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Shepard's Dream Catcher

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They had a few hours before the shuttle was scheduled to take off, so Amber used this time to double-check her luggage. In her backpack, she stashed her datapad, a small console with three video games which she enjoyed the most and a first aid kit. She then examined the dreamcatcher in her hand before tucking it into a smaller pocket of the backpack along with her bag of worry dolls.

"You ready, Lieutenant Commander?" she looked up to see her hardened squad leader.

Amber closed her backpack and stood to her feet, saluting to the squad leader in front of her.

"Sir," she nodded.

"At ease, ma'am. We'll be leaving at 0930 hours for Akuze, so you better get your stuff aboard."

Taking the hint, Amber slung a strap of her backpack over her shoulder before grabbing her duffle bag stashed with clothes. Along the way, she met with the others on her team as she boarded their ship. She may have felt disappointed her friends weren't among the squad, but she was hoping they could come along next time. For now, she settled into a seat next to a fellow N7 graduate.

"Morning, Shepard. I got a good feeling about today. You?" one of her teammates greeted.

Amber leaned back in her chair as she held her backpack close on her lap.

"I am hoping this month's planet would be suitable for us," Amber said.

"Yeah. The serg didn't mention much about the planet yet. It's some backwater place, one of the farther out colonies."

"Think aliens finally got through? What do you think happened?" another asked.

"Well," Amber shrugged, "either that, or they could be camera shy."

The last squadmates filed onboard before their squad leader climbed on.

"All right boys and girls, listen up. We're off to a colony called Akuze. Radio silence has indicated something's gone wrong and we are off to investigate. Any questions so far?"

A teammate next to Amber raised her hand.

"Anything to remotely indicate what happened? What if we get there and it was just space debris interrupting the connection?"

Amber couldn't help but scratch her head.

"That's not our job, private. It's a big, unknown galaxy out here, and we're not supposed to sit idly by just because we wanted to save an extra bit of time and energy," the sergeant chastised, "once we get groundside, we're to investigate the colony and look for signs of struggle or anything to indicate what happened."

"Understood, sir," another squadmate nodded.

The squad leader gave a nod of approval before he sat at an empty seat before the pilots began turning on the ignition. Their shuttle flew out into the void towards one of the ancient structures that had allowed them to venture so far from Earth before being catapulted out of the system. With the shuttle in warp, all the squadmates could do was wait until they arrived at the destination. To pass the time, Amber pulled out a miniature game console and quietly thought of whether she'll play The Binding of Isaac, Shovel Knight or Undertale.

The hours dragged on as she waited for their arrival on Akuze. When they did, the pilot announced on the PA.

"Coming up on the LZ, guys. Get ready for drop off."

"Still playing those games, huh?" she raised her gaze to meet Corporal Toombs, the other corporal on the squad.

Amber double-checked her game before she saved her progress and turned off the console, stashing it back into her backpack. She peered through the small window as the shuttle approached the planet before it began its descent below the atmosphere.

"Well, that's because all the small-time developers actually care about what they make whereas the triple-A figures couldn't care less about whether they put out a Mona Lisa or a hot pile of garbage so long as they got money from it," she answered, drawing out her sniper rifle.

"And they still do that in the 22nd Century?" a squadmate blurted, his eyes blinking twice.

A short while later, the shuttle reached the surface. By now, the squad finished gearing up for their mission just as the ship found a suitable place to land. They formed up behind the sergeant and advanced towards the cluster of prefabs down the mountain.

"Alright people, spread out," the squad leader instructed, "Toombs, on me to the admin building, see if we can find any reports. Shepard, get to that tower and provide overwatch. Everyone else, sweep the colony. You know the drill."

"Copy that," Shepard saluted.

Amber turned her head towards the tower before she started her sprint. Rushing through the door and up the steps, she reached a view that put her at least several stories above the rest of the colony.

"I'm in position, serg," Amber announced.

{Ten-four, call us if you see anything.}

She swept a good 360 degrees around the colony, not spotting a single bit of damage on the structures.

"Looks clear so far," Amber reported, "you got anything, Toombs?"

He started with a gruff sigh.

{Nothing yet. Still digging up security footage, and the serg is picking through admin logs.}

Amber kept a firm grip on her sniper as she continued to gaze out the window for another matter of minutes. The colony was dead center in the middle of a valley, with mountains stretching into the distance around them.

"Nothing yet," Amber informed, "Sergeant, have you found anything?"

{Well, almost fifty-two hours ago, the local earthquake alarm set off. Strange considering how we're nowhere near a fault line. From what Corporal Toombs found, looks like the occupants vacated the colony, but didn't return after that.}

Amber blinked twice and scanned the prefabs below for any evidence of an earthquake. To her disappointment, she didn't find any rubble.

"I agree, sir," Amber replied, "none of these buildings appear to be damaged by such conditions."

{Got it, Shepard. Come down from there and rally by the admin building. We'll be }

Amber flinched as she heard static for a brief moment.

"Corporal, you feel that?" Amber hastily asked.

Amber felt it too, in the form of a light trembling from the floor.

{Yeah, I feel it too. Shepard, get down from there before something breaks, got it?}

"O-Ok," Amber nodded.

Without wasting any time, Amber sprinted out of the room and made her way down the stairs. Once she made it outside, she started scurrying through the streets between the prefabs just as the trembling slowly started to intensify. That was when she heard the piercing shriek from outside.

{Jesus!}

{What the fuck is that?!}

{Take it down! Take it down!}

{Get it off! Get it off! AAAAH !}

In that moment, the radio chatter went off with screams and panic. Although Amber couldn't understand why, she felt panic surge through her veins. She accelerated her pace, hoping she would reach the admin building in time. On the way back out of the entrance, she looked to the skyline above the prefabs in fear. What looked over the colony, one with the limp legs of one of her companions in its maw, was a pair of enormous centipede-like creatures, with a head that could easily bite the front off a Mako like it was a potato chip. She could hear her breath quicken as she aimed her rifle at the giant creature and squeezed the trigger. The round simply bounced off as if it were tank armor.

She made her run for the admin building as it lobbed a lime green ball of some caustic spittle towards where she stood. Running down the street, another two were firing from behind cover when one of the creatures rose from the ground, catching both in its mouth before throwing them up in the air and snapping down on them as they returned, eating them whole. The rest of the way, it just hounded her as it dove through prefab after prefab, snapping its jaws. As she continued her sprint, she frantically searched for some objects she could knock over to block her pursuer's path. She reached the admin building with the sergeant and Toombs still at the entrance.

"Shepard! Hurry! We need to start gathering the platoon…behind you!"

Amber whipped around just in time to see another one of the beasts preparing for another attack. Ducking out of the way, she turned to see the sergeant screaming as he was reduced to a puddle of red and green sludge.

"Shit! Now what?" Toombs cursed.

"Maybe we should leave," Amber gasped.

With little time to spare, Toombs pulled out a datapad and handed it to Amber.

"Corporal, what are you…?" she paused.

"You're the faster of the two of us, you can at least get word back about what the hell happened," Toombs explained, "all remaining squad members, make for the mountains to the southeast of the colony. Move!"

Amber quickly stashed the datapad into her backpack before she sprinted for her life. She couldn't turn her head back, especially when one of the giant centipede-like creatures caught Toombs in its maw moments later.

"NO!"

She didn't pause as continued to run for her life, lungs and legs burning. Overhead, their ship began to land to pick up her and a few of the remaining members of her squad, when the shuttle was suddenly shot out of the air by another acidic ball. She narrowly halted as it crashed into the ground, but was still caught in the explosion. With no time to waste, Amber scrambled for cover. Rolling back to her feet, she clutched her side painfully as she yanked out a piece of shrapnel, before putting a hand on her wound to maintain pressure. She looked back in despair as the last of her platoon were slaughtered by the worm-like creatures.

With nowhere to go, she continued to stumble towards the mountains, vision blurring from exhaustion and blood loss. If she was lucky to still be alive, she would have to find some way to get off the planet. In the distance, she saw some distant, blurry form walk down from the mountains. In a burst of desperation, she started to wave her hands, calling for attention.

"H-hello? I…I need h-h-help…"

Amber couldn't finish her sentence as she felt a stinging pain on her back when she extended her arm. The next thing she knew, she let out a sharp cry and collapsed onto her knees. She removed her backpack before she reached a hand around to find the source of the pain. When the sergeant went down in a burst of acid, some must've splashed on her, and he took the majority of the burns for her. She looked back up at the form as darkness closed in around her.

"H-heellp-p…"

As she slowly lost consciousness, the figure in her blurred vision crouched down and the last thing she heard was strange caws, clicks and whistles she couldn't recognize.


Just as it felt like a moment, the sound of a crowd stirred her from her comatose state. Amber opened her eyes, but her vision was still blurry. The only thing she felt was a pair of arms carrying her. She kept blinking in and out of consciousness, hearing nothing but clicks, whistles, and some other strange mumbling among the blurry sight of clean walls. Based on those noises, she doubted any humans apart from her squad could've found her. After some unspecified amount of time passed between when she last came to and when her mind finally came around, she found herself in a hospital that she didn't recognize from anything she'd seen before. Although she was still in pain to the point she couldn't move, she scanned her surroundings, taking note of the strange writings along some screens plastered along the wall. Out of the corner of the eye, she saw two figures speaking with one another.

"Hey…hey doc…"

The two forms looked at her, still unclear in her blurred vision. One walked over to what resembled an IV next to her bed before interacting with it, causing her to black out again.

The next instant she woke up, she felt bandages covering her back and her side. She appeared in the same hospital as before, and now that she got a better look at it, it was definitely not any hospital room she recognized. Did she die? Was this some form of neurons firing in her last moments, gasping for air on Akuze? Suddenly the door slid open, catching her attention. She planted her hands on the bed and slowly sat up, taking care not to move too fast to reduce pain. Whatever it was, it was reptilian in nature, with slender, metallic plates that gave it an avian appearance. Otherwise, it was humanoid with two fingers on each hand with opposable thumbs. Under its shirt, its torso was heavily reinforced with a thick carapace, with a streamlined appearance.

"Take it easy. You'll have to forgive the medical procedures. We had to make sure you were unconscious when we installed the translator."

Amber gave the alien a blank stare.

"You…you can understand me?" she paused.

The alien nodded.

"You're lucky we were able to analyze your language," he explained.

The alien took a few more steps before he sat down in a chair next to her bed.

"I'm Spectre Saren Arterius," he introduced himself, "and I am a part of the intergalactic law enforcement present. We'll try and reestablish contact between yourself and your kind, but you have to be patient. You're lucky you survived a maw attack like that."

Amber took a moment to examine the bandage underneath her gown for a moment before she turned her gaze towards Saren.

"So what were you doing in Akuze?" Amber asked Saren.

"Investigating your species. There have been reports of unidentified vessels traveling in the outer edges of Citadel Space for a few months now, and I tracked down one of the colonies. Unfortunately, I found it after it and your squad had been torn apart by Thresher Maws," Saren answered.

Amber couldn't help but shudder in response. For some reason, she found the image of the giant insect creature flooding her mind all of a sudden as she silently recalled the screams of her dying squadmates.

"Thresher Maws?" Amber blurted, "you mean the giant creatures that killed…my comrades?"

Saren stared for a moment before he nodded.

"Yes," Saren answered, "although…the vessels haven't been suspected of illegal activity as of yet."

"Illegal? How so?" she asked.

"Due to some ancient history," Saren clarified, "law mandates that any race should seek legal consent to open a relay, as we don't know what's on the other end."

Amber ran her finger through her short dark brown hair before leaning back.

"I'm Amber Shepard," she told Saren, "from the Human Systems Alliance."

"Pleasure to meet you, Shepard," Saren replied, "if you need to, you can stay at my place until we can make proper contact with your people."

Amber made a brief glance at a nearby window, silently reminding herself that while she made it out alive, she's still far away from home. She even reflected on how her friends would react when they learn of her disappearance. The thought of them mourning of her supposed death gave her chest aching pain.

"How long should I rest before I can be released from the hospital?" Amber pointed out.

"A week at most. Thresher Maws are not a new adversary, so doctors have long since figured out how to treat their acidic burns," he explained, "don't worry, we'll get you home."

Saren offered Amber his hand, allowing her to grasp it gently.

"Do you guys have anything available to eat?" Amber clamored softly.

The Spectre walked to a terminal by the door.

"Given your biological composition, plenty. I'll tell the nurse to get you a levo-meal. It won't be anything you'll be used to, but…well, what can you expect?"

Amber couldn't help but shrug.

"I guess that's fine," she said.

Saren took the hint and browsed through the menu at the terminal. He found a simple soup-like option and ordered a bowl for her. While he would have to wait for the meal to arrive, he ambled over to the bed, only to notice Amber was hugging her arms to her chest and tears were streaming from her eyes.

"Shepard?" he paused.

Amber tilted her head and locked eyes onto Saren's.

"I just," she bleated softly, "do you know what it feels like…to be the last one standing after watching your companions die in front of you?"

Saren let out a soft sigh before he ran his talons through her hair.

"I understand the trauma you're experiencing. It's definitely an experience that will come to pass," he acknowledged.

Amber nodded at Saren while she leaned into his touch. To soothe her further, he craned his head and tapped his forehead against hers.

"This is one way turians give affection," Saren explained.

While Amber savored this moment, she stared into his eyes.

"Is that what your species is called?" Amber asked.

Saren nodded.

At that moment, an alien nurse entered the room with a glass of water and a bowl of some sort of soup before she set it down at Amber's end table. Amber took a moment to wipe her tears from her face with her arm before she picked up a spoon and the bowl. Perching it on her lap, she tasted a sample of the soup, finding the flavor from the broth, meat and vegetables palatable.

"Hey, this is pretty good," Amber commented.

The alien nurse nodded at Amber.

"Will you need anything else?" she asked.

"No thanks," Amber shook her head.

The alien nurse nodded at both Saren and Amber before she left the room.

"In the meantime, I'll be setting up my place for you to bunk for however long you're here," he added, handing her a datapad, "in addition, I'll get you an omni-tool and some new sets of clothing. Look something up here, let me know what you like."

Amber examined the screen of the datapad while she kept eating. Even if she couldn't read the strange language, she used the images as a guide for what possible outfits she could go for. After she finished another bite of her soup, she made one more glance at Saren.

"Hey, Saren?" Amber called out, "I appreciate you saving my life back there."

Saren gave her a soft smile.

"You're welcome, Shepard," Saren replied.