Chapter 2. On Wings of Glory
Over twenty years after the end of the Krogan Rebellions one of its greatest war heroes, weary of the life and lies he lived, challenges the narrative of his own life story at the twilight of his days.
"Hah. Salarians. Bunch of annoying fuckers. Talk way too fast and way too much. They also fight like cowards, always looking to stab you in the quad. And they're weak too. I remember breaking one's back with nothing but a stomp of my foot. Overall, they're a miserable bunch. But every now and again, maybe one in a thousand, you find one that's so unlike the rest of their miserable species. Fierce, strong. A real fighter. That attitude will get them a krogan's respect, right before they get killed by him of course. They're inferior, after all. Just like the vids said!
(Editor's Note: At this point Nakmor Karill takes a deep breath and straightens in his chair. It seems like he turns inward, ashamed of what he is about to say.) You know, I used to say that you won't find a salarian that's earned the respect of more than the krogan who killed him. (Editor's Note: He takes another deep breath)
I stopped believing it when I watched that bastard slaughter my squadron over Gorot II. I had flown with them for pretty much the entire war. We were veterans, heroes in the making. And he cleaved through us like we had never flown a day in our lives. It took him less than two minutes to make it look like we were just some conscripted whelps who'd been put into a cockpit and then just another minute to kill everyone but me. A combined flight experience of over a hundred years and- He just- Can we move on to another question?
(Editor's Note: The interviewer now asks how Commander Nakmor Karill survived the encounter when the rest of his squadron did not. Karill chuckles at first. Then he grunts.)
I think he realized that I wasn't going to put up a fight after my squad was downed and let me go. I heard that he was honorable like that. Or maybe I'm wrong and he figured that I just wasn't an entertaining enough target for someone as skilled as him. Either way, the only reason I'm sitting here is that Zhatt'ra Rhzabror decided to show me mercy, which I never would've done if I'd been in his place. At least not before that day."
~ Captain (ret.) Nakmor Karill, former naval aviation pilot, distinguished fighter ace and sole survivor of the 475th Interceptor Squadron, 739 CE, while being interviewed about Nasurn Aelaph Aegohr Galmat Talus Tistol (Birth name of Major Tistol Talus, who under his krogan foes was also known as Zhatt'ra Rhzabror, 'he who will send us into the void' and among the circle salarian nobility referred to as Dalavaladra, 'the king of the sky'.)
"One cannot talk about the history of interceptor combat in space without mentioning Major Tistol Talus. Out of all the pilots who rose to fame in the Rebellions, he was truly one of a kind. An ace among aces, the pilot everyone pictures themselves to become before their first battle: Fearless. Of singular focus. The very incarnation of death, who turns battles thought loss into glorious victories through nothing but skill and cunning. Someone who makes the enemy freeze in dread at the mere mention of his name. Someone to be both feared and respected. While I do not want to discredit the efforts of the pilots that served under my command, they were the best soldiers I ever had the honor of commanding and it was their effort and peerless readiness to sacrifice which allowed us to stop the krogan, I will without shame admit that I would've traded a hundred of our best pilots for just one more soldier like Tistol Talus. If there ever was someone worthy of being called a king of the sky, then it was him. I am confident that we will never see his like again and I wish that he finds peace and comfort in the knowledge that the spirits of the brave will forever watch over him, wherever the Wheel of Life has taken him now."
~ Admiral Tacitus Quentilian, 740 CE, on page 1382 of his renowned work 'Baptized in Fire and Battle: The Krogan Rebellions and its influence on the Turian Hierarchy, its military and its position in the galaxy.'
722 CE, Citadel, Bachjret Ward, Daily News
When she had gotten the acceptance letter, she had been overjoyed. Daily News was the biggest news distributer on Bachjret Ward. Its name carried weight, especially when presented alongside her respectable degree and flawless resume. Sure, it was just an internship but if she worked hard enough, they'd make it a full-time job and once that happened, she could use this position to go practically anywhere. Yes. It was not a real journalist position, but still. It was the perfect steppingstone for her to learn from some real pros and go on her way to become the next shining star in galactic news.
Or so she had thought.
If someone had told her that her internship at the Daily would mostly consist of running errands, Shira probably would've followed in the footsteps of most asari in her age group and instead of trying to establish herself as a serious journalist gone off to explore the galaxy for a few decades. That way she would've had some fun, gotten the opportunity to reinvent herself and created unforgettable memories along the way.
But much to her misfortune no one had mentioned that before she had taken this job a few months ago.
So instead of dancing through life, here she was, walking through an office and carrying bags of refreshment drinks and unhealthy take-out food to the actual employees of the news agency. After nearly tripping on and almost spilling her entire cargo over the cheap blue carpet floor, the purple skinned maiden reminded herself why she was here. This was all to get job experience and to get a foothold in the industry, to ensure that she wouldn't end up like half the people in the office.
"Get over here Sira!" a teal salarian called from his desk near the main studio. His name was Castril and if she was honest, she didn't exactly like him. Nonetheless she complied instantly and hurried to his desk. It never heard to feed the image of being a motivated intern.
"Hey Castril," the blue-skinned asari greeted with a smile that he didn't return. "How can I help you?"
"You can help me by giving me my food. I'm starving," he replied before looking to the bags she was carrying. "You got it there, right?"
"Yes, yes, yes," she said quickly before making a move to set down the heaviest of the bags on his desk. But before she could do so, his hands shot up.
"Careful! Watch that terminal! You'll cut off the recording," he called, freezing her in place. Then she noticed the red hologram that he was pointing to. It was located right over the door of the studio and clearly flashed 'recording'.
"Right, sorry," she apologized before choosing the floor instead and pulling out the marked food container. "You wanted the fried fish, right? I got it right he-"
"Fried?" he suddenly snarled before catching himself and covering his face with his palm. "I said baked fish. Not fried. Salarians don't eat fried food," he threw another look at the container. "You want to be a journalist, but you can't even get an order right," then he shoved it to the edge of the desk. While her heart sank, Sira still barely managed to catch it before it would've fallen off and spilled on the floor. "I'm not paying you for the wrong order. Get out of here," Castril finally added and again, Sira complied. Always the motivated intern, right?
"Sorry, I'll get it right next time," she said before slightly bowing her head.
"We'll see about that," the teal salarian said dismissively before Sira picked up her bags and went on to the next desk, hoping that this was her only mistake of the day. One after another, she delivered the food and drinks in her bags until only her own and the fried fish Castril hadn't ordered was left. As she was about to withdraw to the kitchen and eat in silence and shame, another intern, Rilora, intercepted her.
"Hey Sira, everything okay?" the asari asked with a concerned look. While the absolute majority of people in the Daily were nothing short of horrible to her, the presence of her fellow intern was a refreshing change. Maybe it was the knowledge that they shared the same hardships as interns or maybe it was the fact that Rilora T'Rila was very easy on the eyes, but for one reason or another, Sira's downtrodden face lit up.
"Yes, yes, everything's fine," she said quickly
"Alright," the asari said with a smile before letting go of her arm and walking away with the usual sway in her hip.
Easy on the eyes?
Without a doubt.
Brightest person she ever met?
She threw one last look after her and went to unbox her own food and get some energy back into her system. As she was about to take the first bite, she noticed that a commotion was going on outside the kitchen. People were flooding to the main studio, omnis and tablets in hand. She looked at her own lunch and the fried fish she'd eat alongside it. Then she quickly decided that whatever was happening out there was more important than her food going cold. She grabbed a last bite, got up from the round table and risked a peak. First she just saw a crowd of her coworkers but then she caught sight of the dark-blue salarian in the middle of it all was and her jaw almost dropped to the floor. No it couldn't be. Not him. Not here. It didn't make sense. It had to be someone other than him. After all, what would someone as famous as he be doing here?
Convinced that she had misrecognized the salarian, she was about to walk away.
But then the uniformed soldier walked through the crowd and turned his head far enough for her to be able to see the lighter blue lines that ran down his horns to his cheeks, Sira knew that she hadn't made a mistake. He was actually here.
Captain Tistol Talus, the hero of the Salarian Union and the Krogan Rebellions, the ace of aces, the best fighter pilot who ever lived, the most desired interview guest in the entire galaxy and the man who was the sole reason her parents had been able to leave their home again. Here, right in front of her eyes, in all of his handsome glory.
She was about to blame her light-headedness on the fact that he cracked an incredibly charming smile when their eyes met for a brief second, but then Sira realized that she was choking on Cistral's stupid fried fish and subsequently began to cough for air.
Luckily for her Talus hadn't seen that part.
And unbeknownst to her, this chance encounter wouldn't be the last time that Tistol Talus and her would be in the same room.
739 CE, Nasurn, Aegohr Starport
As she stepped off her flight, she still couldn't believe her luck.
Not only had the Serrice Courier scored another interview with Tistol Talus, they had also asked her, a freelancer who'd only really worked with them one or two times, to conduct it for them.
That's how long it had been since Sira had last seen the salarian in person and back then, she had figured that the doorway of the Bachjret Daily News' kitchen was the closest she'd ever get to interviewing the hero of the Krogan Rebellions.
Yet here she was, finally being given some proof that her hard work had been recognized.
"Now boarding, Flight 7-3-1 to Taetrus. Regular passengers, please keep identification ready. Turian passengers, please keep personal identification, service identification, proof of firearms ownership and passports ready," a salarian voice announced while Sira walked out of her own terminal and right into the arms of four salarians. Two were Union Navy officers and two clearly belonged to Nasurn's security forces. Their dress-greens clashed with the white-and orange uniforms of their companions, as did the sigil of the Dylos Dalatrass Dynasty that decorated their chests.
"Are you Miss Sira T'Rila?" the one in the middle, a yellow-skinned Union Navy captain asked while the lieutenant to his left and his NSF counterpart grabbed her luggage. She immediately noticed how easy it was for the salarian to speak slowly. He was used to speaking to many non-salarians.
"Yes, that's me," she nodded before suddenly being scanned by the remaining NSF officer, who subsequently nodded to the captain, who then continued.
"My name is Captain Distra," the salarian introduced himself. "I'm going to accompany for the duration of your stay," a PR-officer most likely then.
"A pleasure to meet you, Captain Distra."
"The pleasure is all ours. We have eagerly expected your arrival here in Aegohr. As did Major Talus." he said and immediately her heart skipped a beat. While she could rationalize that Tistol Talus was a person just like her, it was still strange that the pilot who had captivated the galactic public for the last twenty-five years would 'eagerly expect' someone like her. While she was now busy swooning over the prospect of the interview, she still noticed that Distra's entourage carried away her bags to a secluded and guarded exit right by the terminal's exit. She trailed the salarians carrying away her cameras, terminals and personal belongings with her eyes and Distra clearly noticed. He gestured for her to follow her and offered an explanation. "Don't worry about your belongings, they'll be delivered to the academy shortly after our arrival."
"And where are they being delivered to now?" she replied curiously before seeing a group of turians in grey uniforms walk towards the same entrance, each of them carrying heavy-looking gun cases.
If she were to take a guess, these soldiers were probably part of the extensive military exchange programs that were happening across Citadel Space. Ever since the Rebellions had ended, the turians had started talks about becoming fully-fledged Council members. There wasn't a planet in Council Space that hadn't been visited by Hierarchy military attachés or wasn't being patrolled by Hierarchy ships. While most people were all too happy to have ships of the species that had ended the Rebellions orbiting their planets, some hardliners in the Republics were worried. Just last week Sira had talked to a politics professor who was incredibly concerned with just how far the 'cooperation' between the Combine of Vol and the Turian Hierarchy was going to go. In fact the words 'protectorate', 'annexation' and 'well-hidden imperialism' had been dropped several times. And the professor wasn't alone in that belief either. The fringe-elements of Council society and basically the entirety of the Terminus Systems were scared of what a species who's military consisted of its entire population was going to do now that the krogan were out of the picture. Personally, she just considered this the latest brand of the xenophobia that surfaced whenever a new species entered the picture. People had said similar thing about the quarians when they had made First Contact with the Citadel and even seven centuries later, the Conclave had only ever taken up arms twice, both times in defense of the Citadel Council.
"To an intensive security screening," the navy captain replied. "As you can imagine, there are certain protocols we have to go through before you can enter a Union Navy base. I apologize if we caught you off-guard."
"No, it's fine," Sira replied quickly before following the yellow salarian. "I already expected certain precautions," she added. It was a half-truth she spoke to not fall out of graze with the salarians. She had pictured a scanner and someone opening her bag, not a total seize-and-search routine in her absence.
Then again she wasn't in the Republics anymore. Nasurn was as salarian as colonies came and she knew that certain things were done differently in Union space when compared to other parts of the Council. For starters there was the whole deal with inheritance-based matriarchies which stayed in power by lording over countless of vassal states still being the most influential institution in a society that had a democratically elected governing body.
"I still apologize for this level of intrusion into your privacy," the salarian said politely. "Has your flight here been pleasant? I heard you came all the way from Thessia. That's quite the trip."
"Yes, most pleasant actually," the Courier had after all bought her a first-class ticket. "And yes, I did come from Thessia. It gave me some time to catch up on some work."
"You must be tired then," the captain observed as they left the boarding area and entered a large forum where countless of people were waiting for their flight by either sitting on the round benches that surrounded the large fountains that dotted the forum, shopping in the overpriced stores around them or mingling with their travel companions at one of the plentiful restraints. Besides Sur'Kesh, Nasurn was one of the major hubs in salarian space so she hadn't expected anything less. What she hadn't expected however was the small corridor through the forum that had been cordoned off for them by a dozen NSF troopers and a fine blue cord that was held up by dozens of steel pedestals. It led to a side entrance which she figured was usually not meant to be used by regular passengers.
"No, I slept on the flight," she said with a shrugged before mustering the NSF troopers. Just the two other soldiers from before, they wore green uniforms. But this time around they were also armed with pistols, protected by black armor vests and open helmets. They tensely scanned the crowd on each side, which was of course peering over to see who this special treatment was aimed at. While it was probably just a precaution common to any place that was as busy as the spaceport of a colonial capital of a major salarian colony, Sira still felt strange. She was being treated like she was a celebrity or an important politician. While there had been some more high-profile interviews in her career, none could compare to this treatment. This was definitely going to be the tipping point in her career.
"Then I'm sure you won't mind if we talk about the interview while traveling to the academy," Distra half-asked and half-told her while they walked the corridor to the entrance.
"Not at all," she replied as an NSF trooper opened the door for her to reveal a very luxurious shuttle that probably costed more than what she had made in the last ten years combined. After noticing her surprise at the sight of the sleek curves of the silver vehicle, Distra cracked a smile, walked towards it and opened a door to reveal an equally comfortable inside.
"Dalatrass Inrin insisted that we make your stay here as pleasant as possible," he said, his voice getting louder to compensate for the engines spinning up. "Please, after you."
After getting into the shuttle and sitting down on the cushioned chair, the first thing that Sira noticed that the craft was surprisingly silent the craft ran and how smoothly it glided through the air, at least by salarian standards. While it didn't compare to state-of-the-art asari designs, nothing really ever did, it still seemed to be years ahead of what the common people were using. After the first impression was gone, she noticed that Distra had prepared something on the desk that separated the two of them. It was a series of holographic documents that would all require her signature.
"Those are a lot of contracts," she casually observed.
"We've reduced them in the last years. Compared to what people had to sign a decade ago to talk to the major, things have really gotten more relaxed," Distra said with a shrug and a smile. "If you're ready, I'll run you through them."
"This document here," he said before tapping the first document, which was presented to her in perfect thessian, "states that you can't ask Major Talus any questions or air footage regarding in-depth views on Union Navy doctrine. You can obviously talk about his deeds, but it's not allowed for you to question the inner workings of our military or the details surrounding our tactics. Sign if you agree," she nodded. Nothing out of the usual or which would impair the quality of her interview. People wouldn't watch Tistol Talus to hear him say how a salarian fleet was structured and where its weaknesses were, they'd watch him for the heroics.
"That's fine by me," she said before complying and placing her signature. Then Distra went on.
"Moving on," Distra stated. "Right here we have the contract that the Union signed with the Serrice Courier. It states that you may take as much time as you need but also allows Major Talus to leave the interview whenever he desires. You can't keep him there. It's all voluntarily on his part and if you take longer than he wants to, it's of course up to him to say that he wishes to interrupt or end the interview."
"Of course," she nodded. It only made sense that she couldn't force anyone to actually talk to her and keep them locked up if they didn't. She wasn't the police after all. With a quick gesture of her hand, she signed the holo-document.
"This one here serves as a non-disclosure agreement between the Courier, the Union Navy and you. Until the official airing date, you may not spread the contents of the interview. Otherwise you'll be in violation of your contract and lose any claim to the working fee and the profits of the interview."
"As usual," she shrugged. Then she signed.
"Good," the captain nodded before pulling up a fourth contract. "Right here we have a review contract. It states that the Union Navy has the right to view your footage prior to your airing and instruct you to remove certain portions of the interview before you leave Aegohr. If you fail to do so, we'll be forced to seize the entire recording."
"Sounds an awful lot like censorship," Sira blurted out before noticing that Distra's polite smile disappeared for a few seconds.
"It's meant to ensure that you actually stick to the other regulations," the soldier said after rediscovering his PR personality. "And it's standard procedure here in the Union," she hesitated for a moment. "If you don't sign the contracts, we can't let you interview the major. I'm sure you understand that the contracts are all codependent to each other."
"I understand that," she said as her hand hovered in front of the document.
Distra kept pushing.
"Since your employer already agreed to these terms, this is really just a formality on your part," he added.
"They did?" she muttered before reading over the first page. Full creative control over the content? A right to seize all her possessions in case of a violation to prevent the spread of misinformation? This was basically the definition of maintaining the monopoly on information. If she didn't know that she wouldn't be sitting her if the Courier hadn't already agreed to this, she'd think Distra was lying to her. Up to now she had found five under points that'd trigger protests in any decent part of the Republics and would be considered outright unconstitutional in the best ones.
"While I understand that journalists such as yourself don't like this kind of contract, I'm also sure that you see why it is necessary in this case," Captain Distra argued. "We have to ensure that no sensitive information is leaked through your interview, no matter if the leak is intentional or not. Now please. Sign the contract so we can progress to the next step."
Sira's hand lingered over the hologram.
The Rebellions were long over, yes, but even now anything related to Tistol Talus still sold like crazy. If she did as good of an interview as she was planning on, her name would surface to the top of galactic journalism. Then she'd get just about every job she wanted and from there, it was just a matter of time before she reached her life-long goal of being a famous freelancer. And once she got there, she wouldn't have to deal with arrangements like these again. She'd be too desired then.
But was fame worth submitting to salarian military censorship?
Sira bit her lip.
She needed this interview and the bonus that came with it. Short-term and long-term.
So with a stroke of her finger, she signed the contract and promised herself that she was just taking a step in the wrong direction to take a run-up and leap into a bright future.
"Very good," Distra nodded. Then his head turned to the window and he smiled. "And just in time too. Look, we're here."
Sira turned her head and strangely enough, she found herself stunned. The pictures really hadn't done this place any justice. Usually military installations weren't exactly much to look at, even less so if they fell in line with the rest of salarian architecture, which tended to consist of nothing but dull colors and curved, interwoven shapes stacked on top of each other. But the Aegohr Aviation Academy was clearly something else entirely. Although it had a security perimeter and a runway, which in terms of looks were just as disappointing as she had come to expect from military bases, the academy complex itself was surprisingly captivating. It was a large, circular areal with large pools of water and bright and vast tropical gardens at its edge. Then there were the homes of the personal and staff, six in total. They surrounded the central building in two rings and seemed to be color coded. There was yellow, blue and red on the outside and orange, purple and green on the inside. Much like the edge of the academy walls, their roofs were covered in gardens and pools and similar to the central white building, which towered over the other homes, they had enough glass walls and colors to make any batarian architect jealous of them. She marveled at the sight of the perfect yellow sunlight and spotless blue sky of the salarian colony reflected on them and just for a second, Sira forgot that she was here to do an interview that might get censored and not to write a piece called 'an asari's take on the anomalously amazing architecture of the Aegohr Aviation Academy'. But then Distra reminded her of the sour taste this entire trip was leaving her mouth bringing up something from earlier.
"I've just been informed that all your belongings have cleared the security check. They'll be delivered shortly and in time for the interview. Do you want to pick them up yourself or should I have them delivered and set up somewhere for you?"
"Anywhere?" she replied, half-expecting a 'no'.
"Anywhere in the academy," Distra replied, surprisingly enough. "Do you have something in mind?"
She peaked up.
Then a smile appeared on her face.
"As a matter of fact, I do."
Thirty-eight Minutes Later
After they had landed, Captain Distra had given Sira a short tour of the academy grounds. Meanwhile a few Union Navy technicians had set up her equipment in the classroom that Major Talus taught in. It had been a creative choice on her part to go with this location because a part of her interview would consist of having Talus narrate how his life as an instructor compared to his life as an interceptor pilot. After the tour was completed, Sira had been brought to the classroom, which sat right on the top level of the academy's central building, and made some last minute checks to see if the technicians had made any mistakes. They hadn't, of course, but it was still second nature to her to make sure everything was working as intended. After all, if her cameras did not record the interview because one sleezy salarian had put a plug in the wrong place, she could kiss her career goodbye.
Just as she finished the last check, the door of the classroom swung open. She turned her head and there he was. The first thing Sira noticed about the blue-skinned salarian was his demeanor. It was very much like one would expect from an old salarian; someone used to doing things fast but no longer being able to reach is usual speed. As Talus sat down his bag, he let out a sigh and rubbed the shoulder that the sling had been swung over. Next he turned to look at her. It was at this point that she noticed how rugged he looked. His uniform hadn't been ironed in days and he hadn't bothered to close the top buttons of his jacket or to attach the rank insignia or name tag to it. While it clashed with the image of the perfect soldier, Sira had to admit that this look made the living legend look surprisingly grounded.
She liked it.
"Sira T'Rila?" he asked swiftly and she nodded. He pointed at the table she had prepared. "Want me there?" he followed up equally quickly. Evidently his speech hadn't been slowed by his age.
"Please," she replied. Then the major walked over to her. Before she could consider whether she should shake his hand, Talus made the choice for her by simply sitting down on one of the two chairs and staring a one of the cameras.
"Recording already?" he inquired.
"Not yet," she replied.
"Good," he said. Then he reached into one of his pouches and pulled out the rank insignias and nametag. After throwing one look at them, he stuffed them back inside, evidently deciding that he wasn't going to bother with the effort. He seemed demotivated to her. Clearly he noticed the gesture.
"Want me to put them on?" he asked cautiously, his hand still in his pocket.
She shook her head and went with the opener she had prepared during the flight.
"Before we start the recording, I'd like to use this opportunity to thank you for your service in the Rebellions, Major Talus. If it weren't for you, I don't think my home world ever would've been liberated from krogan occupation. I am truly honored that you agreed to this interview," she said. Then she mustered him from up close.
He looked older than she remembered him. Then again as far as salarian life spans went, he was slowly approaching ancientness and while the seventeen years since she had last seen him in person were an insignificant timespan for her, it was about a third of Talus' life, who was now well over fifty and nearly approaching the just about impossible mark of sixty years. Goddess, now that she thought about it, it was a miracle that he was not only still alive but also still flying, still teaching and still willing to help with the creation of what had to be the hundredth account of his extraordinary life. Any other salarian that reached this age would probably just spend their days in a retirement home on a beach and marvel at the wonders of life.
But here he was.
"Didn't agree to anything. Was ordered to attend," the blue salarian said briefly and seemingly disinterested before looking around the otherwise empty classroom and lingering on the hologram projector that stood by the teacher's podium. The statement caught her off-guard. But then she remembered that Tistol Talus was said to be more on the humorous side and she cracked a smile. "Interview beginning now?" he asked next.
"If you want to."
"Yes. Get it over with," he sighed.
Again she was caught off-guard but this time she pushed the issue.
"Do you not want to be here?" she asked while prepping her omni-tool.
"No. Yes. Figure out speech," he explained quickly and defectively.
She considered the reply for a moment but when he nodded again, she activated the cameras and recording devices.
"My name is Sira T'Rila and you're watching the Serrice Courier," she said while looking into the drone hovering behind Talus. "Tonight we have a special guest for you and although just about everyone has heard his stories a hundred times, we all can't get enough of him," the drone started to move to reveal Talus' face. "Major Tistol Talus, the hero of the Krogan Rebellions," she said and waited for him to say something.
After a few seconds she realized that he wasn't at paying any attention to her drone. After all the footage she had seen, she had expected the major to be incredibly comfortable and natural around cameras but with the way he just seemed to stare past her, Sira was starting to doubt that idea. Maybe the interviews she had seen had all been third or fourth takes? After a few more seconds passed, she wiped her hand through the air and spoke up.
"If you need some time to get used to the cameras, we can just talk for a few minutes before we start," she offered while remembering the warning an experienced employee had given her back on Thessia. She had told Sira that the fighter ace could be a difficult interviewee depending on his mood.
"Would like that," he nodded. "Have a question of my own actually," he added off-mindedly while drumming his finger on the glass table that they were seated on and looking out of the large window to their left, presumably to observe the flight-class that was going through their physical routine outside in front of the blue building she had seen earlier. As they went through a sparring session in the sandy training pit, Talus muttered his question. "Mentioned that I helped liberate your home world. Where are you from?"
"Gorot II," Sira replied quickly, eager to draw his attention on a subject. As soon as she answered, she noticed a visible shift in the old pilot. The distracted drumming stopped, his posture straightened and there was a glint in his eye. It seemed as if he was trying to remember something and then, after a moment of uncertainty, succeeded in doing so. Before he spoke, he pulled in a low breath, rubbed his palm and cracked a smile. Fond memories of his comrades, most likely. Not that it mattered. She'd take any signs of interest, even if they vanished as quickly as they had appeared and ended with the major staring through the table and at the floor with an intensity that made it seem like he was trying to melt it by sheer force of heroic will.
"Start recording," he said quickly. And then she complied. "Remember Gorot II. Exciting fight, but far from my favorite campaign. Only shot down forty-two krogan before liberation was done. Blame not on me though. Turians proved incapable of adopting their tactics to my fighting style. Nearly killed me twice during our first engagement and reduced my effectiveness by twenty percent during the second one," he said with a dry voice, still fixated on the floor. "Their commander was particularly bad. Thought he had the world figured out. Heard he even wrote about the battle after the war," the major spat. Sira doubled back as he went on. "Occasionally still consider taking revenge on his comrades during exercises. But never go through with it. Shooting down pilots who played no role in our feud is not worth the trouble or the court martial," She looked at him for a second, finding herself at a loss of words. Then Sira realized who she was talking to and came to the logical conclusion that the major was simply joking. She laughed disarmingly, remembered her notes on the major's particularly dark sense of humor and dismissed her wrong impression to go on with the interview.
"Would you care to elaborate on that incident? I don't think you've ever spoken about the first time you fought alongside our turian allies or what it was like for you," while she phrased it like she wasn't sure about it, she knew that this was new information. She had taken a long time to prepare for this interview.
"Care to? Would love to," he said after another low breath. Next he looked at her and put on a smile that looked forced. She simply presumed that it was his age that gave her this impression and returned it, choosing to be polite about it. After all everyone aged. Even she would one day. "But before I elaborate first, have to make small correction. Did not fight with turians. Turians just happened to grace the same combat sector I flew in and reaped the reward," the salarian said before blinking and looking directly at the camera, his stare seemingly going through it just as it had done with the table and the floor. To Sira it seemed like he wasn't really in the room anymore but rather somewhere else and his behavior reflected on it. He looked even more rejuvenated than before, as if the memory was turning him back into his younger self. Still she was worried that this part of the interview would end up getting cut out or having to be redone. Compared to his other interviews, the major seemed off..
Right now he came of as unsympathetic, distant, arrogant and even somewhat terrifying.
Everything she knew he wasn't.
She folded her hands in her lap.
What was going on here?
"Was about halfway through the siege that I first saw a turian. Expeditionary Fleet had just repelled the last breakout attempt by the krogan when they showed up as our reinforcements and doused my combat sector in more tungsten rounds and shrapnel than the worst point defense-runs I've ever flown. Want to say it was day sixteen of siege. Remember thinking that they were distinctively weird looking creatures. In fact, I suspected that they had been miss-classified by first contact team. After all, what kind of bird evolves metal-plated skin? Would be hard to fly like that. Also failed to see any wings on them," he said before getting back to the actual story. "Anyways," he began.
Day 16 of the Siege of Gorot II, Early 709 CE, Naldra Class Support Cruiser SUW Olorathi (Attached to the 1st Citadel Expeditionary Fleet)
That's how long they had been fighting this so called Krogan Rebellion.
Up until six years ago, the war hadn't been his problem. He'd been able to dodge draft after draft on the merit of being smart enough to leave his system whenever there was another service culling. But then time and the military ypolice had caught up with him and he had been forced to make a choice when a bunch of NSF troopers and a Union NCO had shown up at his apartment. He had been offered a clear perspective back then. Join the army and hope for the best possible job or be sent straight to a frontline penal battalion for 'hindering the war effort' for six years in a row.
He had quickly weighed his options.
He had seen the news and the casualty transports that had docked at Aegohr Port. The infantry would've been a death sentence. As would any ground-based position. For salarians and lystheni alike, fighting the krogan was akin to jumping into the meatgrinder. However even before being old enough to legally do it, he had flown for a living. A cargo haul here and a drop off there to help his family make rent. It was part of living in the low ranks of a big city like Aegohr. Along the way and due to his risky style of flying and violating basic traffic rules because his costumers paid for time and not for obedience to the law, he had learned to dodge incoming traffic quite well. So he had naturally pointed out the obvious to the MP back then. He'd be of more use to the Union in a cockpit than he'd ever be lying in the mud on some colony with an assault rifle and waiting for a krogan raider to impale him with a bayonet and eat his liver.
Surprisingly enough that had actually worked.
From there on out, Tistol had spent his days flying cargo for the navy. It was a boring job and he found it rather hard to actually stick to the rules for a change. But it kept him alive so he stuck around, even when more exciting combat positions were opened to him. After all, he only really cared about staying alive. Who gave a shit about glory when he was too dead to reap its reward?
But then, three years ago, the krogan had done something that had shifted his priorities and set off a chain of events that led to Tistol discovering that he had another talent besides being good at dodging things, one that he never would've discovered inside an unarmed transport shuttle. After a raid had killed the one thing he was grateful for, the family that had taught him how to actually fly a ship and given him the skills that had kept him alive up to now, Tistol had discovered he was incredibly gifted at putting down any krogan that entered his sights.
If they could take back the raid that had killed his relatives, the krogan probably would and Tistol would've just kept flying shuttles until the new allies of the Council, the turians, finally ended this war on a pile of krogan bodies.
But they couldn't.
So he wouldn't.
Hence here he was, paying them back one death at a time.
"Tistol!" a voice called, interrupting the blue salarian just as he was putting the finishing touches on the small, simplified krogan skull he was adding to the row of kill marks on the gunmetal grey chassis of his trusty companion, a state-of-the-art Nasurn Armory Lidra Interceptor. Determined to ignore the interruption, the young lieutenant simply continued with his task. "Tistoool!" the person shouted again with equal determination to keep him from doing just that.
With a sigh the pilot pulled back the brush, taking care not to have any of the red paint dripple down on the wing he was sitting on. Then he looked back, not bothering to hide his annoyance at this interruption. The voice came from another pilot clad in an orange flight suit that was meant to save his lives if he ever managed to survive his craft being rendered inoperable and actually lived long enough to be evacuated. How small the odds of that happening were in an active combat where thousands of mass accelerator shots were exchanged every second? Tistol didn't need to think about because if there was something that he was certain off, it was that he'd never eject from his craft. If only to spite the krogan, he'd go down shooting, or if all else failed, ramming.
"What do you want Ralor?" While he could read the nametag on the flight suit from where he was sitting on the wing, his eyesight had always been astonishingly good even by salarian standards, he didn't need to do so to know who he was talking to. Despite his reluctance to get to know the people he served with, he recognized the interrupter by the black spots on his lime-green face and the slight unevenness of his horns. While the features were unique enough to have etched themselves into his mind, there was more to it in this case. The interrupter was Lieutenant Ralor, a member of his own squadron who, likely by sheer luck, had managed to survive just as long as Tistol himself and had accompanied him ever since following the same call to flight academy three years ago. From there on out they hadn't just been put into the same fleet but also the same squadron and fought battle after battle, trailing closely behind each other in terms of kills right until he changed his tactics and got his squadron to play along with it. As such, the other salarian had adopted a misunderstood sense of a friendly rivalry, which Tistol of course didn't return. He wasn't here to make friend and he just found Ralor to be a nuisance who couldn't help but follow Tistol wherever he went, whether voluntarily or by the universe's desire to make life harder for him.
"I came by to update the squadron board," he said with a friendly chuckle. "Not that anyone's going to dethrone you any time soon," he added rapidly, far too fast for any non-salarian to actually understand but comfortably average for any salarian or lystheni to follow him and still focus on another task at the same time.
In theory, they were the kind of comrade that Ralor believed them to be, like-minded young lieutenants who relied on each other to survive battle after battle and who had followed each other's steps ever since the first day either of them had stepped into a Lidra. However, in practice, Ralor, much like the rest of his squadron and every other pilot in this fleet really, only served to distract the krogan from Tistol. They kept the enemy interceptors occupied for as long as he needed to get in position. Once he was, the squadron got out of his way and left him to do what he did best, kill krogan in an extraordinarily graceful manor. While their enemy usually just tried to flee when they spotted his Lidra, few ever succeeded at it. The krogan, with all the reflexes and finesse one would expect from an overgrown toad uplifted to be the Council's cannon fodder, simply weren't a match for his own aptitude for flying. Whoever got into his sights lost their strike craft and then, as a rule, their life. Even in the rare case that they ejected, which krogan as a rule didn't do on purpose, he made sure that all of his kills were actual kills with an actual krogan life attached to them. Anything else would be akin to cheating on his own kill count and sullying his streak of vengeance.
And he'd have none of that.
"Six," he responded quickly in the hopes of getting rid of this unwanted conversation. Then Tistol looked back at the unfinished krogan skull and frowned. Although hard to see at first glance, it stung him in the eye immediately. There was a tiny unevenness in the freshly drawn skull that simply had to have been caused by the interruption. After all, Tistol had painted over a two hundred fifty of them in the last two years and all others were flawless.
"I don't have slow days," he countered before thinking back to what had caused the silver, roughly finger-tip deep hole in the snout armor of his Lidra. He'd have to get that fixed eventually but it wasn't a priority right now. He had already checked; the armor integrity hadn't been harmed. It was just a scratch and not worth him missing out the next battle over. "The flak batteries of the turians made short work of most of the interceptors before I got to them. I don't think they cared that they nearly hit me either," he muttered.
"Not just you. I got a few scratches as well. Same with Julo," Ralor replied before feeling like it was necessary to continue this conversation and rob Tistol of even more of his already sparse free time. "You know, you could just use my laser engraver and save yourself from having to paint all these skulls with your hands. If anyone would get some real time doing it that way, it's you,"
"Thanks, but I prefer this," he simply rebutted a few moments later. It was more personal. While he could simply have his kill marks lasered the way other pilots who managed to shoot down an opponent did, Tistol felt like doing that would disrespect his dead opponents. Sure, he hated krogans with a passion and wouldn't mind if this war ended with every last of them dead. But that didn't mean Tistol couldn't respect the objective level of bravery that was needed for someone to even climb into a fighter and take off knowing that there was a chance that someone like him was waiting out there. Adding to that, he also found that it was an effective method of self-improvement and self-reflection. He used the time it took him to paint these marks to recall the kills and correct even the smallest mistake he could recognize in his own behavior so that he may not repeat them in the future.
Not that there were many mistakes.
Like any good master, he had perfected his trade despite his young age.
"Alright. Just know that the offer stands," Ralor said with a smile. Then Tistol went ahead and once more gently pushed the brush against the surface of his Lidra. While he wasn't going to be able to erase the imperfection right now, he could still salvage the rest of the skull. As if he had waited for him to do so, Ralor once more spoke up. "Before you go on with that," Tistol felt the anger surge up in him and it took every single nerve of steel he had not to toss the brush at the lime-green salarian. He had purposefully waited for him to continue, there was no doubt in his mind. Just another attempt at nourishing the friendly rivalry that Ralor imagined them to have. "I came by to tell you that we've got another mission briefing in ten minutes. Looks like we'll make another run at taking out the Interdictor." As if exchanged, Tistol quietly breathed in, put the brush down on the small tray that also held the fresh box of paint and jumped off the wing of the salarian-made interceptor, suddenly free of all the frustration Ralor had been cultivating by just not leading with that and then leaving him be.
"Acknowledged. I'll be there."
"Good. I expected nothing less from our best man," Ralor nodded before mercifully walking away. Or so it seemed. When Tistol had already allowed himself to believe that the pilot-sized nuisance was gone, he stopped dead in his track, turned around and cracked a smile. "Oh, and before I forget. The guys asked me to please tell you to try and leave some kills for the rest of us this time around. It would suck if this war ends and you're the only one who can brag about how many krogan he shot down. We want some fancy war stories too, you know?"
"I'll give my best." It was a lie. He most certainly would not. If he sat back and watch so these fools could have their fun, they might just manage to jeopardize their victory over the krogan, or worse, his own success at revenge.
"Much appreciated," Ralor said with a brief, very informal salute. Then the pilot finally walked away from Tistol and his fighter. This time mercifully for good.
Without further a due the salarian closed the box of paint and returned it, the brush and the tray to his locker, which contained nothing but his uniform, a spare set of exchange clothes and the journal in which he took more meticulous notes on all of his aerial victories and the ways they had been achieved. On his way back, he dodged the technicians who steered small trucks filled with ammunition and fuel across the 'streets' of the support cruiser's interceptor hangar. Their paths were easy to recognize since they had been marked on the floor in between the parking spots of the fighter craft. At the same time, he passed the crafts that would account for most of the damage dealt to the krogan fleet.
Heavy Gilron Bombers.
Compared to the nimble Lidra's the large, arrowhead-shaped crafts were basically unmaneuverable bricks of plate-armor with mass-produced void-only thrusters that couldn't do something as basic as push the craft out of a planet's atmosphere. They required a crew of six, which were five people more than Tistol was comfortable with having to rely on. They also had no offensive capabilities to speak of, other than the torpedoes that they carried in their bellies, which meant that interceptor pilots like himself had to escort them right until they dropped their payloads and then had to turn around with them to ensure their safe return. To summarize, they were slow, ugly, crowded and devoid of forward-facing mass accelerators or anti-interceptor missiles.
Basically, they were everything he had grown to hate since being handed a Lidra Interceptor.
After watching as one of the large torpedoes was loaded into the Gilron closest to him, the salarian lieutenant climbed up the stairs to the command center of the flight deck and walked into the pilot briefing room, well aware that the crew had paused their task as soon as they had spotted him. He had that effect on most salarians he crossed paths with. After two years of making a name for himself everyone in the fleet justifiably recognized that he was a cut above them and treated him with according respect.
When he reached the briefing room, he sat down and looked around for a second, despite being deeply familiar with it. It was a square, otherwise unremarkable room that overlooked the hangar and was filled to the brim with chairs facing a large holoprojector and no matter what day it was or which squadron occupied it, the scent of sweat and fear always lingered in it. Tistol looked at the other salarians, easily able to tell that they were growing more nervous at the imminent battle. That was something Tistol himself couldn't relate to in the slightest. Moments like these made him feel most alive. It was the minutes in which he could already feel the thrill of an imminent fight rising within in but still had all the excitement of not knowing exactly who he'd fight or whether or not his vengeance would be successful bottled up in him.
Simply put, it was the best feeling in the galaxy and the best high he'd ever been on, which was saying a lot considering what he'd pumped into his body prior to his navy days to pull off the at times insane deliveries he'd been tasked with.
"Would you look at that. The living legend himself decided to interrupt his painting session just for us," one pilot joked as he sat down behind Tistol. The blue salarian ignored the few remarks prompted or the two or three pats on his back that his comrades felt obliged to give him. He understood why they behaved like this. They were proud of him and recognized that he was the reason most of them had survived this long. But he didn't care for such things or their expressions of gratitude. He only really wanted to put the krogan in their place and turn what he already knew, that he was well on his way to be the best fighter pilot who ever lived, into a fact everyone was aware of. Once that was done, he could rest easy knowing that vengeance had been dealt and, if he lived as long as he hoped he would, bask in his glory until the day he died.
While it wasn't what he'd planned on when the draft had caught up with him, it was certainly his pictured path now that he'd become aware of how much better than his enemies he really was.
A smirk crossed his face and he blended out the chatter of his comrades to focus on the large holotable in the front of the row. On one end there was their own fleet, nineteen salarian and asari ships. They were supported by the newly arrived thirty-two turian ones that sat in a weirdly bubbly formation on their left flank. They were all in orbit around the small moon of Gorot II, which under the use of the entire creative power of the quarian explorers that had found this system had fittingly been designated as 'Gorot IIa'. On the other end was the krogan fleet. While it consisted of an equal mixture of frigates and cruisers, their corvettes had all been destroyed in the initial skirmish, one large, hammer-shaped vessel stood out amongst the twenty-six ships. The key-piece of the krogan fleet. A dreadnought-analogue that the Council had dubbed as a member of the 'Invader-Class Capital Ship'. It was the infamous 'Interdictor', the flagship of one Warlord Nakmor Tar which had already subjugated a dozen minor colonies in sector.
It was because of ships like the Interdictor, which the krogan had constructed in secret while preparing for their surprise attack, that they had been able to take as many planets as rapidly as they had during the beginning of the war. Luckily for the Council's own capital ships, these vessels had no spinal-mounted main-canon. Unluckily for any planet that they orbited however, Invader-Classes made up for it by being flying war factories. They used all the freed-up space that was created by an absent main gun to house more troops, tanks, artillery pieces and dropships than any other vessel of their kind. Furthermore, and even more unluckily for any planet they orbited, they also had dedicated orbital bombardment batteries and factory plants that could produce munitions and spare parts for all the above. This allowed them to carry on a campaign indefinitely, or at least as long as they had the raw resources to keep their war factories and furnaces going. While these were usually delivered by the countless supply convoys that the krogan had either built or stolen, a compartment of thousands of small mining drones could also be deployed to strip-mine any asteroid field in the system that the Invader-Class currently occupied. As such some of his pilots had chosen a more fitting name for ships of its kind.
As far as its position on the battlefield was concerned, the Interdictor was just like the other krogan ships. it lingered exactly where their enemy liked to be, in between their opponent's fleet and an inhabited planet. While it seemed like a strange choice at first given that they were putting a planet under krogan occupation into the line of fire like this, there was an underlying, distinctively un-krogan intelligence to this tactic.
In any system that housed an inhabited planet, which were nearly all systems that this conflict was being fought in, the krogan would arrive with their engines at full throttle and shields at full strength. Then they would either make a short-range FTL jump to circumvent a blockade entirely or, without regard for their own safety, ram through their opposition until they managed to get themselves in between the colony and the Council fleet. While it sounded like suicide in theory, it exploited a critical weakness in Council doctrine that Tistol had recognized and criticized as early as his first day in flight academy. Even after a nine-year long war of attrition the Council refused to allow their own ships to fire mass accelerators on krogan ships that had a civilian target in their back, which meant that despite their superior technology and range, their fleets couldn't actually engage krogan ships and had to rely on fighter pilots such as him to deliver up-close precision attacks. While this had changed somewhat ever since the turians had gotten involved, who true to their militaristic nature seemed to have no qualms about sacrificing a thousand few civilians if it meant that they destroyed a krogan fleet and liberated a hundred thousand additional people. In fact they seemed to have managed what all of his complaints and discussions since flight academy hadn't been able to. While rumor among the rank-and-file had it that asari diplomats were already trying to convince them to fall in line with the Council's painfully slow, highly inefficient naval strategy, rumor among the officer corps of the Union was claiming the contrary. The turians were actually managing to point the Council in the right direction and make them recognize that this war wasn't going to be won by being more civil than the krogan. They were encouraging to take more drastic measures and if they actually managed to do that, Tistol may even forgive them for their accidental attempt on his life earlier.
He squinted and scanned the holograms for one last time. He had missed nothing.
So he waited for his commander to arrive.
He was flying under Commander Raeka, a noble-born officer and someone who could truly claim to be part of a dying breed. When the war had first started, Raeka and his blue-blooded peers had held the monopoly on fighter-pilot positions in the salarian militaries, Union and dalatrass alike. But with attrition warfare showing its ugly face and young nobles and would-be sires of the dynasties dying quicker than one could say 'entrenched nobility', the dalatrasses and the rest of salarian blue bloods had been forced to make some compromises. Hence, the point where the tradition of only noble-born salarians being allowed to command single-occupant fight craft, which had stemmed from the old days of when only salarian noblemen had been allowed to ride Sur'Kesh's most dangerous aerial predator into battle, the dreaded Comoreavers, had been strictly enforced was, much to Tistol's fortune, long since buried under a mountain of charred noble corpses. While he realized that it reflected poorly on him that he was glad about the deaths of over ninety percent of male salarian nobility, he didn't feel necessarily bad about it. After all, if Raeka hadn't lost all of his blue-blooded friends, people like Tistol would've just ended up as expendable fodder that steered a Gilron and he never would get a chance to settle his score. Furthermore, considering his evident talent for interceptor combat, a world were he couldn't fly a Lidra would truly have been an unfair one to life in. After all, if anyone deserved the nickname of the Comoreaver Riders, which had been called the kings of the sky on Sur'Kesh during the time before military aviation and automatic weapons had pushed them from useful beasts of war to recreational animals, who was better fit to carry it?
Or someone like Raeka who's only merit was being born to the right clan?
The answer seemed fairly obvious to him.
A few more moments passed and then the squadron commander stepped in. Surprisingly enough however, when Raeka arrived, he didn't come alone. As the pilots rose to attention, some quicker than others, the constant state of fighting on the front had produced something akin to a lax attitude when it came to formalities, a tall and at first glance metallic looking alien followed their salarian leader. He was clad in in a perfectly fitted grey uniform that matched the color of the plates that covered most of his otherwise leathery-brown skin. His eyes were perfectly golden orbs and as soon as he entered, he quickly scanned the room with them. As they met with Tistol's, they seemed to recognize him and lingered for a respectful second before moving on. Not that the reaction surprised the young pilot. Tistol knew that his reputation and his face were spreading fast, with allies and enemies alike.
"At ease, squadron," Commander Raeka ordered. "Before we discuss the assault on the blockade, I would like to offer our ally a chance to introduce himself. Captain Quentilian, if you may," he said, sounding somewhat weary. It peaked Tistol's interest. Anyone that Raeka didn't like was sure to be an interesting acquaintance.
"Thank you, Commander Raeka," the turian spoke. His speech was accompanied by a strange flanging and while it had a hint of the grace of an asari matriarch, or maybe of a minor dalatrass, it carried a far more clearly authoritarian undertone and lacked all of the former's entitlement. If he were to guess, it probably originated from a more martial and ordered society than his own. Only by that impression alone, Tistol already liked this guy more than most of his fellow, softer salarian brethren. Right from the beginning seemed like the type of person who understood what needed to be done to end this war. "You just heard it, but I'll say it again if only to be polite about my interruption. My name is Captain Tacitus Quentilian and it will be my squadron's honor to accompany yours in the coming operation. You may ask yourself why I'm going through the trouble of introducing myself and yes, the fact that I want you to be able to picture what your allies actually look like is one reason. But I have another motive too, one that goes beyond politeness and will probably make some of you dislike me."
Tistol leaned forward in his chair. This was getting interesting.
"I've already been informed that your unit operates differently from the average fighter squad," suddenly Tistol realized that the turian's gaze seemed to linger on him. "And before any of you worry about it, I'm not here to ask you to change that. From my point of view, your tactics are unorthodox, unnecessarily risky and make your unit vulnerable to the age-old centerpiece dilemma. But they're also battletested against the krogan, far more than any turian tactic and I know better than to mess with something that's proven to work," he paused for a second. "However there is one request I came here to make before we embark on our mission. Or rather a statement I want to give to you before we jump into our fighters and drive the krogan off this world," his golden eyes seemed to narrow and by now Tistol knew that he was the only one person in the room that the captain was really talking to. "Do not expect my pilots to be your bait or play along with your reckless maneuvers. We are not here to see who can shoot down the most krogan or fly the fanciest maneuver. We're here to complete a mission, liberate a population held hostage by the krogan and, on a grander scale, win a war you've failed to finish for the last nine years. So that's exactly what we''ll do," he broke eye-contact with Tistol and looked at Raeka. "I look forward to having the honor of fighting alongside your squadron, Commander. Thank you for lending me a minute of your briefing," he said before giving a turian salute.
"Everything for our new allies," Tistol's own commander replied before returning the gesture in the salarian way, with his fist planted firmly against where his heart was. Then the two shook hands and the turian went to leave the room. Despite the friendly send-off, there was now a strange tension in the room and no one dared to speak up or even let out a cough after what he'd said about their 'failure' to end this war. About half of Tistol's fellow pilots, and he himself, trailed the turian with their eyes as he walked towards the door. Some were probably intrigued now that they had first laid eyes on the species that was helping them turn the tide of the war, others were probably angry at his suggestion that they hadn't tried enough to win. Quentilian reached the door and threw a final look back, his piercing golden eyes clashing with Tistol's own in a brief stand-off that tested him for any weakness or lack of resolve.
Neither backed down until the door automatically closed between them.
It was in this moment that the salarian knew that he and Quentilian would not become friends after all.
After she had typed the last sentence, Sira was torn between excitement and confusion.
Admiral Tacitus Quentilian was a living legend in his own right. He had fought in many battles of the Rebellions, even in the final storming of Tuchanka. Over the course of his contribution to the war, which had only been about half of Talus's, he had made a name for himself. While he was not famous for being an accomplished fighter ace, Quentilian had earned the gratitude of the Council and the fear of the krogan by being a revolutionary tactician with an impossibly perfect track record. Over the course of the Krogan Rebellions, Tacitus Quentilian had, without fail, won every engagement he had ever fought and risen through the ranks of the Hierarchy's military and society quicker than anyone before him. Ever since the Genophage had ended the war, he had solidified this reputation by restructuring the entire naval aviation wing of the Hierarchy's navy and despite there still being three centuries left until the calendar reached that mark, he was already being called the military genius who would defy this millennium and change the way wars were fought. All across Hierarchy space, his deeds were depicted in films, novels and theatre plays and, in many ways, he was for the turians what Tistol Talus was for the salarians; heroes of the Rebellions who'd inspire generations of soldiers to try and follow their example and who would be remembered until the Citadel archives were no more.
So how come neither of them had ever talked about not only having met during the war but also having fought alongside one another?
As the rush of the knowledge that she'd be able to write an entirely new story which would catapult her career into the next stage faded, Sira realized something else, something that prompted her to pause. Ever since the war had ended, Major Talus had spoken about his deeds countless of times. But rarely if ever had he told someone about how he had felt during them. She was being handed a unique introspective.
So why wasn't she bouncing out of her chair?
That question was answered rather easily.
She remembered the contracts from earlier and considering how 'off' the major seemed, he had never talked badly about the people he had fought with or displayed even a hint of the arrogance that seeped through every word she had just heard him say, she was worried that this entire part would be seized by the Union. After all, it would be rather damaging to his reputation. Briefly Sira wondered why he was behaving like this.
Had she caught him on a bad day? Or was Gorot II just a subject he didn't like to speak about? That had to be the case, right? After all, this was Tistol Talus; the salarian soldier who could easily be described as a classic hero who had been plucked from the confines of his fable and sent to fight and win the Krogan Rebellions for the good side. After lingering on that idea for a second, she shook her head. No. That couldn't be it. He had clearly said that he had enjoyed the campaign on Gorot II. So what in Athame's name was going on here?
She zoned out for a few more seconds and then she remembered that she was on camera, so Sira snapped out of her thoughts and went on with the interview, vowing to herself to get to the bottom of this.
"After the briefing was over, you went on your mission. As I recall, this particular attack played a crucial role in breaking the blockade of Gorot II, correct?"
"Yes," Major Talus said with a nod. "Bomber assault proved to be a complete success. Low casualties among allied forces, high payload efficiency. Strike crippled the Interdictor's primary munitions depot and set off a chain reaction. Ship exploded from the inside out, Nakmor Tar burned alive and only few crew members survived. Rest of the Nakmor fleet withdrew to the edge of the system afterwards. After that, it was just a clean-up campaign waged by turians. While they were chasing down survivors and preventing a regrouping, we were getting ready for the ground invasion."
"And you didn't fly any more space engagements during the campaign?"
"No. Missions were restricted to maintaining air superiority after special victory. Encountered no further krogan pilots for the duration of the ground liberation. Only flew a few strafing runs until turian legionaries and turian air wings took over ground combat."
Sira thought about what he had said and remembered her notes. Suddenly she came up with an idea. One that might be able to silence the nagging voice that had spoken up in the back of her head ever since his narration of the events of the siege had started.
"Then it was during that last mission with the turians that you encountered and spared Nakmor Karill?" As soon as she had asked the question Talus looked at her in evident confusion.
"Nakmor Karill," she repeated. "He's a renowned krogan fighter ace who you fought during the Siege of Gorot II. I interviewed him before I came here. He told me that you defeated his entire squad during the attack on the Interdictor and mentioned that you let him escape when he broke off the engagement. You let him go despite being able to shoot him down," she explained. "And he asked me to thank you for that. As you can imagine, he's beyond grateful for your decision."
Sira looked at him in expectation. The major however simply appeared to be lost.
"Don't remember ever sparing anyone," he replied with a flat voice before going back to looking through the table and waging his staring contest with the floor, despite the camera drone floating in his face. If she had to put a label to his reaction, it'd be a mixture of confusion and disappointment at himself. But after a few seconds of being lost, the soldier who'd just told her his story was back at the table and, in the span of the next few moments, permanently altered how she saw the legendary 'Tistol Talus'. "Wiped out entire squadron during the engagement, yes. But ran out of ammunition in the process. Never had the intention to spare anyone. Mercy was not part of krogan doctrine, so wouldn't be part of my vengeance either," then his tone shifted into one filled with what she could only describe as pure, unfiltered hatred. "Please tell Nakmor Karil that I had every intention to kill him and hope that Genophage and krogan themselves finish what I started. Will always be threat to galaxy, should've been treated as such, like rachni. Sterilization wrong decision guided by Union's false sense of moral superiority. Extermination preferable."
Her jaw dropped. Had he just told her that they should've committed genocide on the krogan? She watched the door and expected Distra to come charging in and end the interview right there.
But he didn't. So she let go of her obviously wrong perception of Major Talus, accepted this new reality and decided to make the best of this interview, even if it would be censored to the point of being nonexistent.
"Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you've ever taken this kind of position before" she said.
"Will have to correct you then. Mentioned my hatred for the krogan time and again. But personal opinions never make it past first draft of these things," the major disagreed and once more raised an entirely new question in the journalist's mind. She was slowly but surely beginning to understand the reason behind all the contracts. As he went back to how he had started out this interview, absent-mindedly looking out the window and drumming his fingers on the glass desk, Sira wondered what other discrepancies existed between who Tistol Talus was and how he was being portrayed.
"What else didn't make it past the first draft?" she asked, trying to look past the fact that he had just told her that the krogan should've been murdered down to the last. Instantly she could tell that she had recovered the major's interest.
"Anything that didn't look good on propaganda posters," Talus shrugged. "Have given hundreds of interviews. Read dozens of accounts of my own life. Watched every vid ever made about me. Care to guess how many came close being half-way true?"
"Considering where this conversation is going, I'd say none of them?"
"Correct," he said before slapping his hand on the desk and getting "Don't misunderstand me. Every detail made about my career is accurate. Scored every aerial victory I claimed. All thousand one hundred forty-six. But details surrounding my person or my motivations? Never accurate," he walked through the classroom and looked at the holoprojector. Then he folded his arms behind his back and straightened himself to his full height. "Let's start from beginning."
712 CE, Nasurn, Aegohr, Union Aegohr Aviation Academy
Originally, they'd just made the trip back to Nasurn to regroup and rearm on a salarian core world in the wake of their latest battle. It had been particularly costly and had seen the destruction of several of the fleet's ships and a fifth of their strike craft compartment, including the loss of one of his own squad mates and wingmen; Julo. They had split with their turian allies, who had relocated to one of their own clusters for rearmament and began with the dull but necessary task of taking inventory, However about halfway through the rearmament procedure, historic news and the true reason behind the departure of the turian fleet that had accompanied had arrived.
After months of preparing for the operation and after what could only be described as display of overwhelming military power, an enormous turian armada, drawn together from fleets all over the galaxy and numbering at over a thousand ships had broken through the Alalakh Relay by brute force, defeated the krogan defense fleet and was now, with the help of three hundred thousand of orbital-inserted shock troops, seizing key locations on Tuchanka and establishing hundreds of landing zones for an invasion force larger than anything the Council, or presumably the krogan themselves, ever could've logistically sustained. While forward observers of the Council couldn't give exact numbers, word was that an additional forty million turian reservists, drawn from the secretive core worlds of the Turian Hierarchy which only a few Council ambassadors had seen up to now, were currently being shipped in to subjugate the krogan home world and 'finish this war, once and for all', as the head of their government had stated.
Where all the ships to support this kind of operation were coming from wasn't known but right now the best explanation their strategists could give was that the turians, in an effort to hide their true strength from both the krogan and the Council, had, ever since first contact nearly four years ago, lied about how large their military, and by expansion their colonial empire and military industrial complex, actually was.
While his comrades were overjoyed and already locked into a premature victory celebration at the prospect of the Krogan Rebellions being ended any day now, Tistol shared none of their happiness.
He'd shot down over a thousand enemy space craft, flown hundreds of strafing missions and even taken out a frigate with his Lidra and stilled his thirst for revenge with every krogan life he'd ended. Yet his desire for vengeance, or for war, was far from satisfied.
The war couldn't just end while he was sitting around and doing nothing besides getting increasingly more drunk.
It was unfair.
Tistol exhaled, set his drink down on the edge of the barrack's roof that he was sitting on and looked at the runway below where the spontaneous celebration had erupted. This was where he'd learned how to fly a Lidra. Others would've seen it as fitting that the war would end in the same place for him as it had started.
But he wasn't others.
He was Tistol Talus, Zhatt'ra Rhzabror, the one who sent the krogan into the void, the most successful fighter pilot in the history of space combat. He deserved to be there when the krogan were crushed but despite everything he'd done to further their victory, here he was, being robbed of his chance to enjoy the closing days of the war because everyone else had grown tired of the fighting, killing and dying that came with war.
They were more than happy to leave that to their turian allies.
In a sudden fit of anger, Tistol picked up the drink and threw it off the roof, not caring about or even considering that he could very well hit someone below him. Despite the loud music, he heard the glass shatter on the ground below but no complaint or cry of pain followed. He'd evidently gotten lucky.
He looked up at the sky, somewhere, beyond the light pollution of the nearby capital and the surrounding military base, the fleet was hiding away, content with sitting this historic occasion out.
"Fucking cowards," he muttered before making a move to grab the next drink from the case he'd stolen and carried up here. He popped off its cap, threw it off the roof and plopped down on the ground, a wave of existential questions suddenly ambushing him.
What was he going to do now that the war was pretty much over?
Would the Union even keep him in service? He loved flying and he was damned good at it but now that there was no longer a need, what would stop them from going back to their stupid policy of only letting more noble salarians fly?
Going form there, what if they didn't?
He couldn't just go back to flying cargo, not now that he had experienced the exhilarating thrill of combat aviation.
He took a sip from his drink and spilled half of it on his flight suit. The lack of coordination was probably caused by the dozen or so bottles he'd already emptied and smashed somewhere on this roof.
If he got lucky, he had at least another few years of service to look forward to. Knowing the krogan, at least some of them would keep fighting even after losing Tuchanka, unless something truly drastic happened in the next few days.
But what would he do once that timeframe passed?
He took another sip, right before he heard the creak of the old roof door behind him.
"There you are!" Ralor declared with a slurred speech. "I've been looking for you all day, Tistol!" he added after emerging from the hatch
So much for having some peace and quiet. Yes, he realized how ironic that wish was considering the introspective he'd just had.
"Have you been up here all day?" the other pilot asked before letting go of the hatch, which closed with a loud metallic sound.
"Yes," Tistol replied before taking another sip.
"Well then you missed one hell of a party," the pilot laughed, prompting the fighter ace to lower his bottle and sigh.
"That was my intention," Tistol said.
"Still the humble hero, huh?"
"I'm not humble. I just don't see what's there to celebrate. We're missing out on the best part of the war," he slurred before getting up. "I could be out there killing krogan right now but here I am. Stuck on Nasurn. Drunk and bored out of my mind and surrounded by idiots like you."
For a second, Ralor seemed to be hit by what he had just said, but then the lime-green salarian laughed.
"I see. You're still the arrogant, bloodthirsty cloaca you've always been," he said before lifting his drink. Tistol was surprised, if he was honest with himself. For the entirety of the war, Ralor had never once reacted to him like this. This was new, uncharted territory. "But cloaca or not, I still feel the need to thank you in the name of our squadron. You might have hated our guts and thought we were all annoying, useless idiots standing in your way, but your krogan killing skills kept most of us alive through battle after battle. We're going home because of you," the pilot said before shifting into a drunk shout. "So here's to you, Tistol Talus, ace among aces, hero of the Krogan Rebellions, the one and only true king of the sky! May you forever be allowed to still your bloodthirsty urges! For union and dynasty!" Then, with a forceful motion of his arm, Ralor threw the drink to the ground and shattered it, spilling its contents on both of them in the process. "I hope you grow old and fucking happy with your path, you damn lunatic."
For a second, there was an awkward silence between the two with only the noise of the party covering up the ambient sound of the night.
But then Tistol smirked.
How couldn't he.
That was about the most sincere interaction he'd ever had with Ralor and 'arrogant and bloodthirsty' were a fitting description for him, there was no denying that.
So he lifted his own drink.
"And here's to you, Ralor Silfren, who somehow always followed my every step! May you forever be a worthy wingman and second on the scoreboard! For Union, dynasty and squadron!" Then, just like his comrade, he smashed the bottle. "I hope you get to spend your days telling all the war stories you ever dreamed of telling!"
"As do I!"
The two laughed, loud enough to not hear the hatch be opened for a third time. Only when the visitor announced himself did Tistol snap out of the rare moment of not being annoyed by Ralor.
"Lieutenant Talus?" a disturbingly sober soldier asked. As his rank insignia told Tistol, he too was a lieutenant.
"What do you want?" the salarian snapped.
"I'm Lieutenant Distra. I was sent to summon you. There's someone who wants to speak to you."
"Can't you see that we're enjoying our victory?" Ralor injected with a slur.
"Sorry. Who are you?" Distra retorted strictly.
"Lieutenant Ralor Silfren, at your service," the salarian said before throwing him a mock salute. "Humble hero of war and wingman of the ace of aces!"
"I see," DIstra nodded. "Well. Lieutenant Silfren. I can see that you're enjoying your victory, albeit a bit too heavily, maybe. However I'm afraid that Dalatrass Inrin still wants to speak to Lieutenant Talus. So, with your kind permission, I would now escort your wingman to go and see her."
Ralor straightened at the mention of Dalatrass and evidently tried to appear more sober. Like most salarians, he'd been raised to not question the orders and wishes of the nobility.
Tistol couldn't care less about what some dalatrass wanted from him.
"Whatever she wants, tell her I'm not interest in politics," he muttered before walking over to the case again and pulling out another drink.
"I'm sure you'd change that view if you heard her out."
"And what makes you so sure about that?"
"Would I be correct in the assumption that you'd very much like to keep flying Lidras? After all, you are extraordinarily good at it."
"That's an understatement and you know it. I'm the best at it," he said before pointing his drink at the other lieutenant. Ralor gave an approving nod while trying to maintain his balance.
"Yes. The best," Distra corrected. "But you would like to fly, no?"
"Yes- And kill krogan too, preferably," Tistol retorted.
"Well. I can't offer you that. But as far as the flying goes," he began.
Suddenly Tistol found himself rather sober.
"Gave me a simple offer. I played propaganda piece, spoke the dalatrass's lines and pretended to be someone else. In return, they made sure I could fly as long and as much as I wanted to," Tistol recounted while Sira made the rookie mistake of glancing at her cameras. She just had to be sure that they were still recording.
She had never seen this coming, it was an unbelievable twist of history.
Tistol Talus had simply played a part in return for getting his desired assignment. For all this time, he'd been as much of a hero as he'd been an actor for the Union's noble elite.
And it would sell like crazy if not for the contracts she'd signed.
While she was trying to figure out if she could duck out of this somehow and smuggle out the footage, the major went on.
"From there on out, it was all lies, beginning with my motivations. As I said. Didn't enlist out of patriotism like the Union claims. Was drafted into the war to slow down the krogan, like everyone else back then. Your people's fault, actually."
"What do you mean my people's fault?" she asked carefully. Every word that followed would be explosive gold for the press.
"Galaxy refused to throw bodies at the problem. Especially asari and quarians. Centuries of relying on krogan peacekeepers made you soft. Blind to the necessity of casualties in war and the reality of not every soldier voluntarily laying down their life. Not Union though. Unlike rest of the galaxy, salarians understood that only way to win war of attrition is to be more enduring than your opponent. People quickly picked up on that. Looked at us to do the fighting. Made sense too. Salarians had largest population. Reproduce rapidly and mature quicker than other species. Natural for us to serve as expendable ground forces. Especially when looking at lystheni subspecies," Talus explained while reaching into his bag and pulling something out. It was a small red book that looked rather worn. He inspected it for a few seconds and then opened it up, causing a few loose pages to fall to the ground. With a groan, he bent down to pick them up and instantly, she decided to help him. She picked up a couple of pages and looked at them. Small images had been drawn on them and a text was written next to each of them. To Sira's amateur eye, they looked like in-depth descriptions of Talus' aerial and void victories. Then she handed them back to the ace pilot and he continued with his story.
"Union never figured out how many were lost to war," he went on while neatly returning the pages into their place in the book. "Beginning phase was chaotic, entire planetary garrisons and sector fleets wiped out in coordinated surprise attacks. Even more killed in war of attrition that followed," he closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath. Then he walked back to their table and sat down. "Union armies grinded down to battalion size to slow down the krogan, dalatrass militias wiped out in vain attempts to save their worlds after Council forces withdrew. Lystheni conscripts thrown into certain death to evacuate salarian ones," Sira kept quiet, despite itching to ask why he'd bring up that last subject. The salarian government had done it's best to keep the fact that they had used the lystheni as cannon-fodder quiet. Now that the war was over and most of them had taken their leave from Council space in response to the way they had been treated, Few ever spoke about their involvement in the war or the fact that they were now on the verge of extinction. "Union never managed to get exact body count. Krogan treatment of casualties and prisoners made it difficult. Chewed up body parts hard to count," he shrugged. "Still, certain that we lost hundreds of millions. Maybe more."
Sira didn't know what to say.
She understood everything that Talus was saying but she didn't get why he was suddenly saying it. All his life he had talked about the war, but never like this. On the contrary. Tistol Talus' version of the war had been one filled with tales of the Council's brave resistance against krogan aggression and his personal quest for glory and deeds of heroism. Just like most other people, he had refrained from going anywhere near the ugly parts of the Council's victory. After all, it was much more pleasant to talk about their victory and not the reasons why the conflict had started to begin with or what it had taken for the Council to come out victorious against its former peacekeepers.
"Either way. Like I said, reason behind enlistment has been bent from beginning," the major said. "Moving on to motivation. Also didn't fight for noble reasons, didn't think in noble manor. As I said, was content with spending days as cargo pilot. Kept me away from front lines. That is, until krogan gave me proper motivation to become more active."
"Your family?" the asari guessed while looking at the salarian and recalling his narration of the Siege of Gorot II. Again something in him shifted, breaking away a piece of the hero persona he'd evidently embraced over the years.
"Clan was wiped few months after my draft. Krogan raiders killed them while I was flying cargo for the fleet," he said. "Desire for vengeance overwrote desire for self-preservation. Knew I wouldn't be good on the ground, have always been scrawny guy. Wouldn't have lasted a week in an infantry unit," he went on. "But behind a flight stick? Knew I would outmatch any krogan. Jumped at chance to fly Lidra and enjoyed it far more than I could picture. Lived by simple rules. Kill krogan, be better than the rest or die, never show mercy, never show hesitation, never accept defeat." he looked at his booklet. "Enjoyed structured life and newfound purpose. In fact, took so much of a liking to it that I even started to keep diary."
"So that's what this is," she said while looking at the booklet.
"Yes," After a second of silently looking into the hovering camera, the salarian major held it out to her. "Take it. Won't be of much use to me longer. After all, empty shells can't read."
"What do you mean?"
Suddenly his face lit up with enthusiasm.
"I'm dying," he said with a joy that seemed to be entirely out of place considering what he had just said. "Doctors say I've got two months. At best. Advanced age finally catching up to me, despite Union's best efforts to extend lifespan." What did he mean by that? In all honesty, she was afraid to ask. So she reacted normally, despite his clearly abnormal excitement about the prospect of death.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I'm not," he replied with a shrug and a smile. "Lived far longer than expected. Became tired of this path of mine years ago. Actually have been looking forward to seeing what Wheel of Life has in store for me next. Lived rather interesting life but made lot of questionable choices. Wonder how they will impact journey ahead of me and weigh in on reincarnation," that got her attention. Reincarnation? The Wheel of Life? The path? The journey? Everyone knew that Tistol Talus didn't follow that aged niche religion. In fact, almost no one did anymore. The Union and the dalatrasses had eagerly pushed it to the brink of their society for decades and by now it was a dying philosophy that likely had more followers across the rest of the galaxy than it had in salarian space. So why would he talk about- Oh. Her brain filled in the blanks about what he'd said regarding their deal. Of course the hero of the Salarian Union couldn't go public about believing in the Wheel or the Wanderer. "Interview came in handy, actually. Didn't think I'd receive opportunity to set record straight before death. Not that I feel too guilty about living life to its fullest," he shrugged. "Still. Good to come clean in advance, even if footage won't ever leave this room."
"Why wouldn't it-" she caught herself before once more remembering. "Right. The contracts."
"Censorship one of Union's many talents," he said before once more holding out the book to her. "Now take it."
She obliged and took the book. It was barely holding together and most if not all of the pages seemed to have come loose over the years, probably due to heavy usage by its owner. She looked at it again. Then something dawned on her.
"Isn't this an awfully small book to write down over a thousand aerial victories?"
In response the fighter ace laughed.
"Perceptive," he told her before once more getting up and walking to his bag. "Holding the first of many pieces of my real story," he said before pulling out a folder. She wasn't sure why he even kept non-digital records but then again, if she'd learned anything in the last hour it was that Tistol Talus was even less of a normal person than his reputation suggested. She watched him write something down on a piece of paper and then he ripped the page out. "Union might censor footage or seize data-drives. Contracts give them power to do so. But can't seize piece of paper with numbers on it." He walked over again and handed it to her. It was a set of coordinates. "Call contact number when you hear of my death. They will take care of the rest. Enact my final vengeance, if you will."
"What do you mean?"
"Grew tired of being mouthpiece years ago. Met likeminded individual. Cheery guy with religious streak. Funny too. Gave him deed to a bank vault on Dekuuna. Stored thirty-two books like this there. Memoirs of the war and life after it. True narrative, if you will," he explained before smiling into the camera and evidently addressing whoever would review this footage. "Used your propaganda mission budget for leisure trips as well. Hope you don't mind."
She glanced out the window and was suddenly spotted Captain Distra who was headed for their building at a rather brisk pace.
"I'm not sure I can-" she began.
"Not asking you to do anything," Major Talus interrupted. "New friend of mine will hear of passing either way and release copies of memoirs upon my death to major news outlets."
"Then why are you giving me this?"
"Enjoyed our conversation. Figured you'd make suitable candidate to complete my story. Associate will of course extend help to you, if you choose to call that is," Talus looked out the window. "Apologize for property damage in advance," he said before his omni-tool lit up and her camera drones were overcharged by a burst of electricity, falling to the ground instantly and not a second before Distra came barging through the door, visibility out of breath. His eyes darted to Sira, then to the major and then to the drones.
"Everything alright, Captain Distra?" Talus asked with perfect innocence.
"Interview," he breathed heavily. "Over," then he looked at her. "You. Hand that over."
Sira looked at the piece of paper and noticed that her hand was shaking. She'd wanted an interview to boost her career but due to her damned curiosity and the need to cling to her 'integrity' as a journalist, she'd gotten something entirely different. Tistol Talus had just turned her into his personal scribe, someone who was supposed to rewrite history for him. She got ready to get up and hand it over when the major waved her hand.
"Wait, Miss T'Rila," he urged her. "Distra, order you to stand down and let her pass."
"You wha-" far quicker than she'd though him capable of, the rather frail dark-blue salarian shot to his feet and grabbed the bigger captain by the collar of his perfectly ironed uniform.
"As superior officer and acting commander of this Union installation, order you to stand down and let her pass. Alternative is to be detained by military police for insubordination."
Distra slapped his hands away and gave him a shove.
"Military police not part of your command, can't do that, even if you wanted."
Talus poked his long finger against the chest of Distra.
"Half the soldiers on this base requested to serve here due to me. Most of them enlisted due to me. All of them would believe me over you. Push me and see what the Hero of the Salarian Union you helped built can do with simple words."
"Overstating your authority, Major. Empty threats."
"Perhaps. But presumably won't be around to find out. Hence, don't care." Talus nodded to Sira and then to the door. "Time to depart, Miss T'Rila. Think about suggestion," then he typed something on his omni-tool. "Someone will come and pick you up soon. Leave now."
Sira didn't need to be told twice.
She stuffed the piece of paper into the pocket of her dress and left.
Six Weeks Later, Dekuuna, Malvuon Central Bank
As soon as he'd gotten the news that Tistol Talus was dead, Finat had set out to complete the task. He'd booked the flight to Dekuuna, packed a g-suit to deal with the increased gravity of the eclor home world and made his way to the Central Bank of one of its twin capital cities, Maluvon, with nothing but a few credits and the deed to the vault safe in his pocket. He certainly didn't look like the type of person who'd have something stored behind the large, golden door he was heading towards right now, but that was the good thing about the elcor. They didn't care about appearances as long as you had the right papers and went through the right bureaucratic processes.
"Curious. You never mentioned how you met Major Talus. When he made the deposit, he didn't mention any relatives who'd collect inheritance upon his departure from life."
"Not blood relative," Finat replied before scratching his grey face and looking at the enormous, brown banker strolling next to him. "But brothers in believe."
"Polite. Religious salarians are rare these days. I am glad to see that not all of you have forsaken on concepts of spiritualism," the elcor stated in their usual monotone manner.
"True. Many have lost their path or given up on the journey," Finat replied while the door was slowly pulled open by another elcor, who actually stood up to his full, imposing height by balancing on his hind-legs while using his front appendages to move the door. A normal creature wouldn't have been able to even get the golden vault door to budge a little. But an elcor? For them the task was rather easy. Although their behavior and calm speech didn't let it show, the gentle giants were freakishly strong. They could easily move things most sentient species couldn't even dream of. "But that's beauty of it all. Wheel turns, no matter how many believe in it and Wanderer continues, no matter if he has company or not. Breaking of Wheel doesn't represent end to our journey. Simply new beginning for weary wanderers such as ourselves."
"Nostalgic. The Major mentioned that your faith believes in this cycle. I believe he described it as the Jeshesh blossoms and the Jeshesh withers, all endings are but a beginning," the elcor began.
"That is correct," Finat replied, refraining from correcting the small mistake either the banker or the fighter ace had made when he'd been here fifteen years ago. In all honesty, he was surprised that the elcor could remember the encounter at all. Then again, it wasn't everyday that a war hero showed up in your bank to deposit revolutionary books.
As the vault door locked in place, now fully open, the elcor banker turned his head. "Informative. Your deed will unlock the safe. It doubles as a key. In the interest of discretion, I will wait here. Take as much time as you need. We will close the vault only when you leave."
The grey salarian bowed his head slightly and then stepped inside.
"I appreciate your services."
"Polite. Malvuon Central Bank always places the customer first."
He nodded and then left the elcor behind in favor of the vault.
The room was large, obviously build with the stature of an elcor in mind. The walls on all three sides that weren't the vault door were covered in relatively large, sealed compartments that were gracefully painted with golden and silver glyphs and pictograms that clarified ownership. He looked for Talus' compartment, which he could mercifully reach without asking for the help of the elcor banker, and then walked over to it. If he'd been asked if he thought that it was possible that a Hero of the Salarian Union would reach out to the League of One in an attempt to hand them a potent weapon in their fight against the dalatrasses, one that showed how far they'd go to bend the truth, Finat would've laughed just like the Vaelo piece he was named after; the jester.
Yet here he was.
He held the deed in front of the scanner and after hearing an audible hiss, he pulled open the compartment. It was as heavy as he'd expected something elcor-made to be but nonetheless, he succeeded, an added benefit of the gene-tinkering and other subtle enhancements all League operatives underwent upon succeeding their namesakes. Inside the compartment he found a collection of thirty-two books of varying size and color, just like he had been told. Out of curiosity, he looked at the first one before stuffing it in the bag he'd brought. It had a yellow cover and it was well preserved. Additionally, someone, presumably Tistol Talus, had stuffed an additional page just behind the cover. Out of curiosity, Finat pulled it out and read it.
He cracked a smirk.
Who knew, the propaganda piece had a sense of humor after all.
'To the now significantly less rich Dalatrass Inrin Dylos of Aegohr, I hereby thank you for financing my trip to Dekuuna, the costs of renting this vault up to my death and the printing contact I had made in the name of your fiefdom with your permission. If you find the contents of the memoirs, I promised you could publish to be troublesome, then I truly and humbly apologize that you will only find out after major distribution has begun. May the Wanderer be by witness, I had no ill intention when I lied to you," it read on the front before leading into an arrow. Finat turned it around to find the rest of the message. 'For the record, that too was a lie. As you will soon find out, I became rather proficient at the art of deception while playing the perfect hero for you, your decadent noble kin and that pyjak Distra. In fact, I believe that I became better at it than any of you, which really shouldn't come to a surprise given the years of practice I had and the many talents that I developed under your watchful eyes. Now I am left with nothing but to wish you and your peers the best. After all, as you will come to find out, I did live life at your full expense. Who knows? I might have even funded an insurgency with your money. All that remains to be seen. Therefore, I'd like to thank you for all that you have done for the salarian people. May all your eggs rot and may your dynasty crumble to ashes. For Union, people and squadron. Sincerely, the one and only, King of the Sky.'
He flipped through the pages, satisfied with the results.
It wouldn't spark an uprising or an insurgency like Talus seemed to have believed when he wrote that page and it certainly wouldn't change a power structure that had been in place since the dawn of salarian society.
But it would continue to sow seeds in the garden of unrest that they were cultivating so that a future thirteen may finally topple the system that had shackled salarian-kind for far too long. If that was to be the legacy of this self-proclaimed King of the Sky, Finat might just have found the one self-declared noble he didn't despise.
He returned the page, closed the book and began packing them in his bag.
Whichever path he found himself now, Tistol Talus actions before his death had made one thing clear.
The League of One were not the only ones who still held out for a future free from the dalatrasses.
Hence. There was still hope for their people to find their true path among the stars.
He put one hand on the cover of the last book and the other against his medallion.
"Rest easy, weary wanderer. May you find the peace you tried so hard to hate during your last life in your next life."
For my clan and for my krant.
I shall fly and I shall fight.
Carried on wings of glory and winds of fortune.
Through the clear blue and through the cold black.
To sacred victory or to glorious death.
For my clan and for my krant.
I shall Fly and I shall fight.
When the void calls, I will answer, a smile on face.
With the certainty of a brave legacy in my heart.
I will accept my fate and step into my grave.
For my clan and for my krant.
I shall fly and I shall fight.
Though death may end this world for me.
I know mine is a warrior's destiny.
Wings of glory.
Winds of fortune.
Call of the void.
I will face all.
For my clan and for my krant.
I shall fly and I shall fight.
~(nonrhyming) translation of the krogan poem 'On Wings of Glory' 704 CE.
This text is based on the old ancestral poem 'For my clan and for my krant'. After heavy losses among their pilot corps, it was altered to promote recruitment into combat aviation, prompting a surge of inexperienced pilots to be sent to the frontline who, despite their best efforts and advanced equipment, proved incapable of turning the tide against Council Forces.
After 18 DAMN months of not updating the Anthology Series... I did it. I FINISHED OWOG!
Like I mentione during the main story's A/N, I've been working on OWOG, "On Wings of Glory", for a long time, which is why it's a disgrace that it took me this long. Yes, it's a bit longer than usual... but it's actually a pretty simple concept.
It's just a tale of a guy giving the middle finger to the people he leeched off of as soon as he realises that he's on his death bed.
It's no grand story of heroism, Tistol's actions are really just a sidenote for the core of the story, no glorification of war, if anything it's the opposite.
I don't really know how to classify it, it certaily doesn't fit into the usual action-packed/espionage-packed/political-packed military sci-fi I write.
IT just kind of ... is.
But fuck it!
What matters is this.
It's! Finally! Done!
Done and RELEASED!
Now I can finally move on to writing the next chapters of SV and vaguely outline the next Anthology story (spoiler, this one's set in the 'present' of SV, at least kind of)
Yay! Off to another 18 months of waiting for all 12 of you who give a shit about this project! :)
See you around next time, whenever that may be for SV:A.