For Mass Effect Relationships Week 2020.

Day 1: first impressions. Describe or draw the first time they met. How did they meet? What was their first impression? Was it negative, neutral, or positive, and did it stay the same?

"I thought you were allergic?"

"To free food and rubbing shoulders with the top brass?" A plump woman with a short bob of brown hair and blue eyes arched an eyebrow as she swept lipstick over thin lips.

"To bullshit," Specialist Samantha Traynor clarified, her arms still crossed as she hunched in her desk chair.

Specialist Mary Dietrich gave an acknowledging shrug. "You're not wrong, but free food does wonders for keeping my bullshit allergy at bay." She made a theatrical sniffing noise.

Sam pressed harder, "You know the ANN vultures will be there. Probably Khalisah al-Jilani too, your archnemesis." She took a loud slurp of cold tea from the mug on her desk, racking her brain for more reasons why they shouldn't go out tonight. "Also Staff Lieutenant Jeong and the rest of the smug quartermasters who love rejecting our grant proposals. You know we would be done with the new defense suite if Jeong wasn't besties with Bautista in applied physics, right?"

Sighing, Mary made flicking motions to smooth out wrinkles on the sleeves of her dress blues. "Well now I want to go just to kick Jeong in the balls." The orange holo screen projected from her wrist that was acting as a mirror disappeared as she set a glare on her fellow R&D mate. "C'mon Sam. Contrary to your belief, this is actually one of the perks of working on Arcturus Station. First on the victory tour to celebrate the end of the Eden Prime War! Oo-rah!"

Oo-rah , Sam groaned inwardly and more than a little sarcastically. Her nose wrinkled with her silent scowl.

Mary must have seen the face Sam made, because she stood up, hands on hips. "Suck it up, newbie! I will pull rank on you if it'll make you leave the damn lab."

Samantha squawked in protest. "I leave the lab!"

Sometimes! To sleep!


Okay, I sleep on the couch most nights. To change?


Well they shouldn't make the laundry service so convenient then. To shower?


Fine! L Wing has the best faucets! Not my fault the washroom is one door down! I am a slave to convenience, okay? It keeps my mind researching and developing per my job title, doesn't it?

"Sleeping and making tea don't count," Mary scoffed back. "Plus this is a big deal. Don't you want to be able to tell your grandkids about meeting all the heroes who saved the Citadel and the Council?"

"...Do I have to?"

A laundry back was draped over Sam's face, filling her vision with crinkling plastic. Mary patted her head through the bag. "Damn right, you do. Or you get to tell Lydia you made me late."

Oh fuck. She had only met Mary's wife Lydia half a dozen times in the 6 months since she started at R&D on Arcturus, but the woman made an impression. A stern, stoic Kodiak mechanic, Lydia had never cracked a smile once at any of the dozens of quips and small jokes Sam compulsively made. And Lydia had a voice like a drill sergeant that made Sam want to stand up straight before offering to do push ups please-and-thank-you-ma'am .

Pulling the bag off her face, Sam unzipped it to find her dress blues freshly laundered and folded crisply. She mumbled, "...I'll be good."

Arcturus Station was the pride and joy of the Alliance with a state of the art light rail to traverse the 5km diameter arms. At the center was a large convention hall that could hold 20,000 of the 45,000 population at one time. Surrounding departments had been cleared out to serve as food stations, coat checks and privacy areas to host the current set of guests.

Sucks to be them , Sam frowned in empathy as she waited with Mary in the biometric security line. I can't imagine having to clean up and stash all the rubbish we have lying around just so some fancy-pants donor can hang their coat up. Reminds me of a grammar school open house.

The overwhelming number of people made it hard for her to carry on a conversation with her coworker. Mostly human, with a few asari in sleek dresses and tuxedoed turians sprinkled in made up the meandering line that started at the light rail station. Background noise consisted of a dull roar of voices that grew louder the closer the two women got to the convention hall proper with just the faintest bass beat of music.

As they finally crested the last stairwell, the site of the grand hall was truly breathtaking. Large blast windows revealed a swirling backdrop of the Arcturus Stream nebula. Even the Arcturus mass effect relay was visible, the blue element zero core at its center flickering like a star. A few moving pins of light appeared next to the relay, more ships arriving to join the fleets already at Arcturus Station.

Decorated in heavy Alliance blue and gold, there were holo posters posted at intervals around the circular hall. Dramatic vid portraits of human heroes (with occasional notable alien Council SpecTRes appearing in between, no doubt a nod to the Council guests present) animated silently, larger than life.

A red-headed woman appeared multiple times at different angles and wardrobes on the vids, clearly the focus of the event. In one image the woman was pictured with a straight backed salute wearing dress blues, another wielded a rifle in heavy armor, another was flanked by a group of men and women (human and alien alike).

Commander Annelise Shepard, First Human SpecTRe. Hero of the Citadel. Captain of the Normandy SR-1, the most advanced ship in the Alliance Navy.

The room was warm with all the bodies and Sam found herself clinging to Mary, who was busy texting Lydia to attempt to meet up somewhere on the crowded floor. The clamor of conversation barely dipped during a few speeches broadcast across the hall. Admiral David Anderson's low bass voice welcomed the guests to the station and indicated there would be a meet-and-greet with the Heroes of the Citadel after cocktails.

Excited jabbering was all around them as people tried to catch glimpses of the headliner heroes. Sam was only somewhat familiar about the events from a few weeks ago, much of it still under top secret clearance. Just that all the recent geth activity triggered from the terrorist attack on Eden Prime culminated in the attack at the Citadel. A joint task force crew, helmed by the first human SpecTRe, was responsible for bringing the terrorist down and saving the Citadel and the Council at the cost of human lives.

It seems kind of far-fetched, doesn't it, Traynor?

Like something I'd read in a story. Or play in a video game.

Ooo, I hope it has a character creator. And I can make the character super hot.

It took the better part of a half hour of crowd weaving to track down Lydia Dietrich, Mary's wife. A tall woman with very short, slicked-back hair was nursing a beer while she chatted with a small group of fellow mechanics hunkered by the dessert table. While Lydia and Mary started a row of friendly bickering ("What took you so long?" "What took you so long?"), Sam wandered over to the desserts to seize an opening in the line.

Ooo, lemon curd tarts! Her fingertips drummed impatiently on her pant leg as she watched the pile of tarts diminish with each new tiny plate down the buffet line. Couples in front of and behind her were laughing and gossiping.

"Oh did you see the Commander? I saw Cameron snap a holo of her."

"I thought she'd be taller."

"Not sure why they felt the need to bring the quarian, too."

"I mean, it was on the crew, right?"

She. She is on the crew. Even Sam knew that.

"Can't believe General Williams' granddaughter was there, too. I thought all that family knew how to do was surrender."

"Maybe she and the quarian were a distraction for the real heroes to do the real work."

Simpering laughter followed which made Samantha's skin crawl.

"Not sure why they had to open this event to all the little minions at the station. We paid forty-five thousand credits a plate for this? While little desk-jockeys like miss-didn't-even-do-her-hair over there can show up and eat our food?"

It took a glance backward for Sam to realize they were talking about her. She resisted the temptation to lift a self-conscious hand to her hair.

Poppycock, I know I look amazing. I always look amazing.

"I know, darling. Our tax dollars pay their salary. You'd think they'd have the courtesy to stand behind us in line. Like good help."

Remaining silent, Sam continued the slow march to the dessert table. She did fire up her Omni-tool and do a quick scan while waiting, the extranet chugging a bit due to the density of guests. But she was satisfied with her results.

The long-awaited distance closed and Sam finally stood before a half-empty buffet table. The dextro desserts had been picked over, as had some of the hybrid mini-cakes and parfaits. It looked like everything was in the process of getting refreshed by the catering company. Several waitstaff with tall silver trays were making their way over from the back.

But all that mattered is that there were still three lemon curd tarts left. All of which ended up on Sam's dainty white plate as she swept out of the line. She felt a tug on her sleeve.

An older human woman in a far too tight evening gown scowled back at her. "I beg your pardon! Where do you think you're going? How dare you take the last tarts? Have you any idea how long we've been waiting?"

Sam shrugged. "I'd wager about five seconds less than you as I was ahead of you in the same line?"

The woman's date, a balding, rat-faced gentleman in a shiny tuxedo stuck a finger in Sam's face. "Such rudeness! We actually paid good money to be here, so we deserve priority."

"Perhaps she's with the catering company, darling," the wife simpered back as though struck with a thought. "She's certainly dressed like them." Her saccharine-smile was betrayed by cold, smug brown eyes.

An excited commotion could be heard behind them in line, but Sam didn't dare glance away.

Remember, Traynor. Fixed eye contact. Bullies look for weakness.

She smiled back. "I wouldn't say you paid Good Money to be here, did you?" She took a bite of lemon tart, savoring the acerbic flavor accented by a light sugary texture.

"What do you mean?" The couple replied in unison matching their haughty glares.

"You really should have better security on your Omni-tool. I mean, any old desk-jockey could just waltz right in and see that your asari mistress scored you free tickets. An asari mistress in the quarian slave trade, no doubt. Tsk tsk."

The glaring transitioned to sputtering, confusion from the husband and outrage from the wife.

"Oh don't worry, I reported her to the authorities for tax evasion, too. I mean, how else will your tax dollars pay my salary, right? It's the only way I can afford to eat such delicious tarts." And Samantha took another large satisfying bite before saluting with the pastry, turning on her heel, and walking proudly off to go find Mary and Lydia.

The couple stepped out of line to argue, hands gesturing wildly. They turned to leave when they walked straight into the source of the commotion: Commander Annelise Shepard flanked by Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams and Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. All 3 women stood, hands on hips, glaring back at the pair. The two fled the hall, pushing past other lines in a desperate bid to save their dignity.

Ash and Tali burst into laughter before spotting Garrus Vakarian waving them over to a photo op with the turian hierarchy. Shepard remained behind, watching the dark-haired lieutenant disappear into the crowd. Her eyes crinkled and she suppressed an airy laugh.

"What are you so happy about, Shepard?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're smiling."

"Am I?" Commander Annelise Shepard tried for nonchalance as she helped herself to a fresh lemon curd tart. She sniffed the confection, intrigued. She had never seen anything like it, but she couldn't wait to try it.

"You are. It's been awhile." The asari in a low-necked evening gown came up and wrapped a hand around Shepard's elbow, careful of the sling that held her left arm hugged tight to her chest.

"Oh, uh, yea. There's just been a lot on my mind lately."

"Well, I'm grateful for whatever it was."

"Me too, Liara. Me too."

And for the rest of that night Shepard's smile came a little easier.

Ren's Note: For Mary, the original purveyor of lemon curd tart. You're awesome, mate.