"Yer leavin'? Just like that?"

"Yeah, just like that Finch."

" Tch. I won't miss ya, Shep."

" I didn't think you would."

Charlie looked up from folding her only good shirt and stuffing it into her dufflebag without any bravado. There was nothing to it really. After her regular duties, she'd boarded the tram uptown to register in the local System's Alliance recruitment office, and after three days of testing, was awarded papers to board the next shuttle leaving Earth at noon. Now, she was packing, leaving her old life behind at long last.

'I did it. Mom, Dad…. I hope you're proud of me.'

" I just don't see what you're trying to accomplish here, Charlie. Look at what you're leaving behind! Fame! Fortune! A chance to be an enforcer! You're giving it all up just so you can be some alien lover on some backwater planet?"

Charlie finished packing some basic essentials, and moved to her tiny wash cubicle and began gathering up her other items, some soap, shampoo, usable towels. Walking briskly into the living quarters of her room, she deposited the entire mass on her sleeping bunk, and walked across the room to her scantly filled bookshelf, and began emptying it of its contents.

" Finch, there's more to life than the gang. Why not join me? This life… this.. just isn't for me. I don't want to spend my life stealing, and hurting others."

Finch dropped unceremoniously into a chair and crossed his arms, a sneer crossing his face as he watched the young woman fill another bag with old books.

"You won't steal or hurt others as a thief, but you'll kill professionally as a solider? Damn, you're a bright one."

Shepard paused, holding in her hands a copy of Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstien. Both considered classics back in their day, and she dropped both books into the open maw of the bag with two satisfied thuds.

"Its different, Finch. I know it is." Charlie told him softly.

" Like hell it is. The System's Alliance is nothing but ass kissers that go around making killers out of young adults and sucking up to aliens left and right." Finch countered gruffly.

"Perhaps if you actually read something for once in your life, you won't be spewing this trash out of your ass, Finch." Charlie retorted angrily, picking up the second bag, and tossing it onto her bed with a quick sigh of impatience.

"Whatever, Shepard. I can see I ain't stopping ya. I'll tell Steele and the other boys after you're gone. You know he wouldn't be pleased to see ya go."

She stopped, looking at the young man with a mixture of regret and pity. Finch coughed, and spat the wad of spit into his palm before rubbing it on his pants' leg.

"That means a lot to me. I'd appreciate it."

Charlie zipped up both duffle bags, slinging one across her chest, and holding the other one in her hand. She had only these two bags, and about two hundred hard earned credits to her name, and some papers granting her entry into the System Alliance training academy.

'Finally, my new life is about to begin. Can't wait.'

Finch scowled and moved to the front door of her makeshift hovel, and looked around for any other Red's members that were loitering around, looking to cause trouble simply because it was a hot spring day, and there hadn't been any other activity.

" Whatever, I just figure since its your birthday and all, I'll do something nice for ya. But I still think you're a damn fool, and won't amount to anything."

Charlie checked for the last time the small billfold of money tucked carefully inside of her shirt pocket. A cobbled together pistol was tucked in her belt as well. She hadn't spent years in the slums and in a gang to be so naïve as to think that crossing the wastelands was going to be an easy ride. Walking past Finch, head held high, Charlie began picking her way cautiously through the steel jungles of her childhood and towards the brighter day filled with new experiences and opportunities.

" I just hope that someday, you'll think about joining me."

" Shut up about it already and get movin'!"

" Ha ha. I will, thanks Finch… and…. Goodbye."

"Tch. Whatever. Catch ya later."

Then Finch was gone. He'd kept his momentary lookout, then vanished into the complicated network of hovels of the Red's complex, leaving Charlie alone with her bags and her thoughts. After taking a moment to compose herself, she stepped forward with the determination and purpose of a young woman making her first step into a larger world.

She'd promised herself that once, as a child cleaning up old weapons while on punishment detail, and she always kept her promises.

Always.

A/N: Wow, I'm slowly getting into writing ME fanfic. Please review.