Chapter 1 - An Unexpected Engagement
That was before the Shadow Broker decided to make Trident the base of her operations. The indentured servant trade, though not completely gone, was now strictly regulated to provide at least some protection to those who chose to enter into such service, and to ensure ‘employers’ did provide enough pay and benefits to allow those they purchased the ability to free themselves eventually. Drugs were less-well regulated, but pushers were limited to certain areas of the planet. The eezo trade was still in full swing, though most of the groups would have been surprised to learn that they answered to the same boss.
As a result of the Shadow Broker’s efforts, the scenic areas of Trident were allowed to flourish; while this did mean an abundance of the usual tourist-milking businesses, it also allowed people to take their vacations without fear of being kidnapped or tricked into addiction. People were free to enjoy the beaches, the seawalls, and most importantly, the beautiful underwater coral gardens.
A series of translucent corridors beneath the thrashing waves of the ocean offered what many including Finn to be the most incredible views on the entire planet. Centuries of protection from the Trident souvenir shop workers allowed the coral to flourish, filling the ocean floor. Artists carefully cultivated the coral and shaped it over decades into the most amazing shapes and structures. One of which was Myriad Park, an enclosure surrounded by a massive swirl of colorful coral. It was a popular place for lovers of all ages, often of differing species.
As such, the sight of a human and quarian cuddling beneath one of the hikari trees wasn’t unusual. Many regular patrons of the underwater gardens recognized them from previous visits, though none suspected that the quarian was a descendant of Commander Shepard and the human was the pilot, agent, and general troublemaker known as Finn ‘Slipstream’ Cresste ... that is, none save the KEI-9 unit with the face of a cartoon dog who happily chased butterflies to the amusement of those watching.
“Still hasn’t figured out they’re just holograms?” Kyra said, her lips curved into a smile.
“Wouldn’t stop him.” Finn said, hugging her closer. “Besides, it’s keeping him busy. You know how he gets when he’s bored.”
She giggled. “I remember. I didn’t think anyone could know so much about old Earth musicals.”
“I know, right?”
Her smile widened, her gaze falling slightly. She moved closer to him and gave him a long kiss. He held her close, savoring the softness of her lips and the touch of her silken skin and curly hair.
As she lay back against him, her head resting against his chest, Finn thought back to their first meeting inside the Rigger’s Folly on Omega. Within the span of a few hours, she’d mistaken him for a blind date, pulled a gun on him, actually went on a date with him, got drunk and sang a song so beautiful it still resounded in Finn’s mind, and fallen asleep in Finn’s quarters on the Ulasomorf. Unbeknownst to him, of course; he was breaking into the Blue Suns base of operations on Omega at the time in an effort to rescue his friends. No, he hadn’t realized she was on the ship ... not until after he’d woken up and realized he wasn’t alone in bed.
“Hey.” She said, propping herself up on a slender elbow. “Just so you know, I told my parents about us.”
“I know.” Finn said. “I had an interesting talk with your mother the other day.”
Kyra’s cheeks went dark. “What did she say?”
“She said she’d tear off my balls and nail them to your ancestor’s grave if I hurt you in any way.”
“Oh, lord.” She said, blush spreading over her face.
Finn chuckled and kissed her forehead. “She seems nice. Reminds me of Azure.”
Now it was Kyra who chuckled. “I can see it. Hard to imagine what brought her and dad together; he’s ... well, he’s like you.”
“Oh?” Finn asked as Kyra hugged just a little tighter to his side. “And what would that be like?”
“A big fuzzy pushover!” she said, shoving him over and climbing on top of him. He didn’t resist as she pressed her lips to his again. Pulling back slightly, she said, “Kind. Caring. A little too clever for his own good.”
“Stop it.” Finn said, smiling. “You’ll make me blush.”
“I already did.” She gave him another long kiss before sitting up on his stomach and saying, “I’m hungry. Didn’t you say we’d be getting dinner?”
“Yeah, I did.” Finn activated his omni-tool. “Speaking of, we should probably get going; our reservation’s at eighteen-hundred.”
“Perfect timing.” Kyra kissed the tip of his nose before standing and hauling him up by his arms. Interlacing her fingers with his, she said, “So where we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“The Meryllion. Can’t believe they’re missing out on quality home-cooking just to eat at that fancy-pancy asari restaurant.” Tuck grumbled as he chopped at a massive slab of meat.
While he’d been nothing but kind to the Shadow Broker’s other cooks, they’d been sure to give him a wide berth after Finn broke his dinner plans to the krogan chef. That still surprised many of them: a krogan chef. Of all the careers one might expect of a krogan, somehow chef seemed the most unlikely, only narrowly beaten by ‘teddy bear inspector’. Even more amazing was that Tuck was actually a damn good chef; already, his recipes had vastly improved the meals around the Amonjara, the Shadow Broker’s underwater base, and with the exception of the occasional light case of food poisoning (usually some spice Tuck was testing out), Tuck’s cooking had done wonders for the morale of the Amonjara’s crew.
Glenda Adams (just Glen to her friends), troublemaker and somewhat mysterious ally, let out a chuckle as she sat at the kitchen’s makeshift counter. “Can’t blame him for wanting something special. It’s a special day, after all.”
“I can do special.” Tuck said. “You think I didn’t see this coming? I was gonna make a cake an’ everythin’.”
“Did you?” Glen asked, eyes wide with the possibility of sweet confectionary.
Tuck only answered her with a glower.
Sighing, Glen rose from her chair and popped her neck. Standing up straight, she was nearly as tall as Tuck, and just about as muscular. “Don’t let it bother you, man. I’m pretty sure it’s the privacy he wants more than anything. Let’s be honest; we’ve all seen this coming; do you think they’d get a minute of peace if Finn tried proposing here?”
Tuck let out a sigh. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Sherle would be there in a sec, fussing over the bride-to-be, and you know Xyn and Jan’Ce would be right behind her.”
“Yeah. jockeying for maid of honor, no doubt.” Tuck chuckled and shook his head. “Only one who’d fuss over her more would be Liara. You know she treats Kyra like a grandchild.”
“She sees Tali and John in her.” Glen said, a small smile on her face. “I can’t blame her for that.”
“Uh-huh. Why do I get the feelin’ you’re talkin’ from experience?”
Glen’s smile curled crookedly to the right side of her face. “I’m sure I have no idea what your talking about.”
Tuck set down his knife and turned to face her. In a low voice, he said, “Look, I know no one’s sayin’ anything out loud, but everyone’s talkin’ about it. The way Liara hugged you when you boarded the Amonjara, the way the Illusive Man recognized you, the fact that even Jan’Ce can’t find any information about you then or now on the datanet, and let’s not forget about those weird clothes you wear.”
“Hey,” Glen said, pinching the fron of her shirt and pulling forward. “Green and Gray stripes are classic fashion, and denim never goes out of style.”
“If you are a human child, perhaps.” A grin slid across Tuck’s turtle-like face. “C’mon, Glen; I can keep a secret. What’s the deal? You ain’t human, are ya?”
“Damn. You got me.” Glen said. “I’m an elf.”
Tuck snorted as Glen pinched the tops of her ears into points. They stuck that way, though her muscular frame belied any resembelance she might have had to the mythical folk of human fiction. Tuck opened his mouth to respond when a beep from the intercom interrupted their banter.
Glen got to the call button just a little faster than Tuck. “Glen here; what’s up?”
“Glen?” Liara’s voice asked. “Can you come to Corridor L-43? There’s an ... incident.”
“Nothing like that, though there might be some physical violence if someone doesn’t calm them down.”
Letting out a sigh, Glen said, “On my way.”
“Need to borrow this?” Tuck said, holding up a ladle that looked more than capable of crushing the skull of a thresher maw.
“I’ll manage.” Glen said, shaking her head as she headed out of the kitchen.
She walked at a brisk pace; while they hadn’t come to full blows yet, the tempers of those involved made it only a matter of time. Glen considered calling Headache from whatever void in inhabited when she wasn’t using it; she decided against it, however; Headache was built for assembling (and occasionally, dismantling) large-scale machinery. It would be overkill in this situation, even with the possibility of magic-use.
She heard the shouting as she drew near corridor L-43. Even from a distance, she could make out the shrill voice of Sherle Mannon, an ex-Alliance officer who worked on J-27 with Finn and Jake before the whole mess with Cerberus even started. Glen wasn’t surprised to see the lumbering form of J-27’s other inhabitant, a surprisingly suave elcor by the name of Darsan.
He reached up with a massive hand and tipped his scarlet pimp-hat at Glen as she approached. “Relieved. Ah, Glen, good. Xyn, Eri, and Mannon are having a bit of a fight.”
“What happened?” Glen asked, peering around the elcor’s forms at the three people shouting jsut down the corridor.
“Confused; I don’t know. Xyn and Eri were heading to the Arboretum when Mannon passed by. Xyn kissed her, which surprised the heck out of Eri, and when he asked what was going on ... well, I don’t think Mannon knew about Xyn and Eri.”
“A Neukaran, a turian, and a human.” Glen said, shaking her head. “Sound like the beginning of a joke to you?”
“Rebuking; not if they start fighting.”
“All right, all right.” Glen said, raising her hands in defeat. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Glen walked around Darsan and approached the arguing group. She’d been keeping her ear to the ground, and could hazard a rough guess as to what preempted the argument.
“All right!” She said, walking between the three. “Enough with the shouting! You’re giving the guys on the K deck a headache.”
Three sullen looks answered him. It was rough with Sherle and Xyn, but turians can give a sullen look like no other race Glen ever encountered.
“Go away, Glen.” Sherle said, her cheeks red. “This has nothing to do with you.”
“No, don’t go.” Xyn said, her anxiety barely restrained in her normally tranquil voice. “An outsider’s opinion could be helpful.”
“She’s right.” Eri said.
“Shut up, Eri.” snapped Mannon. “This is partly your fault.”
“No, it’s my fault.” Xyn said, twisting her dark fingers in her hands. “Please don’t blame Eri, Sherle; he didn’t know.”
She tried to sidle closer to Eri, but the turian moved away from her, not meeting her eyes.
“Okay, okay!” Glen said, raising her hands. “Let’s start at the beginning; Xyn, go.”
“Why does she get to go first?” Sherle asked, some of her anger diverting to Glen.
“Because you’re angry and Eri’s got the look of a turian who’s not sure what to think. You cool down. Eri, take a moment to straighten out your thoughts.”
To Xyn, Glen said, “Go ahead.”
“I never meant any trouble.”
“If I had a dollar every time I’ve said that.” Glen muttered beneath her breath. In a normal voice, she said, “Start from the beginning.”
Xyn’s eyes glanced at Eri for a moment. “Well ... ever since Finn invited me to join the Meridia’s crew, I’ve felt a special connection with Eri. More than anyone, he seems to understand the darkness that lonliness can bring into one’s soul. In him, I found a kindred spirit, and over the last two years, I’ve come to care a great deal for him ... as a friend, and as ...” Her dark brown skin darkened in what passed as a blush for the plant people of Neukara. “as something more intimate.”
“Eri?” Glen asked.
He sighed, his pincers clicking three times. “She’s nice, she’s beautiful, and ... well, like she said, we understand each other. I feel better when she’s around. I ... I like being with her.”
“Eri...” Xyn said softly. To Glen’s releif, Eri gave her the turian equivalent of a small smile.
“Which brings us to the question of the hour.” Glen said, “Why does this bother you, Sherle?”
“Because ...” Anger faded from Sherle’s flushed face. “Because I thought she loved me.”
“But I do love you.” Xyn said, moving to take Sherle’s hands. “I love you every bit as much as I love Eri. I don’t understand why this makes you so angry.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to work!” Sherle said, some of her earlier anger returning as she pulled her hands away. “You can’t just have this kind of relationship with two people?”
“Why not?” Xyn asked, genuinely puzzled. Her confusion was genuine; Neukarans are born as bonded pairs, and three and four-way unions were quite common, especially when intermarrying with non-Neukaraans.
While this was an understandable thing for Xyn to say, it wasn’t what Sherle wanted to hear.
“It doesn’t work that way!” Sherle said, though Glen noted she wasn’t pulling her hands from Xyns. “Not with humans.”
“Actually-” Glen said.
“Shut up, Glen.” Mannon said automatically. Glen threw up her hands again before crossing her arms.
“If I care about you both the same way, why can’t we all have that kind of relationship?” Xyn asked.
Eri and Sherle looked at each other. Sherle blushed and looked away, Eri looking away as well (Glen wasn’t sure what would constitute a turian blushing, but she imagined Eri was doing it).
“We just ... we just can’t. I can’t do this, Xyn. I’m sorry.”
“Sherle? Sherle, wait!” Glen said as Sherle walked quickly away from the group. Sighing, Glen rubbed her forehead and said, “Well, that could’ve gone better.”
Xyn bowed her head, rubbing her elbow and looking despondant. Sighing, Glen fixed Eri with a stern look and pointed to Xyn, an eyebrow raised, a calculated gesture that wordlessly said, “Isn’t there something you should be doing?”
He definitely got the message. After a moment of hesitation, Eri put an arm over her shoulder and pulled her close.
“I’m sorry.” Xyn said, tears welling from her amber eyes. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Shh.” Eri said, smoothing her hair. “It’s okay. It was just a little surprising, that’s all.”
She looked up at him with Nectar-orange eyes. “Then you’re not angry?”
“Of course not.” He paused and said, “Surprised, yeah; I didn’t expect you to just plant a kiss on her face like that. Still, I think I understand how you feel.”
“You like Sherle too?”
“Er, maybe not quite as much as you.” Eri admitted. “But I’m fine with you being with her too if it makes you happy. You deserve to be happy.”
Feeling things were just a bit too saccharine for her taste, Glen said, “Well, it looks like things are more or less resolved for the moment. I’ll just be heading off now.”
She passed Darsan and whispered, “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“Understanding; Don’t have to tell me twice.”
Once they were a good distance away, Darsan said, “Curious; do you think they’ll work out?”
“Xyn and Eri? I think so. Xyn, Mannon, And Eri? I dunno. Depends on Mannon, it looks like. I guess I can’t say I’m surprised, though; you shoulda seen how much fuss there was when I married my wife.” Glen chuckled, despite the note of saddness that ran through her. Shaking her head, she said, “Some people struggle with alternative relationships. Mind you, if anyone had tried to raise serious objections between me and the missus, she’d be the first to knock them on their ass.”
“Amused. Not much for diplomacy, huh?”
“Nope, and I wouldn’t have her any other way.” Smiling, Glen asked, “How about you, Darsan? Is there a missus Darsan in your future?”
“Mock admonishment; are you kidding? Why confine my love to one when there’s so much more to give?”
Glen chuckled. “You sound like James.”
“My brother. He fancies himself a bit of a player ... mind you, I think you have more luck than he does.”
They shared a laugh at that. As they continued walking, Glen hoped that Finn and Kyra’s date was going more smoothly than romance on the Amonjara.
The Meryllion was a fine restaurant well known across Trident. Specializing in fresh seafood prepared in a variety of styles, it was reportedly the best place for sushi on the planet. As such, getting a reservation could be difficult ... provided a person didn’t have the ear of the Shadow Broker.
Kyra enjoyed the meal a great deal more than Finn; though the food was exquisite, the wine quite pleasing even to Finn, who was admittedly not much of a alcohol drinker, and the service perfect, Finn’s stomach was twisting in one massive knot as he felt the moment drawing near.
Soon, the plates were cleared, two more glasses of wine were ordered, and the check was cleared.
“Scarlet says they’re on the trail of another big score.” Kyra said, unaware of her boyfriend’s nervousness. Chuckling, she added, “I still can’t believe they made off with the whole ship.”
Finn chuckled, more because Kyra was laughing than anything; he was having a hard time hearing over the thrumming of his pulse echoing through his ears.
“Noir proposed to her, you know.”
“Proposed?’ Finn said, the word startling him back to the here and now.
“Yeah.” She said, a smile on her face as she stared at the sunset through the massive windows of the Meryllion. “She said yes. Azure thinks it’s too soon, but those two have been close since they were kids. If anyone could make it as a couple, it’d be them.”
Silence fell over the table. It was time, and Finn knew it. With the moment upon him, he found himself completely unable to speak. He tried to force his mouth open, but the words simply wouldn’t come.
Eventually, Kyra noticed his predicament. Concern in her eyes, she reached over the table and touched his shoulder. “Finn? Are you okay? You look like you’re about to be sick.”
“I’m fine.” He said. Meeting her gaze for a long moment, he sighed and said, “I’m ... not fine.”
“What’s wrong?” She asked, putting her hand over his. “You can tell me. You can tell me anything, you know that.”
“Yeah, I do.” He took a deep breath and said, “Kyra, I love you.”
Blushing, she rubbed his hand. “I love you too, Finn.”
“I just ... I really love you, Kyra.”
“We’ve already covered this, I think.” She said, a small smirk on her face. “But just so you know, I really love you too, Finn.”
She leaned over to kiss him, but he stopped her.
“Please, give me a second.” He said, feeling his face grow hot. “I just ...”
Sighing, he said, “by the Creator, I rehearsed this a dozen times last night, and now ... fwoosh; nothing. I can’t remember anything I wanted to say to you, like ... like how glad I am you snuck aboard the Ulasomorf. How happy I am that you stayed, even after I offered to take you home. Knowing that you’re willing to stand by my side ... it fills me with determination to see this through to the end, so that the universe is a safer place, not just for us, but for ... for our children.”
Kyra’s eyes widened as she no doubt realized where this was going. Her breath hung in her throat as Finn took a knee and said, “Kyra, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Whatever else the universe throws at us, I know we can get through it together.”
He pulled the small jewelry box from his pocket, but as he opened it up, he realized Kyra was looking at someone behind him. He turned to see one of the asari servers looking at him with a strangely blank expression.
“Uh, this isn’t really a good time for a refill.” Finn said, aware that quite a few eyes were looking his way, qutie a few of the couples tittering at his apparent proposal.
“You are Finn Cresste, correct?”
Finn’s brow furrowed. It was his name, but not the name of the reservation or the name he used while on Trident. Normally this would have bothered him more, but he was kind of in the middle of something.
“Just give me a minute, okay?” He sighed and turned his gaze back to Kyra. She met his eyes, but he could tell she was somewhat put off by the interruption.
Sighing, he said, “I love you, Kyra, and would be honored if you would be my-”
“Please, it’s important. I must know; you are Finn Cresste, agent of the Shadow Broker?”
Now Kyra was getting exasperated. “Yes, he’s Finn Cresste, and as I think he’s about to ask me to become Missus Cresste, could you please go away?”
Rolling her eyes, she caught Finn’s gaze again. “I’m sorry.” She said sweetly. “You were saying?”
“Kyra’Shor vas Shepard.” Finn said, trying to ignore the continued presence of the asari, “Will you m-”
The hairs on the back of Finn’s neck stood on end as the asari spoke ... but not with any voice he’d heard before, asari or no. This was strange, etheral, and made his stomache quiver somehow worse than it already was.
“Friend of the Shadow Broker, hero who slips through the streams of the universe, hear our song. Long have we sought one to carry this message to she who stood with the Shepard, she who was there when our kind was given another chance; long shall we sing songs to their kindness and mercy.”
Finn and Kyra were both on their feet, facing the asari; her eyes were solid black, a sure sign that an asari was in a deep mental state usually intended for use with one’s mate. Someone was tapping into something primal within the asari, using it for communication.
“Who are you?” Finn asked.
“We are those who once threatened this galaxy, those once brought to the brink of extinction for our arrogance, only to be saved by the Shepard. We are those saved again from the darkness of the Reapers by the Shepard, and we are those who stood beside him in the final battle.”
“A name.” Finn insisted. “Who are you?”
“To your people we are known as ...” The asari paused, head lolling slightly to the side. “The rachni.”
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