.
As for Jimmy, I would have been lying if I'd said I had any friends with that name. The only Jimmy I ever knew was a guy back in middle school who was my partner for a few science projects, but he moved to Seattle before we went to high school. On the other side of possibility, I knew where Kano's Klub was. I walked past it every day on the way to the taxi lot.
Checking my omni-tool for what the date was in terms of Earth, I found it to be none other than July 14th. Checking the time, it was only minutes until 1600 hours. I had a decision to make, then. On one hand, I could ignore this strange message from this person I didn't know and just keep on praying that my life would sort itself out. Alternatively, I could go meet this person at a club and, if anything, get out of the apartment for some reason other than work.
Thirty minutes later, I was standing outside the club in that $700 jacket I'd arrived in, showing my ID to a human bouncer.
"You most certainly are not old enough to go inside," he informed me before looking down at the datapad he was holding. I couldn't help but scowl at this news. "However, you are on the list, so I guess you're in. Just try to control yourself. Tell the hostess your name and she'll show you to your table."
He let me by, at which I entered an establishment that was nothing less than a classy nightclub. There were people dancing on a stage in the center of what was a large room. Up some stairs to the left was a bar that overlooked the dance area. Opposite the bar was what appeared to be a more relaxed area of sofas and tables. The music was alright, not to suggest that I was much of a fan of the insatiable appetite the 22nd century seemed to have for dance-techno. I'd heard worse, though.
"Welcome to Kano's," an asari spouted as she glided over to me once I was inside. I was slightly taken aback by this, at which I noticed that this was actually the first time an asari had spoken to me directly since my arrival.
The blue, tentacle-headed, all-female asari were, to put it simply, the mediators of the galaxy. They had been the first to find the Citadel, and have been the driving force of intergalactic politics ever since. If turians were the high-grade steel that made up the galaxy's engine, then the asari were the oil that kept everything running smoothly. Legends of promiscuity aside, I knew that any asari old enough to be working was an asari that was probably twice my intelligence and quintuple my age.
That's right. Quintuple my age. That was the most amazing quality of the asari in my eyes. They could live to be nigh on a thousand years old. Considering that I thought living across a single century would eventually get dull and boring, living across an entire millennium sounded like a living Hell.
"John Parker," I said my name, hoping to get this over with as fast and as painlessly as possible.
"I know who you are, Mr. Parker," the blue woman smiled at me before gesturing me towards the seating area. "Follow me, please."
I did as much, trying not to feel like every person we walked past was judging me as we went. The place seemed to have a primarily human clientele. It was unnerving, walking into a nice club and having the people know who I was even though I'd never been there before. There were several points where I debated just turning around and making a break for it. I didn't think they'd actually try to stop me. That message had been good-spirited enough. Why, then, did it feel like I was getting into something I'd prefer to avoid?
I kept waiting to be seated by my asari guide, but she made no attempt to lead me to one of the tables or sofas. Instead, we passed right through and proceeded towards the rear wall of the complex. It wasn't until we were rather close that I realized there was a stairwell leading up in our path. Once again, I thought about making a quick getaway from what was starting to look more and more like some kind of trap, but, in the end, I followed the hostess up the stairs, around a corner, up some more stairs, and into a large, comfortable room where only two people waited. One was another asari, standing and watching the goings on beneath us on the dance floor through a window I hadn't noticed from below. The other was a drell, something I hadn't expected to see.
"That's all, Kinra," the drell spoke. My guide stopped, bowed, and turned around to return to the main floor. This left me feeling awfully uncomfortable. Drell were not a race I'd seen before in my brief tenure on the Citadel, and this one didn't seem to be in the mood for good impressions. He strode right up to me and immediately got in my face. His skin was a shade of scarlet that clashed with the club's dark interior, and his black, marble-like eyes made me bite my tongue nervously.
"You bring any weapons?" he asked me. I wanted to laugh.
"Weapons? If I could afford a gun, I'd be able to pay my goddamn fines," I couldn't help but be a little snarky in the face of the unknown. It was better than stammering like an idiot, I guessed.
"Don't get sassy, human," the drell barked once he'd backed up. He then turned to the watchful asari. "He's unarmed."
"Let him sit."
I narrowed my eyes, taking note of the long sofa that ran the length of the room. The asari was standing before it, choosing not to seat herself just yet. The drell put a hand towards the sofa, though he didn't any seem less callous than he had initially. I walked warily by him and set myself down, placing my hands idly in my lap and keeping my body upright. My first instinct was to look at the asari, but I abandoned that thought quickly in favor of safely staring at the wall across from me. Something told me that the drell wouldn't take kindly to me ogling his boss.
"How are you settling in?" the asari asked. Her voice was smooth like a cup of fresh cocoa, but that wasn't a rarity for her race.
"I didn't come here for small talk," was my quick dismissal of whatever train of thought she might have been engineering.
"What did you come for, then?" she asked, audibly sitting down. There was a bit of distance between us, something I'd set up intentionally. Thankfully, she hadn't tried to move any closer. "You certainly aren't old enough to drink."
"Just trying to get out of the apartment for a while," I sighed for what might have been the hundredth time since my arrival, leaning back into the sofa and closing my eyes. "Dare I say, though, I thought there might be food?"
"Oh? Ayrton, go get our guest something to eat."
I peeked and eye open to watch the drell exit the room. His walk suggested that he wasn't very happy about it, but he disappeared down the stairs nonetheless. I could only assume that his respect for his boss's orders were more important than his need to keep her safe. This, in turn, suggested that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself… or maybe it just said that they didn't consider me any kind of threat.
"Who's 'Jimmy'?" I asked once we were alone, still refusing to actually look at her.
"You wouldn't have come if I'd put my real name," she countered. "Call me Sen."
"Okay, Sen," I bit. "Why am I here?"
"Only you can answer that."
I scowled. Wiseass bullshit didn't work on me at my most impressionable times, and it certainly wasn't going to work in the midst of my dimensional displacement.
"Okay then, let me rephrase that. Why did you ask me here?"
"Because I wanted to talk to you," she informed me finally. Internally, my need to punch something suddenly went on the rise. Unfortunately, that drell wasn't back with my food yet.
"Well, you're talking to me," I pointed out the blatantly obvious for no other reason than to be a douchebag.
"But are you willing to listen?" she countered with what I considered to be more bullshit. "I could gab on all day about what I think of you and what I know about your situation, but would it actually mean anything to you if I did?"
I glared sharply in her direction, responding to her words about knowing my situation. What did she mean by that?
"That fully depends on what you say," I told her as the drell finally appeared with a sandwich on a plate and a drink in a cup. I took it from him. "Thank you."
"You're going to be contacted once your time as a government employee is up," she informed me as I bit into the sandwich. It was turkey, much to my relief. For a moment, I'd worried that it might be some alien freak meat. "They're going to tell you a lot of things, some of which won't make much sense. Once they've done that, they're going to tell you to do things for them. Are you following me so far?"
"Not really," I shrug. "Continue anyway."
"…Actually, that's all for now."
I finally looked at her, my mouth full of bread, meat, lettuce, and tomato. Her skin was more gray than blue, if you ask me, but that might have just been the light. Her face had black marks around the eyes and down the sides. Her mouth was curled into a slight smile, giving off an edge of knowingness. On her was a standard black frock, nice enough to be upper-class and simple enough not to overwhelm anybody who wanted to feel welcome.
She was playing a part, and I was the one to be fooled.
"May I leave, then?" I asked once I'd downed the large bite of sandwich.
"Won't you finish your food before you go?"
Without a vocal response, I folded the remainder of the sandwich and shoved it as cleanly into my maw as I could. I then poured the remainder of the drink in to join it, creating an odd-tasting combination that was at least possible to swallow. My throat hurt slightly as I downed it all, but that was all. I was done.
"Cheerio," I nodded with false politeness before getting up and leaving the club, though I made sure to shoot the drell a hard look as I went.
That had been much more difficult than I'd let on. That asari, Sen, definitely knew something about me. I was hoping that she might just tell me, but, as it was, I wasn't so lucky. At least it answered a question, even if it was one that I hadn't put much thought into until that moment. Had I been brought to the Citadel for a reason? Well, if Sen's words were anything to go by, then the answer had the possibility to be yes.
Only time would tell…
Thanks for reading! I know that WAAAAAY too much stuff happened in this chapter, but it all needed to happen and I didn't want to split it apart into really short chapters. Rest assured that Dolin and Sen will play parts in the story's future... at least I hope they will.
Review if you feel so inclined! All praise and criticisms are accepted!