Chapter Thirteen

April 11th 2172

The sleek Vancouver coffee shop Shepard has selected is not the kind of place she would normally choose to kill time in. It's expensive and busy, and she doesn't care for the music they are playing. The large coffee she has been nursing for the last hour is actually pretty good, but that's not why she is here. She has chosen this particular place because it's right across the street from the Alliance Navy training centre.

She has been looking at the building all the time she has been here. It is tall, wide and sticks-out a little into the street. In this regard it reminds her a lot of the training centre back in Phoenix which she was once so fond of looking at. The front of the building is almost entirely glass, symbolising that the Alliance military is open to everyone and has nothing to hide. Shepard likes that. Over the last two years she has developed a romantic view of space travel and the Navy. During all that time she has wanted to enlist, and she has bothered the recruitment officers there more than once.

The coffee is nearly finished now, but she isn't about to rush it. That would be just a little too eager. The centre has been open for just over half an hour now. Secretly, a part of her is proud that she has resisted the childish temptation to rush over there for so long. Sipping gently, she averts her eyes from the hallowed building and takes a look down the street. She has become very familiar with this town and she wonders if she will soon have to leave it behind. In a way it will be a shame. It's a nice place. She has another sip before she carefully sets the cup down at the proper angle.

For a change, she looks around the shop itself. They have some very tempting croissants but Shepard has already had breakfast. She isn't the type to overeat. Still though, those croissants look great. She considers buying some to keep at her apartment when she has the chance.

A few sips later and the coffee is finished. She stands and tucks the chair behind her table before putting on her fine brown jacket. It looks good on her, and it's formal enough for her to wear inside the Alliance building. As she steps out onto the street, Shepard breathes in the relatively-clean air and thanks the heavens for the new air-filtering equipment that was installed a few months ago. Since that day the whole community seems to be happier. Although Shepard usually likes to keep to herself she has noticed the sense of optimism in her friends and her work colleagues.

Not for the first time, Shepard is struck by how much blue is used in the training centre's interior. The carpets, the uniforms and even the lighting cast that serious, deep, rich, ocean blue into the room. Even from the street it is hard not to notice. She touches the panel by her side and waits for the door to slide silently open. It does, and she steps into the blue. A young lady in a crisp, perfectly-creased blouse welcomes her from behind a desk and asks how she can help.

"Good morning," Shepard says. "I'm scheduled to speak to Lieutenant Richard Stillman today. I'm early."

The lady smiles, nods and consults a hologram screen in front of her.

"Ah, yes. Miss Shepard?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Good. The Lieutenant can see you now, if you'd like. You can find him in interview room three, just past the elevator there. I'll let him know you're on your way."

Shepard remembers the way. "Thanks," she says before striding purposefully down towards the interview room.

When she arrives she knocks on the door and is asked to come in. Stillman is a kind-looking man approaching middle age, dressed in standard Navy garb and wearing a simple crew-cut. His thick, black eyebrows have the potential to be menacing, but they are permanently angled upwards in a gesture of sympathy. Shepard remembers him, too.

"Good morning, miss Shepard. It's nice to see you again." The Lieutenant is smiling in a way that indicates that he finds humour in the memory of their previous meeting. Shepard can hardly blame him for that. She remembers making an appointment the day after she arrived in town. She had told this same officer of her grand ambitions of seeing space and protecting humanity. The Lieutenant had been forced to reject her based on her age, explaining to the heartbroken girl that she would have to wait at least a year and a half before she could swear her oath.

Shepard smiles back at him, slightly embarrassed by the memory. "Good morning, sir," she says.

"Let's see…" the officer mutters, scanning a computer display screen with his brown eyes. "When was the last time I saw you?"

"Just over a year ago," she answers. He checks his files anyway and nods at her when his search turns up the same information.

"Right. You were very interested in signing up, as I recall."

Lieutenant Stillman glances away from his screen and looks Shepard over. His eyebrows arch even more than usual as he compares her current appearance to the file photo he took to humour her at the previous meeting. The young woman's hair is shorter, first of all, well within regulation length but nonetheless quite attractively cut. She sits straight with her keen eyes trained on him and analyses his movements. Her face is all-but expressionless.

"Seems like a long time ago," he says to himself. Looking back over her small file, he reads the basic information he recorded when they first met. "Oh!" he says after a moment. "Happy birthday!"

"Thank you," young Shepard replies with the briefest hint of joy in her voice.

"This makes you… eighteen today?"

"Yes, sir."

For a moment Stillman considers something. He picks up a pen before asking, "What can I do for you today, miss?"

Shepard gets the impression from his tone that he already knows the answer. She tells him anyway, enjoying the moment. "I'd like to enlist with the introductory training programme, with the intention of graduating as a third-class serviceman at the end of this semester."

"You've done your homework, I see."

"I'm very committed to my goal of serving with the Alliance," she admits, smiling just a little.

"So I see." In the space of a few moments, the amused incredulity on the Lieutenant's face changes to contemplation, and finally becomes a show of respect. It's clear that the officer has taken a shine to Shepard based on her enthusiasm and air of professionalism. "Good for you," he says. "Good for you. We could use more recruits with that attitude."

Stillman puts his pen down and returns to the computer screen. He begins hitting the delete button a lot, erasing Shepard's old data and preparing a basic personnel file for her. "If you're absolutely sure, and if all goes well, I can sign you up for the training programme today," he tells her. "The paperwork will take us a while, and I'll need you to provide me with your employment history, details of education and so on. After that I can give you a formal interview for the programme, and we'll see where we are. How does that sound?"

"Thank you, sir. It sounds good."

The officer nods warmly and resumes his work on the computer. Shepard takes a look around the office, noting the usual prevalence of dark blue. She supposes she will have to get used to that if all goes well with her interview. Slowly, she uncrosses her legs. Up until now she has been feeling a little tense, but now that her interviewer is taking her seriously she feels a lot better.

Over the last year, Shepard has spent at least two hours of every day researching the Alliance Navy training programmes and preparing herself mentally and physically for them. She knows exactly what questions she will face in her preliminary interview today, and exactly what answers she will give. Once she has been enlisted and her training begins proper, she knows just what will happen there, too. She is completely ready for this and she has never felt more proud.

A soldier's life awaits her. It is exactly how she wants to live.

Stillman looks up from his screen again, his eyebrows jumping for a moment. "Pardon me," he says. "It seems that when last we met, I didn't take your first name. What is it please?"

Shepard leans forward and tells him.