3. Colonist Shepard
Fishy was dead. Catilin learned this when she woke up on the morning of the high school dance and wandered downstairs for breakfast. The fish tank was positioned against the west wall of the living room. Beside the tank sat a half-full container of fish-flakes. The inside of the tank bore pieces of coral and miniature castles and houses for the fish to swim amongst. The aerator attached to the tank bubbled to itself as it pumped air into the water. Fishy floated at the top of the water, bobbing gently up and down as the aerator disturbed the water.
The other goldfish swam around as normal, occasionally pausing by the corpse of his erstwhile tank-mate to nudge the body before swimming on.
"Oh Fishy..." Caitlin whispered as she stood before the tank. With a sigh, she picked up the small net lying alongside the tank, scooped out Fishy and held him over the tank to allow the excess water to drip back in.
"Caity? I something wrong?" her mother called from the living room door.
Caitlin turned to face her, holding the deceased Fishy. "Fishy's dead," she said.
"Oh," her mother said, hands knotting together momentarily around her blouse before they relaxed. "Honey, I'm sorry."
Caitlin's slim shoulders shrugged. "It's OK. I'd feel bad for Goldie if I didn't know fish only have 3 second memories." Turning back to the tank, Caitlin said, "He probably doesn't even remember that there ever was a second fish in there."
Caitlin left the house and entered the back yard, angling towards the patch of ground she occasionally thought of as 'the burial plot.' The early-morning grass felt cool against the soles of her bare feet and dew on the grass wet her feet as she walked. Stabbed into the ground of the burial plot was a small hand shovel. Gently laying the net and Fishy on the ground, Caitlin knelt on the ground, wet grass soaking her nightgown and dug a shallow depression in the slightly muddy earth. Caitlin deposited Fishy in what was to be his final resting place and scraped the earth back over him.
Closing her eyes, Caitlin said a few words, "O Lord, please make sure the immortal soul of Fishy safely gets to Fish Heaven. Amen." She didn't really believe in Fish Heaven or in any kind of heaven really but it didn't feel right to just dump Fishy in the ground and forget about him. As she stood up again, a thought struck Caitlin: for a sixteen year old, she'd seen an awful lot of death. Oh, she wasn't stumbling across dead people all the time but the pets in the Shepard household seemed to have a scarily high mortality rate.
Besides Fishy, buried in the back yard were two other goldfish, a canary who had chirped pretty much continually for three years before he stopped chirping, a cat, a hamster and the stray dog she'd adopted two years ago. And now Fishy joined them and all that was left was Goldie in the fish tank suddenly too large for him. Not that he'd mind.
Caitlin paused by the door that led into the kitchen to wipe her feet on the door mat. Back in the house, she returned to the fish tank, tapped in a few flakes of food and watched as Goldie swam up to nibbled at them. Her responsibility as a pet owner thus met, Caitlin joined her mother at the breakfast table. Caitlin wondered about that: why it was referred to as 'the breakfast table' in the morning and 'the dinner table' at night. It was, after all, the same table. A large, heavy piece of pine with four wooden chairs, also pine arrayed around it.
Caitlin's father was already at work, likely working the tractor at the Branson farm about ten kilometres away. Peter Branson, a senior in high school had asked her to be his partner for the high school dance. Her, a gawky-looking sixteen year old kid who'd worn braces for three years - they'd only just come off. Caitlin had been surprised that he even thought about her at all; she didn't consider herself to be a spectacularly pretty girl. Her skin was too pale, and she didn't tan in summer. She burned. There was a spray of freckles across her nose which was slightly upturned. She was too tall and skinny compared to most of the other girls in school. She had no hips and no bust. She didn't even need to wear a bra for Godsake. She felt like she possessed the body of ten year old boy.
Still, Peter Branson, the guy who was everybody's best friend had asked her, Caitlin Shepard to be his partner for the high school dance. She felt equal parts elated and terrified.
"Are you excited about the dance?" her mother asked her over breakfast.
"Yes," she said and could even now feel something churning in her stomach.
Her mother looked like she might cry as she said, "Oh, my little girl is growing up! Already the boys are running after you!"
"Mum, for Godsake! They're not running after me! I can't even think why Peter would even ask me at all."
"Because you're a sweet, intelligent young woman. And don't say 'godsake,' it's blasphemy," he mother replied. Caitlin half-expected her mother to cross herself. And maybe flash the sign of the evil eye just in case God should be watching.
Caitlin often wondered how it had happened - humans packing up their religion along with the rest of their crap when they'd first began colonising new worlds.
"Gee," she imagined the early colonists saying to each other, "You think maybe we should bring the church along with us?"
"Ayuh, can't be too careful."
To her mother she said dryly, "I noticed you didn't call me 'beautiful,' just sweet and intelligent."
"Honey, you're plenty beautiful in your own way," oh way to stick the knife in ma! "Besides, beauty fades. Intellect is forever. Just look at old Marge Pickins down the road a bit. Twenty years back, she was crowned Miss Mindnoir. Oh all the boys wanted a piece of that action. Dumber than a bag of rocks though, that woman. Nowadays, her looks are faded and nobody will even look at her. And she's still dumber than a bag of rocks."
"Uh...huh," Caitlin said as she bit into a slice of toast and jam, "So you're saying Peter is turned on by my brains and not my tits?"
"Caitlin Shepard! Wash out your mouth, young lady!" her mother seemed about to explode with apoplectic rage. Caitlin just rolled her eyes.
There's a certain amount of protocol and a number of unwritten rules that apply when a boy asks to accompany a girl to a school social event. One such piece of protocol is the boy arriving to pick up the girl a full twenty minutes early and having to wait while said girl finished getting ready. Boy, meanwhile, spent those twenty minutes under the uncomfortable and intimidating gaze of the girl's father. A man who looked as though he could benchpress the boy and who gazed at him with a flat look that seemed to say, "For some unfathomable reason I can't even begin to guess at, my girl likes you and I'm trusting you with her life. Boy, if you do anything to upset my little girl, I'll make you regret it. And have her safely home by eleven at the absolute latest, d'you hear me?"
Peter Branson, in a suit rented for the occasion fought the urge to fidget in the armchair Caitlin's mother had invited him to sit in...before she'd left the room entirely, leaving him to share an uncomfortable silence with Cait's father. In his hands Peter held a corsage. He meant to pin the corsage onto the bodice of Caitlin's gown but instead decided, upon looking into those flat blue eyes of the man opposite, that it might be safer if he simply handed Cait the corsage and let her pin it on herself.
God only knew what might happen should the old man witness him even accidentally brushing a hand over his daughter's chestal area. Peter gulped.
"Would you like a glass of water?" Cait's father asked.
"No...no thank you, sir," Peter managed to get out through a suddenly dry mouth. All the moisture in his mouth seemed to have migrated to the palms of his hands which felt all manner of slimy right then. Discreetly he wiped his palms on the pants of his rented suit. The sound of footsteps from upstairs caused him to turn his head towards the staircase. He stood up as Caitlin appeared at the top of the stairs.
Peter's mouth fell open. Caitlin looked amazing. He'd always thought of her as pretty even before now but it was like she was being lit from within and her face seemed to glow. She was dressed in a simple cream gown with her red hair piled atop her head in an intricate swirl. A matching silk scarf was wound around her neck.
"Caitlin...you look..." Peter trailed off as she stepped from the bottom step and crossed the space to stand beside him.
"I think 'beautiful' is the word you want," her mother said from behind them. They turned to see Mrs Shepard with a holocamera in hand.
Following yet another piece of unwritten tradition, Boy and Girl stood beside one another, arms around the other's waist and posed for the pre-dance photograph.
In later years, as an officer in the Navy, Shepard would sometimes look upon that picture and wonder what her life would have been like if the batarians hadn't...but it hurt her to think of the raid. So she would simply remember the good times she had before it happened.
Now, however, as Caitlin posed with her date, she felt no fear, nor despair, nor grief. She felt a pure kind of happiness untainted by cynicism. She felt carefree.
"Now, Peter, I want you to see my daughter safely home..."
"by eleven at the latest," Caitlin parroted and smiled. "It's OK, dad. You don't have to wait up for us."
"Damn right I have to wait up," he said as he pulled her into a hug. "You have a good time, my sweet girl."
As Peter walked arm in arm with Caitlin along the driveway to her house at exactly 10.50pm, he wondered if he had the courage to kiss her goodnight. Everybody thought he was brave. He was on the football team and had taken hits that should have broken him in half then gotten up to keep playing but right now, as he walked Caitlin home, he felt terrified.
They arrived at front door. A soft warm glow spilled out from beneath the closed door; somebody was still up.
"I had a really nice time," Caitlin said softly and he had to lean forward a little to hear her voice.
"So did I," he said. Oh, smooth, Pete, real smooth! "I was wondering if..."
Caitlin smiled slightly and he wished she'd do that more often, she had a really nice smile. "Wondering if what?"
"If I could kiss you goodnight?"
Caitlin nodded and said in an even softer voice, a voice like an angel's it seemed, "I'd like that."
Peter bent his head to hers and brushed his lips gently across hers, feeling the warmth of her skin and inhaling the scent of her perfume. For Caitlin, it was one of the happiest times of her life.
The batarians raided Mindnoir two months later.
A/N: I've noticed a lot of fics relating to Mindnoir focus on the raid itself and the aftermath so I thought I'd do a kind of 'day in the life' sort of thing...and then dump in the bittersweet ending because I could. In my mind, the scene with Peter and Mister Shepard is like something from an old TV show or something - an image of a kind of simpler time before things go all to hell.
I hope you enjoy those little scenes, and if so, let me know. If not...well let me know anyway so I can improve.