Disclaimer: Bioware owns almost all.
A/N: Dark subject matter. This fic is not recommended for those easily offended. Thanks to my beta, drakontion, for her help and to Sesh for her encouragement.
Trash. Piss-hole. Omega had many names, but that couldn't change what it was: a festering boil filled with lawless brutes who reveled in the quasi-anarchy of the Terminus Systems. To them, Omega meant profit, trade, action. For them it was a chance to fuck an asari whore and boast to their fellows of their sexual prowess. For others it was a dumping ground, a last resort before the inevitable, pathetic conclusion of their sad existence. Those unfortunate souls spent their last moments as fodder for Omega's underbelly, unwilling participants in bloody games of chance or a sizeable meal for the local Vorcha pack.
Yes, Omega was many things to many people. To me, it was home.
I wasn't born here, no, not originally, but I've lived here long enough to know to watch my back in the streets and avoid the many blind alleyways. I learned to keep an eye on the non-humans, not because they are aliens, but because they're keeping an eye on me. I know that I am unwelcome, but I also know what my life is worth on Omega, and I don't plan on dying anytime soon.
Mother brought us here, not out of any sense of adventure, but because of her poor judgment. She had been diagnosed with an illness I can no longer remember the name of, something debilitating and wasting. She sought passage to another world where it was rumored scientists were working on an experimental cure. She longed for a respite from the pain, and I can vaguely recall her form, fragile and gnarled, the spark of pain blazing in her eyes. In hindsight I wonder if the disease affected her mind too, seeing as how our later predicament was due to her faulty reasoning.
The captain of the ship we booked passage on demanded more money once we were en route. Mother refused, so he dumped us at the most convenient location, Omega. I look back now and I'm thankful that he didn't sell us off to slavers. Still, even with that small kindness our situation was grim. We were without money on a foreign station. Lucky for me, however, the local crime lord took a shine to us. Lucky me.
Mother found us an abandoned apartment rife with the stench of vermin. We squatted there, in a room no bigger than a closet, no running water and no amenities. I was young, I didn't know any better, but Mother knew. She had to have known. She was the one who went to Arch. Much to my delight, our situation improved. Of course I had no idea at the time what all that would entail.
Arch liked to call himself a businessman, although in reality he was a pimp, a thief, a murderer; he liked to "add color to his persona" he used to say. He hooked Mother up with a job at a local club, serving drinks since she wasn't able to dance. Arch had asari for that and Mother just didn't have the coordination anymore. She used to say that grace had drained from her system. I didn't realize it at the time, stupidly idolizing Arch for his show of compassion, but he had his own uses for Mother. She blamed the bruises on her disease, and I was too naïve to know better.
He brought books to our meager abode, our second apartment upon arriving on Omega. We had running water and even a second bedroom, and I filled it with all manner of the written word. Paper was a luxury in the Terminus, and I hid my favorite books under my ratted mattress, taking them out often, careful not to damage the fragile bindings. It was the scent of the ink, the feel of the text beneath my grubby paws that I loved, hearing the soft crinkle of the pages as I turned them. I loved to lose myself in those books, filled with wonder and marvels that I could imagine on any planet, but not Omega. Home was stale, dirty, sick, and I loved Arch all the more for allowing me to visit those places, if only in my mind, and if only for a short while.
Mother died when I was seven, at least I think I was seven. Time was difficult for me to understand as a child, and I had no concept of the measure of cycles on Omega and how they differed from Earth. All I knew was that one day Mother didn't move, her pale eyes staring at the ceiling, devoid of life. I sat with her, shaking her gently, confusion clouding my mind. I don't remember that time, as if a thankless fog rolled in and blanketed my memory, but I later learned I stayed by her side for three days before Arch found us.
He was furious, not because she was dead, but because she didn't report to work. He had lost money, expecting her to be there, working, serving, lining his pockets with more credits. I remember he kicked her body, her stiff form barely budging against his anger. I yelped in fear before realizing my mistake and he smacked me upside the head. I had never known such pain. It was the first of my many lessons.
I was moved again, put to work in Arch's home scrubbing the floors, cleaning dishes; menial tasks meant for his servants. I wasn't considered a servant. I didn't rank that high and the household staff were quick to take note. Swift kicks to my gut while I scrubbed the floor, or quick jabs to my side while I did the dishes alerted others that I was new meat and weak. They preyed upon me for a time, until one day I lashed out at one of my torturers with a fork that I had been polishing. She only had one eye by the end of the day, and I received a beating from Arch that seemed to last forever. I was relegated to cells after that.
I don't remember too much of that time, cognizance clouded by the head trauma I had surely sustained, but I remember the feel of the place. The lights were dim, yellowed with age; the thickness of the air whispered of stagnation. Liquid - not water - trickled down the walls from above, thin ribbons of waste polluting my nostrils and stinging my eyes. At times I could hear choked cries of those in the cells around me, meager rants and ramblings, pathetic mewling in the night. I sat, curled into a ball in the only corner not covered with the defecation of ages.
Arch's men came at odd hours and delivered food and drink, sometimes often, sometimes not at all, and I hoarded what little sustenance they brought. I had no sense of time, lost in the continuous hum of Omega's energies, the other captives adding accompaniment to the choir of desperation. I am surprised I survived that place, stunted with the memory of death and decay as I am. Some days I almost wish I had perished.
Then one day they came for me, dragging me through the musty halls and around darkened corners, pulling my fragile young form along behind them. Arch's men cared not for my condition, just so long as they followed orders. They were not wont to overexert themselves. They threw me on the floor of the kitchen, Arch's feet the only thing before my eyes. I expected another beating, but instead of curling into a ball and protecting myself, I looked up and met his eyes.
Subservience was yet another lesson I learned and I learned it well as he planted his boot in my face. I was taken away again, thrown into a cold tub and scrubbed harshly by an old woman on the household staff. She glared at me, her rough hands kneading my flesh and peeling the layers of filth from my body. She tossed my garments into the disposal to be burned, and I remember wondering if I was to follow.
She dunked my head down without warning, soapy, dirty water stinging my eyes and filling my nostrils. I popped up quickly, gasping for breath only to be dunked again, the rough old hands wrenching my hair as she washed it. I came back up for air as she released her grip on me, only to be confronted by a pair of dull scissors in her hands. I swear I remember her laughing gleefully as she practically ripped the hair from my head. In the end, I was clean, and I held my tears back at the feel of my shorn head.
I looked to the old hag as she returned the scissors to the drawer, a toothy grin on her wretched face. I decided then that I would learn patience.
I was returned to my slave quarters, as I later learned that's exactly what they were, and fished in my mattress for my one, single treasure. Sighing with what little childhood innocence I had left I pulled my favorite book from its hiding place, savoring the smell of the ink, the feel of the weathered pages beneath my raw fingertips. I had this one peace, this land beyond Omega in which no hell reigned.
Too late I realized my error. The old hag had followed me to my quarters, a new shift in her arms to cover my bony body. She snatched the book from my grasp, her toothy, wretched face contorted by curiosity. She spoke, her voice harsh, disapproving, and jammed the book into the pocket of her dirty apron. Tossing the shift at my huddled form she slammed the door shut. I heard the click of the lock, despair settling in as I realized the truth: there was no land beyond Omega in which hell did not reign.
Days passed swiftly as I settled back into my routine. I received no more swift kicks to my gut while scrubbing the floors and no one dared come near me while I was washing the dishes. The wretched old hag hovered near me and I suspect now that she was assigned to keep an eye on me, a dubious honor indeed. Looking back, I believe that's why she treated me with such cruelty. I, not Arch, was the reason for her tedium, the reason she had been taken away from her more glamorous chores and cast down to monitor a lowly slave.
Her presence annoyed and infuriated me, but I learned to hide my frustrations, focusing my anger instead on the cheap imitation stone tiles that Arch's whore liked to use in her decor. Perhaps that is why the wretched old woman hated me so – she could no longer fawn over Arch's cheap wife and play dress-up with her.
Days passed into months, and months passed into years, and not a one went by where the wretched hag didn't engage in some form of torture. Her favorite pastime, it seemed, was chopping off my hair with the infamous pair of dull scissors she kept stashed in the storage drawer. She would wrench my head to the side after dunking my head underwater, pulling my hair tight away from my scalp, and slicing through it with brutal efficiency. Despite her withered appearance, she was surprisingly strong, especially compared to my prepubescent form. I endured it with the passionless stoicism only a slave child could muster.
It was around the time of my thirteenth year when fate decided to intervene. The wretched hag had me by the hair again, dunking my wiry form into the cold water, the tub seeming to grow smaller year by year. Water sloshed over the sides as she wrenched my head back and forth, dunking and slicing, dunking and slicing. Clumps of wet hair dropped to the floor, littering the metal paneling that covered the servant's wing. Puddles of soapy water drenched the floor, and I saw the hag struggle to maintain her balance more than once. It was then that inspiration struck.
She grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled. I resisted, fought against her with what little strength I could bring to bear. I pushed against the tub's edge and hauled her forward. Had I been any younger, I doubt I would have had the power to pull her off balance, but I had learned the lesson of patience quite well. The wretched hag lost her grip on my hair, tumbling forward, arms flailing while aged feet slipped on the wet floor. I heard the crack of her skull as it hit the metal paneling, ringing like a gong from an alien temple.
Water sloshed over the edges of the tub as first surprise, then satisfaction lit my face. Arch's guards had heard her fall and rushed into the room. I tried to sink into the cold tub, hiding my naked child's form as they screamed at me for my incompetence. I tried to explain that it wasn't my fault, that she was old and she slipped. Whether or not they believed me is anyone's guess. I ended up back in the cells again, but this time it had been worth it.
I had learned the lesson of revenge.