Shepard leaned her palms on the medical table, squeezed her eyes shut, and forced herself to set the dreams aside.
Muscle and bone. Steel and wires.
Screams. Arms twisted and broken.
Liquid running down into pipes.
No , she thought, firmly pushing the visions back to the corners of her mind. That was not now. That was then – some other life, some other place, some other civilization. Right now, she was alive. Right now, she had survived. And right now, she had a job to do. The facts were clear:
A rogue Spectre agent had tried to wipe out an entire human colony. He had an army of sythentic AI at his back. And he would strike again.
Shepard’s eyes narrowed.
Saren had tried to take out a colony .
Well, he’d soon find out that taking out colonies really pissed her off. And no one pissed off the Valkyrie and went free. She’d bring him down yet.
Shepard smoothed her wrinkled casual uniform, then frowned at it. She had been in her jumpsuit last she’d checked. Who had changed her clothes? She started at the thought that it might have been the lieutenant, then grimced and shook her head. Surely not. It must have been the doctor.
Taking a deep breath to clear the cobwebs from her mind, she stepped out onto the crew deck and nearly tripped over Lieutenant Alenko. He was standing right outside the door, almost as if he had been waiting for her.
“Commander,” he said, relief evident in his face. “Glad to see you’re okay.”
“I’m fine – but what about you?” she asked, recalling his brush with the beacon and before that, their hellish mission on Eden Prime. “Things were pretty rough down there. You okay?”
Kaidan nodded. He could see that Shepard still looked pale, but whether it was from the beacon or recalling what happened to Jenkins, he could not say. When he asked her about Jenkins, she frowned, saying she hadn’t lost someone under her command in years, and the feeling was bitter.
Kaidan swiftly changed the subject, and they fell into a surprisingly easy conversation. Kaidan mentioned his concerns about Saren’s true motives, Shepard replied that she hoped to find some way to bring the rogue agent down. Then the conversation began to drift, first to Kaidan’s past service, then to his reasons for joining the Alliance, and soon he found himself talking about his family and why he’d joined the military. It was strange, really. Kaidan didn’t usually go sharing his personal history with his crew.
“Ah, so anyway,” he said, catching himself before he kept talking on and on. “Is that why you’re here, commander? You following in family footsteps, too?”
Shepard paused a moment before replying: “My family were homesteaders on Mindoir.”
Kaidan felt like slapping his forehead. Nice, Alenko .
Damn, of all the stupid things he could have said – only he’d had no idea. Mindoir had been the poster case of Alliance screw-ups, one of the first and worst slaver attacks in human/alien history. The scars on Shepard’s body suddenly made sense. If she had survived that attack, then she must have been through hell. He found himself wondering at once how bad it had been – how young she had been. The attack had only been about twelve years ago.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Shepard said, raising her eyebrow at him.
“Like what?” Kaidan asked, confused by her reaction.
“I know what people think of when they think of Mindoir – and yeah, it was awful. But I’ve moved beyond that. Really, I’ve had a long time to deal with it,” she added when he looked doubtful.
“Oh, that’s right,” Kaidan said, suddenly remembering the rest of her history, the story that Anderson had told him when he first met Shepard. “You were at the Blitz. I imagine your heroics there bought you any post in the fleet.”
Kaidan wasn’t sure what he expected, but he sure as hell didn’t expected Shepard to react like she did. Hurt flashed through her eyes for a moment before she masked it. Quick as a storm rolling in over the sky, her face turned hard and her voice cold.
“I did what I had to do,” she said curtly. “I wasn’t thinking about any damn post at the time.”
“Of course…commander…” Kaidan mumbled, unsure of how he had offended her, only certain that he had. “I just meant…”
“I have to go,” she said curtly, and walked away, leaving Kaidan staring after her in confusion.
“I don’t know how I offended her,” Kaidan said lamely. “I just know I did.”
He was sitting in the mess hall with Ashley Williams and Doctor Chakwas. The three of them had convened there as they waited for Joker to bring them in to dock at the Citadel. At the moment, they were still traveling to the nearest mass relay leading to the Widow Nebula.
“What did you say to her, exactly?” Ashley asked.
“I just asked her about the Blitz,” Kaidan shrugged. “Though before that…maybe she was angry because I brought up Mindoir.”
“She’s from Mindoir ?” Ashley gaped.
“Apparently so,” Kaidan said, thinking again of Shepard’s scars.
“Well damn, LT,” Ashley snorted. “You go bringing up the day her home got bombed to hell and you wonder why she got a little pissy at you? You really don’t get women, do you?”
“Not so much,” Kaidan admitted. “I didn’t mean to offend the commander. I was just trying to make…conversation.”
He stopped and considered that with some curiosity. He never tried to make conversation. Either his crew members talked to him or they didn’t, either people left him alone because of his L2 implants or they didn’t. He had learned not to care either way. So why was he going out of his way to talk to Shepard?
“Well, you couldn’t have offended Shepard too badly,” Dr. Chakwas said, pouring herself a glass of water. “She asked about you not five minutes after you two finished talking.”
“She did?” Kaidan blinked.
“Stopped me on the stairs,” the doctor said, waving a hand in that direction. “Asked about your service record, your biotics and your headaches. She was intrigued by your L2 implants, I think. Being an L3, she’s no doubt curious about the models that came before.”
“Of course,” Kaidan said. Of course she’d asked about the biotics. There was no reason for her to ask about the man behind them. He wasn’t sure if the thought reassured him or disappointed him.
“She’s nice enough,” Ashely Williams observed, digging into her second protein pudding of the morning. “Of course, since she could rip anyone in this ship apart with her biotics or her bare hands, she keeps that professional line down pretty well. Like it’s painted all around her in a thick red line – N7 red, if you get my meaning.”
Was Williams looking at him when she said this? Kaidan couldn’t quite tell, but he got the uncomfortable sense that she was watching him for his reaction.
“All hands who want to catch a wicked view of the Citadel, report to the upper decks.” Joker’s voice crackled over the comm. The three of them looked up at the loudspeaker, then looked back down and one another.
“Wanna go see?” Ashely asked.
“I have some things to clean up before we dock,” Doctor Chakwas said. “You two go on.”
“You coming, Alenko?” Ashley stood.
“Sure,” he said. “Never been to the Citadel before.”
“Me, I’m not really big on alien stations and stuff,” Ashley told him as they walked towards the stairs. “But I don’t want to miss watching Shepard stride onto that station and kick Saren’s ass right out the door.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that easy, chief,” Kaidan told her. “We don’t even know where Saren is.”
“Of course it it’ll be that easy,” Ashley said. “We’re going to give our evidence to the council and then they’re going to take him out. BAM! Like that.” She mimicked firing a shotgun. “He’ll be gone before 1200 hours. You’ll see. What could possibly go wrong?”