~New York City, 2167~

The small dark skinned girl fixed her gaze on the massive, greasy pile of broken equipment, careful to keep the congealing puddle of oil from touching her boots. They were the only pair she owned, and with part of heel of the right boot coming apart from the seams, and with no money coming until 'payday' finding another pair, especially with the colder months coming in, Charlie would simply have to make do.

"I want all them weapons cleaned! Got that girl?"

"Whatever, Finch! I don't even deserve to be on punishment duty!"

"hey! Hey! Don't get smart with me, missy! You blew that last robbery! No one makes a fool of the 10th Street Reds!"

"That wasn't robbery, it was gonna be a bloodbath! You were gonna blow that old turian's brains out with those refabbed blasters! You're the one who's gone mental!"

"Tch. That old scaly face had it comin'! Damn aliens, can't trust em. Specially them. Those turian bastards!"

Charlie shook her head, crossing the dirty workship, heading for the lockers for her work clothes. Changing into the filthy jumpsuit, and strapping on the outdated, toolbelt did little to bring any sort of sunshine to her already darkening world. Flitch smiled, crossing his arms amusedly, watching his 'charge' get to work.

"Make sure you clean em all, real good too. Otherwise, Boss'll be mad, and then you won't get your rations for today. Maybe never."

"Shut the hell up! You ain't much older than me! Woo-hoo, thirteen! That makes you a real big man alright. Tell me, who ran scared out of his mind when we did that robbery at the nightclub last week?"

The boy's face turned a waxy pallor of a indistinguishable color. Automatically, he reached for the baton kept safely tucked away in his belt, he used this to strike terror in the newbie probes to the gang, and any other member he felt deserving of a real good whack to the skull. For his ongoing brutality, their leader, a boy named Steele allowed him extra portions of meals, and a larger cut from any robberies.

" Just tell Steele, he'll have everything he needs salvaged from here. Give me two hours." Charlie finally relented, squatting down somewhere in the middle of the pile of wreckage, tugging at some of the debrie. Finch sneered.

"Good, girl. Now get a move on!"

He swaggered out of the room, thoroughly pleased with himself, leaving the preteen to mutter curses under her breath. Little did her so called 'friend' know that she had the upper hand the entire time. She'd work the pile, salvaging the choicest bits and pieces from the lot, setting them aside for the mech-crews to refurbish them into weapons, but there was another part of her plan. No matter how long it took, she'd be rid of her gang life. No more nights laying awake, shivering from cold, whimpering from hunger. No more long hours of keeping lookout, while the other members broke into houses, stealing whatever they could, scurrying back to the slums, like rats. No, not for her. This wasn't the life that Charlie wanted. She'd escacpe, and more than likely, die trying. The Reds were not one of the notorious gangs of New York, but their reputation was building, especially the coup two years ago by Steele, who'd beaten their former leader to death in a bloodbath duel. News traveled fast, and soon the Reds were finally getting noticed by some of the larger gangs, even forming occasional alliances for raids and fights. It was after Steele's command of the gang, that she finally put her plans in motion. It began by simply saving whatever cash she earned from the shady dealings. The occasional drug money that flirted by, and she earned some creds for delivering a shipment of booze , another steady flow of credits came in from selling old equipment. Which is precisely what she was doing now. True to her word, she did put some gear aside for her leader, but some of the tad more valuable equipment found its way inside of a gunny sack, that was hidden behind some old cans in her sleep tent. Before dawn, she'd cart her goods down to the trading docks, and finally get the feeling of making some honest money.

I won't be here forever. I'll do whatever it takes to get off this stinkin' planet, and see the stars.

Although people she affiliated with had little or no love for aliens, the Citadel Council, nor the System's Alliance in general, Charlie saw them as their only opportunity out of the hellhole her life was currently stuck on. Born to unknown parents, raised in a rat infested, cockroach crawling orphanage for street urchins like herself, she ran away at only eight years old, became a junior member of the Reds a year later. Three years later, she became a semi senior member of the gang, and still hadn't taken a liking to the lifestyle.

It's not wrong to want to live an honest life. Is… it? Just because my parents didn't want me, I'll find someone to love me. Somewhere.

Among her other hobbies, Charlie had taken a keen interest in reading, especially about religion, poetry, and mythology. For ten credits, she'd hope the local tram, and take it about six miles uptown, where she was secretly taught in the evening by a man, simply known to her as Grandpa Jasper. He'd taken to teaching more of the local slum kids, all members of gangs, or kids merely homeless with no other place to go.

I gotta realize my dreams. For me, and for Jasper. I promise you this.

Wiping a trickle of sweat out of her eyes, Charlie tightened the bandana around her forehead, more determined than ever to finish beating down the pile. Even though her bones ached from bending, stooping, and using a omnitools to clean out the grease and grime from the parts, each new piece she cleaned, and salvaged meant one step closer to freedom. In the dim light of the stench filled workroom, Charlie allowed herself to whistle, filling her head of dreams of living amongst the stars, eating anything she wanted, piloting ships all across the galaxy, meeting all the aliens she'd only read about in holomags and saw in video feeds.

I promise you that, Jasper. I'll find a way out of here. I promise you dad, even though you never took the time to know me. I promise you that, mom. I'll be a stronger, better woman that you. Finally, I promise myself, because I know damn well I'm too good to die down here like a dog!

Boldness swelled up inside her, and she took hold of the small cleaning knife, stabbing it almost ceremoniously into the final components left for her to clean. The steps were being laid, the foundation was taking place of her own one woman revolution against the grain of society and what was expected of her.

Yes, she promised herself this, and Charlie Shepard kept her promises.

Always.

A/N: Alright! My first piece of the Mass Effect universe. I've played ME, and I read both novels, and am eagerly waiting for the release of Mass Effect 2. Please leave a review! I may do a sequel, set during the course of the first game!