As Shia made her way back towards the dormitory, entering the common room she spotted David. He'd gather with some of the other recruits by a small table in the far corner, slumping down in a sofa that seemed to be a bit too worn down and soft for comfort. He spotted her almost immediately as she walked in, waving excitedly.
"Shia! Over here!" he called out across the room, stifling the soft murmur of the other recruits momentarily. Shia froze in place for a few seconds, then shrugged it off and made her way over to the group. Here we go... again.
"Hey Dave" She greeted him, feigning confidence
"You two know each other?" the question came from the small girl in the sofa, the same one who she'd seen at assembly and who had been the first call up at roll call.
"Yeah, well... no, not really" David replied "we chatted a bit during transit, the rest of you were too busy examining your feet for 15 hours straight" a teasing smirk growing across his face
"Douche!" the girl huffed "couldn't even wait 'til we hit solid ground to start chatting up the ladies?" she said, turning her attention to Shia "Don't mind him, he's always been like that, lucky for me my dad was around to keep him at bay" she continued merrily "Oh, I'm Sandra by the way, but you can call me Aaki, everyone else does. Shorter, easier... cuter too"
Shia nodded and greeted Aaki with a firm handshake "Shia, nice too meet you... So, I'm guessing that means you guys do know each other?"
"Yeah, we grew up on the same ship, the Arlington. Suffice it to say I've had to drag Daves ass out of the service tubes plenty 'o times" she replied, laughing loudly as she finished
"Oh whatever!" He responded, lobbing a small ball of rolled up paper at her with a huff
"Is there nothing but spacers around here?" Shia asked puzzled
"Oh there are, Mia here's from Earth... and so are you, I hear?"
Shia looked over at the quiet girl sitting to the left, she had hardly noticed her, her lithe frame seemed to be swallowed whole by the large couch. Blonde hair, tied neatly into a short ponytail, a pair of Alliance issue rimless glasses covering a pair of nervous blue eyes. "Nice to meet you" she said, shaking the girls hand. She seemed to relax a bit when Shia decided to take the initiative "Yeah, you too"
They chatted for a good couple of minutes, the mood was light and they all seemed to relax once they realized that at least a few people were friendly. "I think I'm gonna get something to drink, anyone else want something?" They all shook their heads and she headed off to the vending machine at the other side of the room.
David bit his lip lightly as he pondered whether he should ask her or not. Eventually his curiosity got the better of him.
"So... Shepard?" ha asked with an inquisitive tone
Yep.. here we go "That's my name" Shia stated matter of factly, trying to steer the conversation away from the subject
"That dad of yours, the one who works on Earth... Wouldn't happen to be Admiral Sarah Shepard, would it?
"What? Really?" Mia joined in, her insecurity seemed far away now, and her eyes nearly doubled in size with amazement
Shia just sat there for a moment, unsure how to deal with this. Her fathers reputation was something she'd never gotten used to, and while her parents never expected her to try top live up to it, she often felt like everyone else might.
"Look" she said eventually "Can we not make a big deal out of this?"
"So it is you!" David exclaimed "Ha! I knew it. Galaxies finest right here. Your dad's a legend!" His smiled dipped when his eyes met Shias, her expression a mix of annoyance and fear
"I-I'm not my father, ok?" She said solemnly "Can we please just drop it?"
David just stared at her for a moment, the conversation had taken a turn pretty quickly and he hadn't expected such a reaction. Well, I can't really blame her. Being the son of a Captain is bad enough, it's probably 100 times that for her. He thought.
"Ok, we'll drop it" he said eventually, shooting her a warm smile.
It was getting late, and they were all tired from the long day. The transit from Earth had taken roughly 15 hours, but they'd landed in the mid afternoon, local time, so most of them had been going for well over 24 hours by now. Good practice I guess Shia thought to herself Dad did tell me about those infamous 20 hour days... Not that this is N7, but still. "Well, I think it's about time to hit the sack" She said eventually "I'm still on Earth-time, but I think I've suffered enough"
"Sounds like a good idea, probably going to need it for tomorrow, my brother told me they make you run 'til you pass out on your second day" Mia replied, having warmed up to the other significantly during the evening. She tried hard to make her remark sound light and humorous, but some trepidation was still noticeable under there. Shia could spot it immediately, Being an asari has its perks, at least sometimes
"That's not true" David retorted "Probably just trying to scare you. It's gonna be rough, sure, but it's still the Alliance, not a krogan right of passage"
Mia shrugged "I probably wouldn't have the quad for it"
The sudden and unexpected profanity coming from the timid girl made Aaki choke on her drink, sending a portion of it flying out her nostrils. Mia looked shocked, while Shia and David just stared at the scene for a moment before nearly falling over the backrest in a fit of laughter. Aaki tried to compose herself with little success, alternating between coughing and laughing. "It wasn't that funny" Mia tried once the group had settled down slightly, triggering another wave of laughter.
The routine in the barracks were odd, coming from civilian life. Everything was comfortable enough, if a bit more simple and rustic than in a normal home. The biggest difference was how everything was built to accommodate all inhabitants doing everything at once. Everything from the showers to the toilets could accommodate all fifty recruits at once, and the large spaces and crowds made one feel rather small. "Lights out in 10 minutes" a synthetic voice called over the PA system, and the recruits were all scrambling to finish their nightly routines. Well, at least the showers aren't co-ed. she thought as she dried herself with her towel and headed over to one of the many sinks to brush her teeth. Belonging to an monogendered species she didn't really care, but growing up around humans does rub off, and besides, men had always struck her as a bit more prone to stare blatantly.
It all felt strange somehow, yet completely natural at the same time, like she'd just come home after being gone for a very long time. It was mostly the uniformity that felt a bit off, everything was standard issue, from the toothbrush, the clothes and the bedding. She understood the need for it, coming from a military family, but it felt a bit weird never the less. At least they were allowed to keep their own omni-tools if they had one, for which they were grateful. Not that the Alliance issued ones were bad, they always kept up with the latest releases, Can't really have them locking up in the middle of a battle, but she doubted they'd allow her the bandwidth to download 35.000 hours of music and almost as impressive a collection of vids to replace what she had in her own omni-tool.
"Lights out" the synthetic PA announced just as Shia slipped into her bunk. She was tired from the long day, but her mind was still racing and sleep refused to find her. After tossing and turning for what felt like an eternity, she finally slid quietly out from under the sheets. Praying the goddess that no one would notice, she quietly made her way out of the dorms and out onto the buildings walkway that faced the quad outside. The night was warm and pleasant, the slight chirping from some manner of insect permeating the air. She set her omni-tool to transmit to her auditory implants and queued some music. Earth jazz, her dads favorite. She brought up the image gallery on the small omni-screen and the latest picture taken popped up, her and her parents huddled together earlier that morning while she waited to board the transport. She glanced over at the skyline of Joughin in the distance as a lone saxophone wailed softly in her ears. She turned back to the picture of her and her parents with a smile, I can do this. I'll make you proud, I promise. She thought as she strolled back to her bunk and laid back down, and this time sleep took her almost instantly.
- - -
Three months had past since they first touched down on Benning, and the first leg of their training was drawing to a close. The boot camp portion was by far the toughest, according to her dad at least, and Shia couldn't wait to get to the next part, on ship training. Less people, less dust and less mud, and hopefully less shouting too. Not that she disliked camp life, it was fun most of the time, and she'd really gotten to know some of the others, leaving them behind being one of the few things she was dreading about the upcoming graduation. Maybe we'll end up on the same ship she thougt, trying to cheer herself up a bit A few of us at least. The week of shore leave coming up before she had to report to her new assignment wasn't bad either, not that she'd have time to make it back to Earth. Maybe the Citadel, never had the chance to stroll around the place on my own
The training had payed of, she could shoot as well as most people by now, and her pull was honed enough to snatch a pyjak from the mouth of a varren from 100 meters out, coupled with drilling endless tactical scenarios and combat tactics. Still, she still had to prove she could actually combine it all into something resembling a successfully executed maneuver. Well, I guess I'm going to get my chance.
One week earlier:
Shia nervously brushed imagined creases from her uniform for the tenth time and glared at the door. She'd been called in to see the CO, the first time aunt Ashley had asked to speak with her since she arrived. She'd been hurt at first, but the understood the need for professionalism and protocol. When she thought about it, she was actually relieved, it gave her confidence beyond any doubt that she'd received no preferential treatment. The door opened and she snapped to attention, a pale man entered the room "The Captain will see you now" he said, motioning for her to follow. She walked past a modest desk and continued into the office beyond, the man closing the door behind her.
"Ma'am, Serviceman Shiala Shepard, reporting as ordered ma'am" she saluted.
Ashley looked up from her desk, mildly amused by the sharp discipline "At ease, serviceman" she replied, Shia following suit, securing her hands behind her.
"Serviceman, I've been going over your performance reviews. The instructors all concur that you show high aptitude for leadership. With this in mind, I'm assigning you as squad leader for Echo Four in the upcoming combat exercise"
"Ma'am, yes ma'am" Shia replied sharply
Ashley smiled warmly and walked up to the young asari, studying her for a moment and then gave her a hug "Relax, Shia" she said reassuringly. Shia nearly went limb as the tension quickly melted off her. "Take a seat, we have a few minutes to talk freely" Ashley said, moving back behind her desk.
"I really am impressed with how you've handled yourself here Shia"
Shia exhaled slowly "Thanks aunt Ash... it's been pretty rough, I wasn't sure how to act when I saw you on day one"
"I'm sorry we haven't been able to speak earlier, but I had to keep the same distance as I do with all other recruits"
"I know" Shia replied warmly "To be honest, I was more worried that you'd be all chummy with me... I mean it's bad enou..." She stopped herself mid sentence, unsure if she should continue
"I-It's just... it's hard enough being the daughter of Commander Shepard, you know?" Shia blurted out with more frustration than she intended to "The expectations, everyone thinking that I'm only her because of her good word"
"Shia, no one thinks that" Ashley assured with a smile "Benning isn't exactly cream of the crop"
"I know" Shia sighed "Dad told me the same thing. I guess I'm just imagining it."
"You've earned this Shia. I would never have issued the order otherwise" Ashley reassured her "And I've spoken with your parents, they couldn't be more proud of you. I know you won't be able to make it back to earth between assignments after graduation, but make sure you give them a call; they both miss you terribly"
"I miss them too" Shia replied, her voice breaking slightly "I will auntie... I promise"
"Good. Now, I do believe you have mission to plan for"
"Yes ma'am" Shia said, as she saluted her aunt and headed for the door.
"Oh, and Shia" Ashley said, locking eyes with Shia as she turned around to face her "Don't do it for them, or me, or the reputation. Do it for you"
Shia lit up with a bright smile "Yes ma'am" and headed out the door
Cathoria Jungle, Benning, 8 days later:
Echo Four sat assembled in their shuttle, Shia looked over her squad. Aaki, David and Mia all glanced back at her, eagerness in their eyes. Luckily all the squad leaders had been allowed to pick their own teams. Unit cohesion, they called it.
"Ok, here's the sitrep" she called out over the hum of the engines "We're to locate, secure and hold an enemy communications tower five clicks south of the Kedra river and await instructions" She continued, pausing briefly "We ready for this?" She asked, trying to hide her apprehension
"Sure are" Mia replied, with a confidence Shia would never had imagined three months earlier "We're with you all the way Shia"
"Damn straight!" David joined in, followed by an enthusiastic nod from Aaki. Shias smile was as wide as ever, her green eyes filled with a new found love and respect for her friends
"Ok, we're coming up on target, ETA 2 minutes, I want sound discipline until we've secured the LZ. Get ready!" They all readied their gear and readied themselves for the flying drop as the shuttle began it's descent. Showtime Shia thought as the shuttle doors hissed upon, revealing the moonlit canopy in the tropical night.