Mama,

It took me a long time to decide how to start this letter, and I hope it wasn't a waste...I hope you're actually reading this.

I know we parted on bad terms, and I know I was the one who said I'd never speak to you again, but I almost died today. The rest of my squad did. And that kind of thing makes it really hard to tell yourself that you were right, you were justified, in breaking all ties to someone you love and may never see again. I hear stories from other soldiers, shipped out with an unresolved fight, unspoken crush, or unborn child. Some of those people died, and I just can't let things end that way with my own mother. So I was wrong, if that's what you want to hear, but more than that I just want to settle things between us. I want to be your daughter more than I want to be right.

I ended it with Deala. Not because of what you said, but because of what she did. She told me - and I can't decide to laugh or cry when I remember it - she told me she doesn't believe in war. That there are always other ways to deal with problems, that she's glad the asari chose not to commit their fleets outside their own space, and that - of all things - perhaps it's possible to reason with the Reapers. She'd said things like that before, but never quite that bone-headed. The way things are now, telling a soldier you don't believe in war is like telling the lifeguard you don't believe in water while you're in the middle of drowning. I don't agree that she's like that just because she's asari, but I guess you were right about her being wrong for me. It makes me a little glad for this endless war...otherwise we'd probably have had kids by now.

But I didn't write you to talk about Deala. I really just wanted to let you know that I'm alright, and that I love you. Things are rough, but I knew they would be when I signed up. I hope you're not still mad about that too, because although sometimes it seems like the worst decision I've ever made, it was either that or spend the rest of my life working for some jerk who just wants to make money off of a damn Reaper invasion. At least I feel like I'm useful out here.

I feel like there's more I should say, but I can't think of anything.

I really hope I hear back from you.

With all my love,
Paz


Mama,

It was so good to hear back from you, you have no idea. I'm sorry it took so long to write back, I've been jumping straight from one hot spot to the next for what seems like years now.

I'm glad that Papi and my tios and cousins are all doing okay. Give everyone my love...except Ramon. Tell him that if he joins up I'll hunt him down and hand-deliver his medical discharge with the butt of my rifle. I may not be good for anything but grunt work and fighting, but that boy's a genius and there's no way I'm going to let him risk that brilliance on some grimy firebase. Somebody will put Grissom Academy back together one of these days, but in the meantime he'd be much more useful working with some of the scientists on the Citadel...I heard there's some new research on portable shield generators going on. That'd be pretty useful, so tell him if he wants to help me out, he can stick to things like that.

As for my work, I can't really tell you very many details...they read my mail, for security purposes I'm told. Hey, guy reading my letter to my mom, how are you today? Anyway, the gist is that we're deployed in small teams to retake or fortify important positions. Usually it's a fast drop - even we don't usually know where we're going or who we're fighting until they're kicking us out of the transport - followed by one long firefight, punctuated with various sorts of top-secret objectives and trying not to get killed. Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have said that. I don't want to worry you. It's not usually horrible, although it would be better if the units were more stable. On the other hand, it's harder to get emotional over losing people you've only worked with once or twice. Either way it's not like I get to make the decisions...I'm just a soldier, after all.

All I can do is hope that sooner or later, the magical Commander Shepard will do whatever it is that magical commanders do and end this whole mess once and for all. In the meantime, I'm hanging in there.

All my love,
Paz


Mama,

I never imagined I'd be happier to hear from you than last time, but I definitely am. After two weeks I was pretty worried, and then I went off-duty again and finally heard the news about the attack on the Citadel. They never tell us that kind of stuff when we're on...I guess they want to keep our heads in the game. I'm glad nobody was hurt too bad. Tell Papi I love him and that I'll never forgive him if he dies because he won't listen to the damn doctors. He's a sociologist, not a soldier. And tell Ramon he's doing the right thing. I'd rather have him backing me up with better shields than with a gun.

You're really curious about my work, aren't you? Well, I asked around and the corporal says I really already told you everything I can about what I actually do. I can answer your other questions, though. The teams change because every situation needs something different. I don't always work with strangers, in fact for a few months I was actually working with the same team on every mission. We worked well together and got along pretty well too, so it was a big shock to hop in a transport one day and come face-to-face with a couple of salarians and some human guy I'd never met. After that I settled into the same rhythm as everyone else seems to...you laugh and joke and drink with whoever's around on your off hours, but during work you don't hardly speak to anyone. Just get in, do the job, and get out - hopefully in one piece. Squadmates still stand by each other, but it's not the same personal bond as with a team you really know.

And I guess that answers your other question too, huh? It's not just humans, at least not anymore. There still are more humans than any other race, from what I can tell, but there's also lots of asari, turians, salarians, a few quarians and even some drell and krogan. For the record, krogan are even more frightening in person, and I still haven't figured out how to tell when they're trying to be funny. As for the asari, it's mostly Justicars - some kind of special asari law enforcement/nuns or something. No worries, I won't be falling for any of them...they're almost as scary as the krogan, and they're not just hard to read, they actually never crack jokes. Pretty useful to have beside you in a fight, but I won't be bringing one home.

There've been a lot of new recruits recently, I guess since things finally hit home at the Citadel, so things are getting a little easier on us old-timers.

I love you and be safe,
Paz


Mama,

I have a couple things to tell you, but before I do I just want to point out that I'm obviously not dead or dying since I'm well enough to write you again.

First, yes, I was injured. The wound itself is nothing life-threatening, what with the invention of such fabulous things as tourniquets, but I had a bad reaction since the bullet grazed my turian squadmate on its way into my leg. I don't really understand the details, but it has something to do with fluid contamination - dextro-amino acids versus levo-amino acids. But battlefield medicine is as amazing now as it ever was, and the doctors tell me I'm going to be fine. I know I can't ask you not to worry at all, but I survived this one and since we're not quite so short on people anymore I can actually have enough time to lay up and heal properly.

It's a little eerie, honestly, to go from week-long stretches of fighting to just laying around in the field hospital, with all the clean white walls and the quiet. I think it's the quiet that really gets to me...nobody ever told me that going into battle would be so damn loud. Gunshots, my squadmates shouting, explosions, and did you know that biotics are actually really loud? Because they are, when they woosh by your ear or you walk by one of those gravity well things. sometimes you can hear enemy comms too, and it's more shouting like my squadmates - 'my shields are down,' 'there's a centurion here,' 'I need ammo,' that kind of stuff. Sometimes I can't hear myself think out there, which isn't too bad really. In here, all I can really hear is the machines and my own thoughts. And my roommate, but she's sleeping right now.

That was the other thing I wanted to tell you. Remember how you joked, when I first told you I was dating an asari, that they'd turn me on to human women too? Well, I guess you were right again. This girl RJ, she was part of the squad that I worked with for a long time. I had a bit of a crush on her at the time, and I was really upset when I got flipped to a new group because...well, I guess I used up all my courage jumping into fires and had none left over to talk to her. And then the other day when they wheeled me into this room, who should be laying in the other bed but her? It was another of those things that I just couldn't leave unresolved - although maybe I should have been a little more cautious, since even if she rejected me we'd be stuck as roommates.

I think you'd like her, Mama. She's a real little Spanish spitfire, but she's pretty well on the petite side so she's always trying to prove herself. She's a little older than I am, one of the last biotics to get the L2 implants, so she's got it pretty rough sometimes...and she's one of the lucky ones. Those things kill some people. She talks about getting upgraded to L3, but the upgrade surgery is even more likely to kill her than the implant she's got, according to the nice doctor who's been explaining this stuff to me, so I've been trying to talk her out of it. She's not in here for that, luckily - they keep people with potentially dangerous problems in a different ward. No, she's just another gunshot victim right now - took a solid one to the shoulder, so she's in for a long time while they try to get the bones to knit.

Maybe if we both survive this war, I'll bring her home to you.

All my love,
Paz


[Notice to recipient: portions of this missive have been redacted or edited due to conflict with Human Systems Alliance Intelligence Agency Code 1.1.7: Sharing of Classified Information, subheadings 4.6 - 12.1: Sharing of Wartime Intelligence with Human Civilians.]

Mama,

I missed you so much when we weren't talking. I just wanted to say that - I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I missed you. I still miss you, and I want to come home and see you and everyone again so much. I wish this war would end already!

I'm sorry, I've been in this hospital for nearly two weeks now and I just can't handle it anymore. My body is so inactive, I think my brain's been picking up the slack - I started having nightmares. I don't think they really mean anything except that I've had too much time to think about all the awful things that have happened, the awful things I've seen...I hope this makes it past the letter-readers. I have nightmares about the Citadel being attacked again, and you being on it still, and all the ways that my family could die. RJ says I whimper in my sleep sometimes, but I asked her not to tell the doctors. There's no way I could handle a cat-6 after all this - I'm not letting them kick me out over a few nightmares.

The ones where my family is dying are bad enough, but the ones where I dream about the things I've fought are the worst. The [redacted] aren't so bad and, funnily enough, [the human enemies are] the easiest to handle, mentally. They look like people, they move like people, they talk like people. It's an enemy I can understand on some level, although I'll probably never understand their willingness to [redacted]. It's the Reaper ground forces that give me the nightmares. I've seen them in closer quarters than anybody ever should, and they frighten me on some kind of deep, instinctual level. Atavistic, according to the dictionary. They don't move right, they don't strategize in ways that I can wrap my head around, and they don't...I don't know. They're like a zombie apocalypse but meaner, nastier, and driven by the Reapers. A visitor from my squad dropped by the other day, and he quoted something he'd heard from somebody else - how do you fight an enemy who only grows stronger with every one of your men they take?

The [Reaper ground forces] are the worst, not just because they're tough to kill but because of the [noises]. They say the [noises] don't cause physical damage, but I almost wish they did. Physical damage can be treated or even protected against, but when it goes straight into your mind and turns seasoned marines into scared kids who think there are monsters under the bed? I decided I'd just be glad that those things don't look like anybody anymore. I don't think I could handle it if they still looked like people. As it is I can barely handle the damn [noise-making].

I'm sorry to dump all this on you, Mama. You know I hate for you to worry, but sometimes I feel like you're all I have. I don't want to worry RJ either, especially since she's still not in the clear...they may not be able to restore full function in her shoulder without growing her a whole new arm, which at this point is just going to be a discharge - she wouldn't be able to go back into the field for months. So thank you for always listening to me.

I love you,
Paz


Mama,

Two things, first. One: don't worry about the censoring. I knew I was probably writing too much, but the LT understood - he knows I've been going stir crazy in here, and he sympathizes with the nightmares and the need to get them out. I didn't get in trouble. And two: as much as I love you, I don't think the doctors are really inclined to listen to herbal folk remedies from my abuelo. And anyway it doesn't matter, because I'm getting out of the hospital soon! I'm excited.

I've been keeping up with the news in here - not much else to do, I guess. Watching a lot of Battlespace. And from what they say it looks like when I get back to the field, it's going to be a whole different kind of atmosphere. It seems like pretty much any species that can fight has been getting on board. No hanar, volus, or elcor so far, but other than that…they say even the vorcha have been joining up! Humans are definitely not the majority anymore, and news is we'll be working with geth too! Geth! Five minutes ago they were bogey men, then suddenly the news comes across that Commander Shepard has ended a war between geth and quarians that nobody even knew was going on, and in the process got the geth on our side. I'm guessing you've heard about that - Papi still a rabid fan of Ms. Allers? I'm getting there. I don't think she's as cute as everyone says, but it's pretty awesome that she's embedded on the Normandy!

Sorry this one is so short. Not much to talk about from the hospital I guess.

Much love,
Paz


Mama,

Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! You know I didn't mean to sound like I was excited about putting myself in danger again, I was just so eager to do something other than lay around all day staring at the walls and talking to RJ! Not that I don't love talking to RJ, who is definitely not reading over my shoulder right now because I'm writing a letter while visiting her, but Mama, you said it yourself. I'll quote you: "Ever since you were little, you could never sit still for even five minutes!" That's the only reason I wanted to be back on the field - something to do! Don't be mad.

RJ says hi, but she's really kind of down right now. They don't think they can put her shoulder back the way it should be, so she's got to do a bunch of testing soon. If the shoulder she's got holds up well enough under stress, they'll put her back on the field. If she's not in workable shape, though, they're going to send her home. With so many species throwing in and so many people from all over the galaxy signing up, they're not throwing half-patched-up soldiers back on the field anymore. Problem is, if they discharge her she's got nowhere to go. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about it, but her family was on Earth - she says they might still be alive, since they lived on a little farm, but it's not like she can go back home. She's even more boneheaded than I am sometimes, so she's thinking of looking into merc work, protecting whatever colonies haven't been taken yet. You think if I cry hard enough, I could get her to change her mind?

Not much news from the field still. Haven't fought with a vorcha yet, but then again I hear there aren't many of them out here yet. Geth are, surprisingly, less weird to work with than Justicars or krogan. At least with geth, you know for sure they're not making jokes on you or something, and I'm fairly certain that if they wanted to kill us we'd be dead already. They're pretty…well, I hesitate to say 'robotic', but they kinda are. They're really focused and efficient, and great at noticing things.

Is it weird that I think this war is really being won, at least on our fronts? I feel like (and I don't know for sure, because who shares this kind of intel with a grunt soldier?) we're holding steady and even pushing back, you know? There are more fire bases than ever, but there are also more soldiers. I haven't gone straight from one fire to another since I've been out of the hospital, so that's kind of nice. I don't know where the funding is coming from to pay all these soldiers, but I'm not gonna argue.

All my love,
Paz


Mama,

You're the best Mama in the universe, even the parts outside of our galaxy, and Papi is the best Papi too. I love you both so much, and RJ echoes the sentiment! She ended up getting her discharge after all, and she was looking at going to Sanctuary or something, but once I got your letter I was able to convince her to go to the Citadel. They can take care of her shoulder there, and I told her she could join C-Sec or join the civilian militia I heard about. She's going to have a purpose and I'm going to have all of my favorite people in one place! Speaking of which, more exciting news, and this time you won't have anything to get mad at me about!

I'm getting a furlough soon! I know I just got out of the hospital a couple weeks ago, but apparently since we're flush for people (especially since Thessia, there's asari commandos everywhere) and doing well on all fronts, they're finally giving proper vacation to those of us who signed on early. According to the LT, all the leave I've had coming adds up to nearly a month! I'm going to take it all, every minute. I'm going to laze around the house driving you crazy, I'm going to help Papi with all his home-improvement kicks, I'm going to bother Ramon and Angela and the cousins till you're all desperate for me to go back to war. I feel a little selfish, considering all the soldiers who're like RJ, with no family to go back to, but I love you all and I spent too long away even before all this started. I haven't bought my tickets yet, since I'm not sure where I'll be when it's time to head home, but I already know I'm going first class! It feels a little too luxurious for a grunt soldier to be flying like some fancy rich person, but money is another thing I've got plenty of right now. My equipment is top-notch, and since I'm not much for non-essential supplies or temporary upgrades, there's not much for me to spend my credits on.

I'll see you in twenty-one days, give or take!

All the love in the universe,
Paz
AND RJ! :D


Mama,

Well I'm glad I waited to buy my tickets then! Tell Papi I'm really excited for him, and I guess I can agree with your points as well. It makes sense, if the Reapers are focusing on the big cities on Earth, that they'd focus on population centers in the rest of the galaxy too, and your 'lost colony' definitely isn't that. I'm sure Papi will thrive in his new job (you know how he likes to work hard!) and I'm sure the rest of the family will adapt - RJ included. I'm glad she's moving along with you, by the way. I told you you'd like her! She just seems like a Morales, you know? With all her brains and beauty and loving bossiness, plus her never-ending need to be doing something! Be sure and let me know if her implants are bothering her, or maybe just tell a doctor directly - RJ's like Papi, never wants to complain even when she's hurting and doesn't like to listen to reason.

I bet those lost colonists are going to be surprised when Papi shows up with nearly twenty of his family members and his daughter's girlfriend to boot. I hope they're ready for it! Oh, before I forget: is Ramon going too, or am I going to have to make a special trip to the Citadel just to see my favorite cousin?

One more week till vacation!

Love,
Paz