A Mass Effect Fanfiction by Lywinis
New York City, Earth - 2170
The alley was dank and cold, quiet compared to the surrounding hustle and bustle of the city. The area was older than most, some of the buildings still brick and mortar instead of plastisteel. He judged some of them to be early 20th century, falling apart and in need of repair. Scrap tech and electronics littered the ground, pushed into the corners by the scavvers picking up anything of value. The very barest bones of society, laid to rest in an abandoned alley. The sun was high in the sky, and Lieutenant David Anderson checked the hour on his watch. Just after noon. He'd have enough time to grab something to eat before the shuttle headed to Vancouver.
If he were less punctual, he could always take the shuttle three days from now; he was, if you went by the book, still on assigned leave until next week. Anderson wasn't much for vacation time, taking the break because it was necessary to keep the shrinks off his back. After the Saren debacle five years ago, he was in their sights more than ever. He'd rather be back to work, no questions asked, and put the past behind him. He frowned at the thought, quickening his pace through the alley as he cut through on his way to the spaceport.
He missed the sound of footsteps behind him, but didn't miss the ratcheting clank of a pistol extending to combat readiness. A Kessler, from the whine of the heatsink nocking into place if he wasn't mistaken. He froze, his nerve endings alight with tension.
"That's right, spacer. You turn around real slow, now." He did as he was told, the toe of one of his dress boots hitting a piece of scrap and sending it scuttling down the alleyway to bounce and clatter against the brick of the buildings. He saw her then, dirty and determined. She was pale under the grime on her face, almost paper-white. The pistol was too big for one hand, so she held it in two, her arms long and thin as she sighted down the gun pointed at his chest. A mop of matted red hair hung in bright green eyes, intelligent and narrowed in his direction.
"Listen, there's no need to point that at me-" He stopped as she hefted the gun higher, raising his hands in the air as her finger jittered on the trigger. Kesslers took too much pull pressure on the trigger, thank god. If she'd been holding a Karpov right now, he'd be dead already. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Yeah? Who's got the gun?" She sneered, feet planted wide and shoulders hunched. "Just hand over your credit chit and walk away, spacer. You're in Reds territory, and that means a tax."
She was ballsy, he'd give her that. He outweighed her by a good hundred pounds, and if she were a foot or so closer, he could disarm her with ease. Still, being mugged was his own fault; he should know better than to take side trips down alleys.
"Red's?" Anderson tilted his head to the side. "Is that your name, child?"
The gun wobbled as she glared at him. "I ain't no child, motherfucker. I will straight up shoot you."
Anderson kept his hands in the air. She took a deep, shaky breath, her eyes clear and focused. Not a sand junkie, then. A scared, hungry kid. He could see how thin she was, even in the bulky, ratty hoodie she wore, and the wiry muscle that made her stringy and tough.
"Is Red your name?" he asked again. "I'd like to know who I'm passing my credits to."
"Look, spacer, your mouth is gonna get you shot. I don't wanna do it, but if you don't hand over your creds right the fuck now, I will pull this trigger, you got me?"
He nodded. "All right. I'm going to reach into my pocket slowly."
"You do that." The gun didn't waver.
He lowered his right hand and slipped it into his pocket, searching for his credit chit. He didn't have much on his personal chit, maybe twenty-five or so credits, and it wasn't a big deal if the kid got hold of it, if both of them got out alive. His fingers brushed the warm plastic of his chit and he swallowed.
"Okay, I have my chit. How do you want to do this?" His brown eyes focused on her green ones. "You have the gun, you make the call."
She bit her lip, weighing her options. "Drop it at your feet. Then you walk away, as fast as you can while counting to a million, and you don't stop until you do."
"You got it." He pulled the chit from his pocket, holding it tight in his fingers.
"There's the bitch!" The shout from the mouth of the alley made her whip around, the gun coming to bead on the pack of thugs that now crowded it like a mouthful of soured teeth.
"Shit." She glanced back at him. "Run, now."
"These guys will kill you and take your creds without being nice about it like I was, spacer. If you don't run now, you're Luca bait. Fucking run!"
She turned and flipped off the thugs, and they all charged forward, shouting curses at her thin, defiant figure. He turned to run. Anderson tasted ozone, the pressure from an unspent storm building up, and he looked back to see the blue-black of biotic energy build up around her body as she spread her feet wide, her palms outward.
A wave of biotic energy washed down the alleyway, a shockwave that was as powerful as it was unfocused, sending scrap and garbage roaring down at the thugs. Windows shattered and glass rained down, only to be swept up in the cascading blastwave. It reached them and knocked them off their feet, sending them sprawling. He stood there, his mouth open, as she turned back to him.
"Oh for the love of Christ," she growled and seized his hand, dragging him from the alley. They ran, feet pounding the cracked sidewalk. The street traffic of New York City passed by in a blur, pedestrians cursing and land vehicles honking as they shoved their way across crosswalks. The streets didn't seem to differ, but she slowed, then stopped as soon as they passed East Eighth Street, jogging to a stop and dropping his hand. She stopped, clutching her knees and breathing hard.
Anderson looked around him, completely turned around. A bronzed sign read Washington Square Park, and he could see the manicured grass of the park behind the wrought iron bars. He looked back at her, bent double and clutching at a stitch in her side.
"You saved my life," he said. He wasn't winded, not like she was, but then he had learned to control his breathing much better in basic.
"Don't fuckin' mention it." Her lips had a bitter twist to them, and she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "Go on, get out of here."
"No." She whipped around to face him, but he held his ground. "I don't cut and run when I owe somebody."
"You don't owe me shit, spacer." She gestured with one hand, and he saw that it was empty. She must have dropped the gun sometime during their flight. Smart, considering a gun in the open would incite panic and draw attention to them. "I tried to mug you, and now you owe me? You are one dumb motherfucker."
"I was unarmed and walked into an alley as a short cut. I don't blame you for thinking I'm an easy mark." He rubbed his forehead, embarrassed. "But I do want to thank you. Even hand-to-hand, I couldn't have taken all of them."
She gave a dark chuckle. "You would have taken exactly none of them, you mean. Those mothers are Lucas, and they skin their trophies, take an ear. Vorcha fight cleaner than Lucas, so they say."
He frowned, perturbed that someone so young would have such dead, dark eyes. Her life was a hard one. "Let me at least buy you something to eat. I was going to get lunch anyway."
Her eyes narrowed, and she looked him up and down. Her lips quirked into a small semblance of a grin.
"All right, but you're still a dumb motherfucker."
The burger joint was clean, if old. The diner was authentic to its roots, including the lack of anything omni save the large screens that displayed the current football rankings. The smell of cooking patties wafted through the air, and he could feel his mouth start to water, even as he glanced at his unusual companion. She sniffed the air in appreciation, and he wondered how many days she got by on just the smell of the burgers cooking.
He nodded to the waitress, a blonde woman in a worn apron and greasy uniform, who gave the little street rat a disdainful look before ushering them to a booth in the back, away from the other customers.
If his companion noticed the looks she was getting, she paid them no mind. Instead, she looked at the walls peppered with replica 20th century posters and tapped her fingers on the table, her body in constant motion even when she was sitting still. The waitress came back with glasses of water for them both, and gave her a contemptuous look again. Anderson took the menu she offered, passing it to his companion.
She gave him another menu with a look that said just what she thought of that, and he hid his smile behind its warped laminated plastic. The kid looked through the menu as well, frowning.
"You have an idea of what's good here?" he asked, his eyes on her.
"Are you kidding, spacer? I'm lucky if the soup kitchen around the corner has enough space for half my crew, let alone a classy joint like this." She tapped her fingers more, her matted red hair hanging in her eyes as she pursed her lips at the colorful menu. He looked down again, noting that the special today (most likely every day) was a burger and all you could eat steak fries.
"You decided what you want, honey?" The waitress came back around, pad in hand. He put his menu down, and glanced at the kid. She was watching him, eyes narrowed once more.
"I'm not sure what my friend here wants, but I'm getting the blue plate special," he said, tapping the menu. He noticed her eyes flick downward to his fingers and the picture. He wondered if she could read, and that was why she hesitated.
"Gotcha, honey. You wanna cup of coffee with that?" She scrawled on the pad, paying no mind to the kid opposite him in the booth.
"Yes, and I'd like you to take her order as well. Check goes to me." He folded his hands and fixed the waitress with the full force of his most commanding stare. She pursed her lips and turned to his boothmate.
"And what'll you have, sweetie?" Her voice was syrupy-sweet and condescending, and he could see the kid's cheek twitch as her jaw clenched.
"The blue plate special," she said, and her voice, to his surprise, was civil. No 'please', but lacking the open hostility he'd gotten before. He raised an eyebrow at her, but she wasn't paying attention to him.
"Two blue plates," she said, scribbling on her pad.
"And a cup of joe for me, too." The kid resumed tapping her fingers on the table.
The waitress wandered off to punch in their order, and Anderson found himself looking at the girl again. She didn't seem interested in conversation; she just beat out a rhythm of her own on the formica tabletop. Her nails were ragged, dirty in the way a scavver's got when they went digging for scrap. Strong wrists and arms, although thin and sinewy.
He was right for thinking she was a kid. His first glance placed her in her late teens, maybe eighteen or so, but a closer inspection dropped his estimate to right around fifteen, maybe sixteen. A thin scar ran across her lips, bisecting them at the corner of her mouth; other scars ran the length and breadth of her knuckles and hands. This was a life on the streets, what one could do to a person - Anderson remembered them being rough in his native London as well, if you weren't careful. Even with all the progress humanity had made in the last two centuries, sometimes, a neighborhood just wasn't safe to walk in at night.
"Take a holo, spacer," she said, looking out the window at the bustling skyway line. "It'll last longer."
"I'm not a spacer," he said. "I was born on Earth, in London."
"Well, whoop-dee-doo for you," she said, glancing back at him. "You wear the blues, that makes you a spacer."
He glanced down at his dress blues and couldn't fault her logic. "You have a problem with the Alliance?"
"What'd they ever do for me?" she asked. "The orphanage I was dumped in shut down when I was ten. The Alliance was out sucking Turian cock while I was digging for scrap. The Alliance has done dick for me and Earth, and everything for people on Eden Prime and Arcturus."
There wasn't anything bitter in her tone, just cold matter-of-fact reasoning. The waitress returned with their coffee and placed steaming mugs on the table. His boothmate sipped hers black, inhaling the aroma and murmuring approval before wrapping her hands around the mug. He tipped a packet of sugar in his. He frowned as he sipped his coffee, trying to put his finger on why the girl was still sitting here and talking with him. Most hood rats would have taken off by now.
Perhaps she was too hungry to care at the moment. Well, he'd be glad to feed her, at least.
"About the alley," he said, looking over the rim of his mug at her.
"Nu-uh, you don't say anything about that to anyone. I got enough problems without some assholes in suits coming by to take me away." She frowned, her hands tightening over the ceramic of the mug until her knuckles whitened. "No way they're sending me to Jump Zero."
"It's not painful, or anything, you know." He set his cup down. "The alliance will teach you how to use your biotics better. You'll be able to control it -"
"I said no." She glared at him. "I heard what those Conatix fuckers did. There was a kid that went psycho and killed all the instructors before spacing himself. No way am I gonna let the alliance get their hands on me."
"The pay is pretty good, actually," he said, sipping his coffee again. "Guaranteed three squares, more than you'd get living here. A place to sleep. Do your time, you could do whatever you want after."
Her eyes narrowed. "And do my duty to humanity, izzat it?"
"Do your duty to yourself. You'd earn enough to get by somewhere else and you'd get out of here." Their food arrived, and he picked up the ketchup bottle to pour some on his plate. "I saw you looking at the sky. Not an impossible thing, wanting to go to the stars."
She plowed into her burger as a way to ignore him. He dipped a steak fry into the swirl of ketchup and munched it, letting her escape into her food. She inhaled the burger and a plateful of fries disappeared before she sat back and seemed ready for conversation again. He took his time, savoring the burger; there wasn't much fresh meat, even on the Citadel, and this was his first time back in a long time.
"I can't go, anyway. I got a buncha kids to look after." She gestured out the window at the park across the street. "Most of them never see the brighter side of the city. They all live in the junkyards."
"What did you do after the orphanage closed?"
"Slept in containers, junked out aircars." She popped another fry into her mouth.
It would explain the biotics, he thought. A busted eezo core with improper disposal would make a kid glow like a candle, but only if they were lucky. Death was far more likely.
He leaned forward, his chin atop his clasped hands. "What's your name, kid?"
"I ain't no kid, spacer, and don't you forget it."
"Then how old are you?"
"Eighteen." There was a slight flicker of hesitancy. Anderson had learned to read the set of the shoulders, the taut thrum of body language under duress, and he could tell she was fibbing. She was sixteen at the oldest, or he'd forfeit the rest of his burger.
"All right then, say I'm willing to buy that for now - what's your name? If you don't tell me, I'll call you 'kid'," he said, nipping her scowl in the bud.
"Don't remember. No one's called me by name in years." She took another sip of her coffee, shrugging her shoulders, fingering the dirty red fringe that hung in her eyes. "The kids call me Red, and that'll do."
"So it was your territory?"
"Hell no, man, you looked like an easy score. I am a Red, but I don't run the Reds, get it? I ran your ass back to Tenth Street because the Reds own that area. No one messes with the Reds."
"You can't just go by Red, though, you should have a first and last name."
"Spacer, I been on my own since I was eight. You thinkin' I got time to come up with a name for myself in that mess?" She shrugged. "Call me what you want."
"Olivia, then," he said. She made a face.
"Try something else."
"You're really shitty at this, spacer."
He chuckled. "No, you're just picky about your name."
She thought for a moment, lips pursed as she focused on the skyline out the window. He had to admit, he liked this kid, foul mouth and all. She struck something in him, the need to see her be better than she was.
"I like stars and stuff, I guess," she said after a moment. "Used to read about it, watch the vids. I just…never really thought about it, y'know?"
"I figured not, which is why I wanted you to talk to a recruiter. I'd hate to see a smart kid like you end up dead in a street fight." He dunked another fry. "You have a cool head on your shoulders, and don't buckle under pressure. If you wanted, you could even make officer in the Alliance."
"You an officer?"
"A Lieutenant. I have my whole career ahead of me, though," he said. He didn't append the 'almost a Spectre' line to the end of it; it wouldn't have mattered now anyway. "I grew up a lot like you, you know. Had a rough childhood, but I didn't let it hold me back. You have to make a choice: do you want to be picking salvage for the rest of your life, or do you want to be somebody?"
She frowned, her eyes still fixed on the skyline. He didn't know if this talk was doing her any good, but if it helped, it would be worth it.
"The kids need me. But…they're all the same age as me. I forget it sometimes, they're not really kids anymore, except for Stevie, but he's nearly fifteen. Squint could keep an eye on them."
She looked at him then, and he saw a world-weariness there that was far beyond her years. "The Reds take care of their own, spacer."
He nodded. "You feel like you have obligations here."
"Damn right I do, the Reds are my family. You don't turn your back on family."
"This is a choice you have to make for yourself. I can't make it for you."
She finished off the last of her second plate of French fries right as the waitress brought the check. He'd smile at the appetite if he didn't know what drove it; biotics were a harsh mistress if one were untrained. In hindsight, it was impressive she got that much power out of it, considering her living situation.
"Yeah, I know that. And for what it's worth, I'll think about it, okay?"
"You never told me your name."
"You never asked." He smiled. "Lieutenant David Anderson, Alliance Navy. If you do decide to join, look me up."
She stood up, and her body assumed its hunted stance once more - shoulders hunched, head down, hands in pockets. Anderson saw the waitress looking at her with disapproval again, and realized this is what she got every day. Every hour of her existence, she was treated as second class because she had nowhere to go. He wanted to change that.
She turned to him and grinned. "By the way, it's Shepard. Celeste Shepard."
"A beautiful name," he said.
"Don't go spreading it around, spac - Anderson." Her sleepy eyes were filled with a hidden mirth, and she gave him a mock salute. "Thanks for the grub."
"You're welcome, Shepard." The waitress scanned the chit in his hand, and when he turned around, she was already gone. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he saw a grey hoodie disappearing around the corner into the alley. He just hoped he had gotten through to her.
Each new assignment was a breath of fresh air to Anderson, and he took to this one with gusto. The SSV Hastings had requested him as its XO, and he was happy to oblige Captain Belliard again. He read up on the mission reports as the shuttle left the Vancouver spaceport. He'd have a lot of catching up to do before he reached Arcturus Station, but he was looking forward to it. He'd never been one for idle contemplation.
As he paged through his datapad, his omni-tool gave a chime. He set down his crew report and opened the tool, scrolling through the messages. A new one, sent from a public extranet terminal, and an unknown sender. He selected it, and smiled as he scanned the few terse lines of text.
You're not wrong about this, I think. Signed up and told them you'd sent me. They didn't seem impressed. We'll see how it goes.
Pvt. Celeste Shepard, Alliance Navy
He picked up the datapad, sipping his coffee as the shuttle winged its way to his transport. She didn't leave a return address, but it was all right. He'd find her again, he had a feeling. Those sorts of feelings turned out to be right in the end.
A/N: I love the father/daughter relationship that Anderson and Shepard have. I wondered if it didn't go deeper, and farther back than just the Normandy, and in my headcanon, it does. Originally meant as a longer work, this works just as well on its own, I think. It was the first chapter in my Shepard's story, chronicling her rise to martyrdom, but like a lot of the things I write, it petered out.
However, you can have this as a one-shot. If I decide to update it later, I may reopen it as a chaptered fic, but don't hold your breath.
(It's nice to get my computer back. I've been without a hard drive for the majority of December.)
As an aside, there have been fewer updates as I pack to move, hopefully for good, to Washington DC at the end of the month. I hope to have a chapter of Gladius written and more Obeisance done, but no promises.
Hope you enjoyed,