"One can have only as much preparation as he has foresight." -Jim Butcher, Changes
Well, it could have been worse.
Jane and I were labeled as refugees almost as soon as we stepped off the ship. We were carted from place to place as some people in big office buildings debated where to put us.
Refugees. God, what a horrible term. It might as well have meant somebody else's problem.
The orphanage we were eventually sent to was located in New York city. Why New York, I had no idea. I didn't bother asking. Maybe it was because that's where the SSV Einstein docked. Just a convenience for everyone, I guess.
I wasn't really familiar with the city. I had seen pictures, but those were horribly outdated compared to the sprawling metropolis that had arisen over the past hundred years.
Walkways connected buildings together, allowing commuters to travel about unhindered. Skycars raced overhead at breakneck speeds and roads that had once been busy with traffic were now empty besides the pedestrians. The empire state building that once dominated the skyline hundreds of years ago was now dwarfed by the giant structures that saturated the city.
Seriously, the technological advances made through mass effect fields and element zero was astounding. Flying cars, holograms, towering buildings, space travel, that was all common! No one even batted an eye when the driverless shuttle came and picked us up. Not only that but upon further study of Chakwas's texts, I learned that diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, mental disorders, all those things had been treated and cured ages ago!
Jane must have thought I was crazy, gawking at the city out the window of the shuttle as we raced past the sites. I probably looked like an idiot, cringing at every sudden stop or hint of turbulence, but it wasn't my fault. There was no fucking pilot! All of it was automated. My fear was perfectly justified in my mind. Never was a very good flyer in the first place.
At least I stopped questioning my sanity. There was no way my subconscious was creative enough to imagine a futuristic New York without smog or pollution.
Honestly, the air was the cleaner than in any 21st century city I've ever lived. The air was so clean you could eat off it.
...That probably doesn't make much sense. Let me think of a better analogy.
The air was cleaner than my old apartment. No, that's not saying much... How 'bout the air was cleaner than a quarian ship. Heh, yeah. That's an appropriate comparison.
The shuttle, which might as well have been a glorified futuristic bus, dropped us off at the orphanage. We stepped out into the older part of Brooklyn.
My eyes swept over the building briefly before concluding that we got screwed over.
"This looks... homely."
Jane scoffed, obviously unimpressed.
"Maybe the caretakers are nice."
A snort of disbelief.
"Maybe I'll just shut up."
A soft hum of agreement.
I picked up my small pack the Alliance was kind enough to provide me. Jane had a similar one strapped across her back. It didn't hold much, a toothbrush, some toiletries, and a spare change of clothes that loosely fit me. It was a good thing I'd eventually grow a couple more inches and my shoulders would broaden out.
"Well, we aren't getting anywhere standing here." I say as cheerfully as I can, walking towards the front doors of the orphanage with Jane Shepard at my side.
This was not really ideal. I almost wish they had kept us on the SSV Einstein. At least there I could continue learning how to be a decent medic under Dr. Chakwas. Then again, staying on the ship would just mean creepy Naval Intelligence hovering somewhere over my shoulder, watching me and waiting for me to slip up somehow and haul my ass to the nearest interrogation room. And that was not exactly the most comforting thought.
I don't even know what they were expecting to find out. Unless they were specifically looking for someone from the 21st century. If so, then I was screwed.
Would they have someone watching me at the orphanage? Probably. I already felt like I was under surveillance.
St. Teresa's Home for Wayward Children.
Even the name sounded depressing.
Strange city. Strange time. Strange people.
Would a little familiarity be too much to ask for?
I glanced down at Jane. Well, at least she was familiar.
This was going to be a long two years.
Life at the orphanage felt... wrong. It was so routine and normal. At least onboard the Einstein there was this sense of urgency. Everyone had been so focused with driving back the slavers and the cleanup. Here, however, life went on as if the raid never happened. As if Mindoir never even occurred. It was all just some small little section on the Alliance News Network.
I didn't like it. Not one bit.
And as much as I loathed to admit it, I was feeling restless. I wanted my rifle back. The thought of a gun in my hands both comforted and terrified. Comforting because at least with the weight of a rifle, there was something between me and the rest of this messed up galaxy. Terrifying because the image of a batarian's head exploding continued to plague my dreams.
Sleep was hard to come by. I must have driven my dorm mates insane with my sleeping habits. It was a good thing I had grown accustomed to sharing my room with two brothers or else I would have just told them to deal with it.
The other kids at the orphanage were foreign to me. Some of the younger ones reminded me of my siblings, but the older ones, the ones closer to Jane's age, they perplexed me. They walked around, talking about their futures and school as if life was just hunky-dory. Threats like the batarians didn't even register in their hormone driven minds.
I knew they were just teenagers, and that I was being unreasonable, but I couldn't help it. None of this sat right with me.
And the caretakers weren't much better. They tried to understand. They really did. And I appreciated the effort they went to, but how could they? I was a guy one hundred some odd years from the past who just went through a war zone only to come up from the trenches to realize that everyone he knew and everything that was familiar no longer existed.
That they never even existed in the first place! And that he was in a game! A goddamn video game that he had only played through a couple times during his off hours in college.
Maybe I was a little distraught. I blame sleep depravation. I got irritable when I didn't get my beauty rest.
It took more than a couple deep breathing exercises to keep myself from throttling any of those damn psych counselors the caretakers hired for me and Jane.
And Jane… well, she left the last therapist in tears. I don't know how she did it, but it was impressive. Never seen a grown man cry like that before. Wisely, the caretakers pretty much gave up after that little incident.
Jane and I were friends… I think. Camaraderie was a good term for it.
We were both foreigners in this place. United by circumstance and our shared experiences.
Our conversations were usually initiated by me (which was never a good idea since I was socially inept) and they mostly consisted of me making stupid jokes and her replying with annoyed grunts.
A perfect example:
"Whats up, Jane?"
"You have a minute to talk?"
And that's it. That's how we interacted.
At least Garrus Vakarian used calibrations as an excuse to get out of conversations. Jane just blatantly blew me off. I know I wasn't exactly sliver tongued but c'mon!
I could't fault her for not talking, she obviously had better things to think about than my lame attempts at conversation, and I didn't want to push her into speaking before she was ready. Still, shutting herself off completely wasn't the answer either. Though, it's not like I could force her to make friends.
I guess I should feel honored that I was the one person she deemed worthy of responses. Every one else she just sort of ignored. I became her official spokesperson during the following weeks. Never thought I would be known as 'the talkative' one.
Jane was reserved and became solely focused on running herself into the ground through training. She was out at the crack of dawn, jogging. During classes at the local public school we were forced to attend, (which was bullshit, by the way. I've already gone through high school once. A second time just reminded me how much of a cesspool it was) I saw her subtly practicing her biotics with a pen, twirling it between her fingers almost unconsciously. It was like a nervous habit. She was careful, though, and she hid the glow almost perfectly. Still, the smell of ozone surrounded her and more than once I had to subtly nudge her or make a scene when a teacher's eyes began to wonder towards the back of the classroom. Sometimes, she would ditch the school altogether and I had the distinct feeling she was off practicing in some secluded spot with the more explosive elements of her biotic abilities.
It's not like she missed much. The days she attended, she aced any test put in front of her. Jane and I were actually at the top our class. Mostly because I had seen all the material before and Jane was just naturally intuitive when it came to school. I wanted to follow her to wherever it was she went, but never worked up the nerve.
Then the silent treatment came to an abrupt end.
December 10, 2170 (two months since displacement)
I had been sleeping one night (or I was attempting to), when a pair of hands dragged me roughly from my bunk.
"Son of bi-!" one of the hands clasped tightly around my mouth.
"Shut up, boy scout." a familiar voice hissed out quietly. Jane glanced hurriedly around the dorm I shared with a couple other guys to make sure the noise hadn't woken them up. "We're getting out of this hell hole."
Well, at least I could safely say I've had worse wake up calls.
I give her a mute nod, deciding to ask questions as soon as she took her hand from my mouth. Quietly of course.
She let go and tossed my duffel bag at me. "Pack what you can and hurry."
I obeyed, slipping on a pair of shoes. I never really unpacked in the first place. "Where's the fire, chief?" I whispered, still slightly dazed. "Or are we just going for romantic midnight stroll?"
She doesn't answer. Stiil, I was ecstatic she was using full sentences. Was it sad that the only person I cared about talking to was practically a functioning mute? That sounds like a question for another time.
Once I have my bag slung over my shoulder, she grabs my hand and we move silently through the halls of the orphanage.
"I've got enough creds saved up to buy us both tickets to Anhur. It's a fairly new colony. A human-batarian settlement. Some bullshit way to placate the Batarian Hegemony. There's a lot of slaves there."
I blinked. Okaaayy? I'm pretty sure this was not supposed to happen. Where did I fuck up and how can I fix it? "Are you sure this is a good idea, Shepard?"
She gives a short, humorless, chuckle as we round the corner, "Don't you feel it?" Jane raised her hand and glowed with azure light momentarily. The bars on a nearby window popped off. My eyebrows raised, she was serious about this. Those bars had been screwed in. She would of had to unscrew each one individually to make them give so easily. That would have taken time.
Did I miss something? Was there some group meeting I was supposed to attend? Cause I'm pretty sure escaping never came up in any of our mostly one-sided conversations.
I dig in my feet into the floor, grinding us to a halt as Jane was about to step towards the window. I needed to buy time to figure this all out. "Alright, short stuff, either you start talking or I start shouting."
She turns swiftly, so quickly I have to take a step back when I see her eyes glowering at me. Faint biotic energy cackling around her, lighting up the darkness around us.
"They're hurting! Don't ask me how I know! I just know!" She grabs the front of my shirt. "And I'm just... sitting here! Doing nothing!"
That's when it dawned on me. "Jane-"
"Don't you dare!" She backed me up until I my back was pressed against the wall. Biotics flaring dangerously. She should really be more careful with those powers if she wants to keep them a secret. I glanced side to side, hoping no one heard this exchange, "I know what you're gonna say, and I don't care. I need to look for them, dammit!"
Oh man, she was very serious.
This is my fault. Somehow. It had to be my fault. I screwed up somewhere. I did something wrong. I messed up.
"I know what you're thinking," Jane continued, though I'm not sure if she was arguing with me or herself at this point, "But I can't just wait any longer. It's not right. This place isn't right. They walk around and act... normal!"
"I'm not like you, Matt. Whatever you got that keeps you going through each day with that stupid happy-go-lucky grin, I don't have it. I can't just sit here pretending everything is going to work itself out!"
What? She thought… Ah hell. That's what I get for acting pleasant.
I gripped her by her shoulders, "Alright, Jane."
The red head blinked, any further attempts to argue dying on her lips along with the wisps of biotic energy that outlined her, "What?"
"Alright." I stated again running a hand through my disheveled hair. Why couldn't this have waited until the morning? "But we can't parade around the galaxy like some rag-tag version of Liam Neeson from Taken."
Jane's face turned defiant again, "I can't do nothing, boy scout, I refuse to do nothing."
"I know, okay? I'm not saying we do nothing." Damn, why'd she have to be so impulsive? Just my luck I get the headstrong Shepard. Why not nice Shepard? I pinch the bridge of my nose, thoughts drifting to my comfortable bed. Oh well, I wasn't getting any sleep tonight anyways. "I promised I would help you find them, and that's exactly what I'm gonna do. But the galaxy is a big and dangerous place. We need time to prepare. Start training. Maybe we can enlist-"
"Enlist?" Jane looked at me as if I was crazy, "To hell with that, we aren't fighting for some Alliance."
Great, another curve ball. That's just what I needed.
"I thought you'd want to get back at the batarians?" This wasn't in the script either. I couldn't have changed events that drastically, right? She was supposed to want revenge, wasn't she?
"I do." Jane stated, brows furrowing, " God, I want to rip them apart. But mom and Tommy come first." A small smirk makes its way on her face, "Family is weird like that."
I bite back a grimace. Well, that explains things. I'm somehow responsible for this. I gave her hope and now, instead of running off to join the Alliance she wants to put her life back together. From a moral standpoint; that's very admirable. From a trans-dimensional hopper's standpoint, this is very very bad. How can she become Commander Shepard if she never joins the Alliance? How was she supposed to become a spectre and track down Saren if she doesn't first go through basic training?
My hand rubs at my forehead. All this thinking was giving me a headache. I take a deep breath and begin preparing myself for the argument that's about to ensue. I had to get her to join the Alliance. Everything hinged on her becoming the best humanity had to offer and she couldn't do that if she was running around the galaxy.
But then I take another look into her blood-shot eyes and I realize something very important; I couldn't do it.
I couldn't force her to enlist.
She didn't deserve to have the weight of the galaxy thrust upon her. I don't care what any video game plot says. She was a human being and she just wanted to find her family. And whether Jane knew it or not, she somehow wormed her way into the select category of people I considered to be extended family. That made me responsible. If she wanted to find her family then I was gonna do everything in my power to make it happen.
Fuck berries, I hated being responsible.
My brain raced to cope with the sudden development, only slightly aware I was about to throw the entire timeline out the proverbial airlock. I knew my presence here was going to cause ripples, but this was a freaking tidal wave. "We can train than. Work as mercenaries or something. Just until we get enough money to buy information for where your family is."
She doesn't say anything. Just continues searching me with this unreadable look. What did she want me to say? I didn't have all the answers. I wish I did, but I was never great at thinking on the fly.
"Hire someone to look for them, you know? The Shadow Broker's supposed to be the best source for this kind of information. Maybe we can work for him?"
"Every second we waste is another second they spend in captivity for no reason." Jane's lips press into a thin line and her gaze burrows into me. Dammit, she was being stubborn again.
"Than we make each second count." I retort.
We descend into silence, making me fidget in agitation. Please, let this work. Anything is better than having her run off to some colony.
Finally, she gives me a half-hearted glare, "I hate it when you make sense."
I breath a sigh of relief, "Yeah, me too."
Well, I may have just doomed the entire galaxy. You can all congratulate me later.
Only time would tell how badly this was gonna blow up in my face.
I glanced down the hallway. It looked like no one heard us. Good. This would have been a bitch explaining to the caretakers. "And for the record, my happy-go-lucky smile is not stupid."
"Why'd I bother waking you up?"
"Cause you'd be lost without your trusty sidekick? And you keep me around to make you feel much more competent by comparison?"
Jane rolls her eyes, but a small smirk tugs at the corner of her mouth, "Damn right."
I smirk good-naturedly, "Get some sleep, Jane. We'll figure out the rest of this tomorrow." Yeah, I'm hypocrite. Sue me.
"The circles under you're eyes are darker than mine." Jane fires back, immediately putting her 'stubborn look' back on.
Shit. Why'd she have to be so observant? "Don't you worry about me-"
"I'm not worried." Jane bit out, "I'm just tired of seeing you stumble around during the day, looking like death."
I gave her a weak smile. "Hey, now. You're not exactly this year's beauty queen, Ms. Shepard."
"I look ten times better than you on any given day."
A dry chuckle escaped me, "Yeah, alright that's true, but you still need sleep."
"I sleep when you do."
I may have been tired, but that was a perfect setup and I refused to let an opportunity like that go. "Are you insinuating something, shorty?"
Jane doesn't miss a beat. A smirk dawns on her face, "And if I am?"
My brain goes dead for a couple seconds, trying to think of a response.
Jane let's out a soft laugh, "Never thought I would see you at a loss for words."
"Yeah, well… Your face." I mutter. That wasn't fair. Not fair at all. I rub tiredly at my eyes.
Jane noticed the action. She grabbed my wrist in a vice like grip and gives me a hard stare. "I'm serious, boy scout. You need to sleep."
Unexpectedly, steps echo through the hallways. We freeze in place. A shadow loomed against the wall closest to us. It was coming from the caretaker's wing.
Ah fuck me sideways.
We froze. Not moving a muscle. There was nowhere for us to run. Our steps would be heard if we tried to make a break for it so we just stood there, with Jane's grip still locked around my wrist and my back still pressed against the wall.
Thankfully, the shadow moves away from the hallway and I let my body relax.
I let out a weary and stifled laugh.
"What's so funny?"
I glance down at Jane, "We were once running and hiding from batarian slavers. Now we're running and hiding from a bunch of caretakers."
Jane blinked before a broad grin stretched across her face and she snickered, "How the mighty have fallen." Then her gaze became piercing again, "Anything else you'd like to tell me?"
I let out a dramatic sigh, "Alright, you've broken me. The reason I'm not sleeping is because I'm secretly having an affair with an asari super model."
"Bullshit, an asari is completely out of your league."
"Now that's just hurtful."
"Matt." Crap, she was using her no nonsense tone.
Unexpected frustration suddenly flared in me. She didn't get to do that. I was the one worried about her and the fact that she wasn't talking. She would just disappear randomly on some days and I was just now learning that she had been planning to escape. She didn't get to demand answers from me now when she's been keeping me in the dark this entire time. "What do you want me to say, Jane? Communication is supposed to be a two-way street and you've left me to pave the way all by my lonesome."
I regretted the words as soon as they leave my mouth. Jane reacts as if I just burned her, backing up and letting go of my wrist almost immediately. Her eyes wide in shock before her face becomes stone again.
The silence that descended afterwards spoke volumes.
Nice going, ya idgit. You just managed to piss off your friend and doom the galaxy all in one night. That takes skill. Got any more scathingly brilliant ideas? Why don't you kick a puppy while you're at it?
I opened my mouth to apologize.
It closed shut with a surprised click.
Jane's face softens to become sincere, "You're right; I've been a shitty friend. That's on me." She crosses her arms and leans on her hip suddenly glancing everywhere except at my eyes, "But I'm here now."
My hand rubbed at the back of my neck. "Nah, I'm sorry. I get it. You wanted to deal with this shit on your own. I can respect that, but our dynamics need a bit of an overhaul. I'm not saying we have to know every stupid detail about each other, but it would be nice if we just kept each other in the loop, right?" I give her a small smirk, "Maybe tell each other when we're planning to run off in the middle of the night?"
Jane gives a brief nod, a shadow of a smirk flashing across her face. "Alright. Just… I'm here, okay? You can talk to me. I'm not like any of those damn shrinks."
"Same offer goes for you," I shrugged. "We're in this together."
She rewarded me with a genuine smile, "Damn right."
"Great," Another crisis averted, "We can call ourselves Team Carter."
"We're not calling ourselves that."
"But it has such a nice ring to it."
"It's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"That sounds like a challenge. I accept."
From that moment on, life became a bit more tolerable. There was no more talk of escaping during the night or any more heart-to-hearts. We started working together and communicating much more effectively. She was still silent and aloof at most times and I was still socially inept, but we became masters at the silent conversations. Being able to convey words and meanings with just the slightest glance. It was weird, like we were on the same wavelength or something.
Not that I was complaining.
And sleeping became much easier.
We devoted every moment we could to preparing for life as mercenaries.
Weapons training was out of our reach, apparently in the year 2170, it was frowned upon for anyone under the age of eighteen to want to practice shooting things. Which is a bullshit 'cause I distinctly remember dad teaching my brothers and I how to use hunting rifles and no one even batting an eye! Family tradition my ass.
That didn't stop us from sparring. Jane showed me the abandoned warehouse she had been using to practice her biotics. It was right next to an industrial plant and any noise that was produced through her powers was drowned out by the assembly line.
In our spars, I would have thought my experience in boxing and natural strength gave me an edge. That was not the case. Not even a little bit. Apparently Jane had been studying judo since she was six.
Yeah, I was surprised too.
Boxing didn't have shit on judo. Good thing I knew how to take a hit.
Thus Jane took it upon herself to teach me a little of what she learned over the years. I was getting better and eventually after a couple of months I could last nearly five minutes before Jane throughly thrashed me.
I even got up at the crack of dawn to jog with her.
"Oh god." I wheezed tiredly, clutching my side, "What foul trickery is this, you height deficient demon spawn?" I fall dramatically to my knees, "So tired. Need air. And water. Call ambulance."
Jane jogged past me, lapping me for the second time. Her expression became deadpan as she looked me over, "What are you doing?"
"Dying." I groan. "I thought it was obvious. Shorty, I know jogging is supposed to be healthy and all, but at what cost?"
Jane just rolled her eyes and hauled me to my feet, "Get up, boy scout. We've barely run four miles."
"Four whole miles?!"
Obviously, even without asthma, running was not my strong suit.
However, I wasn't about to be left behind. Technology and medicine was where I excelled.
We studied the texts that Chakwas forwarded to me religiously. There was a lot to learn. Asari anatomy, krogan biology, batarian physiology. That last one particularly interested Jane. She probably was taking the whole 'know thy enemy' saying very seriously.
It almost became like a game. A competition to see how we could one up each other. She'd kick my ass in fighting, I'd show her how to use her omni-tool to hack a datapad. She'd learn a new trick with her biotics that improved her power, I'd learn how to extract a paint-chip sized bullet using only my swiss army knife. It was a good system.
We were discreet, and we were getting better. There was only so much we could learn from the extranet and each other, but we were getting there.
And just because Jane wasn't joining with the Alliance, didn't mean I was completely discarding canon. Some things could be different, but some might stay the same. I couldn't be sure.
I spent my spare time planning. Anticipating how to work the galaxy from this new angle.
There was just so many 'what ifs'. Too many unknowns.
All this worrying was giving me gray hairs.
Ideas were thought up before being swiftly discarded. Timelines were made and sometimes, I'd wake up in the dead of night and just start writing down everything I could remember from the games and lore. I then encrypted the files like no other on my omni-tool. Even going so far as to use a long thought out code.
I didn't want anyone seeing the files. They'd either use the timelines to their advantage or (more likely) would report me into the nearest mental asylum. Swapping the orphanage for a padded room was not on my ever growing To Do list.
Research and preparing for galactic events became a hobby. Well, that and having Jane beat me senseless in physical training.
The first year at the orphanage past by us and life was... as normal as it could get at this point.
At least until Naval Intelligence got involved.
August 10, 2171
The sound metal and tools echoed around the warehouse, drowning out the impacts of my fists against the speed bag I had bought on the orphanage's allowance. Couldn't afford much else. It was almost time for me to head back, but I couldn't leave yet, the rhythmic beat was soothing. Boxing was great way to work off steam.
A noise that shouldn't have been there penetrated the grinding assembly line.
"You know, if you were any quieter, you'd be a vorcha."
I could feel the disgruntled glare being aimed at my back and had to bite back a smile.
"How did you know?" Jane asked simply from behind me. I gave the speed bag a final punch, before turning to meet her scowl. Honestly, she needed to laugh more.
"Oh, you know. The room just brightens every time you enter it."
Her scowl deepened, "Wipe that smirk off your face, boy scout. It's time to head back."
Head back. Not head home. The orphanage wasn't home. Not even after a year of living there. Not home. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss my family and friends. Hell, I even missed the familiar polluted air of the city. Strange, right?
I look back at Jane and give her a bright grin, "Go ahead without me. I'll catch up."
She doesn't move, drilling me with an unreadable look, before shrugging. "Don't be too late." Jane turns on her heel and walks out of the make-shift gym.
"Happy travels." Happy travels? What the hell? Couldn't I just say goodbye like a regular person? What is wrong with me?
I wasn't too worried about her finding her way back. The warehouse wasn't in the best of neighborhoods, but Jane was a biotic that knew judo. I pity the fool who messed with her.
"You're pretty good at that."
The voice throws off my beat and I miss a punch. I spin around to see Kahlee Sanders stalking towards me. Gone was the navy blue jumpsuit and in it's place was a more casual outfit for working out.
How'd she know about this place?
Oh… right. Stupid question.
I get over my shock quickly, "Well, didn't expect to see you again," the unasked query hanging in the air. What did Naval Intelligence want?
"We need to talk. Her face was deadly serious as her feet move into a stance and she brings her hands up. Not giving a hint of emotion. Sanders then beckons for me to fight.
Apparently 'talking' meant her beating me into a bloody pulp.
Fantastic. Another ass kicking. That's what this day needed.
I slip into my own stance, "So what is this, huh?" Kahlee circles around me. Like a panther stalking it's prey. Why is she always sizing me up?
Boxing was like a dance. Maybe other people saw it differently, but for me it's always been a dance. A very painful dance. I throw a jab and she ducks almost on instinct coming up with a hook that I back up to avoid. "I've been on my best behavior. Haven't done a thing wrong." A sardonic smile stretches across my face, "Unless you consider being adorable a crime."
Sanders smirks, "You're not that adorable. Sorry to disappoint you but you've been causing too many waves. Naval Intelligence doesn't like that."
"Tough." My next jab lands against her side, but hardly fazes her.
"You're not making my job any easier, you know that?" The words along with a fist to my ribs, catch me off guard. I bring up a block and throw my fist out, only to slam harmlessly against her forearms.
"What are you talking about?" I retaliated by throwing a couple of jabs, but she either danced out of the way or blocked them.
Kahlee brought her guard up. "To put it bluntly, Naval Intelligence doesn't like letting assets slip through their fingers."
I return with a left hook that clipped her shoulder, but otherwise, missed her completely. Dammit, what the hell was this? I'm could at least score a couple of hits on Jane by this time! Sanders was fast. And this definitely wasn't her first time in the ring. "I'm not some 'asset'. I don't know what kind of game you're playing but I don't want any part of it."
"This isn't about you." Kahlee snapped, scoring a few more jabs on my ribs. Her expression causes me to pause. She actually looks frustrated. I never saw her like that before. Though we only talked once before so I guess that isn't saying much. "Not entirely. And keep you're guard up, you're better than this!" I block an uppercut in retaliation of her words, "This is about Ms. Shepard."
"Hey, Jane has nothing to do with this either." I throw a haymaker. It's clumsy and would have brought any real fighter to tears, "You leave her alone."
"Kid, if I had any say in the matter she wouldn't be anywhere near the agency's line of sights." She blocked my clumsy shot and moves into my face, throwing punches left and right. I only barely blocked them. "You think they weren't aware of you're little training sessions? Or of you're plans to become mercenaries?"
Son of a bitch...
I laugh breathlessly, before diving right back into the fray, throwing my own jabs. "You guys weren't joking about that whole watching me business."
"We take that part of our jobs very seriously." Kahlee replied with a smirk, backing away from my fists. The smirk soon fades, "Naval Intelligence can't let someone as gifted as Jane go."
"I don't remember them having a say in the matter."
"This isn't a debate." Kahlee barked back. We're circling each other. Suddenly, it wasn't a dance anymore. It had become something else.
"What is this then?" I asked. I'm not really a suspicious person by nature, but something was up. Sanders was avoiding the question since she got here. Wasting time...
Without warning, Kahlee charges me. There was no time to react. She's fast. Too fast. After a flurry of activity and a bunch of acrobatics I would never be able to perform, I find myself looking up at the ceiling with Sanders pinning my arms and legs, her face inches away from my own. I could actually smell the lilac shampoo she used.
"Not that this is an uncomfortable position," I blinked, still a bit dazed. Goddammit, she wasn't even sweating! I wasn't even a challenge! "But what the hell?"
Her piercing blue eyes bore into me. A multitude of emotion race through the eye contact. Guilt, remorse, shame, sadness. She looked away. The moment couldn't have lasted for more than a millisecond, but it felt like it lasted a lifetime and it chilled me to the bone. Why was she here?
"Talk to me Sanders, please."
She glanced back at me, and stood up, holding out her hand. I took it. Kahlee hauled me to my feet and I think I felt something slip into my palm.
"This is my way of saying sorry." Kahlee whispered, her face stoic.
She turned and walked away.
What the hell?
"Why do you people have such a flare with the dramatics?" I called out after her.
A heavy sense of foreboding settled in my stomach. I looked into my hand. A crumpled up piece of paper laid innocently in my palm. My gaze turned up to where Kahlee should be, only she's not. She's gone again.
I hesitantly unfolded the note.
'Naval Intelligence is recruiting Jane into the Ascension Program and telling her you sold her out. They want her in the Alliance, not as some mercenary. I'm sorry.'
The galaxy stood still.
You know when you get really bad news at the doctor's office? Or when you're about to crash you're car? That oh shit moment where you're stomach drops into your feet and you can't breath and the world could just end in a fiery explosion the next second and you wouldn't even notice?
That's exactly how that moment felt.
I never tore so fast out of that warehouse. I didn't even care that my body ached or that I was covered in sweat. None of that mattered. It barely even registered in the back of my mind.
It made no rational sense. I'd never be able to explain it clearly and logically.
But all that mattered in that one moment was getting to Jane.
I rush through neighborhoods, street lights flickering on as the summer sky darkens.
Finally, I skid to a halt as I neared the orphanage. On the curb was a jet black skycar. It was completely unremarkable.
Except for the fact I've never seen it outside St. Teresa's before.
Not good. Very not good!
I was about to shoulder my way through the front door, only two men in navy uniforms walk out before I can even come within a ten foot radius of the orphanage. The name of the Ascension program spelled out across their backs. One had a black eye and the other favored his left side. The both reeked of ozone.
Oh dear, those wounds looked recent. A short chuckle escaped me. I wondered if a certain redhead was responsible? I brief flicker of hope sparked in me. Maybe she didn't believe them? Maybe I wouldn't end up as a red stain against a wall?
The two men still held themselves up, tall and proud. They looked horribly out of place in the crappy neighborhood, but they walked around as if they owned the block. They might as well have.
They didn't even look at me. Didn't acknowledge my existence. And why would they? I wasn't the main character here. I wasn't even a threat to them. I was a stupid teenage kid that had the misfortune of knowing Jane's secret.
Freaking bastards. The both of them.
They piled into the skycar and raced off to ruin someone else's day.
The next moment a very furious looking redhead storms out of the orphanage doors, biotic energy coming off her in waves. It's only then that I realize I'm just standing there, dumbstruck, and incriminating myself further by being in the same proximity as the two men.
I raise my hands in a placating manor, "Jane, wait. I don't know what they told you but-" Why did I start the sentence like that? I knew exactly what they told her. I guess it didn't matter because the next second, Jane has me in a biotic hold and slams me against the wall of the orphanage. My spine creaked painfully from the strain.
"You have thirty seconds." Jane said in voice so quite I had to strain to hear it. She stalked forwards, grabbed a handful of my shirt and slammed me back into the wall, making my head swim. "Before I kill you."
"Their lying." I seethe out through gritted teeth. "I would never rat you out like that."
"You know me better."
"Fuck, Jane. I promised you I wouldn't and I don't go back on my promises."
The hold on me drops, and I collapse into a tangle of limbs.
Ow. Well, that couldn't have been good for my back.
Jane leans against the wall and slides down beside me. I glance at her while she rakes her fingers through her crimson hair. The anger had drained from her face. Now she just looked tired, "I know. Sorry. I know you wouldn't but-" Her hand slams against the wall, causing a sizable dent. I should probably be terrified, but considering all that's happened to her, I wouldn't blame her if she decided to tear the entire building down. Besides that, this was Jane. She wouldn't hurt me. I knew that the moment I raced down here.
Broken trust was another matter entirely.
Dammit, I should have told her about Naval Intelligence the moment they came to me. What the hell was I thinking? I know what I was thinking. I thought I could handle it all by myself. Sometimes, I underestimated the depths of my stupidity.
"I just- This isn't me. I'm stronger than this." Jane finally muttered, her voice weak and devoid of emotion and definitely not Jane's usual confident tone. I looked at her again and she's cradling her head in both hands, her crimson hair hiding her face from view "Fuck! How'd they find out! We were so careful."
I gazed numbly at the piece of paper still crumpled in my hand. Was it really only an hour ago we had our futures planned out before us? This was all so fucked.
"It's my fault." I felt her gaze snap to me and I slipped her the piece of paper, "I'm sorry I never told you about it before, but I thought that they were only focused on me." I snorted in disgust, "I'm kind of egotistical like that."
Jane examined the scrap of paper, her expression darkening further, "Who the hell are these assholes?"
I shrugged, "Don't know. Spooks I guess. I doubt they'd give me a straight answer if I asked."
Jane slammed her fist against the pavement again and fixed me with a piercing gaze, "Why did they contact you about this? Why did they even contact you in the first place?"
"I have a… friend who doesn't completely agree with what Naval Intelligence is doing." I took a deep breath, "And the reason that they contacted me in the first place is because they don't have the proper records on me or some bullshit like that." Not technically a lie. Just not the whole truth. We had bigger problems than my nonexistent past right now.
"Assholes." Jane breathed out, crumpling the paper and throwing it into the street. "Did they… always know? That I was a biotic?"
"Why wait until now?"
"Because they knew we would be able to leave as soon as we turned eighteen, and they want you in the Alliance."
Jane's gaze grew furious, "Then they can go fuck themselves. I'm not joining their Alliance."
"I don't think it's up for debate." A hollow smirk worked it's way onto my face as I think of Kahlee, "These creeps seem to get what they want. One way or another."
"That pretty much sums it up."
The twilight slowly faded, and soon we were sitting in darkness. It was a warm night, though, so the cold wasn't an issue.
"I'll play their game." Jane brought her knees up and rested her chin against them, but the familiar fire I saw in her eyes on Mindoir was back, "They want a soldier? Fine. I'll give them a soldier. I'll be the best soldier they ever had."
You don't know how right you are.
I give her a lopsided grin. Maybe this was for the best. No more hiding her powers and everything would stay safe and predictable. But where did that leave me? Now we couldn't stay together. Even if I enlisted now, there was no guarantee that we would cross paths again. If only I was a biotic… Yeah, fat chance of that ever happening.
I'll have to work things from a new perspective. Maybe Mordin needed an assistant. Was he even on Omega at this time? Fuck, what a mess. All that planning, all that second-guessing, straight down the drain.
"Jane, I'm so sorry. I should have told about you about them in the first place. So much for keeping each other in the loop. We should have left for Anhur that night. I should-"
Jane's voice interrupted my self berating. "What?"
"I don't like... this," Jane said, waving her hand to signify me, "You're not supposed to be the broody type." She cracked a half-hearted smile, "That's my job. You're the amiable one and I'm the unsociable one."
I couldn't help but chuckle at that, "You think so? Alright, I'll be your plucky sidekick and you can be the dark knight. We'd make an awesome crime fighting duo."
Jane snorts and we lapse into an easy silence.
"Sorry I kinda threw you against a wall."
"That's alright. I sort of deserved it."
"Are you good?" Jane finally asked.
No, not really, "Yeah, don't you worry about me. You just worry about kicking some batarian ass. Show those pretentious assholes in the Alliance that you mean business."
Jane laughed. An honest to god laugh that rang through the quiet air.
Shit. I'm gonna miss that laugh.
She nudged me slightly and I took it as my que to wrap my hand around her shoulders. And we just sat there in quite camaraderie, a silent conversation being exchanged between the two of us.
Everything's gonna be alright.
I know. Just stay safe.
Jane left the next day.
Same guys in the same uniforms in the same skycar picked her up.
I was the only one to see her off.
"Take care of yourself." I stuck out my hand. Trying to avoid her gaze. I never was very good at goodbyes, "Alright, shorty?"
I heard Jane snort, before feeling her arms wrap around me in a tight hug. Ah dammit. I was never great with hugs either. Nevertheless, I hugged back, taking comfort in her presence while it lasted.
"Don't do anything stupid, boy scout."
She pulled away, holding me at arms length, "Will you… look for them, for me?"
I gave her a thumbs up. "Of course."
"Thanks boy scout."
"Don't mention it."
Then she was gone.
That just left me.
Trapped in an video game with nothing familiar.
The next few days a passed by in a crawl. I just went through the motions, devoting myself to physical training. I'd be dammed if the next time I sparred with Jane, I didn't at least last ten minutes. I researched mercenary groups and batarian slavers. The problem was that the batarian slave rings were a mess. No order whatsoever. Like trying to find a needle in the haystack. A galaxy sized haystack.
It wasn't a complete lost cause. I had the ID of the slaving vessel from the raid on Mindoir. It was mentioned briefly in the Alliance News Network. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
September 7, 2171
It was my birthday.
I never really took notice of it except for a few times in college when I celebrated with a couple of close friends.
Never saw much point, I guess.
Now was different. Now I was physically eighteen. A legal adult in the eyes of the Systems Alliance. The orphanage could no longer care for me.
I took my bag and the credits they gave me and I left St Teresa's behind me. I was heading for Omega. Employ my services there. Learn to shoot a gun without flinching. Maybe even cause a bit of chaos.
At least that was my plan until a neon yellow skycar pulled up right as I was exiting the orphanage.
"Dear Dr. King, that's an eyesore." I squint, trying to erase the image of the obnoxious color from my retinas. The person in the driver's seat, however, made my eyes widen in surprise.
Kahlee exited the vehicle with a grimace, "It's only temporary. My car's in the shop at the moment."
"Was there really nothing else available as a replacement?"
Kahlee smirked, "Not unless you preferred hot pink, kid."
"This is good."
"I thought you would think as much."
I leaned against the brightly colored frame of the vehicle, "So what is it now?" my voice nonchalant, "More bad news?"
A small smile flashed across Kahlee's face, "Why don't we take a ride and you'll find out."
"My parents always taught me to not accept rides from complete strangers."
Kahlee leaned against the hood opposite of me, a smile still playing across her face, "Don't you want to know where Ms. Shepard's family is located, kid?"
I step into the skycar, "Well, I've made worse decisions."
"This won't be one of them." Kahlee grins sliding into the driver seat. "Here's what they have planned for you..."
AN: Holy hell it's been awhile since I last updated, huh? Sorry folks. Had to spend the last couple weeks back with the family and haven't had a lot of time to write. Hope you all had a relaxing holiday.
And hey, a long chapter. Thats gotta count for something, right?
Once again, big thanks to Richard Caine.
And huge thanks to all those that reviewed, favorite/and or follow!
I'll try to make my updates more predictable. Until next time!