A/N: Reviews make me a happy panda - so does the hits shooting up! There is a total of 503 hits to this story... fffff... might cry tears of joy. 135 hits on Friday is the current record for hits in one day. (But if I have 550 hits, surely a few more of you could leave anon reviews or something? hint, hint) Apparently you people would rather read fanfiction on a Friday than go outside or something. I fully support your decision, by the way. :D
But why, you ask, am I telling you about hits? You might have guessed that I recently discovered the traffic tab that you can find after you click on your username. And I know nobody cares but me. I care A LOT. Feels good, man. Again, the story is the same length as usual, just long replies to reviews.
Oh, and update = late because it was my birthday on Tuesday and I forgot to finish this. Sorry.
Brenediction – I thought the end could have been less rushed, also, but I think it came out wrong... That aside, thanks for becoming a regular reviewer to this fic (if two reviews counts as regular), and I'm actually sort of relieved you're still enjoying it. I have to admit – I fear that over time this story could lose the 'tone' it had in the first few chapters... I mean, it scares me that it could become monotonous and forced. I've seen it happen to fiction that was miles better than mine. I'm not worried about ideas, I have loads, though I wouldn't be opposed to some from you all. In summary, if you can find anything like this to pick at, then do, whether it's the format or the speed of the story.
-.- Thank you, again. I intend to keep them coming, it's just the speed of which I plan to do so that I need to be careful with. I've had this idea for so long, and I'd like to keep the quality good and high. The 'lols' are there because James is James, and I'd like some light-hearted moments with the team before this fic turns into Depressionville. If it does. It would be have to make a hell of a u-turn to get there, I think.
outlaw hunter – Define 'great team' :D! The drunk guy actually came to me when I was remembering some of the shenanigans my friend has gotten herself into... Hmm, 'shenanigans'... I love that word. Need to weave that into the story somehow. Thanks!
theluckyshot – To tell the truth, when people mentioned the format for the first time I spent a good while running around like a headless chicken – well, I didn't really, but it's for demonstration's sake – wondering what it meant, because I always think of format as an umbrella term for a lot of things. Eventually I worked out that you were talking about the alignment. How did I miss it?... Also, feel free to keep the compliments coming, too. I read them and giggle like a schoolgirl with a crush... no, that sounds bad. You know what I mean, right? Some of you may be happy to know that I'm seriously starting to consider Shana as the main interest now. You people have put thoughts in my head. Keep reviewing!
Starmast3r – Hello, new reviewer. Pull up a stool, get comfy, order a drink or two, because we sure are going to be here for a while, story-wise. I have so many ideas for the plot. Too many. Anyway, because you've written me a lovely, lengthy review, I shall write you a lovely, lengthy reply. Joy!
Now, this sounds so egotistical, but the term 'diamond in the rough' comes to mind, at least for me. Not regarding my story, but other original ideas on this site. I love a good fic, but there's got to be over 9000 boring same-plot stories... I personally loathe self inserts - I'm sure they can be well-written too – but I've yet to see one. Well hey, I can't be writing a self insert here, because I'm a girl last time I checked. Phew. Also... I don't know about that female batarian, even I can't get a really clear idea of that, but a male quarian... how did you know?! ;) Keep your eyes open for that pig.
Informative and detailed... Hee, hee. Quirky and hilarious, double hee hee. And about the James/Shana pairing – it has 3 supporters now. Like I said to theluckyshot – you people are putting ideas in my head. Indoctrination, I say! Does your name happen to be Sovereign in real life? No? And now I find myself agreeing they would be sort of cute, though I doubt Shana would agree with those exact words, anyway. As far as the descriptions go, I have been deliberately holding back on those. I've already given one spoiler up there (couldn't resist!), but I can say you'll get them soon. And James knows a LOT from Fornax magazines. Probably, he gets 60% of his knowledge of aliens from there. Oh dear.
When you say 'won't be able to sleep until you do'... The night after I post a chapter, I sometimes find myself stabbing the F5 key until the number of reviews goes up. I can't sleep until you review. ಠ_ಠ It's pretty sad and I give up after 5 minutes anyway. So, I hope you enjoy the ride – there will be one, so I hope – and remember to keep your arms and legs inside the cart at all time and keep your wallet close to you so it doesn't fall out of your pocket when you go upside-down and always bring enough friends so that you don't get stuck alone with a random fat man inside a cramped cart and god I can't breathe he's crushing me, also does this guy ever WASH, and how did I afford tickets to a theme park in the recession anyway?... Based on a true story. Keep reviewing, seeing that little number going up makes me very happy!
3. A Glimmer of Hope
In which progress is made, but not in the direction they were anticipating
They didn't waste any more time in the dock; Shana had become anxious at the thought of anyone witnessing what had happened, and ushered them into the ship. Dilapidated as it was, the vessel still offered a valuable shelter from outside. But James knew he would have a hard time getting used to it as a home.
The soft whoosh of the airlock, which, luckily, was still intact, heralded their entrance. James felt a long sigh escape him as he looked around, which drew a curious gaze from Shana. "I knew it was going to be hard, but... You really weren't kidding, were you?"
The airlock had been designed, seemingly, for larger ground teams, due to size and decontamination capacity. It was the most pristine part of the ship, and James thought that they would be better for it. If Shrike had still carried doubt about Shana's story, then it would probably have left him by that time. He had, and it did. James watched him for a little while as he boldly toured the ship, arranging scrap metal into a pile in the middle of what James thought could have been a CIC. When queried, Shrike simply explained that he was 'housekeeping'. This was slightly confusing, as Shrike really hadn't seemed like the type to keep everything tidy, but he definitely was an example of anomalous behaviour among species. James decided not to judge on appearances anymore.
A different reaction was happening right beside him. Though he couldn't help but notice the limp she bore from the earlier fight, his new turian colleague still held herself high as she also explored the ship. Shana, whose stride was slow and careful, didn't venture beyond the CIC; she traced long fingers along rails and the remains of computer consoles. James also noticed that she didn't touch the ones that were working and considered that she might had fixed them herself.
But he still wanted to understand her a little better. "What are you doing?" It was only fair; he'd asked Shrike the same question. She jolted up from her trance-like state to look at him, and for a moment, said nothing. Neither did James, and the only noise was of Shrike and the metal until she finally spoke. "Remembering." was the simple answer. She watched him for a moment almost mournfully, but soon enough it occurred to her that she was displaying something other than the emotion that is persistent pig-headedness, and the result was a quick averting of the eyes. She crouched down to one of the flickering consoles, the familiar shape of an omni-tool appearing around her hand.
"Do you need help?" he offered. Of all the things he currently wanted to do, lazing around a crumbling ship while everyone else did the work was not high on the list. There had to be some way to make himself useful.
She didn't turn to look at him, but as usual, her voice expressed enough. Now it was half serious, half joking. James guessed the equivalent for humans would be raising an eyebrow, but this revelation didn't make him feel any better about what she was about to say. "The vorcha said that you had no more tech knowledge than a small child."
He flushed tomato red at the truth of her words. "Er, well, I'll be... around." There was that smile again. Well, at least he had served to amuse her.
Needing an escape from his embarrassment, James returned his attention to the ship that they would soon be piloting, if all went well, and Shana had the resources she needed. Surprisingly, there were a few elements of the ship he did recognise, but there were a few he felt he should have. Growing up as a spacer, it would be hard not to have picked up a few names of the more vital components, and some of the lingo, too. On one of the working consoles, he recognised some of the familiar components: FTL drive. Thruster module status reports. ELSA capability. GARDIAN batteries. This triumph, though small, brought a smile to his face. The fact that most of these systems all seemed to be outlined in red – it didn't take a genius to guess that this was bad – did not.
He decided not to bother Shrike. since he didn't have enough self-esteem for him to attack anymore, and would probably only succeed in annoying him. James decided it was time to man up and take the initiative.
The CIC wasn't drastically different to the state-of-the-art one the Normandy boasted. Some of the elements were the same: the stations lining the short way to the pilot's cockpit, for example. But they weren't as streamlined as his brother's frigate. Firstly, that was because this one was in pieces. Secondly, it seemed that the ship, though originally purposed for stealth and recon as all frigates are, had been retrofitted for dominance and endurance in combat. There was no raised map platform as the focal point for the room, but there was slightly elevated ledge that James didn't know the purpose of. There were no displays on said platform; it was just a large nondescript table thing. He purposed himself to ask Shana later, when she'd forgotten about earlier.
And there were more combat stations and status consoles. A lot more. It made sense, with the rare design of the ship. He tapped one open and had a brief read of what it displayed. When Shana, curious as to why the display had become active, looked over, James pretended to be immersed in the wall of text, interested even. He was relieved when she resumed her work and didn't hesitate to close it again. It was just a load of jargon to him; he guessed it could be due to the fact that the systems had been fried when Shana had fled the oncoming attack. Or maybe it would make perfect sense to her.
The first problem with the ship was all the debris, but Shrike was taking care of that already. He had neglected the CIC on the whole so far, though, bar his scrap pile; on occasion, Shrike would practically skip into the room and dump some more on it. He didn't bother to make conversation, and looked almost happy with his job – as happy as a vorcha can - so James didn't bother, either.
In an attempt to be useful, he started gathering up the wreckage that wouldn't be of any use to the repairs. Some of the salvage was interesting: a hollow canister that James found when he had moved a loose panel contained some chocolate bars caught his eye the most. But then he felt bad. Maybe this had been someone's stash.
Just as he began to fall into a confortable work pattern, he was shaken from his task by a familiar two-toned voice. It wasn't directed at him, though. "Shrike, I need you to... get something for me." James hated how, although it conveyed Shana's emotion all too perfectly, it was next to impossible to determine her motives it.
However, the request for help must have intrigued the vorcha; James was surprised to see that he was paying full attention. More than he paid James, anyway.
Shrike half-shrugged as if to say 'go on' and resumed tidying the pile. "There must be somewhere on Omega where you can find maps. I can probably get this thing flying eventually, but we still need that navigational data, and some new material for the hull-"
The vorcha waved her off, in a way that James could only really describe as superficial. That was another thing you wouldn't capture your average vorcha doing, but, he reminded himself, anything is possible here on the SS Buttcrack. "Will do it," Shrike confirmed, and then he was gone, leaving the two remaining crew members feeling quite perplexed in light of the strange circumstances.
"That was... easier than I'd anticipated," murmured Shana; with a touch, her omni-tool faded away, and she got up. "Well, I've finished repairs on most of the crucial systems."
"That didn't take too long," It hadn't. James silently admitted to feeling jealous. "Just like that?"
In the way of a reply, she folded her arms, unimpressed, and James started to beat himself mentally for annoying her or whatever else he had done. "Maybe I'm just really good. Really good."
No, she wasn't annoyed. Far from it, she was smiling. Again. James could have groaned; she did seem to enjoy teasing him. He was going to take that 'fetishist' comment he had made in Afterlife with him to the grave.
While he stood, silently, considering things furiously, Shana pulled herself onto one of the inactive consoles, watching the thousand looks, or expressions, crossing his face. It got a little hard to identify them. Humans, she thought, are too interesting.
But she had a little trouble telling what they were feeling. James in particular. If only he had the proper mandibles with which to express himself. "Sorry to interrupt," The whole situation amused her to no end, and it brought some small degree of dismay to stop it here; though Shana thought it would be better for him to quit while he was ahead. "but there is something I could use your help with."
James made a mental note never, ever to get lost in thought again while he was around these people. "Alright," He was curious as to what she wanted, exactly; there wasn't much he could help with on the ship.
"I haven't had the chance to check the ship for, say, contraband, or resources yet. I'd appreciate it if you could help."
His face lit up. Not only had James wanted to find a way to help with the repairs, but he wanted to know a little more about – well – he would say 'shipmates', though it wasn't in any state to fly, but now he thought of them as friends. He didn't know what Shana would say to this, and he didn't plan to ask.
James wasn't keeping count, but he felt like they had been cleaning for hours. He also felt like it would be complaining to reveal this, so he did his best not to reveal his growing fatigue. It was hard.
But it was the last room in the ship left to clear, and he could at least admit to some measure of excitement as they shifted the remainder of the debris out of what Shana identified as the cargo hold. James wondered if she ever had trouble reading his expressions, because when they entered that particular room, he couldn't read hers. He remembered, later, that it was the room she had run to during the attack, and then determined not to mention it to her.
Then the purpose that was leaving Omega took her over, and she settled into her work with a steely resolve. James was the only one exposed to this, as Shrike was still absent on his strange mission. On occasion, Shana would stop to yell advice or abuse, depending on how badly he was messing up, at him. He didn't mind. In the end, he was helping, no matter how little. And he knew that he would find something to do soon – something he was good at, even.
"Why are you so intent on leaving here?" she eventually asked. James wasn't sure whether the questioning would turn into an interrogation or not. Maybe she was trying to make small talk. He gave her the benefit of the doubt.
"Have you looked outside?" he returned, with a joking tone to his voice as he struggled with a metal beam.
But he should have known it wouldn't be that easy, anyway. "No, I meant why did you, specifically, want to leave Omega? Is that the only reason? Because it's dirty?"
This was something for him to think about. There were many reasons he could name, but whether she would be interested in any of them was a different story entirely. James glanced over to see that she had stopped working. Then it must be a serious question. Putting the beam to one side, he was taken aback at how light his arms felt. He experimented with this for a minute before answering her.
"Do you know John Shepard? – wait – that's a stupid question. Who doesn't know him?" He posed his arms dramatically for effect. "He's the hero of the galaxy! The first human Spectre! And me? I'm just his failure of a brother. Nobody even knows I exist. Reporters love him, girls love him, everyone loves him. I'm not trying to be better than him, I just want to be better than me."
Apparently she had noticed that the beam had been giving him trouble, and stepped over and moved it herself. He appreciated this, but wondered how she could manage it with her injury. She was either really, really strong, or really, really good at hiding things. There was a fifty-fifty chance of either.
"Well," Her words were slow, and she was treading carefully. James didn't know why. He had been put down so many times recently that he was developing a tendency to become immune to insults. Whenever he thought of an anecdote for this, all that came to mind was a parasite developing a resistance to antibiotics. "I know you exist, so does Shrike. Personally, I'd prefer to be unknown than familiar with reporters. Especially that al-Jilani woman. If girls love him as easily as you say, then do they really? They just love his fame, I think. And you're not a failure; don't even start. Well. Maybe when it comes to heavy lifting..."
He'd never thought about it like that. "Oh," was all he could manage. What she'd said had charily picked apart and discarded his entire mindset towards his brother. Or just his jealousy. But there was one thing that she had left unaddressed. "Well, what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Everyone loves John; what about you?"
She scoffed. "My opinion of him is irrelevant - I don't think he'd go for a turian - and what about the Reapers he was giving it the big one about? I doubt they love him."
He noted that she hadn't answered the question.
"Why no- actually, never mind." Why not a turian?, he was going to say. Well, why not? But it was another question for another time. That time wasn't now.
Shana shrugged and turned to leave.
"Hey," he called. "Um, I... Thanks."
There was one last nod in his direction. Then she was gone again. James didn't follow. He knelt back down to sort through the last tiny pile of junk; there was a stupid grin on his face now. He felt a lot better. She'd done that in a couple of sentences. It was something he wouldn't forget for a while. That, and the Afterlife confrontational. Oh, god.
Then, while rifling through some more debris: a sharp pain in his hand. It was almost a welcome escape from the stupidly happy state he had worked himself into. "OW!" he yelped, and wrenched it back. Shana was there almost immediately, and, soon after, Shrike.
"James? What did you do?" Was he imagining her worried tone? Silently, he hoped to himself that he wasn't.
Then without warning, she grabbed his hand and turned it over upon noticing how he held it. There, on his palm, was the tiniest of tiny cuts. He bit his lip. "No – that's – is that it?!" Then she burst into laughter. James, however, was engaging himself with looking for a rock to crawl under. The closest he could find was the metal pile. He found himself considering it.
"...That's it? You're serious?" And there was that animated, exultant sort of timbre to Shana's voice again; the one that James had gotten used to. It was almost comforting.
James didn't reply. He had found the source of his cut, and was holding it in his hands.
"Let me see that." She knelt down next to him for a closer look.
The frame in James's hands demanded attention. Looking back at him, beyond the broken shards of glass, was a woman. Freckles were dotted here and there across her face, and a pair of warm, brown eyes reflected a smile; bore by a pair of full, rosy lips. Strands of messy blonde hair had escaped the ponytail she wore. James recognised the uniform atypical to spacers.
In her arms, she cradled a child. There were tufts of blonde hair standing atop its head, but the eyes were green. A knot formed in James' throat, and he put the frame aside.
Somewhere, a mother and her baby would be waiting for one of the men who had been a part of the crew of the very frigate they were standing in now. They would never be reunited with him. He wasn't coming back.
"Shana," He barely looked up, and their eyes met only for the briefest of seconds. "We have to find out who did this."
As usual, she did not answer immediately. James wondered what she was thinking about. Did she think that it was pointless? That they couldn't help the dead?
He didn't have to sit and guess. "Yes," she finally answered. "We do."