Chapter 1: Prelude: To the baby
Prelude: Datalog Entry: To the baby
There's nothing glamorous about my life, kiddo. You'd think with the progression of the future since the twenty first century, we'd change as a people, but we haven't. There are still poor and rich people; the middle class and the poor still carry the weight of the world on our backs while the rich live off the fat of the land, tax free; minorities aren't even minorities anymore and yet their still treated like an afterthought. I can't tell you how many times my friends Peri and David would tell me how poorly their still getting treated, and how many times I dismissed it like it was nothing because I wasn't in their shores.
I was stupid of course, young and stupid, but I know better now. …Okay, maybe I still don't know a whole lot. I'm a sixteen year old girl, six months pregnant with you and its all thanks because I fell for the charms of some pretty boy with the body of a god. His name was Matthew. Matthew X, I never could pronounce his last name; he'd give me funny look and laugh at me as if he was saying, "ha-ha, typical girl can't pronounce my name", and I felt so stupid that I just forgot trying and called him Matthew or "Matt".
Mom is still furious with me. She hasn't spoken to me in days since she kicked me out of the house. She really had high hopes for me; I did my best to not disappoint her, especially after hearing how she'd brag out me on the phone to her friends. "My daughter is going to have a better life and it's all because she knows where her priorities are."
Then I met Matthew and my grades started to slip, my chores are getting done less and less. But I didn't care, I was the greatest time with Matthew and it was all because of the sex and the way he doted on me; gave me sweets, held my hand and serenaded me with stories of his childhood. The next thing I know I'm twenty pounds heavier from a food binge and failed to notice the gut hanging in front of me wasn't a result of a backed up system or weight gain, but a baby.
Truth be told, this my bed and I have to lie in it now. I could've gotten an abortion, that probably would've been my option if I knew I was pregnant, but I'm stuck with you. And for what it's forth, I don't hate you; I'm pretty undecided about how I feel about having a kid. I mean, there's not much I can do, I'm having you, but will I like you? I hear its love at first sight when mothers see their babies outside of the womb, so who knows? Maybe it'll be the same with me.
I'm just hurting right now. Peri is taking care of me, but I can't help but feel sorry for myself and hating myself for letting get as far as they did with Matthew. I haven't been to school in months; my teacher's know my situation and Peri's been bringing my homework assignments over and taking them to the teacher, I'm sure Matthew X thinks I hate him or something… if he cares.
On the upside, I got a letter from David Shepard. Now there's someone I haven't spoken to in years. We were just kids when his parents packed up and left for Singapore's "greener pastures." I wonder what he looks like? If I get a picture, I show it to you when you're older.
Chapter 2: Reentry
Prompt 1/10: "Cell"
It's not uncommon to dream. Mankind has been told time and time again dreams are a way of processing information, weeding out anxieties or bringing them to light. Prophets call them an instrument of God, his way of communicating with humanity (or otherwise noted).
Maybe it is. Shepard's never been sure on that front, faith or no faith.
She doesn't like to sleep; there's something about closing your eyes and falling into the black that unsettles her makes her hyperaware of her surroundings, especially in the silence. In any other occasion she'd lie with her back facing the wall and her hand underneath her pillow, fingers clasped around her knife.
On the Black Boa, however, there was just the "dream chair", a seat built like a recliner, its only purpose to monitor the brainwaves of the pilot and feed them through visual data via hologram as they slept. Dreams came to life in ways Shepard never thought were possible and all at the expense of your mental facilities privacy.
"Shepard, you awake?"
Hannah's eyebrows twitched at the sound of Peri's voice over the intercom. Cracking open one eye, she surveyed the flickering orange image playing out before her. December 21ST, 2158; lying in this chair made it feel like two years had passed her back was so stiff. Scrubbing her face, Hannah disengaged the recorder and the hologram vanished dimming the room considerably.
"I'm awake, what is it?"
"No trouble, if that's what you think; we've reached the station."
"Gotcha, I'll be up in a sec," Hannah climbed out of the chair and headed toward the cockpit. The length of the ship was short; between the cockpit, engine room and cargo hold, there wasn't much in the way of space and maneuverability. As a short-range recon ship, Hannah found the compact craft stifling; it reminded her too much of a cell she spent in once on Thessia. There was a just enough space to throw yourself around once your started going crazy. Grabbing the railing above Hannah hoisted herself above the ramp and swung over the threshold, landing behind the pilot's chair. Peri cast a glance over her shoulder, a sort of disapproving look on her face. Hannah ignored her and situated herself in the co-pilot seat and crossed her legs.
A burst of a static rattled over the com unit before a proper response was made.
"You're cleared to dock Boa, do you require transport?"
"Negative on the transport, Kennedy, I'll handle it," Hannah replied.
"Very well, happy landings Shepard," Kennedy's melodic voice dropped into the background before the coms unit went silent, eliciting a single raise of an eyebrow from Peri.
"Hey, she's not the one driving, I am." Hannah shot her co-pilot a critical expression; it was the kind of expression that Peri was too accustomed to since becoming assigned to exploration duties with the Sergeant as her back-up.
Captain Peri Whitaker regarded Hannah with an equally critical expression. Removing both hands from the controls she shrugged her shoulders in a manner that automatically cleared of her any wrongdoing. "It's true enough, you aren't flying," Peri rebuked, as the ship was guided into the docking area.
"Autopilot counts as flying," Hannah quipped.
"It does not," Peri countered.
"I think it does."
"This is exactly why you aren't a pilot, Sarge," Peri grinned.
"I'm a qualified pilot, Whitaker, I just prefer the ground."
"Well that says as much about as "single parent, looking for a husband"," Peri liked to nag her friend for her unsanctioned-marital status despite the presence of David. Both were firm believers in marriage before children, but Hannah had long since gotten over the fact that she'd done it backwards and with her first boyfriend. Besides, if a retired priestess wasn't enough to sanction marriage and legitimatize two children she wasn't sure what good an active priest would do.
There'd be time for another marriage sometime, just not now. "Not really," Said Hannah, "there aren't a lot people I feel comfortable handing control of a ship over to; usually I don't have a choice, but doesn't make any make me any less fidgety about flying," Hannah rebuked.
"Oh, yeah, what does say about me?"
"It means your better than a "fine" or "great" pilot Peri," Hannah ended the line of conversation there. Peri took from the comment what she could but pushed the issue no further. Once the Black Boa was brought to a gentle halt and secured, the two stood from their chairs and headed for the cargo hold.
"Have you heard from the Lieutenant-Commander yet?"
"No, I doubt I will for some time," Hannah crossed her arms as she watched the thin beam of light roll across the walls.
"Oh, c'mon, this assignment can't be that important," Peri nudged her friend in the ribs. "He should call the kids at least." Hannah rolled her shoulders and stretched her arms at the same time the cargo bay door opened and lowered the ship's platform. "He'll call when he's got downtime, I'm not worried," She replied.
"Stiff upper lip, eh?"
"Something like that, Whitaker."
Chapter 3: Getting Home
One: Getting Home
(2143 Council Era):
"Hannah! Hannah, come inside now, it's getting dark!" Hannah ceased to roll around in the grass long enough to hear the sound of her mother's voice fade into the echo of the lot across the way. The high buzz of the crickets and the noisy chatter of the cicada burrowed in the green environment around her compelled the six year old to remain where she was. To remain still and simply listen to the sound of their music.
Then there was her mother, who only gave you one chance to heed her calls before she left outside and locked the door for disobeying her. Pulling herself into an upright position, Hannah brushed the dirt out of her hair and grabbed her miniature plane. Securing her sandals across from her, Hannah slipped them onto her feet and headed for the gated exit of the lot. "Hey, where are you going?" A little boy with brown skin and curly ginger hair appeared from the long glass, disappointment evident in his round features. Hannah waved to her best friend apologetically. "Sorry, David, ma's calling me, I gotta go!" She called.
"I promise we can play some tomorrow, though, okay? See ya!"
"But, Hannah, I'm not-" Hannah didn't wait for David to finish his sentence. She ran out of the lot and down the block to her home as fast as her legs could carry her. When she reached the old row houses she spotted her mother standing on the stairs with her hands on her hips. "Hannah, you're late," She noted with disapproval. "I called you five minutes ago."
"Sorry, ma, I didn't mean to ignore you," Hannah apologized.
"Nevermind, just get inside, scamp," Jennifer hurried her daughter inside the house and closed the door behind her. Hannah removed her sandals midway into the house and made a beeline for the kitchen. In the background she picked up the chatter from the television, a new report, but she wasn't really listening. The shadow of her mother's figure enveloped her for a moment as she walked past the sink. Hannah balanced clumsily on the foot stool as she rubbed her hands together under the running water. "Their nearly finished building that huge space station," Jennifer mused mainly to herself.
Hannah regarded her mother's blank expression as she watched the television from the island of the kitchen and blinked. She'd been hearing a lot about this "Space station" since before school started; there were lots of people hoping to move from earth to space to find new homes, but Hannah couldn't figure out why. What was wrong with living on earth? Was it a bad thing to be here all of a sudden, or did people really like floating around like the astronauts?
It all seemed pointless to Hannah, who'd decided early on that she preferred to the blue skies to the blackness of space.
Chapter 4: Favorites
Prompt 2/10: "Deviate"
Competition between siblings was a natural, the older vs. the younger trying to assert a status of superiority over the other was bound to happen regardless of the lessons they were raised on.
Ever since the arrival of Jane, John was seeking was some sort of affirmation. He wasn't a clingy child, somewhere between three and six years he asserted some sort of independence that never had him seeking her bed late at night (often) or clinging to her leg when she returned to active duty.
Nowadays, whenever she wasn't working, Jane and John were never far behind her; John walking a few steps behind her, eyes wandering the interior details of the ship, Jane hung off her back as she worked her way through the less taxing and hazardous parts of her duties.
Jane was a picture of happiness when she wasn't hungry, John was quiet when he had a model plane to construct and his father nearby to bombard with questions if she wasn't available.
Yet, John was taking a particular issue with the presence of his sister; Jane peeked out behind her tawny locks and over her mother's shoulder like a watcher questioning the presence of unwanted company, John challenged her with a similar look. Hannah did her best not to pay much attention to their jealousy of one another; she humored him as much as she did Jane, it wasn't in her nature to play favorites, she was never raised that way.
And she would see to it that her children never made a habit of it either.
Chapter 5: From Shepard, with Love
(2147 Council Era):
The letter came moments before she had to leave for school. Peri had come running down the street with the envelope in her hand and told her to read it after school. Hannah, being her curious self, however, read it during lunch as she waited for David to show up.
I'm sorry I can't come to school today. I tried to tell you a few weeks ago,
but you wouldn't listen. My dad got a job offer in Singapore, and he made
a deal with the boss in that area. My Mom's real exited, so she's been ignoring
me everytime I tried to tell her I didn't want to leave. I don't wanna
leave, but I don't have a choice. I'll miss you a lot; I'll try to write to write every day.
…To put it mildly, Hannah felt numb. One of the things she never expected to happen happened and it was all without her notice. She sat in school waiting, hoping and willing his presence to be there before the final bell rang.
Nothing ever came of it. His seats sat empty, cold and unoccupied for the entire length of the school period. He wasn't in the library, he wasn't on the school yard, and he wasn't anywhere he usually was. In a desperate attempt to ascertain the information she was looking for, she skipped her final class and ran the entire way back home to their neighborhood. Instead of a car or David fooling around with one of his toy robots, there was a big red and blue "SOLD" sign sticking out of the ground, swinging idly on the winds.
Instead of occupied house, she found an interior stripped down to the bone with only a few belongings (like a rug and table) left behind. Like ghosts in a haunted house, chased away by the light, they were gone from the Victorian row house like they were never there. Disappointed and heartbroken, Hannah stumbled down the marble stairs and flopped down on the ground. Her skin chafed underneath the harsh concrete, yet she didn't seem mind or care. Pulling her legs against her chest she pressed her forehead against her knees and tried not to cry.
Hours seemed to pass without effort, the sun danced across the law and sidewalk, ushering people back and forth to their desired destinations. They took no notice of her, the ones that didn't care, assuming she was no one of any great import. It took the flare of car headlights to draw her out of her stupor; lifting her head she watched the minivan pull up next to the curb and a woman only slightly bigger than herself jump out the side door.
"Hannah!" She recognized Peri's voice the moment she spoke her name. Hannah felt her faulty resolve crack when Peri wrapped her arms around her tiny frame. Peri's voice was sharp, reprimanding and fraught with concern, the volume of her tone went up and down, but Hannah didn't care. She threw her arms around her friend's neck and cried. Peri felt a pang of guilt hit her square in the chest as she hoisted the girl into her arms. Hannah's legs wrapped around Peri's waist allowing the young woman to walk unhindered toward her father's car. "I'm so sorry, Hannah," She whispered into her hair. Hannah went to bed that night without eating, too sick from crying and thinking about David to even comprehend coming out of hiding. No amount of council from her mother helped. The jerk. How could leave he like that? Why hadn't she listened to him?
Chapter 6: Odds
Prompt 3/10: "Enclosed"
Knowing David Shepard was not the highlight of her life. At least not in the same way most seem to depict their "fortuitous encounter". No fireworks enclosed by sweeping ambiance, no long stares across an open room; not even a sunlit halo appearing either of their heads. They'd met as children through the affiliation of their parents; they grew up together despite the distance created by their circumstances. Civilians turned military grunts, through thick and thin, David was someone she could trust without question. Hannah wasn't sure when the line between "friend" and "lover" blurred, ended or began. Aside from the physical interaction, the relationship hadn't changed so much on the outside (for appearances sake). They kept things professional when need be and fooled about when given the chance to relax.
It never ceased to amaze Hannah how much a quiet shuttle ride down onto the planet in which their trial would commence could change things. Neither clumsy nor inept, David was the picture of a competent soldier, worthy of the attention of the navy, but she would've preferred that his compulsive heroics didn't hit him in the middle of an endurance test. They'd been separated from their rest of the unit, and already she had a liability in Shepard who'd taken it upon himself tackle her to the ground in the middle of a firefight.
In the split second they collided the explosion he attempted to protect her from knocked them backward down the hillside. Ears ringing and stomach turning, Hannah had little to no time brace herself for the sudden stop or the loud crack she couldn't discern as armor or bone. Regaining consciousness wasn't as a hard as maintaining it; David had been oblivious to the world when she came to. Acting on impulse rather than reason, Hannah kicked David over the ledge and hoped the best when she joined him down the rest of the way down. Tall grass and busy environments kept them out of the seeking eyes of the unmanned drones that ambushed their company. They hobbled their way through hostile territory until they found a space Hannah deemed safe enough to crouch in until she patch them up.
It wasn't her first outing as field leader of a unit, but the attack had come so suddenly that she couldn't help but blame herself for chaotic mess they tumbled into trying to defend their position and their lives. There were no colorful signs that told them where enemy and friendly territory would be, they were blind outside of the knowledge of where the jamming signal was coming from.
But then that was the point wasn't it?
"You think the others made it to the base?"
"There are still drones right outside the perimeter, so, no, I don't think the others made it to the base," Hannah stated flatly. Focusing her attention on the far end of the cave, Hannah caught of glimpse of Shepard's frame as he uncurled from his hunched position on the floor and stood. He hobbled his way over to where she stood - just a couple feet away from the entrance of the cave they were hiding it - with all the dignity of a maimed soldier. "You shouldn't be standing," She reproached.
David considered his leg; his foot was resting lightly above the ground. The slightest amount pressure applied to his leg would send him kneeling to the ground. In an attempt to elevate the mood, he offered her a shrug and roguish grin. "Maybe I like standing."
"We shouldn't be talking; drones could pick up our location."
Okay, she had him there. "Maybe I like talking?"
Hannah pressed her lips together in irritation; so it was going to be like that? The Han Solo and princess Leia routine? Pushing away from the wall she moved away from the cave entrance and closed the distance between them. Giving him no illusion of what her actions meant, she kicked him solidly in the leg. David bit back a yelp as the strength in his left leg vanished and his leg bucked, he landed on his behind with a thump. Folding her arms, she remained standing and continued. "Then maybe you like to get kicked out of Alliance for endangering our lives because you failed to follow a simple order?"
David winced more at the pinching pain in his ribs than the tone of her voice. "And kicking me is supposed to prevent that?" Shepard said. Hannah's lips parted to rebuke him again then thought better of it. Casting a look over her shoulder she peered into the dimness of the moonlight; the light of the drones were drawing closer to their position, she could only assume they already had their heat signatures, so it was simply a matter of evading them and putting enough distance between them.
"On second thought, Shepard, get your ass up. We've got more walking to do," Hannah hurried over to edge of the cave's entrance and grabbed her helmet off the ground. Shepard was already on his good leg when she ducked under his arm and started forward. "With any luck we'll reach the base before the next sunset," David huffed as he fought to keep up with Hannah's quick pace.
"We have to find the jamming tower first; we take that out and we'll able to communicate with the others," Hannah reminded him.
"You want to take out the tower without back up? Sounds tactically unsound to me, eezo. Let's not forget I'm injured- and on your own you can't possibly stand up against the drones." At the sound of concern in his voice, Hannah shot Shepard a look of confidence that far exceeded the panic in the pit of her stomach. "We've faced worse odds Shepard."
Chapter 7: Ere the stars shimmered, there was God
(2148 Council Era):
Everywhere you went people were talking about it, and if it wasn't on the lips of the people it was in the papers or magazines. Mankind had made the biggest discovery since… well, Hannah was going to figure either the Ark of the Covenant or Noah's Ark itself. Signs of an ancient civilization on mars had been found and with it the technology that had been only possible through the power of science fiction. "The next possible step in humankind's progression has been found, and on mars of all places!" The scientist had joked, eliciting a series of forced laughter from the crow she was addressing in the press release. Staring at the model plane that been sitting idle on her shelf for over a year, Hannah could just imagine David's face as he was sure to be watching the news report in Singapore.
Everyone at school was ecstatic, boys and girls were bouncing off the walls with intense enthusiasm or genuine or feigned disinterest on the subject altogether. If science wasn't your subject, it didn't matter, you were going to hear about this news from your teachers anyway and they were going to ask how you felt on the matter.
Hannah felt her own excitement fighting its way to the surface to join the conglomerate, yet she kept it largely to herself in fear of being teased or hassled like a few kids were in her class for bringing up the "Mars discovery" at all. Far be it from her to rain on anyone's parade, but it was hard not to think about it. She'd lie in bed wondering for hours what life could've been like on Mars for the civilization that occupied the red planet. She wondered what the ruins found by the research team could do for humanity that didn't end with a full scale alien invasion via 'Independence Day' or 'War of the Worlds'.
Were there aliens out there watching and judging them as if they were God and planned to do away with them? What if the ruins were a trap? An endless countless number of possibilities ran through her mind, unrivaled by the awe at the prospect of traveling through space like an Outlaw on the XGP-15A2.
Her mother was eating up all kinds of information, recording the coverage and collecting the articles. There was hardly a time when the television or computer wasn't on, transfixed on the discovery of the century. "I can't believe your mom is actually excited about this," Peri voiced one day over the phone. "She didn't seem the type."
"I know, there are papers everywhere about it, I'm actually kinda worried," Hannah murmured, peering out the crack of her door. There was no sign of her mother anywhere, which meant she must've still been asleep. "What about your parents? What do they think about this?"
"Not much. Dad thinks just another hoax created by the government, my mom wishes they'd just shut up about it already," Peri explained. "I wonder, what do you think your dad would think of all this?"
"If I knew him he'd probably act the same as your dad I bet," Hannah relied. "Have you heard from David yet?"
"Nah, he hasn't written you?" Peri asked. Hannah shook her head, ignoring the fact that Peri couldn't see it. "Nope, which means he's either forgotten us, or he's as nuts as everybody else is about this mars thing." There was a bout of laughter from Peri as she said, "I'd put money on it, Hannah."
Chapter 8: Nothing at All
Title: Nothing at All
Prompt 4/10: "Devil"
Hannah swallowed uneasily as she gazed upon the small idol sitting atop her bedside table; she felt small just thinking about it (which wasn't often if she could help it), but it kept the devil at bay and brought more luck than she could account for. Sitting on the edge of her bed she turned her gaze toward the cool metal walls of her bedroom. Dragging a hand across her cheek, Hannah pressed her toes against the fabric of her pants which lay strewn on the floor.
There wasn't a lot she could do about it; either nothing would happen or she'd get sick, either way it was hard not to fathom what it might do to her and have her mind drift to the worst case scenario; her stomach recoiled at the touch of his arm wrapping itself around her.
The bed shifted under his weight as he pressed himself against her, lying on his side, David propped himself up half way and placed a chaste kiss on her shoulder blade, her skin prickled and suddenly she aware of how sticky she felt. He watched her troubled reflection in the mirror. "I can't have been that horrible," He attempted a joke.
Hannah shook her head, taking his hand in hers. She couldn't bring herself to speak, every time she tried to her throat closed up and her mind shut down. "Hey, Hannah, what's the matter?" David pulled himself into an upright position on the bed and threw his legs over the edge. When she didn't answer, he nudged her with his shoulder. "Talk to me."
"It's nothing, I was just thinking about… nothing," Hannah huffed and leaned against him.
"Nothing, nothing, nothing," David repeated. "You seem to do a lot of that lately. Something you don't want me to know or can we chalk it to another unfortunate side effect of your condition?"
"Yes and, no. I'm just tired, tired of carrying this kid, tired of being tired. Just plain tired," She replied. David allowed his eyes to fall on her stomach for a moment before fixing his gaze upon her troubled face. After a moment he asked, "Is there anything I can do? The doc said-"
Hannah shook her head. "I know what Dr. Gilliam said, and we'll be fine. Go back to bed."
And it was there the road for conversation ended. Knowing he couldn't pull her out of her funk, David pressed another kiss to her shoulder and returned to the comfort of his side of the bed. Hannah listened to him rustle under the covers until he found the minimal spot of comfort. She stayed up a little longer, allowing her mind to drift off into nowhere. As her eyes started to close a hand, free of calluses, placed itself on her leg.
Opening her eyes she stared down at the miniature version of her ex-boyfriend's blue eyes. She hadn't even heard him come in. "John, hey, kiddo," She whispered, doing her best to reach down. John batted her hands away and attempted to hoist himself up onto the mattress. Disregarding his pride, Hannah pulled the two year old up by the neck of his shirt onto the bed next to her. "Come to say hi to your sister?" Bright eyed and excitable, John whispered a quick "yeah." Hannah smiled wearily at his enthusiasm and hugged him. His arms were too short to wrap around her, but she appreciated the effort all the same.
Chapter 9: A matter of convenience
(2149 Council Era):
"You know, it's weird."
"You know what's weird is that you almost start every one of your sentences like that," Peri grumbled, chewing contentedly on her plastic spoon. Hannah regarded her friend with a sidelong look, one that ignored by the older girl. "It's true!"
I'm being serious, here, Per," Hannah rebuked. "Oh, I know it, believe me, I do," Peri assured, tossing her spoon into the garbage can across from them. "I just like teasing you about it. Your too young to be so serious all the time, kiddo."
"When did twelve years old become too young to be serious?" Hannah inquired. "This world is changing fast, and I've gotta grow up, you know?"
"Hannah, nothing in this world is asking you to grow up, certainly not your mother," Peri inflected, nudging her friend on the shoulder. "And certainly not all the bullsh- stuff going on with the government and outer space." Hannah kicked her legs back and forth in physical response to her friend's words; the backs of her shoes knocked against the kickboard of the wall behind her, eliciting a pointed look from Peri.
"You know, I used to think like you did," Peri murmured. "I thought if I behaved like a grown up, then I'd be treated like a grown up, but it never happened. I was always told to act my age, quit playing grown up and enjoy my time as kid."
"Your fourteen, Peri. That's still a kid according to grownups."
"My point is, just-" She sighed. "Well, I suppose I don't have a point. Just try not to grow up too fast, eezo. I've seen what it's done to some my friends and it's not pretty. Now what was 'weird'?"
"Oh, that again."
"No, I'm serious, Peri. You don't think it's weird how fast the government has found and used all this alien technology to improve our own?"
"Not really, no."
"You don't think it's a little to convenient that Mars, after all the years we've been scraping at its surface, suddenly decides to show us there's alien ruins and mass stuff that we can use to our advantage?"
"Again, no. Why does it have to be a conspiracy?"
"Because, it just feels too simple."
"Hannah, I love you, but sometimes you can be really silly," Peri sighed. "It's not like there's an actual area fifty one or giant tripod monsters that'll land on our planet and try to harvest our blood and all that. We just got lucky if you ask me, really lucky. Nothing bad is gonna happen, kiddo." Hannah shot her friend another sidelong look. "You can't promise that, Peri."
"Well, no, I can't and I never did, but I can hope can't I?"
Chapter 10: Full of Stars
Title: Full of Stars
Prompt 5/10: "Ocean"
"Can you believe this?" Peri called over her shoulder as she strolled patiently back and forth in the training room, ignoring the expansive view of the ocean before her. Hannah stopped lifting her weights altogether to peer at the television screen that had captivated her friend's attention so fully. The camera's perspective pulled away from the extreme close up to reveal the monotone expression of the reporter recounting the information was being fed to her.
Barley a week into the conflict on Shanxi and Hannah felt more useless lifting weights than she did when she tried distracting the kids from the television when David it had on. They wanted to help, but there was nothing they could do, not with the turians orbiting the planet, rendering passage to their soldiers impossible.
"It's not right, what's happening down there," Peri muttered darkly. "We should be down there." Hannah regarded Peri's angry expression with some sympathy, knowing exactly how she was feeling. Dropping the weights Hannah rose from the bench and closed the distance between them. The African-American young woman flinched when Hannah placed a hand on her shoulder; Peri lowered her gaze so that her eyes were focused on the mud of her boots. "I know the feeling, but can't disobey orders. It would just make things worse."
Peri shrugged Hannah's hand from her shoulder with a dismissive huff. "Yeah, maybe, or maybe we could actually do some good," She said.
"That's assuming we can get past the turian fleet, which would be next to impossible," Hannah affirmed. "Put it out of your mind, friend."
"Roger that, Shepard."
Author's Note: Apologies for any inaccuracies here.
Chapter 11: Correspondence
(2151 Council Era):
The Alliance is building another space station, can you believe it? I never thought they'd make another one after Jump Zero.
How've you been, Hannah? Sorry I haven't written in so long, I've been busy with school and helping mom around the house to use the community computers at the public library.
Write back as soon as you can,
Yeah, I heard, it's all over the news, they even showed concepts of what it might look like in the next ten or so years (if it takes them that long. You never know). I've been alright David; I'm working my way through high school like anyone else in the neighborhood.
The better question is how you've been? I don't mind so much you're not writing, but I do mind that you aren't telling me much about Singapore, which I would love to hear about. Are the neighborhoods better or worse? How are the people?
Talk to you later,
Hey, I'm sorry I've been so vague about the details, I guess I'm still a bit shell shocked from the move despite how long it's been and man it's been a long time! Singapore is great; at first it was a little strange, language barrier and all. If it weren't for my mother and that old Rosetta Stone program, I might've been dead in the water when it came time for me to go to school! I get a lot of comments about my bad accent whenever I speak Chinese (apparently I sound like a tourist, at least according to my friend Bernard), but otherwise the people here are pretty nice so far.
The apartment could be bigger, everything here is crowded together that its heard trying not to fall over a futon as your leaving the room to enter the kitchen just a couple inches away.
I've gotta go, mom's callin me for something. - 3, David Shepard
Chapter 12: Hang the Chauvinists
Title: Hang the Chauvinists
Prompt 6/10: "Promise"
David felt a strange sense of déjà vu as he watched Hannah walk from one end of her bedroom; her folded arms revealed the toned muscles underneath and a moment of admiration hit him square in the chest as he followed her agitated body language with his eyes only. David had been preoccupied with fighting with his chopsticks when Hannah came breezing through the mess hall and demanded an audience with him at once.
David followed his lady Shepard through the crowded halls with his takeout in one hand and the chopstick in the other. Somewhere between leaving the mess hall and reaching Hannah's bedroom, David realized that he was running low on noodles. "What could be so important that it couldn't wait until I was finished eating, Hannah? I'm low on munitions," He complained. Hannah stopped walking and kneeled down in front of bed. Comfortable in his spot, David chomped impatiently on the last of his noodles. Finally, Hannah emerged from behind the bed and chucked the chest plate of her armor toward him. Acting on reflex only, David dropped his noodles and chopsticks and caught the chest plate in record time; it was only a mere few inches from hitting him square in the chest. "Hannah!"
"Relax, David, I knew you'd catch it," Hannah remarked, hardly phased by his aghast. "Well, I wish I did," he mused to himself as he turned the chest plate to face him. Mesh, Kevlar, reinforced ceramic padding; everything seemed to be present from where he was sitting. He glanced up at his wife in question. "Okay, what am I looking at?" David noted dully. "It just looks like your armor."
"Look again, David," Hannah intoned, folding her arms. "I took it to get repaired after that scrap on Omega. You remember?"
"Yeah, you were pretty dinged up considering how the batarian's looked after we reached you and Whitaker," David muttered, wishing he didn't have to remember. "Damn mercs."
"Blacksmith told me it'd take about three weeks to get the armor back to functioning order and when I asked him why he said something about a "mass recall" on the armor I was using."
"You've got a reserve, right?" David inquired.
"Yeah, that's what I've been using lately," Hannah replied. "He told me the military was recalling the armor for the women because of a design flaw they just found."
"But, they use the same materials as the armor for the guys and we haven't got any recalls."
"That's what I told him, but he said it was becoming hard to find the proper replacement pieces for my armor. He couldn't make any promises about finding exact replicas, but he'd do his best."
"So I got a call from today, he told me my armor was ready and he had it delivered to the ship. I thought it was weird, but thought nothing of it. I was just happy to have my armor back, and then I saw the chest plate." David looked down at the chest plate again and saw what she was talking about. He guffawed, not at her, but at the realization of where his thumbs were positioned. "There are breasts on your armor, Hannah."
"And the light comes on at last," She groused, closing the distance between them. "There's a lot buzz about this on the extranet, most of it mixed. The latest armors designs the Alliance proposed are preposterous."
David leveled his gaze on Hannah's chest; he focused on the chest plate again. The reasonable part of him wanted to agree with Hannah, but there was his libido and his libido wasn't seeing a huge problem in the representation of his wife's breasts on her chest plate. "Is it really so bad, eezo? I mean, it's not like they gave you a metal thong and bra. It's still your armor - it's just has boobs on them now."
"And can you tell me why exactly, in name of the traverse, why they thought after God-knows-how-long, it was suddenly necessary to put a physical identifier on our armor? I mean, what is this, the twenty first century? They can't tell women from men?"
"N-no, I'm pretty sure they can tell women from men; I mean, how can't you?" David chuckled lamely. "And to be fair, the 21st century military and NASA didn't put boobs on everything."
"That's exactly my point, David! If you can tell I'm a woman, why is it necessary to have breasts on my armor now? They're not even that size," Hannah added pointing at the modest cup size on the armor.
"No, 32b is definitely not your size."
"Chauvinist pigs didn't even take cup size into consideration before approving the armor. Next they'll put three inch heels on our boots and send us out to fight in swimsuits."
"Hannah, have you tried getting in touch with the department?"
"You know I haven't; I can't even find a number." David shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe Peri knows? She's pretty close with the department who handles the upgrades for that outdated ship of hers; maybe she's got a number." Hannah chose not to answer her husband vocally; she removed the armor from his hands and tossed it across the room, it hit the ground like a rock hit the bottom of a river. "I think I'll do that. Thanks, David."
"Glad, I could be of service. Now, about tonight-"
"When we get to the Citadel, not before or after."
Author's Note: This is primarily inspired by the continued debate of the "boob plate" on armor as perpetuated by Games and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Genre (apparently, college professors even engage in debates about this, go figure :p). Jane Shepard doesn't strike me as the kind to be bothered by it once she enlists, but her mother (as evidenced here) had other ideas about them. Personally, of I'm of the mind that they aren't necessary (artistically or visually speaking), but to each their own.
Chapter 13: Problems, Problems and Problems
(July 2153, Council Era):
"Cute, cute, cute and cute."
Peri looked up from the radio in her car long enough to catch the figure that had caught the attention of her best friend. "Who? The kid over there?" She deadpanned, eliciting a grunt of displeasure from Hannah who slapped her on the shoulder. Peri leaned back in her chair and shrugged her shoulders. "What, I'm not seeing anything fetching about this guy, eezo," Said Peri with all the honestly she could muster. Hannah readjusted the collar of her jacket and focused her attention back on the boy leaning against the bike rack shooting the breeze with his friends. Mousy hair that reminded her peach fuzz, full lips, blue eyes, strong jaw and sharp features that offset perfectly flawless skin; what was she seeing that Peri wasn't? He was gorgeous. "What do you mean? He's gorgeous!" Hannah countered, pouting her lips.
"Hannah, you act like you've never seen a boy before; he looks just like the other guy you were crushing on last year."
"Hey, that's no fair, that guy was brunette and had stringy hair. He was also weird and liked to make faces at me."
"He also had a beak for a nose, but who's counting that, yeah?" Peri muttered, readjusting her rearview mirror. "You have no taste in men, Hannah."
"Says the girl who thinks James Moriarty is fabulous,"
"Hey, don't knock, that was a gorgeous man. He had gorgeous beautiful brown eyes, I can see why Lucile Beverley wanted to sleep with him in Exhale," Peri said. "The man had swagger."
"Please no, stop with the twentieth century slang,"
Peri let out a bark of laughter as she threw her head back. "Oh, come on! It can't be any worse than the terminology we're using now." Hannah rolled her eyes at her friend's counterargument; there was nothing worse than the slang from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a single English class convinced her of that. As her eyes leveled on the dashboard, Peri nudged her shoulder. "So, do you know his name or do you have me stalking some guy who doesn't know you exist?"
"Matthew something, I got to show him around the school," Hannah breathed. "I think we hit it off really well."
"Really? He can't have made that big of an impression if you can't remember his last name," Peri remarked.
"He's got some weird last name, Dutch, I think. I can't pronounce it just yet," Hannah muttered, embarrassed. "Believe me, I think this guy really likes me." Peri rolled her eyes for what felt like the umpteenth time since arriving at the park. Hannah, God bless the girl, could be extremely fickle about the masculine persuasion; it wasn't unusual for a girl her age, her hormones were still raging and it was only natural that she'd be attracted to and hit on anything with a sausage swinging between his legs.
And on any other occasion Peri might've ignored the chatter she spewed forth about her latest male conquest, if it weren't the vibe she was getting off this Matthew X guy. Sure, he looked appealing (if you liked undercooked toast), but there was… something unsettling about him. She couldn't put her finger on it, but whatever it was, it wasn't agreeing with her feelings at all. "Oh, here he comes!" Hannah squeaked excitedly, extending her hand out the car window to wave him over to their direction.
Peri bit the inside of her cheek and watched as the "gorgeous" Matthew X closed the distance between himself and her car. For Hannah's sake, she hoped her feelings were wrong. Peri kept her face noncommittal as she watched Hannah readjust herself in the passenger's seat. Matthew X leaned forward, the palm of his hand pressed against the top edge of the passenger side window, his knuckles pressed against his forehead.
"Hey- Hi, Hannah," He greeted, his tone polite and hesitant. Hannah beamed at him. "Hey, Matthew," She answered back.
"This is Peri." She shifted the attention from herself to her friend, to which Peri responded by extended her hand. "Hiya, Peri Whitaker. Nice to finally meet you, Matthew," Peri maintained a level tone of voice and a pleasant smile as his larger hand took hers and gave it a firm shake.
Matthew was a hard nail to peg; there were times where he could be one the most awkward individuals at any given time, tripping over his words and cracking jokes at inopportune times, prompting her to wonder if she was getting a repeat of Mark Hershel the Class Clown ™ all over again. (The latter was the only time she would admit that her judge of character was off to Peri, so she was hoping that Matthew was a completely different situation altogether.)
However, then there were times when he was so calm and collected that it was actually unnerving that he could slip one arm around her waist and kiss her gently on the lips, rendering all mental facilities useless in the moment. It was like being with two different people all the time; she was starting to wonder what was the act and what was the real deal.
Please, don't be an asshole, please don't prove my mother right. Hannah would repeat the mantra in her head over and over whenever his mood would shift gears from awkward to self-assured. If there was one thing she didn't like, it was being unsure in a situation that required clarity and certainty. Her mother always warned her about the boy that would sweep you off your feet, whisper sweet nothings in your ear and throw you onto the bed with the promise of great first time sex. "It's how I ended up with you after all," Jennifer would sigh.
Hearing those words made her paranoid not just about men, but the love her mother had for her (if she had any at all); there wasn't a doubt that her mother was obligated to take care of her child, but did she really love her? Hannah hated thinking about such things; it put her in a rotten mood and made her hate her mother.
And Matthew? Sleeping with Matthew was awkward as hell, primarily because of inexperience. Either way, his mood didn't switch as much as it used to in the beginning. He was settled, a little less curious about her body even, perfectly content to hold her hand in public without fear of repercussions or a disapproving look from her. He also talked a little less about himself and was more inclined to fool about during their study time.
She wasn't sure what to think of that, really.
Lying flat on her back, one arm tucked under her head, Hannah counted the flickering lights of the artificial stars projected on the bedroom ceiling above. The nebula of the sol system drifted into her line of sight and she tried to spot the locations for the clusters she'd memorized for last week's test. Wisps of blonde hair entered her vision, her eyes widened a little from their half-mass state as Matthew peered down at her.
"Have you ever thought of living on another planet?" Matthew asked. Her head snapped in his direction, his eyes were fixed on the ceiling above.
"No, not really," Hannah replied. "Earth is just fine for me."
"You wouldn't even want to visit the colonized planets? Terra Nova, or Shanxi for instance?" He pressed. Hannah shrugged her shoulders, eyes wandering the ceiling. "Visit, maybe, but live there?"
She shook her head. "Visit? Yeah, okay. But live on another planet? No, I'd feel a little too isolated on those planets to call them a safe place to live."
"Isolated? The colonized planets are connected to the Systems Alliance at all times, at least from what I hear," Matthew said. "I don't think anything bad could happen to them, if that's what you're thinking."
"Maybe not, but I'm not looking to relocate to another planet," Hannah yawned. "Earth is just as good as any other place in the traverse." Matthew stole a peek at the alarm clock on her side of the bed; the time was exactly 5:20am, which meant it was time for him to book it before her mother woke up. Rising from the bed, he patted her shoulder. "I've gotta go, I'll see you in school later today, yeah?"
Hannah nodded numbly. "Yeah, later." Matthew bent over and grabbed his belongings off the floor. Hopping into his clothes, he shrugged his jacket on and climbed out of the open window. Like a ghost he slipped across the lawn and down the street, Hannah watched him go until he was gone from her line of sight.
Climbing out of bed, Hannah slipped into her robe and proceeded to stripe her bed of her sheets; rolling them into a ball, she hurried out of the bedroom and into the washing room on the far end of the hall. Making short work of her covers she headed into the bathroom on the left and started the shower up under the pretense that her mother left some hot water for her to use.
"Hey, you! Girl with the bed hair!" Hannah jumped at the boldness in what was recognizably Peri's voice within the confines of her car. Hannah looked to her right in time to catch the mini-van's bright blue paint job roll into her line of sight as it approached the curb. Peri's expression was unusually dower for this time of day; Hannah could only wonder what was bothering her seeing as they hadn't spoken to each other in four months since July. "Hey, Hannah."
"Hey, Peri, how've been?" She asked.
"I've been great, if you call struggling through social science "great"," Peri remarked dryly. "I'm already in my second semester and I hate college already. I absolutely loathe it."
"It can't be that bad."
"Ha! You try writing up a ten page essay in between completing four other assignments due on the same day and the day after that," Peri countered. "And the teachers actually expect you get all of this stuff finished in record time, its madness I tell you. You will suffer for sure once you get here."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Per." Peri smiled. "Anything for a friend, Hannah." She looked around the environment for a moment, noting the distinct lack of car and boyfriend. "Hey, where's your IWB? I know we haven't talked in a while, but you can't have broken up with him already?"
"No, we haven't broken up. I've just been too busy to hang out with him," Hannah replied. "I think we might've gotten into things too fast."
"I could've told you that," Peri chuckled. "I'm surprised you didn't jump his bones when you met him."
"Peri that's not funny!"
"C'mon, it's a little funny, I used to be the same way, only I aimed high and crushed on the famous men of Hollywood," Peri recounted. "I couldn't date any of them, they were old enough to be my dad's and grandpas. That, or dead."
"Well, how fortunate for you," Hannah snapped. "I wasn't so lucky." Peri stopped giggling long enough to assess her friend's comment.
"How do you mean? Hannah?"
Hannah didn't answer right away, she continued on down the sidewalk arms folded across her chest. Peri brought her mini-van to a full stop and climbed out the car. Stumbling over her heels, Peri hoped up onto the curb and followed after Hannah. "Hannah, what happened?" Peri's fingers wrapped around Hannah's shoulder and pulled back, Hannah turned on one heel and faced her friend, her expression taut with emotion.
"I'm pregnant," She said. "Matthew knocked me up."
"Oh. Oh," The two fell into an awkward silence, Peri staring straight through Hannah, Hannah staring everywhere but Peri's face. There was a moment where Peri started to ask when she started having sex, but thought better of it. She stared down at Hannah's stomach and scrutinized the frumpy t-shirt and oversized jacket she wore, none of which were out of the ordinary for her, but made their significance all more telling in this particular situation.
"Well, uh, does he know about this?" Peri asked, her mouth on autopilot. Hannah shook her head, eyes downcast. "No one knows except me and my mom," She replied. "Hell, I didn't even know until a few days ago."
"How'd you manage that?"
"I don't know! I didn't throw up, I wasn't sick or moody. I was just hungry and I binged on food until I thought I was gaining weight, then I noticed I missed a period, celebrated, then started to worry. I went to the hospital yesterday and the physician told me I was pregnant."
"Well, shit, that's something."
"It took me the better part of two weeks to finally tell mom. She didn't even freak out when I told her, she just got really quiet and asked me to the leave the house."
"That doesn't sound too bad-"
"Doesn't sound so bad? Peri, when I got back from my walk, all of my stuff was sitting out on the front lawn and the door was locked. It still is fyi," Hannah interjected, her voice cracking. Hannah dragged the back of her hand across her face and exhaled heavily.
"I know she's mad at me, but kicking me out? How can you do that your own child? Where am I supposed to go?" She exhaled again. "I doubt Matthew's family is gonna let me live with them."
"Have you met them? Do you know them?" Peri inquired. "Not everyone is a ass about pregnant teens."
Whatever Hannah was going to say was lost in gurgle of a frustrated growl and a sob as she tried to clear her throat. Peri wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "If you can't find anything, I've still gotta an apartment. You can bunk with me until you figure things out."
"Seriously, Hannah. We'll put your stuff in storage and work it from there," Peri reaffirmed. "But only-"
Hannah waved her free hand dismissively as she used the other to dry her face. "I get the picture."
Chapter 14: Game Over
Title: Game Over
Prompt 7/10: "Lost"
Get in, blow up the base, and get out.
"…Think you can just get out of here after damaging my operations?"
"Think again, Alliance scum."
Hannah's teeth clenched at the sound of the silky smooth voice that echoed over the communications unit within the building. This guy had a lot nerve to tote superiority and they practically left his B.O.O. in a shambles; reaching over her right shoulder, she grabbed her rifle as it was ejected from the holster. In one swift motion she brought the weapon forward and shot the mercenary down where he stood.
She barely spared the smoking body a glance as she slid to a halt and crashed against the wall and out of the line of fire. The spot she occupied for but a second was illuminated by rifle fire, David threw himself against the wall and came to a clumsy halt mere inches away from the line of fire. The hall was full of mercenary personnel, all of them looking snipe the sneaky little group that destroyed their weapon's manufacturing base. "Peri, where are you?" Hannah shouted.
"I'm en route, just hang on," Peri 's voice crackled over the earpiece. "Try to get rid of the fireflies, for me in the meantime. If I land in that hornets' nest, there's no way we're getting out here alive."
"Roger that," David bit back a swear and fired blindly around the corner. The repressing fire of the enemy ceased for a split second; Hannah tossed a grenade into the room. The action did enough to scatter the enemy far enough to break rank, allowing the Alliance soldiers to deal more than their fair share of fatalities. The two of them continued to pick off the straggling enemy forces, David being as so bold as rushing the room and taking cover in unoccupied enemy space.
"David, you idiot, there are still snipers in the area," She practically hissed. David raised his arms over his head and fired blindly toward the enemy; three mercs went down in a melody of pain. Hannah pulled out from behind her cover and fired two grenades up into the railing; the snipers who prepared to take aim at her husband reacted a second too late to evade the oncoming explosions. Time stopped, the explosion shook the building, throwing debris and bodies across the way. Smoke billowed out and an alarm rang shrill overhead, the fire had yet to die out before the shooting began again.
She fell back behind her cover as her eyes fell on another target, this time running at top speed toward her. In the split second it took her to react the man was already on her. Jerking reflexively to the left Hannah missed the blade that now resided hilt deep in the wall, pushing off against the wall she butted her head against his. The mercenary stumbled back right into the line of David's fire. Hannah watched the body twist and turn in reaction to the gunfire, it tumbled to the ground the next instant like a puppet cut from its string.
"Fireflies down?" She breathed.
"Pretty much," David responded, glancing up at the doorway that lead to the ruined catwalk across from them. "I'm not reading any more life signs and I think you pretty much did the rest in with the grenades."
Hannah quirked an eyebrow, eyes moving to where he was staring. "I think the others ran out the door," She grinned.
"Hey, guys, are those fireflies down?"
"The fireflies are down, Peri," David affirmed. "Now-
"Now we just have to catch Drexler," Hannah interjected.
"You lost Drexler? Shepard, are you serious?"
"Well, I wouldn't call Drexler getting away losing him go, Per," Hannah supplied. "He's still in the compound."
"Well, then, I think you should catch him before he gets away," Peri said.
"As noble as the idea sounds, that wasn't our mission," David argued. "Hell, this was supposed to be a recon mission."
"At this point, the original mission statement doesn't mean a great deal," Hannah mused. "We caused a ruckus, one that might actually create a few problems. I think the least we can do is fix it."
"Or make it worse," Peri deadpanned.
"I know our commander, Jonas will definitely shit bricks when he finds out what happened," David grumbled.
"Maybe snagging Drexler might even things out," Hannah said.
"That's a big maybe,"
"It's worth a shot," Peri encouraged her friend. "I'm nearly there, so, make up your mind. We stayin' or you going after Drexler?"
"We're going after Drexler," Hannah answered without hesitation despite David's expression. Outside the building they could hear the Boa's engines growing nearer and nearer to their location, David's eyes shifted toward the large open door way across from them, the lush environment disturbed by the propulsion of Peri's ship. Hannah never once spared their exit a second glance, she reloaded her weapon and headed back the way they came.
"Okay... I guess I'll chill here until you bag him," Peri muttered.
"Roger that, we won't be long," David relayed, moving to catch up with his wife.
Chapter 15: Midnight Liberation Zone
Seven: Midnight Liberation Zone
(December 2153, Council Era):
Hannah kept busy for the greater part of December after Peri had offered her place to stay until she got herself together. It wasn't a free lodging of course; she had to work to keep up her part of the rent for the apartment, which was by no means cheap. She found herself a coffee shop just a couple of blocks away from the apartment complex, which was searching for new blood to hire. Between the job, school and the baby, Hannah was feeling like a rope worn thin from constant use. Top it off with the couch-made bed she had to sleep on until Peri found her mattress suitable for the expecting mother and there was little doubt in why the initial announcement of David Shepard's homecoming didn't do much in the way of flooding her with excitement.
When she thought of David now her mind went immediately to Matthew X. She'd done a bang-up job of avoiding him the first two weeks with the sick leave, two weeks had given her plenty of time to ruminate over what she'd say to him.
Unfortunately, she didn't count on his impatience (or lust) and was decidedly taken aback when he cornered her in the school hall and lead her into an empty class room to make out. If he'd been any paler when he blurted out that her mother had accused him of "impregnating her" (and he used air quotes when mentioning this), Hannah would've assumed he'd lost blood somewhere between "why have you been avoiding me?" and "Is your mother crazy? How did she even know we were having sex? Did you tell her?" If the obvious accusation didn't clue him in, then her own explanation of how he got her pregnant may have cleared things up. The color didn't return to his complexion, if anything he got paler. "A-are you sure?" He blurted. "Is it- I mean-"
"There hasn't been anyone else in between the last time we had sex, Matthew. Seeing as you're my first-" Hannah shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure this kid is yours."
"But I used a condom."
"Which is as about as full proof as birth control, only it's less likely to give you cancer," Hannah retorted, not liking where the conversation was going. Matthew sputtered his way through the rest of their talk, clearly tripping over his own feet in the attempt to avoid precarious pitfalls that would land him "poor choice of words" hell. It wasn't Hannah's job to reassure him everything was going to be alright, she made it clear he wasn't obligated her or the kid, but his help would be appreciated regardless. If he ever decided to "man up" and live up to his part of the creation deal then she'd have him.
If not, she'd deal with it on her own because what else could she do?
Even after all of that and Matthew's continued absence in her life, thinking about David only reminded her of her life before she got romantically and sexually involved with a boy. And now that she was a budding mother to be, how would he react to her? Would he treat her with disdain or indifference? There was no way they could pick up where they left off, not with their respective childhood's behind them, so where would they - these two changed people - begin the bridge for conversation, if it were at all possible?
What did he look like, what kind of person was he now after all the years he spent in Singapore? She'd seen the pictures he sent Peri over the years, but pictures did nothing in reality justice (at least, not blurry pictures from a digital camera). Peri was understandably over the moon about seeing their friend again, and she took every opportunity to remind her of how many days were left in the countdown to Shepard's return. When the time finally came to pick David up from the airport, it took all of Hannah's strength to pull her sore body out of bed into a set of presentable clothes and follow Peri out of the house.
The ride to the airport allowed her time to catch up on lost sleep, in between red lights and waking up, she listened to Peri's excited chattering to her and to whomever was on the communication unit. Hannah appreciated the hands off approach Peri had taken to her situation; she offered help, but never felt beholden to hold her hand through her ordeal. "I'm your friend, not your mother. If you need help, I'll give it you, but don't expect me to carry through all of this. That's not what I do," And despite being on the edge of sleep, exhausted from the day of moving her belongings into storage, Hannah understood exactly where Peri was coming from and managed to reaffirm as much before falling asleep.
"Hannah, get up, we're here!" Peri's voice pulled her from slumber. Groggy and a little annoyed, she opened the door and stumbled out of the car. Gradually the noises of the busy airport stimulated her sluggish mind and body, for every long stride Peri took Hannah made three quick jogs to keep up with her. The energy of the airport was a different kind of animal altogether; everything spoke the language of urgency.
From the muffled voices gargling out overhead, the mass of bodies that weaved in and out of each other, the colorful advertisement that showcased couples and family living the highlife, to the bags that rolled around on the conveyer belt. It was hurry or be trampled by the rush, a system that Hannah was all too familiar with from her time spent in the coffee shop. When finally arrived to their destination, it was Hannah could to do to keep still. Peri held her homemade sign over her head and waved her arms back and forth from time to time if she wasn't relaxing them. "Can you believe it's been seven years since we've last seen him? That's almost a decade!" Peri exclaimed, raising her arms over head again.
"That's fourth time you've calculated his absence in years today, Peri," Hannah remarked with a smile.
"I know, right? Between that and this sign, I'm not sure what's more absurd," Peri chuckled. Hannah shook her head, her eyes wandered over to the crowds pouring through the narrow corridor from the airplane and wondered what she should be looking for. Though the pace of the crowd was moderate, her eyes swept over the faces so quickly she kept doubling back, wondering if she missed who she was looking for.
"Oh! There he is!" Peri's voice sent a chill down her spine, she looked to the right where Peri was pointing and felt her mouth dry. The illusion of a man in uniform dissolved quickly, her mind realizing that she unintentionally saddled David with the image of a man who'd passed through the departing crew just moments before. The actual thing, the real David was something to behold all his own. What approached them was not a boy, but a full blown man.
His height spoke for itself, he towered over most people in the crowd he broke away from. Deep brown eyes and skin, broad nose and full lips, his chubby features were gone, replaced by sharp and distinct features of a young man. "David! David, hi!" Peri waved her poster board excitedly around in the air like a cheerleader. David glanced up from his bag and smiled. He closed the distance between them relatively fast, Peri threw her arm around him and pulled him into a half hug.
"It's so good to see you again, David," Peri whispered to him. "Likewise, Peri," He replied. They pulled away from each other, both taking a moment to look the other over. They'd seen each other plenty through video chat and photographs sent through written correspondence, but it wasn't quite like seeing flesh and blood face-to-face. "How long are you here for again?"
"A month at best, then I've gotta head back to finish the semester," David replied. "Where's Hannah? You said she'd be here." Peri grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him in Hannah's general direction. Hannah put on her best smile and waved with the hand that wasn't holding Peri's "welcome home, David!" poster written in bold green marker.
So she was here, David smiled pleasantly and nodded in return. Picking up his bags he followed Peri over to where their friend. "Long time no see, stranger," Hannah greeted him. "Hannah, it's good to see you," It was all David could muster as a response to her greeting. Hannah rolled her eyes and stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his waist.
Hannah wasn't going to allow this moment be flubbed by awkwardness, she'd had enough of that for the year. David returned her affects with a strong hug that brought her close, she sucked her gut in just in case. Stepping away from David, Hannah handed Peri her poster. "How's about we get outta here and get something to eat?" She suggested. "I'm in the mood for pizza. You?"
"Pie, peach cobbler pie," David replied without missing a beat. "After we get the rest of my luggage."
"Uh, French fries and a burger," Hannah added. "And a soda."
"Well, sodas are a given sweet cheeks," Peri threw her arm around Hannah's shoulders and lead her back down the hall. David followed after them, quick to remind them that they couldn't leave just yet.
Chapter 16: Mindoir
Prompt 8/10: "Beginnings"
There is no legacy. No one in my family is a soldier. Enlisting in the military was my choice; I wanted to see traverse and it seemed like the best idea at the time. The money was great, I heard, but then so was the wages the Merc organizations were offering. There wasn't anything holding me back. I left my life on earth behind and joined the ranks of the Alliance to better myself and to provide a future for my family. I could've left it David, it was easy enough, but whatever countered my mother's complacency spurred me forward, made me work harder than I ever thought possible.
Skirmishes and small conflicts made up a great majority of my career; in a time of relative peace, political tensions aside, mercenaries on the allying and outer planets made for interesting perspectives on the individuals for neither for or against the Alliance, merely in extremely disagreement with their policies. Maternity leave kept me on semi-active duty and allowed me to look after Jane while she was at her smallest.
John was turning out to be more of free bird than I originally believed he would. I could already see the kid was ready to leap over the fence and go off on his own and he was barely old enough to understand the meaning of independence. Of all my relationships, I never believed I would end up as estranged from David as I did. We kept in relative contact, but the busier the either of us became, the less we saw of each other.
David made it a point to be present for Jane when it counted, but I could tell as she grew older, the stigma resentment was beginning to color her opinion of his obligation to his family. Of the three of us, John was the only one who kept a relative positivism about of his father, no matter how distant he became. We never came to hate each other, and it wasn't planned, but whatever spark of affection that started us out on this road was fading fast.
Pretty soon our job and our children were all we had in common, we rarely spoke out of sporadic transmissions from station to station.
Mindoir was hell personified in the image of the batarian; they were expecting us, of course (what slaver didn't expect unwanted company?), but we had the advantage of superior numbers. It didn't make a damn bit of difference the colonists we couldn't save, though. I can still hear them screaming in the distance as we made our way to the batarian base camp. We all had our own unique way of dealing with what we saw that day; I had two children to look after so I couldn't crack, no matter how old they were at this point. I had the nightmares, I recorded them and talked to a doctor until I thought I would crack from all the sharing. I never realized what was happening with Zabaleta until he started arriving to work plastered. We covered for him but there's only so much you can do before a friend hangs himself with their own rope.
I spent the longest time feeling responsible for how things in my life turned out. There are nights where I believe I could've done differently to prevent this death or save this life, fix things between my mother and I before she died. The beginning is a path I realize you can't repair, the present is a reflection of every decision ever made and the future is a conglomerate of ever possibility you'll ever weigh, a reaction of choice.
That's the legacy of an individual.
I can only hope I don't disappoint.
Chapter 17: John
(April 11TH, 2154, Council Era):
Peri strolled down the sterile white environment of the hospital with minimal apprehension. The working body of the environment barely paid her any notice as they went to and fro in what she suspected were their usual routes, lab coats tucked tight against their body or flying loose to the havoc of the winds generated by their movement.
She'd been here earlier with Matthew - who followed after her like a man uncertain of how he arrived where he came to be - to check in on Hannah. She'd been admitted last night after she started complaining of a severe back pain and cramping which had been an ongoing problem as early was six o'clock yesterday morning. As odds would have it she'd gone into labor and as a result would be kept at the hospital until it was time to deliver the baby.
Matthew was barely involved in the process of the progressing gestation, though it'd been hard for Hannah to avoid him the later she got into her trimesters. Like some high-strung rabbit, Matthew was either avoiding her or interacting on a minimal basis, and that was usually when he was sure no one knew he was speaking to her. Peri wanted to punch him in the gut, lock him the back of a trunk and a push the car off a pier for his behavior alone, but Hannah appeared beyond the point of caring about his actions. If anything she appeared to be humoring his attempts to talk to her without staring at the bump underneath her shirt.
The school hadn't been terribly gracious about the idea of a pregnant student roaming the halls of their prestigious institution If the faculty weren't giving her the stink eye it was the students who treated her like some pariah with leprosy, they parted like the red sea commanded by the power God whenever she approached. "Is she okay?" Peri stopped to regard Matthew's boney face with a expression that implied he should've known better than to ask such a question. He eyes widened and blinked at a mile-a-minute in response. "I mean, she's not in any… pain?"
Peri resisted the urge to rub her temples as she replied, "She's in labor, what do you think genius?" Matthew ducked his head as he shrugged. Peri shook her head and continued down the hall toward the bedroom where Hannah was situated. The whirr of machinery brought a different kind of atmosphere to otherwise the quiet hospital room. Hannah lay supported on the bed, and pillows stuffed behind her, legs propped up and spread apart with a sheet covering her for the sake of modesty.
For lack of a better word, she looked exhausted and ready to call it quits despite the book lying open on her chest. Peri approached the bed as quietly as she could; she placed the flowers she brought in the empty vase sitting on the bedside table. Hannah turned in response to the rustling on her right, she smiled at the sight of her friend. "Hey, Per," She greeted.
"Hey yourself, kiddo," Peri patted Hannah gently on the knee. "John boy treating you alright?"
Hannah scoffed and attempted to readjust herself against the pillows. "He's being a pain in the ass. I feel like I have to push and my doctor tells me I can't push yet," She huffed, closing her eyes. "I can't wait until this over. Stupid baby."
Peri cooed sympathetically in response to her friend's plight. Casting a glance over her shoulder she spotted Matthew hanging out between the threshold of the bedroom like an intruder peering in on a private moment. "I, uh- Hannah?"
"Yeah?" Hannah groaned.
"Do you wanna see you-know-who?" Peri inquired cautiously. "He kinda followed me here and I couldn't get rid of him." Hannah opened one eye and shook her head. "Maybe later."
Peri nodded understandingly, squeezing her knee affectionately she stepped away the bed. "Okay, I'm gonna let you get some rest."
"Thanks," Hannah murmured.
"Uh-huh." Peri exited the bedroom, dragging Matthew along with her.
"Is it here?" David's voice, clear across the world, seemed to so near and close in the silence of the hallway. Peri glanced up at the passing nurse, the older woman smiled gently at her as she entered Hannah's bedroom.
"Yeah, its baby boy."
"Really? That's great, Peri. What his name?"
"John, after her grandfather."
"Cool, I bet it looks just like her."
"I honestly can't tell," Peri said.
There was a disappointed hum on the other line of the cell phone. "Aw, man. Really?"
"It's still cute though."
"Send me a picture when she's awake," David yawned. "I've gotta get some sleep."
"Kay. Talk to ya later, Shepard," Peri ended the call and leaned back in her chair.
"Hannah? Hannah…" What was that, the TV? Hannah shifted slightly where she lay in bed. She sucked in a breath, her tongue poised between her teeth as she tried to shake the sleep from her mind. Opening her eyes she regarded the person with their hand poised on her forearm, the blurry contour of their shape let her know it wasn't Peri who sitting next to her.
Lifting one arm she rubbed the sleep and grit from her eyes, opening them for a second time she saw the figure more clearly and frowned. "Matthew," She murmured displeasure clear in her voice. Matthew X nodded slowly, shifting on the edge of the bed. "What are you doing here? Where's Peri?"
"Peri went to move her car, parking limit," Matthew explained. "I told the doctor I was father and she let me-" He paused at the frown on her lips. "-In. I just wanted to see the baby. I didn't think you'd mind."
"I mind," Hannah replied.
"Do you want me to leave?"
Hannah shrugged her shoulders. "No, not really. You're here, see the baby if you want," She sighed. "His name's John Clarke." She pointed to the little bed on her left; Matthew looked upon the bundle lying in the elevated bed and slid from off the bed. Hannah watched him walk around the bed toward John's sleeping form.
Matthew was in awe; it wasn't so much because of the baby's size - he'd seen enough babies to know they always started small and ended where he was -, but the knowledge that he had a hand in it's - his - creation. A little of him and Hannah made this baby the living, breathing thing he was now. He glanced over to her; Hannah was watching him like a hawk. "He looks just like you," Matthew complimented.
Hannah grinned wearily. "Funny, I think he looks like you."
Matthew waved her off. "Nah, I don't see it." He said, shoving his hands into his pockets. Deciding the issue wouldn't go further, Hannah propped herself up a little higher on her pillow and asked him what he planned on doing once the semester went on break for spring. Matthew shrugged. "I dunno, probably just hang out with my friends. …Uh, yourself?"
Hannah made a face. "Working, and looking after the baby," She deadpanned. "Maybe save up for college at a later when John doesn't need me all the time."
"So, when he's a teenager or something?"
"Or something," Hannah replied, gaze narrowed. "Thanks for stopping by, you can leave now."
"Look, I- I mean, you've got every right to be mad at me-"
"Oh, are you giving me permission to be mad you? 'Cause it's a little late for that."
"What? No, no! I didn't mean it like that-"
"Then what did you mean?"
"Well, you said that if I wanted to help support you and the baby that you'd appreciate it."
"Is that what you're trying to tell me? That you're going to support the baby?"
"I want to… yes," Matthew stated.
"Can we talk about this later?" Hannah inquired. "I'm kinda tired and I don't want to make any decisions half-aware."
"Yeah, yeah, sure," Matthew nodded quickly and hurried out of the room. Hannah rolled onto her side, frustrated. The guy had all the nerve in the world to wanna play the white knight now, but isn't what she was expecting, wanting even? She stared across the short distance between herself and John. The baby never stirred, even when their voices were at their highest, he never moved one inch. She started to wonder if she was going to have trouble waking him up when he got older.
"Night, John-boy," She whispered, closing her eyes.
Chapter 18: Observation of the Shepard
Title: Observation of the Shepard
Prompt 9/10: "Snare"
Our person of interest is Admiral Hannah Shepard (nee Clarke), the former XO of the SSV Kilimanjaro. Birth mother of Commander John Shepard and Lieutenant Jane Shepard, she appears to have a relatively estranged relationship with her ex-husband (Shepard, David), son and daughter. Monitor any future communications or renewed contact with the Shepard's and the activities of the SSV Orizaba for possible information of use.
Intercept 13:11/Secure Comm Buoy #8193/Encrypted/#1591 - DA - 326
Sender: Major David Shepard, Arcturus Station
I know it's been a while since we've talked, but our anniversary is coming up.
I'll be at our old haunt, you know the place.
Please consider showing up; I know you're not obligated, but I'd love to see you again.
Intercept 04:23/#12947 - DA - 325
Sender: Jane Shepard, Jon Grissom Academy, Vetus
How've you been? I hate to tell you this, but I hate it here. I'm all for serving and training for my allotted time in the Alliance, but this crazy. They've got me on stress exercises, trying to see how hard they push me before I snap. It's been a good eight weeks since the routine became just that. A routine. I'm tired of seeing the same four walls and the same instructor. I need a new avenue or haunt to train in, but they won't listen.
John's been sending me strange messages lately. Most of them are from a secure channel, but none of the stuff he tells me in his letters makes any sense. Their like poems, but they read like nonsense from one of his weird dreams.
Tell him to stop, would you?
I met a girl named Kelly, who you might like her if you ever get to 'er. She's spunky, never stops talking for a minute and wants to become a therapist after she learns to control her biotics. I know you haven't been speaking to him lately, but do you think you could contact dad? I've trying to hail his e-mail and I keep getting a MAILER DAEMON message, which is weird because I know I spelled his address right.
Is he alright?
Let me know,
CATALOG ORDER: Alliance Military Today
VIDEO DOWNLOAD: Bluebells in the Spring
PURCHASE 4421-DA-116: Mineral Water (6 bottles), Synthesized apple seeds (1 pack)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD: Reapers: Fact or Fiction?
PURCHASE 363-DA-333: Equinox Trailblazers (2 pair); Element Zero for Dummies
VIDEO DOWNLOAD: Survivor: Omega - The Complete Fourth Season
SERVICES: Male Models for Hire (Fabulous Men Guaranteed or your money back)
VIDEO DOWNLOAD: Jenny Needs a New Pair of Heat Sinks
"Peri, you won't believe this, but I think someone's been snooping around on my computer."
"Daily scan picked up 'suspicious activity' but couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from."
"Maybe you should change your code."
"Or networks. I swear the Alliance gets lazier about security the older I get."
"Just contact the tech department, see if they can't help you."
"Fine, fine. I'll do it first thing tomorrow."
On a added note, try not to be so sloppy about obtaining information. Not only are you tarnishing my reputation, you're asking for a nice spot next to Hale. I promise you, it'll be a tight squeeze.
Chapter 19: Sotto
(2154, Council Era):
Since the birth of John, Hannah had been innately suspicious and uninterested in getting back into another relationship with another man, least of all with David Shepard. When or where his affections for her began she wasn't sure, but she was not ready to jump into another relationship didn't involve her son, John.
The little creature was all the relationship she needed at the present; he fulfilled the role of companion, son and wooer with little to no effort on his part. He was cute, it was a rather hard face to say "no" to unless he woke her up in the middle of the night crying for the milk leaking from her breasts.
To his credit, David was less finicky over John than Matthew was.
He didn't treat him like a china doll that could break at any moment, he knew how to hold him properly and he didn't throw fit when John felt it was prudent to mark him as his property by way of projectile body fluids. Whenever Matthew left the house in a mood she often didn't let him in until he'd gotten himself together, she didn't need his kind of drama mucking things up.
Who got into an argument with someone who couldn't speak Standard English, much less mean to insult you with bodily fluids?
Granted, David wasn't a fan of the urine himself, but he was a sport about smelling like pee-pee.
Peri was in love with John at first and loathed him the next. On the cusp of her finals, Peri needed all the sleep she could get. With John present and always crying for attention, sleep was as elusive for her as it was for Hannah. "Spawn of Satan," She dubbed him on cranky Sunday morning. "I can't get any sleep because of you!" John gurgled or ignored her, content to pick at his toes or paw at the surrounding environment.
His noncommittal behavior usually sent Peri into a fit of tears, unhappy that she was being emotionally bested by a baby. Hannah did the best she could to quell John's crying fits, but there never was a time when he wasn't wanting something. Hannah needed to be close or humoring him or the baby would start up. David, the eldest of two younger sisters, built a healthy tolerance to baby cries; when he wasn't working or busy with his own schoolwork, David was caring for John helping alongside Matthew.
In a strange way it was like he had two fathers; one who felt obligated to help her out of guilt, the other most likely for the chance to date her. She pitied both of them, yet welcomed the load off her plate all the same. Wretched as it seemed, who was she to turn away free help when offered? Certainly not this single-mother.
David's romantic advances continued throughout the year, he started subtle then became more direct, daring to ask her if she would like to "date him some time" in the presence of friends. Hannah turned him down more than once, citing her responsibilities to herself and John as a reason why they couldn't date. She never denied she had feelings for David, they were pretty strong when he first came back from Singapore; but at the present, Hannah was feeling too apathetic to drag those feelings back up, nice as they made her feel when she was around David.
He never gave up though and bordering on the edge of her impatience, Hannah finally relented and went out on a date with him; then a second, a third and so forth. It wasn't as terrifying as she thought it would be. The most David ever did with her was talk, talk and talk some more. There was plenty to talk about between his time in Singapore and her time in here.
She enjoyed the freedom from sexual obligation or even the assumption that they had to have sex to be in a relationship. He didn't push her and respected her deflections whenever she felt things were becoming too physical between them.
On the evening of New Year's Eve, in one of Peri's snazzy get-ups, she would get quite the surprise. She felt rather self-conscious about the state of her body in a dress; stretched out and recovering from her pregnancy, she could help but pull at the fabric and move it away from her body whenever it started to cling to her skin. Shepard didn't seem to notice, though. He took her out dancing and treated her to ice cream sundaes as late as 11:00pm - her personal curfew.
Halfway through her sundae she watched as David stood up from his seat across from her and reached into his jacket pocket. Hannah nibbled on the edge of her spoon, suckling on the frozen treat she tried her best not to look surprised when he kneeled on one knee and revealed a velveteen box. He opened the box to reveal not a diamond ring, but a sterling silver band.
Everyone in the store, except herself, freaked at the sight of his proposal. Hannah dropped the spoon back into the half-empty bowl in front of her and murmured, "What did you say?" Seriously, she hadn't heard him amidst the girlish screams and giggles. David laughed nervously, tilting the box a little as he reputed: "Will you marry me, Hannah Clarke?"
More giggles and hushed whispers erupted behind them; Hannah cast a disparaging glance in their direction then focused her attention back on David. Calm (or dumbfounded) as she appeared on the "I, uh, can I think about?" The answer wasn't the one he was searching for; he looked dumbstruck by the answer and she was sure the jeers in the background didn't help his self-esteem either. Still, he was a sport and despite the evident disappointment, he nodded and complied with her wishes.
Chapter 20: Final Contact
Title: Final Contact
Prompt 10/10: "Silence" / "Boots on the Ground" (for the 6/27/2012 "Insanity Round" me_challenge)
"Burning the midnight oil or are you waiting for someone special?" Implicit, dry and wholly habitual, Shepard did his best not to smile at her question as he turned away from window overlooking the cityscape below. Unconsciously, he found himself readjusting the sleeves of his hoodie, his feet pressing down on the soles of his boots. Keep straight, don't fidget, she always told him. Hannah stood across from him, leaning casually against the frame of the door. Her green eyes wandered the tiny space he presently called home. He gave the room a once over himself and exhaled slowly. "Neither," He replied, "I just can't sleep."
"You always did have a hard time getting to sleep," A nostalgic smile graced her thin lips as her graying hair spilled over her shoulders. "I remember having to sit on the bed until you dozed off. You were about six or five."
"I vaguely remember that," John smiled, dislodging himself from the space next to the window. He made himself comfortable on the edge of his bed motioned that she join him. Hannah denied politely with a small smile and a raise of her hand.
Okay. "How are you?" He asked. Hannah shrugged her shoulders; she kept her boots on the ground, never once falling on the habit of rocking back on her heels. "Well enough, I suppose; it's not every day you get a call that says your own is rumored to be working with a terrorist organization and a destroyer of an entire system," Her expression was neither judgmental nor disapproving, if anything she appeared resigned.
Shepard scratched the back of his head in contemplation; the answer left no alternate avenue to travel but its own. In the frenzied time of the prothean beacon discovery and the prevention of the Reaper's arrival, he never once bothered to fill his mother in on specifics. He could only imagine, with what little information she probably had, she was fairly disappointed in his actions from a lack of understanding or reframed from making opinions at all. He had yet to stand trial, so he'd barely spoken to anyone except Vega and the council wouldn't see him before judgment day. To say he felt like a mouse in a cage with a big "crazy person" sign on his back would be an understatement. "It's not like how their painting it," He started.
"To be honest, no one's given me any particulars, so I wouldn't know how it's being painted," Hannah remarked dryly. "I suppose I'll find out soon enough, unless you're willing to spill?"
"How's Jane taking this?" He inquired, dodging the question.
"Naturally, she doesn't think you wiped out a system for the hell of it, same with your father," She replied. "Their none too pleased about the Cerberus rumors, however."
"I can imagine," He snorted. Dad must've been livid, and he could only figure Jane wanted to chew his ears off. His association with the clandestine organization seemed determined in screwing his relationships over still; a consequence he wish he could say he was completely comfortable with.
"How's the food here?"
"No worse than anyplace else I've been. The chicken could be better, though," Shepard deadpanned. When his mother remained silent, he said, "Are you here on business?"
Hannah shook her head. "Not at the moment. I was in the neighborhood, thought I'd visit my son while he was still in one place." Shepard allowed himself a small smile; Hannah wasn't one for time off if she could help it. A great chunk of his childhood was spent roaming stations and bugging officers because his mother was otherwise preoccupied with work (or Jane, depending on the circumstances). He didn't hold it against her, but the thought of his mother wandering idly like himself all those years ago was fairly amusing. "Well, I have a feeling I'll be here for a while, so, drop by anytime while still planet-side."
"I'll make a note of that, Shepard," Hannah grinned, pushing away from doorframe. "In the meantime, get some rest, kiddo; I won't have you dead on your feet, grounded or not."
"Yes, sir," He saluted in his mother, eliciting a pointed expression that clearly conveyed the humor was unappreciated. He knew that, of course, but what was on dig on your mother between soldiers?
Chapter 21: Shine in the Storm
Title: Shine in the Storm
Prompt: "The Darkest hour of the Night" for the me_challenge 12-19-2012 Insanity Round at the masseffect community on livejournal.
Characters: Hannah Shepard, Peri Whitaker (OFC), David Shepard (OMC)
Disclaimer: Mass Effect is property of EA Games and BioWare. I own nothing except the original characters and the idea behind this shortie.
Pragia, for all its uselessness to the Systems Alliance, wasn't a planet Hannah ever saw as a reasonable place to stuff with civilians. The first attempt to colonize the planet ended in such a way that the Alliance typically denied any involvement with the non-indigenous plant and criminal massacre that drove them off-planet in the first place. History books and terminals spoke little of it; it was a relative footnote of irrelevance in the illustrious and troubled history of the unified systems.
Nothing this budding Lt. had to worry about, or so she thought. The rapid increase of attacks on the fuel depot situated within the Dakka system was beginning to cause some worry within Alliance brass, especially when the civilians became targets. Hannah didn't think much of it at the time, another situation someone else would handle, not her problem. Then David was requested to report to their C.O. and the next thing she knew, she and their team of eight (not including Peri, herself and David, which made ten) was being sent down into the thick hide of the planet to curb the increasing pirate and merc activity that attracted the trouble to depot.
"But why attack a depot and retreat to the planet furthest from the damn depot? It makes so, sense," Hannah mused, looking over the map. "Protection, probably. Planet life is said to be worse than when it first went nuts. It's the perfect cubbyhole," David mused. That meant the whole station would be babysitting duty until they returned to look after the mini-Shepard's and right before Jane's birthday ("She's gonna hate me," was all Hannah could think). Sufficed to say, the team's sentiment was that if the pirates don't kill them, the plants would. Being the optimistic man he was, David mandated any further behavior damning them to the afterlife would result in disciplinary action. "We've dealt with mercs before, this time is no different," He said. "Yes, sir, mon capitaine Shepard, sir," Peri quipped as she readied the ship to depart for the Mass Relay. Their friend was never one for boosting morale, the sarcastic creature she was.
Depending on whom you asked, planetfall on Pragia either went off without a hitch or was like experiencing a tumble dry without the dyer. For most of their team, it was a cakewalk, primarily as a result of dropship two taking the brunt of the fire from monitoring towers armed with NFHI artillery canons strong enough to split the dropship in two. When Hannah came to, the darkest hour of the night had fallen, it was raining and she was hanging upside down in her seat, firmly dislodged from the back half of the dropship, now sitting snug in the riverbed.
Peri and David managed to bail from the dropship without incident, the worse of their troubles being wet boots and a concussion from "landing" front half of the drop ship into the thick of trees. Most of the team on their ship was scattered, most likely working to regroup with the first dropship. When Hannah was discovered by the wandering Shepard and Whitaker, the "landing on your ass" jokes were more than a bruised pride could handle, what with the blood pressure in her head being unbearable. Cut loose from the seat's harness, Hannah joined the pilot and captain on the trek across unchecked and humid wilderness, periodically checking herself over whenever a bruise made itself known. "We lost most of our stuff in the crash, hopefully the rest of guys have located those towers and taken them out. We won't be able to get anywhere near that damn base if those AC's are still active," David recounted, wiggling his soggy foot. "I think there's something in my boot."
"I'm sure it's nothing your manly feet can't handle," Hannah patted him on his side.
"Thank goodness I left my ship in orbit," Was all Peri could consider. "To think that could've been her, blown to oblivion and by a damn AC, no less."
"We're lucky we're not dead, AC or no," David muttered.
"I guess it wasn't such a bad idea leave Mattie at the wheel, yeah?" Hannah grinned. Peri's face puffed at mere mention of the rookie pilot who was far too eager to situate herself in the pilot's chair. She prepared to respond to her friend when David interjected. "Whitaker, take up the rear, Shepard, front and center." The two broke apart and took their assigned positions as David fell into the center. "We're still on a mission, so keep the chatter to a minimum, alright?" Hannah could hear the terseness in his voice as she checked her pistol over. "This is not a sight-seeing tour."
"What crawled up butt and died, Shepard?" Peri muttered.
"A goddamn artillery canon," He retorted. "I'm a little pissed there was no mention of them in the Intel and I'm feeling decidedly under-prepared for this crap. Now cut the chatter."
"Yes, sir," They responded in the affirmative.
"I don't think the captain likes flying, Lt," Peri intoned as she pushed a shrub from under her arm.
"I don't think captain likes crash landing in dropships, Whitaker," Hannah remarked as she continued to scope out the encampment just below. "Understandable, considering this is a first."
"I mean, I can't say I was cool, calm and collected myself when the ship came apart, but the captain… he was freaking out and I ain't even lying. We both thought you were dead when you went flying."
"I thought I was dead," Hannah remarked.
"He had the shakes something bad once we got out that scrap heap," Peri continued on. "I had to check him over more than once when he started rattling."
"I'll check with him later on about any injury," Hannah sighed. "I count five batarian on guard duty. All of them are bearing an insignia I've seen before."
"Let me see," Peri leaned toward Hannah and held out her hand. Hannah placed the binoculars in her care without incident. Peri adjusted the focus accordingly; she scanned momentarily before catching sight of the insignia Hannah mentioned. A circle suspended above the head of a male lion's head and Kukri underneath, cradling the lion's mane. With a tap of her finger, she captured an image of the insignia before the merc moved out of her line of sight. "Any idea what it is, Per?"
"Not a clue, Lt.," She said handing the binoculars back to her. Hannah sighed in frustration. "Great. Shepard."
"Go ahead," David said.
"We've located an encampment just a few clicks from the base. Their definitely mercs, but we've no idea who's faction they're with. I'm sending you an image, now."
"Well… I won't be much help in that regard, either," He said after a moment. "I've never seen this one before either."
"Did you find the others?"
"Well, I found Rocky, Brandon and Demarco," David muttered.
"Some warthog looking thing had them for lunch," He replied.
"How do you know it was a warthog thing?" She asked.
"It just tried to eat me. Ate the end of my rifle, though," He answered. "Smells delicious."
"You are so gross, David."
"If the others are alive, they're maintaining radio silence or-" Hannah's hand jerked away from the earpiece at the not so far off boom of an explosion somewhere off on the base. Black smoke billowed upward into the air followed by the screech of metal crashing into the earth. The batarian mercs abandoned their posts and rushed into the thick of the forests, shouting orders in their native language.
"The heck was that?" Peri scrambled upward into a crouch, snatching their sole pistol off the ground.
"I do believe we found the rest of the team, Lt. Rendezvous on my point. Shepard out," He said. Hannah hooked the binoculars back onto her belt; dusting the soil from her armor she followed Peri down the slope into the thick and toward David's position. "You alright without a pistol?" Peri asked.
"Yeah, I've got a backup," Hannah answered, patting the sheath on her right arm.
"Hey, you okay?" In any other situation, David might've been reluctant answer the question, but sitting in corner of their quarters, hands visibly shaking as they held his helmet, he assumed he had no choice.
"Peri said you were real shook up after what happened."
Shaking his head he scooted over to allow Hannah space on the bed. "It was nothing I couldn't handle," He answered. Hannah regarded the blue and red accented helmet with some suspicion, reaching over she took the object from his grasp and sat it on the floor next to her feet.
If the bed were high enough from the ground, she might've kicked the helmet underneath. As it stood she was content to have within her jurisdictional space. Opening her hands, she intertwined her fingers with his in an attempt to quail the shaking. "Have you gotten appointment yet?" She said.
"I'm scheduled for the day after whenever we get back," David huffed. "I don't think I need it-"
"Of course, not," Hannah interjected, stopping him cold in his tracks. David regarded her with an exasperated look. Ever since they'd destroyed the base, he'd fallen under Hannah's watchful eye and he could only assume Peri told her something - the conspicuous looks the pilot gave him when she met his gaze were rather telling. "-But, I've got an appointment, you don't have to ask. And yourself?"
"The same, actually," She said. "Holland thought it was important after he received the footage."
"That bad?" David grimaced. Hannah scratched the back of her neck in hesitation. "Yeah, I was surprised myself. I don't really remember how I fell," Hannah mumbled. "Still, emotional management and all that."
"How are the kids?" He asked, changing the subject.
"I could only hail one of them; John says he's fine, he spent most of his time with his friends. He also tells me Jane is pissed we missed her birthday and has vowed never to speak to us," Hannah replied. "So, they're alright, just… being kids I guess."
"That's good, that's always a good thing," David breathed, feeling the tightness in his chest ease some. Adjusting his fingers he stared down at her hands, his hands weren't shaking anymore.
"You didn't hear it from me, but, according to Peri, Holland plans on trying to persuade the Alliance brass into using the NFHI artillery canons for outposts in hostile territory," She explained.
"How does she know?"
"Peri has friends and high places. Trust me, I don't know how she does it," Hannah grinned.
David felt his heart skip and a tremor run down his arm. "Is that right?"
"Yes, apparently, he feels the military should be on top of whatever rogue tech is being used and turn it against the enemy."
"Yeah, except, the Alliance would never go for it. NFHI's are notorious for overheating worse than standardized turrets. They're useless in active combat," David said.
"I agree, which is why she also thinks they'll just turn him down flat. So-" she readjusted herself on the edge of the bed and nudged him on the shoulder. "You hungry?" She asked, switching gears on the conversation. "Peri and Ernesto are having this thing on the observation deck-"
"Uh, not really, I'll eat whatever's left in the fridge," He cut her off. "You have fun, though."
"Right," Hannah frowned at his response, but got the message. Pressing a kiss to his head, she untangled her fingers from his and headed for the door. "I'll see you later."
Author's Note: So, what started out an open ended drabble that was already far too length for the required challenge, turned into a little something more.
Chapter 22: Defense Mechanism
(2155, Council Era):
In the years since its initial announcement, the Systems Alliance worked tirelessly to complete the Arcturus Station. What once was a fanciful dream that never seemed possible to archive was coming together quicker than initially anticipated.
News of the steady occupation of the completed sections of the station flooded the excitable media, drawing the eighteen year old mother away from the routine of unplanned parenthood long enough to stand in the middle of the apartment and observe the archival footage of the station's Skeleton fade away to reveal the half-dressed structure.
John remained blissfully unaware of the situation his mother was monitoring, fiddling with the ropes dangling from his hoodie as he waited on her hip.
"…The massive project, which began almost four years ago, is said become one of the System Alliance's major military strongholds in the Arcturus System," The enthusiastic news anchor reported, make up thinning as her skin stretched to accommodate her smile. "Be sure to tune in later this afternoon for an official statement from Colonel Fitzburg."
Neither party was particularly observant of the return of Peri, in unusually good spirits for a college student. "Hell-lo, Hannah, what are you still doing…. here?" Her long strides came to an abrupt halt when she caught a glimpse of what was unfolding on television. "Televised it and everything, huh?" She muttered to herself. Hannah turned in response to the voice coming from behind her, a preoccupied look of surprise on her already weary face.
"When'd you get back?"
Peri gestured to the jacket and scarf hanging on her arms with a shrug. "Just a few minutes ago," She answered, resuming her stride. Lazily she dumped the article of clothing onto the couch and entered the kitchen with one hand raised and a finger pointed. "I was going to tell you about that yesterday."
That piqued Hannah's interest. Leaning slightly to the side, she said, "This is old news?"
"Not really," Peri said as she rummaged through the fridge for something to eat. "I saw it on the extranet just before I went to bed. She's something, huh?" Hannah thought back on the brief image of the rotating station.
From a first impression standpoint alone, there was certainly a majesty about the incomplete space station that lent to it the pulling power of an unspoken adventure. However, her dissonance towards machines made her less than inclined to call it beautiful. "I guess," Hannah replied after a moment. John wriggled in her grasp, tired of sitting in the same position.
Hannah readjusted her hold on his excitable body, bringing him to the front of her so he could lean against her chest. Her mind languidly retraced its footsteps into her memories; she was supposed to be meeting David about now for lunch, instead she'd stayed in the house to watch a three minute snippet on the space station.
Turning the face the kitchen entrance she watched the subdued body language of her friend as she moved to and fro from cabinet to cabinet in search of food. Peri left sometime before dawn, not for school, but for an objective she dubbed "the Physical".
She would ask her what it entailed but considering how jittery her friend had been the night before, Hannah could only assume it was serious business. "How'd the physical go?" The redhead inquired.
Peri stepped out of the kitchen with a soda in her hand, her lips pressed together and her forehead creased with concentration. "I'd rather not say just yet," She said. Hannah regarded her friend with mild disbelief. "The Physical" was almost all Peri could talk about in the weeks leading up to the unspoken event; her friend was on edge, never seemed able to sit still long enough before she had to go running somewhere or needed to go someplace quiet to study.
At first, Hannah assumed John was responsible, that his insistent need to cry about something - food, his diaper or his mother's lack of proximity - and her otherwise cranky attitude as a result of sleeplessness. Now she 'knew' better, now she wanted to know what exactly this Physical entailed that had Peri tight-lipped. "Well, when you're ready to talk just let me know," Hannah sighed wearily. "Right now, I've got a date with an unhappy boyfriend."
"You know, I don't why you just don't marry David, Hannah," Peri rolled her eyes. "It's obvious you like him."
"In case you haven't noticed, buddy, I've got someone I need to take care of first," Hannah rebuked, adjusting John in her arms. "Besides, 'dating' is not synonymous with 'marriage' and there's still a bunch of stuff I still have to figure out with Matthew. I'll try to be back before six tonight."
"Yeah, well, have fun," Peri mumbled retreating back into the kitchen.
David did not think himself an impatient man. On the contrary, he believed he was quite adjusted with waiting patiently for the arrival of a significant other or a package to in the mail. But there were times when a man had to set limitations on his coveted patience and this was definitely one of those times.
It was roughly past the arranged hour Hannah said to meet her at the café downtown, an hour too long for David. The employees gave him looks that lent itself to their speculation of whether or not he'd been stood up or dumped via message. The two coffee's he ordered remained untouched on the table, and as David checked his watch a second time the familiar screech of tires reared its head.
Peri's van practically rode up onto the curb as Hannah parked it too close for comfort to another vehicle. She threw a quick wave in his direction then proceeded to crawl into the back to unfasten John from the baby seat. David felt his hopes dashed at the very sight of the chubby faced boy that clung to his mother as she stepped out of the car. He was not expecting her to bring John along with her. "Hey, I'm sorry I'm late," She breathed, one hand straightening her skirt. "John had a little trouble with his diaper and then I got distracted by the news-"
"Hannah, why did you-" He started.
"Did you hear about Arcturus Station? I can't believe they're still building that thing, it looks amazing, David," She finished. Hannah sat down in the chair across from him, John parked on her lap. The little boy stared back at him, blue eyes wide and bewildered as if to ask why he was sitting in such a noisy and chaotic place. Hannah tickled him a little, drawing his attention back to his mother. He pawed her chest as if to ask if it was time to eat yet. "So, how've you been?" She asked.
"I'm fine, Hannah, but why did you bring John with you? I thought you were leaving him with Peri?" He said.
"What? No, Peri said she couldn't watch him today, so I brought him with me," Hannah tried diffusing the tension building between them by raising John's hand and having him wave to her friend. David remained relatively unmoved by the attempt at humor, his hand instinctively going to rub his temples at the first sign of a headache. "John's never bothered you before, David, what's the problem?" Hannah inquired.
"I don't have a problem with John, Hannah, I just have a problem with him being here - with us, on a date," David clarified. "There is a time and place for these kinds of things."
"Time and place? Well, where am I supposed to take him, David? Most of the people in Peri's apartment complex I don't know, and Peri's always busy-"
"So why not reschedule when you could get her to watch him?"
"Because I wanted to get out of the house and I didn't think you'd mind him being here."
It was true. David didn't mind John half the time when he was present or absorbing the attention of his mother. However, the difference of situations was made clear on the basis of David's visitation to Peri's apartment. The infrequent dates he was allowed with Hannah were the only times John was never around and if David was being honest, he rather liked it that way. Between herself and the boy, Hannah had little time for a social life as far as dating or romantic relationships went.
The apparent the gap between her social and familial life was growing larger before his very eyes, all of it embodied in the chubby little creature in her arms. Leaning forward, he gripped the hand she left sitting on the table. "Look, I'm not mad or anything, it's just I barely see you as it is-"
She pulled her hand away. "I'm busy with John-"
"-and I was really hoping it would just be you and I today," David reiterated. "I think we should just reschedule."
"But I came all the way out here and nearly hit two mailboxes," Hannah frowned. "I'm not going to just drive all the back to the county because you don't feel I'm going to spend enough time on you with John arou- what?" Hannah turned to regard the waitress that tapped her on the shoulder. She looked no older than herself, a fledging college student working to herself through the expenses of the higher education system. "Ma'am-"
"Ma'am? I'm eighteen years old!"
"-Sorry! I just- I don't mean to butt into your business, but my supervisor is getting- he'd like you take your "argument"," and she used air quotes when she said this, "someplace else besides "his establishment"," The waitress concluded with another set of air quotes. The awkward silence that followed lasted all off ten seconds before David and Hannah realized their "argument" was going nowhere fast. Hannah wasn't leaving her son with strangers and David wasn't going to be cooperative with the idea of having a baby on a date.
Disarming the situation with a placid smile, Hannah pulled away from the table and stood up. "Right, well, I'm going for a walk," She sighed. "I'll see you when I see you, David." Her back to the entire situation, Hannah wove her way out of the maze of tables, head held high.
"Hannah, wait!" David stood up from his own chair, leaving a few dollars on the table as he went after her. Hannah, barely a few feet away from him, turned to face him. "What?"
Now that he had her attention, David seemed at a relative loss for words. Emphasis on seemed. "Look, I didn't want to tell you this now, but I don't when it is I'll see you again," He told her.
"What, you visiting Singapore again?" Hannah assumed.
"No, a little after this week I head for Basic Training in Vancouver," David explained. "I joined the Alliance Navy." And why would you do a fool thing like that? There was no war, no need for soldiers in space or on Earth. "What possessed you to do a thing like that?" Hannah inquired after a moment. "Was it your parents?"
"No, not exactly, it's was kind of a joint decision. I told them I was interested in joining after I spoke to a recruiter."
"I see," She scoffed. "Well, if that's the case, it'll be a damn long time before we see each other again, won't it?"
"Not necessarily, I'm sure they'll let me visit-"
"David, I have never heard of a single military organization that allowed trainees to visit anyone," Hannah interjected. "At best they'll give you a phone call and that's that."
"Fair enough, but-"
"Look, if this some addlepated attempt to get me to spend more time with you-"
"It's not! I actually joined the Alliance Navy, eezo," He proclaimed in aghast.
"Alright, alright, fine. You're leaving, but right now I- I have to take care of John," Backhanded as it was, Hannah's already shortening temper was slipping dangerously close to the edge. To avoid saying anything she would regret she abandoned any plans of walking and bypassed David to climb back into her car. At least inside a vehicle David couldn't be tempted to follow her and "explain himself" any more than he already did. Locking the doors, she pulled away from the curb and sped down the street, David's defeated figure getting smaller and smaller until she could no longer see him or the café. The nerve of that jerk; navy, basic training, the Alliance! He joined the military and for what? So she could weep on his manly chest and beg him to reconsider his foolhardy decision? Balls to that. He said it wasn't to get her attention but somehow she just didn't believe it.
"Are you hungry, John?" She asked, never taking her eyes off the road.
John sat in his baby seat, not quite comprehending the question.
"Well, I'm just dying for some ice cream, Rocky Rhode ice cream, dying I tell you," Hannah muttered. "So, I think I'll get some. Then you can have some too, Rocky Rhode flavored milk straight from your mama's breast."
John seemed to coo in the affirmative. Hannah pretended he was just extremely curious to know what this Rocky Rhode ice cream flavored breast milk would taste like.