Shia woke up to a hissing sound, she was still sitting on the couch. She cocked her head a little to ease the stiffness in her neck. Jani was standing by her desk, no longer covered in her blanket, she had straightened her uniform out and pulled the light khaki veil over her head. She was rummaging through a small metal case, fiddling with a injector and a few small vials.
Looking up at Shia, her eyes seemingly glowed even brighter than they had the night before, a smile crept across her face as she spoke "Sorry if I woke you up."
"It's alright." she said, leaning back again "Feeling any better?"
"Much. I still have a little bit of a fever, but this should take care of it." Jani replied, wiggling the injector in her hand, bringing it up to her neck and letting the stream make its way into her system with a hiss.
Shia nodded, trying very hard to to avoid staring at Janis neckline as she pulled the edge of her veil aside for the injection, but failing spectacularly. The quarian had her completely mesmerized. She liked the feeling, but it scared her at the same time. This feeling was new to her, and she was unsure of how to deal with it. She'd had some experience on the subject, dated once or twice when she lived on Earth, but it had been nothing like this. Jani joined her once again, propping herself up cross-legged next to her. She glanced over Shia, her eyes landing on the small name patch on her chest.
"So, I wanted to ask you... and I understand if you don't want to discuss personal stuff, but..." she paused, realizing that she'd been rambling, taking a deep breath she continued "Your father... the human? She's the Shepard, isn't she?"
Shia sighed, she knew that this would come up eventually. It always did. She was a little angry at herself for feeling that her name was a burden at times. Her father was a hero, there was no doubt about that, and she was very proud to be her daughter; but living in a shadow like that could be... taxing at times.
"Yes... she is." she said, finally, trying not to sound too uncomfortable about the subject.
Jani studied her face intently before she spoke "Why didn't you tell me? Especially to a quarian, the 'oh, and by the way, my dad gave you back your homeworld' would be a good line." Her voice was back to its happy tone again, and Shia couldn't help but smile. She hadn't thought it possible, but it was even cuter without the slight modulation of the mask.
"It's not something I like advertising... I want people to get to know me without having all those expectations." she said with a sincere tone "Don't get me wrong... I'm proud of her... but I want to make it on my own, not ride on her reputation."
Jani put a reassuring hand on Shias shoulder before she responded. "Keelah, I know what you mean. Well, maybe not exactly but..." she pondered her response for a moment before continuing "Do remember when we met, you know, at the restaurant?"
Shia chuckled "Yeah, first half of the evening, anyway."
Jani couldn't help but giggle herself, remembering the fact that they'd hardly been sober when they parted ways.
Calming down, she put on a more serious face as she continued "I told you that I was taking some time off from my studies... Well, the truth is that I sort of, ran off."
Jani sighed "Yeah. See, ever since we got the homeworld back, most quarians haven't been to keen on leaving it." she rubbed her hands together nervously, and Shia could tell it wasn't an easy topic for her "I understand how they feel, it's not that. But I'm not like them, I grew up on Rannoch, and while I'm happy to have a home, I want to experience other things, too."
"I can understand that" Shia said , taking Janis hand in her own. Jani smiled at her, clasping her fingers around it.
"Keelah, when I was a kid I used to listen to the stories about people on their pilgrimage. I was so jealous, I wanted to go out there too" she continued "Even if the stories were sometimes scary. So, I decided to do it, I set out on an unofficial pilgrimage. Waiting tables wasn't exactly exciting, but the Citadel was a nice change of pace... And I met a lot of interesting people." as she said the last part, she gave Shias hand a gentle squeeze.
Shia felt her heart swell once again and she couldn't help but smile. "I'm guessing you're not the only one though? I saw quite a few quairans on the Citadel..."
"No, you're right. It's actually quite common, it's become somewhat of a tradition but many older people dislike it, they don't think there's any reason to leave now that we have a planet again... My parents included. I think it's because my dads pilgrimage didn't turn out so well."
Shias face contorted into a surprised look "Really? What happened?" she asked.
"I think you actually know the story. He was on Freedoms Progress during the collector attack. Your dad saved his life, or so he tells it."
Shia nodded "Yeah, I do know that story. Like you said, 'small galaxy'" she said with a smile "Though from how my dad tells that story, she insists that aunt Tali did most of the work on that one"
"'Aunt' Tali?" Jani mused, sarcastically but lovingly.
"Yeah, well, we're not related but..." Shia started before Janis laughter cut her off.
"Keelah, Shia, is there anyone from the list of 'biggest names in the galaxy' you don't know?"
Shia blushed as she let out a soft chuckle "Well, I don't know a single salarian Dalatrass, so I guess that's something."
- - -
The marine contingent, five in total, sat assembled in the hangar. Shia leaning back against a large metal crate.
"Alright" Chief Adams grumbled as he entered the bay, slumped shoulders and a cup of coffee in hand, strolling to the front of group to address them "I'm not a mornin' person, so let's just get this over with" he said with a sigh.
"We're headin' to Betan, just a routine policing job, nothin' fancy. We go down, two teams by two, show 'em we exist and then leave." he paused, gulping down the entire cup in one fell swoop "Oh yeah, that's the stuff..." he exclaimed, exhaling contently.
One of the marines, Anna, butted in jeering "Damn Chief, never seen anyone enjoy their coffee as much as you do, you put whiskey in there or something? Because, you know, I could go for some..."
"Laugh it up, Amherst, bet you won't be crackin' wise the next time you need me to pull your sorry ass out of the fire. Anyway, don't expect much trouble, but be on your guard all the same, this is the ass-end of nowhere, so even the human natives aren't what you'd call 'civilized'" he chuckled slightly as he continued "They probably won't shoot ya, but you never know."
He pulled up a pad and scrolled through its contents briefly "Ok, as for the roster. Shepard" he said, using the pad to indicate Shia "since this will be your first, you're with me."
Shia nodded "Got it, Chief."
"Glad to hear it" he replied swiftly "Amherst, you're with Ortega. As for you Hendricks, you're the chauffeur for this evening... Ain't got one of 'em fancy hats for you, so just wear your beret or something."
They all chuckled softly, Shia included, as they filed into the armory to gear up.
The Narva exited the relay, wasting no time as it's engines roared, pushing it towards its destination. The Skyllian Verge, while not on par with the Terminus as far as lawlessness went, had long been a grain the size of a small mountain in the eye of the Systems Alliance. The Batarian Hegemony, with its homeworld of Khar'shan all but obliterated during the war had left their colonies in the area to focus on rebuilding, leaving millions of surviving colonists to fend for themselves. With little state control remaining, the rise of supremacist extremism, and subsequent raids and attacks against human inhabitants of the region had increased rapidly in the years following the defeat of the Reapers.
"Entering standard orbit, Chief." Ces voice proclaimed over the intercom.
"Understood" he responded bluntly before turning to the team "Ok you sorry bunch of miscreants, we move in five. So if anyone needs to go potty, now's the time."
Shia could see the elevator doors slide open as she was donning the final straps of her blue Alliance armor, Jani entering the hangar. She moved slowly, carefully as if she were afraid to break something. Shia secured the last strap and walked over to her.
"Hey, what brings you down here?" she asked, half concerned as to her careful behavior.
"Oh, hey. I just... I heard you were going down to the surface. So, I just, came to wish you luck." she replied, shooting Shia a faint smile.
"Yeah, first time out. Can't say I'm happy about being back in this thing though" she said, banging the chest plate of the armor with her fist, producing an odd clonking sound.
Janis smile grew wider as she spoke "It looks good on you." her smile dipped as she continued "Do you think there's going to be fighting down there?" her voice more somber.
Shia looked at her for a moment. She's worried about me? When she spoke, it was soft and reassuring "No, I don't think so. They say it's just a routine patrol mission. We go down there and just make our presence known before we head back."
Janis smile returned as she listened to Shia, her words seemed to put her at ease "Good. Just... be careful." She said, stroking Shias arm over her armor. "I'll see you when you get back."
Shia looked into her bright eyes once more, sending a chill down her spine as she nodded and slid out of Janis grip. As she headed for the shuttle, she glanced back over her shoulder to see Jani still standing there to see her off. Climbing into the Kodiak she sported a wide smile.
Amherst nudged her on the shoulder "What's with the smile, Blue? Win the hanar lottery or something?"
Shia shook her head softly before she responded "No... better than that."
- - -
The Kodiak cringed as it entered the upper atmosphere, it made Shia think back to the jumps in the transport on her way to basic training. She'd been worried then, not afraid but rather feeling exposed and vulnerable. Now she felt calm and collected, she was still exposed but she had faith in her fellow soldiers, and their ability to perform their duties. I guess I did learn something after all
"Chief!" Hendricks called out from the pilots seat "I can't raise New Berlin on the comm, transponder beacon's still online though."
"Don't worry 'bout it" Adams replied, the weight of experience in his voice "Most of these colonies are runnin' on tech that predates the first contact war, breaks down more often than not."
"Don't we need clearance?" Shia asked, raising her voice over the hum of the engine.
"Eech!" Adams scoffed "We've got dockin' priority. Should be fine."
"I've got the LZ in sight" Hendricks called out again "ETA 2 minutes."
The shuttle touched down a little rougher than Shia would have liked, and she soon found out that she wasn't alone as Adams grumbled "Dammit, Hendricks! Watch the paint-job!"
As both teams exited the Kodiak, Hendricks cut the engines and the scene fell silent. The landing zone was deserted, and the whole settlement lay quiet, nothing but the chirping of birds and the sound of the light breeze breaking the silence.
"Is it supposed to be this quiet?" Shia asked, cocking her head to Adams "It's the middle of the day."
The Chief glanced towards the settlement and responded without looking at her "Not usually..."
"I don't like this." Amherst huffed behind them.
The four marines made their way down the ramp of the landing pad, stepping over scattered supplies and crates that seemed to have been thrown about in a fit of rage. As they made their way to the edge of the settlement, they came across something lying in the grass at the corner of a prefab housing module.
Shia approached it slowly, only to recoil in disgust as she came up to it. It was a body, he lay staring up at the sky with open eyes, a large bullet wound to the forehead and what used to be the back of his skull scattered across the grass behind him. Shia was stunned for a moment. She'd never seen a dead person before, let alone someone who died violently. She was pulled out of her trance by Adams stern hand on her shoulder.
"No smell, no insects. Blood's barely dry. Happened less than an hour ago." he hissed with a clenched jaw he gently but firmly turned Shia away from the body as he turned to face the team. "Weapons at the ready!"
The team promptly reached for their assault rifles, firmly secured on their back plates.
Touching his finger to his ear to activate his communicator he spoke more calmly that Shia would have expected "Handricks, situation is hot. I repeat, situation is hot. Fall back to a safe location and keep the comms open, be ready for extraction."
There was a brief silence before all the comms flared up, and they could hear Hendricks professional tone "Acknowledged."
"I really don't like this" Amherst echoed.
"Alright" Adams said quietly, letting his eyes wander across the entire team "We fan out, we secure the settlement and then try to find out just what in the hell happened here."
The team all nodded in response.
"Amherst, Yao, take the eastern perimeter. Go!"
"Got it!" Amherst replied, tapping Yao on the back they headed out.
"Shepard!" he hissed, grabbing her attention still frazzled from the sight of the body "On me! Keep close."
Shia did her best to shake off the light shock and nodded sternly "Yes, sir." She confirmed, following close in Adams tracks as they headed into the settlement.