The Citadel was even more breathtaking than she'd remembered. She was glued in front of the small window as the transport made its approach. Hundreds of ships arriving and departing, the buzzing wards stretching out in all directions, a never ending display of life in their numerous skycar lanes. It's like a big anthill made of neon from up here. She gasped slightly as they flew by a large ship, Dreadnought class from the looks of it... she thought Alliance markings. For a moment she wished that she'd been assigned to a ship like that instead of a frigate, it was impressive, and they were the pride of the fleet after all. But something about serving on a ship with a crew the size of a small city was disconcerting. Besides, dreadnoughts never did anything fun anyway, they mostly just sat around guarding the Arcturus Stream.
- - -
The docks were full of life, people from every species in known space darting quickly to their destinations, military and civilians alike. She'd always liked spaceports, something about the energy of places like this made her happy. The air was always so full of expectation. She approached the security checkpoint where a small queue had formed, mostly Alliance personnel like herself, but at the front a large krogan who seemed none to happy to surrender his weapons. The drell C-Sec officer showed remarkable patience, and the krogan eventually realized that his threats of consuming people alive was falling on deaf ears and begrudgingly surrendered his impressive collection of firearms.
"Please submit a thumbprint for identification" the drell chimed, the deep sounds produced by his hyoid bone betraying his boredom with his assigned task. Shia could imagine that the arrivals desk would be one of the more tedious tasks a C-Sec officer could be asked to perform, certainly not the most dangerous and adventurous one, at any rate. She obediently placed her thumb on the scanner while handing her duffel bag over to the drells turian colleague for inspection.
The drell looked up from his screen "Shepard?"
"Uh... yes?" She responds, visibly confused at his interest
"I'm filled with anger. Father! Flashing lights dancing on the walls. A shot rings out, startled, a sharp pain across my face. My pistol falls to the floor" He mumbles, Shia can't quite make it out
"What?" She ask, giving the drell a puzzled look
"Oh, forgive me. Never mind, you can go on through now Private Shepard. Welcome to the Citadel."
She nodded and collected her gear from the turian, glancing back as she headed through the scanner at the door. Well, he's and odd one
- - -
The wards were busier than she'd expected, making her way thought the throngs of people was almost exhausting, the translator working overtime to muddle through the barrage of conversation and yelling that filled her ears. She normally didn't have to rely on it, she spoke a few human languages, even though English was all you really needed these days, as well as standard Asari. But this was different. Volus, elcor, quarian and krogan merchants all competing for the attention of potential customers, mingling with advertisements in every language imaginable. She could even make out the artificial chirping of the occasional geth.
While overwhelming, she liked it. After all, this was the galaxy, this was what she came to see, to experience the marvel that was the galactic community for herself. Pushing away the urge to explore further, she finally acknowledged the rumbling in her belly and set out to find some food. The diet during basic had consisted of rations, a stride only occasionally broken by the brown goo the mess Sergeant had the audacity to call chili. I've been to Texas, and whatever that stuff was, it wasn't chili. She wouldn't wish three months of eating nothing but rations on her worst enemy, and well aware that the Narva would likely turn out to be equally limited, culinary wise, she was eager to get some actual food.
Luckily this part of the Wards wasn't lacking in restaurants, bars and food retailers. After sifting through the dextro-only places and the customary five ramen joints, all located within 100 meters of each other, she eventually found what she was looking for. Romanos Bar & Eatery was a small café type restaurant in classic Earth style, it even had wooden furniture and tablecloths. That was unusual these days, even back on Earth, and Shia found herself drawn to the place almost instinctively.
It was much quieter inside the restaurant, and she settled for a table at the far end, right by a window offering a staggering view of the ward stretching out in front of her, breaking sharply against the nebula in the background. She slumped down in the soft chair, suddenly realizing how tired she really was. She sighed contently as she reached for the menu propped up in the middle of the round table. Paper... she thought, amused by the sight and the tactile feel of the material Who does this anymore? she chuckled as she studied the menu as the waitress, a young quarian, made her way to the table.
"Hello, my name's Jani'Nara and I'll be your server this evening. Have you decided what you'd like?" her voice was happy and giddy, almost overly so.
Shia smiled at the enthusiastic quarian "Umh, I'm not really sure... Pizza I guess. What's the spiciest one you've got?"
"Oh, that would be the Aralakh Pepperoni Combo, if you think you can handle it?" Jani quipped
"Eye of wrath, eh? Sounds awesome. Better make it a double too."
"Aaand... Garlic bread, and lots and lots of beer. A lager, something light."
"You want a whole pitcher?" Jani asked concerned
Shia could only laugh at the startled eyes behind the glass "No, better not. Let's just start with a glass and work our way up from there."
"Ok, I'll go put that in for you right now" She said, moving off with a light step.
The hours passed quickly as Shia ate, drank and enjoyed the view and the pleasant atmosphere of the restaurant. It might not be a party she thought but I'm relaxed, lightly intoxicated and well fed. Just going to chalk this up as a win anyway.
"My shifts over in a few minutes, like me to get you anything else?" Jani asked as she approached her once again.
"I'll have another" Shia replied, wiggling her nearly empty glass with a bright smile on her face "Name's Shiala by the way. Why don't you join me? The nebula wasn't as good a conversationalist as I thought. I'm buying."
"T-that would be... fun, thank you" she responded, a bit hesitantly at first, but she soon regained her cheerful demeanor.
Jani returned with another beer for Shia, and a small sealed cup with a straw for herself "So, what did you get?" Shia asked, motioning to the small cup
"Turian brandy. This place doesn't have much in the way of dextro products" She responded, guiding the straw to the intake port on her helmet.
"Oh, I'm sorry. We could have gone somewhere else instead"
"No, it's ok. This is my favorite drink anyway. Most quarian spirits are made from cacti, never much cared for them." She said, taking a big gulp from her drink, savoring the taste "Mm, I needed this. Long day, luckily it's my last too"
"Really, you're quitting?" Shia asked "That's too bad, you're really good at it. I don't think I've ever had better service anywhere"
"That's nice of you to say" Jani chuckled "But I was only doing this for some extra credits anyway, the Citadel is so expensive. I was taking a sabbatical from the university, but I got... called on to do some other stuff so I have to cut it short."
"Called in to do what?"
"Oh, I'm studying engineering and I got this research fellowship for experimental propulsion systems. Apparently the Conclave made some kind of exchange with the Systems Alliance, and now they need someone with experience to help them tune it for the shakedown run. So they called me."
"You'll serve on an Alliance ship?"
"Yes, in a way. Officially I'll serve as an engineer in the quarian navy, and I guess they're lending me to the humans for a while."
Shia nodded, sipping her beer. She was impressed, doing advanced research and being sent as a specialist while still in school pointed to some serious talent.
"Speaking of the Alliance" Jani said, motioning to Shia "I don't think I've ever seen an asari in that uniform before"
Shia nodded again "I don't think I'm the first, but it's not common."
"How'd you end up joining?"
"Well, I grew up on Earth. My father's human, she's in the Alliance, it made sense. That's the short version at least."
Jani bobbed her head in recognition "Besides, non-humans are getting more and more common. Who knows, if you like it in the Alliance, maybe you could get one of these uniforms too."
"I doubt the Alliance issues envirosuits. And blue's not really my color." she chuckled.
"Yeah, I meant to ask about that. What's with the suit? I thought you guys didn't need them anymore?"
"Well, we don't, not under the right conditions. It's fine on a ship, personal spaces and such. But out in public or on alien worlds, it's still a good idea to wear one. In a place like this there's just too much for our immune systems to handle, it can't keep up. On a ship it's different, you'll be sick for a few days, but you can adapt to it."
"So, once you join your ship you'll just wear regular clothes?"
Jani nodded again "Exactly. My uniform from the quarian navy arrived yesterday, I'm actually looking forward to wearing it. It's very... flattering. My mother pestered me over the extranet for a week about the measurements when I told her about the assignment."
Shia gave her a broad smile. Oh, I bet it is. she thought. Even though she couldn't see the quarians face clearly, her kind eyes, confidence and cheerful attitude made her very attractive in cute sort of way, and the curves of her figure weren't hard to look at either.
"So," Shia continued, pushing her thoughts aside "Which ship will you be serving on anyway? Must be something new if they're testing out a new drive core?"
"No, they've actually re-purposed an old Normandy-class frigate, the Narva."
Shia nearly choked on her beer "What? No way?"
"What?" Jani replied, startled by the sudden outburst.
"That's the ship I'm serving on! Or will serve on." she exclaimed.
"Oh... wow." Jani replied, visibly shocked
"Yeah... small station."
"More like small galaxy."
They both shared a laugh over the improbability of the meeting. They spent a good few hours talking, about Earth, Rannoch, music, literature and ship design. Jani rambled on about the virtues of engineering and the latest omni-tool model, her gestures becoming ever more expressive as she drank her brandy, only stopping when Shias stifled laughter drew her attention to it. Having lost track of time, and finding out they had much in common, not realizing the restaurant had been closed for well over an hour, they were eventually ushered out by the human owner who, until then, had been observing the spectacle with an amused look. He showed them out and wished them a pleasant night, but not before thanking Jani for her services and assuring her that she'd always be welcomed back, should her engineering career prove unsatisfying.
The conversation still going, they walked with a slightly inebriated swirl to their steps. Reaching a transport pad they stopped and prepared to go their separate ways.
"Look. I had a really nice time tonight." Shia said while tapping in her order for a cab "We're not supposed to report to the ship for another six days... So if you want to, I don't know, meet up or something before then, just call me. I sent my contact to your omni-tool"
"I'd like that" Jani responded with a smile "I have a lot to get done before then, but I'll try." She paused as she brought up her omni-tool, accepting the transfer "Otherwise, I'll just see you on the ship."
Shia smiled broadly "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it"
"Me too. It feels good to know I'll have at least one friend aboard... I was a bit nervous about that actually."
"I know what you mean. But, well, you found one."
- - -
Shia awoke in her spartan motel room, still fully clothed and lying sideways on the bed. I guess I was more tired than I thought... she thought Or maybe more drunk than I thought groaning as her headache made itself known. She dragged herself to the small bathroom for a drink of water, smirking at the reflection in the mirror, she didn't look half as bad as she felt.
Walking back to her bed she brought up her omni-tool to access the extrannet, trying decide what to do that day, and looking for the nearest store that sold some form of painkillers. As she sat down, she couldn't help but smile a little. "Totally worth it though."
- - -
After a quick shower, taking some painkillers she bought from a seemingly very agitated salarain shopkeeper and having changed into her spare uniform, she felt like a new woman. After dropping the dirty set off at a cleaning facility she decided to take a stroll. The wards were still loud and buzzing, and while the meds dampened the pain, her head still felt heavy, so she opted to find a more quiet, and preferably less crowded area. After wandering for a while she found herself at the entrance to the Presidium.
The change in atmosphere was almost as breathtaking as the scenery itself. This was a part of the station that she'd visited with her parents as a child, but it still seemed different now. Arriving at a small plaza, she headed for a café at the corner and ordered a coffee, hoping to build up an appetite for breakfast. Closing her eyes to the artificial sunlight, she had almost dosed of in her chair when she was pulled back by a very familiar voice.
"The uniform looks good on you." the voice was soft and loving, yet radiated a stern confidence.
Shia turned around sharply in her chair "Dad!?"