The universe has this unspoken law that people don't exist if they're all alone. I was always alone in school because no one wanted to associate with the sickly crippled kid. According to the unspoken universal law, I didn't exist. The other students ignored me, and my instructors ignored me, and the only people who ever paid any attention to me were my parents and my doctors. And Felicia.
I was in the Alliance Academy's library, using one of the student-access extranet terminals to look up specs on a flight simulator the Alliance just started using in their flight school, when someone, a girl, walked up to me. A long black ponytail, bright blue eyes, pale skin and full red lips, all stuck on the head attached to a tiny, curvy little body wrapped in an Academy uniform. She was like something out of my fantasies and my worst nightmares all at once.
"This term taken?" she asked, pointing at the terminal next to me. I stared at her for a minute, trying to figure out if she was talking to me on a dare or if she was just yanking me around.
"Uh, um," I stuttered. Brilliant, Jeff, I thought, stuttering like an idiot's a great way to make a good first impression. Make it better. Now. "No. Go ahead."
She smiled and sat down. I tried to go back to reading up on the flight sim, but suddenly it was completely uninteresting. I kept stealing glances at her out of the corner of my eye, trying to figure out why she had bothered to come to the most remote corner of the library, where I'd never been disturbed or joined by anyone before. She was running her hands over the holodeck, typing so quickly it didn't look like she was typing at all. After a few minutes I was able to get back into the flight sim article I'd found.
"Hey," she said after a while. It took me a minute to realize she was talking to me. "So, you're in Pavlov's 1100 comp sci class, right? I think I saw you there today."
"I just transferred in," she explained. "I was in Smith's class, but when I signed up for basic they had to switch around my schedule. Since I'm new, you mind if I borrow your notes so I can catch up? Pavlov told me to ask Jeff Moreau for his, but I've been looking for him since my transfer and I can't find him anywhere. I'm starting to think he's mythical or something, like he doesn't come out except for during that one class."
"I'm Jeff Moreau," I said. My well-honed cynicism was still in the honing stage at that point, so I settled for stating the obvious. Well, obvious to me, anyway.
"So you do exist!" she said, giving me a glowing smile and offering her hand to me. "Nice to meet you, Jeff. I'm Felicia, Felicia Shepard."
It's late. I was almost dozing off as I let my mind wander back to my Academy days, back before flight school. I yawn and rub my eyes, debating whether or not I should go and get a fresh cup of coffee, when I hear the elevator door open. A set of light footsteps with hard-soled shoes walks through the CIC and up the bridge to the cockpit, bringing with them the smells of sugary, candy-like perfume and fresh coffee. Felicia never changes.
"You read my mind, Commander," I say, swiveling my seat to face her. "I was just thinking about going and getting a cup."
She scoffs. "What makes you think this cup is for you, flyboy?" She hands me a blue mug anyway, a playful smile on her lips.
"Thanks." I take the mug and sip it carefully. Ah, cream and sugar, just how I like it. "I was thinking about the Academy. You remember Pavlov?"
She smiles. "How could I forget Irena Pavlov? She's the one who started the Joker thing. God, what do you think happened to her? She was ancient then, and that was almost ten years ago."
"She's probably still telling her 21st century stories about iPads and the internet," I say. "You remember her lecture on hybrid cars?"
"The one that went on for three days and put us behind the other classes? Yeah," she says, smiling. Without any lipstick on, I can see the scar on her lip. Cerberus left that one behind, because Felicia's always been self-conscious about it and they didn't want to risk ruining her personality by removing it.
"How'd you get that, anyway? That scar on your lip?"
"What, this?" She asked, touching it. She brushed her fingertips over it for a second, almost unconsciously. "It's stupid, really. I got it Christmases ago, y'know, when I was visiting my family on Earth. My grandma's dog was so excited to see me he crashed into me and sent me flying face-first into the corner of a coffee table. I should've been pissed, but I loved that dog."
"Uh huh, sure" I said disbelievingly. It sounded like a perfectly good story, or at least a well-executed lie, retold a thousand times and rehearsed a thousand more. "I bet that's what you tell everyone. I bet it was something really stupid, embarrassing, too."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
I leaned in close to her, so she could hear me whisper over the din of the Academy mess hall. "I bet you were kissing a turian. No, wait, better yet: a vorcha."
"I can't believe he told you! That bastard," she said in mock offense, but without any real humor. "Fine, you've earned the right to really know. I haven't told anyone, not even my parents know what really happened. I told them I got hurt playing Soldiers and Aliens with the other kids."
She sighed. She was different from the other girls at the Academy, from all the other girls I'd ever known. She broke Moreau's Law not just that one time, but hundreds of other times after that. She sat with me at lunch, helped me with my things and held doors open for me and stuff. You know what? 'm man enough to admit that I totally had a crush on her.
She leaned across the table, closer to me than anyone but my parents and my doctors had ever been. I could smell her candy perfume, count all seventeen freckles on her nose, see little flecks of violet in her blue eyes, and of course, her scar.
"When I was twelve, I sneaked into the repair hangar of one of the ships my mother was serving on," she said quietly. "I had watched this old vid, and it hade something called a motorcycle in it. It was the coolest thing. Have you ever seen one, Jeff?" I told her I had, which was a lie. "I was always taking stuff apart and putting them back together, so I wanted to try building a motorcycle out of scrap from a wrecked Grizzly and spare parts from a Mako. I had no idea what I was doing, but the finished product looked right, so I gave it a go." She frowned and shook her head. "It didn't go well. I couldn't control it, because they have that manual steering mechanism thing, so I ended up crashing into the scrapped Grizzly face first. The motorcycle broke apart, and one of the handle things snapped off and hit me in the face, just for good karmic measure. I needed seven stitches in my lip and my front teeth repaired. Like I said: stupid, right?"
Me being me, I was surprised that she hadn't broken her whole face, so I stared at her in awe. She licked her lips, waiting for a reaction.
"That's not stupid," I told her. She looked surprised. "That's awesome."
She blushed. Actually, really blushed. I was kind of horrified but very satisfied by being able to get that kind of reaction from her. "You think so?"
"You built hundred-year old technology, crashed it into a tank, and lived to tell the tale," I told her. I never admitted it to her, but I thought it was kind of sexy. It's been one of my staple fantasies for going on ten years. "That's probably the coolest thing I've ever heard anyone our age do. No wonder you're up for N7 training."
"I dunno," she said. "I'm not sure if I'm cut out for N7. I mean, I'm an engineer, not a soldier. I'd rather hide behind a crate and send drones out after the bad guys than run at them guns blazing."
"You must have a hell of a drone if it's getting you looked at for N7, Felicia."
"I guess you're right," she sighed. She brushed her hair behind her ear. It was one of the only times I'd seen her without her customary foot-long ponytail. "Thanks, Jeff. You're a good friend."
She reached out and patted my shoulder. I tensed up at her touch, but she didn't notice. She got up and took both of our empty lunch trays to a recycling bin. Under the bright, sterile lights of the Academy's mess hall, I could see that her hair isn't actually black, but more of a black-coffee brown. It was that moment that I decided I wanted to be a caffeine addict.
"C'mon," she said, coming back to our table for our bags. "We're going to be late for Pavlov's class. We don't want to miss a moment of that, now do we?"
She said I was her friend, and a good one, too. I didn't know what to do with that, so I reached for my crutches and hobbled out of the mess beside her.
An older Felicia with a messy shag haircut appears right in front of me, one dark eyebrow arched. "Earth to FL Moreau."
"Jesus Christ, Felicia!" I jump so badly I almost spill the piping coffee all over myself.
"What?" she asks as she leans against the corner of my console, crossing her arms and ankles simultaneously. "You did it to yourself. I was trying to get your attention for five minutes." She smirks. "You were spacing out. No pun intended."
No, the pun was totally intended, and we both know it. She has a really terrible sense of humor sometimes. "What's so important that you have to interrupt my reminiscing?"
"Reminiscing?" Her face goes from amused to interested. "About what?"
"Nothing," I lie. She rolls her eyes, but lets it drop.
"Whatever. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I have a surprise for you,"but you have to let EDI take over for a few hours first, okay?"
"I'm not telling you until we get there," she says, stepping away from the flight console and disappearing behind my seat. "EDI, take the helm. Wake me when we're an hour out."
EDI's beach-ball-on-a-pedestal form appears next to me. "Of course, Shepard."
My mug vanishes from my hand. I look up, and find myself eye level with both coffee mugs and Felicia's chest. My mouth goes as dry as Rahkana's deserts.
"Log Jeff out for the next few hours, so he has no choice but go sleep," Felicia says, eyeing me knowingly. EDI complies silently, the console pinging quietly as it switches into auto-pilot. "I expect you to be suited up by 0800 tomorrow, okay?"
"Uh-huh," is all I can manage. Since when have overalls been sexy?
"I mean it."
I'm sure she frowns, because she scoffs and disappears behind my seat without another word. I twist around to watch her, hot, bothered, and confused. Felicia's my best friend, was my first and only friend for a long time. I might've had a crush on her back at the Academy, but since the SR-1 she's been more like a sister to me. I've never actually been thankful for being an only child, but I am right now, because it would be weird (and creepy) if I checked out my sister the way I'm checking out Felicia.
"Stop looking at my ass, Jeff."
Yeah, I'm totally glad she's not my sister.