::beginning::

Mindoir, 2170

Benjamin Shepard was usually proud to say that his teenage daughter was very mature and hardly gave him and his wife any trouble, but today was not one of those days.

"It's not fair!" Said the redheaded girl, stomping her feet and throwing a tantrum very unlike her. "You said I could!"

"Now, now, Willie," He admonished her without stopping his work on the harvester's engine. "I said: We'll see… Huh…" He checked the valves on the fuel compressor and noticed that the cables were a bit loose. "Could you pass me the screwdriver?" He asked, pointing to the toolbox next to his daughter's feet.

The girl only glared at the box and crossed her arms, looking away when he looked at her with a frown.

Yeah, really mature, dear! He thought as he went to take the tool himself.

It was not that he was unmoved by her complaint. He knew how hard she had been working, but there was nothing he could do about the matter now. Sometimes life just wasn't fair. The man heaved a sigh and shook his head, resting a hand on his teenage daughter's shoulder.

"Sweetie, you know I can't leave the farm on harvesting season…" he argued, looking into the girl's green eyes – so much like her mother's.

"Well, that's no excuse, dad! It's not like they changed the tournament's date…" she answered back. "It was always going to take place during the harvest season and we agreed that if I made it to the Inter-colonial Championship I would compete!"

"I said: We'll see!" He maintained, going back to work on the engine. "And it was always depending on your mother's schedule…" he explained.

The girl snorted in that un-ladylike manner her mother always chastised her for. "Well, you should've said so from the beginning, then," she commented, bitterly. "'Cause I wouldn't have busted my ass off…"

He gasped. "Language, Willow!"

She ignored him, keeping on ranting. "-To get into the competition if I knew it was up to mum abandoning her precious patients and…"

"You know how important your mother's job is! Our colony feeds thousands of people, including Terra Nova and Arcturus Station…" He was starting to lose his patience. "The livestock health depends on your mother…"

"Yeah, and it's obvious that the cattle are more important to Mom than her own daughter!"

Okay, that's enough! She's just being childish now!

"Jane Willow Shepard, shame on you!" He shouted, making her shrink a bit – though he suspected it was more due to the use of her full name than his voice tone. "You are being unreasonable and immature and I won't waste my breath anymore…" He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly to calm himself. "I'm sure you still have chores pending on the house. We'll discuss this later."

Without waiting to see if she'd obey him, because he knew she would, he went back to work on the vehicle's engine.


The next day…

Ben was in the kitchen making his fabled pancakes for his not-so-little-anymore girl when he heard the Skycar land on the backyard.

The previous day, after his daughter's very unusual fit, he got his wife on a vid-call and told her about what had happened, though not in the exact words their daughter uttered – he, after all, knew how much Martha regretted not being as present in their daughter's life as she'd like. It was not that she was absent, but he was the stay-at-home parent.

"Ben! Willie! I'm home!" His wife bellowed from the door.

He got to the arch separating the living room from the kitchen in time to see her step inside the prefab and drop her bags over the couch.

"Mom?" Willow came running down the stairs still in her pyjamas.

"Dear, please, don't run! You'll fall and break something!" Martha chastised her, opening her arms to give their daughter a big tight hug. "Oh, I missed you so much! This last week was awful…"

"What are you doing here?" The girl asked her mother. "You weren't supposed to be back until next week…"

Ben felt his heart skip a beat when he noticed that their kid was as tall as her mother. When had she grown up like that?

"Yes, I know, but…" she said, pulling away to look her daughter in the eyes. "I figured I could leave Audrey taking care of Mr. Costa's animals while we're in Terra Nova for the Inter-colonial Karate Championship…" She smirked, lifting an eyebrow quizzically.

"Wait… what? Seriously?" The girl stared at her mother with wide eyes, her voice was slightly wobbly.

"Come on, now, Lil' Willie," he interjected, approaching the two women of his life. "We've always said that serious commitment should be rewarded…"

"And we know that since you got your black belt you've done nothing but pour your heart into training for this competition…" Martha explained, with a proud smile. "I was really upset that I had an emergency call so close to the tournament. Thank God it was not such a serious matter that required me there for long…"

"Thank you, Mom! Thank you, Dad!" Their daughter hugged them with a bright smile – the kind that reaches the eyes – on her lips.

When Benjamin's blue eyes crossed with his daughter's green ones, he saw the regret in them for their argument the day before.

"We are very proud of you, Sweetie!" He said, kissing her forehead.

"Oh! I have to change and go to the Dojo now…" she pulled away heading back upstairs. "I can't skip the last days of practice if I want to win!"


A few days later...

Jane Willow Shepard couldn't really remember much of what happened in the last twelve hours, five of which she spent buried under the collapsed wall of the Batton-Milot house after unsuccessfully trying to reach the Alliance Outpost base. Not that it actually mattered whose house it had been before the batarians attacked.

If she closed her eyes, she still could hear the gunfire and screaming happening outside of the gym where she and another dozen people were practicing for the incoming martial arts championship. The same people she abandoned while defying a direct order of her Sensei when she stubbornly decided to go out and seek help. The same people the batarians took away while she was buried under the damaged structure of a collapsed prefab.

She was hurting everywhere; her hands were bleeding from when she tried to punch her way out of the metal structure. She probably broke her wrists. No, she was certain that they were broken. And all the better.

They were at fault.

Her fists and her legs.

She'd break them as well if she weren't so damn tired to move.

She had no use for those useless limbs now. They hadn't been any help against the slavers and their weapons. They were the reason she was now seated inside an Alliance vessel all by herself instead of being on Mr. Costa's Ranch, comforting and being comforted by her mother. Her mother, who, if she hadn't insisted on going to that stupid tournament, would be on the other side of Mindoir when the attack happened. Would be safe in that remote area of the colony instead of being on the main settlement.

Would be alive instead of being dead.

Dead… beside her father while trying to escape their house. They were shot in the back, the Alliance soldier told her…

She was alone, now…

She hadn't cried when the Alliance soldiers confirmed her parents' IDs were on the casualty list. She tried. She wanted to… but couldn't. Why couldn't she cry?

Her vision was blurry and she couldn't breathe. She felt numb. She felt her gravity centre shift. She was falling and everything was getting dark.

"Zabaleta!" She heard a feminine voice call out someplace near her. She was expecting to hit the ground, but the fall never came as something held her in place. She couldn't tell what it was, though. Every sensation and feeling and sound were fading. "Ernesto, I think she's in shock. Call out medical!" Said the voice, but it was far away.

Everything was far away now.

It's almost over, now. She thought. I also can go to where mom and dad are.

She could also go…

When, some time later, she opened her eyes, staring at a sterile white metal ceiling, she was no longer numb.

It hadn't ended. She wasn't dead.

She was still alive.

With a choked sob, she started to cry.