A room with a view. It wasn't much, but it was all Shepard ever asked for. The small porthole in the side of her lodgings was very likely an Intrastellar Wonder as the smallest window known to man, but it was enough. Enough to see Earth, that shithole, in all its smog and cloud-covered glory. Enough to remind her why she'd joined the Alliance. Enough to keep her from thinking about going back.
Instinctively, she tugged on the collar of her navy blues, though there was no level five pollution warning, no reason to wear a mask as she trudged through smoke beneath acid rains. She hadn't known any better at the time. There hadn't been a reason to ask if the air was any good when it was all there was to breathe. But now she knew, and she'd never go back.
The L5 station was as close as she got. The custom's checkpoint for tourists coming in from the Charon relay. Packed to burst with aliens and confiscated contraband, you could hardly take two steps without being mowed down by an overzealous elcor eager to see its first human, your head ringing with the almost imperceptible hum of a translator as a salarian asked if you really didn't have a cloaca, an asari patting you on the shoulder for being unable to reproduce with another woman, of all things.
The station reminded her why she'd left Earth. It also reminded her why she didn't go anywhere else.
Shepard threw herself down on the small cot in her quarters and opened her omnitool. The accelerometers in her fingers itched, and she scratched at them with her thumb. Her omnitool unfortunately read the motion as the zoom function and it was staring very intently at an engorged "e" by the time she realized what she was doing.
Sighing, she spasmed her hand until she had zoomed out again and checked her archived message. Being archived, it hadn't changed, and no matter how much she glared at it, it still refused to do so.
Shepard smacked her omnitool off and rubbed the back of her neck, wondering idly what she was going to do now that her plans had been ruined. You didn't have any, a voice that sounded conspicuously like her own reminded her.
Granted, the short week she'd have to spend on the station wouldn't be the worst shore-leave she'd ever had…
Her personal terminal rudely interrupted her reflections, and she rolled off the bed and fell onto the floor. The impact shot through her knees and sent a shock of pain through her. With impromptu annoyance, she blamed the caller rather than her impatience. Crawling over to the table, she took stock of the call and quickly took it all back.
"Shepard here," She announced with an irrational amount of guilt. Somehow, she always felt as if Steven knew what she was thinking.
"Shepard, this is Admiral Hackett with Alliance command," The familiar voice, layered with warmth and age, announced needlessly. Who else from Arcturus would contact her? "I take it you're aware of your coming transfer to the Normandy?"
And how her shore leave had been cut short. Again. "Yes, sir," was all Shepard said.
"I won't bother reminding you you'll be upholding the Alliance's image in front of a representative of the Council." Hackett continued, doing just that. "I see you cleared your last psyche evaluation within respectable parameters."
"Expecting less from a less than respectable soldier?" Shepard snapped before her brain caught up with her mouth and clamped it shut.
"Careful Shepard," Steven's reprimands always sounded like sighs, as if he was always expecting less. "This is a multilateral mission. The Alliance needs you on board and at your best. I need to know you have no conflicts working outside your comfort zone."
"With all due respect, sir, I don't have a comfort zone." Liar.
"… Ste-Hackett." She blurted before he could hang up, "Admiral. Sir… you aren't making sure everyone is on board and at their best, are you?"
"You already know the answer to that question. Lately, Shepard…" He stopped. They both knew how her mission reports came back. Merciless. "You get the job done. I'm just making sure you remember what that job is."
"… I get the feeling there's a lot to this particular 'job'. Sir."
"You didn't hear it from me. Hackett out."
The terminal blinked "Call Ended," merrily at her. Shepard sighed and dropped her head through the holographic keyboard and to the table. She didn't like being kept in the dark. She didn't like a lot of things. Like missing out on her shore leave, being known for xenophobic gang affiliations, or disappointing her mentor with her methods, to name a few.
She stayed that way until her neck began to protest and sat up, rotating her head around on her shoulders. She massaged the back of her neck then ran a hand through her hair. She had to dye it black again. A natural red, a genetic mutation that was nothing short of miraculous when even blonde was rare. You were born one of us, Finch's voice leered in the back of her mind. She shut it out.
She was not a xenophobe. If anything she was a xenophile. She liked aliens. She knew a lot about aliens.
You know how to kill them, returned a voice in the back of her head.
Shepard ignored it. Standing up abruptly she paced about the room, feeling cagey. A shakedown run that wasn't a shakedown run. A warning that wasn't a warning. She pulled at her Alliance blues and felt uncomfortable. Red's your color. Shepard stripped before she realized what she was doing, then stood stupidly and nakedly in the middle of her rented room.
Digging through the chest embedded in the wall she pulled out a similar outfit, only black. Only better. Changed and decidedly more comfortable, she stared back out the impossibly small window at Earth.
She was more than capable of working with aliens. She spent her shore leave with aliens. You spend your shore leave near aliens, the voice corrected her. Shepard shook her head. She needed to get out of this room. She should go. Go where?
Keying the lock on her door, she left her room and wandered idly throughout the halls of the station. It wasn't as though Terra Firma banners hung from the hotel she'd chosen, even if it was mostly populated by humans. And why not? This was a human station.
Walls of cold metal and plastic glittered with holographic banners, giving directions to shuttles to Earth, Mars, Charon, and other locations. Others advertised shopping centers and kiosks filled with half-assed souvenirs, levo-amino only bars, and all the other wonders of an interstellar airport.
Shepard had almost convinced herself she was as alien-friendly as the L5 station when she stepped onto the nearest elevator and was greeted with a proudly shimmering Terra Firma sign that seemed as obscene as an old world Nazi symbol.
Thus, she found herself standing at the doors to OmniTonic, the only bar on the station that boasted drinks for every known alien race. The small space on the station was rented out to an enterprising volus (which seemed an oxymoron) and the best - only - place she could think of to prove to herself she had an open mind and a closed past.
The dance floor was littered with psyotic users, shifting through the colors of the rainbow in tune with the music. The pulse of the bass quickly settled on her heart, and she shuffled awkwardly through the dance floor to reach a better spot to scope the scene. Strobe lights lit up the particles lingering on the air and danced across alien skins.
Volus were out, obviously. An elcor was swaying drunkenly nearby, and Shepard had to smother a laugh at the thought of how many water-cooler conversations she could kill with that one. Asari… too blue, too easy. A salarian was fidgeting by the bar, and just remembering her earlier thoughts on them made her shudder.
This was ridiculous. So she had no interest in other species. That wasn't xenophobic, it was biological. And if she didn't know any aliens it was simply because she'd never had the chance. You have one now, the previously prejudice voice argued. Traitor.
Go out, meet an alien, make a fool of yourself, and go to sleep with a clear conscience. Except there was no one here she wanted to meet. Well if Shepard couldn't sleep easy maybe she just wouldn't sleep at all-and she just realized what that implied.
Grumbling to herself, she shouldered her way to the bar when she noticed what-who, damnit, who- was beside the salarian. A turian sat hunched and growling over his omnitool, emerald eyes glaring. White face paint adorned an annoyed face and a half-finished drink was at his side. He tugged once on the collar of his simple black shirt as if it were suffocating him, before force-quitting his omnitool altogether.
Shepard was immediately struck by how familiar it all was. The voice was dead silent. No basic training on turian weak-points and choke holds came to mind, no alien or enemy insults. Not quite aware of what she was doing, Shepard threw herself onto the stool next to him. Just another person, another omnitool, another…
"Bad day?" She asked with a smile. The turian glanced up at her intrusion. He was red...
And red was her color.