Commander Shepard did not mind solitude. It long ago lost any sort of threat or menace. She liked solitude, just as she liked being surrounded by people—though perhaps not crowds. It was not something she ever expected to change.

She knew very well why she tended towards this view, and every so often reminded herself there was nothing wrong with being a social wallflower. Loss. Fear of further loss. After losing her family, her best friend and her cat, Shepard was not sure how much more she could take. A nervous or mental breakdown would cause her much more trouble than she wanted to deal with. To say nothing of putting her plans to the torch.

Arcturus Station, without the benefit of her fellow crewmen somewhere aboard, left her feeling vaguely wrong-footed, as though she'd forgotten part of her uniform. Not that she knew what this felt like. Still, it gave her a pang of the heart to watch the SSV El Alamein pull out of space dock.

Without her. Well, they had Captain Robbins, and Maguire. It was not as if things would fall apart without her, however much she might miss them.

Fortunately, Arcturus was home when she was not on the El Alamein, so it was not as though she was being dumped somewhere wholly unfamiliar. Hefting her bag onto her shoulder, grabbing her weapon case in her free hand, she turned after the El Alamein vanished from view. The load wobbled, but mostly left her with a sense of balance. At least she did not knock into anything or anyone as she traversed the hallways and elevators towards her apartment in one of the housing blocks.

All alone, she moved down the wide hall. Once out of sight of the large reinforced windows she could almost imagine she was planetside somewhere. Almost.

With a shake of the head, she dismissed the notion. Who cared? Spaceside, planetside—home was home, and this was…home away from home. Somehow the promise of a post as executive officer was not enough to make up for the loss of the stability provided by the El Alamein and her crew. She did not look forward to the process of acclimating to a new group of people.

The apartment lay dark and neglected. It looked neglected, as Shepard dropped her effects and gear just inside the doorway. "Well, here I am," she announced to the empty apartment as the door hissed closed behind her, locking with a click. She freed the second pistol case from her equipment bag, and put it back under her bed, where it resided when she was in the apartment. Hidden from view.

From its place on her bed, haphazardly tossed so she could find it without having to search upon her inevitable return, she picked up the remote from it, aiming it at the sound system balanced on a stubby bookcase filled with datapads containing books, and a paper copy of the SACMJ. From the speakers poured the quiet classical she preferred when trying to sleep.

It might be un-marinelike, but it was easier to sleep to strings, harps and woodwinds than to anything else she'd found.

Tossing her hat to rest on her pillow, Shepard flopped back onto the bed, flinging her arm over her eyes, letting her legs dangle over the edge. She needed to stop by the commissary—if she was going to be here a few days before her new posting took effect—for a stock of Astro-Fizz if nothing else.

Come to think of it, she sat up, hunching comfortably, her hands clasped as though in prayer, her eyes drawn to the racquet in the corner. She never took it with her on duty—space restrictions for personal effects made it impossible—but maybe it would be nice to go down to the gym and ping a ball off a wall for half an hour or so. She enjoyed racquetball, even if she was not very good at it.

The solitude of the apartment pressed against her, but with familiarity rather than emptiness. It was a benefit of living alone to have a bathroom all to herself, devoid of gang showers, and with a tub where she could soak if she wanted.

But she missed the secure feeling of a sleeper pod. She patted her bed as she got up. She'd only miss it for a little while, and a real bed was good in its own way. Shepard got up, but without resolve to do much. She needed to go to the commissary—she always cleaned out her refrigerator before leaving the station. Not even Astro-Fizz waited for her.

Certainly nothing that could grow mold was ever there. She'd heard horror stories of things left behind for a tour, which grew mold and who knew what else, waiting to welcome back the unfortunate individual who so unwisely left 'mold-ables' in the fridge.

Grinning to herself, Shepard toyed with changing into her civilian clothes, then discarded the notion, fishing out her wallet from her bag and shoving it into a pocket. No, no racquetball today. As nice as it would be to do something intensely physical, she didn't want to change her clothes.

Lame, she agreed with her inner critic, but true.

On the up side, there was Relay Rob's. And that would drive out thoughts of what happened to complacent marines. Relay Rob's and cold Astro-Fizz. The evening would not be a total loss. An evening in, alone, with her music and her musings for company.

Shepard grabbed her cover from where she'd flung it, and tugged it on. Stepping out of her apartment, she locked the door and started down the hallway, along the familiar path that would—eventually and several elevators later—lead her to the shopping block.

And a small pint of ice cream, she appended her mental shopping list. Enough she could enjoy, but not so much she had to worry about leftovers when she pulled out.


Thanks to all my readers, and especially to my reviewers! Also to the Mass Effect Wiki, the 100 Themes challenge at DA, and to Bioware. Mustn't forget to say 'thank you'.

I appreciate all the support and the feedback for this story. I am pleased to announce that Cause and Effect does in fact have a sequel: to all of you who asked, here it is. It was good to hear the requests, and I hope you'll forgive me for having been evasive when the topic came up. The first chapter of the new project should be released in a few days. Allow me to announce...

Mass Effect: Newton's First Law

Hope to see you there.