|The Beautiful Indifferent
Author: Noah Sila PM
A take on the individual experiences that wove the story as we know it, through the eyes and voices of main and secondary characters. What Shepard did, what she didn't do, who she refused or failed to be, and the meaning others ascribed to her presence in their lives. FemShep/Liara - Rated M for language/violence/sexRated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Shepard (F) & Liara T'Soni - Chapters: 6 - Words: 54,459 - Reviews: 64 - Favs: 99 - Follows: 114 - Updated: 06-12-11 - Published: 11-19-08 - id: 4665898
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The beautiful indifferent
The others are asleep. I am tired as well, but I can't stop looking at it. I wish I could believe that at long last, we shall meet those who came before (1). We cannot come any closer until the Matriarchs give us clearance. They will want to send in more ships before allowing us to explore further; perhaps they will require a Gathering. They would be right to do so, but such things take time. I grow restless and foolish. The floating city feels very still from where I stand. We've been stationed in orbit for five days, and have seen no ship come in or out. I am afraid that it is empty. We have so much to learn, so much to see. Let it not be empty.
From the Journals of Matriarch Dilinaga (ca. 581 BCE)
(1) First designation of the Protheans.
Shepard's eyes fell upon the pilot's hands, his fingers dancing across the virtual command panels surrounding him. A pianist. How much work, how much talent, how much luck to end up in this seat, at the helm of the Alliance Navy's most advanced stealth ship? She should know. She was part of the crew, now. But her nomination had little to do with skill and dedication, and everything to do with a reputation blown out of proportion by a single accomplishment. Act, don't react, and all that jazz instructors would dish out in academies, citing her takeover of the batarian base on that little moon, years before, as an example… it wasn't her story anymore, it was theirs, to rewrite as they saw fit. She'd never been able to tell that story the way they expected her to, anyway, translating that mess into the acceptable language of tactics and troop movements. Her original report had been practically blank. Her comm. link barking static and strategic jargon right in her ears had been the worst thing. She remembered the urge to turn it off and the silence that followed, sudden, almost aquatic. She'd moved forward to the sound of her own breath coming in, coming out, how it had accelerated, slowed, deepened. The violence had barely touched her, like staring at the sun. Then, decorations, commendations, special forces. The Normandy.
The ship's speakers crackled briefly overhead, giving way to the Captain's voice. "Tell Commander Shepard to meet me in the comm. room for a debriefing."
"You get that, Commander?" the pilot asked, turning around in his seat.
She gave him a nod and glanced at the other one. She saw them exchange a look before she left the cockpit.
"I'm not sure," Jenkins admitted. "If one of them goes rogue, I guess they just send another Spectre after him."
Karin Chakwas smiled, shaking her head. "Somebody's been watching too many spy vids," she said, her eyes on the silhouette coming their way. "Commander," she added with a slight bow of the head. Jenkins saluted stiffly.
"Doctor," the Commander replied as she walked past to enter the comm. room. Karin watched her go. When Commander Shepard had arrived aboard the Normandy, less than two days before, the crew's curiosity was palpable. It was short-lived, however, as it quickly became apparent that the Butcher of Torfan wasn't the expected authority figure, but a pensive young woman who obviously had no interest in living up to anything.
"See, I told you, Doctor, something's not right. The Commander wouldn't be all geared up for a simple shakedown run."
"You sound a little too hopeful."
Jenkins scratched the back of his neck, smiling. "Well, I've spent my whole life on Eden Prime. I love it, but even paradise gets boring, if you see what I mean."
"I think I do. It reminds me of a certain someone," Karin answered. "Long ago," she added when she saw the bemused look on the young soldier's face. He had no idea what she was talking about. "For someone aspiring to become such a fine sleuth, you should hone your people-reading skills, Corporal," she sighed. Or maybe I'm older than I thought. "I'm going back to the medical bay. Should you discover the truth behind that suspicious shakedown cruise, I'm counting on you to tell me first."
"Will do, ma'am," Jenkins promised with a gallant bow.
Ma'am. Karin headed down the stairs leading to the second deck. There comes a time when the beauty of a woman makes her more respectable than desirable. So soon? As she entered the empty infirmary, she caught sight of her own, slender shadow. What did they see in her now, all these young, eager faces? Someone to confide in? A mother? No one?
Over the past week, she had had to perform checkups on the majority of the newly constituted crew. That meant seeing more of a person than they were usually willing to let on, how comfortable they were with their own body, what silent stories were written on their skin. Jenkins had been the first to get his checkup. Handsome and full of life, he resembled the kind of boys Karin used of be drawn to like a seed to water and sunlight. She didn't believe that her being older implied that she should only be attracted to men her own age. And yet, none of the recruits she had examined had ignited anything more than a few sparks within her, instantly gone, and born not out of desire, but of the fear of aging, of that growing gap between what she felt and what she saw in the mirror.
And others, too, were magnifying mirrors of sorts – when looking into their eyes, one often hoped or feared to reach a measure of truth, or a radiant lie that would at last tell them, this is what the world sees, this is who you are, and you are whole. But Karin was tired of seeing herself, that fragmented image she failed to recognize, in others' eyes. Meeting Commander Shepard should have been a restful experience: the woman reflected nothing, gave nothing back. Instead, it had only been disquieting. Karin was busy unpacking brand new sheets for the beds in the infirmary when she first laid eyes on the Commander, who was coming for her checkup. There was something insolent and withdrawn about her, as though her burdens had been laid down a long time before. She filled space with her own absence. Karin hadn't been able to adjust to her, and a tense exchange had followed.
No sign of Anderson. The Spectre was alone, facing the crepuscular landscape displayed on the wide holo screen. Shepard took a few steps into the room and saw Kryik's head turn slightly, but he didn't look at her.
"Commander." His voice had a metallic, artificial quality that made her shiver. "I had hoped I would get a chance to talk to you before Captain Anderson arrives." She didn't say anything, and after a while, he turned around fully. His white facial markings flashed against the room's cold light and against his own, dark skin, bringing a discordant, tribal note to the Normandy's rational layout. "Do you know why we've come here?"
"So that you could follow me around?" Shepard let out casually, watching his mandibles twitch. She'd seen the way he looked at her, as if searching for something. To try and gauge whether she could live up to her own legend, she suspected.
"And can you tell me why Eden Prime is best suited for this?"
She didn't answer, studying his armor. The collar was glowing red, light bouncing off his head plates. Having to turn it off manually during infiltration-based missions seemed a rather impractical necessity. If this light was a key component, why wasn't it concealed from the get-go? It was beautiful, though.
"We're not here for a shakedown run, and the reason for my presence has little to do with the Normandy." He paused. She had heard the crew speculate about the true motives behind their coming to Eden Prime with a Spectre on board, under the command of a man whose reputation seemed out of proportion with the triviality of the task. Silence stretched out. She could barely see Kryik's emerald eyes, dark and deeply embedded in his skull, much less interpret his expression. Her own eyes slowly detached themselves from his face, reaching further behind him, towards the screen. Eden Prime. Such a sky.
"This is a covert-pickup of the utmost importance, Commander, and you will be in charge of it. Your Captain will fill you in on the details. If I am here today, it is because the Council wishes me to assess your candidacy for the Spectres."
Oh God. Her stomach tightened in anticipation. "The Council, or the Alliance?"
"I took the liberty to put your name forward."
Torfan. It had to be because of Torfan. Kryik started pacing around her, slowly, but as restlessly as her mind was racing. She could feel it. "Should you accept, I will take it upon myself to evaluate you." He stopped, facing her, and this time she could see his eyes move all over her face, betraying an agitation hidden by the stillness of his body. She stared back. He was close enough that she had to raise her head to meet his gaze. "You're unfocused, but I think you have what it takes, Shepard. With time and proper training, you-"
They both turned towards the entrance of the room when Anderson came in. Kryik took a step back. "Captain, I just informed the Commander of the Council's projects regarding her candidacy."
Anderson nodded, coming to a stop, his hands behind his back. The bearing of one who was in command and whose presence didn't require petty tricks to be overwhelming. He was looking at her. They were both looking at her.
"This is a rare opportunity. Do you realize how big a step it would be for the Alliance, and even beyond, for humanity, if you were to become the first human Spectre?" Anderson asked.
Her heart was pounding hard. "My being human isn't the Alliance's passport to galactic politics." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kryik's mandibles flit about. Could turians converse using mandible moves?
"You may not be known for your patriotism, Shepard, but you have to understand that there is a lot at stake. Your personal merits may have led you here, and they play a large part in your being considered a potential candidate for Special Tactics, but there is a bigger picture. The Alliance wants more say with the Council, and whether you like it or not, the political consequences of your nomination will be far-reaching and long-lasting for humanity," Anderson declared.
And once humanity gets its precious seat on the Council, what more will you want? But she needed a way out. She had done it once before, latching onto a life-altering opportunity, bracing herself for the worst, receiving only the best. Growing up on the streets should have been the most efficient school to learn how to forgo the luxury of indecisiveness, to sharpen your choices with greed, desperation or healthy ambition. But she hadn't learned. Leaves in the wind. Catch the wind, then.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Yes?" Karin ended up asking the young woman standing in the doorway, after a few awkward seconds.
"Captain Anderson told me you were expecting me for a check-up," the young woman said. A smoker's voice? Or just a sore throat? She had seen this face somewhere. Oh. Right.
"Are you Commander Shepard?"
Before the woman could answer, Anderson's voice popped out of the speakers on Karin's desk. "Dr. Chakwas, Anderson here."
"Yes, Captain?" she answered, eying her visitor, who was putting down her bag.
"Commander Shepard has arrived sooner than expected, I've sent her down to get her check-up, but it can wait if you're busy."
"Not at all. As a matter of fact, she's already here."
"Ah, very well then, I'll give you access to her medical record right away."
The Commander shifted her weight on her right leg, taking in her surroundings. Her fair hair seemed just long enough to be tied back, currently hanging loose in a very unmilitary fashion.
"Thank you, Captain," Karin said, and the comm. light went off. "Welcome aboard, Commander." A polite nod from Shepard. "As you already know, I'm the Chief Medical Officer here. If you'd like to go unpack your luggage while I'm going through your record, feel free," she offered.
"No locker has been assigned to me yet," the woman said with a hint of a smile. Ironic? Perhaps it was her voice giving off that impression.
"It would seem you took everyone off guard, Commander," Karin smiled back, leaning over her computer to log in to the crew's medical database. "Your file isn't available yet, but we'll begin anyway. Is there anything I should know that is not in your record? Something recent, or that was deemed trivial but you think might be important?"
The Commander sat on the edge of a bed, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear with a graceful gesture that contrasted her stern military outfit. Glancing on the side, Karin saw Shepard's file pop onto the screen, but chose to remain still. "I haven't had my period for four months."
Karin blinked twice, her face otherwise neutral. "I see. May I ask why you didn't mention this to your previous medical officer?" It was only when the woman looked straight at her that she noticed her eyes. The dim artificial lights made it difficult to determine their colour. Pale grey, perhaps. Ash blond hair, complexion, eyes, all about her seemed on the verge of fading, except her voice.
"It comes and goes, I'm used to it."
How about the day you wake up with a belly the size of Jump Zero, will you be used to it? "With all due respect, Commander, I would prefer that you do not try to decide what should or shouldn't be in your medical record. That being said, do you have any idea as to what might be causing these frequent interruptions?" Karin inquired, arms crossed.
"As I said," Shepard let out quietly, and Karin felt the air grow heavy around them, "I've always had irregular periods. I can't think of any specific cause."
Karin forced herself to relax. She was imagining it, the tension, influenced by what she already knew of the young woman, prone to search for traces of the ruthlessness she was renowned for. But there was something. Perhaps the echo of crossing a certain line, the Torfan line? Or of going through the N7 program? Or even before, during that rough childhood in Earth's slums? Stop it, you don't know her.
"Perhaps you're right. I'll look into your file for any dietary supplement or medication that could be responsible, though. And I'm going to have to run a CAT scan, Commander."
Shepard stood up, which Karin took as a sign of consent. "You can undress here or in this room over there if you need some privacy, but I'm afraid it's full of supplies I haven't had time to unpack yet. And you can keep your underwear," Karin added, remembering a rather embarrassing moment not two days before. "But there is one thing I need to ask you first. Is there a chance you might be pregnant?"
Karin wouldn't have asked if it were up to her, she'd have let the CAT scan tell her everything she needed to know. But she was expected to do things by the book. The only time Karin had examined a soldier with child had turned out to be a bad case of pregnancy denial. There were some situations for which the procedure had nothing to offer.
"There is nothing for you here."
"Nothing for me out there either."
"You don't know that. You're strong, you would make a great soldier if only you could-"
"What, learn to obey? Learn to salute, to crawl in the mud because I'm ordered to? I'll pass, thank- shit, what'd you do that for?"
"You will join the military even if I have to drag you there myself! What do you think is going to happen if you stay? You're sixteen and picking up fights everyday-"
"So now it's wrong to defen-"
"Be quiet! Listen to me very carefully. If you stay here, you will end up a thug, a drunk, a pathetic gun for hire, and you'll get knifed in the back like an animal because you picked up one fight too many. One way or the other, you'll have to crawl. Better to yomp in the mud knowing a few hours later, you'll be sleeping soundly in a warm bed. So you and your damned pride will do as I say, you will contact the recruiters, you will enlist, you will get out of here and become someone. Because I expect nothing less from you."
He was drifting in and out of so many memories lately. It was catching up to him. Bathed in Eden Prime's evening light, Nihlus watched Shepard put on her helmet, the two soldiers under her command standing behind her. He had taken an interest in her after the Torfan massacre, and had grown somewhat fond of that human, for foolish reasons. He had set Shepard's candidacy for the Spectres in motion and obtained the Council's permission to contact the Alliance to get access to Shepard's file. Beyond her obvious potential, it was a part of himself that Nihlus was reminded of. Growing up like there was no tomorrow, fighting to be acknowledged, fighting for nothing, fighting to fight. Maybe he was just projecting his own story upon her.
He felt his mandibles twitch as the ghost sensation of a stinging slap shot through his mind. He wondered what had driven Shepard to join the military. Certainly no profound belief in serving the Systems Alliance, that much he was sure of. To escape the slums of her home planet? Nihlus hadn't joined the turian army out of desperation for a better life. Only out of love. So much love that even after all these years, becauseof all these years, he had to choke back a sigh at the thought of his mother. Shepard had no family, and gangs weren't known for pushing their members into the military's arms. Why, then?
"Approaching drop point one," came the helmsman's voice.
"Nihlus, are you coming with us?" Jenkins yelled over the deafening roar of the engines.
The Commander turned her head in his direction. Nihlus couldn't see her eyes through her visor, but didn't avert his gaze.
" No, I'll scout out ahead. I work faster on my own."
He ran towards the exit, and after the dim lights of the Normandy's interior, he felt his eyes respond to the dusk of Eden Prime the way they did to a bright morning.