Thessia 2191 CE
Elias put the small holographic image of himself and Corbin back onto the table. He was older now. Not much chronologically, but the simple life in New Orleans-Lafayette seemed more distant than a mere eighteen months. He sighed as he stared into the mirror. He was amazed that he didn’t need his mask on the ship now, but then, it had been his home for nearly a year. Also, Pi was always strengthening his immune system, mimicking whatever bacteria, pathogens or viruses that were in the local environment. He’d asked Pi if it was theoretically possible for him to get to the point where he could eat human, asari and salarian food without getting sick, and Pi had agreed it was possible, but it still wouldn’t give him any nutritional benefit.
“You know, you could have told me you were doing this earlier,” Elias had said.
“You did not ask, Creator Elias.”
His last weeks on earth might have been more interesting had he known.
Returning from the clinic, he and Corbin had ended up in a strange holding pattern. Looking back, Elias knew that neither of them had known how to take the next step, or even what the next step was given the Elias’ impeding date with stardom. At least, that’s what Corbin kept calling it. Their routine had changed little until the second email, marked ‘Confidential’ had come into Elias’ mailbox, and Corbin had returned to their little flat to find Elias scrolling through apartment rental listings on the Citadel.
“I don’t think you really have to look at those, Elias,” he said. “Don’t they put you up in a hotel or something if you get in?”
“Maybe. I don’t know,” Elias said. “Maybe I should double check the email again.”
Corbin paused, his messenger bag halfway off his shoulders. “You got in?”
“Well, that’s great? Ain’t it?”
“Yeah. It is.”
Dropping the bag by the extendable dining table, Corbin came over and wrapped his arms around Elias’s shoulders. “You know, I thought you’d be smilin’ more about getting onto a show that’ll FTL your career.”
“But that’s just it,” Elias said. “If I do this and get somewhere…this is my career. I don’t go back to Rannoch, or if I do I go back and leave again, like Tali’zorah did when she served on the Normandy, but I won’t be saving the universe. I’ll just be…”
He felt Corbin kiss the side of his helmet. “Is that why you’re doing this? For your people?”
“For. Because of,” Elias said. “I don’t know. No matter what I do I need to go back to them one day. And I think I have a lot already from what I’ve been able to gather here.”
Corbin pulled away slightly and looked at him critically. “So you’re doing this so that you don’t have to go home?”
“Do you know what I noticed the other day?”
“I called this place home. Not Rannoch, not the Flotilla or the Ashru. Here.”
“Corbin, I never did that. This place was always ‘the flat’ or ‘Corbin’s flat’ or—”
“You’ve never called me ‘Corbin’ either.”
Raising his fingers to his face mask, he gripped the curved surface, and heard a click as it separated from his suit.
“Elias! You can’t! You’ll get sick!” Corbin said, his larger hand gripping Elias’ wrist.
“I’ve got a week to get over it before filmed selection starts,” Elias said. “Besides, it’s too late now.”
Slowly, their hands and dropped and Corbin’s lips were on his. His face mask tumbled into his lap and suddenly they were gripping each other fiercely, and only stopped when Corbin jerked back back with a soft cry of pain.
“Caught my chin on the edge of your helmet,” Corbin said with a grin. “I’ll survive.” Then his eyes roved over Elias’ face. “I knew you’d be cute. Where are your ears?”
Elias grinned. “Quarians don’t have external ears, just vestigial remnants.”
“Oh, right. I never knew that.”
“You know, you’re the only person alive in the universe who knows what my face actually looks like, right?”
Corbin kissed him again, and sometime later, got a crash course in how a quarian envirosuit fitted together.
The next morning, Elias woke up in an unfamiliar room, and he felt more naked than he’d ever been before. Then he realised he was. He went to bring up a medical diagnostic and then realised he couldn’t, and instead had to settle for placing his hand on his forehead. He didn’t seem feverish, and he didn’t appear to have a blocked nose either, as he’d expected. On the bed next to him, Corbin’s snores were more light snuffles, and for a moment he watched the human’s chest rise and fall. Smiling, Elias slipped out of bed and found the pieces of his suit, slipping them on as he found them, and only hesitating once he got to his helmet and neck-piece. Eventually he left them off, but connected the facially moulded comm piece that could work wirelessly with his omni-tool if needed. The feature was one that Elias typically only used when changing suits or conducting repairs, but he smiled as he looked around the room. Corbin’s room. Even in here, the man was neat, with clothes either in his wardrobe, or hanging on or over a freestanding rail rack. He recognised the jeans Corbin had been wearing off and on for the past week and a shirt he had only worn for an outing to a new pizza place the two nights ago. Other than that there was a datapad, and a few shelves, and unlike the ones in the living room in here Corbin kept mementos from travels on earth. There was a large conch shell, a few glitterglobes and a miniature Eiffel Tower and Big Ben as well as a faux sandstone Sphinx, a plush kangaroo and a soft toy of something round with no mouth and two tiny ears sticking up out top. On the wall opposite the window was a large print of the New Orleans-Lafayette rubble as it had been two years ago, and over it, the new skyline rose, graffiti style in pops of colour, with a husk and human holding hands and staring out over the rejuvenated city. Padding quietly from the room, he went into the kitchen to start the percolator for Corbin’s morning coffee—the man really wasn’t sentient without it—and his own Tzaga infusion, which filled the room with a distinctive fragrance that Corbin had compared to cinnamon and nutmeg.
Eighteen months later, Corbin was still the only person who knew what he looked like underneath his helmet. There had been requests of course, and some rather large offers, but Elias had built his facelessness into part of his mystique. Indeed the art for his debut album had been an artistic rendition of a pair of glowing eyes and just the hint of the concealing envirosuit, subtly backlit so the black and red caught just enough light to show a silhouette, but not enough to give any detail. He’d called it Soul Windows, and it had gone to triple platinum within weeks.
On the vid screen, Thessian television was reporting on the queues leaving his final concert and getting soundbites from attendees, and cutting back to footage from his days on the reality TV show. There were the usual conspiracy theories about the program being rigged, and sometimes Elias wondered that himself. The chance that an unknown quarian could come out of nowhere and unseat popular favourite Rayne was a…humans would have said a Cinderella story. Which worked for film and…fables? Was that the term? Fables, yes. Things like that happened in scripted stories, not in real life. But here was real life, following some sort of script. He wondered how they could have done it, but given that Citadel’s Got Talent still relied on phone voting, despite extranet polls and text message votes being an option, all the producers would have had to do was change the number of phone lines each number connected to in order to artificially influence the polls. At least, that’s how he’d have done it. With all the contestants being surrounded by minders, security and cameras at almost every turn, finding out anything would have been impossible during filming, had anyone the energy or inclination to do so. In any case, it would have breached a number of clauses in the confidentiality agreement all contestants had had to sign. He’d crossed paths with Rayne once or twice in the past year, and she seemed to be doing well, but aside from some chatter and promotion of each other on social media, they hadn’t really talked.
“…new vocals and acoustic backing from his album have been placed over Elias’ original audition video of earth classic Can’t Take that Away From Me to remove the room echo and give the song some context, but this move has annoyed some fans who hold his original video as the ‘purest’ form on expression. The star himself couldn’t be reached for comment but his agent released the following statement:
The screen switched to a pre-recorded image of Elias’ agent at the press release earlier today. “Just as Elias’ first audition was a poignant and pure-hearted interpretation of the old earth favourite, this new release is just that, a new artistic interpretation for his fans. They’re both out there for download and they both have their merits. Elias hopes you’ll enjoy both of them in their own right.”
The face of the entertainment reporter came back on screen. “When asked who Elias was singing the song for, all Javak Avorsk said was that the singer’s love life was a private matter for him and him alone.”
“And is there any truth to the rumours that he met someone on Thessia?” the studio anchor asked.
“Sorry to disappoint Navia, but so far everyone who’s entered Elias’ vessel appears to have had a legitimate work related reason to be there, and aside from some public outings, including the Temple of Athame and the Odessa Zoo, he hasn’t been seen in the streets of our capital, alone or in company.”
“Thanks Tara. And I hear Elias has made it into Arya Blue’s most eligible singles listings this year?”
“That’s right Navia, Elias has entered the listings at number fifteen and this is the first time a quarian has made it into the listings since they launched over a century ago.”
“And there you have it, Elia’solor nar Ashru leaves Thessia tonight and heads back to Neo-Citadel, where he’ll be performing the final concerts of his galaxy wide tour-”
Elias muted the sound and walked over to the loosely covered tank where Bevan Waterwalker was currently peeking above the surface of the water. He’d found Bevan in a pet store on earth his last trip to earth, and brought the mimic octopus back on board, a reminder of the time Corbin had taken him scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico. Although he’d played several stadiums in New-Orleans Lafayette, he hadn’t heard from Corbin since he’d left earth in ’88.
They were standing just before customs at the passenger spaceport terminal. One set of doors through which Elias would step that Corbin wouldn’t be able to follow him through. “So…don’t make any decisions based on me, all right?” Corbin said, his hands jammed into his pockets.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t want you to be held back from anything just because you’ve been staying with me on the other side of the galaxy.”
Elias paused. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Corbin said. “I’m just saying that if you find an opportunity that keeps you away from me, you should take it and if you find someone else, I understand.”
“What about you, Doc?” Elias asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Corbin said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I just want to be realistic about long distance relationships and well…you’re going to be meeting all these celebrities and important people.”
“And you’re not important?”
“I can’t boost your career the way they’ll be able to,” Corbin said.
“Hey!” Elias used his fingers to lift Corbin’s chin up so that the other man was forced to look at him. “If I ever get to point where I sleep with someone to get ahead in the music industry, remind me that it’s time to retire.”
Corbin smiled weakly. “Deal. But seriously, don’t let me hold you back. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself if I do.”
“Oh, now you’re just twisting my arm,” Elias said, forcing a light tone.
Corbin nodded. “I know. Now go. Your spaceship is waiting.”
With one final, lingering hug, Elias turned and left earth, leaving Corbin standing alone at the spaceport gate, and a small, omni-tool manufactured sculpture of himself sitting on the shelf in the spare room where Corbin was sure to find it. Eventually. The extractor fan in his helmet didn’t turn on until his ship was breaking atmo.
He had both of his hands inside the salt water tank and was playing Bevan’s favourite game of ‘wrap all my tentacles around Elias’ forearms’ when there was a buzz at the door.
“Who is it?” Elias called, pulling his right hand free from Bevan’s clinging suckers. He’d recently found out that octopuses tasted things with their suckers and wondered what his suit tasted like to Bevan. He had noticed that Bevan did, on occasion, try to remove his gauntlets from the rest of his suit and after the first incident had added a a software lock that had to be released as well—it would work as long as his suit had power, and so far Bevan hadn’t been able to try again. Although he had contemplated dipping his bare hands into the tank, he wasn’t sure if doing so would poison his pet.
“Who else to you think?” a gravelly voice said through the intercom.
“Javek! Come in,” Elias said, and his agent swaggered into the room in a crisp navy suit and four lens batarian sunglasses. “What’s been—”
He stopped as a number of the ship’s crew came in with flowers, boxes of dextro-chocolates and one Krogan almost hidden under a giant teddybear that was bigger than he was.
“Put them in the gift room, boys and girls,” Javek said, waving a hand lazily. “Looks like we cleaned up on Thessia, m’boy,” the baratian said expansively, dropping himself into one of Elias’ plush white armchairs.
“I’m surprised there aren’t fruit baskets again,” Elias said.
“Oh there were about fifty or so,” Javek said as the carriers filed silently out of the suite. “As per your standing ord—request I’ve distributed them to the ship’s cooks and any surplus was delivered to local homeless shelters. And we only brought up twenty boxes of the finest chocolates for you.”
“And those lacy…um…”
“Bras,” Javak said helpfully. “There were quite a few of those. You’ll be able to open up your own lingerie shop soon, you know.”
Elias had been stashing most of the undergarments in a crate in the corner of the room, fully intent on leaving them all behind when he got off the ship. Or just giving them to Javak. The very notion of clothes other than his envirosuit still seemed strange to him, for all that he wore an range of external show jackets for public appearances. It wasn’t as though quarians even had undergarments.
“Last stop the Citadel,” Javak said. Like most people, Javak called Neo-Citadel by its original namesake, especially given that much of the initial infrastructure had been used in its reconstruction, salvaged by the reapers that had been on earth during the final day of the war. “Back where it all began. How are you feeling about that?”
“I don’t know,” Elias said honestly. “I’ve been so busy with this tour that I haven’t really thought about it. I’m looking forward to being anonymous for a while, to be honest.”
“You’re never going to be anonymous again, Elias,” Javak said seriously. “You might as well get used to that fact.”
“Thanks,” Elias said, only a little acidily.
“No charge,” Javak said with a grin. “While you’re rejuvenating your creative side you might want to think about who you want playing you in your biopic though,” Javak said, handing over a datapad.
“What, there’s a biopic?” Elias asked, pulling his left hand out of the tank and taking the datapad.
“Of course! You’re big news, Elias baby. Everyone wants to know about you and it’s a great way to get more cred…ibility and raise your profile across the galaxy. You need to hunt while the Drak-ka are running after all.”
“My life really wasn’t very interesting before all of this happened, you know,” Elias said.
Javak laughed. “Elias baby, haven’t you ever heard of the term ‘artistic license?”
Elias frowned. “I don’t know if I like the idea of people fact checking and finding out I’ve agreed to put my name to something that I know is false, Javak.”
Javak stood up and put his arm around Elias’ shoulders. “Come now Elias, don’t you trust me?”
“And have I ever steered you wrong before?”
“Well, no, you haven—”
“So trust me now! Between you and me we’re going to make tons of…people love you long after the next wannabe stars get on stage for the next season of Citadel’s Got Talent, and you know they’re already filming the top one hundred.”
Elias grimaced behind his mask. “I’ll think about it, okay?”
“Sure, sure, take your time,” Javak said. “I’ll leave you to it while I go finalise things for your Citadel homecoming.”
“Okay,” Elias said. Homecoming. Staring up at the wall, Elias looked at the holo-window, currently showing a map of the galaxy, twinkling as it rotated gently. His eyes sought out first Rannoch and then Earth. Tossing the datapad onto the desk in the room, he went back to playing with Bevan. He wasn’t ready to deal with the hard questions. Not yet, anyway.