Chapter 2 of The Candidate

Garrus observed the two Spectres with a keen eye. He was excited. No: ecstatic! This was the day. Spirits of the Skies, this had to be the day. He tried to tower over the others, if not in height, then in determination. A good officer could sense that, smell that. And Saren was nothing if not a good officer – if you can consider a Spectre as such. The most decorated turian in the service of the Council ever! And he was here to personally pick a candidate. It was almost surreal.

The other one… Garrus didn’t recognize the other one. He was young, perhaps only a few years older than Garrus himself. That spelled tomes of hope. Saren had been twenty when he’d become a Spectre, and Garrus was twenty-one. It was certainly possible. But all the others were older and had more experience.

He suppressed the emotional yo-yo that usually followed these deliberations and focused on looking as sharp, as lethal as possible. The Spectres stood as equals now. Interesting. They exchanged some words that Garrus couldn’t catch, and then Saren spoke.

“At ease.”

They all relaxed and clasped their hands behind their backs like one man. Garrus knew some of the faces from training, but the units were only formed yesterday, presumably according to the criteria the Spectres had supplied. Still, they were the best of the best and it showed. He could read nothing from Saren’s face, but the other one seemed satisfied.

“I’m sure you already know all this, but protocol demands that I recite the terms of your service before we begin.”

The way Saren spit out the word protocol like some disgusting obscenity made Garrus inflate with anticipation. Finally, someone who understands. His face must have twitched, because Saren looked straight at him as he continued the speech.

“We are here to select up to one candidate for Spectre training. You are the top ranking among the recruits in this camp; the selection was made based on objective criteria – ability scores and mission success rates. However, the final decision will be made at our discretion. No complaints will be considered. If anyone has a problem with this, you should speak now so we can find a suitable replacement in time.”

Of course nobody spoke. Garrus was relieved when Saren’s eyes left him to study the other faces; a steel, ice-cold gaze devoid of feeling. Was that what it took to come out at the top?

“Good,” Saren said. “The evaluation will take the shape of a war-game to start this afternoon. One squad against the other. Live ammo. Incapacitated combatants will be eliminated from the game. You are to avoid inflicting fatal injuries unless necessary. Every fatality will be investigated, but not necessarily sanctioned.”

Garrus noticed how the other Spectre shifted uncomfortably at this. Saren seemed to have noticed it too, and he shot a sideways glance at his younger colleague before continuing.

“The game was designed, and will be supervised, by Nihlus. I must leave on urgent business and will come back in three days to review the results. You are to take his orders and judgment as if they were mine. Understood?”

That was clearly directed at the Colonel, who nodded in confirmation. But Garrus was far more interested in the other Spectre – Nihlus. There was something very much like bewilderment on that young face now. Equals my ass. Garrus must have made a face again, because Nihlus’s eyes shot at him, an incredibly piercing gaze of pure emerald green. Saren’s stare had been mortifying; Nihlus’s was mesmerizing. The Spectres exchanged some hushed words again and Nihlus kept looking at Garrus, probably not really seeing him. Finally the mask of puzzlement fell off to be replaced by grim acceptance.

Saren left then. Nihlus clasped his hands behind his back, cleared his throat and said, “You’re to report to meeting room eight for a briefing at eleven hundred. The game begins at noon.” He made a sweep over all the faces with those intense, green eyes. “Dismissed.”

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