Tidbit Tuesday: A Place Among Friends

The young man emerged, blinking in the sudden light, and spied his father down the landing platform standing at parade rest, as casual as he ever got. Both men ran a hand over the wavy black hair they shared and froze when they realized how the gestures mirrored one another. Kaidan hadn't realized that he'd picked up the habit from his old man. The two laughed and came together for a firm handshake.

The Alenko men had never been close. Between his father's frequent absences on Alliance business and his own physical struggles with the effects of his burgeoning biotic powers as a child Kaidan had never gotten to know him well. Though he'd missed his mother dreadfully when he'd gone to Brain Camp at the age of fourteen he'd been relieved to be away from the near-stranger who had months before moved the family to his new post Earthside in Canada.

Yet the four years he had spent exploring the galaxy after inadvertently getting the Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training program shut down had taught him that perhaps his father's choices hadn't been as selfish as Kaidan had once thought. Humanity was either dismissed or outright mocked in most places. He'd worked hard and kept to himself but there were not many opportunities for a man brought low by migraines from a combination of bright lights and loud noises. Few salvage crews or barely-established colonies had use for someone who spent hours every week hiding in a dark room trying to keep his head from exploding, despite how useful his abilities might be when he was feeling his best.

There wasn't much else for humans to do, even two decades after the end of the First Contact War. Turians still resented the reparations they'd been forced to pay humanity and the advances those ships and credits had allowed the newest member of Council space to make so quickly. Asari treated humans with disdain as an immature species. Salarians were in too much of a hurry in all things to consider the newcomers much either way. Their short life spans and strict reproduction rules made them insular except where matters of galactic politics affected their people directly. Yet most humans feared biotics. The L2 implants had harmed the young people who'd survived long enough to get them as much as the Element Zero had those who'd died before they could even develop their powers.

And so Kaidan returned to Earth and to his family. He needed to do some serious consideration of what he would do with the rest of his life. It took only a few days before the inactivity, the too-bright enclosing sky, and the unchanging landscape began to drive him crazy.

He sat in the guest room a week later, doing the exercises that he'd learned in Brain Camp to help him increase his control, as he'd done obsessively since losing it so completely. Neither of his parents was home. They’d been politely supportive but obviously uncomfortable with any demonstration of the abilities that had so marked his life so he reserved these sessions for times when he was alone..

Kaidan slowly lifted the furniture, keeping the dresser so level that the baseball he'd placed on it would not roll off. With each lift he increased the speed until the furniture wobbled enough that the ball hit the floor. Then he'd start over.

He'd just reached the fastest—and most strenuous—part of the exercise when the doorbell rang. His concentration wavered the smallest bit and the baseball rolled to the edge but he managed to correct the angle and set the bureau down as he moved toward the door so it was with some satisfaction that he opened the front door. A man even taller than his own six-foot frame stood on the step in an Alliance Navy uniform, his hat under his arm revealing tightly-curled black hair in a standard-issue crew cut. The markings and medals decorating his coat showed him to be a ship's captain, a rank even his father had never attained.

A chill wind blew in the open door making Kaidan realize just how sweaty he'd become. He grimaced and glanced down at his rumpled shirt. “Sorry, I was working out. I'm afraid my father is at his office.” It was amazing how young he felt saying that, as though he were twelve rather than twenty-two. The man smiled and held out a hand.

“I know,” he said. “My name is David Anderson and I'm looking for you.”

Kaidan shook his hand uncertainly then stepped back from the door as Anderson walked in as confidently as if he'd actually been invited. He'd obviously been to the Alenko home before and made his way straight to the living room. Kaidan followed in confusion. He'd heard of the man from his father but nothing more than an unusual amount of respect for his experience. What could a Captain want with him?

“I understand you've been roaming around the galaxy for a while,” Anderson began as Kaidan gestured for him to take a seat, “but your father tells me that you seem to be at loose ends just now.”

Kaidan settled into a chair, his mind more on getting a snack than on the man's words. Using his biotics made him powerfully hungry, burning through the reserves of his body faster than even the hardest physical exercise. He'd have to get a job soon, the way he ate. His parents weren't going to foot the grocery bill forever and he couldn't take the guilt even if they would. He was a grown man and this little vacation had to end soon.

“I have a proposition for you,” Anderson said, drawing Kaidan's attention back to him. “Though there is no official registry, you must be aware that the Alliance has been keeping a close eye on all of the kids who left BAaT.” Suddenly Kaidan was far less interested in food. The Alliance had been spying on him? “They've been recruiting those who have shown themselves the most stable.”

“With all due respect, Captain Anderson, I'm not interested in joining the military and I'd appreciate it if the Alliance would keep its nose out of the rest of my life. They didn't do me any favors the last time they interfered in it.”

His hand went unconsciously to the spot at the base of his skull where the port for his implant lay. Anderson nodded as though he'd expected the response and Kaidan felt his frustration flare. Though the strong emotion showed on his face he held in the blue glow that most biotics would have been showing, though, and felt a grim satisfaction when the brows above the captain's pronounced brown eyes rose slightly. He'd worked hard to achieve this much control and it was good to know that the other man could recognize it.

“I'm offering you rather more than a simple commission,” Anderson responded calmly. “You are the strongest L2 we’ve ever seen and the Alliance won't keep its collective nose out of your life.” He sat back. “I'm offering to bring you directly onto my team, after basic training of course. I know about your migraines and how much duty you would miss. I'm willing to allow for that rather than washing you out. But in return I want something from you.”

Kaidan shook his head. The conversation kept taking left turns that he couldn't understand. “I'm not interested,” he said, though the idea that someone was willing to let him hold down a job even though he couldn't work some days did hold some appeal. “I can't trust the Alliance after what they did to us.”

Anderson looked unperturbed. “But wouldn't being inside and having access to their files be safer than playing vagabond and hoping they aren't going to decide to corral you again?” Kaidan's eyes widened in surprise. He'd never talked to anyone about his buried fear that one day men in uniform would show up to trap him in another hell where he and those like him were used for something worse than research disguised as training.

“It's an easily-foreseen concern, considering what you've already been through. But I can't force you to do anything. I read the records from Gagarin station. You're a natural leader and many of the other kids looked up to you. You fought to protect your friend and the accident has made you cautious. It has inspired you to train harder than any biotic I've ever met. And more than that, you've shown on your various stints with alien salvage operations an ability to lead even those who don't like you.”

Kaidan frowned at the older man's revelation. Clearly the Alliance had, indeed, been following his life closely. “I want you to join my team to show them that the power you have doesn't have to be uncontrolled. You can change how the military looks at biotics and you can use your strength to do more than the heavy lifting.”

The young man opened his mouth again but Captain Anderson stopped him. “Don't answer me now. Talk it over with your parents tonight and let me know tomorrow.” He stood and handed Kaidan a card. They walked to the door in silence. Anderson turned, on the step once more, and said only, “Give it some thought,” before making his way down the front walk.

Kaidan closed the door slowly, his mind churning. Could becoming a marine really solve his job problem and let him help others with biotics as well or was there some deeper agenda that would make him regret that decision? If the Alliance kept such close tabs on him then perhaps he should make the most of their scrutiny. The discipline wouldn't bother him; he'd been raised to be respectful and self-contained. He kept himself excellent shape so the physical demands wouldn't be a problem. But the military's involvement with Brain Camp and the hiring of turian mercenaries to “train” innocent kids weighed heavily on his mind.

He grinned, picturing himself in a uniform, carrying a gun. The ridiculous idea suddenly superimposed itself over an image of his father and the grin faded. The old man had never encouraged Kaidan to follow in his footsteps and Mom had always been more resigned to being dragged around the planet in Dad’s wake than a big fan of the Alliance.

Both of his parents knew that his loss of control had brought about the end of the BAaT program, if only by highlighting its failings. His mother had been supportive but wary for the past week, pretending nothing was wrong but jumpier than usual. Kaidan supposed that might be as much having another person in the house after his being gone for so many years as what had happened.

At least she’d asked him about Rayna and how he’d come to kill his instructor. It had been hard telling her the story, admitting to having failed so completely to control his emotions and thus his power. But she’d hugged him after that and stopped finding excuses to be on the other side of the room every time he entered. It was pretty ridiculous at his age that a squeeze from his mother meant so much but he had to admit that the hug had gone a long way toward helping him let go of the contempt he’d felt for himself. Maybe someday he’d feel strong enough to really connect with other people again.

He turned his mind to Anderson’s proposal again. Where else could he use his biotics without being regarded as a freak or a tool? While he could move loads even the strongest man couldn’t hope to shift he far more enjoyed employing finer control, the satisfaction of nailing the bull’s-eye again and again at target practice, frying the circuits of attacking machines and then repairing them for another practice round.

The more he thought about it the better the fit seemed. It wasn’t like he would have any ties to this urban sprawl once his father got reassigned yet again. His parents had always talked about retiring to the country somewhere but whatever they had in mind Kaidan had never been there. He’d grown accustomed to containment, to ships and computers and proscribed facilities in hostile environments. Short of joining yet another salvage team, presuming he could find one that would take him, what were his options off Earth and how could he stay here?

He barely left the house because even at the local store he was surrounded by people who stared at that port, visible beneath his closely-trimmed hair, and hurried away in fear. At least aliens were accustomed to biotics and didn’t assume he’d lose control and blow them up because he couldn’t find the peanut butter. He shared the hatred of the Council species for something he shared with the entire human race. His “fellow” humans feared him for what only a few hundred people had survived, though the number with weaker implants and power grew every year.

If the Alliance was gathering the most stable human biotics and bringing them together maybe he could finally find a place to fit in, a group in which his powers wouldn’t be the most interesting thing about him because they all had them. Maybe that blue hell that kept him apart from everyone, that was the only thing normals wanted to talk about, could finally be just something he could do like curling his tongue or raising one eyebrow…just like it had been at Brain Camp for a time.

By the time his mother returned from her errands Kaidan had decided that the chance was worth taking. A stretch in the military didn’t obligate him to serve for life and even a few years spent showing normals what he and others like him could do might make a difference in a lot of other lives, too. He told her that he intended to enlist and she hugged him tightly, that contact meaning more than anything she could have said.

By the time his father came home Kaidan had already called Captain Anderson and accepted his offer. A whole galaxy waited and he intended to see it at his best. If the Alliance wanted to help him he would let them.

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