[49] Office Space

“We have an office?” He catches up with Saren in three hurried steps. “We need an office?”

Saren doesn’t even turn his head. “I imagined you would have already found it.”

“Hey, I don’t play hide-and-seek. Not often, anyway.” He tugs on Saren’s sleeve. What’s the hurry, dammit? “So where is it?”

“Up ahead.”

Nihlus peers into the dark corridor. Flickering light panels, service tunnels, a row of different-sized pipes running overhead. He frowns. “I got nothing.”

Saren stops right between the service tunnels. There’s a tiny door on either side of the hall; the tops barely reach his waist. Nihlus bends to examine one. Yep—there are tiny access points, at a height perfect for a Keeper’s fingers.

“We have to go through these? You’re kidding.” He throws a sideways glare at Saren. “You’re not kidding. Argh.”

He takes a closer look at the access points. Pretty much the same as every other service tunnel in the Citadel: a rectangular, slightly inclined white panel next to the doorframe. He lines up his omni. As expected, nothing happens. He will not go down in history as the first person to crack the Keepers’ secrets.

Giving Saren a dirty look, he turns to the other tunnel, a mirror image of the first. His omni doesn’t work on this one, either. He turns on the flashlight, determined to work this out, and spots it right where the thin beam hits the wall. A microscopic seam, laser-straight, running from floor to – he stands up as tall as he can – ceiling.

“Now, to get this thing open…” He looks around. No more seams besides the outline of a door. “Aren’t you gonna help me?”

The fucker actually smirks.

“Fine. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Nihlus steps back and gives the door a good kick, right in the centre. Something gives under his foot. The top piece of the doorframe. It’s retracting.

Huh. That wasn’t supposed to work.

He takes another step back as the whole “service tunnel” part slides out silently, like a maglev drawer from some high-end desk. A haptic interface and a holoscreen unfold themselves centimetres from his lifted browplates.

Authorised access only

This data exchange is monitored

Authorisation key?

“Gotcha,” he whispers under his breath, subharmonics trilling a little. He submits his Spectre keys in ten quick taps. The terminal buzzes for a few seconds. Eventually, it seems to give a little nod.

Please prepare for retinal scan

Easy enough. He smiles for the camera. He can feel Saren shifting behind him.

Processing…

The entire assembly packs itself back up, every bit as acrobatic as before. Then, the whole door sinks into the wall, and disappears on invisible rails. A wave of pleasant air, dry and warm, greets him as he strides into the short corridor beyond.

— And stops dead.

“Spirits.” It’s a real struggle to keep his mandibles tucked close. “This is perfect.”

The entryway opens up to a hexagonal room that would be the envy of military brass across the galaxy. There’s a raised pedestal in the centre, surrounded with silver handrails. The trench around it is filled to the brim with projection heads and bundles of wires. The computing cores must lie beneath the floor tiles.

Three of the walls are filled with monitors. Idle at the moment. The fourth has a glass door that leads to what seems like a mid-size shooting range. The fifth is simply an enormous, sienna-tinted window.

He drifts toward it. Presses his hand against it and peers through. He can see the tops of blossoming trees, patches of emerald grass in rectangular planters. A speaker’s stand, jutting towards three identical lecterns; empty for now.

Saren comes up beside him. “The glass is not bulletproof.”

He jumps, then flushes, the memory of a kiss tingling on his tongue. “Saren, the practice range is that way.”

Saren shrugs. He turns to leave, his robe brushing Nihlus’ ankle. Nihlus’ fingers flex, but he stares resolutely out the window. His mandibles are hanging loose. He lets them be.

His patience is rewarded when the Council finally appears. Sparatus looks grumpier than usual. Tevos, too, seems like she missed an hour or two of sleep. Even the inexhaustible Valern is sagging beneath his heavy robes. Ponderously, an elaborately-clad elcor is approaching the stand.

In that case, time to check on Saren.

“What ‘cha doing.” Nihlus sneaks both arms around his waist. Convenient, that the robes are cut just so.

Saren sighs in reply, fingers flying over the interface without so much as a hitch. “Downloading sensitive information. Wait your turn, Nihlus.”

“There’s room enough for both of us,” he smirks. “I like it here. Such a good view.”

Every holoscreen freezes the split second before Saren turns to glare daggers at him. “Remove your hands.”

Oh, but he was enjoying the way Saren’s shirt creased to make room for them. “Say it nicely, and I might…”

“You can’t be serious. This is the Spectre Office.”

“Exactly.”

A warning hiss.

“It’s not like we’re in public or anything – that window is one-way, right?” He plays out the overture in subharmonics. He tries to pull Saren against his chest.

Saren shrugs him off, prying away his wrists. “If another agent comes–“

“I’ll eat my boots.”

“That is irrele—“

Nihlus takes him by one shoulder and whirls him around before he can dig in his heels. There’s a flash of eyes meeting, of two pairs of lips half-open with words, swiftly followed by the insight that it isirrelevant. Everything’s irrelevant. Except for the fact that he has one hand bracing against the railing and the other behind Saren’s head as they collide.

“Damn.” He rubs his nose as they pull apart. “Sorry ‘bout that.” But the kiss was good.

Saren’s growling, if only to mask something dark and wonderful in those undertones. He dismisses the screens.

“That’s more like it,” Nihlus smirks. He’s about to turn Saren around again, but Saren slaps his hands away and gets to Nihlus’ waistband first.

“It’s your turn to work,” he whispers, kneeling down, taking Nihlus’ pants with him.

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