Prologue: A Night to Remember
“What matters now, for you and me, is what we do when we arrive. Who we become, and how we carry ourselves in Andromeda. Thank you, and enjoy your last night under familiar stars.” Jien Garson concluded from the podium, her face spread across dozens of viewing screens across the convention center floor. Over 100,000 prospective colonists who had been approved for the Andromeda Initiative were gathered in one of the largest convention centers on Luna, Earth’s moon, where the Nexus and the 4 Arks that were set to depart sat proudly in orbit above the celestial body, a triumph of cooperation, tireless work, and an astonishing feat of engineering. It was the party of the century; no one wanted their last night in the Milky Way to be a boring one, and even normally reserved or bookish personalities who had no interests in crowds were in high spirits, mingling with strangers who shared one thing in common; they were about to take the most daring voyage in galactic history.
It was a hell of a moment in time, that much was certain.
A thunderous applause and some wild hooting from the more enthusiastic of the crowd rang out, both to show appreciation for Jien Garson and her speech, but more importantly to affirm that this was really happening; the very next day, each and every single person who had signed up for the Initiative would be set into one of 100,000 cryo pods to go to sleep for the next 600-so-odd years and wake up so far away from home they could never hope to return, it was a one way trip and it was impossible not to feel the weight of leaving all of your friends and family behind, as well as all the comfortable places and sensations that had come to define your life. In an age where someone could go from one corner of the galaxy to the next in a matter of weeks, no one had ever tried an extragalactic voyage to the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy; pictures of it were displayed predominantly across screens, highlighting the Heleus Cluster to show where home would be come when everyone woke up in what would feel like two days from now. It was kind of daunting.
“That was a heap of pyjak shit. That’s the one who sold you on the stupidest idea in the history of dumbass ideas? It’s not too late to back out, you know.” The rumbling tones of a krogan eventually broke through the din at a crescent-shaped sofa arrangement, the familiar frame of Ravanor Tonka looking absolutely out of place wearing a suit instead of his customary set of armour that Tanya Carson had known him to wear nearly constantly since she met him years back. She grinned at her unlikely friend and former crew member, setting down a half-empty glass of champagne on the white marble table that was built as a companion piece; had the Initiative not covered the expenses of the hall, she was reasonably sure she wouldn’t have been able to ever afford coming here. Everything was far too fancy.
“And here I thought stupid ideas were your siren songs, Tonka. You could have had the adventure of a lifetime if you came along. Think of all the screw ups that await your amusement.” She replied, glancing over at Sabinus Tannyx, her turian paramour, fighting with a tie she’d bought him a couple weeks ago. The pair decided to have fun with the event and pick out each other’s outfits, a mixture of human and turian sensibilities to various degrees of success.
The krogan let out a bellowing laugh. “Ha! While that’s true, I always had a way out when shit started falling apart like the Borealis on a good day.” His frame rocked as an almost inaudible chuckle subsided and his disposition turned to one that was a bit more somber. “Look, I know we haven’t known each other long-“
“For a krogan.” Tanya interjected, reaching for the glass once more.
“For a krogan.” He agreed without missing a beat. “But I would have felt like a pretty crap friend if I didn’t see you and the others off. I figured showing my handsome mug around here would both drive all the crazy women like you mad because apparently you’re all desperate enough to fly to another fucking galaxy on a whim, but I also think I’ll probably miss you. To think I’ll still be around after you get there. I’ll still outlive you all.” He grinned, showing off broad, powerful teeth.
Sabinus broke his silence. “If you’re who’s going to inherit the galaxy in our absence, it’s a good thing we’re starting fresh.” He said mirthfully, winking at Tanya and eventually giving up on fastening his white tie, which now sat lazily around his neck like a comically undersized scarf. “In truth, I’m sorry this is only the second and last time we’ve met. The way Tanya went on about your antics, I’d almost think she fancied you.”
“I’d break her.” Tonka pointed out, matter-of-factly, prompting Tanya to choke as she was drinking.
“And I thank the Spirits every day you never put that observation to the test.” Sabinus replied, placing a reassuring hand on the sputtering and red-faced human. Tonka grinned wickedly, setting his cargo bag on the seat next to him.
“You’re not bad as far as turians go. I might have even come around to liking you if you stuck around, but I can tell Tanya’s found a keeper. She definitely seems happier than when we were chumming around on a piece of volus crap ship that probably was held together more by epoxy, tape, and prayers. Look after her, will you? It’ll just be you and the other idiots we used to call a team going out there with her.” Tonka asked with surprising sincerity.
Sabinus grinned as Tanya was still catching her breath. “Oh, don’t worry. Pretty sure she’s going to be the one looking after me.” Looking over, a group caught his eye; his parents had finally arrived. “Pardon me for a moment.” He said, standing and making his way over to the two distinguished turians wearing their typically pristine military uniforms. As he crossed the floor towards them, his father offered a single nod and an extended hand, a gesture of professional respect. “Sabinus. Please accept our apology for our tardy arrival; the shuttles and taxis from the hotel were all spoken for the past three hours.” His mandibles twitched irritably. “Three hours I could have spent with my son before he disappeared forever.” He added bitterly.
“Quinnus, we’re here. That’s enough.” Atia, his mother, spoke up. Quinnus adjusted his collar, nodding subtly. “Of course. It’s not that we don’t approve of your decision, Sabinus. It’s just, well…”
“This is the last time we’ll see each other.” Sabinus concluded. A silence hung for several moments, accompanied by awkward glances. It wasn’t exactly turning out to be the most heartwarming of moments, he decided.
One of the aforementioned idiots had decided to approach as Sabinus went to see to his family, after searching through the various crowds for a familiar face. A tall, well dressed female turian approached. She wore a dark purple dress with robe like design, long sleeves rolled up past her organic elbow and prosthetic one. Her dark green triple spiral tattoos unmistakable as was her call out, “Hey Strangers. Been a while huh?”
She squinted happily, humming away at Tonka and Tanya. It was only a few years but it felt like a couple lifetimes. Dex spent time scouring through Initiative data looking for familiar faces, there had been a few rumours that some of her old crew had made it into the voyage. Now that she saw Tanya her doubts had evaporated. This was as real as it was going to get.
“Looking sharp.” She commented, noting both of them had dressed up nicely. She spotted some turian flare on Tanya and it wasn’t horrible. She leaned over the back of the couch.
”Dex!” Tanya proclaimed, standing suddenly and heading over to give her friend a warm embrace. She was wearing a similar robe-like black and blue dress, tailored into a more human-centric style to sit on her frame. It was one Sabinus picked out and had sent to a seamstress to make work for the evening. ”Come, join us. Tonka’s the same grumpy fuck we know and love, he’s not coming along but was nice enough to say goodbye.” she replied, offering her seat for Dex. She looked over at Sabinus, who in comparison looked like he was meeting business clients rather than family. It was just their way, she knew. There was warmth in their expressions and a slightly more relaxed posture than their typical gaits, she recognized. She did live with them for two months before heading this way; in a lot of ways, they were her family now. It was bittersweet to say goodbye.
“I wouldn’t expect any less.” Giving Tanya a one armed hug, subharmonics humming happily. “Hi Tonka.”
The krogan grunted. “And here I thought I had faith in your, Dex. Where’s your plus one?” Tonka asked. Tanya sat down beside Dex, propping her feet up on the table with a pair of Alliance-issue combat boots. Some things never changed.
Her mandibles flattened giving her a rather sour expression. “Prick stood me up. He didn’t get into the Initiative and I told him to be here for a goodbye.” She replied plopping down beside Tanya eyeing Sabinus’ glass of dextro equivalent champagne. “At least my siblings were able to sneak off world to be here tonight, special permission in spite of the travel restrictions for Taetrus right now.”
She whispered conspiratorially behind a hand, “They really need to upgrade their security protocols, may as well be the same shit they used 20 years ago...but you didn’t hear that from me.”
She pointed with her chin at Sabinus, “And that’s yours huh?”
Tanya nodded, a knowing smile on her face. Sabinus was currently going through Initiative documents on his omni-tool with his parents, the tension from earlier starting to fade. ”That’s mine. It’s been a couple years now, but he really feels like he’s a part of me I was missing. The stability, comfort… hell, he’s been right by my side when I relapsed and not once did he ever get frustrated with me. I owe him a lot. Hell, when I told him the Initiative was interested in me, he didn’t even hesitate to figure out how he could come with me. He’s got a lot more to lose than I do, but here he is.”
“That’s… really nice. I’m happy for you Tanya, for the pair of you.” Dex replied, Tanya’s eyes were on him - warmth was rolling off her in waves. “Have you guys figured out which habitat you want to settle on? I was thinking somewhere green like Habitat 5 or 6 for me.”
”Not yet, we were going to play it by ear and figure out what they’re like when we get there. There’s only so much you can tell from instrumentation, but we’re thinking somewhere that’s warm and dry, like home.” Tanya replied, glancing over. ”We might as well be neighbours, right? And who knows what kind of nasty bugs are on the tropical ones. We’ve got it all planned out.”
“Except for the part where you’re going to be travelling 600 years on the ultimate no refunds vacation. Can’t be worse than Tuchanka.” Tonka grunted, reaching into his bag, pulling out a handful of small boxes before finding a couple with the right names. “Here, I got you both something. For old time’s sake.”
Handing the boxes to each of the women, Tanya opened hers. A verdian green pendant on a metal chain was sitting in a box on top of some sort of packing paper with a cartoon character she didn’t recognize. She looked it over, curious. ”It’s pretty, and heavy… what is it?”
“Remember all those years ago on Virmire when I got shot up following the dumbass plan you all cooked up? Let’s just say my armour wasn’t supposed to be taken off in that fashion, I was still digging pieces of it out of my hide for weeks afterwards. I figured what better way to enshrine your memory of me than a monument to the shitshow known as the Jury Riggers?” he explained, chuckling at the memory. He had been very intoxicated for that plan to work, and it definitely didn’t.
“Oh yeah, I remember that one.” She tapped a mechanical talon against the pendant. “You sentimental dried out piece of leather, you do care.” She flashed a grin.
Shaking the box he had given her, “Is my gift expensive? I know you can afford it.”
“I wouldn’t be rich if I spent all my credits on people to give them meaningless junk. No, I made this myself. I think you’ll find it appropriate.” The krogan assured her.
She lifted the lid of the box inside was vacuum sealed packet of what looked like cooked meat, in bite sized pieces. She lifted it up to her nose and caught the faint smell of smoky spices. “You made this? For me?” Dex crinkled the plastic. She squinted at Tonka, her mandibles stretched open for a toothy turian smile.
She lifted it up, it was just small enough to fit in her secret snack compartment. “It’s the perfect size to carry. What’s the meat?”
“Rhymes with ‘barren’, if you really want to know. At least that’s what the butcher tells me it tastes like, because I can’t eat dextro shit. There’s some spices and sauce that I assume are something like basil and honey, but hopefully your palate is as adventurous as the rest of you.” He grinned. “Should fit nicely in the compartment on your arm, there. I even trimmed them down to size.”
“Yeah I see that. Thank you, Tonka. I’ll save it for a rainy day.” She said sincerely.
Dex minced words, knowing Tonka wouldn’t appreciate anything more complicated. “We’ll miss you. Don’t get too bored when we’re gone.”
“I’m sure I’ll manage to find another crew as… interesting as you lot. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find the kid.” The krogan stood, grabbing his bag with a grunt. The crowd seemed like an easy way to get lost. “I’ll be sure to find you again before the night’s out. Now, where’s the pink mop…” he muttered, excusing himself from the section and heading off into the crowd, a large mass that was only matched by other krogan. As if sensing an opening Sabinus returned, his parents at his side. ”Mother, father, please have a seat.” his eyes drifted over to Dex, immediately noticing the synthetic arm. ”Ah! You must be Dexuret. Tanya’s been keeping in touch with you, I’m surprised you never made over to Elysium for a visit. This is my mother, Atia Tannyx, an officer of the hastatim, and my father Quinnis, historian of the 16th Legion.” he said as an introduction, his eyes staring into Dex’s to make sure she understood the implications of hastatim, given her history. He had never met Dex before, but Tanya told him enough to know that she would have been exactly the kind of person his mother would have been dragging out to the street to put a bullet in her head if she’d been in the neighbourhood that was being cleared of insurgents. It was, after all, a rather touchy subject in his family that Sabinus was none too proud of.
“It’s an honour.” Qunnis said, bowing his head respectfully. Atia regarded Dex with the eyes that a bird of prey might a mouse, which didn’t necessarily mean anything; her career made her suspect everyone of potential insurgent leanings. She was a severe woman, that much was for sure.
“Likewise. Are you a friend of Tanya’s? Sabinus has never spoken of you before.” Atia added, her sea-green eyes the same hue as Sabinus’. It was easy to see the resemblance.
Dex’s mandibles flicked curiously, she held eye contact with Sabinus picking up what he was putting down. She regarded Atia, meeting her gaze head on. Even the tiniest mention of Taetrus would quickly send this conversation into a freefall nosedive, considering this was Tanya’s in-laws on the eve of their voyage - tactfully sidestepping that particular landmine. Silver blooded Hierarchy officials in the extreme, polite as ever. Just sitting across from them rubbed her raw, but - thankfully for both Tanya and Sabinus’ sakes she could restrain herself. There was always a time and a place, Sabinus gave her some heads up. Smooth as the hull of a brand new cruiser she spoke, “Dex, please. Only my mother calls me Dexuret. I’m an old crewmember and friend of Tanya’s. Will be making the same voyage to Andromeda, boarding the Nexus. Really, the honour is mine. It’s interesting you study the 16th Legion, Qunnis. I’ve read about a playwright that wrote some of the 16th Legion’s exploits. I’m not a historian, but it is interesting.”
Dex smoothly transferred the subject to something she considered generally safe, get a historian talking about history and you were sold on an easy conversation. “That was actually one of the first things Tanya and I bonded over, we went to see a Vorcha musical. Remember?”
She elbowed Tanya, her mandibles flattened in a tight smile at her friend.
Tanya nodded, cradling her glass as if she didn’t trust her hands. ”Right, on Omega. Barely had more than a few credits between us and it was the cheapest show that was on. Should have spent it on liquor, I think. It would have been less nauseating.” Tanya confirmed, wondering exactly how she was keeping a straight face, or if cracks were showing.
Qunnis, either oblivious to the undertones of the discussion or so used to his wife’s impromptu interrogations continued on, a friendly disposition on his face. “I’m glad you are appreciative of our history. The Legions are the lifeblood of turian society, and I feel that the story of the 16th can be one of inspiration and courage. It’s why I’m sending Sabinus with a copy of my transcripts. A piece of home and an opportunity to draw strength from the Spirit of the Legion when times become trying. It’s the least I could do for him.”
”And I appreciate the gesture, father. It will be good to have something to remind me of home. It will be as if you are with me.” Sabinus replied warmly, hoping the earlier discussion was dissipating. Atia, however, was on the scent.
“I could not help but notice your colony markings are those of Taetrus. Curious, I have had some immensely productive years there the past decade, a lot of troublesome activities.” Atia continued, her eyes not leaving Dex for a moment. “Have you been off world for long? You must have left someone behind, poor thing. That is a troubled colony, but it will be set straight, this I promise you.” A terse smile crossed her slate-coloured lips. “Taetrus is in good hands now.”
The pause lasted a moment, rage boiled in Dex’s stomach. Her mandibles remained flat as she maintained the tight smile. She maintained eye contact with Atia. It was such a line, ‘Taetrus is in good hands now.’ As if they were a bunch of wild bumpkins who needed to be scolded and put back in line. When she spoke it was calm detachment. Atia’s game was clear, she was hoping to get a rise out of her. Dex had made peace with leaving her homeworld behind, even as war erupted across it. But that Hierarchy superiority still got a knee jerk reaction out of the likes of Dex.
Dex managed an equally terse, “Thank you, for the uh…- condolences. My family has some pretty deep roots, generations have been born and have died planetside. I’ve been working off planet for several years now but of course always make time to visit my family.” Dex lied, having not stepped foot on Taetrus for over twenty years.
“You have a sharp eye, Atia. Nobody really pays much attention to the backwater colonies.” Dex commented lightly as she could manage. She wanted to chase after Tonka, run in the opposite direction of this interrogation.
“It is precisely that lack of attention that permitted organizations such as Facinus to take root, and I am resolved to not let complacency undermine what the Hierarchy stands for.” Atia replied evenly. “Since you are an acquaintance of my son and a close friend and confidant of Tanya, I will be sure to check up on your family to make sure that they have remained unperturbed by the conflict. All I ever needed was a name to begin my search, Miss Noratus.” she said, taking Quinnis by the arm. “But you all have so much to discuss, it is a big day ahead tomorrow. Please pardon me; I have had quite the lengthy travel to make it here in time and I should like a chance to stretch my legs and find where the bar is. I’m parched. Sabinus, we will find you shortly. Enjoy your evening.” Atia said, bowing to the group before setting off, Quinnis in tow.
Sabinus sank down into a now vacant seat, pulling a flask out from his blazer pocket. ”And people wonder why I left home and put some distance between my parents and I. Are you okay, Dex?” he asked, genuinely concerned.
Tanya had a hand on her friend’s shoulder. ”I lived with her for two months. I’ll be the first to say she’s a snake-hearted bitch. You might want to make a few calls tonight.” she paused, shifting uncomfortably. ”Sabinus never mentioned your last name before.”
Dex stiffened, a long disgruntled sigh came from the pit of her stomach. She glared daggers at Atia’s retreating back. “Fuck me.”
Patting Tanya’s hand, then squeezing it with her organic hand. “This shit just keeps sneaking up on me and biting me right in the ass...” She leaned back into the couch, turning to Sabinus “Thanks for the heads up Sabinus, appreciate it. This bullshit is exactly why I want to leave.”
”I’m sorry about her. I hate what she does, but she’s still my mother, you understand? I’ll try to talk sense into her, or at least buy you some time to do what you need to. Just to think, this time tomorrow and all of this will be centuries behind us.” he snorted, and eventually it grew into a snicker. ”Okay, I know this is a bad time for this, but isn’t this kind of like the penultimate version of telling someone, ‘see you next year!’ on New Years Eve?”
“Tanya, I didn’t realize you hitched yourself to a comedian. Do you perform stand up?” Dex asked, then laughed lightly. Shoulders slumping, “I- yeah. I’ve got some calls to make before she starts to really dig. You know, under her pretense of ‘bettering the Hierarchy’ she… did her homework. Kudos to her. But also, fuck her.” Dex pushed herself up waking up her omnitool.
“If you don’t see me again tonight, I’ll see you two in a couple days.” Dex promised, then winked good naturedly at the pair.
”Sure, I have a show lined up on Habitat 5. Better get your tickets soon, they’re going fast.” Sabinus replied, nodding along with the sentiment. ”You can imagine what dinner conversations were like at my house after my mother came back from her deployments. Pretty messed up shit to be telling a 13 year old, but hey, I made sure to really apply myself when my period of service came up so I wouldn’t have to listen to more of it. It’s hard to make and keep friends when they find out that your mom probably slotted theirs a few years ago.” he said, drinking from the flask. ”I didn’t think I could pick family until I met Tanya. Taking her to meet my parents when we signed up for the Initiative was way more stressful than the time I got part of my mandible shot off. You do what you have to do, Dex. We’ll be around if you need us. You’re welcome to join me in drinking everything on the menu. It is an open bar, after all.” he said with a wink.
”Don’t feel you need to spend the night alone, Dex. I’m here if you need me. Besides, I’d love to get the opportunity to annoy your folks if at all possible.” she offered with a grin.
Dex nodded, humming an unusual sound. She was glad Sabinus was proving to be pretty alright, in direct opposition to his hit-and-run mother. Tanya of course was there as if a day hadn’t gone by, it was nostalgic. By this time tomorrow they’d be far away.
“Sure, keep my seat warm for me.”