A/N: So, I've had a couple ideas floating about. One's obviously (to me) half-baked, the other… is less so. Couple that with another idea I've been turning over in my head since the "New World" failure (you may read that abomination… it is the dragon age story in my profile… be warned: it makes me cringe, and I wrote it), and I have this: an exercise in stream-of-thought writing. So, aside from this prologue, I'm tasking myself with writing a new… let's call them 'anecdotes' each week. A new Shepard, with a minimum of 3,000 words of 'content'. What that means is that I will not count A/Ns, disclaimers, or anything that isn't a part of the story. The only real exception is this prologue.
If this were a program, I'd try writing the code and running it through the compiler to see if it worked (the compiler's kinda your Igor in that way). Since this is a story, I'm willing to throw caution to the wind (and see where the ashes fall.) So without further ado…
If you had told me, back when I first died, that I'd be shanghaied from heaven to become a spy/saboteur/kingmaker/what-have-you, I'd probably have started looking for an excuse to run away. More recently, if you'd told me that I'd be retired, that the end of my service would come not with a great and bloody bang, but the most subtle of whimpers, I might have laughed in your face. And yet in the first case, I awoke not from my deathbed, where I'd fallen asleep peacefully, but in a fairly generic sci-fi future that looked lived-in (think rusty rather than the chrome you're used to seeing.)
In the second case? Well, that brings me to here, in my home, with no idea what to do with myself.
I should back up a bit. Start from the top: My name is Benjamin Boyd. I am an agent for the Council of the Unbound. My duties can best be summed up as "leave the universe and people better than you found them." I'll be honest with you: this has taken the form of noble tasks like reconstruction and counseling, as well as vile tasks such as bioterrorism and outright murder. While I can't say that I've been perfect, I do try to own my own shit and my own motto has always been "Excellence in duty and measure." Beyond that, well, I'll let the write-up do the talking.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of transitioning out of service is the quiet, the tranquility of it all, I thought while looking out the window, God knows that the Community'd be right behind it. I had missed its development, where agents waiting for teams decided to carve out spaces in the void, homes for themselves. Eventually, a pair of agents coupled and had a child. The result was a big old stink in the Council chambers because the Councilors themselves couldn't have children and we were a technical gray area in their myriad agreements, having no real rights. There was apparently a lot of figuring out going on, but not a lot of doing and I never bothered to know any of it.
That was another surprise: I wasn't actually the one responsible for the Grand Concordat, the Council agreement that gave us our rights and effectively established the agency. I was merely the last in a long line of potential disasters waiting to happen.
Once again, I find myself in another new universe. I don't even recognize this one. The air is filled with ash and fire, there is chaos all around me.
I check my pockets, searching for the key to my plan. My right hand grasped a slender, rectangular prism. Got it.
My boss's voice thundered in my head, low and menacing and just so painful: What are you doing? In spite of the pain, my mouth curved into a feral grin.
Taking a stand.
You know that we can replace you. The voice had by now become dismissive in tone and inflection. My grin only widened.
You can try.
While it was a blow to my ego, knowing that most of the impetus behind the Concordat was created by the Community, it… made me very happy to know that the agreement came from that rather than my own threats. If that makes any sense.
My reverie was interrupted by a chime from above. I'd built my home with a sort of Siri, to be my personal assistant.
"Steven Grimes is requesting entrance." Its voice was about Siri-standard in that it had a flat tone and spoke softly enough to be called crooning.
"Let him in." While I still have the idea of surprises in your mind, a close third to the Community was discovering that we could have children.
"A… teenager. In the Community?" I was having a bit of a… slow day then.
"Yesss?" My neighbor, Angela, was looking at me as though I'd just told her that the sky was blue in an extremely melodramatic manner.
"But… but… but..." Rule #3,768 of working the fiction 'verses: 'buts' shall never be encountered less than 3 times in a row while under duress.
"I dunno what to tell ya, Ben. I mean, I could break out the diagrams…" She let that one trail off with its implicit message: you work crack 'verses for a living, and a child weirds you out?
"I thought…" I was tired that day, forgot my morning coffee, was up late gaming, couldn't pull myself together well, basically. She put her hands on my shoulders while I continued to sputter.
"Ben. Benny." She whistled for my attention and succeeded in getting it. "I read the damn thing too." she said, referring to the Concordat, "All I know is that John an' me had sex and 9 months later, out pops little Stevie!" My heart began to sink, weighted down with dread. "Hey. Look at me. Look at me, Benny." I did so. "Let me put it like this: do ya really wanna know what the Councilors traded for this?" I shook my head dumbly. "Thought so."
And that was that.
Surprise #4: It seems to me that retirement has become something of a fad amongst our veterans. My generation, known in the Community as the First(/Founders/Signers, etc.) would pave the way once more, undertaking the transition into a more 'normal' life (or whatever could pass for it among us.) From this, I got surprise #5: The transition is remarkably similar to transitioning out of the military. At least, that might explain why I felt the need to bug the neighbors' houses.
Which lasted all of a week.
"BENJAMIN BRAXTON BOYD!" When she wanted to, Angela could raise a hell of a storm with her voice alone.
"Yeeeees?" My natural response, honed and reinforced with a lifetime of practice in talking fast, was to meet the challenge with a pleasant smile on my face.
"What in the name of Mike is this?!" She showed me one of the bugs I'd planted, and instead of being alarmed that I'd gotten caught, I was merely ashamed. I started rubbing my arm nervously.
"Yeah, I know I got a problem." Another thing about Angela is that she tends to make this face when you try to meet her partway as if she fully expected you to either bow to her or to try and fight. She'd gotten better about it by the time we broke up, but that's why she's with John and not me.
"A PROBLEM?! You think it's just a PROBLEM?!" God above help me, because I saw an opportunity to talk fast. It made me grin.
"Isn't that what a problem is? An unwelcome situation that needs dealing with?" She came to a complete and sudden stop. "You know I'm right." I was now standing a little bit straighter, finding myself in a situation I knew how to deal with. Problem was, she knew it too, so she did what most agents do well: she removed me from my 'safe' zone. Her arm shot out to grab me, I moved to block, only to find myself grabbed by her other arm.
Over time, agents tend to garner a lot of powers and special abilities. To some is given the ability to live longer, to others (like myself) a measure of psionics. None of that is useful or consequential in the Community, however, so we don't have access to them outside of instructional centers, meaning that the pause after I told her that I'm right was her getting me to hyperfocus on one avenue, while she essentially double-feinted me into her little trap.
As she dragged me away, she told me all about how I was going to personally remove each and every surveillance device from their homes, under their watch.
Having been an agent for so long, one of the things I'd made clear to my neighbors is that if they want to come over, they need to call, first. Too often have I assaulted friends before simply out of trained instinct.
"Hello?" His voice was the scritch-scratch that one often hears around the time a man's voice begins to develop during puberty. His soft face, framed by wiry, dirt-brown hair just screamed kid to me. So now, in addition to nostalgic and at peace, I'm feeling parental over the neighbor's kid. Way to be weird, Benny. "Mr. Boyd?" Laughter began bubbling up from within, light and fluffy, and I remember thinking good thing my back's to him (he says, while his every instinct screams "Turn around!") "Mr. Boyd?" the kid repeated. I turned around and grasped his hand firmly.
"Howdy." We shook hands. I invited him to sit at my kitchen table. "So what can I do for you, Mr. Grimes?"I regretted the question almost as soon as it was out, because then he had the rookie look on his face, as though he'd figured on hearing about my life of 'adventure, romance, and bullshit.' He leaned forward, eyes sharp and mouth set into a firm line.
"My mom says you trained her." Steven, as I was going to find out in the next hour or so, had a bit of a talent for making not-statements.
"Yeah?" My voice quickly became measured, cautious.
"You were an agent." When the look intensifies, it doesn't always become more intense. Sometimes, the rookie wannabe will start puffing up, as if holding in all their questions'd make them bust wide open.
"You have a-" I never got to finish before he slammed his hands on my table and damn near shouted his question.
"What's it like?!" I bit back my kneejerk response of Oh, Christ, inhaled, and readied my canned response.
"Mean?" I nodded.
"Mean." He tilted his head to the side in confusion. The look reminded me of a lost puppy. I gave a heavy, put-upon sigh.
"Let me get one thing straight to ya, kid." I almost wanted to take that last word back when he started puffing up in indignation, "You may be excited at living with your fave PC, but then you'd just be a freeloader." His eyes bugged out. I almost barked out a laugh. "Most of those hero-types? They live in the field. Means that you won't have anything more than a cot for nightly comfort." He started making the oh face, deflating with this dosage of reality. Then he raised his hand to interject before I cut him off.
"First of all, you ask me if it's worth it? Kid, I've made friends that I'll neither forget nor abandon. I've knocked people over the head who were being stupid about dancing around each other, I've seen so much beauty, so much joy, helped bring a lot of it into the 'verses myself. But if you think you can jolly-skip your way through each day, from a cushy bed in the morning and night, to gourmet meals at the table, to instant friendships with all of your favorite characters, well you're flat out wrong." He didn't seem convinced by my words. At least, not in the sense that he'd be thinking maybe the jobs won't be what I thought. I paused for a bit, debating with myself, before saying, "Look, kid, how 'bout I tell you a story?"
"What kind of story?" His expression had gone painfully hopeful.
"Well, you a fan of anything?" Predictably, his expression brightened at least 20-fold, while he paused to think. My own eyes, on the other hand, began widening with realization. Well, praise be to the power of narrative convenience, I mused, looks like I just found me an afternoon activity. A wide grin strong-armed its way onto my mouth.
"Mass Effect," he whispered.
"How 'bout I tell you about a couple of Shepards I've worked with?" The question was effectively rhetorical. I'd had him since I'd asked about his fandoms. "Well just let me get us some drinks, and we'll get started."
A/N: Huh. 2,044 words. If I can do that each day, I might be fine.