Saren stood in front of the door to his Citadel apartment. He couldn’t remember the entry codes. It had been two years since he’d last slept here; he’d changed omni-tools several times in the interim and each iteration brought about some loss of data. He liked his storage clean. Too clean. He relied on his memory too much, but that was supposed to be safe. It had never failed him so far. He could remember the file, now. He’d called it something like, “Center in the void” and probably deleted it while cleaning, thinking it some rubbish. He’d never call it “Entry code Citadel” or “Key to my apartment,” of course. It had to be a riddle only he could answer. That was the way of a Spectre. And this Spectre would never delete files before opening them to see what’s inside again.
There was nobody else in the corridor and he rested his forehead against the door. He was tired. There was a huge hole in his midst, a black hole, absorbing all his energy. His knees were weak. Sleep would close the hole. Yes. And if sleep refused to come, he’d take something. He liked his body clean as well, but the occasion was exceptional enough.
He bumped the door with his head a couple of times. Come on. Remember. He glanced to his left, to his right. There was nothing to stir his memories; the building was sterile in its indulging opulence. All the doors looked the same. All the walls, freshly painted. The carpets, stainless. The lights, perfectly uniform.
Come on. Give me something. He bumped the door again, stronger this time.
Don’t be an idiot. It’s a door; you can’t torture it for information.
He took a deep, shaky breath, and tried to wipe his mind clean. Put a stop to the incessant internal chatter. Words were the most difficult to purge; the images he’d learned to gently sweep aside. But the words, he didn’t know how to shut up the words. Apartment. Bed. Mirror. Scars.
It wasn’t working. He turned to leave. He’d sleep in a hotel and get a tech to reprogram the door tomorrow.
The moment he started to walk away, he remembered. A time-honored trick.
Inside, the apartment was sterile too. It looked entirely like an expensive hotel suite, polite and impersonal. He looked around, walked through the well-lit rooms, took off his boots, his gloves, his weapons, his omni-tool. Searched for something familiar. Anything. He wanted something familiar. Why did he want something familiar?
The bed looked inviting enough. But first he went to the bathroom, keeping his eyes on the floor. He stood in front of the mirror but didn’t look at it yet. He braced himself for a surge of emotions. He looked up.
His reflection was as impassive as always. Nothing happened. He turned his head this way and that, studying his new marks. Marks. That should have elicited some feelings.
No, there was nothing.
How does it feel, to feel? What if I am feeling and don’t even know it?
No. You’d know.
Alright then, he taunted his reflection. Come on. He curled his hands into fists, flexed his shoulders slightly, as if preparing for a wrestling match. Come on. Hit me.
I am marked.
You’ve tried that already and it didn’t work the first time either. Try something related. Try that thing that always works.
He waited. Sometimes it came with a delay. Sometimes it took recalling specifics. Like the wonderment in the moment after it had all gone to hell; Desolas was gone. How was that possible? One second he was there, and the next, no more. Where did he go?
Saren shook his head: he hadn’t really felt anything at that moment either. Later, yes. Later there was despair. Perhaps it would be like that now as well? Perhaps sleeping wouldn’t close the hole but instead feed it with his defenses?
It would be better to face them now: the feelings, nascent as they were, before they grew up, before they developed the will to live and multiply. Come on. I know you’re in there.
And there! Results. The hole and the things it had eaten stirred. The sensation was physical: his stomach sank, like when falling a long way. There you go. Told you you’d know.
He smirked at his reflection. “Told you you’d know?” The reflection actually spoke to him in Nihlus’s voice. Analyze that, it said. The smirk fell away.
Is that what you want?
Oh, but his defenses were a miracle of nature. They had already adapted and the sensation vaporized. I don’t like this, he confessed to the reflection. This isn’t what I expected. He bounced up and down on his toes, miniscule nervous displacements. Come on. You can do better than that. Hit me.
You hurt him.
He hurt me first!
And there you go again.
No, no. That’s not it. That’s anger. Anger doesn’t count; I do anger every day. You know what it is. Say it. Just spit it out already.
You’re losing him.
The hole opened its horrible jaws and showed its many teeth, shards of glass protruding from the swollen, bloodied meat, and it hungered, hungered! Saren swayed on the precipice. Suddenly this no longer seemed like a good idea, not a good idea at all, but it was no longer in his hands, it was no longer under his control, the hole sucked him in and he was falling, falling, the glassy eyes of his reflection watching in voiceless, helpless horror. You want to feel? I’ll make you feel. Come now, give me your hand. No talons, no biotics; you don’t want to spoil it, do you? He said it was perfect and perfect it has to stay. Yes, use the pad instead. Like that. What? You no longer like it? Awww. Too late. Yes, of course it hurts. Don’t be an idiot; that was the whole point, wasn’t it? That’s right, spread them, smudge them, rub out the fresh crust. Let the blue out. Burning, is it? It’s the filth on your fingers; you haven’t washed your hands. Don’t fret: they would have festered anyway. The more, the better.
Saren used the blood from the freshly opened cuts to draw his clan colors on his face. It wasn’t the first time he’d played that particular game. With the markings, he looked exactly like Desolas.
He drew a deep breath. No longer shaky. That was good. He put a hand on his stomach, found that the tremors had subsided. His knees were firm again. Yes, the catharsis paid. Perhaps he wouldn’t even need drugs to fall asleep now.
He washed his hands and face, sat on the bed to check his messages before lying down. One message.
From Nihlus Kryik.
He laughed a little, but hearing his own voice in the empty room killed the humor quickly. Had he known he’d react this way – breath catching, heart racing, chest aching, blood rising – had he known one message could make him feel…
Should he look at it?
Of course he’d look at it, sooner or later. The question was, which: sooner or later?
Should he try to guess what was inside?
No no no, let’s not play any guessing games; I don’t even want to…
No more surprises, Saren. I never want to see you again.
Stop it. I said I didn’t want to guess.
I think it would be best for us both if we just ended this here.
I said, stop it. What the hell is wrong with you?
I can’t take this anymore. You’re too crazy for me.
Saren growled and struck the night-table, making the ceramic lamp jump in the air and settle down with ear-piercing clanging. He stared at the message. He clicked it.
From: Nihlus Kryik
To: Saren Arterius
Date: 10-07-2176 09:43:32 SGT
Don’t mess with the cuts. Don’t touch them, don’t clean them, just leave them to heal naturally.
I’m ok. Are you ok?
Are we ok?
Saren read the message over and over. The hole was closed. Sated.
If he were to take a shower now and hurry, he could still catch him. He wanted to. He wanted it more than anything. Which is why he decided against it. He should answer the message, though. Say yes, yes we are, Nihlus, brother, after what I’d put you through, surely it’s not my place to decide, is it? But his fingers lingered. Perhaps he’d better get some sleep and answer later?
If you don’t answer now, you won’t answer at all.
He deserves better than that.
He deserves better than you.
He knows that. He must know that by now. It’s his choice.
Don’t be an idiot. You can’t lie to yourself.
Is that so?
He lowered himself on the bed and closed his eyes. After an hour of turning about, he took a handful of downers after all.