"Kargad? Are you okay? What's wrong?"
A bolt of panic shot from heart to hump as Kargad sat up straight, again, and tried hastily to regain his composure. He dreaded to think what the people of APEX would think of him if they saw him so low, given how poor an impression he was already making. He stowed his locket away beneath the breastplate of his armour, and tried his best to force a smile - although they looked unconvincing on a Krogan in the best of moods, nevermind one who felt so lost. He was fortunate enough to have not been crying… at least, not in this instant... but his fine green eyes were still glazed by the film of tears shed earlier, and the streaks they had left down his cheeks still caught the unnatural light of the hydroponic heat lamps. On the face of a man sired by a hardy warrior race, the remnants of a tearful sadness made his likeness even more alien.
He spoke with a measured tone, drawn from the stomach. Artificially deep, and gruff, to hide the quiver in his voice.
He recognised this human. She was the fidget. She’d been on his team during the training exercise, also. He answered her warily, for fear she would look at him the way the Asari had.
”Ah, y’know I’m… it’s… I was just, praying, you know?”, he laughed, terse and unconvincing, ”These isn’t much else to do around these part, seems like.”
Serena stared at Kargad in surprise for a brief moment. She had never actually seen a krogan cry, or even look like they had just gotten done crying. Honestly, she had always unconsciously thought they were incapable of it, and the sight of Kargad, obviously trying to pretend like he hadn’t been, was something that jarred her experiences with and general knowledge of the krogan race. Her surprise only lasted a second, however, before being replaced with empathy. Whatever Kargad was feeling, it must be serious.
“Oh, Kargad, we both know that’s not true.” Serena said gently, hand still on his shoulder. “I’ve seen you praying before, and this isn’t how it leaves you. Stoic, yeah. Joyful, a lot of the time. But not this sadness. What’s wrong? I’ve never seen you like this. I promise I won’t think of you any less for it. You’ll still be the tough, capable krogan that took down a fiend within twenty-four hours of meeting me.” She smiled encouragingly, winking her robotic eye at him, the eye changing color to match his in the process. ”Besides, we’re teammates. It’s our job to be there for each other, no matter what.”
He faltered for a moment. A kind smile, and suddenly, an eye of soft and placid green. His eye. For an instant, he saw his eldest in her: Kalayla, gentle and sincere. There was little compromise as to which parent Kalayla looked most like, but Kargad, in his heart of hearts, knew the calm green of her eyes to be his.
But just as suddenly, Kalayla was gone again. Or, she had never arrived. Kargad smiled, a little more sincerely but also undoubtedly sadly, and slumped down into his chair. He exhaled, and tried not to choke on his words. He spoke slowly.
“I… mm. When the… the uprising, I suppose they’re calling it… when that happened, I fought for the Nexus. For Tann, and for people like Tann. Pencil pushers, head-nodders. People I can’t stand. ‘cause I figured they had the best shot of making this shitshow work.”
He looked down at his hands. Clenched his fingers and thumb into a three-part fist.
“I didn’t care about the council seat. I cared that they lied to us, sure, but I didn’t do it for that, anyway. Asari, Salarians, Turians… they’re never gonna see us as equals, I knew that from the start. Everything I did, I did ‘cause I wanted to make this place sustainable. For my girls. I’d do anything for my daughters... and I guess that included hurtin’ other people, scared and hopelessly stranded on a strange new frontier.”
He was quiet for a moment, then lifted his head and gestured with it towards the Nexus at large.
“And after the other krogan left, I stuck around to help build. Rebuild. And it was all for them. But they’re still not here. And if what happened to the human ark…”
Kargad stopped, and choked up. Struggled to breathe around his words for a few seconds, and then brought his fist down on the table before him suddenly. The thought filled him with dread, and the helplessness complimented that dread with impotent rage.
He spoke with purpose, but the purpose was directionless. His anger seemed reserved not to the circumstances, but to himself for not somehow overextending to prevent them.
“What if they never come? What if they’re out there, right now, yelling for me to help them? What if me and Revixtia dragged ‘em along for another one of our self-indulgent adventures, and we…”
Choke. The krogan seized on his own words for a half-second. Then breathed deep, and composed himself. A father sometimes needs to put on a brave face.
“What if we killed them? If I’m real honest, I just... don’t know what I’d have left. I... just… I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to them, and every day the chances of ‘em havin’ survived the journey seems to get slimmer...”
Serena didn’t think, just reacted, hugging the big krogan. She wanted to make him feel better, but wasn’t the right person and didn’t have the right knowledge to fix his heartache. She could, however, do her best to reassure him. After a second she remembered that they were basically strangers, and hugging someone she had all of five minutes of conversation with was weird and personal space invasive.
She took a step back, blushing in embarrassment. ”Sorry. A hug from a stranger is probably the last thing you want right now.” Now that she had made a magnificent fool of herself already , Great way to get to know him outside of combat! she could get on with attempting to make him feel better. She sat down across from him, smiling earnestly. ”Kargad, they’re not dead I’m absolutely sure of that. The Asari pathfinder is the best in the galaxy at making peace between two wildly different cultures, and her second is a hugely successful and widely respected Asari commando general. They’re going to get the Ark here safe. They’re going to get your girls here safe. I’m absolutely sure of that. You’re going to see them again, and then you’re going to get a hug you actually want. Two of them in fact. Leusinia will be in any day now, and we’ll have secured a spot for your daughters. Just remember that Kargad. Everything you do is preparing a spot for them.” She spoke encouragingly, hoping to lift his spirits.
” And I’m sure Ryder will fix what Tann and the rest did wrong. Pathfinder’s are supposed to bring us together. Things are already getting better. We’ve just got to keep doing our parts.”
Kargad bucked up a little bit, at least. Not necessarily because he believed her, but because he appreciated the effort. And the hug.
That last part seemed troubling, though. A human trait, maybe - unrealistic optimism. He admired it, envied it even.
”Thanks, Serena…” he looked down at the table again, although this time in thought.
”Do you really think the Human Pathfinder is gonna shake things up, though? Somehow fix this whole krogan debacle? Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just hardcoded into people’s DNA.”
Serena smiled in relief to see him perking up, at least a little bit. ”Of course. Just as much debacles and messes like this are hardcoded into people’s DNA, so is the potential to fix and heal. Take the krogan themselves for example. They lashed out against the galaxy in the Rebellions, which made a mess right? But they also saved the galaxy from the Rachni, which fixed a mess. We all have the potential for bad things, Kargad. But we also all have the potential to do good things. Sometimes it seems like people give into that former potential way more than the latter, but I assure you, there will always be more people willing to help and fix than there is willing to hurt and destroy. Just look at the initiative now. We met an entire race who seems hell bent on destroying us. But we also just met an race who is willing to trust us and help us. There’s always good in the universe Kargad. Always.”
He nodded along: “I’ve never doubted that. I believe it - in a way I guess I have to. But it’s always seemed to me that the council races have never wanted to entertain the idea there might be good in krogans.”
He reclined again, and glanced at the plants around them. Flora from familiar worlds. Some of them likely from places the krogan had coveted in The Rebellions.
”The Krogans’ crime was wanting what the Asari, Turians and Salarians took for granted. We were babes blinkin’ into a whole new, expanded horizon, and we overreacted, sure - but do you think a galactic community willin’ to forgive and forget could dream something like the Genophage up?”
Each and every plant here would have their genetic offspring cultivated on new worlds, in a new galaxy. Krogans dreamed of that sort of freedom.
”We needed reprimanding, I’m not denyin’ it. I’ve never thought the Rebellions were the right way to go… but I can appreciate what my ancestors were thinkin’. We’re just like anybody else. Just like humans. We had dreams, and goals. We wanted more than our burnt up husk of a planet, and we tried to take it. Like your Shanxi, maybe. But humans got given the benefit of the doubt - so did Batarians. It was only Krogan who got the brutal put-down. And I think it’s because, from the very start, other races have thought of us as lesser.”
He watched a Salarian wander past, eyes glued to his datapad. There was no malice in Kargad’s face, just a pondering. Another sort of sadness, an ancient one.
”Do you know what the Salarians said to us, when they came to arm themselves against the Rachni? Krogans do. It’s like an ancestral memory, almost. They told us they were uplifting us. Like we were dirt. Like we were dirt and they were Gods, trying to pull us up from the filth. And then, again like Gods, when we misbehaved they cursed us. I don’t think people ever had the Krogan in mind as peers. We were always weapons to them, our lives worthless- expendable at birth- unless we were laying them down against the Rachni. The Salarians thought so. The Turians thought so. Tann thought so. People wonder why Krogans are so brutal, so war-focused. Sometimes I do too. I think it’s because we know that it’s all people think we’re good for. We fight risky and up close, even amongst ourselves, because fighting to survive is the only time we feel as though our lives are worth fighting for…”
Kargad caught himself rambling, staring hollowly at the space the Salarian had been, moments before. He shook his head, and forced a short laugh.
“Sorry, nevermind me. I’ve heard Salarians say Krogans have a victim complex. Maybe they’re right, huh? Maybe they’re right.”
”I think you’re misunderstanding why the other Council races look down on krogan so much. They’re afraid of you, Kargad. Each and everyone one of you is a soldier. You have redundant organs, tough skin, can heal from bullet wounds, and your battle rage. Before the Genophage, you bred faster than any sentient race in existence. You were the perfect race for conquering worlds and after the Rachni you did just that, only being fought to a stand still by the turians. It was a war of attrition after that, which you would have won in the end. After the Genophage you were finally stopped, and the rest of the races allowed their fear to turn into distaste and hatred, because that made them feel better. They claim they can’t allow you to be cured because you’re ‘lesser barbarians’, but really they’re scared of what would happen if the Genophage was removed. And so, they treat you like second class citizens. Which, in turn, makes the krogan act like the other races expect them too, which in turn makes them keep treating you like second class citizens, and it's a vicious cycle. But you and I both know that krogans have the potential to be so much more. Honorable protectors, hard workers, loyal friends. I’ve seen all those things in the krogan I’ve worked with.
She gestured all around her, with both hands. Passion filled her voice, her eyes shining. She really, truly, believe in the original image of the Initiative that Jien Garson had proposed, the original idea that had gone away within hours of getting here. She still believed it was a possibility, something that could be forced into shape with grit and determination. ”Andromeda was supposed to be a fresh start at that. We screwed that up when everything went to hell in a handbasket, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fix it. The Pathfinder will bring us together, because that’s what Pathfinders do. As for APEX? We just have to keep showing them how to act. That science team thought we were heroes. Thought you were a hero. That changed their views. We can show them how things are, mission by mission. I know we can. And eventually, we’ll do what we set out to do. Unity and peace. The dream is still there. We just have to seize it.”
”With APEX, Kargad, we’re gonna change the entirety of the Heleus Cluster.”
”A hero…”, Kargad repeated, a little lower, a little softer. With the sort of meaningful, hopeful fascination a child would afford the same concept. The word excited him.
Kargad felt a fondness growing with every dream Serena described, a paternal warmth in his bosom. She spoke with the sort of emphatic optimism, the sort he’d known from Kalayla, six hundred years ago. Was it a consequence of youth, he wondered - and did that even matter?
He didn’t believe her, he couldn’t: humans were the new kids on the court, they couldn’t possibly know the hurt of having watched generations lose their breaths in the cradle. If the genophage was an option for the krogan, why not the Rachni? Why drag the krogan, kicking and screaming, into the lives of second-class galactic citizens at all?
And yet. The notion was so winsome, and Serena’s tone so convicted, that it overwrote his disbelief with endearment. He supposed, right in this moment, the continuation of the cycle was theory. This was not the Milky Way, and this time humankind was also in play. The Initiative was a shitshow, it was undeniable: but with brilliant young hearts like Serena’s, like Kalayla’s, to build its foundations on, there was a chance. For Kargad. For his children. For everybody who signed on dreaming of something better.
He sat back again, and interwound his fingers into each other. Held his hands together in thought. Then he smiled, a little more sincerely this time. This was a notion he would like to share.
”Y’know, kid - speeches like that are the reason I signed on to begin with.”
At the sight of the krogan’s smile Serena smiled back, happy that she was finally getting him up in spirits again. It wasn’t her original goal when walking through Hydronics on shore leave, but she was glad she had started achieving it. At his words, Serena blushed in pleased embarrassment, ducking her head. She was glad he thought so highly of her wordcraft, but knew she didn’t deserve it. ”Oh please, that was nothing more than just an impassioned ramble. Jien Garson could give speeches. I just babble excitedly.” Eager to change the subject before she got even more embarrassed, she latched on to the main thing she had wondered about the krogan.
”Kargad, you mentioned praying. I’ve seen you praying before, most notably before and after that hostage rescue mission, but never quite heard to what. I apologize if this is offensive, but what is your religion? I’ve never known a krogan to pray before, nor have I ever heard of a krogan religion in all my time in the galaxy.” She leaned forward, curiosity taking over any embarrassment or notions of personal space.
Kargad, caught off guard for just half a moment, cocked his head ever so slightly to the side, and stared back at Serena with a sort of bafflement. Then, once the tonal whiplash had passed, he smiled, wide and crooked, favouring the left of his face to the right. The krogan laughed- that same deep, mountainous chuckle he’d given during training, all stomach and joy- and scratched at the side of his face, confusion overwritten by his own awkwardness.
“Hah! Yeah, I could’a have figured somebody’d ask eventually… I guess I sorta stand out, huh?”
He moved the hand scratching at his face down to stroke the stony outcroppings of his chin, instead.
“It’s sort of tricky, in a way. Krogan are religious, believe it or not - I was actually training to be a shaman before my wife punched me onto a different path. We just don’t worship Gods, generally. Krogan are drawn to more nebulous beliefs, maybe. We worship traditions, and the survival those traditions secure, the only two things worth worrying about on a hole like Tuchanka. I don’t think we have the stomach for deities, like some other species, though. Krogan don’t believe in anything they can’t eventually beat. Some of us even think we’re gonna beat the genophage through pure stubbornness.”
”Why do I get the feeling you mean punched in a literal sense?” Serena shook her head in wry amusement, before continuing. ”So krogan’s worship traditions that encourage survival, so to speak. Makes sense. Though, from what I’ve heard you guys are going to eventually beat the Genophage. Before you all went under, you were all given a serum to encourage specific mutations that work against the Genophage. I heard it was something like eight percent bigger chance at a successful birth? Not sure, I’ll look into it.”
”So if you aren’t on the same path as most religious krogan, what do you worship? I don’t think you were thanking centuries of tradition when we got on the ship after saving the scientists.”
Kargad tapped the crack in his crest conspiratorially, and then chuckled into the back of his hand before pressing on: ”I suppose I worship the universe, if I had to put it into one word. The sort of systematic chaos that births and destroys us, this... endless cycle of energy,” he told her, making a cyclical motion with his hands to punctuate the point.
“It’s the Asari faith. The largest, anyway - hylozoism, I think you might call it. The basic idea is that we’re all expressions of the same primary energy, y’know?. Every Human, Salarian, Asari… all equal representations of the one fundamental life, that of the universe at large. Our hearts all beat, right? In my philosophy, all life- even Krogan life- is equal. Even if some Asari don’t really act like it, it’s a universal truth.”
He paused for a moment after this, and his expression muddled for a second before settling on a small, doughy smile.
”I remember, when times were tough, my Revixtia always told me as much. She was the first alien to tell me I wasn’t dirt, or somethin’, that needed savin’ or suppression. That I was her kindred spirit in the cosmos. It was the first time I ever really felt special, y’know? She really knocked some sense into me, that woman...”
Kargad gestured across the table, with a patriarch’s warmth, ”In that cosmic sense, you’re as much my sibling as anybody in my brood. But, similarly, I’m sorta attached to the enemies I fight, too. We’re all just different manifestations of the same thought. I never hesitate, mind you - but when you see me pray, I’m telling them that in death we’re equals. And that I’m grateful they gave me the best fight they could.”
Serena smiled at Kargad tapping the crack in his crest, listening intently as he explained his take on hylozoism. It was a beautiful view, she had to admit, and uniquely krogan. Only a krogan would in one moment bless their enemies as equal and in the other bloodily thank them for giving them a good fight. The way Kargad talked about his wife made her smile even more. It was sweet, and wistful. A memory of happier times, times they all hoped to return to.
”That’s beautiful Kargad, truly.” Serena said earnestly, entwining her hands. ”I’m honored to be considered that by you.” She suddenly noticed that Kargad was missing a tooth, and grinned. ”I’m sure that Firuzeh would be honored too, after she takes your tooth out of her arm. What was it you told me after I warned you about her? Oh right, ‘This is gonna be childsplay’. I guess your children play rougher than most I’ve seen.” Serena winked at him, her eye changing back to hot pink as she teased him.
Kargad, suddenly bashful, lowered his head and smiled awkwardly (although all Krogan smiles were somewhat awkward) at the table, shoulders raising to curtain his face. Krogan didn’t blush, but he certainly gave off the same energy.
”You’ve got no idea, honestly,” he laughed quietly, from the chest this time, ”My girls hit like freight trains. Firuzeh reminds me a lot of one of them, actually. My youngest, Faoria… that girl has a temper on her. She was born with her blood at full boil, I think. You’ve never seen a hundred year old girl throw a tantrum like she could.”
He missed a beat, ”... that’s all their mother, though, you understand.”
”Of course. All their mother. Nothing like that all comes from the krogan who charges gleefully into a Fiend and then rips the top half of its head off. Nope. None at all.” Seren deadpanned for a few moments, before a smirk worked its way onto her face. ”I’m sure Firu has good things to say about you as well, since you knocked her out too. And after killing a Fiend together, you’re practically best friends!” Serena paused a moment, humming to herself. She like Kargad. He had an earnest heart, and an honest sort of endearing awkwardness about him.
”You know Kargad, once the asari ark gets here, I’d love to meet your daughters. If that isn’t too forward of a request for someone you’ve known…” Serena looked down at her omni-tool, bringing up a clock and date. “”A little over three weeks.”
Kargad glowed at the suggestion, grin wide and only slightly less toothy than usual. She spoke like it was a certainty.
”Hell, I think that’s a great idea! I think they’d be glad to see their old man makin’ friends. ‘Sides, the more people they meet, the easier it’ll be to adjust here, right?”
Serena grinned back. ”Of course. Though I’m sure they’ll have plenty of people to meet and work with besides your friends on APEX. Especially the weird one who just hugs you randomly. ” She glowed slightly on the inside at the idea that Kargad thought they were friends already. She hadn’t had any friends beyond work friends since Borealis, and hadn’t been able to do anything with a friend in over six centuries.
An idea suddenly struck her for something she and Kargad could do, beyond sit here and talk about how great his daughters were. ”Kargad, tell me, do you like movies with excessive action scenes and cheesy one liners?”
”I’d take a random hug over a random headbutt any day of the year,” Kargad supposed, grin unwavering. He quirked the closest approximation to his brow when Serena pressed on, though: ”Movies with excessive action and cheesy one liners? Sure I do! That’s half the reason I’m in this job,”, he replied, sportively.
”Why? You got a recommendation?”
”Great!” Serena clapped her hands together once in excitement. This is going to be fun! ”I do indeed! Have you ever heard of the Blasto series? The first Hanar Spectre? He’s got a gun in every tentacle and a lover in every port? I have the entire series, before we went off to Andromeda, ready to be watched. If you’d like to watch the first one with me?” An almost childish excitement radiated off of Serena. She loved the Blasto films. They were stupid and cheesy and that was what made them amazing.
Kargad blinked, dazedly: ”Hold up - there’s a Hanar Spectre? And he’s making movies?”
”Not a real Hanar spectre. Just an actor. Its all fake and ‘what if’, you know? So what do you say? Wanna go watch the first one with me? If you don’t like it I illegally downloaded a few thousand other films before going in the pod. I’m sure we can find something else that you’d like.” Serena looked up at the krogan, unashamedly using her best puppy dog eyes to push him towards saying yes. He sounded like the type who caved when his daughters did it, so it should work for her right?
Although that definitely worked almost 100% of the time, in this instant it was unnecessary: Kargad was already climbing out of his seat.
”You kiddin’?! I wanna see a Hanar shoot a place up! What’re we still doin’ over in plant country?”
”Sweet!” Serena shot up out of her seat, gesturing for Kargad to follow her as she lead the way back to her temporary quarters. It wouldn’t be too hard to set up a movie player. Sarah or Del could be used to project it perfectly. She practically skipped on the way over there, grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be great!