Chapter 1: Mindoir, 2167
The morning cycle was ending, and throughout the settlement people were starting their lunch break. Looking out the window, Tanith could see the neighbors down the hill returning from the fields and if she listened, she could almost hear their usual jovial exchanges. For a moment, she envied their carefree attitude, which she had grown to take for granted since living on Mindoir.
Tanith wrapped her fingers around her warm mug of coffee and stepped outside. Will, her husband, was sitting on the wooden bench he had built himself a couple of years ago, in front of the girls’ flower garden. He looked troubled, and she felt a pang of guilt as she thought of their argument earlier. It had almost been a fight, and they hadn’t been that aggravated with each other in a long time. All because of that damn Conatix rep, curse him.
Tanith sighed and carefully walked over to Will, sitting on the other side of the bench. He looked up when she passed in front of him, but remained silent.
“I’m sorry,” she said after a few minutes.
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry about,” he immediately replied. “You want what’s best for the girls too.”
“True, but I also agree that they’re a little young to have holes drilled into their skulls.”
Will grimaced. “No need to get graphic.”
Tanith took a sip of her coffee, hiding her grin. “You’re awfully weak-hearted for a veterinarian, you know.”
He grunted, pointedly ignoring her comment. He leaned back against the bench, extending his arm and resting a tentative hand on her shoulder. “I’ve been thinking… What if… How about we just wait until they’re older?”
She looked at him, curious. He turned towards her and continued. “The way I see it, instead of sending children – our children – to some unknown location across the galaxy, maybe we just wait until they’re, well, adults. Until they’re eighteen. That’s when the Alliance recruits anyway, no?”
Tanith nodded, pensive.
Encouraged, Will went on. “That way, they fully understand what they’re getting into, they can decide if they want to make use of their biotics, if they want to explore those possibilities, and– and we don’t have to live with– we don’t have to live knowing that we forced that choice on them, before they were old enough to know any better!”
Earlier that week, their settlement leader had been contacted by Colonial Affairs to confirm whether there were any biotic children on the colony. There were five, including the Shepard twins, Meris and Moira, thirteen years old. And that morning, a representative from Conatix Industries, escorted by an Alliance officer, had arrived on Mindoir to introduce the company to the parents of those biotic kids, and tell them about the Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training program.
Tanith had listened intently, trying to read between the lines in order to obtain as much information as she could from what these people weren’t telling them. Before she married Will Gordon, Tanith Shepard had been an Alliance Marine with infiltrator training, so she knew there were things officials couldn’t or wouldn’t tell them. She had tried to get the Alliance Commander to talk to her separately, casually mentioning her own former rank of Staff Lieutenant, but she was retired and thus just as much a civilian as the other colonists.
She wasn’t sure she was entirely on board with this school for children with unknown abilities, but she hadn’t rejected the idea as violently as Will had. He’d been adamant, there was no way he was sending his daughters off to “be butchered.” And so they had argued. No one knew what the human potential was when it came to biotics, but Tanith believed that if any human entity had the means and resources to find out, it was the Alliance. She had also bristled at the fact that Will had refused to even discuss it before making a decision.
All these thoughts were running in her mind when she realized Will had stopped talking and was waiting for an answer. He covered her hand with his and squeezed. She took a deep breath and squeezed back, turning completely towards him, tucking one leg under her knee.
“I’ve been looking at this from a military point of view,” she finally admitted with a slight shrug.
Will opened his mouth to speak, but she interrupted him. “Wait, let me explain.”
He nodded and brought her fingers to his lips for a light kiss. Tanith felt her heartrate spike; even in the midst of an argument, she knew they were on the same side.
“I would never have lasted this long without you,” she blurted out.
His beautiful blue eyes widened in surprise, and she chuckled. “It’s true, without your support, I’m not sure I could have managed. Ah-ah, let me finish.”
Will grinned and held her fingers against his lips to prevent him from speaking. Tanith rolled her eyes and smiled.
“I still get a little scared, you know,” she said, sobering up. “We don’t know what it means exactly for humans to be biotics. Yes, the girls do their best to be careful, but… what about the future? What happens when they’re adults, when they want to have children of their own? What if they can’t have a normal life? I just feel like the Alliance can help now, before it’s too late. If they do go to this training facility, they’ll be with experts. Experts from the private sector, true, but with Alliance military back-up.”
Will raised his eyebrows, looking for permission, and Tanith snorted. He gave her fingers another kiss, and brought her hand back to his knee and held it.
“I get scared too sometimes,” he said softly. “I wonder about their future too, but you know what keeps me going, what gives me hope?”
She shook her head slowly, and he squeezed her hand in both of his.
“Tani, I look at our girls, and I see happy, healthy children. I see two bright, beautiful, funny… just two perfect little devils with hearts bigger than that commander’s ship, who are happy! Yeah, they’re different, but they’re happy. So we get a few electric shocks here and there, so what? Those two little girls are turning into awesome kick-ass little women. Just like their mother,” he added with a smirk.
Tanith huffed and scowled, but it was mostly to hide how moved she was, and they both knew it.
“All I’m saying is, they don’t need Conatix or the Alliance. At least not yet. And thankfully nobody here gives them, or the other kids, any crap about their biotics. In fact, just the other day I saw Meris showing Tarek how to discharge safely.”
Tanith tilted her head slightly and absentmindedly bit her lower lip.
“What?” Will asked.
“Well… Our girls don’t get any crap, but not every parent is as accepting as you are. Maybe a school for biotics would be a better alternative for, say, a kid in Archie’s situation.”
Will frowned. “Joe Burrows is just a narrow-minded idiot,” he muttered.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he accepted the Commander’s offer.”
“Then he’d be an even bigger narrow-minded idiot. The man’s been here for three years, he sees how everyone on the colony loves and looks after all the kids, not just the biotic ones, and he’s still scared of his own son.”
Tanith kept silent. She had never been afraid of the twins, afraid for them, but never of. Although, if she were perfectly honest with herself, she did get a little nervous whenever they quarreled with their brother Spencer, who was just three years younger. Or whenever they got a little too emotional near baby Arielle, who was only two. But Will was right, there was no logical reason to disrupt their lives, especially if their biotics didn’t interfere with their activities.
She set her mug down on the bench, inched closer to Will, and rested her head on his shoulder.
“You’re right,” she conceded after a moment.
“I usually am,” he chuckled, planting a kiss on the top of her head.
She swatted his knee, just for good measure, but she was smiling. Although part of her was slightly worried still, in the end she was happy they would not be sending their daughters away. The girls belonged with their family, and Tanith was looking forward to seeing them grow up.
Kaidan was nervous. He was careful to keep a pleasantly neutral expression on his face, but he was all too aware of that tiny pit of dread in his stomach. Ironically, in this moment he was grateful for his training at Brain Camp; two years ago, he would not have been able to control his nerves, and static would have given him away.
Despite his parents’ constant reassurance, Kaidan knew he had let them down. He was a murderer… Didn’t matter that he’d acted mostly in self-defense, he had killed someone, and nothing would ever change that. And no matter how many times they claimed otherwise, he knew it wounded them deep. Kristian Alenko was a proud man, proud of his name, proud of his family, proud of his career… And to say that Rika Alenko had had high hopes for her only son would be the understatement of the decade. He wasn’t sure how – if – he could fix it, but he wanted to try…
“Earth to Kaidan.”
Kaidan winced and looked up from his plate. He met his mother’s warm honey-colored gaze and felt instantly worse. Great, now he was being rude at the dinner table.
“Sorry Mum, I, uh– what were you saying?”
He watched as his parents exchanged a visibly concerned glance, and he looked back down at his meal. The vegetables and steak were cold, and he hadn’t even taken a bite.
“Son, we know things have been difficult for you,” his father started, “but you’ve got to snap out of it…”
“Easy for you to say!” Kaidan blurted out. He cringed, immediately regretting his outburst. This was not how he had planned to start this conversation, but as the silence settled, he had no choice but to trudge ahead.
“Look, I know you don’t blame me, I get that. I just, I still blame myself, and– and I don’t want to be a burden to you…”
His voice cracked, and under the table he clenched his fists on his thighs. Damn it, he was not going to cry! He couldn’t look them in the eye, so he hurried on before the shame could suffocate him.
“I just– I’ve been thinking, maybe it would be better if I went away for a while. I’ve gotta… I need to figure out where– what my place is. I just, I feel like, I mean…”
Kaidan sighed. This was not at all what he had imagined. He was getting more and more frustrated with himself, and he knew he wasn’t making sense to his parents. How the heck was he supposed to make it up to them if he couldn’t even explain himself?
He was about to ask to be excused when he heard a chair scrape against the floor. To his surprise, his father got up from the other end of the table and, grabbing a nearby chair, brought it to sit almost next to him. His mother inched closer as well and extended her hand towards him, palm up.
“Take your time, sweetheart,” she smiled kindly. “Whatever you need, we’ll work through it.”
“We’re here for you, son,” echoed his father.
Kaidan felt embarrassingly close to tears, and as he pressed his knuckles against his eyes, he reached over to squeeze his mother’s hand.
“Might make it easier if you guys were actually mad at me,” he mumbled.
“Reverse psychology always worked best with you, dear,” said his mother, matter-of-factly.
His father couldn’t help but snort, causing his mother to add innocently, “Just like your dad.”
Kaidan felt a timid smile tug at his lips as he watched his father scowl at his mother, who was the very picture of serenity. He could do this. He would lay all his cards down and go with whatever his parents decided. There were no other people in the world he trusted more, and he owed it to them to fix himself and try to live up to some of their expectations.
He took a deep breath and started over.
“I’ve been doing some research on the extranet. About biotics in general, and, uh, what’s common knowledge, versus what scientists have discovered so far.”
He watched his parents carefully, gauging their reactions. His father had his arms crossed and his head cocked slightly to the side, like when he was playing a game of Go against his wife. His mother flashed him a smile when their eyes met, and nodded encouragingly.
Since he had returned from Jump Zero, Kaidan had not dared to entertain any thoughts about his future, but in that moment he found himself thinking ‘maybe’. He felt a surge of hope and carried on.
“Well, uh, I’ve been thinking that, maybe, that’s something I should explore myself. Like, if I studied, if I found a place where, instead of using biotics, I could study for myself how they’re connected to the nervous system, maybe I could, I don’t know, maybe I could meet other scientists, experts, and maybe– maybe I could help find a cure even! No better incentive, right?”
He looked expectantly at his parents, his enthusiasm growing. “So I looked up some universities, and you know which one was ranked the top in eezo research for this year? Number one in bio-engineering? Todai!”
The prestigious University of Tokyo was both his parents’ alma mater, where they had met a long time ago during their early twenties, and Kaidan was counting on their bias to help support his case. He only hoped that he would be convincing enough.
“I’ve looked into grants, too, and I thought I could get a job, maybe as a lab assistant, or maybe even check out their Institute of Medical Science, just anything that could, you know, maybe turn this around. And– and if I can help others in the process, that’s just an added bonus, right? Maybe?”
Kaidan stopped and waited. There, he’d done it. He’d presented his plan fairly decently, and all he could do now was wait and see what his parents thought of it. His father was examining him, his expression undecipherable, which always made him slightly uneasy. His mother had lost her smile, but her face was more pensive than upset, so he hoped she was simply weighing the pros and cons. The couple exchanged another glance, and Kaidan wondered briefly if he too would one day find someone who understood him so completely that no words were needed.
Finally, his father smirked. “In short, what you’re telling us is that you want a change of scenery, and you thought that if you picked a place we were familiar with, we’d be less likely to object, eh?”
“What? No! I mean, yes, but… no wait, that’s not…”
His mother chuckled, causing him to blush furiously, while his father had his “boy-you-don’t-fool-me-one-bit” look on his face.
“I just figured, you know, that it would make it easier on you. Todai really is the best, and– and I meant everything I said! Just, you know, it does help if it’s a place you know, right?”
His mother smiled and patted his hand reassuringly. “Sweetheart, I’m just glad you’re talking to us about it. However, I do want to make something perfectly clear.”
Kaidan braced himself. Kristian may have been the career military man, but everyone knew Rika was the real authority figure in this Alenko household.
“We will have no more talk of a cure, understood?”
She said the word with such contempt that Kaidan leaned back in his chair. He had not expected that. He looked from one parent to the other, and only his father’s grin kept any sense of betrayal at bay.
“What you have is not a disease,” his mother went on, her adamant tone indicating there would be no discussion. “You are not a defective human being, and there is nothing wrong with you. What you do have is an ability. We may not understand it completely yet, but it’s only a question of time. And although it may seem like a curse now, there may come a day when you find yourself thankful for this gift. So, please, no more about a cure, or a treatment, or a solution. Agreed?”
Kaidan was so touched he remained quiet for a moment. Though he wasn’t really surprised; his mother had always been his biggest fan, and he remembered one of his cousins once referring to her as “a lioness protecting her cub.” At the time, he’d been too upset at being called a cub, but now he had to admit the comparison was pretty accurate.
With a hesitant smile, he nodded and said sheepishly, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Then it’s settled!”
His father clapped his hands together, beaming, and this time around it was Kaidan and his mother who exchanged knowing glances.
“I’ll call our alumni center, see what sort of programs they have nowadays… Hmm, perhaps I could even hit up my old contact at Ariake Technologies!”
“Dad,” Kaidan started meekly at the same time his mother made her own attempt, “But dear…”
But his father was clearly on a roll and would not be deterred. “I’ll just place a few calls, and if we leave tomorrow, ol’ Nessie will have us there in a week, tops!”
The Nessie II was his father’s yacht. He’d taken up boating after he retired from the Alliance, and since then any excuse was good for him to take the family on a cruise.
As his parents good-naturedly argued logistics, Kaidan quietly wondered why he had ever doubted their faith in him. He wasn’t over the fact that he had taken a life; he wasn’t sure he ever would, or if he even wanted to, but he realized his own life didn’t have to end there either. He didn’t know what awaited him in Tokyo, but suddenly having a future didn’t seem quite so impossible.
Originally posted on Tumblr for Kaidan Appreciation Week February 2016
Chapter 3: Tokyo, 2169
Kaidan was working on the prototype for the Logic Arrest omni-tool. The hardware designer wanted to find a way to increase the med recharge, and Kaidan was tinkering with it, trying to figure out which wires to connect without tapping into the shield feed. He was also trying to focus and ignore his co-workers’ banter, of which he was not a part.
“Let’s grab a beer after this shift. And bring Cooper along, I think Mayu’s working the bar tonight, and he’s been wanting to chat her up for a while.”
“Aw man, I like Mayu!”
“You ever had the guts to talk to her? No, so shut up.”
“Wanna bet she goes for me instead if I do?”
“Gotta man up first, ha!”
Kaidan listened until they were out of earshot and sighed. Nobody ever asked him to grab a beer, or a bite to eat, or anything. Not since his biotics had flared that time he accidentally sneezed in public. Hell, he was still surprised they hadn’t fired him. At the university he had to worry about not becoming someone’s guinea pig. At least here at work he was left alone, but it sure made it lonely.
He was suddenly distracted from his morose thoughts by a noise in the back. Wallowing as he had been in self-pity, he hadn’t noticed when the other technicians had left, and now it looked like he was by himself in the warehouse. Or rather, not completely.
“Hello?” he called out. “Anyone still back there?”
There was the noise again, this time accompanied by a hushed voice. Kaidan stopped what he was doing and looked around for a way to raise the alarm. He was now pretty sure the facility was being broken into; he felt his throat dry up as he tried to think of how to alert security. Suddenly there was another noise, this time from behind, and before he could react or turn around, he was struck violently in the back of the head, and everything went dark.
When Kaidan came to, the first thing that sprang to mind was the searing pain he felt, as if someone were cruelly pounding on his skull with a sledge hammer. He knew he was going to be in for one hell of a migraine. Then, through the dense fog of hurt, he became aware of three voices arguing nearby.
“He didn’t see us, Lee, we don’t gotta kill him!”
“You’re such a pussy, Chaz! What, you afraid of a lil’ blood?”
“Shut the fuck up! I ain’t afraid of nothin’!”
“Both o’ yous are pussies, I’m the one who hadda knock him out.”
“Shoulda knocked harder, he still breathing, ain’t he?”
“Let’s just get our shit and go, we don’t gotta k...”
“Oh shut UP! You fucking baby! I’ll do it myself, like fucking everything else! But you better believe that I’m gonna fuck you up good when we get back, you lil’ shit, so good you’re gonna wish you’da killed him yourself, ten times over, you got that?!”
Kaidan knew he had to act, and fast. He didn’t know if they were armed, or if they planned on using some sort of weapon of opportunity (or their bare hands), but he wasn’t about to give them the chance. Problem was, he didn’t want to use his biotics either. So that left talking them out of it. Or try to.
He sat up slowly, his head feeling like it weighed a ton. There were indeed three of them; they seemed about his age or younger. He wondered briefly what kind of life they’d had to lead where they could talk so flippantly about killing another human being. The tallest one was wearing what looked like a black bald cap. The second one was almost as tall as the first but scrawnier. The third one looked like he was the youngest; he saw Kaidan get up but didn’t say anything. Kaidan wondered if he was the one called Chaz. The tallest one suddenly whirled around away from the others and glowered when he saw that Kaidan was conscious and standing.
“You don’t want to do this,” Kaidan said as calmly as he could, raising both hands up.
“Oh yeah? And if I do?” snarled the young man. Kaidan assumed he was the leader.
“Because you don’t want to add murder to your list,” Kaidan continued in what he hoped was a soothing tone. “Breaking and entering, robbery, that’s one thing. Taking someone’s life is something else entirely.”
“What the fuck do you know!”
Kaidan felt his throat tighten. He would not mention Vyrnnus, but as always, thinking about the sordid affair left a sour taste in his mouth, and he questioned for the millionth time if he should be allowed to live after all.
Before he could try again to reason with them, the one he thought of as Chaz sprang forward and tackled the leader, all the while screaming, “Run! Run!” at the top of his lungs. Kaidan did not waste the opportunity, but instead of running, he went straight for the other guy, ramming him in his midsection, and they both went crashing on the floor.
Kaidan heard the leader and Chaz exchange hard blows, and it sounded to him like Chaz might need help sooner rather than later. He had no doubt he could take his opponent down in a fair hand-to-hand, but as soon as he scrambled up, said opponent pulled a knife. The pose was too eerily familiar. Everything suddenly went in slow motion. Much to his horror, and before he could stop himself, Kaidan was executing the mnemonics for a Throw. The young man was hurled backwards and hit the wall with a sickening crunch.
“What the fuck d’ you do?!” yelled the leader as he rushed past him towards his comrade. “You freak, what d’ you do!?”
Kaidan was petrified. This could not be happening, not again. Even after the young man got up and both he and the leader hightailed it for the back door, Kaidan stood frozen in shock, staring at the wall. How could he have let this happen? He’d sworn never to use his biotics again, and at the first sign of trouble, that’s what he reverted to?! He really was a monster…
Kaidan blinked. “Huh?”
Chaz was standing next to him, awkwardly rubbing his left forearm. “Y’ know… for saving my life…”
Kaidan turned slowly to face him. Chaz did not flinch or back away; he didn’t look scared, or disgusted, or horrified… He looked more embarrassed than anything else, but his icy gray eyes were trained squarely on Kaidan’s face, in a frank and unafraid look. Kaidan felt a huge weight fall off his shoulders. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, but he was inexplicably relieved that Chaz hadn’t run away screaming with the others.
“Guess that makes us even then,” he smiled. “I’m Kaidan.”
“Chaz,” said the boy with a shrug.
“What made you decide to help me anyway?” Kaidan asked, perplexed.
Chaz hesitated, then answered: “You looked like you’d be sad if you hadda kill someone…”
Kaidan felt himself grow pale, but only grunted noncommittally.
“‘Sides, I been looking to leave the Reds anyway. Tired of their bullshit,” Chaz continued.
Kaidan looked at him thoughtfully. “Where… do you have somewhere to go?”
Chaz sniffed once and shrugged again, rolling his eyes. “I can take care of myself, don’t need nobody.”
“You’re what… fourteen?”
“Twenty!!” came the offended riposte.
Kaidan raised an eyebrow and smirked, indicating he wasn’t fooled one bit. Chaz crossed his arms and huffed, trying to buff up his slender frame, but gave up quickly when Kaidan showed no sign of being convinced.
“Fine, I’m sixteen. That’s still plenty old enough, I don’t need nobody!”
Kaidan remained silent. He walked back to his workstation to gather his things, all the while thinking over this new development. When he was a child, he would bring home all sorts of stray animals, especially when the family was vacationing at their orchard house. He knew he couldn’t do the same with this boy, he was in no position to take care of anyone, but his kind heart and his conscience were nagging at him. Finally, he made up his mind.
“Hey, you want to…” he began as he turned back towards Chaz.
But Chaz was no longer there. He had vanished without a sound.
A few weeks later, Kaidan walked out of the Ariake lab after his shift to find Chaz leaning against a lamppost across the street, waiting for him.
Chapter 4: Mindoir, 2170
The Harvest Festival was well underway, and everyone was getting ready for the last act of opening night. Every year for the past decade, the open-air concert was the highlight of the festival, and the seating areas were filling up quickly as more and more people gathered in anticipation of the show. Performances typically included Ms. Saint-Victor, the soprano from Camp 7, and a few of the kids practicing for the talent show at the end of the school year. Sometimes Mr. Leonard from Camp 2 would play his electronic harp, if he was in the mood. This year, the school had put forward a small band, MC2, composed of twins Meris and Moira Shepard, and their boyfriends, Cyril Sobolski and Cedric Lohry.
Spencer Shepard, the twins’ younger brother, was so proud that he was on stand-by, ready to record everything on his new omni-tool. It was an early birthday present from his mother, the other tech nerd in the family, and he was enjoying filming with it every chance he got. At the moment, however, he was more focused on scanning the crowd. He was secretly hoping Sandy Zhang, the cute new girl in his class, would be here tonight, but he hadn’t spotted her yet. But then again maybe that wasn’t a bad thing; did he really want to be seen with his parents? A quick glance to his right confirmed his suspicions: his father had his five-year-old sister Arielle standing on his shoulders as he held her by the hands, while his mother observed, looking like she was going to bite his head off any minute. Arielle was really excited, all the bustling about fueling her enthusiasm, and she was marching in place; one wrong step, and down she’d go, which was why his mother was watching like a hawk.
“So we’re finally gonna hear your girls sing, huh, Dr. Shep?” said Mr. Martin, the Shepards’ neighbor.
Spencer saw his dad’s grin and knew he was just as proud as Spencer was, even prouder.
“Yep,” his dad replied. “You’re in for a treat, Mart! They are going to blow everyone away!”
Spencer decided he wanted to roam around for a bit and started walking towards the stage. “I’m going to check on them, ok?” he informed his parents. His father beamed and gave him a thumbs-up; his mother acknowledged with a nod, but kept her eyes on his little sister Arielle who was happily yet safely bouncing on their father’s shoulders.
Spencer headed where he knew his sisters and the guys were preparing, and started filming, thinking he would make a documentary of the whole experience.
“Here we are backstage to get a sneak peek while they’re getting ready – ew, Moira and Cedric sucking face, gross – and maybe offer some words of encouragement – Cyril, wake up – because, oh look, Meris looks like she’s about to puke her guts out – hey, watch it, no throwing stuff at my new ‘tool!”
“Spencer, you can’t be back here!”
“I’m recording your big debut! You’ll thank me later when you guys are the most famous band in the galaxy and this vid of your first live show ever is worth billions of credits!”
“The show’s about to start, you need to go!”
“Alright, alright, I’m going, I’m going! That’s no way to treat your manager, you know!”
“Thirteen! In three days! I’m thirteen in three days! Anyway, if it wasn’t for my managerial skills, they’d never have been able to book the Arena for opening night of the Festival. And just look at this crowd! Man, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this place so packed! That’s also thanks to my advertising skills and my uploading most of MC2 songs on the extranet. Pff, that’s gratitude for you!”
“Spencer, go! NOW!”
“Ok, ok, jeez…”
A few moments later, Spencer found his parents again in the crowd. He had looked for Sandy, but still no sign of her.
“And we’re back, live in the audience, with the parents of the leading ladies of MC2 – aww, don’t be shy, Mama, this is for posterity – say hi, Papa – no, Arielle, you can’t touch, omni-tools are not for kids!”
Arielle was now tucked safely in their mother’s arms, though she still eyed their father’s shoulders with longing. Spencer sat down next to their mother and lightly tapped his sister’s nose with his index finger. She squealed in delight and reached out for him, “My turn now, my turn!” Spencer obliged and leaned in. Arielle, with the tip of her tongue barely sticking out between her lips, and her eyes squinting in concentration, slowly and carefully tapped Spencer’s nose three times, and then erupted in a fit of giggles.
Suddenly a guitar riff was heard, and the announcer screamed out in his microphone: “Ladies and gents, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, MC2!” The audience clapped and whistled and cheered, and the four teenagers came on the stage. Spencer aimed his omni-tool at them, zooming in on the twins. Moira was whooping and jumping in excitement, while Meris still looked more nervous than anything. From having assisted to several of their rehearsals, Spencer knew she would soon calm down and get lost in the music. Still, his heart went out to her, and he put his fingers in his mouth to whistle in encouragement.
The only sound heard was a deafening explosion. Followed by gunfire. People started screaming and running in all directions. Spencer felt his mother grab him and push him towards his father, who already had a shrieking Arielle in his arms, and heard his mother yell, “Keep them safe, I’m getting the girls!” He heard his father shout, “You be safe too!” He saw his mother run towards the stage, trying to avoid the panicked mob scrambling to leave the Arena.
He felt his father clutching his hand as they started running as well, trying to find some kind of shelter. He heard a few men, he didn’t recognize who, scream, “Raid!! We’re under attack!!” He saw a creature with several black orbs for eyes seize Sandy Zhang by the hair and drag her away. He screamed her name, but his father was pulling him in the opposite direction and he wasn’t strong enough to resist.
He saw a man punch his mother in the stomach and shove her to the ground. He screamed for her, and he felt his father stop and turn around. The man was aiming a gun at his mother. He heard his father roar, “Tanith!” He saw the gun shoot liquid fire at his mother who was instantly engulfed in flames. He heard her shrieks of pain, he heard his father wail, “No!” He felt his father grab him to shield his eyes, but it was too late, he had seen his mother stumble, a living torch, then fall on her face and lay there as she slowly, agonizingly slowly, stopped moving.
He heard another scream, and that voice he recognized. He looked towards the stage and saw one of the twins pulling at her hair and screaming, and screaming, and screaming. He saw the other twin on the floor, her head a big blob of various shades of red, like a watermelon that had exploded. He felt his father grab his hand again and pull him towards the twins as he yelled, “Meris! Moira!” in a heart-wrenching tone. Too late. Spencer saw another creature, like the one who had taken Sandy away, who was arguing with two men on the stage next to the twins. He felt his father pick up the pace, as fast as he could run while carrying a hysterical Arielle and pulling along a twelve-almost-thirteen-year-old boy who had gone numb.
He felt his father fall and felt himself go down with him. His father shielded Arielle as best he could, which meant his father took the brunt of the fall. He looked up and saw a creature aim a gun at his father’s head and shoot, point blank. He felt his father’s blood splatter on the side of his face. It was up to him now. He grabbed Arielle and tried to run, but the creature seized her by the other arm and lifted her easily, as if she weighed but an ounce. He saw the creature aim the gun at his face. Spencer didn’t have time to be afraid of dying before the creature pulled the trigger.
When Meris woke up, she wasn’t sure where she was. She didn’t recognize the room, and the dim lights and lack of sounds were somehow more terrifying than the screams and blinding explosions had been. She finally noticed a man in Alliance uniform tending to another wounded colonist a few stretchers to her left, and she relaxed slightly. Alliance meant they had been rescued. And judging by the number of stretchers, she clung to the hope that her parents were here as well, with Spencer and Arielle. She did her best to ignore the memories of Cyril, of Moira… she would find her family first, and then they would grieve together.
She sat up slowly, trying to breathe through the pain, gritting her teeth so as not to cry out. She felt as if her arm was going to fall out of its socket; her shoulder burnt so much she almost wished it would. She tried to think of something else, anything to distract her from this different kind of hell, and her eyes locked on a teenage boy leaning against the wall. He was about ten feet from her and was staring at her. She couldn’t quite make out the details of his features, but he didn’t look like someone she knew. She swung her legs to the floor, and he moved closer to her as if to help her stand or make her lie back down, she wasn’t sure.
“I have to find them,” she croaked, only a small part of her brain registering surprise at how broken and weak she sounded.
He took a few more steps closer until he was standing next to her. He didn’t look injured or even dirty, so Meris deduced he wasn’t from Mindoir, but there was such an intense hatred in his dark eyes that it never crossed her mind that he couldn’t understand what she was going through. She also instinctively knew that his hatred was directed at the raiders, and when he spoke, she knew she had a friend.
“My dad was killed by batarian scum, too,” he said in a low whisper. “One day, I’ll make them pay. I’ll make them all pay.”
She nodded and took his hand. “Good.”
Chapter 5: Tokyo, 2171
The tiny apartment Kaidan had called home for the past three years was starting to smell deliciously like bacon as he prepared his special popcorn for his movie night with Chaz. Since it had been Chaz’s birthday the previous weekend, they were watching his pick of films, and Kaidan knew he wouldn’t be able to escape the adventures of Captain Lester McAllister. He was Chaz’s idol even though Chaz would never willingly admit it. But Kaidan knew Chaz admired the fictional space hero and looked up to him. If it had to do with space, Kaidan preferred documentaries, but he had to admit some of Lester McAllister’s antics were somewhat entertaining.
He checked the time; Chaz would be arriving any minute now, so he grabbed a couple of beers and was setting everything by the futon when he heard the front door open.
“Perfect timing, buddy,” he said. “Just got done with the popcorn.”
“Is that what I smell?” asked Chaz.
Something in his tone made Kaidan turn around. Chaz was frowning.
“It’s bacon-flavored popcorn,” Kaidan said defensively. “You’ll love it!”
His friend made a face but remained quiet, looking skeptical.
“Come on, give it a chance,” argued Kaidan. “I swear it’s worth it.”
With obvious reluctance, Chaz agreed to try some as he settled on the futon. Kaidan watched expectantly. It was his favorite snack, and since he knew Chaz loved bacon too, it stood to reason that he would love bacon-flavored anything. Or so Kaidan thought. His enthusiasm was slowly replaced by disdain as he watched his friend pop a few kernels in his mouth, become clearly disgusted, and hurriedly snap a beer open to visibly wash away the taste.
“Wimp,” Kaidan muttered.
“Have you even tried this sh… stuff?!” countered Chaz.
Kaidan rolled his eyes. “I live on this stuff.”
Kaidan chuckled. “And proud of it.”
He sat at the other end of the futon and started setting up the vid as he continued, “So, which McAllister movie are we watching tonight? ‘The Neptune Ruins?’ ‘The Jupiter Crown?’ ‘The…”
“I broke up with Tiffany.”
Kaidan turned towards his friend, shocked at the news. Tiffany was one of Kaidan’s classmates, and she was an extremely bright and upbeat girl. She and Chaz had been dating for a few months now, and Kaidan had been sure things were going really well between them.
“Man… I’m sorry, buddy,” he said sincerely. He hesitated, and then added. “You want to talk about it?”
Chaz shrugged and started absently rubbing his left forearm. Kaidan waited, wanting to give him space and be there for him at the same time.
They had been friends for two years now and had confided in each other about a number of things. Kaidan had talked to him about Vyrnnus and Rahna, how her rejection still haunted him sometimes. He had even admitted how his biotics still scared him, how he wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be comfortable using them. Chaz had told him about his life on the streets and joining up with the Tenth Street Reds. Being in a gang had provided Chaz some security, as well as food and a place to crash, but he had grown tired of the violence and the crimes. One did not normally leave a gang just like that, especially one like the Reds, but if they had taught Chaz anything, it was how to be resourceful, and he had simply blackmailed the leader into letting him go. He’d cleaned up his act since then, and Kaidan knew Chaz truly wanted to make amends in some way.
“It’s because I, uh, enlisted,” Chaz finally said.
Kaidan blinked. He wasn’t sure how to react to that particular news. On the one hand, there was Brain Camp. On the other, there was his dad and now, it seemed, Chaz. His relationship with the military was complicated, to say the least. He suddenly thought that Chaz might be hesitant to talk out of consideration for his feelings. He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly and tried to smile. “Well, congratulations then, I guess. I didn’t realize you were thinking about doing something like that.”
Chaz grinned sheepishly. “What can I say, I felt inspired.”
Kaidan raised an eyebrow. Suddenly blushing a furious red, his friend explained. “I enlisted as, uh, Chaz McAllister.”
Try as he might, Kaidan was unable to keep a straight face; he barked a laugh, and Chaz threw a pillow at him. “Shut up, Alenko!”
“I’m not making fun of you, I promise!”
Kaidan took a deep breath and offered a genuine smile. “I’m not. I think it fits you actually.”
Chaz, who had started to sulk, looked up warily. “Really?”
“Yeah. Chaz McAllister. Has a nice ring to it,” continued Kaidan. “And hey, if you’re gonna pick your own name, might as well make it mean something to you. Something you’re proud of.”
He grabbed himself a beer and took a swig. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about his friend joining the Alliance military, but clearly it was important to Chaz, so he decided to be happy for him.
Chaz had brightened at Kaidan’s words and now looked ready to share his own excitement. “I want to do something good with my life, you know? I want to help people, too. I thought about becoming a cop, but I have a record here and they’d never let me live it down. So I figured, why not space? You get to explore new places and experience new cultures!”
“It’s not all like the vids,” cautioned Kaidan. He didn’t want to put a damper on his friend’s enthusiasm, but he also didn’t want him to get the wrong idea and then be disappointed.
“I know, man, but it’s a new door for me, you know? I been thinking about it for a long time now. I mean, what other future is out there for someone like me?” said Chaz thoughtfully.
Kaidan frowned. “Hey now, you know I don’t like you beating on yourself like that. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone owns up to them. Just the fact that you want to do better means that someone like you is a damn good person in my book.”
Chaz blushed. “Yeah, whatever.”
That was his usual reaction to praise, and Kaidan knew his friend was secretly pleased.
“So, I’m assuming you’re going somewhere for basic training, or whatever; when do you ship out?” he asked.
Chaz started rubbing his left forearm again. “Yeah, about that… I ship out tomorrow morning, at first light…”
Kaidan leaned back against the futon, not looking at his friend. Silence stretched for a long moment before he finally said, “Wow… that soon, eh?”
Neither said anything for another moment. Kaidan knew this meant he wouldn’t see his friend for a long time, and he felt sad at the thought. Chaz was his only friend here in Tokyo. Oh, he had acquaintances, and his classmates at the university did talk to him and treat him like a human being once he had made it clear he would be no one’s guinea pig. But Chaz was the only one who didn’t view him as an anomaly. That, and he was pretty fun to hang out with. Kaidan suddenly felt a wave of resentment against the Alliance military. They had taken his dad away during his younger years, and now they were taking away his best friend.
“You could join up too, you know.”
“What?” Kaidan started.
Chaz was looking embarrassed at the suggestion, but he went on. “Yeah, we could go through basics together.”
“No,” Kaidan answered decidedly. “Marine life is not for me.”
Chaz shrugged, clearly disappointed. Kaidan felt a twinge of guilt, but he could not bring himself to even consider joining the military. Not after BAaT.
Chapter 6: Arcturus Station, 2172
Meris lay awake on her bed, trying to focus on anything besides her massive headache. She was in the Alliance facility where she and Zander Rossetti had gotten fitted with their L3 implants; it was now day three after the surgery, and her head still felt like someone was using it as a stress ball. The vast room was mostly quiet, with very dim lights. She glanced towards the bed on her right and noted that Zander was asleep. To her left was an unknown girl who could have passed for asleep as well except for the way her fists were shaking slightly on the covers. Misery loves company, and Meris was a little reassured to know that she wasn’t the only one with painful aftereffects. Zander had been blissfully pain-free since the minute he woke up from the surgery. His only side effect was inexorable sleepiness. Meris would’ve given anything right about now to be mercifully knocked out.
Right then, as if to add insult to injury, her adoptive brother let out a soft snore, and Meris debated whether to suffocate him with a pillow. Despite her irritation, she knew it was just the luck of the draw. A medical officer had explained that it was normal to experience some soreness and throbbing after the operation, and that it varied by individual. Zander was just one of the lucky few to escape any kind of discomfort, and deep down Meris didn’t really begrudge him that. He had had his fair share of pain in life already. He had lost his father a few years before, and according to his mother, Hannah, he had not been the same since. Yet he had been compassionate enough to make room for her in his life. He and his mother had taken Meris in after Mindoir and made her a part of their small family without reservations, and they were all she had in the world.
Meris seldom thought about that night. She had lost everything and everyone she ever cared about, but it was also the night she met Zander. The night she had gone from daughter, sister, girlfriend, to orphaned and alone. The only reason she could ever think about that night was because of Zander’s promise. He had sworn he would get revenge, and she believed him. It was the only thing that kept her going sometimes. Zander’s own rage had been her lifebuoy, the only reason she had been able to grieve, and she was grateful for it even if it frightened her. His hatred of raiders in general and Batarians in particular was so extreme Meris often worried that it consumed so much of him that there was no room for other emotions.
“You’re thinking too much again, Shep,” said the object of her thoughts suddenly.
Meris started and turned slightly. Zander was lying on his side, turned towards her, with his arm bent under his head, and he was sporting a disarming smile, his warm brown eyes twinkling mischievously. “I can always tell when it’s churning too much in there,” he added.
She winced at his tone and saw concern flash in his eyes, as his smile turned sympathetic. “Sorry,” he whispered. “Still hurts, huh?”
“Like a bitch,” she murmured.
“You want me to ask them to give you something?”
Meris hesitated. The last injection had indeed alleviated her pain, but it had also left her nauseated. She wasn’t sure which was worse, having her head being compressed from all sides, or having her stomach doing backflips and tasting vomit in the back of her throat for an undue amount of time.
Before she could answer, however, a young private who seemed to be doing rounds stopped at the foot of her bed. “Everything ok?” he asked gently, his ice gray eyes full of solicitude.
“She’s in pain,” replied Zander as he sat up on his own bed. “You need to give her something.”
“I’ll be fine,” Meris protested, not wanting to be fussed over, but unable to sit up as well.
The young private gave her a pensive look and pressed on, “Where does it hurt exactly? Front of the head, back of the head?”
Meris sighed and gave in. “Mostly front and sides. It’s a weird kind of pressure, like someone is squeezing every two seconds or so.”
The private’s face broke into a grin, relief flooding his delicate features. “You’re going to be just fine. Your body is adjusting to the implant, but it’s not rejecting it. As long as it doesn’t hurt in the back of the head, near the implant, you’re all right. And I can give you something for the pain –”
“No,” she interrupted firmly.
“Why not?!” interjected Zander. “Do you want to suffer?”
“Yesterday, I spent all day feeling like I was about to puke my guts out. I’ll take the headache and just try to sleep.”
“Did they give you an injection or a pill?” asked the private patiently, with the hint of a smile tugging at his lips.
Meris looked at him, slowly raising herself to rest on her elbows, and eyed him hopefully. “An injection.”
The private’s grin reappeared. “I’ll ask the doctor if we can give you a pill when I’m done checking on the others. It’s not as strong as the injection, but it doesn’t have any side effects, so you should be ok.”
Without waiting for Meris to agree, he walked to the bed directly across from hers to examine the next convalescent. Meris watched him for a moment; the young man appeared to have a smile and a kind word for everyone he approached.
“He seems nice,” she told Zander in a hushed tone.
“Not like the doc this morning,” Zander replied with a scowl. “That guy couldn’t wait to get away from me. You’d think they’d have found more people who aren’t afraid of biotics to work in this program.”
“Maybe there aren’t that many people who aren’t afraid of biotics,” Meris mused. “Maybe that private is one himself… Did you see an amp at the back of his head?”
Zander absently touched the area around his own amp port lightly and yawned. “Nope, not enough light and his hair’s too dark, couldn’t tell.”
Meris looked over at her adoptive brother. Although he was still sitting, using his right arm for support, his eyes were closing, and he was starting to nod involuntarily.
“Zander!” she called softly.
He started. “What, what?”
“Go back to sleep,” she continued.
“Mmm. Wake me when he comes back, though, k?” he mumbled as he lay back down on his side, facing towards her.
She just smiled and didn’t bother to answer as she watched him fall fast asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Zander was just a few weeks younger than she was, but that didn’t stop him from acting like a very protective older brother. Meris and her twin sister had been the eldest of the Shepard siblings, and she used to wonder what it would be like to have an older brother or sister to lean on, so when Zander had attributed himself the role, she had let him, happy to let someone else take the wheel.
Now that she was a Marine though, things were going to have to change. Again. She wouldn’t be able to rely on Zander to be her emotional crutch anymore; she was going to have to toughen up. So far, she had been extremely lucky in that his mother was open-minded and kind, he was a biotic like her, and they had enlisted together. For different reasons, but still, they were together. And given the number of biotic recruits in the room, Meris thought it fair to assume she could go through her basic training with Zander by her side, but after that, all bets were off.
When Chaz stopped by a moment later, he was happy to note that the young woman had fallen asleep. That meant she had been given a reprieve from her pain. He smiled, and left the pill and the glass of water on the small nightstand between her bed and that of her companion. Meris Shepard and Zander Rossetti. Chaz assumed they were an item, the way Rossetti was protective of her. They clearly weren’t related; Shepard had skin the color of warm terra-cotta brown, while Rossetti’s reminded Chaz of some of the smooth white-sand beaches near Isshiki. That, and the fact that they had different last names, led Chaz to believe they were a couple. Not that it mattered to him either way. He shrugged slightly and walked away to prepare his report. Though if he were honest with himself, he did care about seeing Shepard again, if only to make sure she was all right.
“I’m home!” Kaidan called out as soon as he passed the front door. “Mum? Dad?”
He walked into the foyer, wondering why the living room was dark. It wasn’t like his parents to turn in so early. He took a few steps further in, feeling for the switch, when the lights went on suddenly and several voices cried out: “Surprise!”
Kaidan blinked. His parents beamed proudly at him; his grandparents sat on one of the couches, smiling. Aunt Blair and Aunt Irina stood by the fireplace, next to his cousins Jerrica and Cosmo. Baxter, the old chocolate Lab, was grinning and wagging his tail excitedly.
“Whoa.” Kaidan stood rooted in place, suitcase in one hand, self-consciously rubbing the back of his neck with the other, blush blooming on his cheeks.
His mother walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist in a fierce hug. “Welcome home, sweetheart!”
Kaidan dropped a kiss on her temple. “Thanks, Mum.”
He then got his share of embraces as he was passed around the room. Everyone wanted a kiss, a hug, or a pet from the youngest third-generation Alenko. Everyone wanted to hear about his life in Tokyo and share their own news. Jerrica announced her recent promotion to Flight Commander; Cosmo described how well his new agri business was doing. Aunt Blair and Aunt Irina were planning their second honeymoon. Grandma Elena’s last fashion show had been her greatest success yet, and Grandpa Anton was still just happy to tag along for the ride.
Kaidan sat between his grandparents, listening to the general conversation. He was glad his family had gotten together to welcome him home. There had been rough moments throughout the years, especially when his biotics had first manifested, but the Alenkos were close, and it warmed his heart to be with everyone again. Well, almost everyone.
As if on cue, the doorbell chimed.
“That will be Larissa and Sid, finally!” exclaimed Aunt Blair, her green eyes sparkling.
Kaidan caught his cousins exchanging a knowing glance. He raised his eyebrow and tried to refrain from smirking; he was in for another surprise and he had an inkling what it was. Everyone quieted down and seemed to eagerly await the new arrivals. Aunt Blair was the most impatient and went to meet her daughter and son-in-law at the door. The rest of the family heard ooh’s and ah’s from the foyer, and Sid emerged, grinning from ear to ear.
“Kaidan, buddy, it’s good to see you!” he greeted him as Kaidan got up to clasp his hand.
“Good to see you t...”
His cousin Larissa entered the room, and everyone echoed the ooh’s and ah’s heard earlier at the sight of the tiny bundle she was holding in her arms. She moved closer to the center of the room, quickly surrounded by the entire family.
“Everyone, meet Aya Alenko-Whitmore,” declared Sid, gazing adoringly at his wife and daughter.
Kaidan stood next to his mother, his arm resting lightly on her shoulders. “I thought you weren’t due for another week!”
“It seems this little one inherited her grandmother’s impatience,” chuckled Larissa, glancing mischievously at Aunt Blair. “She’s actually just nine days early; the doctors examined us yesterday, and we’re both in perfect health.”
It was the baby’s turn to be passed around as everyone, especially the grandmothers, wanted to cuddle the newest member of the family. Kaidan watched, relaxed and happy.
Later in the evening, after Jerrica and Kaidan had helped his mother prepare dinner and everyone had feasted to their hearts’ content, Kaidan found himself on the balcony with his father. The two men were quiet, looking out to the bay beyond the marina, while laughter could be heard from the living room. The night sky was peppered with stars that shone like diamonds, and the calm ocean reflected the crescent moon. Kaidan imagined he could hear the waves lapping gently against the boats down in the marina.
“God, I missed this view,” Kaidan sighed after taking a sip of his beer.
His father simply nodded. “Missed having you here to share it with.”
They stood silently, each lost in their own thoughts. Kaidan cherished these moments, just peaceful enjoyment of each other’s company. He was in no hurry to ruin it, but he had wanted to talk with his father for a few weeks now. He had been thinking about enlisting and had so many questions, but now that he was here, he wasn’t sure where to begin. He also didn’t know how to broach the subject without getting his father’s hopes up.
As if sensing his hesitation, the older man put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and pressed firmly. “Something on your mind, son?”
Kaidan turned towards him and smiled. His parents had always known how to read him, his father especially.
“I’ve, uh, I’ve been thinking. Mostly about what to do with my life. I mean, there’s a lot I can do with a bio-engineering degree. Just…” Kaidan shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m still debating which direction I want to take.”
“And what options are you considering?”
That was the million-credit question now, wasn’t it? There was only one option at the moment, and Kaidan still had his doubts. He had decided he couldn’t associate BAaT and the Alliance military forever, but he couldn’t get rid of the sour taste in his mouth.
He tried a different approach. “What made you want to enlist when you first started?”
His father leaned against the balcony and threw him a sideways glance that clearly stated he wasn’t fooled.
“You know how much I love you and your mother. But the stars were my first love. As a boy, I used to dream about going up there and making all sorts of exciting discoveries. You know, humans first settled on Mars only five years before I was born, so when I was a kid, it was still all everyone talked about.”
He paused, looking up at the stars; he took a sip of his beer and went on. “After Mars, it seemed anything was possible. Why not Venus, why not Saturn, why not another part of the galaxy? But I knew I didn’t want to be an astronaut. I wanted to serve my country, but I also wanted the opportunities, and back then the military offered plenty. Not as much as they do now, but still plenty enough for the average young man.”
He turned towards Kaidan and put his hand on his son’s shoulder again. “You, on the other hand, are anything but average. I can’t even begin to imagine the opportunities you would be offered, what with all your talents.”
Kaidan couldn’t help but wince, causing his father to shake him gently. “It’s time to take your head out of your ass, son,” he said, not unkindly. “You want to find your place in life? Try working for the greater good. There has never been a better time in the history of mankind to explore, discover, settle new worlds, and the Alliance navy is right out there, at the forefront, protecting us.”
“They didn’t protect me, though, did they?”
The bitter words were no sooner out of his mouth that Kaidan regretted them. But his father wasn’t deterred. “They made a mistake because they’re human, son. And from what I’ve heard, they’ve been doing their best to rectify that mistake. Look, I’m not saying they’re perfect, but at least they’re trying.”
Kaidan didn’t reply. What could he say? That he had tried, too? Part of him wondered if he was being unfair, blaming the Alliance military for BAaT… for Vyrnnus. He wondered if it had been more of a politician’s game, if the brass back then didn’t have a choice.
He sighed. “You think I should enlist then?”
His father shook his head. “I’m not telling you what to do, that’s something you should figure out for yourself. What I will say,” he added with a smile full of nostalgia, “is if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a single thing.”
Kaidan smiled. He knew his father included him in his life choices.
“Do you gentlemen have a minute to spare for a tiny angel?”
Both men turned around to find Larissa, her daughter in her arms, smiling at them.
“Of course! Anything for my lovely nieces!”
Kaidan chuckled and watched as his father extended his hands to ask for the precious bundle. Larissa, however, had another idea. She looked at Kaidan, her head cocked to the side. “You haven’t had a chance to hold her yet. Would you like to?”
Kaidan’s heart tightened. His honey-colored eyes bounced from his father to his cousin, and he rubbed the back of his neck. “Are you… are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t, silly Kay,” she tutted at him. There was an impish glint in her green eyes, the same as her mother’s, but her features softened when she saw how uneasy her young cousin was. “It’s not difficult, sweetie, you just need to hold her head up, don’t worry.”
Kaidan nodded, not trusting his voice, as he held his arms out to receive baby Aya. As he cradled her small head in the crook of his elbow, he couldn’t stop staring. She was so tiny! And when she wrapped her minuscule little hand around his finger, he was a goner. A surge of protectiveness washed over him, and that was the moment he decided to enlist after all. If joining the military meant he could make life safer for people like his family, then he would make it his mission. He was still on the fence about his biotics, but maybe there was a way to avoid using them…
“Lari, where is my princess?”
Sid’s voice came from the living room just before the man himself stepped out onto the balcony. The smile on his face vanished when his eyes landed on Kaidan holding his daughter, and Kaidan’s heart dropped. Without a word, Sid walked up to Kaidan and took the baby from him.
“Sid...” admonished Larissa softly.
Her husband just glared at her and went back inside.
Larissa put her hand on Kaidan’s arm. “He’ll come around.”
“I understand,” he reassured her, despite the lump in his throat. “It’s your first kid, and she’s just a newborn, really. I’d be overprotective, too.”
“Still, that was uncalled for. He’s not allowed to be more overprotective than I am,” she added, trying to keep a lighthearted tone.
Larissa gave Kaidan a quick kiss on the cheek and returned to the living room, which had gone eerily quiet. Kaidan looked at his father and leaned on the balcony railing again, not ready to go back inside. He had meant what he said; he understood why Sid had freaked out. It only served to reinforce his decision to enlist. If keeping his family safe meant he had to stay away from them, that was a price he was willing to pay.
“Lari’s right, you know,” his father said. The older man couldn’t have known what he was thinking, but Kaidan was aware his father knew him well enough to recognize when he was brooding. “Just like we didn’t let you play with matches when you were a toddler, Sid just needs some time to understand that you’re not going to hurt Aya.”
Kaidan snorted. “You’re comparing me to fire?”
His father shrugged and smiled. “I’m comparing you to whatever it takes to put you in the mindset of a new parent. Of course, I also think he should know better, but again, when you’re a new parent, everything and anything is a danger to your child.”
“I know, dad,” Kaidan sighed, looking down at his feet. “Just wish people would stop viewing me as a danger instead of a human being.”
“Someday, son. Someday.”
The two men stood side by side, looking out of the bay. They were each lost in their own thoughts, but Kaidan took comfort in his father’s presence, knowing his dad, too, would do everything he could to keep him safe.
A most heartfelt thank you to tlcinbflo for agreeing to beta this chapter for me! You are awesome, thank you! <3
The Sirta Foundation had chosen Chohe, in the Cacus system of the Hades Gamma cluster, as the site for their medical research outpost. A unit of Alliance marines protected the construction team. Said marines maintained a regular patrol schedule of the surroundings and stood guard near the construction site, where Meris spent her shift.
The long and cool days on Chohe contrasted starkly with the nights, which were longer and freezing. Meris resisted the urge to increase the internal temperature of her armor. It was set to keep her as comfortably warm as possible, but watching the frost form on the ground below the bright spotlights made her shiver and want to crawl into an oven.
Shortly before the end of her shift, McAllister walked up to her, distracting her from the cold.
“Sir!” she saluted the corporal.
“At ease, Private,” he replied automatically, smiling.
She stood at relaxed attention and grinned at him. “I thought Zan… Rossetti was coming too, sir?”
He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Meris, no need to be so formal when it’s just us.”
Meris blushed, properly chastised.
McAllister – Chaz – had told Zander and her to drop the formalities when they were in private. He had befriended them when Meris and Zander were fitted with their L3 implants. The pair had liked that Chaz wasn’t freaked out by biotics. That, coupled with his friendly and approachable nature, led Meris and Zander to quickly overcome the difference in rank, and they became quite comfortable around him.
“Zander should be on his way soon,” Chaz continued. “The staff lieutenant wanted to speak to him, but it didn’t sound like he was in trouble.”
“Maybe he should be in trouble. That way he’d take my shift and freeze here instead of me,” joked Meris.
Chaz chuckled. “That’s not nearly harsh enough for the kind of trouble he gets into.”
“We’re still going for a ride, then?” Meris asked, clasping her hands behind her back, making a gesture of prayer.
“We’re going on patrol, not just a ride.”
“Can I please, for the love of all that’s sacred, drive this time?” she pleaded, trying to keep it from sounding like she was whining. “Zander hogs the Grizzly every single time. I should get a turn, too, every once in a while!”
Chaz burst out laughing.
Meris scowled for good measure. “I’m dead serious, not even kidding!” she insisted.
“All right,” he finally said before she got truly angry with him. “I’ll see what I can do, you’re perfectly right, you should get your turn, too.”
“Damn right,” she muttered. She almost added that it wasn’t fair, but preferred to swallow that last bit, lest Chaz accuse her of being childish.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the orphans!”
The previous joviality chilled, and the atmosphere went tense and frigid. Corporal Martinez approached the pair, flanked by Corporal Sanderson and Private Kiyony. Meris straightened and stared ahead, gritting her teeth to bite back a riposte.
“Fuck off, Martinez,” Chaz drawled.
Meris couldn’t hold back a smirk, and Martinez stomped into her space, snarling in her face. “You think that’s funny, Private?!”
“Sir, no, sir!” she answered, repulsed and trying not to show it as some of Martinez’s spittle coated the inside of his visor.
“What can we do for you, Martinez?” asked Chaz, to create a diversion.
Martinez turned back towards him. “I know about you, McAllister. See, I did some digging, I know you were nothing but a street thug back on Earth.”
“Yeah, so? That’s still one level above you.”
Martinez and his lackeys had clearly expected to rile Chaz and Meris, but the two friends refused to take the bait. Sanderson scratched the back of his head, and Kiyony shuffled his feet. Martinez glowered, reddening by the second. Chaz pretended to stifle a yawn, while Meris remained at attention, not willing to push her luck.
Martinez took a step towards Chaz. “You think you’re better than me, you little punk? You’re nothing but a wannabe gangster banging a freak cunt from a--”
“Martinez!! Stand down!”
The order came from Staff Lieutenant Collins. She was trembling, her free hand balled in a tight fist, and she looked ready to kill someone. Her other hand held Zander by the collar. He flared, obviously itching to jump on Martinez.
The group snapped to attention. Staff Lieutenant Collins took a deep breath and barked, “I suggest you make yourself scarce before I write you up for conduct unbecoming and assign you latrine duty!”
“Aye aye, ma’am!” Martinez jogged away, but not before throwing a murderous glance towards Chaz who completely ignored him.
Staff Lieutenant Collins frowned at Sanderson and Kiyony. “You two, dismissed.”
They didn’t wait for her to repeat herself, trotting after Martinez. Collins watched them retreat and finally let Zander go, as she turned towards Chaz and Meris with a softened expression. “I have news for you two as well.”
“Ma’am?” said Chaz.
Meris cocked her head to the side.
“I initially wanted to talk to you privately, as I did with Rossetti here, but it looks like I can’t turn my back for a single minute without you getting into a scrape.”
“Ma’am!” started Meris until she noticed the smirk on the staff lieutenant’s lips.
“Martinez needs my boot up his ass,” grumbled Zander, still furious.
“I’m warning you, Rossetti,” said Collins, growing serious. “If you go near him or his buddies, I will personally make sure that invitation is rescinded.”
Meris and Chaz waited until the staff lieutenant’s attention refocused on them. “The Captain informed me that you three are among the very few this year to get invited to the Interplanetary Combatives Academy. You’re shipping out at the end of your patrol.”
Meris was floored. Chaz looked no less surprised, while Zander sported a proud grin.
“The Villa, ma’am?” asked Meris, incredulous. “As in N-School?”
“Yes, Shepard, as in N-School,” smiled Collins. “You three have garnered enough commendations in your files that the higher-ups want to see if you’ve got what it takes.”
“Hell yeah, we do!” exclaimed Zander, unable to contain his enthusiasm any longer.
Meris and Chaz exchanged an amused glance. Meris felt her grin grow as wide as Zander’s, as the news sank in. She was going to train with the elite!
The revelation didn’t change their current rotation. Chaz pulled rank to get Zander to relinquish the driver’s seat, which left Meris with a smug smirk. Imagine that, a corporal pulling rank on a private for something as trivial as driving the Grizzly.
Of course, that, and the invitation to the Villa, made it a perfect day in Meris’s book, and her excitement peaked. Whereas Chaz and Zander loudly regretted allowing her to drive.
“Meris, please be a little gentle,” Chaz said, clutching his seat belt, his knuckles already white from exertion.
Zander was decidedly more vocal. “Shepard, I swear, if I die, I’m coming back to haunt you!”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” replied Meris in a singsong tune.
“You will when I start haunting your ass!”
To: ShepardM; Chaz.McAllister
GUESS WHO JUST MADE N3, BITCHES!!
To: ZRossetti2169; Chaz.McAllister
Zander, you pansy. Chaz made N3 two days ago. I made N3 last week.
To: ShepardM; Chaz.McAllister
THE FUCK?! I WILL BEAT YOU!
To: ZRossetti2169; ShepardM
Unlikely. At the rate we’re going, Meris will make N7 long before either of us. She’s that good.
To: Chaz.McAllister; ZRossetti2169
Aww! Thanks, Chaz, you sweetheart.
To: ShepardM; Chaz.McAllister
CHAZ, YOU KISS-ASS!
To: ZRossetti2169; Chaz.McAllister
Have you seen my ass? Totally worth kissing.
To: ShepardM; ZRossetti2169
He meant I kick ass. Unlike him.
To: Chaz.McAllister; ShepardM
FUCK YOU BOTH!!
Your mom told me about the get-together she’s throwing for her promotion. You can request shore leave for a few days, can’t you? You should ask Chaz to come, too. I know I can ask him myself, but it’s for your mother. We talk about him all the time; I think she should meet him. I think she will like him.
You’re on for that bet. But if I make N7 before you do, then you get the tattoo. It should say “Shep’s Bitch.” And you’re not allowed to take it off afterwards! You are so going to regret this.
Oh, guess who was recently assigned to my posting. Kiyony. Remember, one of the pricks who was with Martinez all the time? This time though, I’m the corporal, and he’s still a private, so he can’t bully me. I thought of a couple of ways to make his life miserable, but then I decided to just ignore him. Not worth it. That, and he’s not so tough without Martinez around.
I received my orders for my next posting, after shore leave. I’ll be on the SSV Agincourt. I’m looking forward to it; I heard she’s a pretty great frigate. What about you? Are you staying on the SSV New Delhi?
Get this: I got Meris to bet that she’ll make N7 before I do. When I win, she’ll have to get a tattoo that’ll read “Zander’s Bitch.” How cool is that! She’ll never live it down! You should get in on that bet, too. It’ll make it more fun.
I’m assuming Meris told you that she’s going to be posted on a frigate after her next shore leave. I’m still staying on this old cruiser for another couple of months, I think. My XO hinted at a transfer, but I think she was just trying to threaten me. Little does she know I’d give my right arm to be assigned anywhere on the First Fleet.
My mom is throwing a shindig for her promotion to XO. Took her long enough. Meris wants you to come. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’d be cool if you showed up, but no pressure. Especially during shore leave when you just want to relax, am I right? Still, Meris would be happy. Don’t feel obligated, though.
Congratulations on your first naval posting! That’s really great news! How do you like it so far? Pretty different from being groundside, right? Nothing beats those views, in my opinion.
I’m debating whether to continue N training. It’s hell. I just barely made it to N3 last month. Don’t know how I’m going to pass that; it just gets harder the higher you go. Linguistics classes are the worst. And I saw a staff lieutenant pass out while parachuting. A staff lieutenant! I’m still just a 2nd lieutenant! I don’t know; I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Can’t believe a street rat like me made it this far.
Shepard and Rossetti, the two biotics I told you about, have a competition about who will make N7 first. I would’ve participated, but the loser has to get this lame tattoo. They’re crazy. But they’re still pretty awesome. Meris especially is impressive. During her last training mission, she lifted and threw two of her adversaries at the same time! She’s completely unafraid, and her biotic abilities are incredible. Zander isn’t far behind, but he’s too reckless and impulsive. How about you? Are you still refusing to use your biotics? I won’t harp on it, but you know what I think. Though I guess that means I should stick to my N training, if I’m on your case about not giving up.
I’ll write more later. I hope to hear that you’ve taken up biotic training.
Until next time,
To: K & R Alenko Residence
Dear Mom and Dad,
My next shore leave is coming up in a few days. I’ve got 2 weeks until I need to report back, so I was thinking of coming home.
Remember that kid I mentioned in my message last time? Chip? Well, he’s at it again, following me around like a lost puppy. He’s finally gotten over the fact that I’m “that much older” than he is. But now he’s decided that I’m his mentor and he keeps trying to get me to train him. I keep telling him that I don’t use my biotics anymore, he won’t listen. I think he’s trying to surprise them out of me but it hasn’t worked so far. In fact, I almost punched him out of reflex when he tried to startle me the other day. I’m almost tempted to talk to my staff commander, but at the same time I don’t have the heart. Kid just wants to learn to use his own biotics, you know? He just needs to get it through his head that I’m not going to be his teacher.
On a somber note, thanks for letting me know about old Baxter. It would’ve been a big shock to come home and not find him. Remember that winter he spent chasing after squirrels until that one black one chased him back? Or that time he pushed me in the pool at the grandparents’ house? Yeah, 23 years is a good life for a pooch. And he was loved all that time. I’ll miss him, though. Wish I could’ve been there at the end.
Kaidan stopped typing. He was getting choked up, and he didn’t think crying while writing home would be a good image for him. To distract himself, he thought back to Chaz’s last message. More specifically, he wondered about the two biotics whom Chaz had befriended. Was he making a mistake using his only defensively? His staff commander often made barely veiled comments about what a waste of talent Kaidan was. Nothing too aggressive, just misplaced encouragement that only grated on Kaidan’s nerves.
He shook his head slightly, to rid himself of his doubts. No, it was much better this way. He was dangerous, and until he learnt to control himself unequivocally, he would not use his biotics offensively.
Speaking of learning, there was Chip rounding the corner. Kaidan steeled himself. The younger man spotted him, and his face broke into a huge grin. Kaidan sighed.
A most heartfelt thank you to GuileandGall for agreeing to beta this chapter for me! You are wonderful, thank you! <3