“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Anar took a swig from his fourth beer and wrestled with a chip packet. It was proving surprisingly slippery, or perhaps that was just his tentacles. It wasn’t exactly easy being a sea creature out of water, even with the hover technology that kept him afloat. Alcohol had also been a revelation to the hanar when they’d joined the galactic community. They’d discovered it early on, of course, and had long used it as a cleaning agent. Then they’d been introduced to it with flavours. In things called cocktails. It went straight to their heads. It went straight to their everything, given that hanar were somewhere in the vicinity of ninety percent water.
“Do you need some help?”
Turning, Anar saw the krogan, Thek Arkara leaning against the long island bench that ran the length of the rear of the mess area. Mutely, he held out the chip packet.
“Cheez Puffs?” she said as she ripped the top off with a delicacy that Anar would have found impressive had he been sober enough to be impressed. He didn’t think he’d seen female krogan before. Well, maybe once, but he’d been focused on other things that night.
“You can have some if you would like,” he said. “This one bought enough for everyone.”
“Thank you,” Arkara said. “I think I’ll pass on the cake.”
“There’s cake?” Anar asked, spitting crumbs all over the floor.
Arkara pointed down at the countertop between them, where a charred cake sat with a lone candle set into its top, wax dribbling over to the haphazardly formed letters in white frosting. “Happy Birthday Sync.”
One tiny sliver had been cut but the words were still easy to decipher. Extending, a slightly shaky tentacle, Anar picked up a large chunk of crumbed cake and brought it to his mouth. Then he took a long swig of Ocean Depths, or OD as it was known on Kahje. “This one thinks the Engineer is better suited in the engine rooms than the kitchen.”
Arkara smiled and handed him back the bag of Cheez Puffs. “I don’t even want to try.”
“This one’s face name is Anar.”
“My name is Arkara if you didn’t pick that up already.”
“This one did when you were arrested. What brought you out this way anyway?”
Arkara shrugged. “This and that. You know how it is—you get a mission and then things get in the way.”
Anar flashed blue white in agreement. “This one understands. It was on a date with its girlfriend when this all started in our universe. You are from this one’s universe, yes?”
Arkara nodded. “I think I’ve seen you around.”
“At that sushi place on the Silver Sun Strip,” Arkara rumbled. “You were in a top hat and a moustache having dinner with a red haired human female and a male krogan.”
“That would have been my girlfriend Tricey and my friend Otto.”
It had been their anniversary, and Anar had almost forgotten. Almost. He’d had the foresight to book a table at the sushi place Tricey had wanted to go to for ages—largely because she’d asked him to, but still. Now he was hovering at table height, trying not to look down into the new impact resistant fish tank that made up most of the floor for the seating areas. He’d heard rumours that the floor was now shielded by kinetic barriers, half the cost having been crowdsourced in the wake of the attack on Commander Shepard’s life that had occurred back during the war. Looking desperately over the menu, Anar wondered if there’d be anything he’d want to eat here. Tricey was talking, saying something about how much she liked her new job at the Silver Sun Convention Centre, but Anar was only half listening, responding with the appropriate ‘Yes dear’ when the situation demanded. For right now, he was searching for menu items that didn’t include fish. It was one of those things that had struck at an early age that he’d never really been able to shake. Sure, his people had descended from fingerling jellies in the oceans of Kahje, catching things with their stinging tentacles and eating them, but one day a young Anar had been offered jellyfish. It wasn’t cannibalism. They weren’t even remotely related, but there was enough similarity that he’d refused to eat them or any other seafood again. It had caused his parents some consternation, and he’d been teased by some of the other hanar at school, but even now, some one and a half decades later, it was still a thing. Thankfully there was egg sushi and vegetable tempura, and there was a beef shabu shabu that looked promising.
“And I got you this,” Tricey said, handing over a blue cardboard box tied with a darker blue ribbon.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Anar said, reaching out three tentacles to take the parcel.
“I know, but it’s our anniversary and I thought…”
“This one did too,” Anar lied quickly. “But your present isn’t quite ready yet.”
“It’s all right, Anar,” Tricey said. “I know we said no gifts.”
Anar opened the box, and found shallow sea blue tissue paper inside, which stuck to his tentacles despite his best efforts to push it delicately to the side. At the bottom he found a framed holo of both of them, sitting by the fishpond at the Krios memorial park in Zakera Ward, their first date, along with two commemorative plascard tickets to Elai’solor nar Ashru’s final night concert of his galaxy wide tour.
“Who’s this?” Anar asked.
“It’s…um…Elias? The quarian? He’s the winner of the Citadel’s Got Talent last year?”
“This one could have sworn the asari won,” Anar said. “But it is sure Elias is good too,” he said quickly.
Tricey leaned in “You don’t think it was rigged do you? There’s been some rumours on the extranet boards.”
“This one couldn’t care less if it was or not,” Anar said, trying to get the damp tissue paper off his tentacles. “If it was they rigged it wrong…but this one would still like to go.”
Eventually Anar managed to get the paper off his tentacles and placed their order with the waiter. In the silence that followed Anar couldn’t help but overhear the conversation from the table next to them, where a krogan couple sat at what appeared to be a first date.
“Apologetically: this is my first time out on the citadel,” the male krogan said in a strangely monotone voice. He was smartly dressed in a crisp suit, but his dinner companion seemed less than impressed.
“Why are you talking so strangely?” she asked, her eyes darting to the chunky watch on her wrist. Not many people used analogue time pieces, indeed they were more a piece of expensive decoration than a functional piece of equipment. Most people just use an omni-tool.
“With slight embarrassment: I am from the planet Dakuna.”
“Oh,” she said. “You’re an orphan then.”
“Factually: Yes,” the male krogan said. “With genuine interest: Is that a problem? I hope this fact does not spoil your evening.”
“Let’s just order,” the female said, snapping open the menu.
Looking up, Anar saw that Tricey was watching the other couple from beneath her eyelashes. It was a look he’d come to recognise.
“With genuine interest: what do you enjoy doing for fun?” the male was asking.
“Shooting things,” the female grunted. “Especially things that annoy me.”
“Truthfully: I enjoy video games. I play Galaxy of Fantasy under the name OttoTomato. Proudly: I have three characters over level 60 there.”
“I need to go to the ladies room,” the female said, getting up and storming out of the restaurant.
“With concern: the bathrooms are in the other…direction,” the male said, half rising out of his seat before slumping back down.
“Would you excuse this one a moment?” Anar said, turning back to his girlfriend.
“Do you know him?” Tricey asked in a low whisper.
“He is my friend,” Anar said simply.
“You know…maybe…do you think the staff might push these tables together if…if we asked?”
Anar flashed aquamarine. “You are the most amazing person this one has ever met.”
“I love you too, now go already.”
With the barest adjustment of his antigrav thrusters, Anar propelled himself over to the other table, where it looked like the male krogan was on the verge of tears.
“That thresher maw earlier today was pretty badass,” he said.
“With confusion: Thresher maw?”
“N00bstomper,” Anar said.
The krogan’s eyes widened with recognition “Incredulously: Sixty four?”
“You member that kick ass gun you were given today?”
The krogan nodded.
“Well, that was from someone else. Sorry.” Anar paused for a moment. “Kidding, of course this one is N00bstomper64.”
“With genuine enthusiasm: It is very nice to meet you. I do not have very many friends on the citadel. I only recently arrived from Dakuna.”
Anar lowered himself so that he was level with Otto’s face. “This one knows the feeling.”
“Um, excuse me,” Tricey said from where she was seated. “Otto? That’s your name right? The waiters say they’ll push these tables together if you…if you’d like to join us for dinner?”
Otto, “Shyly: Thank you, but I do not wish to impose.”
“Please,” Anar said. “This mustache is more of an imposition than you are,” he said, ripping it off. “Ow,” he added as the spirit gum pulled at his skin.
“With heartfelt humour: ha ha ha ha.”
“And this one thought he spoke awkwardly,” Anar said as the waitstaff moved in and reset the tables.
Their appetisers arrived shortly after, Tricey ordering fresh sashimi and Otto tucking into a what appeared to be sliced ox tongue, which smelled surprising appetising. Anar was having a steam-grilled miso eggplant, which was crisp, soft and full of salty gooey goodness when a young human woman approached their table, carrying a datapad.
“Excuse me,” she said pushing her green rimmed glasses higher up her nose. “I won’t take up much of your time, but could you please sign this petition?”
Tricey looked over at Anar. “I don’t think you’re allowed to be doing this in a restaurant.”
“I’m sorry, but this is a very important cause. As you know, three years ago Commander Shepard saved us from the Reapers, but in doing so he destroyed all synthetic life in the galaxy. And since then, the council has placed a ban on developing any new synthetic life forms. Anyone caught creating synthetic life would be subject to punitive fines or even have to serve jail time and we feel these measures are extreme and unnecessary. There are rumours of groups in the Terminus systems experimenting with artificial intelligence and if we don’t keep up, who knows what could happen? With the correct safeguards and procedures we can still benefit from synthetic technology without repeating history, and even if we don’t develop it for our own use, we should be prepared in case something goes wrong in the future.”
Anar took a look at the petition, using a tentacle to go over the lines of the petition.
Otto delicately placed a prawn tail down on his place. “With mild curiousity: What organisation are you with, miss?”
“Well, we’re working on that. It’s a working title. Just call us Friends of the Galaxy for now, or FOTG, or fot-ga or… just F.O.T.G. is good.”
“This one thinks you need a better name,” Anar said.
“With amusement,” Otto said. “This one will happily sign if it means you will go away.”
“This one will pass. The last time it signed a petition it received many spam messages about increasing the size of its primary organ which it really doesn’t need.”
“Oh, that’s probably because you selected the ‘please add me to the mailing list’ option,” the human woman said. “You have to remember to uncheck that one.”
“This one has no time for unchecking of boxes,” Anar said.
“And you shouldn’t be checking that option by default anyway,” Tricey said. “That’s a violation of consumer law.”
“Happily: I am choosing to uncheck the box signing me up to all your newsletters,” Otto said.
“Well, thank you for your signature. I’ll pass your feedback on to our organising committee. Friends of the Galaxy thank you,” the woman said hurriedly before beating a hasty retreat.
It had been a good evening.
Anar stuffed the last of the cheez puffs into his mouth. “Otto’s a war gaming buddy of this one’s. He burped. “Sorry, this one is very hungry.”
Arkara waved a hand. “Don’t worry, I’m from Tuchanka, you’re being exceptionally polite by comparison.”
“This one has always wanted to go to Tuchanka,” Anar said. “It would like to learn from the battlemasters there.”
“There’s nothing to learn there,” Arkara said flatly. “You’re better off elsewhere.”
“Okay,” Anar said, deciding not to bring up the fact that Elias had already mentioned Tuchanka would be one of their destinations. “You look like you can handle yourself.”
“From what I can see you can too,” Arkara said. “And you have a handy mech to run around in.”
“This one finds it a suitable compromise given it cannot wear armour.”
“I like the paint job,” Arkara said. “You choose those colours yourself?
“No, it was designed and built by this one’s best friend,” he said. Turning away, he dropped the snack packet in the bin. He barely saw Arkara’s answering nod, and missed her answer completely. This one will find you, Chris, he vowed, and tried to ignore how hollow the words sounded, even in the privacy of his own head. “Do you think we’ll be heading to our universe soon?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Arkara said. “Depends on what the others decide. I feel like I’m just along for the ride, really.”
“This one has some business to take care of back home. Not to mention we need weaponry.”
“I’m sure we can pick something up,” Arkara said. “Elias seems to have that covered.”
Anar chuckled. “This one might have some ideas on that front.”
Leaving the mess hall, Anar went down to the cargo bay, where he’d kept his suit. It was big enough for two—or at least, big enough for a hanar and a medium sized human. It also had enough storage for a few personal effects and some snacks—and soda. Tricey always said if he was human he’d have a mouth full of rotton teeth by now, to which Anar happily retorted that it was a good thing he wasn’t.
When the elevator doors opened and he floated out, he found Drimi moving crates and boxes around muttering to himself.
“Who moved the… and where’s my… damn it! This is going to take a day to sort out…”
“Hi,” Anar said floating innocently past the asari. “Sync said it would be fine if this one stayed in the cargo hold.”
“We don’t have any beds down here,” Drimi said, looking up from where he was sorting out a box of junk that Anar had accidentally tipped over in his explorations. Anar wasn’t sure what the criteria for his sorting method was though, as both piles looked identical to him. “Are you sure you’ll be comfortable?”
Anar entered his personal code into his suitcase and stepped back as the it unfolded into his mech, the thick glass blast dome minifacturing itself in a matter of seconds as a final piece. “Yes, this one thinks it will be very comfortable, thank you.”
“Wow,” Drimi said. “That’s very impressive. Why does it look like a Krogan?”
“It was crafted from a suit of battle armour this one recovered with its friends,” Anar said, climbing into the open mech.
Walking over, Drimi bent down and picked up a small holo which had fallen to the ground, turning it over he stared at it curiously. “Who’s this?” he asked.
Anar slid his nose out of the top and looked down. “That is someone very important to this one.”
“I’m assuming she’s not your sister,” Drimi said with a grin.
“She’s my girlfriend,” Anar said. “She gave that to this one two days ago on our anniversary.”
“Oh,” Drimi said, a slight frown creasing his forehead.
“It’s all right,” Anar said. “This one has heard everything that can be said about its situation,” he reached out with two tentacles to take the holo back.
“Just a second,” Drimi said. “May I show this to someone? I’ll bring it right back, but it’s very important.”
Anar paused. “This one will allow it—on the condition that it is returned immediately.”
“Sure thing,” Drimi said, with a nod, and turned on his heel. He headed to the elevator, clutching the holo tightly as though he was worried it might explode.