Author's Note: Some notes before I kick things off. Alternate Universe but only slightly. Spacer Shepard is supposed to be an only child but I think that's a bit boring. Obviously I'm not the first to do the whole 'sibling' thing but I'm not doing the long lost twin he never knew he had thing. That's been done. A note on classes: Shepard is Spacer/War Hero/Paragon/Sentinel with Singularity Bonus. Also, there will be some completely gratuitous cursing on the sister's part. Whenever I envision her character, I keep coming up with 'foul-mouthed chain-smoker.' The 'M' rating is mostly for language and some sexual references. I worked out my urge to do ultra violent combat scenes in Fade To Black; this is a lot more light hearted.
I'd also like to extend my thanks to everybody who's read and reviewed my previous works. You guys rock hard and the positive feedback is great.
Always be kind to your siblings. You never know when you may need a new kidney
Bethany lay on the leather couch in the doctor's office, hands crossed over her chest. The doctor noted that his patient's fingernails were bitten down to the quick and that her red nail polish was badly chipped. "I had one of those dreams again, Doctor," she said, voice low and husky. She stared unblinkingly up at the acoustical tiles of his office ceiling.
The doctor leaned forward in his seat, consulting his patient's casefile. "What sort of dream?" he asked gently. He sat back in surprise as Bethany sat bolt upright on the couch, bloodshot green eyes boring into him like lasers. "The sort of dream where something really terrible happens! Then when I tell the authorities," her voice dripped with venom as she spoke the word, "about what I saw, they refuse to believe me and threaten to arrest me for wasting police resources."
"Look at this!" Bethany snapped, breaking eye contact with the doctor as she began delving with manic energy through her large black leather handbag. Bethany removed and discarded several items - lipstick, cell phone, tampons, cigarettes - before coming up with a sheaf of crumpled papers, printouts from extranet news sites. These she thrust at the doctor.
"Look at them!" The hardcopy in Bethany's hand shook slightly. The doctor accepted the papers cautiously, as though fearing contamination and quickly perused the article.
The headline read: Freighter Crash Kills Dozens and below, in a smaller typeface: Authorities Deny 'Accidentally On Purpose' Eezo Exposure
"May sixteen, freighter crash, I dreamed that and it happened. Fifty people dead! And fuck knows how many expectant mothers were exposed to airborne element zero. Twenty years from now there's gonna be a shitload of new biotics, let me tell ya."
The doctor opened his mouth to say something. He really disapproved of women using coarse language, call him prudish but it just went against the grain. Growing up, his parents had employed the time-honoured method of washing out their childrens' mouths with soap whenever they said a 'bad word.' Even now, the doctor could almost taste it.
Before he could reply, the distraught woman pushed a second sheet of paper into his hands. Daycare Centre Horror screamed the headline. Below that: Terra Firma Denies Responsibility - 'We would have used a larger bomb' says unnamed source
"And this!" Bethany went on, voice rising, "One of those Earth-First nutjobs blows himself up outside a turian daycare centre! What kind of sick sonofabitch blows up children? I dreamed that as well! And you know what happened when I tried to warn 'em about it? Huh, do ya? Lemme tell ya, I was arrested and fuckin' interrogated for twelve hours! They thought I was a terrorist! Me!" Bethany laughed, and the doctor, who was not inclined to flights of fancy thought that it was the laugh of the damned. "I know I haven't been quite right since that little incident when I was seventeen but even an idiot can see there's a pattern emerging here!"
As though exhausted by her profanity-laced tirade, Bethany's shoulders slumped and she sat forward, elbows on knees, head down, auburn hair falling in front of her face. Sitting up again, she picked up her cigarette pack, tapped out a coffin-nail, removed her much-loved Zippo from the handbag and lit up.
"Ahem," the doctor cleared his throat, nodding his head at the No Smoking sign on his desk. Bethany's eyes flicked to the wall clock. She only had five minutes of her session left anyway. Smiling defiantly, Bethany drew heavily on the cigarette, held the smoke for several seconds before exhaling languidly.
"Bethany, you know the rules about smoking. Please put out the cigarette."
"Or what? You'll spank me and send me to my room without dinner? Please. Look, Doctor, I can tell you don't believe me and frankly, the only reason I agreed to these stupid sessions in the first place is because my brother talked me into them but I think we both know that no amount of counselling is gonna change anything."
With that, Bethany Amber-Louise Shepard collected her belongings and left the psychologist's office.
The dreams Bethany had been experiencing of late were particularly nasty - why she couldn't dream of next week's winning lottery numbers she didn't know. Lately, she'd been seeing huge, insect-like creatures in a laboratory setting of some sort. Then the insect-like creatures running amok like the bugs out of Aliens and killing everything that moved. Messily.
The dreams were incredibly vivid; Bethany found she could even identify several of the scientists and lab techs from the names embroidered on their stark white lab coats. For all the good having names would do her. What was she meant to do? Call up C-Sec and say I had this really whacked out dream and you should go and have a little chat with Dr Savrashi about whatever the hell he's working on out in the ass end of space. What? Where did I get my information? Uh, gotta go.
Yeah, that'd really do the trick. Last time she'd gone the anonymous tip route, a pair of big guys in dark suits had shown up at her door and she'd found herself in an interview room undergoing polite questioning. For twelve fucking hours. "I gotta tell ya, Mister Darcy, the authorities, bunch of frigging imbeciles. You tell 'em you have information that could prevent a crime, they seem more interested in running a background check on you than on following up on the tip. Then they act all surprised when what you told 'em was gonna happen, fucking happens!"
Bethany stalked around her one-bedroom apartment, grabbing clothing and other items and stuffing them into a suitcase while she tapped a sequence of digits into the phone. Mister Darcy looked at her curiously as she moved rapidly to and fro, smoking a cigarette down to the filter, waiting for the phone at the other end to be picked up.
"Come on, come on, pick up the damn phone you dozy bitch....Annabelle! Hi! It's Bethany....Bethany Shepard from up the road?....I watered your rose bushes for you while you were on holiday that time?....yes the Spectre's older sister....Yeah, no, I'm good, thanks for asking. Listen, the reason I'm calling you up.....uh huh, yeah, no, no, I'm totally listening..." Bethany turned to Mister Darcy, rolled her eyes and mouthed chatty bitch. Speaking into her hands-free headset, Bethany attempted to regain control of the conversation, "Look, Anna, I'd really love to hear all about your father-in-law's colononscopy but I have a favour to ask you....It's no big deal really, I just need somebody to house sit while I'm away....I don't know how long I'll be gone, it depends on how cooperative certain people are....Well can't your husband cook for himself for a coupla weeks or so?....Yeah, tell me about it, men, you practically have to hold their hands while they go to the bathroom....I'll also need you to mind Mister Darcy....there's plenty of food....Well, if you run out just buy some more....yes, I'll reimburse you for any expenses you incur," Bethany rolled her eyes in frustration and ran a hand through her shoulder-length red hair.
Annabelle Sims, wife of an industrialist worth, at last count, well over three billion credits, having a hissy fit over the price of a few cans of pet food. Bethany turned back to Mister Darcy, mouthed cheap and a chatty bitch. Mister Darcy for his part merely cocked his head to one side in a manner that Bethany found utterly endearing. "I'm sending you the access codes to get past the front door now. I really appreciate this, Anna, I owe you big....Sure, I can't wait to hear all about the colonoscopy. OK, bye!" Tapping a button on the headset, Bethany cut the link.
Her next call was to her sometime employer Hillary Marks who operated a classy escort agency that contracted Bethany on occasion. The work for the most part was easy - pose as arm candy for some filthy rich, lonely old men while the said filthy rich old men attended charity balls, corporate shindigs and the like.
Bethany found she quite liked the work, except being in six-inch stiletto heels for any length of time was absolutely murder on her calf muscles. That and the way most people inevitably linked the word escort with prostitute. Bethany wasn't a prostitute. Her clients didn't pay her to have sex, they paid for her company and her ability to feign an interest in subjects ranging from golf, antique washing machines and their corporation's third quarter earnings.
Bethany had nothing against prostitutes - she had a certain amount of respect for anybody who could rake in thousands of credits a week lying in bed, albeit with some overweight sweaty man pressing her into the bed as he snorted like a racehorse atop her, but that particular career path didn't excite her.
There had been a time once, years past, when her aspirations had lain in a completely different direction - the 'family business' if you will but a little incident had put paid to that and Bethany had drifted from job to job - delivery driver, trainee florist, cubicle dweller in thankless office jobs until finally, purely on a whim, she'd seen an ad calling for photographic models and, somewhat inebriated after consuming half a bottle of red wine, had fired off an application over the extranet, attaching the required holographs of herself. After that she'd fallen asleep in front of the vidscreen, Mister Darcy curled up at her feet.
A few days later, she'd gotten a call from the modelling agency and much to her surprise, they'd asked her to come in for an interview. Bethany hadn't expected much. Looking at herself in the mirror as she'd gotten ready, she appraised her appearance in the glass as objectively as possible. Her wavy, shoulder length auburn hair was her best feature, she decided. Then the eyes. Accented with a hint of shadow and eyeliner, her eyes were absolutely killer. She had a great smile, everybody said so, even her brother and he was usually awful at complimenting a woman unless he was hitting on her. Looking down at the rest of herself, things were also pretty good, she'd decided: breasts not too big but not too small, firm, flat stomach, long legs. Call her conceited but Bethany decided the entire package wasn't shabby. Not shabby at all.
"Bethany, in this industry, we have a term to describe people of your level of attractiveness," the head of the modelling agency had told her.
"And what term is that?"
"Smoking hot. Bethany, we're looking for somebody to be the 'face' of a new brand of lipstick. We'd like that 'face' to be yours. What do you say?"
"Just so long as this job doesn't involve stripping, amateur porno or a fucking casting couch, I'm in."
After being the 'face' of Sweet Vixen cosmetics and perfumes for several months, her boss at the modelling agency had asked her if she wanted to try her hand at some escort work for a friend of his, Hillary Marks. Apparently Ms Marks had seen the overly-airbrushed images of Bethany on several billboards and decided she wanted to meet the woman in the flesh.
"Hang on, when I took this job, I believe I signed a no sex clause, remember that, Fritz? No sex? An escort agency? Fuck that for a joke." Bethany made to leave the office.
Fritz held up a hand in a placating gesture, sighed to himself. "Bethany, this escort agency provides precisely that: escorts, dates if you like for various clients. There's no sex involved at all. I should know, I've used them enough times...ever since my wife divorced me and ran off with my sister...those slags...no offence."
"Look Fritz, I don't wanna hear about your problems with lesbians, but if you say this Marks woman is legit, I'll meet her."
So it was that Bethany Shepard went from being the 'face' of Sweet Vixen to being a highly-paid semi-professional girlfriend for hire. And now she was back on the phone, this time to Hillary.
"Hillary! How's tricks?...Hmmm, yeah about that ambassador you wanted me to escort next month, gonna have to pull out, sorry. What do you mean I can't pull out?...You're shitting me, right? He specifically requested me?....I don't care how much he's willing to pay, I have some business to take care of on the Citadel...no, it can't wait, God damn it! Listen to me, Hillary, find somebody else. Talk to Clarissa, she's a total slut but if the ambassador has a thing for redheads, he'll go nuts over her...I know I'm putting you in a tight situation and you know that I'd never back out of a job unless it was really important....I can't say, you wouldn't believe me anyway, it's so whacked out....Thanks, Hillary, I mean it, thanks. I'll make it up to you when I get back."
If I get back.
Ashley strolled through the lower Wards markets, hand in hand with the Skipper. They weren't talking at the moment, each content to enjoy the other's company in silence. Shepard's hand felt warm in her own and again Ash marvelled at how lucky she was just to be here with him, side by side, just walking along like any normal couple. For the time being, at least, Shepard wasn't a Spectre, or the commander officer of the Normandy, and she wasn't Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. For the time being they were simply Augustus and Ashley, walking side by side, secure in the love they had for each other and - Shepard stopped abruptly and a shudder ran through him. "Skipper, are you OK?"
"Wow, it felt as though a goose just walked over my grave," the Skipper replied, wondering where the bizarre feeling of impending doom had come from. He had no way of knowing that, at that very moment, in the Asgard system, his sister was boarding a Citadel-bound transport, her head full of dreams and visions like some modern-day harbinger of doom.
Shaking his head, Shepard put his arms around Ash, kissed her hair and said, "It's probably nothing. Let's keep walking."
"You be a good boy for Annabelle while I'm away, Mister Darcy, OK?" Bethany said, kneeling next to the dog and embracing him tightly. Mister Darcy nuzzled her face and whined gently. She let him go and with a final look back at the apartment, left the building.
Outside the apartment, the heat of Terra Nova during high summer was an almost physical weight pressing down on her. Heat shimmer rose from city streets and pavements in visible waves. Sunlight glimmered from passing vehicles, the reflected rays seemingly hell-bent on frying her retinas. Bethany cursed volubly, causing a passing asari to frown at her. Sunglasses, were are my damn sunglasses!Frustrated, Bethany yanked her bag from her shoulder and dumped its contents out onto the ground before her. Snagging her sunglasses from the top of the heap, Bethany quickly stuffed her accumulated detritus back into the bag and headed down the street, seeking an air taxi.
"Where to, beautiful?" the driver asked as the taxi settled to the street, dust swirling into the air.
"The spaceport, handsome," she replied, sliding into the rear seat. The interior of the taxi was blessedly cool after walking through what felt like the inside of a blast furnace. As the taxi rejoined the flow of airborne traffic, the driver turned the radio to a news station.
In news from the Citadel, Council spokespeople have confirmed that humanity's ambassador to the Citadel Council, Donnel Udina has been named as humanity's first representative on the Council, in the wake of humanity's part in defeating the geth invasion of last year.
"Good fucking God, what idiot decided to put Udina on the Council?" Bethany gasped, shocked. If even half the things she'd heard from her brother were true, Udina was a first-class son of a bitch. On the other hand, that was probably how he'd gotten the job.
"Hey, lady, no swearing in my cab, OK?" the driver turned to glare at her through the scarred plexiglass screen separating driver from passenger.
"Yeah, whatever," Bethany shrugged, removing her cigarette pack and lighter from her jacket pockets.
"And no smoking either," the driver went on, eyes meeting hers as though challenging her to light up.
Bethany smiled the smile that had graced many a billboard and holomag page. The driver relaxed and turned back to the front. He flinched at the sound of the Zippo then with abrupt motions, pulled back down to street level. "What the hell?" Bethany snapped, cigarette tumbling from her lower lip and narrowly avoiding falling inside her blouse.
"You. Out of my cab," he ordered through the glass.
"Oh come on, man!" Desperately, Bethany hit the guy with the full force of her come hither look - lips slightly parted, gazing at him through half-lidded eyes, eyelashes batting furiously. Nothing.
"Out. Now," the driver repeated. With a string of curses that would have mortified her mother, Bethany exited the cab.
Outside, it felt even hotter than before and Bethany could actually feel her skin beginning to burn. Arms spread wide, head tilted back, she shouted at the sky, "God, why do you hate me? Is this some kind of perverse test? Oh sure, let's send the foul-mouthed chain-smoker a cab driver who won't tolerate either smoking or swearing and see how she reacts! Fucking brilliant!"
Arms falling back to her sides and head slumping forward, Bethany set about hailing another cab, ignoring the way the crowds of people flowed around her like river water around a rock.
"What would you like to do for dinner?" the Skipper asked his beloved.
"Well, instead of....dinner, I thought I'd like to do you," Ash whispered into his ear as they walked through the crowds of the lower markets. Shepard turned his head, saw the truly wicked little grin on her lips and the look in her eyes.
"You're incorrigible," he whispered back.
"And that's why you love me," she said, pulling him into a tight embrace.
"Yeah," he replied, breathless as always by the feel of her, "I thought to myself the first time I saw you, that woman is incorrigible."
Breaking away from him, Ash said, "Let's go to that new place in the Wards. Kentucky Fried Varren."
"Varren?" the Skipper asked as they resumed walking.
"Yeah, it tastes like chicken."
"Well, OK. And afterward we can have dessert."
"Now who's incorrigible?" she replied, smiling.
"I learned from the best, my love. D'you think we should invite the rest of the crew as well? It feels like I haven't seen them in ages."
"Oh gee, Skipper and I was looking forward to playing footsies with you under the table," Ash said, with wide-eyed glee. "Sure, let's call up Liara and Tali. What about Garrus?"
"Last I heard, he was up to his mandibles in some investigation with C-Sec or other. He must be hating the red tape."
"Give him another three months, tops and he'll resign in disgust all over again," Ash confidently predicted.
The happy couple stopped at the rear of a group people from various races watching a newsvid broadcast to a public holoscreen. Onscreen, the salarian anchor was recapping the day's top story - the appointment of Donnel Udina to the Citadel Council.
"Skipper, explain something to me," Ash began.
"We can't have sex in public because we'd be jailed for public indecency," Shepard quipped and winced as Ash punched him in the shoulder.
"Ha de ha ha. No, how did we end up being represented by Udina?"
"Well, he's a politician and the Council probably figured after being our ambassador for so many years, he was the best qualified."
"Yeah, he's a politician."
"Ash, he isn't all bad."
"Skipper, this is the same man who grounded the Normandy and as I recall your exact words to him at the time were nobody stabs me in the back, Udina, nobody."
"I was worked up at the time," Shepard said defensively.
"You should have killed and eaten him," a familiar rumble came from behind them.
"Wrex!" Shepard said delightedly, turning away from the screen and shaking the krogan's hand.
"Shepard. I'm glad I ran into you. I'm leaving the Citadel for a time. Going back to Tuchanka with my family's armour, pay my respects to my father's father."
"Have a safe trip, Wrex," Shepard replied.
"Safe? Where's the fun in that?" the krogan scoffed and, having said his piece, ambled away.
"Y'know, I think I may actually miss that overgrown lizard," Ash commented, watching as said overgrown lizard pushed and shoved his way through those too slow or too stupid to get out of his way fast enough.
"Quick, call Emily Wong! I can see the headlines now: Ashley Williams confesses to missing a krogan!"
"You just lost your dessert, Skipper," Ashley replied and began walking at a brisk pace through the crowds. Shepard ran to catch up.
If Bethany thought things had started out badly, what with her being ejected from an air taxi like some delinquent school girl, now things had degenerated to a point best described by those familiar with military jargon as FUBAR. Beth was queuing up at the spaceport, to buy a ticket the Citadel, fidgeting with nervous energy. She wanted a cigarette. No, that was a lie, she needed a cigarette. Bethany knew her nicotine addiction was bad for her health, she knew chapter and verse all the reasons why smoking was bad for her - risk of cancer of the lung, lips, tongue, throat and, for all she knew, her special women's area. She just didn't care.
Bethany could never understand exactly why smokers were so frowned upon compared to say, binge drinkers. When was the last time a smoker lost control of his or her car and ploughed through a crowd of pedestrians, leaving a pile of mangled bodies in his or her wake? But for some unfathomable reason, getting tanked was still socially acceptable. Nobody gave a rat's ass as long as their coworkers didn't turn up to work still inebriated from the previous night's festivities but light up a cigarette outside one of the rapidly dwindling number of places where it wasn't considered a capital offence to smoke and people treated you like some diseased piece of filth. Worse than Hitler. Scratch that, worse than the bastard love child of Hitler, Saren Arterius and Ambassador...excuse me Councilman Udina.
Beth stood in the queue, jaw working furiously as she chewed a stick of nicotine gum. The gum was next to useless in the face of her craving. Bethany shifted her weight from left foot to right foot, back again. Stuffed her hands deep inside the pockets of her leather jacket, pulled them out again. "What's the fucking hold up?"
"I beg your pardon?" the old lady in front of her turned to glare over her shoulder at Bethany, who hadn't realised she'd spoken aloud. Bethany sighed, tongued the wad of gum from the inside of one cheek to the other. "The queue. I mean, we live in a galaxy with faster than light travel, contact with alien peoples and advances in medical care that let a person live to a be a hundred and fifty and still we stand in line like idiots waiting to buy a ticket. Doesn't that strike you as absurd?"
"Be that as it may but it is no excuse for such foul language. Young lady, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! What would you mother think?"
Bethany rolled her eyes. What would Hannah think? "Lady, my mother's the XO of one of the Alliance fleet's most powerful ships. What comes out of my mouth is pretty tame compared to what Fleet personnel come out with while on shore leave. Trust me on this."
"Hmmph! Well I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in your family," the old lady snapped before her white-haired head turned back to the front of the line. Bethany's fingers twitched and a brief mental image, incredibly vivid rose in her mind's eye - her calmly throttling the life out of the little old lady. She shuddered and popped another stick of gum into her mouth. But honestly, what was the fucking hold up?
The hold up was in the form of a hanar at the head of the queue who was remonstrating with the young woman behind the counter. The young lady's name tag identified her as Karen but nobody standing on the opposite side of the counter from her ever called her Karen. It was usually Hey you, Lady, Sweetheart and, occasionally, Chicky-babe. And that was just from the female customers.
As it floated before her, the hanar continued to make its case. "This one humbly points out that, as it is acting to spread the truth of the Enkindlers to all, it should not have to pay a fare. Understanding and Enlightenment must not be constrained by economic realities."
Karen sighed. She always got the difficult ones. Last week, it was some idiot sandblasted out of his mind who insisted that he didn't have to pay for a ticket to Elysium because his friend, conveniently invisible to everybody else, had already paid for the ticket. Invisible friend, right.
"Sir, I cannot let you board without a ticket. Now, are you going to pay up or will I be forced to call security?" as Karen spoke, her right hand, adorned with a ring on each finger, slowly drifted to the panic button hidden beneath the counter.
Karen missed the days when, instead of a panic button, there was a stun gun mounted there. But after an unfortunate incident involving a salarian, a heart condition and repeated stunner applications, the weapons were banned. Karen sighed again. The hanar's tentacles twitched for several seconds and its pink glow deepened towards red.
"This one wishes to converse with the other's supervisor," it finally intoned.
Karen shrugged; once she called in Vince, the hanar would no longer be her problem. "Fine with me."
Finally the line was moving forward again and Bethany felt a rare surge of excitement as she shuffled forward a couple of paces behind the little old lady. She was actually doing something about her dreams, visions, whatever and it felt oh so good to be doing something other than waking up at 0300 gasping, perspiration running down her face, hands bunching into fists around the coverlet as she fought down a scream. Bethany smiled and began humming a tune. She was beginning to feel good.
The good, warm and fuzzy feeling departed with stunning rapidity about ten minutes after Bethany stowed her luggage in the transport's overhead lockers and settled herself in her seat, G37. A salarian with bluish green skin seated himself beside her and began talking so rapidly, Beth was almost certain he was high on something.
"Is-this-your-first-trip-to-the-Citadel?It's-my-first-trip-to-the-Citadel!Oh-I'm-so-excited!Are-you-excited?I'm-Jallan,'s-your-name?" The salarian shoved a tri-fingered hand at her.
Bethany's parents had, during her childhood, done their best to instill a modicum of good manners in their children and, even as Bethany's mind was attempting to decode the salarian's speed-rapping speech, her right hand quite independent of her conscious mind rose to accept the handshake. In retrospect, this was a mistake as the salarian seemed to take it as a sign that he'd found his new best friend and proceeded to talk her ear off.
Somebody please kill me now, Bethany thought. It wasn't that she didn't like salarians, she did. She found them easier to get along with than turians for instance but anybody who came up to her and began banging on at her as though they'd known each other for years instantly raised her hackles.
Then, unbelievably, things got worse. A hanar floated along the aisle between the rows of seats and 'sat' down on Bethany's left. Immediately the hanar began talking at her. "This one offers greetings, human. Are you interested in learning of the Enkindlers?"
Without waiting for a reply, the hanar began talking about how the Enkindlers had raised the hanar from ignorance and into consciousness, gave them the gifts of learning and speech...it was going to be a long flight.