Author's note: - This story was born from two ideas: Firstly, I wanted to explore the back story of two of the best written peripheral characters on the Normandy: Gabriella Daniels and Kenneth Donnelly. And secondly, there are a disproportionately low number of female aliens in the Mass Effect Universe (the asari being the obvious exception). Female drell, turians, batarians, volus, elcor and vorcha have either been entirely absent from the official stories or fleetingly included; with female salarians and krogan marginally represented and only the quarians showing equal gender representation. I wanted to write a strong female character. Or at the very least, my intention was to create a female alien that people would grow fond of. So, I chose a turian woman.

Giving her a voice turned out to be relatively easy and she interacted well with the established personalities. The only trouble was that some of the supporting characters wouldn't shut up! The cast steadily grew as the story developed, so that I eventually ended up with way more original characters than I initially envisioned. Each one has their own distinct personality and I hope you will grow to love them as much as I have.

Also, as this story is set before the first Mass Effect game it will follow accepted canon, with a few unique ideas along the way.

Mass Effect is an IP of BioWare, a division of EA Games. I make no money from this story.

Enjoy.


A Matter of Race and Character

ARRIVAL

Terminal One, Polos Municipal Spaceport, Cyone – 07:00 LT – 24th January 2183 CE

This was the first time Valni had met a human.

Her orders had been clear: Rendezvous with the humans on Cyone, take them back to the ship, and oversee their conduct for the duration of the Programme – Seemed simple enough. She'd been killing time by watching the mingling crowds of asari. In her professional career she rarely got a chance to interact with aliens. Most of her time had been spent off world, serving the fleet, with only occasional shore-leave on the Citadel. Newly promoted, Valni had suddenly been thrust into unfamiliar territory. Humans, she understood, were gaining greater prominence in the galactic community. She'd seen a few wandering around Tayseri Ward, and had come across them briefly on a colony world, but she'd never had the chance to speak to one – Let alone two of them. Not that the advancing humans were providing much in the way of opportunity to talk. To most turians first impressions were everything; they set the tone of future relationships; determined how you could roughly predict that person would behave, and Valni's impression of the two humans approaching her was this: They were loud.

"…A hell of a lot of damage for a single person – One might even suspect that someone in your room put on a biotic display."

"You're barking up the wrong tree, Kenneth."

"I'm just saying: An asari colony; plenty of time to kill; I wouldn't blame you for feeling lonely…"

"Yeah, and whose fault is that?"

"Something must have made you go all 'vanguard' on the hotels arse. You have a fit of pique? You must have been pretty pissed to demolish the shower divider!"

"That was an accident. The management were fine about it."

"Oh aye, they probably see damage like that all the time. All those passionate blue women seeking comfort in each other's arms; not knowing their own strength – Are you sure you didn't have a little asari company? Or two?"

"Just drop it, Kenneth!"

"All right, I'll be quiet. You won't hear another peep out of me. Happy?"

"No. I can still hear you breathing."

Noticing a natural lull in the conversation, Valni took the opportunity to introduce herself – Firing off a crisp salute she launched into her presentation:

"Alliance personnel: Welcome to the Interspecies Engineering Programme. I'm the Liaison Officer with the Turian Engineering Corps, Logistics, Exploration and Research team on Arcadias. For the next six-weeks you can rely on me as guide and escort while you serve the Meritocracy and advance your knowledge of turian scientific developments. I hope we will be worthy of your consociation and that you will make valuable additions to the crew."

Both humans saluted her. "That's an impressive title," the male human commented. He sounded amused.

"Hi, I'm Gabriella Daniels. Nice to meet you." The female extended her hand – Ah, she'd been briefed about this.

"Valni Severan," she said gripping the offered hand in what she hoped was the proper protocol.

"Kenneth Donnelly." The male shook her hand. He had a strong grip. "Engineer extraordinaire. A pleasure."

"Stop flirting," the female warned.

"Who's flirting? I'm just being friendly."

"Did you enjoy your stay on Cyone?" Valni asked, attempting to steer the conversation back on track.

"Aye, it's a nice place. Much larger than I thought it was gonna be. We got a chance to see some of the sights."

"From behind a deck of cards," Daniels muttered.

"I hear Polos is a very friendly city. Have you been here long?"

"The Perugia's shuttle dropped us off four days ago," Daniels continued. "I imagine they'll have picked up the two engineers from your ship by now?" Valni nodded. Artificers Garroll and Winger had been billeted at the asari hotel Azure (much to Winger's delight), since Illium was along the SSV Perugia's patrol route. That was the only difficulty with these Programmes, the logistics of organizing where everyone was supposed to be was a nightmare; unless the exchange ships were able to rendezvous at a central location, like the Citadel, individual crew-members had to stay close to the patrol routes of their surrogate vessels.

"Where's the ship we'll be serving on?" Donnelly asked.

"The Arcadias is currently on patrol. But, the Captain's waiting for us. We should probably start out now," Valni indicated the shuttle sitting on the runway behind her.

"Lead the way, Officer Severan."

Making their way onto the runway, they clambered aboard the contragravatic shuttle. Valni watched as the humans took their seats and signalled to the pilot that they were ready to leave. The doors shut and the shuttle lifted off, rising gracefully into the air as it navigated its way through the dense traffic of ships. Cyone was a busy world. Not as popular as other asari colonies like Illium, but it was developing quickly.

It was going to be a relatively short flight but Valni endeavoured to put her new crewmates at ease.

"You should like it on Arcadias. We're primarily a training and research vessel, but we have been called upon to conduct search-and-rescue; patrol work; colony reformation; and most recently engaged in an all-out assault."

"Who were you fighting?" Daniels asked. "I mean, if it isn't classified."

"Batarian pirates – They'd attacked a human colony out near the Terminus System and we were the closest vessel to respond. Their ship took heavy damage and we chased them away before they could abduct anyone."

"Impressive," Donnelly commented. "A ship of humanitarian turians. Humaniturians! We should fit right in." Valni mentally rolled her eyes at the pun but still smiled. "So, Officer Severan, what do you do for fun?"

"Arcadias has a full range of recreational facilities: A gym, mess hall, games room, even a sparring ring, if you'd like to try that. Most resources you could think of really."

"Do you play poker?"

"I play Skyllian-Five on occasion. I'm considered fairly good."

"We'll have to arrange a few games," Kenneth insisted. "I've never played against a turian before. I imagine you have a good poker face."

"Kenneth!" Gabriella exclaimed, appalled by his apparent lack of tact.

"What? It's a compliment. If she's that good a player she'll have control over her reactions."

Valni smiled. "Well, if you insist, I'll play you. Assuming you don't mind losing? But we usually play for high stakes. Do you have anything worth putting up?"

"I think I have just the thing," Kenneth stated, reaching into his duffel bag and retrieving a large, cream-coloured tube with strange symbols on it.

"What is that?" Valni asked.

"That, my girl, is a bottle of 31-year old Islay Scotch, shipped all the way from Port Ellen, Scotland. Eight-hundred credits of the finest single malt."

"We're on assignment, travelling with the bare essentials, and you're bringing that with you?" Gabriella asked incredulously.

"What is life without its little luxuries?" Kenneth replied; pulling back his lips and showing his blunt teeth. "Besides, did you stop to consider that with this I might further interplanetary relations with our turian cousins? Peace and cooperation are achieved through the completion of mutual goals. Sharing a wee dram together could help that."

"Actually," Valni chimed in, "no-one on the ship could drink that. We can't digest levo-amino based foods or drink. And you couldn't eat our food. All your rations are being shipped over in the cargo hold."

"Ah. Well, all the more for me then," Kenneth replied, placing the tube back in his duffel bag.

"And just what did you leave behind to make sure you're kit-bag was underweight?" Gabriella asked.

"Dinna worry, girl. I'm sure I can do without my dipole spanner." Kenneth glanced at Valni and briefly closed one eye. She frowned. Perhaps he had a nervous tick?

The Liaison Officer could only watch as another argument broke out between the bizarre pair of aliens. They'd made a memorable first impression on her and, she had to admit, she was looking forward to working with them. This might prove to be an interesting assignment, she reflected. If nothing else, she wasn't going to lack for entertainment.


Combat Information Centre, Hierarchy Vessel 'Arcadias' – 07:30 Zulu

"You are on Arcadias! I am Captain Verress. You will address me as Sir or Captain at all times. On Alliance vessels you may have been permitted an indulgent amount of professional liberty. That will not be the case here. Two of my crew have given up their places so you could be on this ship. They will, if they know what's good for them, make a worthy addition to the SSV Perugia, but while you are on Arcadias I expect you to maintain their exacting standards. No fall in efficiency will be tolerated. While you serve on this ship you will conduct yourselves in the manner and self-discipline expected by the Hierarchy; expected of all turians. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir," Kenneth and Gabby answered together.

"I sincerely hope so. Your conduct directly influences the Hierarchy's opinion of future exchange programmes with the Alliance. You are humanity's representatives, so do your race proud." She turned to Valni. "Officer Severan: Continue with the orientation."

"Yes Captain." All three officers saluted and spun on their heels, leaving Verress who had already turned back to the CIC's holo-display, her mind on other matters.

Verress could best be described as a taciturn captain. Struggling on the wrong side of fifty, Verress had expected to be General by now. The fact that she was still a Captain was, to her, a clear snub by the Meritocracy. The perceived injustice of this obvious slight to her leadership style was one she bore with dignity, resolve, and no little resentment. She ran the crew hard, and expected results. Arcadias was governed with the precision of a Hierarchy State Ship. The dedication she instilled in the cadets from the moment they set foot on-board had become infamous amongst the fleet, leading to an unwritten but widely used maxim: 'Train on Arcadias - relax on the frontline.' It was a philosophy Verress fully embraced.

Orientation came in three stages. Firstly, they were shown their quarters – Two small but comfortable cabins towards the stern of the ship. Kenneth's room still had a lingering odour of the 'Flaked Carapace' salve that Winger used to treat his condition; while Garroll's quarters were clean and fresh, much to Gabriella's delight. The communal showers were just down the corridor. Valni explained that was standard practice aboard turian vessels and Gabriella was anxious to know if they were single-sex showers, appearing relieved when she was told they were.

Next, came a tour of the ship. Valni escorted them around showing the various facilities. The gym and sparring room elicited little interest, while the games room, and specifically the poker table, was a source of great joy. Kenneth in particular seemed happy, announcing he might move in.

Their visit to the mess hall drew a reasonably large crowd, the crew itching to meet and greet the visiting aliens. But, it was the visit to the infirmary that proved a real eye-opener. The humans were hailed by Arcadias' friendly giant of a doctor. He loomed over them, extending a welcoming hand which was grasped tentatively by each of the visitors. The doctor tried to contain his enthusiasm but Valni could see the offered hands straining under his tremendous grip and vigorous shake.

Lastly, there was a visit to the Engine Room and the area with which they would become most familiar. They were welcomed by a large group of artificers who each shook their hands and expressed great interest in working with the humans. Valni directed them down to their workstations which were located in the Core Monitor on tier one of the Engine Room. The pair seemed keen to start work and Valni was impressed with their zeal. As representatives of humanity they weren't doing badly.


The fighters circled each other, searching for any weakness in their opponents' defences. A small crowd had gathered in the sparring hall, eagerly watching the two novice fighters demonstrate their skills. Valni sat at the back of the hall, watching the match with interest, coolly noting at least three openings that the fighter in red could have exploited.

Valni had left the humans in the capable hands of the artificers. They'd had a productive first day. Valni felt it was important to ease them in gently but they'd surprised everyone and exceeded expectations. The artificers were pleased with their performance. Time would tell if they'd be able to maintain that level of ability and Valni, as per her orders, would check up on them regularly, but right now, this was her down-time.

She was so focused on the ring that she didn't at first notice the voices behind her. A group of cadets were milling about in the doorway of the sparring hall, their voices hushed just enough so they could be heard by everyone within a six-metre radius.

"I heard the ship boasts the highest number of martial arts champions in the fleet," the first one stated.

"Wouldn't think to look at it," a second cadet muttered. He had an obnoxious voice. "It looks like it's been in service for generations."

"Forty-eight years now," a young female added.

"Yeah, and only about seven of those years were useful."

"It's probably due for decommissioning soon."

"Why they keep it in service is beyond me."

"Probably saving the tired old bird out of loyalty to her service to the fleet."

"Are you talking about the ship or the Captain?" the obnoxious one asked to the sound of general laughter.

Valni stood up, ready to tear into them when the voice of the obnoxious one called out to her.

"Hey, you there. Boy! Does this tub have any worthwhile fighters?"

Valni turned slowly, enjoying the sight of their faces dropping as they realised they were addressing a superior officer.

"Yes, boy! Arcadias has trained some of the best. A fact you would know if you'd bothered to look it up on the damn extranet. Are you a fighter?"

"Yes, sir - Ma'am - Sir! Yes, I am," the cadet stammered.

"A soldier needs to be an excellent observer, so explain to me how a rookie who claims to be a fighter fails to recognise both a ship with an illustrious history and a superior officer?"

"I'm very sorry, sir," he quavered.

"Sixteen of Palaven's most celebrated martial warriors have served aboard Arcadias. Thanks to your friend here, you will each list their names and accomplishments by zero-nine-hundred tomorrow or you will be explaining to the Captain why you are so patently unprepared to serve aboard this vessel!"

"Yes, sir!" the group intoned.

"And by the way," Valni added quietly, "talk about the Captain like that again and I'll personally rip you a new cloaca!"

Several seconds passed while the cadets stood at attention, no-one daring to move.

"You can skedaddle now," Valni told them. The cadets saluted before turning and scarpering down the corridor. She watched them until they'd disappeared around the corner. It was good to keep the cadets on their toes; and yet, as much as it was a part of the job Valni didn't actually enjoy chewing out new recruits (well, other than that obnoxious prat - that she did enjoy!); but they'd called attention to her appearance and that was a sensitive topic.

Valni knew she looked different. While she'd inherited her mothers' delicate, facial bone structure and soft carapace, Valni had not acquired her height. She was shorter than her contemporaries, and her vestigial head horns were much larger and more developed than was normal for women. This, combined with her naturally slim frame, gave her a slightly androgynous look. She was constantly mistaken for an adolescent male. Unfortunately, it also meant that she was occasionally approached by men with specific tastes – Tastes that she never reciprocated. Their disappointment at discovering she was female was nothing compared to the pain of the wrist locks, kicks and throws she employed if they became violent. As those men discovered to their cost, she knew how to handle herself. Aside from basic combat training, she was adept in several martial arts; the consequence of having a seven-time World Champion for a father, and growing up with three brothers plus one unusually masculine sister.

She figured that ran in the family.


Engine Room, Hierarchy Vessel 'Arcadias' – 10:45 Zulu – 26th January

Valni strolled between the busy crew as she headed for the stairwell to the Core Monitor. Artificer First Class Djamil Leptis was busy testing one of the humans on the engineering controls. Engineer Daniels stood at her console recounting the function of each mechanism in turn as Leptis pointed at it.

"Primary power levels – Attenuator relay monitors – Capacitor diagnostics."

"And the attenuator relays are dampened by the…?" Leptis asked.

"Electrostatic array," Daniels replied promptly.

"Leptis," Valni strode up to them. "How are our newest crew members doing?"

"Excellently, sir. Settling in very well. I wish all our artificers were as knowledgeable. And enthusiastic – Gabby… sorry, Engineer Daniels especially seems to have a particular affinity with our propulsion control systems."

"I just do what I enjoy, ma'am," the human said as she saluted her.

"With your permission, I'd like Daniels to begin studying the field core harmonics systems at the main trunk on the second tier."

"Already?" Valni frowned. "That seems a little fast, Leptis."

"I'm confident Daniels can handle it."

"Well, if you're certain." She turned to Gabriella. "You up for that Daniels?"

"Yes, ma'am. Just point me at it and I'll make it dance."

Valni grinned – She was starting to really like the human's enthusiasm.

"You would know best, Leptis."

"Thanks Chief."

Valni watched the pair bustle off up the stairwell before she turned and approached the remaining human who was crouched by an open panel. "How are you coping, Donnelly? Not feeling left behind I hope?"

"Not at all, sir. I like seeing Gabby enjoy herself with a new engine. Better watch her though. She gets rather attached to them. Very soon she'll be giving them names."

"Well, if Leptis and the other artificers don't mind, who am I to argue?"

"You say that now, but wait till she starts calling the drive core 'Blue-shift Bethany'."

"I can think of worse names." Valni smiled at the human. "Is there a problem?" she asked, referring to the open panel.

"No. Just a few minor adjustments. Could you do me a favour and read the data off my console?"

"Sure." Valni strode over to his console and glanced at the data on the screen. "The signal from the electrostatic array is fluctuating," she stated.

"No problem." Donnelly reached into his jacket a produced a small, black device that he placed against the exposed array. "A quick adjustment with the old dipole spanner and the signal should be back in alignment."

"It is," Valni confirmed. "I thought you'd left that behind?" she asked, indicating the dipole spanner.

"No, that was a ruse to wind Gabby up." He stepped back from the open panel. "Hence the wink."

"Oh." Valni understood. "That was a wink? I thought you had an eye infection or a nervous tick."

The human raised his eyebrows. "I suspect something's been lost in translation." Donnelly wandered forward; Valni moved aside to let him take up position at his console.

"So, you two seem to get on well. Are you and Daniels… together?" she asked.

"You mean as a couple? Gabby and me? No. We've been friends for years. I like her because she's dependable, whip-smart – But don't tell her I said that – And easy on the eyes. And she hangs around so she can tell everyone that they're doing it wrong, and, most importantly, to keep me out of trouble."

"You talk as if that's a full time job."

"Aye, it's a big commitment. She puts a lot of hours in."

"And does she keep you out of trouble, Donnelly?"

"Well, she needs more practice."

Valni grinned and shook her head. Alliance humour!

The intercom on Donnelly's console suddenly sprung to life: "Engineers Donnelly and Daniels please respond," a voice intoned.

"This is Donnelly, go ahead."

"You have an incoming transmission from a salarian exploration vessel, the Auroto. It's from an engineer on-board. Only gave his name as 'Chaill'."

"Odd name for a salarian," Valni commented.

"There's a very good reason for that," Donnelly replied. He turned to the upper tier. "Hey, Gabby," he yelled, "we've got a vid-link from Chaill."

"Really?" Daniels' voice replied. "I'll be right there."

"Who's Chaill?" Valni asked.

"Krogan engineer," Kenneth explained. "We met him, what is it, two years ago now?"

"Yeah, two years," Gabriella confirmed as she wandered down the stairwell. "He was part of the Citadel engineering exchange team on the Perugia back in '80 - '81. He's a great guy. Brilliant engineer. Terrific dancer, actually."

"No kidding," Kenneth put in. "We kinda got him hooked on Latin ballroom. Believe it or not, he and Gabby once performed an American Tango at the Perugia's Hogmanay hootenanny!"

Suffering a comprehension breakdown, Valni turned to Daniels; a bewildered expression on her face.

"We danced at the new year party," Gabriella translated. Valni nodded in understanding.

"Aye, it was crazy," Kenneth continued, "you wouldn't think a krogan could do a pirouette!" The turian stared, her mind boggling at the notion. "Also, a huge rugby fan," he added.

Valni narrowed her eyes in confusion. She seemed to remember hearing rugby mentioned on the Citadel. "That's a human game, isn't it?" she asked.

"Absolutely," Daniels put in. "Another little interest that was passed on. Like an infection! Chaill loves the All Blacks."

Valni had no idea what 'All Blacks' were, and at this point wasn't about to ask. Too many strange krogan based images were swirling around her head. She was only vaguely aware of Daniels switching on the comm-screen. The display sprang to life: The distinctive red frontal plate and pale squat face of the turians once mortal enemy filled the monitor.

"Gabriella!" The krogan's deep voice boomed over the speakers. "Looking radiant as always. How's the Alliances' most valuable propulsion specialist? Those turians treating you right?"

Gabriella smiled affectionately at the krogan's beaming face. "Feeling fine, Chaill – No problems. And very happy to see you. How are you?"

"Ecstatic! 34-11! It was a walk-over! I'm thinking it would have been better if Scotland hadn't shown up."

"Aye, right," Kenneth interrupted, "it was just the first round ya overgrown iguana. They'll bounce back for qualifying."

"Unlikely. They couldn't even muster up a win against Eden Prime. Hell, the Armali squad could pound them right now."

"Armali is a good team, Chaill," Gabriella put in, glancing slyly at Kenneth, "don't knock them by comparing them to Scotland!"

"Taking sides now are we, Gabby? Since when do you watch rugby? Besides, it's a bit different when you're playing asari, no matter how butch they get. Though, I wouldn't mind being part of that scrum!"

"They'd stomp you into the ground and bury you alive, Donnelly."

"Aye, but what a way to go."

Gabriella was grinning broadly at the banter between her two friends. Valni looked on in astonishment – She had once been told by an asari on the Citadel that all men were the same, regardless of species. Seeing how this disparate trio interacted, she could well believe it. Chaill and Kenneth were behaving very much like her male friends on Arcadias.

"How's your new crew?" Gabriella asked, changing the subject.

"They're a good bunch of engineers. Even for salarians! Almost as knowledgeable as I am."

"Play nice, Chaill," Daniels warned.

"They know I'm joking." He waved to someone off screen. "Hey, Madik." A salarian moved across the screen behind him, waving cheerfully. The krogan looked back to Daniels. "Honestly, I'm glad to be here. These salarians know their stuff. I've seen quantum entanglement specs I never thought I'd get clearance for. And their drive systems are state of the art. There's a lot I can learn from them. And plenty more they can learn from me."

"I'm not sure salarians would enjoy krogan drinking games, Chaill," Kenneth asserted.

"You're just sore because you lost the bet," the krogan replied.

"That and most of my lunch."

Gabriella and Valni shared a brief look universal amongst their gender: Men! Daniels turned back to the screen. "Chaill, I'm glad you're settling in. It's good to see your talents aren't going to waste."

"Well, my genius had to be recognised some time, didn't it?" Gabriella beamed warmly at the krogan. Suddenly, a disembodied voice sounded over the speakers: "Je'Ata team, report to the shuttle bay. Je'Ata team to the shuttle bay." Chaill straightened up. "Oh, that's us. Have to go rebuild society."

"It's wonderful to see you," Gabriella assured him, "keep us posted."

"Bye, gecko," Kenneth said as he waved at the camera.

"Later, Donnelly."

"Take care, Chaill."

"You too, Gabriella. You look after yourself."

Daniels nodded cheerfully and waved at the screen; the feed died. Valni was left shaking her head in disbelief.

"I never thought I'd see a krogan getting along with the salarians!" she said in awe.

"As I said, he's a great guy. His work caught their attention and he was offered this assignment. How could he pass it up?"

"Incredible," Valni muttered.

"That's the beauty of these interspecies programmes," Kenneth added. "You're constantly surprised by new developments. And sometimes it's even related to engineering!"

"Not with you around, Kenneth."