I was born fighting.
From the very first breath I took, I had to fight for the privilege of acceptance. At my insistence, my mother often told me the story of how she would hear my squalling all the way from the hospital nursery, louder and clearer than the cacophony of the usual tiny human voices, down two corridors and all the way down to her room, where she was recovering from my birth.
“Was I that loud?” I would ask disbelievingly, unable to imagine my low, layered voice as louder as that of my noisy human counterparts.
My mother would laugh and shake her head.
“No, honey, not loud. Insistent is a better word I think.” Without fail she would bend down and kiss the top of my head, and unlike the rest of the humans I shared my life with, she didn’t flinch at the coldness of my skin or the slightly plated, rough texture – so unlike her own soft, warm skin. She would kiss me and smile, but it would take several years before I figured out the truth for myself. I was screaming because I was the first non-human born at the hospital, probably to mankind. Doctors and nurses would just stare at me, wary of touching this strange creature that looked and sounded different to human babies. The First Contact war had barely ended, tensions between the Turians and the humans were high and humanity was still reeling from the discovery that they indeed shared galactic space with various species. They were most definitely not ready to consider sexual relations between humans and “aliens” a very real possibility and that offspring could be born from that. Even today, 27 years later, they still look upon these relationships with unease and suspicion. I have spent a large part of my life ignoring the stares of strangers, and I don’t doubt for a second that a good mix of repulsion was added to the wariness of the doctors and nurses. Humans are naturally geared towards mistrust and prejudice. At least, most I knew were.
My mother and father met during the Turian occupation of Shanxi in 2157CE. Back then, my father was only a soldier in the Turian army, and my mother a researcher for the Alliance who owned the colony. I would like to tell you a romantic story of how my mother found my injured father on the battlefields of Shanxi and nursed him back to health, while falling in love with him and conceiving me during a night of unwavering passion, but I will have to stick to the mundane truth of my father being responsible for picking up the daily research reports from my mother, to be delivered to his commander. Over a few weeks they fell in love, and eventually…..I was conceived, most likely during a few stolen moments in a storeroom off one of the laboratories where the supplies are kept. A few weeks later the Citadel intervened in the war, my father was recalled to Menae, and my mother stayed behind, pregnant with a baby from an alien race she knew very little about.
Entering the chaotic realm of parenthood is hard. Raising a baby that shares the genes of what was considered a hostile enemy at that time? Unimaginable, I think, but my mother did it. From figuring out that her newborn relied on a diet of pureed meat and was unable to digest any lactose of any kind, right to staring down strangers who dared to point and whisper at me – my mother did it all. She was always forthcoming about my heritage and would spend hours on her computer looking for information on Turians. For my part, I was always aware of the fact that I was different. I only had to look at my mother and then look at the mirror to see it. Yet, at home, these differences fell away and the only times I would be reminded of it was at dinner time, when my mother would have meat AND vegetables.
School was an entirely different story. Over the course of the next few years a phrase I had often heard was ”…aren’t you afraid she will hurt you? She is Turian, you know.” In my mind I imagined a button labelled “Turian”, which I would press and as a result wipe out the entire colony in a fit of violence and bloodthirst. This of course is bullshit. Turians are no more violent than the average human being, but those were different times and the horrors of the First Contact war didn’t do either race a favour when it came to prejudicial assumptions. My mother of course laughed it off, because I was her daughter, and she wanted to protect me. Many years of hearing these types of conversations between my mother and curious strangers lead me to believe that any behavior considered abnormal would label me “that Turian” and put my mother, who fought so hard for me, to shame. As a result, I never fought back and never responded to the endless taunts and jibes that was my schooldays. I was more terrified of being “That Turian” than the bullies that had made life hell. I spent nights on my knees praying to the gods for pretty blonde human hair, or five fingers on each hand or soft, warm skin. If I felt very optimistic I would pray for all three at once. I desperately wanted to be human, to fit in and to have friends. It didn’t take long for me to realise that whatever deity I was praying to wasn’t listening, not to me at least. It made no difference that I was only HALF Turian; all that mattered was that I was NOT HUMAN. To this day, just the mention of the word “half breed” makes my blood boil. Why could I not just be both? Once the kids figured out that my blood was blue instead of the red of their own, it was over. I don’t like to think of this time, and hence won’t go into much detail, but when a ten year old fears being found dead in the school bathroom more than, say, missing her favourite cartoon programme, you know shit got real a long time ago.
Until this day I don’t know what the catalyst was that forced my mother to make the call. Maybe I showed up with yet another wound that would cut so deep my plates would leave a scar after. Perhaps a teacher finally took pity on my and begged her to have me removed from the colony. I don’t know. I only remember waking up one morning and finding our house full of Turians. Seemingly important ones, because most were dressed in military uniforms and clearly soldiers of some sort. My mother was in the lounge, talking in a hushed voice to a tall Turian. His voice was equally low, with the layered texture so recognizable of his race. His uniform was different from the others, and he was clearly the leader. I instinctively knew he was my father. I also knew why he was here.
Throughout it all I remained stoic, refusing to react to my mother’s sobbing while I packed my things or to my father’s halting attempts at conversation. Years of practicing not to be “that Turian” enabled me to remain distant, answering his questions politely, yet inside I was raging and just about ready to climb out of my own skin from panic. The ride to the ship was tense, made more so by the stares of the humans congregating by the landing docks. Turian ships were tolerated on Shanxi, but not welcomed and naturally the arrival of a military ship would create a fair amount of interest. By the time we reached the door leading to the ship, my mother’s eyes were red and swollen and her embrace carried the same desperation as her whisper in my ear.
“This is not what I wanted for you.” She held on a moment longer, as if waiting for me to respond, but I said nothing, my arms hanging limp by my sides. Even as I walked up the ramp to my father’s ship I looked straight ahead, ignoring the burn of her eyes on my back – WILLING me to look back at her one last time.
In a perfect world my story would end there. I would be shipped to Menae, to live the rest of my life as the pampered daughter of a Turian general, but this is not a perfect world and my story didn’t end there. Much can be said about Turians, but one thing I have learned for sure is that Turians do not give a shit. There was no grace period for me to rest and try and process what just happened. I was whisked off to the ship’s clinic, although it was more of a fully equipped mini-hospital. I was poked and prodded and tested and scanned until I was ready to run in any direction if I knew I had somewhere to go. Testing my adaptability to Menae’s atmosphere involved locking me in an Envirotube and sucking the oxygen out until I thought I would suffocate. Once the tests were done I was marched to a small room and shown to a small desk and a questionnaire the length of the Alliance Allegiance pledge. My escort left without a word, and only stopped to speak to the young guard stationed by the door. I had only started my schooling on Shanxi a few months before, and could not yet read. I stared dumbfounded at the jumble of letters on the pages. The presence of a pencil indicated I was expected to write as well, another yet unmastered skill. For the first time since leaving my house that morning, I was unable to stop the stinging of tears in my eyes. The soldier must have seen the desperation on my face, because he slowly closed the door leading outside and pulled out the chair opposite me, taking the papers from my hand and reading the first question out loud. He was massive in the small room but when he spoke, his voice was soft and reassuring and his grip on the pencil as he wrote down my answers was sure. For my part, the sudden friendly face amongst all the uncertainty was a booster. I answered his questions carefully, focusing my tired eyes on his “Garrus Vakarian” name badge. When we were done he fished inside his pocket and pulled out a protein bar. It was disgusting but at that point also the tastiest thing I had ever eaten, I was starving. When the doctor returned, the soldier had a short talk with him. I don’t know what was said, but after that there were no more tests and questionnaires. Instead I was given a proper meal, and shown a small compartment that would serve as my room for the remainder of the trip to Menae. I will never forget that soldier.
Once on Menae, I was expected to unlearn everything I had learnt on Shanxi. For as long as I can remember, my goal was to not be “that Turian”. On Menae, I was expected to be exactly that. My schooling started the day after we arrived, and I spent my first week bracing for punches and jibes that never came. It wasn’t until I was much older that I finally understood why. On Shanxi, I was the only half-caste, amongst a race that had never known of the existence of other races. Their prejudice and fear was born from ignorance and nothing else. On Menae, I was part of a social structure that was shared amongst many. The vast majority was Turian, but there was also a good mix of Batarian, Salarian and even a few Krogan. Asari diplomats were a common sight and once the Volus was given a treaty to trade freely, they were often seen peddling their wares to the rest. Half-castes were nothing new to the Turians, and they had nothing to fear. My classmates accepted me for what I was, and I was no longer the odd one out.
My father was only a captain back then, and as such my arrival caused only a ripple amongst his peers and subordinates. I did not see him often, him being stationed to wherever he was sent by the military and I was expected to board at the school I was enrolled in. When he was on Menae he would make an effort to see me, and our relationship grew, albeit slowly. Our first real confrontation came when it was time for me to start thinking of a career. As a Turian, you’re expected to make a career choice early in life. We are not spoiled for choice, it is either public service or military and each come with its own obstacles. I did not see myself spending my life shuffling papers on a desk, and once the call went out I signed on to the military. Needless to say that my application had hardly been submitted when my communicator beeped. My father was not impressed, and stated clearly that he did not want me pursuing this and if I did, to expect no favours from him. Of course that comment set my temper off, and after five minutes of screaming back and forth I cut the call. I only spoke to my father again a few weeks into my training with the Combat Education Programme, and it was a while before the calls were less frosty. Once I completed my training, I was assigned to full Turian military specialization training. I was much shorter than most of my fellow trainees, agile and fast. I was cut out for covert operations work, and my skill with a sniper rifle showed exactly where my specialization would be. Training involved martial arts, covert operating methods and marksmanship. I graduated in the top 5 of my class, fresh faced and full of enthusiasm, dreaming of proving myself and making it to the elite Covert Operations & Tactics Team eventually. My father and his role in my career were never even in question. At least, so I thought.
- * * **
While I was training, I often thought back of my days on Shanxi and my mother. I had no idea what became of her and any attempt at getting more information yielded nothing. There was just one big gaping hole where any information on Sharon Parker would be. Shanxi was one of the smaller human colonies and the humans were tightfisted with their information. She was not listed on the colony records, which meant that she either moved or passed away. As a child, contact with her was discouraged, and I was so angry with her for letting me go that for several years I did not want to speak to her anyway. After entering the military, she drifted farther and farther from my mind.
Relations with my father were still tense, and he never missed an opportunity to voice his displeasure of my decision to go into the military.
“I cannot stop you from doing this, Nymeria, but expect no favours from me. This is not what I had in mind for you. Public Service is…”
“Have I EVER asked for you for a favour?” I was exasperated. “Father, I am doing this. I deserve this as much as anyone else out there!”
“I know that. But face the facts, Nymeria. Because of what you are, your options are limited. Can you be trusted to eliminate a human when the day comes?”
“What I am has never been a problem before, Father. Just because I happen to share genes with humans makes them no more difficult to kill than anyone else. Trust me, through my scope they are all the same!”
And so it went, only different variations of the same conversation.
I continued my training at the base while doing various small-time missions for the military. A new threat appeared on the horizon, Cerberus – a human-survivalist paramilitary group led by the enigmatic Illusive Man. Believing humans deserving a greater role in the galactic community, and that the Systems Alliance is too hamstrung by law and public opinion to stand up effectively to the other Citadel races, Cerberus supports the principle that any methods of advancing humanity’s ascension are entirely justified, including illegal or dangerous experimentation, terrorist activities, sabotage and assassination. Once the Citadel declared Cerberus a terrorist organization, the race began to secure our various base operations against infiltration and attacks from Cerberus, who proved themselves to be challenging and ruthless opponents. It came as no surprise when my first mission as a covert specialist involved retrieving information on the group. The brief was simple – secure a copy of the microchip from the Volus galactic representative, Hal Mokus’s vault on the Citadel. Suspected of trading political strategy secrets in return for kickbacks from Cerberus, the Turian military was aching to see a copy of his files. It seemed easy enough. Break into his offices, open the vault and copy the information over onto another chip. Leave the premises without being seen or compromising the chip. Easier said than done. All went smooth until the moment I inserted my own chip into the decoder:
Item Incompatible – please select new chipI was annoyed; surely these chips are checked before being issued? I removed the original chip from the data pad completely and replaced it with the one on my communicator. Volus issued datapads ran on higher currents, which means when he switched his on, the chip would fry and he would never know about the switch. I was willing to bet a month’s credits that he would not suspect a thing, and I eventually proved to be right. Volus are smart and paranoid and I was certain he would have another copy of the information stored. If this chip was busted it wouldn’t be a problem.
My commander’s face when I handed the chip over was a mixture of consternation and surprise, and if I expected a mention of my quick thinking under pressure, it never came. The chip exposed a nest of intergalactic terrorist plots involving several high ranking citadel officials and Cerberus and when commendations were given I was not on the receiving end of it. I wrote it off as nothing , but it stung. More assignments involving Cerberus followed, each with an element that would often put the entire mission in jeopardy. Once, I was dispatched on a mission where, upon arrival, crisis point had already been reached and military soldiers were needed – not scouts and snipers. Another time we were sent to a remote location in the Tannis system – and the brief failed to disclose that we would cross thresher maw breeding grounds to reach out target. Again we managed to avoid catastrophe through quick thinking. Missions became increasingly frustrating and dangerous. This was a regular occurrence for several months.
Then came the mission that went brought me to the place I am now. It was target elimination, a job I had done several times before. I want to make it clear that I was NOT an assassin. I was a soldier and did what I was told. Acquire target, remove target. It was simple enough, as most marksman jobs went, made easier by the fact that these jobs could be completed at range and chances of detection were minimal. A Cerberus researcher was the target, and no other information other than her name was given – Sarah Morrison. No picture supplied either –but the file stated her to be the only female of a staff of 7 people in the research facility and should therefore be easy to identify. Reason for the elimination was not given, it never was and I didn’t question it. I was surprised by the fact that I was supposed to report for take-off within the hour, but I shrugged it off, grabbed my rifle and headed to the take-off pad. “In-an-outs” were rare, but not unheard of and I had no reason to suspect that this mission would be any different from any of my previous missions.
The facility was nothing more than a smallish building, about the size of an average supermarket. The housing quarters were off to the side of the facility and waiting for my mark to exit the building rather than entering the building to search for her seemed the better idea. Something about the set up seemed off, but I brushed it aside. If there was anything to know it would have been in the file. The facility was surrounded by various cliffs and hilltops, and finding a spot to get comfortable at
would be easy. The duskiness provided by the setting suns was an added bonus. I found a good hideout spot, without any obstacles to hinder the bullet’s trajectory and got comfortable. I didn’t have to wait long.
The door leading to the housing complex opened, and a man walked out. He was middle aged and walked at a leisurely pace towards the houses, clutching a stack of papers. It often amazed me how people go about their daily lives, oblivious of the dangers surrounding them every day. If someone had walked up to the man and told him that at that moment he was but a trigger’s pull away from death, he would have laughed it off. He disappeared down the footpath, none the wiser. Movement out of the corner of my eye had me swing my gun back to the door. A woman – my mark. I steadied the rifle against my shoulder. There was no wind and although the light was low, this was going to be an easy shot. My shot was clear, and my finger curled around the trigger. The woman dropped her keys and stooped down, her dark hair falling loosely across her shoulders as she bent to pick them up, milliseconds before I took the shot. I pulled the gun back in frustration and aimed again just as she was looking up. I froze. There was no mistaking her face. She was much older, and her hair was longer, but I would have recognized her a thousand years from now.
It was my mother.
I radioed to my ship, requesting a connection to my commanding officer. I placed my gun in front of me and tried to steady my voice as I requested him to reaffirm my mark.
“Sir, I cannot take this shot.” I croaked out.
“Adahn, are you on location? What the hell are you doing radioing in?”
“Sir, I need to be relieved. I cannot take this shot.” I repeated.
The line was quiet for a while and then he spoke.
“Adahn, this is not a choice, it’s an order. You need to take out this agent. Take the shot. If you can’t, we will replace you with someone who will and you can kiss your career goodbye. I’m cutting communication until the mission is confirmed.” I held the communicator closer, wanting to protest but his next words cut me off. It was faint and directed at someone in the background, and clearly not meant for me to hear. My blood ran cold at his words. “Call the general, no way is she getting out of this one.”
The general. My father.
The woman was still standing on the footpath, as if waiting for someone else to exit the building. I lifted my rifle again, training my scope carefully. She was dressed in the usual white laboratory coat, and when I saw the it, I realized what I had been missing all along. It was glaringly obvious, something that someone with my experience and training should have picked up from the start. The logo on her coat was Alliance, not Cerberus. The facility had no branding, but it also didn’t have the “Cerberus” feel to it. It was a normal research outpost, nothing more. This was a personal mission, not a professional one. Whoever sent me here, knew who Sarah was, knew her history and knew my connection to her. The person would know that this would not just be a case of taking the shot. Then, in that instant, it all became clear. The endless stream of troublesome missions, plagued by problems that seemed set up to make me fail. The evasive answers from my superiors when I enquired about these issues. My father’s continuous interest in CERTAIN missions, yet not showing interest in the scouting expeditions. Each time I managed to do what needed to be done, even if it required thinking outside the box. Each time I was expected to fail, and each time I didn’t. In the Turian Army, failure is not an option. If I failed a mission, I would be considered a liability and my career would be over. I would be transferred to Public Services. Where my father wanted me right from the start. My father was setting me up for failure, and knew the exact spot to hit me hardest. He knew I would never take the shot.
“Can you be trusted to eliminated a human when the day comes?”
I took the shot.
General Adahn closed the door of his suite behind him, and punched in his security code. He was exhausted and he suspected that he had not yet seen the last of this day. He glanced at his terminal, but the little blinking message indicator was dark. Strange. By now Nymeria should have called, requesting a transfer to a Public Service position, having finally seen the folly of her decision to work in the military. His mandibles flexed in irritation. He should have put a stop to that the first day she showed interest. Her presence created tension amongst the higher ranks, none wanting to take full responsibility for the girl after realizing that her father did not approve of her decision. They were only too eager to agree to his plan to assign her to missions destined for failure, in the hopes that she would either request a transfer to civil service, or move to a desk job within the army. Her lineage was unfortunate and no fault of her own, but there was no place in the command structure for a half Turian. If the playing field was fair, it would have been a different story, but he had to put his force first. He could not expect anyone under his command to follow the orders of a half breed. It just wasn’t done. He flicked the light switch of his study and halted in his tracks when his eyes adjusted to the bright light.
On his desk was a military issued, Turian sniper rifle with the scope still attached. Draped across the barrel was a set of tags and he didn’t have to pick them up to know who they belonged to. Instead, he picked up a small envelope and unfolded the scrap of paper inside. Five words only – written in his daughter’s neat, cursive script:
First shot I ever missed.