Another mission accomplished and another decoration appended to his file, Nihlus walked into the Dark Star with a satisfied smile and an appetite a bit of “normal life” before he was off to the next deadly assignment. He went directly to the bar and ordered a Supernova. It was still early in the evening and the club was comfortably populated by mostly sober men and women of all species, shapes and sizes. Far from empty, but not yet crowded.
He scanned the space for promising faces, sweeping the dance-floor, than the booths lining the far walls, and sure enough, he soon found a woman eyeing him. She was alone, human, pleasing to look at. Resting one elbow on the bar, he beamed at her over the sparkling drink, and she beamed back. Dark hair, dark eyes, a round face and nice, full lips.
Nihlus had developed something of a taste for humans, though he wouldn’t call himself a connoisseur. They rarely struck him as particularly pretty or physically attractive—unlike the asari, who possessed a certain inherent beauty. But most humans he’d talked to, he liked for their spirit. A courageous, free spirit that cared little for the role of inferior outsiders everybody was so eager to impose upon them. That struck a personal chord with him and he tended to treat them with positive prejudice. One of those things Saren just couldn’t get over.
When taking humans to bed, though, Nihlus liked them well proportioned but not overly… meaty. He couldn’t gauge the woman’s shape since she was seated behind the table, but he could tell she was lean, almost wiry, and had barely discernible breasts. She would do, he decided, sipping his drink.
“What’s that lady having?” he asked the turian bartender, never breaking eye contact with the woman.
“You’re joking, right?”
Nihlus turned to look at him. “What? Because she’s human? Give me a break.”
The bartender started to say something but changed his mind and shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he muttered and poured some dense, aromatic liquor into a tall, sugar-coated glass.
Nihlus tossed him a chit, picked up the glass and went over, making his way over the dancing floor. She greeted him with a smile, her perfectly white teeth shining an unnatural hue in the soft UV light. He sat down, facing her.
“Hello,” he said.
“You’re Nihlus Kryik, aren’t you?” the woman said, giving him a start. Her voice was pleasant enough, and it wasn’t entirely impossible that she could have recognized him, but there was something so hungry about the way she suddenly peered into him, that he almost said no just to spite her.
“What if I am?” he said instead, curiosity overcoming the momentary discomfort. The drink he’d gotten for her was still in his hand, and now he placed it next to her empty glass.
“Oh, but that’s just wonderful,” she exclaimed, clasping her hands together in front of her and rubbing her palms. “I’ve been following your career for several years, and I must say I’m a great admirer.”
Nihlus leaned back, curiosity and attraction waning swiftly under the shadow of boredom. He didn’t come to the Star to talk politics with some misled human fan. Or whatever. He looked around for an escape route. But before he could think of a good excuse to leave, she offered a hand over the table.
“Khalisah bint Sinan al-Jilani,” she said. “I’m with Westerlund News and I’d be extremely grateful if you’d agree to a quick interview.”
He took her hand and gave it a slight squeeze, his plans making a prompt U turn. Westerlund News, Westerlund News… the name rang a familiar note, but he couldn’t remember the context. Nevertheless, an interview for a human extranet channel was an offer he was morally obliged to accept. Spirits knew there was still too much bad blood between the two species, and seeing a friendly turian face on Earth, or even the colonies, wasn’t a thing to say no to. He sighed. “What does you channel specialize in?”
She raised an eyebrow over a devilish smile. “Celebrities.”
Nihlus laughed. He, a celebrity! Now there was a good one. She did flatter him so expertly, though. He had to admit he was starting to like her, despite the awkward introduction. “Okay,” he said at last. “Okay. But don’t ask me about my work, because I can’t talk about that.”
“Deal,” she said. At that, a head-sized drone took off from the seat where it had been laying in wait, and hovered above the table, like the word had been some sort of activation shortcut. The drone hummed, clicked, and buzzed, adjusting its camera lens, and finally shone a six-hundred-watt white light right into Nihlus’s face. He winced and put up a hand to defend his eyesight, but the woman reached to put it back down, giving him another start. “We’re going live,” she whispered, and before he could complain or do anything at all, she was already speaking into the camera.
“Khalisah bint Sinan al-Jilani, reporting live for Westerlund News from the Dark Star nightclub on the Citadel. With me is Nihlus Kryik, the famous turian Spectre and one of the most decorated agents in the service of the Citadel Council. Nihlus, in the recent debates regarding the status of Humanity in the Galactic society, you have repeatedly proven yourself to be a supporter of humans. Are there practical reasons behind your support, or would you say that you simply like humans?”
The drone trained its white eye on him again, but he kept looking at the woman: staring into the camera always came across as slutty. “I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Humanity to integrate into the Galactic society. The majority of turians may have reservations about promoting humans into positions of authority, but some of us believe that joining strengths and sharing responsibilities will benefit everybody in the long run.”
“Turian officials often state that the reason behind their reservation, as you call it, is that humans are yet to ‘deserve’ a place of respect among the other Council races. Can you explain this attitude for the viewers of Westerlund News?”
Nihlus sighed. With freedom of spirit often came a sort of naïve obstinance, the kind he possessed himself and never quite managed to subdue, even though he was well aware that it was a fault, not a virtue. For example… how many times had Saren told him, in the plainest language possible, that giving chits to the beggars in the lower Wards, especially children, was not the way to help them? Nihlus would always say, yeah, yeah, whatever; and keep giving. Saren would say, you’re not listening; and keep frowning. Years had passed before Nihlus understood that it had been bitter experience, not cold-hearted cruelty, standing behind those words, behind that frown. Every chit he’d given to the children ended up in the pockets of the local crime-lords this way or another. Saren had been right all along, but Nihlus hadn’t been listening. The only way to help the beggars was to cure the culture that produced them.
Humans were deaf in a similar way. Blinded by violent ambition born from a mixture of pride and insecurity, they simply couldn’t understand.
“This attitude reflects one of the core values of turian culture,” he said, looking in the eyes of the human, knowing that she could hear, but was not listening. “Turians believe that every individual, and in a wider context, every species, needs to demonstrate a willingness to put the wellbeing of the community above their personal goals before they are rewarded with respect and entrusted with responsibility. Before they are considered… mature. Turians fought in the Krogan Rebellions before we were invited to sit in the Council. That is what we mean by ‘deserving’ one’s place in society.”
The woman inclined her head a bit and her eyes narrowed. Nihlus had a bad feeling about the way she was looking at him, like a hound on a blood trail.
“Are you aware that these are, almost literally, the words of one of the most outspoken critics of Humanity, another Spectre, and, if the rumors are true, your mentor, Saren Arterius?”
Ah. But of course. Saren was the actual celebrity. Nihlus didn’t mind, but speaking about Saren in public was trouble. He flashed his best smile at the woman and her camera. “I said that I support the efforts of Humanity to find its place in Galactic society. I never said, or believed, that it should simply be given one.” Like a chit to a beggar. “Obviously, I share the values of my culture, and the values of my mentor.”
Well, most of them.
“Is that all he is to you? There are rumors that you two are very close.”
“Saren is a fellow Spectre, and a friend,” Nihlus said. “And I am not at liberty to discuss the activities, or opinions, of other Council agents. What I can do, is make sure that he hears about your interest.” His smile widened, and so did her eyes. He moved in for the kill. “Don’t be surprised if Saren finds you before you find him.”
She stared at him with her mouth open for some seconds. As a reporter, she must have been well aware of those other rumors that surrounded Saren like a storm cloud. A shadow crept over her face, eclipsing the playful gleam.
“Thank you for your time,” she said at last, prying her eyes away from him and smiling into the camera again. “That was Nihlus Kryik, the turian Spectre, and this is Khalisah bint Sinan al-Jilani with the Westerlund News, signing off from the Citadel.”
The drone shut down as abruptly as it had started up before. She probably wore accelerometers in fingers or eyes, and controlled it remotely. There was no trace of the mischievous confidence in her posture now, and Nihlus relaxed a bit.
“You’re not really going to send Saren after me,” she said after a while.
“He has better things to do,” Nihlus replied, strangely relieved to ease her anxiety. He’d never intended to threaten her for real. “Look…”
“Khalisah. I know you’re only doing your job, but you really ought to be a bit more careful when talking to Spectres. Stupid Spectres… don’t live to give interviews, okay?”
She chuckled, then sipped the drink he’d gotten for her. She swirled it nervously in the glass, once, twice, then downed it whole. “You never answered my first question, you know. Real diplomatic, that.”
“What was the question?”
“Do you like humans?”
“Can I cite that?”
They sat in silence for several long breaths, trying to stare one another down. And Nihlus remembered what it was that had brought him to her table in the first place. “Do you like turians?”
She swallowed hard. “I don’t know. I’ve never…”
Nihlus extended his gloved hand to her, palm up, an invitation. He could almost hear her accelerating heartbeat as she observed it. Finally she accepted, and he rubbed his nose and mouth gently over the back of her hand. She giggled.
“Don’t humans do this?”
“A human might kiss my hand, but it’s a hugely outdated gesture.” Her face had become flushed, making her sort of pretty after all. “Do turians kiss?”
“In a way.” He smiled so that his mandible brushed her hand, still resting in his, though not completely relaxed, not all the way there. “I could explain. But I’d much rather show you.”
“Alright,” she said, nodding slowly, as if convincing herself. “I think I’d like that.”
But of course, she wasn’t sure. Nihlus didn’t need to lay his hands on her trembling body to tell that she was nervous. He could hear it in her breathing, in the giggles that ran through her like shivers every now and then as she lead him to her hotel room. The drone followed them, giving Nihlus the chills. When they arrived and Khalisah went to the bathroom, he flipped on his omni and overloaded the annoying thing, somewhat amused at how good it felt to see it drop dead on the floor. He kicked it under the bed. It would be trivial to fix, but from the choice of the hotel and the appearance of the room, he had no reasons to doubt Khalisah’s ability to acquire a new one in a blink. He shrugged off his jacket, dimmed the lights, and went to inspect the mini-bar. Quarian tequila! Yes!
Just as he tasted it, straight from the bottle, she emerged from the bathroom, framed by the wide beam of warm yellow light, wearing nothing but a thin, silky night-gown.
There was something strangely exciting about pulling potential xenophiles out of the closet. Like taking their virginity. Nihlus felt his interest rise. Sure, there was always the risk of pulling out a xenophobe instead, but he was willing to take it. He’d turned more than a few humans, both male and female, from curious extranet surfers into ardent appreciators of turian sex appeal. He’d be damned if he’d let a journalist slip through his talons. She could do a lot of good, if he handled her properly. But as he took in her slender shape and the slightly bewildered expression, the politically correct thoughts slowly evaporated from his head, replaced by the spreading warmth of desire.
The door to the bathroom swished closed behind her and they observed each other through the soft shadows. Nihlus put down the bottle and made the first step. The human sex appeal, at least for a turian, was in all that soft, exposed, even skin. Some found it too bland for their tastes, too simplified, like a cartoon. Nihlus liked it, though. He liked it very much. He ran a hand down her shoulder and arm, and her fingers clasped around his in the end, with a bit more force than necessary.
“Go ahead,” she whispered, and he leaned down, touching his nose to the tip of hers, tasting her lips with the tip of his tongue. Humans kiss like the asari, and he expected her to part her lips for him. But she didn’t. He brought a hand up to her throat and nudged her chin down slightly with his thumb. She gave in, albeit reluctantly, and allowed him to run his tongue against hers. He relaxed, started exploring her, but soon became all too aware that she wasn’t returning his attentions. Much too tense still, he decided, and started to trace a pattern of gentle nips down her chin and along the side of her throat. But at that, she became completely rigid.
“Relax,” he said, nuzzling her smooth cheek. She was running hot, and that was making him hot. “We’ll take it nice and slowly.”
“Alright.” She nodded, finally putting her hands on him: on his waist, her thumbs touching his stomach, feeling the shapes beneath the fabric of his shirt, shapes which were no doubt very alien to her. His heart softened at the thought. When he’d had sex with an alien for the first time… it had been an asari, so no, he hadn’t been afraid the least. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been afraid with his first human either. The krogan had given him some second thoughts, but he’d turned out to be such a darling. He’d given Nihlus something to remember with a smile. That was a good point of comparison, he supposed. Yeah. He should be patient, like Krux had been with him. Let her top, like Krux had allowed him.
“Take this off?” she said, tugging on his shirt, and Nihlus complied. The way she devoured the sight of his naked torso made his juices flow. Her little hands traced the shape of his markings down his chest and stomach, lightly at first, then with more enthusiasm. He could see her chest heaving, her nipples standing erect like dark pearls under the transparent gown. His heart was starting to hammer.
“You’re so warm,” she said. “I thought you’d be cold, like…”
“A common misconception.” He took her hands and guided them to the sides of his waist, to unplated skin, and rumbled in response to the touch.
She giggled. “Do that again?”
“That. Purr for me.”
“Purr?” Nihlus forced out a little laugh. The way she said that, the way she now picked at his skin, tickling on purpose to see if she could make him produce the sound again, was in fact making him uncomfortable. “It’s a spontaneous thing. Not something I can do on demand.” Not something he was willing to do on demand, for her, would be the full truth, but he decided to forego the subtleties.
“Oh. Alright.” Her hands were now fumbling to unbutton his pants and he found he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted her to succeed. As uninformed as she seemed to be, she’d stare at his crotch and ask where it was, which would at the very least delay its appearance. Thankfully she didn’t, and as he kicked the pants off along with his boots, and finally stood naked in front of her, she took a step back to study him. “I had no idea your… uh… tattoos… go all the way down there.”
Nihlus smiled, rewarded her interest with another “purr” and took another step forward. This time, when he laid his hands on her, she relaxed into the kiss. He closed his eyes. Soon enough, he’d be lost in her softness. In the way her body adjusted to his, molded to and warmed his carapace. In the way her lips closed around his mandibles and sucked on the ends. Oh yes. Suction is a big part of the human sex appeal.
As is the hair. He started to run his fingers through it, and paused. He was still wearing his gloves. They were second nature, and now he muttered a pardon as he disengaged in order to take them off.
“Errr…” she said, taking another step back.
“Is that… safe?”
At first he had no idea what she was talking about and looked around in alarm. Then it hit him. She was staring at his hands. With something alarmingly close to fear in her eyes. His mandibles tilted back in a display that would put any well-bred turian to shame for being so offensive, but she had no clue what the gesture meant.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She looked miserable enough to make her words sound sincere, and Nihlus realized there was only so much space left behind her back for further retreat. “But… your claws look so sharp.”
“Talons,” he corrected. His mandibles were working and keeping his mood up had become a struggle. He seriously considered just picking his shit up and leaving without further ado, but decided to give her another chance. “And they’re not all that sharp. Another common misconception. Look.”
Again, he offered a hand, palm up, and again, she only took it after much hesitation. She examined his fingers, and tried the tips of his talons. Nihlus sighed. “Some people sharpen them. But even so, you need intention to break skin. Even such soft skin like yours.” He closed in again, ran his fingers down her side until his hand was resting on her hip. “I won’t hurt you,” he whispered.
In response, she guided his hand, the one she had been holding, and placed it on her breast. Nihlus went along and slid his thumb over the nipple through the silky garment, eliciting a sharp little sigh from her, which was almost enough to make him forget about the awkwardness. They kissed again, embraced, hands feeling, hips pushing, and Nihlus rumbled some more, making her giggle again, but she was no longer nervous, and it was cute.
But as soon as he let his guard down and followed the inclination to nip at her neck, she tensed up again.
It was too much.
“What? You think I’m going to bite you?”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, and he believed her, but it did nothing for him now but reinforce the conclusion that this whole thing was a bad idea after all. “I don’t mean to offend you… but…”
“Let me guess: my teeth look so sharp.”
It wasn’t even a question, but she nodded, and Nihlus stepped away in resignation. “For fuck’s sake. I’m not a fucking animal.”
“I know… I’m sorry…”
“You’re not sorry. You’re afraid! You were afraid the whole time, weren’t you? You thought I’d claw you and bite you, and now think I’ll go berserk or something, right?”
She shook her head, but her body walked backwards until she ended up cornered against the wall. As she looked at him with wide, terrified eyes, she made that extra step, that unnecessary, unwarranted step of trying to hide her breasts and sex with her hands. The room got darker by a solid shade and Nihlus stared at her in disbelief for what seemed like an eternity. If there was one thing that could piss him off in an instant, that could really make him go berserk, it was the idea, the very notion, that somebody, anybody would think him capable of…
He swallowed the anger, turning to find his stuff. He swallowed the insult, because it was born of ignorance and not of malice. “What the fuck were you thinking when you brought me here, anyway?” he gritted through his teeth while putting his clothes back on. “If you believe all that extranet bullshit about turians and rough sex, why would you even… and how could you believe it? You’re a journalist, for fuck’s sake. Checking your facts before jumping to conclusions should be your fucking job.”
Nihlus couldn’t find his right boot. He looked in her direction and wasn’t exactly surprised to see that she’d slouched down and was now sitting on the floor with her knees pressed close to her chest. He couldn’t tell if she was crying, and frankly, he didn’t give a damn. “I mean, really,” he snorted. “Saren’s famed prejudice against Humanity can’t hold a fucking candle to what I’ve just seen here. ‘An outspoken critic.’ Ha-fucking-ha. Tell me, Miss Journalism. When have you ever heard him, or even heard rumors of him speaking about humans as if they were some mentally challenged, uncontrollable beasts? What? rachni ate your tongue?”
She was crying alright, but with some dignity. Not the sobbing, drooling kind of cry; rather some jaw-clenched, tear-soaked pouting, like a child that’d been told off. He stood in front of her, left boot in one hand, the bottle of quarian tequila he had no memory of picking up in the other, and now he used it to wash the bitter taste of disappointment from his mouth.
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Okay. I’m done yelling at you. Just tell me one thing. I answered your questions, so I gather I deserve to get an answer in return. And then I’ll go away. If I can find my fucking boot. How about it?”
“Ask…” she said, but it was more of an undefined hiss. She cleared her throat, furiously wiping the tears off her face. “You can ask anything you want.”
Damn. As embarrassing as all of this was, he still liked her. He could see the indomitable spirit that defines her kind in her dark, defiant stare: even if he’d done exactly what she’d expected him to do, if he’d bitten and bled her, or beaten her up in a fit of rage or even… raped her—he wouldn’t have broken her. And for that, he admired her.
You stupid, stupid xenophobe, he told her in the privacy of his mind. This could have been the best fuck of your sad little life.
Out loud, he said, “Do you even like me? Or was all that sweet-talk… a lie?”
“It wasn’t a lie,” she said. She was looking in his eyes, and although the fear was still there, it was mixed with spite. “I do like you. Or I thought I did.” She sniffed. “I didn’t know this would happen. I’m sorry, alright? I really am. And I’m grateful that you… that it’s you, and not someone else.”
Nihlus had to laugh at that. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that? Haven’t you heard a word of what I’ve been saying?”
He primed himself for another lecture, but then suddenly wondered. If it had been Saren in his shoes—or the lack thereof—what would he have done? Saren was surely the name of all her fears, but would he really… what? Shoot her? Beat her up? Take her by force? Claw her and mark her with his teeth? Nihlus dismissed the idea with a snort. It was ridiculous. Obviously, Saren would’ve never gotten in a situation like this in the first place. But no. Not even Saren would harm her without reason. He’d just leave and let her sulk in lonely silence.
Leave, yes. Drown the depressing experience in alcohol and perhaps find a nice, friendly asari to keep him company for what was left of his night off. He had to pass by the Dark Star anyway.
Inside, the bartender gave him a knowing flick of the mandible.
“Shut up and make me another Supernova,” Nihlus said. Once more, he scanned the mass of bodies swaying in time with the overloud music for promising faces. Only now, he made it a point to skip over humans. But after a while he sighed and turned to stare at his drink instead. After disasters like this, there was only one face he really wanted to see.