A/N: Bioware owns all. Strictly for personal amusement.
Rated: M for language and sexual content
I started this project because I was annoyed at the ME3 ending just as everyone else. A writing teacher in college once told me a great way to generate ideas was to play the "what if" game. So, instead of doing a fix-it, I opted for a different reality full of "what ifs".
While this story is based in the ME universe and will seem familiar, there will be some artistic license taken with characters, personalities, and their ages.
This is the first piece I have ever written consisting of any length and plan to update regularly as I already have quite a few chapters completed. Any comments are welcome. Enjoy.
The first chapter title is courtesy of the wonderful Sarah McLachlan.
Chapter 1 – Into the Fire
Omega – Aria T'Loak's Office
Aria T'Loak was more smitten with herself than usual today and that was a rarity. She was the undisputed Queen of Omega which was not bad considering she started her life there at the club she now owns, shaking her ass with the other asari maidens. A few carefully plotted murders turned the tide in her favor and now she commanded power and respect even if the majority was out of fear. At first everyone underestimated her fortune as dumb luck. Being the mistress of manipulation that she was, she played along with their ignorance until they succumbed to her will through their own realization or death. Her reputation for discretion and results now garnered dealings with some of the most prominent and respected members of every species. And today Aria was going all in with one of her most valuable assets.
The door to her office opened and a slender young human strutted inside. She carried herself with an air of self-assuredness bordering on arrogance at times. "Shepard, prompt as usual. Help yourself to a drink. There should be some left unless you finished it the last time you were here. No one else drinks that but you," said Aria as she leaned back in her chair preparing for the show.
Shepard walked over and poured herself some Thessian fruit juice into a chilled glass. She closed her eyes as she always did during the first sip and enjoyed the moment as the sweetness stimulated her tongue and ran down her throat.
"Do you have to do that every time? You look like you are about to come when you drink that shit. I swear you do it on purpose." Shepard ignored her. "And you still wonder why I want to get between your legs." Aria was both frustrated and amused but she always made sure she had the beverage available.
"You didn't bring me here to hit on me in that outfit did you?" Shepard shot back at her. She was feeling unusually feisty today for some reason. Aria's advances had become so frequent over the years, it no longer fazed her.
"I have a proposition for you, Shepard. You have a little more than 16 months left on our contract. I've been approached by someone looking for a person of your expertise and standards, though I have done my best to corrupt you." She shook her head in mild annoyance. "They need to hire a so-called babysitter for one year. Relax, she would only be considered young by Asari standards, no diapers. I won't lie to you though, it will be boring as shit. But it pays well, you get to see the galaxy, and your debt is clear with me."
Shepard's eyebrows furrowed. "What's the catch? No way you just give me up like that."
"See that's why you are the only one for the job. You're smart and you're my best. You have already made me more than double the creds owed on your contract. You hid and secured my accounts. You are loyal and you always get the job done right." Truth be told, Aria would not have given up her protégé under any other circumstance. She liked Shepard as much as Aria could like anyone despite the human possessing some sort of moral compass. "A very influential Matriarch wants you to keep an eye on her daughter. She agreed to finance the kid's little scholarly expeditions in exchange for a bodyguard. That's where you come in Shepard. I get a lot of credits now and I get to trade in the one favor you owe me for multiples down the road." She had prior dealings with the Matriarch and knew the power she wielded as well as the measure of her word. Aria needed to make this deal happen, so she made the one offer Shepard would never refuse, her freedom.
Shepard momentarily closed her eyes drifting into a memory from a little less than four years ago when Aria walked into her holding cell at Chicago lockup back on Earth. Shepard was an elite hacker even then at the age of 18, great with as gun, and Aria desired her skills. The fact that she was young would make her easy to mold, or so Aria thought. Two hours later, they walked out together after the charges were dropped on a mysterious technicality. Shepard may not be in jail, but she was serving her sentence to Aria in exchange for her freedom. "And my favor to you is wiped clear too?" she asked.
Aria just nodded, trying to hold back the smugness she felt, knowing Shepard was doing exactly what she needed her to do.
"Okay I will do it" the human replied while standing up and heading over to the bar to put her empty glass down.
"Not so fast. If it was as easy as me selling your talents, we'd already be celebrating with a couple of dancers for your bon voyage." Shepard just raised an eyebrow at her in response. "The Matriarch wants to meet you. She's waiting in the other room."
"Well at least it explains why you aren't showing off your tits." Shepard took a deep breath. "Send her in, Aria, let's get this over."
Aria looked at her seriously for once, "Don't fuck with her, Jaye. You have no idea how cunning asari Matriarchs can be." She paused for a moment. "Just sell it like you're from Noveria. This can be beneficial for both of us." She then reached for her omni-tool and hoped for the best.
Shepard stood facing the rear entrance with her arms clasped behind her back. This could be her ticket off the cesspool that was Omega with a clean slate and she wanted to make damn sure she did not fuck it up. As the Asari entered the room and met her eyes, Shepard tilted her chin slightly to the side then bowed her head in a show of respect, keeping her eyes closed until she finished the gesture.
Aria took the lead and introduced her guest. "Shepard this is Matriarch Benezia T'Soni. Matriarch, may I present Jaye Shepard, the one I believe can fulfill your request." It still amazed Shepard how Aria can go from acting and sounding like a two-credit hooker to a diplomat in the blink of an eye. It was something she emulated from day one of their relationship.
The Asari elder stared intently at Shepard who matched her gaze. "That is yet to be established, Mistress T'Loak. Sit down child. There is much to discuss."
Shepard slightly nodded but kept eye contact as much as possible as she sat down. She was not sure if she had read something on the extranet about dealing with Asari Matriarchs or if her instincts had kicked in, but acting intimidated was not an option.
Benezia positioned herself directly in front of Shepard leaning against Aria's desk while encompassing most of her line of vision. She was making sure this was to be a true interview without any possible coaching. Her face looked, well matriarchal with lines showing centuries of aging. For all the clothing Aria decided to wear today, Benezia did not. Maybe she would suggest to Aria later on to order something similar for the dancers in Afterlife.
"Let me get to the point. My daughter is a scientist and wishes me to fund her science expeditions. As accomplished as she is with biotics and weapons, she is naive of the dangers that her travels will no doubt uncover while she digs in the dirt. I am willing to let her pursue this rebellion and even fund it until she gets this silliness out of her system and is ready to begin training as my heir. She is my only daughter and I wish to make sure she lives to see that day. I have read your qualifications and we would not be here unless they were … satisfactory. So tell me, child, are you the one I should entrust my daughters safety to?'
"Knowing you read my … qualifications, you may have noticed that even though I am considered young by even human standards, my experience is hardly that of a child." Shepard's heart was racing as the challenging words escaped her lips accompanied by a very level but amiable tone. She swore she saw a momentary crack in the Matriarch's face and continued. "I assure you, I learned more about survival before the age of 16 than most do in a lifetime, human or otherwise."
Benezia's weight shifted back slightly yet her face remained stoic. "And if I asked you from time to time to update me, as your employer, on my daughter's status and experiences, what would you say?"
"No. Loyalty can not be split. If you want me to protect your daughter, then I only answer to her," Shepard fired off without hesitation.
Benezia reflected the pace, beginning a quick exchange between the two. "And your loyalty to Aria? You have worked with her for years."
"Once again I return to the information you obviously studied, my loyalty is unblemished. If we decide to pursue this contract, I will no longer work for Aria."
"And after the one year is up, will you then provide me a full report?"
"No, whatever I see and hear stays with me." After a near encounter with jail time and numerous hacking jobs for Aria, Shepard quickly learned the necessity of encrypting information even from herself.
"All mercenaries say the same thing and yet they all seem to have a price. What is yours?"
Shepard's cockiness came shining through, "I am one of the best hackers you will ever find. I have unlimited credits and luxuries at the tips of my fingers just ready to take. I don't need others to provide that for me."
"So what does drive you, Shepard?" The use of her actual name was not lost on the human.
"One day a powerful Matriarch and her daughter will remember who delivered on her promise."
Benezia looked over Shepard's head and clapped her hands together, actually laughing. "Aria you have taught this one well. No wonder you are asking me for such a high price for her services. But alas she has some manners. She did not demand favors like you, she only asked."
Shepard spoke up immediately. "Excuse me but with all due respect," I do miss you Ash, "Aria's way is her own, and it suits her. I do not ask nor do I demand favors for a later date. However I know you will provide them, because I will earn it."
"Indeed," replied Benezia as she nodded her head ever so slightly. "Fear not Shepard, my daughter is nothing like me. She is a sweet girl who is obsessed with history and archeology. I need you because she sometimes gets so focused she does not see the big picture. She has spent much of her maiden years in isolation and what little interaction she has had, has been with her own species. Please do not hold that against her.
"You are to meet her tomorrow afternoon and begin your one year commitment; Aria will provide you with the details. She has also provided me with your account number and you will receive a generous fee each week and an immediate bonus to get started for your, as you humans say, spunk. After the one year is up, we shall speak again." She held out her hand as a gesture to the human who stood and shook it, still meeting her gaze. "It has been a pleasure, Shepard" and with a nod to Aria, the Matriarch walked out.
Shepard turned around and leaned back against the desk, pleased at the results of the meeting. Aria just stood there looking at the girl in stunned silence for a few seconds before finally speaking. "Nice krogan balls, Shepard. What the fuck was that?"