Dr. Valkar trailed behind the solider, her steps clicked loudly against the floor panels. “This isn't right,” she said. The soldier didn't care, or did, but refused to act on that belief.
“What is right and what is wrong is irrelevant in this matter.” He replied in his rigid and cold voice.
“We can't simply lie to them! They've lost a team mate; one of our recruits! We can't...!”
He stopped in his stride and turned to look at the doctor. “You have your orders, Doctor, and I have mine. Officially, Pax Oraka died from a blood clot. Unusual for turians, yes, but it has happened.”
She glared at him. “Are you mad? It isn't believable. That boy was a healthy, strong recruit!”
“Believable or not, your job is to make sure they don't ask questions, or start looking for answers.”
“You're incorrect. My job is to keep them alive and healthy, not to lie about his cause of death. That girl should be –“
Doctor Valkar falls short of words when the soldier's hand latched around her arm, her feeble strength being of no match for a practiced grip. “Listen to me, Valkar.” He hissed, “What becomes of the girl is none of your business. She will no longer be one of your precious recruits after today. As far your concern goes, that girl is dead to you and every other fledgling at this facility.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “What will you do with her?”
He let go of her arm. “Once again: irrelevant. Now go to the barracks; the drill sergeant has been informed of what has occurred and I want you there when he informs the boy's team.”
“You really expect me to lie, don't you?”
The solider turned away from her, completely disinterested with any remaining protests she may have stirring in her mind. “Yes, that is exactly what I want you to do.”
Doctor Valkar only nodded and walked to the courtyard.
After hours of waiting in quiet, night had come quicker than Arkadios expected. All training sessions and recruits were dismissed, spare for those assigned to night patrols. Red Team's quarters remained eery and few of the team mates attempted to start up a conversation. Sula was the most silent. She was hunched up against the headboard of her small bed, a single lamp light over her head and a hollow-pad in hand.
She looked hollow.
Her brother, Remus, wasn't much help either as he was avoiding his sister after her crying had stopped. Instead he sat on Arkadios' bunk. The turian stared at him. He had been doing so for the past hour actually, and Arkadios did his best to ignore him.
Like Sula, Arkadios hadn't said anything. His attention stayed on his omni-tool, but his thoughts were completely distant from the notes he was looking through. He kept going back to the soldier and the doctor and the tone in the latter's voice. It was remorseful, he remembered.
“It seems wrong, doesn't it?”
His fingers nearly trip and hit the wrong keys. “What?” Arkadios stuttered, looking clueless.
Remus's jaw tightened. “The way Pax died. It seems...wrong.”
Yes it did. It was only two hours after the drill sergeant entered their quarters, the doctor by his side. Their instructor's voice was light and kind; the sound of it lessened the tight feeling inside of him, but Arkiadios' attention was divided.
When the drill sergeant walked in and stood before the recruits, Arkadios' eyes drifted to Pax's bunk. Since recruitment, they've been partners. Once they were assigned to teams after a week of physical and mental assessment, Pax and Arkadios were the first to become a part of Red Team, Sula and Remus following weeks later. Weeks turned into months, and Pax continued to rely on him and vice versa. And now he was dead.
All of it seemed so wrong, like Remus said. Arkadios knew nothing about Pax's family or whatever reason he could've developed such a problem, but he knew his friend could've survived a plague with a smile on his face. “Yes,” Arkadios said, “It does seem...wrong.”
“I think they're lying.” The other said suddenly. Remus moved closer, his voice a whisper then. When they met, Arkadios didn't trust Remus for his brash and skeptical nature. He might've been stronger and more eager for a fight than Arkadios ever could be, but like Pax, Remus understood where his loyalties were. The two turians may have not liked each others' presence, but their mutual distaste was forgotten.
Arkadios couldn't help the doubt in his voice when he replied, “Do you really?” and a sharp jab to the shoulder was all he needed to know.
“Listen to me, Ark, Pax is....was the strongest one amongst us. Can you imagine if it were someone else in his place? He wouldn't stand for it, especially with an explanation like that.” Remus hissed.
“You realize it's completely plausible that what they said killed him may have?” Arkadios said. Although he shared Remus's suspicions, he couldn't quite ignore the possibilities. Others have died of stranger things, he thought.
“Don't be dense, Arkadios, and listen to me. The only reason I'm thinking this is because – “
“Is because you want someone to be angry at.”
Remus stared at him, and Arkadios was able tell he had half the mind to snap his neck. Good, he thought, better if he lashes out at me then another team mate. Worse yet, Sula.
After a moment of silence on Remus' part, the turian's anger dimmed but still stirred under the force of his words. “No. I know who to be angry at, Arkadios. That damned girl. She did this; I know she did.”
None of them had seen Solona since earlier that day. Both Sula and her brother were convinced that something she did caused Pax's death, whether directly or indirectly.
“No, Remus. You don't know that.”
“Then do you?”
“No! Remus...” he paused. “Imagine if it were I who was sparring with Pax today. He may have fallen to the ground the same way he did today.” Again he paused, looking for the words to stir Remus in the blameless direction. “Would you blame me for what happened today if it were the case?”
His eyes widened; he looked hopeless and destructive. It was the first time the other had seen Remus like that: Defeated, lost, mad. And then an image entered his mind of Remus at the sparring circle with Solona, ready to hurt, damage, and perhaps kill. In the back of his mind, a voice screamed, telling him to make sure none of them would do something that foolish and out of grief. If they needed to hurt someone, they could hurt him. He'd become their shield and take all their strikes, need be, and only to keep them away from someone who could be entirely blameless.
“I....no, I wouldn't, Arkadios. Nothing you would've done could've killed Pax today.” Remus said, finally. The sound of his voice sent a surge of pride and empathy through Arkadios, as though he's actually impressed with the turian in front of him, like he would be with Pax or Sula.
“And you still think they lied to us?” Arkadios asked.
Remus looked down at his feet and for a second to the omni-tool Arkadios had yet to discard. In that instant, Arkadios wanted him to say no. He wanted to be rid of any lingering thoughts of suspicion in his already complicated mind. He wanted to think that Pax died from an at times benign thing; that what his caused his death wasn't a lie and that Remus would agree with him.
“Yes, Arakdios. I still think they lied to us.”
He didn't sleep that night, and if he did it was barely for an hour or two as the night passed so quickly. From then on, he spoke little to Remus, worried that whatever words that come out of his mouth will just spur on the seeded skepticism inside of him.
He regretted coming to the facility.
Days turned into a week after Pax's death. Life and training moved on, although the facility remained heavy with regret, confusion, and disarray, the Red Team following sluggishly behind the rest of recruits and the normalcy that tried to return. They slipped into 4thplace after their first battle scenario without Pax, but Arkadios' support alongside Remus' leadership was enough for the team to make it through combat ranges.
His private classes continued, word about them spreading around like wild fire. He didn't answer or respond to any curious or shunning glances he received, although a sense of shame traveled through him whenever he returned from a class and his team mates all looked as though a ghost appeared.
To add to this, he hadn't slept. And when he did, he only awoke with a sour head, aching joints, and a mind full of thoughts that all turned into a blur by midday. Arkadios had always been the focused and intelligent type, but every time he looked back at what he had done during the past class, his thoughts would split into two.
Sometimes, when he was willing himself to think of chemical combinations and highly explosives materials, he was lucky enough for his thoughts to not fray and bring his suspicions back into the light. But these are rare moments, and he often failed with his mind returning to the day Pax died. Everything was still fresh in his mind; Pax's face, his tattoos, his eyes, and, at times, his voice. After all, it had only been a week and the grief was still new and yet to grow like a cancer. But it was growing.
After seven days, Arkadios found himself straying from his typical route to the mess hall after another private class. Take two rights, a left, another right and just walk straight down the hallway and to the mess hall, but a compulsion filled him like never before. It wasn't anger or confusion or another impulse he'd disregard and counter with logic. The feeling was hard to ignore, gnawing inside of him and making him sick. It made his feet move, down the hall, to the left and outside to the courtyard. He passed students, some he knew – barely – others he couldn't care a damn about.
He made his way to the medical ward, crossing the courtyard with his eyes shifting to the ground and around. He spotted Doctor Valkar from one of the windows, and slowly moved up a set of stairs and through doors before he finally spotted her feet away from where he stood.
A stillness inside grew; he felt strangely at peace, with his thoughts empty and his mind clear. His grief was gone when he looked upon the doctor.
She had all the answers because he understood, more than anyone, how it felt to lie and wish not to. And she was a horrible liar too. It was a childish flaw to be unable to lie, but it was innocent and heartfelt to him. She was an honest person, he could tell, too preoccupied with a data pad in her hands to notice that she could relieve him of the gnawing curiosity and sorrow inside of him.
He approached her from behind, a hand reaching out for her shoulder and turning her body to face his.
“You know,” he said. “You know what happened to Pax, don't you?”
There was panic and worry in her eyes, a bit of guilt too. She looked down to the data-pad which cluttered to the ground in shock. There was an image of Pax, his profile, his biography, and bright, bold letters that stated he was deceased.
She stayed silent before she reached for his hand and detached it from her person. “Trainee Sol, correct?” she asked, her voice hitching.
He nodded, his head feeling heavy on his shoulders. “You do realize I can report you for assaulting a medical personnel?” she said.
He nodded again, although that was untrue.
Valkar watched him, her gaze shifting from his face to the ground. Arkadios looked like any other turian there, the only sign of individuality were his tattoos and his unusually tall figure, but that mostly went unnoticed by his teammates.
“You were at the medical ward, weren't you? You're a part of Red Team.” What she asked was not much of a question, but he nodded nonetheless.
She tilted her chin up, as though she was forcing ranking over him. “You know how he died. You were debriefed a week ago about the cause.” she said. There was no hesitation in her voice, but the guilt remained. He could see. Arkadios doubted that she even noticed how unbelievable she seemed when she informed Red Team of the “blood clot”.
“Please,” he begged, “I need to know how. Pax was my friend.”
The doctor flinched, but her stance remained. “Trainee Sol...” she began.
“I...very well.” she sighed. “You musn't share this anyone else, understood? Good. Pax Oraka did not die from a blood cot. Could you really imagine he did? I doubt as much....During the sparring practice you had with Yellow Team, their leader was paired with yours.” She stopped, her eyes returning to the data-pad again.
“She caused his death.”
He doesn't know how to react; what to say or what to do and only stares as Doctor Valkar continues. “The girl's a biotic, you see.” she said. “I'm not sure how or why she's even here, but...During the spar, I'm assuming she lost control of her biotics – I doubt she was even aware of them! – and when she struck your friend, she caused internal damage. Her was dead the minute she made contact. What was left wasn't pretty.”
Pax is dead, he thinks again. He has nothing to say but the words that form in his mind do little ease the passage of what he had just learned. His head was spinning, but his feet were firmly on the ground. He felt like running, scream, sitting, punching, and then he felt nothing at all. The confusion and dread that stirred inside of him for the past week thinned into nothing.
He looked up at Doctor Valkar, whose own eyes were still trained on the data-pad on the floor. On Pax's face.
“I...” He swallowed. Slowly, his feet nudged backwards and he turned around. He was unable to look at her any longer. “I need to go.” He said quickly. “I'm sorry, Doctor Valka for....I...goodbye.”
Arkadios' steps echoed in the empty hall and the doctor could only watch him go. She bent down for the data-pad, shifting her eyes from the dead turian's face and to his friend.
“I'm sorry too.”