Chapter Three - Hopes and Harsh Realities
Constant, Eden Prime, Utopia System, Exodus Cluster
April 4, 2183
If there was a paradise in the galaxy, Eden Prime would certainly be a contender. The colonists had learned the lessons of the 21st century, and had turned their garden world into a model of sustainable, organized development. With a growing population of nearly four million humans, Eden Prime had been one of the first planets the Systems Alliance had colonized.
Eden Prime was the System Alliance's proof that humanity could be a true member of the galactic community.
Nirali Bhatia hated the planet.
A Serviceman in the Alliance marines, Nirali had only enlisted for the deferred education plan the Alliance offered. It was the only reason that she had joined, and she would much rather be back on the Citadel with her husband, Samesh, but sometimes dreams took precedence.
Shuffling back in her bed until she was sitting up against her headboard, Nirali opened her computer, propping it up on her lap. She had been looking forward to making this call for over three months, and the clock on her omni-tool had been counting down the minutes until her allotted time on the orbiting comm-buoy opened up.
The moment that her omni-tool dinged, Nirali touched the shining 'connect' button flashing on the screen.
"Establishing connection…" Her computer chirped, speaking with an accented female voice. "Establishing connection…"
Sighing, Nirali reached down to the side of her bed and lifted the jug beside it. She took a sip from it, a strange mixture of an energy drink, whiskey, and vegetable juice. She grimaced at the taste but drank it anyway. A private during the first years of colonization had created the drink, and it had stuck after the rest of his company realized how effective it was at keeping them awake during long patrols.
"Come on, you stupid machine," Nirali muttered. "Make the call."
The door to the barracks smashed open and a trio of her fellow marines swaggered in, arguing loud enough to wake the dead. Nirali recognized them instantly. Tom, Pietro, and Josh, part of her company.
"No! No! That's bullshit." Tom said.
"No, it's not!" Pietro shook his head in protest.
"Whatever." Josh didn't want any part of their argument, but there was nowhere else for him to go when his friends argued. "It doesn't even matter."
"Shut up, Josh," Pietro said. he was long used to his friends reticence about sports. He turned his attention back to Tom. "The Beijing Dragons are just better! There's no arguing against that."
"Whatever." Tom rolled his eyes. "They've got nothing on the Broncos—"
"Guys!" Nirali glared at the three young men, and they flinched under her gaze. She was older than them by a good decade, and they often shied away from her.
"Oh... Nirali." Tom blushed, rubbing the back of his neck. "We didn't know you were here."
"Yeah," she said, her voice flat.
"Establishing connection." Her computer chimed again, capturing the attention of the three young men. They recognized the sound of a computer trying to connect to the comm-buoy and what it must have meant that Nirali had been waiting for her slot for a long time.
"Oh... sorry," Tom murmured.
Nirali continued glaring at them.
"We'll…" Pietro shuffled his feet. "We'll just be going now."
The three men left the barracks as fast as possible, shutting the door behind themselves. Nirali glared at the door for a moment longer before turning her attention back to her computer.
With a frustrated sigh, Nirali took another swig from her jar.
With a smile, Nirali leaned forward as her computer connected to her husband, Samesh, on the Citadel. Samesh Bhatia appeared on the computer screen, and Nirali felt relief for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Eden Prime was a paradise, but without Samesh, it might as well have been hell.
"It's good to see you again, Nirali." Samesh said, his deep voice sending shivers down her spine. It felt like she was herself again.
"What are you doing today?" She ran a finger over his image, regretting that he couldn't be with her.
"I'm just about to get ready for bed, actually."
"Oh!" Nirali blinked, realizing that she had forgotten the time difference. Now that she looked, she realized he was wearing the pajamas she had bought him for his last birthday. "I'm sorry."
"No!" Samesh shook his head. "I can't think of anything better than having you be the last conversation I have today."
"Well, it's night here as well."
"You always were better with numbers than I was." Nirali blushed, ducking her head.
"Wait there. I've got something to show you." Samesh disappeared from the video for a moment, rushing off to go and grab something. He was back in moments, sitting back down into his chair with a holopad in hand. "I took some pictures I think you're going to want to see."
"Oh yeah?" Nirali pushed her hair out of her eyes.
"What do you think?" Excited, Samesh held up the holopad for her to see. It had a picture of an empty restaurant. It was not a massive space, but Nirali could see the potential it held within. "I spoke with the owner today, and he's looking to sell it for an extremely reasonable price."
"It's beautiful." Nirali grinned, giddier than she had felt for a long time. Her love for her husband grew just a little bit more.
"It gets better!" He swiped to a picture of the kitchen. "The last owner left it completely furnished. Everything's top of the line, and it comes with building."
"I love it."
"I thought you would." Samesh said, kissing his finger before pressing them to his screen. "I took an inspector by, and he was very impressed."
They fell silent, just basking in each other's presence, despite the distance that separated them.
"I want to see it." Nirali said. "Can the owner hold off on selling until I arrive next week?"
"I already asked. He's willing to wait."
"Connection disabled." Her computer chimed, and Samesh's image disappeared from the screen.
Nirali blinked in confusion as the computer disconnected from the comm-buoy. Leaning forward, Nirali tried to reconnect, but she didn't have any luck.
"Connection impossible," her computer said after her third attempt at restarting the machine.
"Damn it!" Nirali turned off her computer, angry. As much as she wanted to throw it across the room, she didn't. She wouldn't be able to afford a new one.
Standing up from her bed, Nirali pulled on her jacket and stormed out of the barracks.
Nirali was stationed near Constant, Eden Prime's largest arcology. It housed almost twenty-thousand colonists, most of whom worked the farms and tended the machines that cultivated the planet.
The base consisted of pre-fabricated buildings that had been hastily anchored to the bedrock. She ignored the few marines who were lingering outside, making her way to the communications hut. The few marines that noticed her were quick to jump out of her way, sensing her anger.
Jogging up the short flight of stairs, Nirali smashed open the door and stormed inside.
"What is this crap?" Nirali stormed over to the large man, Simon, who was sitting at his desk. He was the only occupant of the hut, and he was the only marine in the outpost with the knowledge of how to maintain the uplink between the planet and the orbiting comm buoy.
"By 'crap' I assume you mean the communication blackout?" Simon spun in his chair to look up at Nirali.
"Comm blackout?" Nirali frowned. "I thought you had just screwed up and knocked a relay out of the way."
"Nope." Simon shook his head. "I'm not great, but I'm better than that."
"You wish." Even as she bantered with him, Nirali's annoyance was already growing. "Who ordered the blackout?"
Simon opened the orders, a document on his computer, pointing to the signature at the bottom.
Nirali leaned forward to read it. She looked at Simon, confused. "The governor?"
"Yep. It was signed by the Commander too." Simon pointed out the second signature underneath the governor's.
"Alright 212!" Before they could say anything else, both of their radio's crackled to life. "Look alive. I want you all gathered in the courtyard in two minutes. Move it like you mean it. That's an order, straight from the top!"
Nirali and Simon looked at each other, unsure what to make of that.
"You heard the woman." Simon stood, pulling on his jacket.
"Yeah…" The new orders did nothing to curb the annoyance that was turning into anger inside Nirali.
Together, they left the communications hut.
Emerging into the night air, they joined the mass of marines leaving the barracks and heading towards the courtyard. Constant towered over them, reaching thousands of feet into the sky.
Over the course of two minutes, the entirety of the outpost's Marines are gathered in the courtyard, which was lit up by large banks of flood lights.
Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams and Lieutenant Commander Tasso Hallas stood on the podium overlooking the courtyard, dressed in full combat gear, weapons attached to the hard-points on their armor.
"Come on people. Move it!" Hallas shouted, his voice loud enough to be heard from the very back of the courtyard.
The marines fell in line quickly, standing at attention.
"That's better." Hallas nodded, looking over his command with a critical eye. "Two hours ago, archeologists on the south side of Constant found a Prothean Beacon. We've reported it to the Alliance, and we're under orders to keep it safe until a ship arrives to ferry it to the Citadel."
Tasso started pacing back and forth on the podium. "Our orders are to keep it safe until then. That means I want all of you suited up, full combat loads."
Nirali and Simon glanced at each other. Nirali felt a shiver pass through her spine, and she wondered for just a moment if she would ever see Samesh again.