The Adventures of James Vega and Sergeant Whiskers
I don't own Bioware
Chapter One: Be Seeing You Starside
(A/N: Written due to the AWESOME Sgt. Whiskers meme on the James Vega support thread on the Bioware forum.)
ALLIANCE COLONY: BRIGHT OUTREACH
OCTOBER 17TH, 2184
3RD RAPID RESPONSE REGIMENT
10TH MARINE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
Service Chief James Vega had seen some terrible things in his time. The Relief of Eden Prime...with bodies stacked like firewood...and those were the lucky ones. The husks...screaming and throwing themselves at the marines...being forced to gun them down to protect himself and his squad.
Acting as a disaster relief force after the geth hit the Citadel hadn't been pretty either. He still had nightmares about that day, disembarking from the Tarawa and having a badly wounded salarian dalatress forced into his arms, her bodyguards practically hysterical with grief and worry. The green blood coating his arms...the stench of the dead forcing its way down his nostrils...throwing up his breakfast when he discovered the mangled remains of a hanar diplomatic group outside the Citadel Tower. A mother's heartbroken scream as James gently removed the crushed body of her little daughter from the ruins of a performance hall.
James had been happy to get off the Citadel and back to his regiment. It was...far less disturbing. Seeing civilians, innocents, dead...murdered, hurt him. As a soldier, he had fought for his life before, and expected to do it again, but that was his job. These things that he did were so that others would live. Now, it seemed that he failed again.
Bright Outreach had been a small colony. It hadn't even rated a full garrison division. Just a scattered brigade and a small militia. The slavers had struck fast. Batarian-made scout fighters had strafed the barracks and Triple A turrets, removing the colony's meagre defences instantly. The SSV Tarawa and her sister ships had responded with all possible speed, but they were an hour too late to do any good, and James knew it. Ten thousand colonists dead or missing. Settlements firebombed, survivors scattered in the hills, hiding in drainage systems, or well armed enough to fend off the day long siege carried out by the raiders.
A bad day. The Kokoda and Tobruk were trying to chase down the slavers, and they'd get some of them, but the rest would vanish, to re-appear on the open market at a later date.
"Spread out! I want any survivors escorted to the LZ for medical assessment and debriefing! Let's hustle!" The orders he gave felt hollow on his lips. There would be a few survivors. Not many, but a few. Some scared kids who'd never see their parents again. Some who'd been out hunting or exploring, too far from the settlements to be noticed. Even some who were fast and clever enough to outrun and outsmart the slavers and their varren. And some...
James felt something scratching at his leg. Lowering his gaze, he saw a small, ginger-furred kitten propping itself up against his boot. It stared up at him with wide green eyes, head cocked at a curious angle.
"Hey there little guy," he began to reach down to scoop up the 'survivor'. "Good thing you've got all those nine lives, huh?"
With a hiss, the kitten darted out of his reach and took off between the rows of burning prefabs.
"What the...hey, come back here!" James sprinted after it, slightly aware of how ridiculous he must look in full combat armour, chasing after a ball of orange fuzz. "Where are you going?"
Despite his bulk, James was a fast runner. His long legs outstripped the frantic patter of the kitten's feet. But his quarry was nimble and energetic. It was a quarter mile before James finally snatched his target off the ground.
"Now then," James was almost ashamed to admit that he was slightly out of breath. He brought the kitten up to his face. "What's with all the running, huh?"
Without a second's hesitation, the kitten swiped its paw across Vega's exposed face, just above his chin guard. Tiny claws scratched his lip and shocked him into dropping his captive. Landing on his feet, the kitten dashed ten feet into the open door of a pre-fab.
"Now come on!" James was beginning to get irritated by this. He had better things to be doing than chasing cats, he was more of a dog person anyway. He turned to leave...then turned right back again and marched towards the pre-fab. James Vega was not going to be beaten by a cat. Ever.
Entering the pre-fab, he removed his helmet and squinted around. The sun was beginning to set, though the flames of the burning buildings still provided enough light to see by.
"There you are," Vega spotted the kitten scratching at a fallen support beam on the floor. "Come here, you little..."
Before his gloved hand could seize his opponent, the kitten disappeared through a gap between the beam and some kind of trap door underneath it. Emergency shelter? Well, it was worth taking a look.
Bending over, James tried shoving the beam out of the way. It refused to budge. He tried pulling it over. It didn't move. He tried lifting it. It shifted slightly, then settled back into place. Critically, he examined the situation. Hopeless. No way he could move that out of the way. Probably weighed half a ton, they built these pre-fabs to last.
"Ah, fine, you don't want any help, you're welcome to stay here," James snorted, standing up again.
Again, those little green eyes stared at him, this time from the gap.
"Are you coming up?"
"Fine!" Stubbornness was Vega's biggest strength...and weakness. The unwillingness to admit defeat, even when it was clearly going to happen. It had earned him several commendations during training, and had saved his life more than once. It had also gotten him into trouble more times than he cared to count.
James reassessed the situation. Okay, the beam didn't look too heavy, it was just wedged in pretty tight. Squatting down, he assumed a standard lifting stance. Legs apart, back straight, and arms in close to maximise lifting power. He was ready to begin.
In the Marines, you got a different training schedule according to your MOS number. James was 11-Bravo Hotel. Heavy Assault Infantry. That meant he got three hours per day to exercise, and a special nutrition plan to maximise his protein intake and energy levels. He had been heavily built as a kid, the bruiser in high school football and ice hockey. Vega had learned to strike a balance between upper and lower body strength. He was heavy enough to go toe to toe with a krogan (an unavoidable bar fight on the Citadel had proven that), but light enough to move fast on his feet and hump a seventy pound combat load up a cliff, with the footing of a mountain goat.
Vega never used performance enhancers, and he personally dealt with anyone he caught using them. He got his build through healthy eating and relentless exercise. Hard work got you far in life, steroids got you a 'wall to wall counselling' session with the Company Operations Chief.
The beam was initially resistant to his efforts, he could only use his gloved finger tips under the edges, limiting his ability to exert force. But just like the heavy weights back on the Tarawa, it began to rise. When he got it to knee height, he shifted his right hand to get a better grip. For a split second, he held a hundred and fifty kilograms in the fingertips of his left hand. Then he slipped his right hand underneath, with one final heave, shoved it out of the way.
Taking a few seconds to flex his fingers, Vega slipped a monocular Night Operating Device over his right eye, then stepped down the trapdoor. He found himself in a basement like room, with emergency supplies lining the wall. A safe room, probably built by the occupants of the pre-fab, meant to be used by them and their neighbours in a raid.
The smell of blood, both fresh and dried, assailed his senses. "Hey, anyone down here?" Vega cautiously took a step forward.
There. Pushing aside some fallen boxes of pre-packaged MREs, Vega finally saw the kitten...and a brown haired kid lying face down on the floor with two bloody patches on his back.
"Shit!" He knelt down next to the boy and gently eased him over. "Can you hear me? Kid?"
Eyelids fluttered open. Brown, pain filled eyes, squinted at him. "Y-y-yeah? Who are you?"
"Vega, Service Chief Vega," James reached for his first aid kit. Medi-gel and a blood transfusion would be necessary right now. The kid had been shot a while ago, but the bullets must have missed the major arteries, or he would already be dead. "You're safe now."
"We were celebrating Foundation Day," the boy whispered. "W-w-we were outside, Mommy was laughing. Then they told me to run. Everyone started screaming."
"Just don't move," Vega injected two medi-gel capsules right above the entry wounds. He could see another patch of blood on the kid's stomach. An exit wound. That was alright, he could still fix everything. "What's your name?"
"Well, Colin, you're a very brave young man to make it all the way here," Vega injected a third capsule. He had to trust that the gel would do its work...and that the internal damage wasn't too severe. "Did you have a secret way here?"
"Yeah," Colin seemed cheered up by the compliment. But he was pale, deathly pale. "Whiskers and I were playing soldiers when we found a sneaky route underneath the pre-fabs. We pretend that I'm Commander Shepard and he's Commander Alenko, stopping the geth from taking over the Colony. Millie sometimes plays with us too, she's Gunnery Chief Williams."
He frowned again. "But I always save Whi-Alenko and Williams. I couldn't let Millie die, then we can't stop Saren together."
"No, you couldn't," Vega agreed. He ran a medical scan using his omni tool, the blood loss was severe. He needed a trauma unit, STAT. But just picking him up could kill him. "Listen. Remember in the vids? When Commander Shepard got hurt after she beat Saren at the Citadel?"
"Well, she was roughed up pretty bad, just like you," Vega winked. "But as tough as she was, she needed some help. So she let Commander Alenko help her along. How 'bout we pretend that you're Commander Shepard, and I'm Commander Alenko helping you to the LZ?"
"That'd be fun," Colin trembled slightly as Vega eased him up.
"You sure?" Vega warned. "It's gonna hurt. It'd take a real badass to make it all the way there."
"I can do it," Colin stopped shaking. Determination entered his eyes. "I'm a badass."
"Hell yeah you are," Vega slowly stood up, cradling the child in his arms. "Now hold on, we'll be at the LZ in no time."
For a weaker man, getting up the ladder using one hand to support an injured kid would have been difficult. Not for Vega. He pulled himself and Colin up with ease, keeping Colin as comfortable as possible.
He wanted to sprint all the way back to the LZ, but that would definitely kill the kid. Instead, he stuck with a swift walking pace, avoiding anything that could bump, jolt, or trip him.
"Chief? Where the hell have you been!" 2nd Lieutenant Mustafa Badrayn paled as he saw what Vega was carrying. "Oh fuck..."
"I need a medivac now sir," Vega gently insisted. "And a stretcher."
Although a rookie officer, Badrayn was an efficient young man. OCS encouraged efficiency. In ten seconds, the order had gone out for a Kodiak to come in for a medivac. In thirty, Colin was eased onto a stretcher, with a medic inserting an IV into his arm to try and replace the blood he had lost. A human could lose a lot of blood and survive. Sometimes a man could lose more than half, and still survive. Vega was not a religious man, but Badrayn was. Vega noticed him drawing a string of prayer beads from a side pouch, and felt strangely grateful to the officer for calling in any divine favours he had coming to him.
"Mr. Vega," Colin murmured. "I feel cold. And it's dark."
"It's getting onto night time, Colin," James grabbed a thermal blanket from the medical supplies and draped it over the child. "Your medevac's coming soon. They're going to take you up to the Tarawa. She's a good ship, fought at the Citadel. Got the battle scars to prove it. Should be fun, huh?"
"I-I dunno," Colin blinked. "I just...want to sleep. Can I sleep Mister Vega?"
"You could," James nodded sympathetically. "But I've got to ask you first."
"Well you see, the Marines are always looking for good, tough troops. We got a big job to do, looking after colonists, fighting geth, chasing pirates. It's just about the best thing a human can be," James leaned in and whispered. "How would you like to join us?"
"What?" Colin's drooping eyelids opened again. "What do you mean?"
"How'd you like to be a Marine?"
"You mean when I grow up?"
"No, right now," James pointed up at the sky. "Rear Admiral Mikhailovich is up there right now on the El Alamein. I called him and told him about you. He said if you were as good as that, then we needed you to start right away."
"Gee..." Colin seemed awestruck at Vega's little white lie. "Aren't I too young? I'm nine."
"You're pretty big for a nine year old," Vega leaned back. "We wouldn't send you on missions straight away of course. You'd need to do some training."
"That sounds...really good," Colin began drifting again.
"That's great!" Vega raised his voice slightly. Colin opened his eyes at the noise. "All I have to do is swear you in. Raise your right hand."
Colin weakly lifted his palm.
"Now say after me: I, Colin..."
"I, Colin Palmer."
"To serve, protect, and defend humanity."
"To serve, protect, and defend humanity." The pain and confusion cleared away from Colin's eyes. His body was inducing endorphins, the body's own 'feel good' medication, as a response to the pride and confidence that was growing with each sentence.
"Against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
"Against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
"Though it costs me my life to do so."
"Though it costs me my life to do so."
"So help me, God."
"So help me, God."
"By the power granted me by Admiral Mikhailovich, I hereby grant you the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Systems Alliance Marine Corps," Vega removed his unit's insignia, a dagger imposed over a field of stars, and placed it in Colin's hand. "You are ordered to report to the SSV Tarawa for medical treatment. Congratulations, sir."
"Thanks, Chief," Colin managed a smile. The smile broadened as his kitten jumped up onto the stretcher with him. "What about Whiskers? He did a good job of bringing you to help me."
"I almost forgot about Whiskers," Vega lifted the kitten off the stretcher. "Well, the krogan use varren as scouts. I don't see why we shouldn't do the same with our animals. Whiskers?"
The kitten turned its attention to him. Vega narrowed his eyes. "Whiskers, do you swear to be a brave soldier? Carry out all orders I give to you? Never turn your back on the enemy? And perform your duties and conduct yourself in a manner as befits a Marine?"
"Then I induct you into the Marine Corps, with the rank of Brevet Sergeant," Vega scratched behind the kitten's ears. "You are hereby transferred to my squad, as Chief Scout and Tracker. I'll be putting you in for a commendation for Search and Rescue."
Colin giggled slightly. Vega allowed himself a private grin. "Here comes your ride now, sir."
The blue and white painted Kodiak swept in over the pre-fabs, setting down in the centre of the LZ. Four medics jumped out of and scuttled over to Vega and Colin.
"This the casualty?" The female Operations Chief gestured at Colin. Vega nodded.
"Careful with him, Chief, we've got a wounded officer here," James pointed at his friend. "2nd Lieutenant Colin Palmer. Took some wounds to his back, lost a lot of blood. He's one of our best, never fails his missions."
The medic, a matronly woman with three kids of her own, acknowledged Vega's sentence with a broad wink. "Gotcha, we'll take damn good care of him. Whip him up to the Tarawa and have him right as rain in no time. Don't know how the Doc is gonna keep all the nurses off him though."
"You'll manage," Vega walked by the side of the stretch as it was smoothly clipped into place on the Kodiak. He came to attention, and then saluted Colin. "Be seeing you star side, sir!"
Colin shakily returned the salute. "Be seeing you star side...chief."
MARINE TROOP TRANSPORT
Staff Commander Willard stepped into the barracks. His step was slower than usual. He had seen many things as the CO of the Tarawa. Five colonies completely obliterated, six including today. He was old, arthritic, and ready to retire. He'd miss the action, the excitement of command. But finding some peace in his old age had more appeal to him than a thousand commands.
"Service Chief Vega?"
The shaggy haired squad leader poked his head up from amongst the racks. He bent down again and shoved his duffel bag under the bunk. "Yes sir?"
"I want to talk to you for a minute."
"No one else here, sir," Vega gestured around the barracks. Normally fitting a hundred and forty Marines, it felt almost cavernous with most of the Tarawa's complement ground side, and the rest scattered between the armoury and the mess hall. "What do you need?"
"That kid you sent up here, Colin Palmer," Willard hesitated. "He died in surgery, Chief. The doctors did all they could, but he lost too much blood, his internal systems were compromised by infection. He...he went out peacefully. They said he wasn't feeling any pain."
"Yes sir," Vega fought back a sudden urge to cry. All that work...that brave little kid...just gone. Suck it up you sentimental moron! "Does he have any living family?"
"I'm afraid not," Willard looked away. "The kid was a street orphan. We fostered a whole bunch of kids out to colony worlds, give them a better chance at life. His foster parents loved him, his social worker said he was happy, very happy. But, no, there's no one to claim the body now."
"I see." Vega exhaled quietly.
Willard had always marvelled at the phenomenon. Anyone looking at Vega would consider him a hardass. An ugly, brutish man with a square jaw, he looked like something a child would check their closet for each night. The reality was a shocking thing indeed. "We'll bury him in space, Chief. You made him a Marine, we'll take care of him like he was one of our own."
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir," Vega blinked several times. "Will that be all, sir?"
"Not quite," Willard looked pointedly at the corner of a duffel bag poking out from the underside of Vega's bunk. "I trust proper decontamination procedures were followed when you came on board?"
"Yes sir," Vega managed to keep a straight face. "All member of my team were thoroughly cleaned off."
"That's good," Willard took a step forward. "And Vega?"
"If I don't see it, it was never on board. But if I see it, I'll bust you down to Private Second Class and assign you to shining my boots. Clear?"
"Yes sir, absolutely sir." Vega's spine was ramrod straight as Willard turned and left. As soon as his footsteps faded, Vega bent down and slid his duffel bag back out. Running his hand along the seal, he grinned as a tiny orange head poked itself out. "Well, Sergeant Whiskers, welcome to your new home."
A/N: I am almost painfully ashamed that I saw the invention of the Sgt. Whiskers meme over on the Bioware Forums (Basically, they speculated that Vega, the new character in Mass Effect 3 probably has a cat) and was inspired to write this in three hours. My humble apologies to my regular readers waiting for updates on Changing Fate and The Siege of Shanxi.