Chapter 7 of Ghost in the Machine

The diversion had been a success. However, the point of the diversion had certainly not been to provide him with a convenient excuse, and Saren was far from satisfied. His weakness for Nihlus was turning into a serious problem, a problem that could no longer be kept secret from Sovereign. And indeed, just as he thought that, an unnatural feeling of heat soared from his spine, spreading over his entire body through the neural highways of his biotics, lighting up nodule after nodule, and when it reached his groin it felt like he’d wet his undersuit. A desperate attempt of his mind to interpret the alien input. The discomfort was intense, bordering on pain, but not bad enough to be disabling. There was no time for that now. It was just a warning. A reminder that Sovereign was far from satisfied as well.

He rushed down the metal stairs, going from platform to platform, until he reached the railway. His geth were waiting. Saren had learned to appreciate the deadly efficiency of the machines a long time ago, but after every mission with them, his admiration became deeper, his envy stronger: they had no weaknesses; no feelings to get in the way of what had to be done. They had already detached an engine from the wagons and hacked into the control systems. He had only to step on, and they sped forwards.

A glance at the tactical map on his omni told him the charges had been set. Severing the spaceport from the dig site would delay Nihlus and the humans long enough for Saren to finish his work here. He approved the countdown. As the engine rushed ahead, the distant sounds of battle drowned in the hum of the accelerators and the wailing of the wind.

The ride to the spaceport, where the beacon was waiting to be towed into a drop-ship, took exactly three and a half minutes, but they dragged on like one of his dreams of flying at relativistic speeds. It would cost him, this weakness. It would make everything more difficult, more dangerous, more painful. It was idiotic, allowing Nihlus to go. Not only irrational and emotional, which was disgusting enough; it was stupid. The confrontation could no longer be delayed, and Spirits knew he’d done everything he dared to delay it as much as possible. The lies he had to tell, the petty deceits he had to weave had already sullied the relationship and he knew that Nihlus could feel it but damn, he would not give it up. He held on to it like it was the most important…

Saren heard himself growling and bade this line of thinking cease and desist immediately. His left hand was hurting, and when he looked down, he saw that he’d clawed holes in the synthetic meat of his palm. Blood was dripping, and under it, tiny lights pulsed between the torn muscles in time with his heartbeat. But the bleeding stopped after mere seconds, and a perfectly localized swelling closed the wounds while he was watching. Nothing would be left of the injury in an hour; nothing but a memory.

If only his entire body could be like that. Practical and efficient. If only his mind could be cleaned of all doubts and fears and of these unbearable feelings that made him slow and heavy. That had made him fail. Oh, to be a purely synthetic life form!

Is that what you want?

The train was slowing down, and the pink light of the dawning sun gleamed at him between the towering buildings of the distant colony, making his mechanical pupils contract with a minuscule buzzing sound that he could only catch because his mechanical ears gave him superior hearing. They had reached the pick-up point. He directed the geth to watch the only entrance to the platform, and checked the map on the way towards the beacon. Damn. Nihlus had already disabled three of the five charges.

Saren turned the omni off with an angry snarl and picked up his pace. The beacon was waiting. Shaped as a miniature replica of the Citadel Tower, it was staring back at him accusingly. He’d made many sacrifices, following his strange, ironic destiny, and some had been a great deal more significant than his allegiance to the Council. But the betrayal stung despite all the rationalizations perfected during the years spent abusing his status in the service of Sovereign. It would only stop burning the day his heart became replaced with a prosthesis, too.

It can be arranged.

This beacon appeared to be in worse condition than the instance he had salvaged from Weya. That would likely affect the experience, and not in the way of increasing comfort. He didn’t want to go through that again, but there was no other way. The beacons did not speak to synthetics. There were still some things Sovereign could not do without his organic agent regardless of all its knowledge and technology and firepower. Which was why it was unacceptable to disappoint it. Still, there was a moment of hesitation. Saren knew all too well what to expect: horror and pain on a level so deep that not even Sovereign could tap into it, though the beacons operated in much the same way, plugging their desperate, futile message directly into the nervous system, letting the brainstem do their dirty work, calling forth the demons.

But there was no time to ponder on the necessary course of action. Nihlus was drawing near, too near, and damn him, if he persisted, Saren would kill him. He clenched his teeth, but before he could make the final step, the sounds of a gunfight drew his gaze. Impossible! He checked his omni: Nihlus was almost at the entrance. Saren’s heart started hammering again in its ineffectual, organic way of dealing with unpleasant realizations. Was this it? Their final encounter? He turned around, looking for something, anything that could draw out the fight, but the platform was empty and he was alone and out of ideas. There was no time to activate the beacon and escape with its message. If they caught him in the middle of it… if they even saw him…

That is not an option.

Understood. The geth dropship was hovering just off the platform, and Saren ran for it. The jump was over ten meters long but his enhanced body made short work of it, and there were strong mechanical arms on the drawbridge to pull him in. As the vehicle surged upwards, he thought he could see Nihlus’ dark figure make a dramatic appearance with guns blazing and his trademark fancy moves. Knowing that he was probably seeing them for the last time made them as mesmerizing as they had been the first, and Saren lingered on the drawbridge until the ship ascended above the thinning clouds.

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