Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko stepped off of the shuttle, duffel bag in hand. He hadn’t gone further than two steps when he stopped and stared. There she was.
The Normandy .
She was beautiful. Her clean lines spoke of maneuverability, and even from here, Kaidan could see that her engines were much more powerful than usually assigned to such a small ship. And she was a small ship. He hadn’t counted on that. Small berths meant close quarters, which meant lots of people crammed together. And that meant more chances for his headaches to flare up. Crowds tended to do that to him. Kaidan frowned, then hitched his duffel bag onto his shoulder.
As he walked across the deck, Kaidan continued to admire the Normandy, her black and white hull looking rather simple and utilitarian. He wondered what she was hiding on the inside. What little he had heard about this mission was that for a marine interested in tech, this was the ship to be on.
Kaidan was so caught up in looking at the ship that he almost ran into a dock worker who appeared suddenly in front of him. He stepped back to avoid running her over, then paused as she deliberately stepped to the side to block his path. The woman stepped in closer than Kaidan expected and smiled up at him.
“Hi,” she said, brightly.
“Ah…hi,” Kaidan said. So quickly that he almost missed it, the woman flicked a glance over her shoulder. Kaidan followed her gaze and saw a small knot of people standing not far away. Before he could wonder what that was all about, the woman turned to him again and asked:
“Need help finding your way?”
“Ah.” Kaidan blinked. “No.” When the woman did not move, he added, “I think I can find the ship from here.” The woman laughed. Kaidan raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t meant that to be funny.
“You one of the crew?” she asked, looking up at him through her lashes.
“So, hey,” the woman said, taking a step closer. “Some friends of mine brought some drinks,” she nodded at the group behind her. “We were going to open them in the staff room at lunchtime – kind of a launch celebration. Maybe you’d like to join us?”
“Thanks, but I can’t,” Kaidan said, looking over at the small group once again. He realized now that there were a few marines among the dock hands. He wondered, briefly, if those were soldiers assigned to the Normandy, or newly released to shore leave. Kaidan hoped the later – or if the former, that they all had the sense to get back onto the ship on time. He didn’t much feel like writing up subordinates on his first day.
He looked back to the woman and found she was still looking at him. “I’ll be on duty later,” Kaidan clarified.
“I see,” the woman said, looking him over speculatively. “Well, we could always go get a drink now – or maybe something a little…stronger.”
Kaidan looked down at her, taken aback.
“Before you leave, you know,” she winked meaningfully. “Something for the road.”
Kaidan looked at the woman at first in surprise, but that quickly cooled to a clinical stare. She was pretty enough, he supposed. Average height, average build, average face and a lot of make up. He felt like he’d met her before, he knew the type so well. There were plenty of girls like her that spent their time in docking bays hanging around after military men. For a moment he considered being polite, but something prompted him to say flatly:
“I’m a biotic.”
The woman’s face fell.
“An L2,” Kaidan went on, noting with a sort of grim satisfaction the way her eyes widened and her jaw slackened. With all that lipstick on, her mouth made a big red O.
“Right,” Kaidan said, not sure if her reaction amused him or bothered him. It certainly was exactly what he had expected.
“So which entrance is for the crew?” he said, when the woman simply continued to stare at him.
The woman didn’t even answer him. She just pointed to the walkway on the port side of the ship dumbly.
“Thanks,” Kaidan said. He hitched his bag onto his shoulder again and walked on.
Typical, he thought to himself. People liked to think they were so open-minded until they actually dealt with something different – something complicated. And his life was certainly complicated. It was part of the reason he’d tried to simplify it over all these years.
It was funny, Kaidan mused as he left the dock worker behind. Most women he met were either vaguely terrified of biotic power or just interested in telling an interesting story to their friends – sometimes a little of both. Guess what kind of guy I brought home last night? Kaidan had heard enough of that kind of talk around the mess hall to know he wanted to avoid being the subject of it. For all the gossip about biotics, most people had no idea what it was like to actually be one – the control it required, hell, the diet it required. Most of the time Kaidan felt more like an L2 machine than a human. A very touchy L2 machine, he amended, remembering how headaches had eaten up his last shore leave.
Kaidan considered the alternative and his frown deepened. Short flings with strangers in various ports of call was not his way either. He supposed most men would call him crazy – most women, too – but he had no interest in casual affairs that meant nothing and just left a guy feeling cold and vaguely used. He preferred his boring life to that mess, thank you very much. At least he was never the latest topic of gossip below decks. And at least he could still respect himself in the morning, even if he woke alone.
Kaidan waited in decontamination for the scans to finish, then stepped onto the Normandy.
Kaidan gazed around, momentarily distracted by the hum of the engines and the lights of all the systems consoles. This ship was far more than met the eye. He hadn’t seen gunnery stations this advanced on any frigate, and here they were – six whole stations of them – on a ship a quarter of the size. A balding man greeted him, introducing himself as Presley. The older gentleman gave Kaidan a brief orientation to the crew deck, then handed him a data pad and then turned to gripe to another crew member about “damned turian construction.” Kaidan had to ask for directions to his locker from one of the other crew. He picked up his duffel again and went downstairs to get into the elevator.
As the elevator descended slowly into the belly of the ship, Kaidan thought back to his last shore leave. It had begun promisingly enough – he’d met some childhood friends for drinks down at the local pub. He had nothing in common with them anymore than the fact that all of their parents now lived in Vancouver, but once those guys got drunk, it hardly mattered. They had all been talking as if they were best friends, staring at the dancers together, generally making fools of themselves.
Kaidan, on the other hand, had nursed his single beer, then called it a night when the flashing lights in the club had finally brought on a migraine he just couldn’t ignore. He’d spent the next day lying in a hotel bed with the curtains drawn. That was becoming something of a bad habit. But if he hadn’t been doing that, he doubted he would have done anything more exciting. Visit a museum, maybe? Check out the markets looking for omni-tool upgrades?
God, I’m getting boring, he thought. With a self-deprecating laugh, Kaidan shook his head. It was better this way, it really was. He was happy with his life. If he didn’t have so many headaches, things would be perfect.
If you didn’t have so many headaches you’d realize you were missing something. The thought flashed through his mind and Kaidan frowned. He really didn’t need to be brooding on this. He just needed to stow his gear, if ever he managed to reach the lower decks. The elevator was certainly taking its sweet time.
When the elevator finally let him into the cargo hold, Kaidan stashed his gear and took a look around. The area was bigger than he’d expected: They actually had fit a Mako in here and had room to spare. This ship was certainly full of surprises. Kaidan returned to the elevator and took a long ride back up to the crew deck. He resolved never to get into that elevator again if he could help it. The thing had obviously been programmed by snails.
Kaidan found his assigned sleeper pod and checked the data pad for his bunk schedule. It seemed he’d be on the “day” shift – not that day or night meant as much out in space. He also saw he was assigned ground crew duties, which meant that sleep schedule might change at a moment’s notice. Ground crew had to be ready for anything.
Kaidan packed the last of his personal effects into the locker by his assigned sleeper pod. To his dismay, the bed looked like one of the newer models. These things got smaller every year, he thought, frowning. Being just under six feet tall and broad-shouldered was an advantage in some situations, but small ships often had him wishing he was a more compactly built man. Still, it was part of the job, and so he dealt with it because he had to. Not unlike the headaches, in that respect, he thought.
Closing his locker, Kaidan looked around. There was no one in sight – not surprising given that the crew was likely taking advantage of being docked to get out and stretch their legs. From what he understood, the crew had been out testing systems all week, taking only short-range flights from the dock and back again.
Kaidan found his own station near the sleeper pods. It looked like he would be taking over systems-critical electrical and VI interfacing. Why they would put something that would need such constant maintenance near the sleeper pods was a classic case of military oversight, he thought. But then, first generation warships were known for being deadly to enemies and completely uncomfortable for the crew. As least the lights were turned down low over here. It shouldn’t bother his head too much.
Kaidan took a look at his station. Seeing nothing that needed attention right away, he turned his attention back to his data pad. He’d heard very little about this mission since Captain Anderson had recruited him. You didn’t say “no” to such an officer, and you also didn’t ask questions when the mission was so obviously secretive. Kaidan had been curious since he had transferred berths.
He glanced through his duties, then turned to the mission objectives. As Anderson had mentioned, the point of this shake-down run was to test out the stealth systems on this prototype ship – the Council had been behind the building of it, along with the Alliance. Kaidan could appreciate the need for secrecy in that case. There were all sorts of groups that would be angry over such a partnership. Still, he thought with a frown, it was strange Captain Anderson would be given such a mission. From what he knew of the man, the captain should be on the front lines, not testing the hardware on new ships. Shaking off a wonder that there might be more here than was being said, Kaidan went on to read the dossiers of the crew.
Looking down the list, Kaidan raised his eyebrows and gave a low whistle. The entire crew was top notch. He felt vaguely flattered at each entry. That he would be selected to join this team spoke volumes about what the Alliance thought of him. There was Jeff “Joker” Moreau. Everyone in the Alliance had heard of him. He was quite famous – or notorious, depending on your pay grade – for his skill and his attitude alike. The doctor he’d heard of – she’d been around forever and worked on nearly every major Alliance event. Navigator Presley had been in the Blitz, and then there was the executive officer, who was listed as a biotic.
Kaidan’s eyes immediately went to the entry. It was rare that he served with biotics. The official line was that stable biotics were unusual, so the Alliance preferred to share the wealth, never putting more than one in each unit. Over the years, however, Kaidan had gathered that the real reason biotics were separated was that the Alliance brass didn’t like the idea of biotics’ energy patterns interfering with one another. They suspected it might hinder their abilities, upset their neural frequencies. At the very least, they wanted to know more about telekinetic powers before putting such soldiers side-by-side in combat. The brass found biotics unsettling enough without having them in commando-type units.
Kaidan couldn’t blame them. He’d grown up in a school full of biotics and he knew that biotics in a group tended to get…moody. Having that much energy in one place was like putting a bunch of magnets near a compass. Everyone started spinning a little wilder. Biotic energies gave off a faint…well, hum was the best way Kaidan could describe it. All biotics were sensitive to mass effect fields, but only some could sense the fields generated by sources other than themselves. Non-biotics never seemed to notice such energy; weak biotics got a hint of it, but strong biotics, on the other hand, could usually read that tingling energy frequency pretty readily.
Of course, Kaidan thought to himself, that was hardly common knowledge. He knew that he could sense the energies of other biotics, but he’d trained himself to tune it out. Other biotics, especially strong ones, tended to jar him, like chatter on a comm. The weaker ones he could just ignore. He wondered which type the XO was. Kaidan looked again to the dossier:
Lieutenant Commander Shepard.
That name sounded familiar, thought Kaidan couldn’t place it right away. Curious, he read through the dossier. The commander was an L3, he saw. Well, that figured. The guy was probably a low-power biotic, just using his implants as a curiosity while relying on guns to do the heavy lifting. The only other thing the file said about him was…
Oh… Kaidan thought, his eyes widening. Right. Elysium.
Well, that certainly clarified things a bit. The commander had been the one who held the line in the Blitz, saving an entire colony – awarded the Star of Terra, if Kaidan remembered right. Though now that he recalled it, Shepard was a woman, wasn’t she? He remembered seeing the vids: a tall, pale figure standing on stage among several admirals who had long since gotten a little paunchy around the middle.
It he hadn’t been curious about their mission before, he certainly was now. If Anderson had picked this crew from the best the Alliance had to offer – and it seemed that the man had – then it looked like he was expecting something big to happen.
Though then again, Kaidan thought, just because these soldiers had impressive files didn’t necessarily mean that they would perform as well in the field. He didn’t mean to second-guess the XO before meeting her, but in his experience, he reserved judgment on commanding officers until he saw that their file matched their performance. After all, he had served with a few “war hero” types before and not all of them had been as competent in person as they had been in writing. And she was probably getting up there in years. The Blitz had been almost eight years ago, after all, and Kaidan hadn’t heard much about her since that time.
A headache began to throb behind Kaidan’s eyes. That’s what you get for reading in the dark, he thought to himself. He shook his head, but the headache just started to grow. He pinched his nose, but it didn’t help much. The headache felt like a big one, one that would probably land him in the med bay over there. Great , Kaidan thought. Haven’t even settled in and …
“Sir?” An eager voice pulled him back to his surroundings. Kaidan raised an eyebrow and peered at the speaker from over his fingers. A tall, gangly young man stood before him. The kid wore a beret and an expression that could only be described as eager. He reminded Kaidan of a big, blue-eyed puppy. Having just read the dossier, Kaidan placed the kid at once.
“Corporal Jenkins?” he asked.
“That’s right!” The kid positively beamed. “You remembered me!” He saluted enthusiastically.
“How could I forget you?” Kaidan asked, reaching over to shake the kid’s hand. “I see you made it through that training without any more scars.”
“I’m fine,” Jenkins said, smiling. “Yeah, that was a stupid stunt, rushing you like that to see what you’d do…”
Kaidan chuckled and shook his head in spite of the headache. “Glad to see you haven’t changed, corporal.”
“So you’re on this mission, too, huh? I’ve been here about a week,” the kid spoke so quickly that Kaidan had to concentrate to follow him. “I got out to walk around, but then I just had to come back to the ship. We’ve got a link to the extra-net from here and Presley said I could use it when we’re in port. He’s the navigator, you know. He was one of the first frigates sent in to rescue Elysium, if you can believe that. I was asking him about it, but he said he needed me to go make a sweep of the ship – to see if the last of the crew has shown up. All remaining hands are due to arrive here today, you know.”
*Presley was probably was trying to get rid of the kid, * Kaidan thought. His headache was now holding steady: painful, but not getting worse. Perhaps he could talk civilly for a while. He didn’t want to brush the kid off. Jenkins was nice enough. And besides, as he’d just learned from his data pad, Jenkins was the other half of the commander’s ground crew. It looked like Kaidan would be serving with this kid at his side. He could only hope that Jenkins had learned a thing or two from his last training.
“How many crew are on the ship?” Kaidan asked. Jenkins told him.
Kaidan blinked at the number. “Why are we fully staffed for a shakedown run?” he wanted to know.
“I dunno,” Jenkins said with a shrug. “Presley was asking the same thing. I tell you what though, it’s an honor to serve with you finally. I kept wanting to ask you about your biotics since you sent me flying. Is it true you’re an L2?”
“Uh…yeah,” Kaidan said. He was now beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t just go get some meds after all. Then again, the headache was easing a little, and so…
“This is so awesome to work with a biotic,” Jenkins told him, calling him back to the present. “Well, two biotics, really. But how is it you haven’t split your hand open with…what do call it, Warp? I mean, how do you target just one thing? And how do you not throw your allies around when you’re throwing the bad guys around? And why call it ‘Warp’ anyhow? Wasn’t that slang for faster-than-light travel in the old vids?”
“I don’t use Warp fields,” Kaidan said, “I prefer to place hostiles in Stasis and…”
Jenkins just kept going. “So you were part of that unit that saved the colony from those raiders, huh? Did you rip apart some pirates?”
“Which colony?” Kaidan asked.
“Right, there were several of them, huh? Sounds sorta like what the commander did. Only…”
” Corporal .”
The kid froze suddenly at the sound of his title. Kaidan stiffened, recognizing not the voice, but the immediate tone of authority. Both he and the kid turned suddenly as Captain Anderson came striding over to them.
The kid snapped to attention at once. Kaidan stood to salute a little less quickly, loathe to take his hand from the bridge of his nose. It had been helping him keep the headache away. Anderson reached them and folded his arms behind his back. Kaidan thought he looked exactly as he did in all his vids: imposing, authoritative, and a little bit worn around the edges.
And then, so subtle Kaidan almost thought he was imagining it, he sensed something.
It was like – liquid fire, Kaidan thought. It felt like a flicker of energy, controlled, deliberately directed. Kaidan was so distracted by the sense of it that he noticed nothing else at first. Then he saw that that someone was walking behind Captain Anderson. Kaidan had a moment to register that if this was the biotic commander, then she was powerful for an L3, possibly one of the most powerful and controlled biotics Kaidan had ever met.
Then the mysterious biotic stepped into view and Kaidan’s eyes widened in surprise.