Two headache pills with a glass of water and she still barely survived the hours of debriefing in the head after what might have been the best night of her life if she had gotten laid. She squints from her half-buried face in the pillow and sees her aquarium blasting harsh blue light. At least she made it back to bed. Her bedside table screams spiritual intervention, as it holds an empty bottle of what once was glowing green, an open container of headache meds, and an untouched glass of water. It would've helped if she actually took the pills.
Shepard attempts sipping at the water to prep the throat for medicinal relief when her clock beeps at her--call waiting. No one calls her on her private line except people she keeps private. So, like a proper commander of the SR-2 Normandy who knows any phone call to her is important, she ignores it.
She jumps awake, staring at the clock, reading five missed calls. Shepard rubs her eyes; she doesn't remember falling asleep, but the water is gone, she didn't spill it on herself, and her head doesn't throb like it did. She pushes herself up; every muscle sore, dry, and groaning at her as she forces them awake. For a while she just sits over the side, staring down at her feet. She didn't even bother taking off her boots last night. This morning? Whatever. She at least needs to change her socks. No need to change underwear as she recalls they disappeared. A bet, maybe. With who, though? It would have to be someone she trusted. She stretches then shoots her arms back down.
"Oh gawd," she winces.
When she manages a shower, and buttons the last piece of her uniform, her clock bleeps again. And this time, as if her computer sensed her walking around, lights up, and bleeps too.
Someone's insistent. Shepard hits the comms button on the table. It goes to speaker and the blue holoscreen pops up, scrolling three letters she didn't think she'd see today.
"Hi, Mom," Shepard says.
"Why didn't you tell me you were dead!?"
"Ah, Mom. Not on a Sunday."
"I may be a busy woman but I'm not that busy; to schedule some time with me is not hard."
Fresh socks, boots back on, Shepard walks out, grabbing her comms device, and hooking it around her ear. Her room system disconnects but now she can talk and show her face about the ship. She takes the elevator down.
"All you have to do is say 'Mommy dear, I wanna see you.' And I'll fly over, or you fly, since you got that new ship. What's it called?"
Shepard swings by the galley and Cookie already has a cup of coffee for her. Black, as she likes it. Not too hot, so she can drink it right away. She raises the mug and her brow in gratitude.
Shepard sips caffeinated turpentine, then says, "The Normandy."
"Galaxy's Smallest Diversity Convention."
She skips another sip.
"Mom!" she snaps.
"Kidding, kidding. Mostly. Didn't take Cerberus for alienosophes."
Cookie wraps a to-go bag of food for her. In routine, she always asks for the kiddie's meal, which to the cook is a delight because it's easy to prepare. She's all for cultural food, but sometimes a simple, Earth boxed lunch is all she wants. Brings back the comfort foods of home. Plus it makes great hangover food.
"They're not anti-alien, Mom."
"Of course not. Keep an eye on that Jack Harper."
"You know. The Illusive Man."
"Mom, you know his name!? Liara couldn't even tell me."
"She's not me."
"Clearly." An impressed tone slips out.
"What do we say?" Mom says singy-songy.
"Thank you, Mommy," Shepard sings back.
Cookie snorts. Shepard makes a jesting sneer at him and walks off with her joe and lunch back to the elevator, and toward CIC.
"You're welcome. I hope someone was around to hear you. It helps your crew to know you're still human."
"I am human."
"You know what I mean."
"Was scolding me the only reason for this call?"
"No, I—actually just wanted to hear from you. When I got the news I didn't believe it."
"You sure that's all? Mom, you know I've been around."
"I'm sure. Don't worry about me—fate of galaxy 'n' all that."
Helm in sight. Shepard walks down the passageway. Most of the crew members along the computer lines are combat and communication specialists. They monitor the radar systems and make sure no blips show; they also send evil mail through the ship servers with attachments containing annoying video with catchy tunes. Some, not all, get forwarded to her by Tali or Garrus. Mostly Tali. Silly, silly Tali.
"Just don't forget how it used to be. When you go on leave, you stay with family, not sleep on the ship."
Shepard stops just behind Joker, who's logging in diagnostics, and arguing with EDI.
"I am with family."
"You're a great leader, daughter."
A small burst warms her chest and flushes her cheeks.
"You must get that from me."
Joker turns in his chair. "Hey, is that—?"
"No it isn't," Shepard cuts him off.
"Was that Joker? Did he get my recipe?"
In a kiddish tone: "Yes, Momma Shep. I did."
"What did he say?"
"If you wanna talk, patch into the pilot house. Then he can complain to someone else about his girlfriend problem."
"It is NOT my girlfriend. Ugh. I wouldn't even consider it, commander. Blegh. Bad enough women already get in your head. But an AI?"
"See what I started? Now I gotta give your adopted son his binky."
"I should go too, hon. You two play nice."
"Miss your cottage pie, Mom!"
Clicks comm off. Shepard glares at him.
She shakes her head and skips ahead. "Did you hold a room near Neon Market?"
"Yeah. Got an extra key too. But I lost it. I might remember where it is if I don't have to do any 3Ms for a month."
"Bribing your CO?"
"Aha." Pulls card out of pocket and Shepard snatches it out of his hand.
"But for the rest of the year you'll do them with me." Shepard leaves.
"Ah, come on!" He protests.
EDI chimes in. "You've been had."
"Hush, not-girlfriend-material-you." He calls back as Shepard disembarks. "Have fun on another day of leave! I'll just be here, with the skeleton crew, and this AI, and a week straight of watch. Don't do anything you would do!"
Like question how her mom heard about her death and never freaked out? Never, Joker. Still. The thought rummages noisily as the two quarians hashing it out over a dress they found on a mannequin in the back corner of the shop.
Shepard made it to a lesser known ward on the Citadel, where she can find high-end styles for half the price. Not quite a colony market, but still honoring the sales, like Cyber Monday, only she likes to call it Shepard Sunday. (Not really. She just made that up.)
The fashion trends these days. What are they going to do to the dress? Cut it up and reuse it for—yes they are. They are going to cut it up and use the fabric to integrate it into their suits. Quarians use everything.
“This dress has a tear!” one cries out. “I’m not paying five thousand credits for this!”
“It wasn’t torn before you ripped it outta my hands, bosh’tet!”
They have great taste. The dress is a dark blue and bright red accents, something the Quarian would pride in: the boldness and flare. Shepard would have a hard time choosing which color is best.
The incredible need to shop takes her to a more quiet store.
It’s been two years since Sovereign and she can still smell the smoke and ash when she almost didn’t make it out alive. Kaiden’s voice was the first good thing she heard after that. The medics came second. Ashley’s funeral was the most peace Shepard saw. They had her wake at Shepard’s favorite bar on the Citadel and, to her surprise, a lot of aliens showed up. Classy, respectful aliens. And to think Ashley might’ve been paraonoid. She could have cared more than the rest of them to have so many clink glasses and tell a short story. Shepard’s couldn’t make her tale, long, or short; she didn’t know what to say despite having a knack for rallying speeches. Maybe the hurt in her eyes was enough because everyone in the room understood the silence. She, at last, had said, “To Ash. To family. To sacrifice.” After several toasts—the seventh one was to Ash’s unscathed chestplate, the tenth was for her armory—Shepard believed people were toasting excuses to drink. Shepard then toasted Ashley’s hair products. “To silky smooth even on the battlefield!”
“To silky smooth!” everyone had cheered back.
That was her twelfth shot.
In the end, before Shepard made one of the hardest decisions in her life, Ash took a liking to the adopted crew. After five or six or ten drinks, Shepard fantasized about Garrus and Ash gambling on who would be the better shot. It would happen. Kaidan had agreed. Even though Kaidan hated Shepard later.
Horizon’s still fresh. Frozen faces staring into the sky—terror etched into them. Mordin’s force field to camouflage her strike team. And Harbinger talking like he’s monarchy. We are Harbinger. We are a douchebag glass cannon that hits like a bitch. Except when Mordin got hit. Shepard needed several medpacks that day. Don’t tell Mordin she kept him down for a while during the last stand with that laser-shooting UFO. It was for his own good.
They finally got to Ilium last week and saw Liara, who looked a little ruthless for wear. Something about Shepard must have rubbed off on her, or…that’s the real Liara coming out of her shell. She briefly mentioned how she was involved with Cerberus. She didn’t like hearing it. Maybe she should let Liara know The Illusive Man’s name. Maybe she’ll wait.
A small store enthralls her.
Mandy’s Fineries has a narrow opening with a holographic sign posted on the wall, moving with elegant, gold beams highlighting the white-toned name. When she walks in, the space is open and well-kept. Quality clothes revolve on wall racks. On the floor, Shepard inspects a fixed rack of black suits in the men’s section, with availability in Turian, Drell, and Salarian upon request.
A human with pink and white ombre hair pops out from her counter space. She wears enough foil and glitter to replace a warning light.
She says, “May I help you find something for your…husband? Father?”
Shepard glances at her. “Uh just browsing. Thanks.”
“You’re Commander Shepard, right? You forgot this last night.”
Shepard finds herself stroking the arm of a sleeve, and jerks away. “What?”
The girl hands her a wrapped box in a customized tote bag.
“Yeah, you paid for it, then ran off.”
“Was I with anyone?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Mandy. If you’re ever in need of my services again, you’ll always have a discount here. You deserve only the best.” She grabs a card from the cashier counter.
It seemed primitive in the holo-age, but vintage. How the store’s set up, Shepard likes vintage.
Mandy adds, “I also do military uniforms and ribbon racks. Whatever you need.” She winks.
Shepard slips the card in her cargo pants after the exchange. The battle dress uniforms (BDUs) always had great pockets, so when she’s out in town, it’s all about the pockets. She doesn’t have to carry a purse or bag, and everything is against her skin in case shit goes down.
She walks out.
Two Citadel officers stand in the way.
“Commander Shepard. Please, come with us.”
Shepard turns—the store’s empty—and turns back. “Look whatever’s in this bag, I’m innocent.”
They glance in the bag.
“Please, ma’am,” the left says.
Citadel: Lower Wards, Zakera
Shepard took a liking to Captain Bailey the first time they met over the security dispute. Has she thought about grabbing drinks with him? Every time she swings by. Has he noticed her staring in places other than his eyes? She wouldn’t know; she wasn’t looking. He’s a bit of a rebel with enough wrinkles to tell her he’s been around, and done things. Seen things. She’s never asked. But when she’s taken into a black room, some of that liking fizzes. They put her purchase by the door, out of reach, and almost out of sight with Bailey as a blockade. He leans on the table between them, one leg resting, and dangling his boot. He writes a note on a small paper piece, then sets the pen down for the mug beside it. He holds it against his bottom lip—it should be coffee, but it smells like whisky—and sips before speaking.
“Sorry about the cloak and dagger nonsense. I requested my men not mention anything in public.”
“What’s going on?”
He attempts another sip; it dribbles over the side—“Damn,”—and he wipes the sides with his shirt, then sets the drink down on paper. “Captain Shepard has asked to speak with you.”
Shepard thinks back on the incessant ringing during her hangover, then how her mother wanted to “hear her voice.”
“We just spoke this morning,” she says.
“I don’t see how that’s possible, Shepard.”
“She’s detained until further notice. I have people looking into it, and it seems, so far, the Alliance has arrested her…for treason.”
“Treason!?” She jumps out of her seat but he waves her back down. It does nothing to her rushing blood, a need to punch something, kick something, anything.
Bailey mentions the Alliance requested to contact the nearest authorities immediately, but the nearest authorities would have been her omni-tool, or her ship. EDI would have mentioned something if Chambers hadn’t.
“How come I didn’t know about this when I was on the Normandy? How long has it been?”
“About twelve hours now. They have her confined to quarters. If she was my responsibility I’d let you see her. I’m sorry, Shepard.” He picks up his mug. Paper sticks to the bottom.
“No, no, no. I just spoke with her. How come you’re the one to tell me she’s in trouble. Unless…”
“You think this is a trap? I don’t know what to tell you, Shepard.”
He takes another sip, longer this time. One word faces her on the paper; it’s stained in liquid, but visible.
“Would you like me to get in touch with Admiral Hackett? I’m sure he can clear things up.”
“No.” She stands. “Thank you. I’ll talk with the Alliance myself. See what I can do for them.”
On their way to the exit, Bailey hands her the bag.
“Uh if you need anything else, I’ll be here.” He pats her elbow, an acknowledgement appropriate among comrades in the Alliance, and with most species in general, but there’s something else to it.
Bailey’s tactics aren’t transparent but he is a part of the bigger scheme of someone’s subterfuge. When Shepard leaves, officers stare at her from their desks, but once she stares back, they shoot attention to whatever paperwork they have to finish if they want to have their smoke break. Or whisky break, if they’re anything like Bailey.
So it’s not a trap but it’s a work-around trick to pull Shepard in certain directions. She doesn’t like to be played, but her mother arrested must have some people worried as much as herself, and that’s cause for secrecy. Shepard hasn’t realized her hands are shaking until she tries to contact Joker—she stops. Maybe using her omni-tool isn’t the best idea. No. She needs to keep up appearances.
“Joker,” Shepard calls, “contact the Citadel coordinator for AJAG and tell them they’re expecting me.”
“I’m sorry,” Joker says, “you were off-ship for an hour and you’re in trouble?”
“Not me, Joker. Mom.”
“Momma Shepard? Oh shit. On it, commander.”
The mug says to go to the Presidium. Can’t argue with Bailey’s mug.
For fuck’s sake, Mom, what did you do?