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Mass Effect: Shattered Record, Broken Wings

by Meluch

Chapter 2: Chapter One - Memories and Regrets [Edited]

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One
Memories and Regrets


Dilinaga Concert Hall, Tayseri Ward
December 24, 2182 CE

It could be argued that Sha’ira was the most famous Asari on the Citadel. Councillor Tevos, the Asari Republic’s representative on the Citadel Council was definitely a close second, but going by sheer numbers, more people knew the name of the galaxy famous Consort Sha’ira.

As the most visible Asari on the Citadel, she received more than her fair share of invitations to almost every type of event imaginable. Birthdays, christenings, dances, art shows, concerts, secret orgies, you name it, she had received an invitation to one at least once during her long life. She made a point to attend events that were of special importance to her employees, and this concert proved to be one such event.

Leading her small retinue around to the private entrance of the Dilinaga Concert Hall, Sha’ira took a moment to appreciate the ease of living that her fame brought her. Instead of having to wade through the vast, unorganized crowd trying to make their way through the main entrance, the manager of the hall was waiting to lead her to her private box. A gangly Salarian, he was a prime example of his species, well dressed, his short horns polished to a shine.

“This way, Consort,” the manager nearly gushed, holding his arm out for Sha’ira to take. He obviously knew his manners, but nearly everyone forgot themselves in her presence. Smiling, she gratefully took it, allowing the Salarian to lead her into the tastefully decorated private entrance. She took a moment to admire the statue of the Turian ship in one of the recesses of the hall. Noticing her interest, the manager stopped, smiling proudly. “I see you like the Kavar.”

“It is an intriguing piece.” Sha’ira studied the statue, noting that it looked like an early Turian pleasure ship. She had spent part of her maiden years dancing aboard one that looked quite similar. Very few beings still alive recognized her from those days, much less remembered them. Her own memories of the time were clouded in a haze, filled with the experiments of the young, experimenting with new and exciting drugs.

“It’s a reminder for me,” the manager continued, blinking his large eyes. He ran a hand over one of his horns, oblivious to Sha’ira’s quickly growing disinterest. “A reminder that hubris and pride is never a match for the universe.”

Sha’ira was of course too polite to say anything, allowing the rapid talking Salarian to ramble on. There were the appropriate times to break in and make them see the error of their ways, and times were you simply needed to stay silent, and she had learned long ago that there were moments it was appropriate to do both. Her advice was not free after all.

His words faded into the background and she kept a soft smile on her face, nodding her understanding every so often, though she wasn’t really listening.

“The Captain...” With a blush of embarrassment, the manger trailed off as he noticed Sha’ira’s lack of interest. “Forgive me, Consort. I get carried away sometimes. I forget that most people do not share my enthusiasm of obscure history.”

“It is quite alright,” Sha’ira gracefully responded. She was a little impressed. Very few ever noticed how their conversation annoyed others. Even fewer acted on that knowledge. It spoke of a self-awareness that was not often seen in Salarians. “Do not let anyone else dampen your enjoyment of what surrounds you. Just be more mindful of other’s reactions to your lectures.”

With a grateful bow and a relieved smile, the manager led Sha’ira and her retinue to the door of her private box. “Thank you, Consort. I hope that you enjoy the concert.

Stepping inside, Sha’ira smiled as she looked out at the concert hall. Dark figures moved to their seats, quietly murmuring in anticipation for what promised to be one of the best performances of the season from the rising cello soloist. Very few musicians in the galaxy could draw in such a crowd, especially as a solo act. Octavia Melody just so happened to be one of them. The fact that the mare worked for her for the past three years was something she was extremely proud of.

Taking her seat in one of the plush chairs, Sha’ira settled back comfortably, crossing her legs patiently as her retinue moved to copy her. She enjoyed listening to the maidens quietly chattering behind her, their quiet conversation wandering across every topic imaginable, from human soccer to whether or they had seen the new film, Nekyia Corridor.

“I can’t wait to see it.” Kaezi said. She was the second youngest Asari that Sha’ira had employed, a favor to her mother that she was sure the maiden would be horrified to hear about. “I’ve watched every single one of her films.”

“Her films are pretentious and unbearable to watch.” Miela responded. There were very few Asari that she knew that had so many opinions about so many pointless things, and Miela definitely topped Sha’ira’s list. “They’re dull and sophomoric at best.”

“Yeah, well..” Kaezi said, frowning. “You’re dull and sophomoric!”

Sha’ira often brought the Asari maidens who worked for her to as many cultural events as possible. Out of everyone who was on her payroll, they were the ones who could use the most education on the finer things in life. All they had known for so long were the horrific songs and films that plagued their generation, horrible and overwritten drivel that it was.

Keeping only part of her attention on the maidens’ conversation, Sha’ira looked back out across the theater below her. Nearly every species known to Citadel space was present, if not in equal numbers. The Council races by far made up the majority: Turians, Asari, and Salarians. She noted, and not for the first time, that the clothing each race tended to wear exemplified the traits that they tended towards.

The Turians all wore varying levels of military dress, even those who had long since retired to the private sector. As the main protectors of Citadel space, it was in their blood. Their clothing had become more fashionable in the two-thousand years since they had joined the Council, but most still reflected their true nature. Sha’ira could certainly admire the way that their suits attractively draped on their carapaces.

Salarian fashion was almost a contradiction of terms. As the second race to find the Citadel, and having jointly formed the Council with the Asari, they held high positions across the galaxy. They were scientists, inventors, politicians, anything that let their marvelous minds play. With metabolisms that worked at an incredible pace, and their lifespans even faster, they had seen more generations come and go than all the other races combined.

At the speed that their minds worked, very little of their impressive intelligence was ever spent on designing appealing clothing, or anything artistic in general. Instead, they created mathematically perfect starships and wrote laws and taxes so complicated that their true purposes were often only discovered decades after they had passed away.

Unlike the Salarians, the Asari tended as a race towards flair and creativity. With lifespans upwards of a thousand years, the Asari had more than enough time to spend developing wild and eye-catching pieces of clothing, all reflecting their grace and origin from their native planet’s oceans.

It was the Asari who had found the Citadel nearly three-thousand years ago, and Sha’ira was more than proud of that fact. Their race was at the center of all galactic politics, often with convoluted plans that they quietly nudged and tended to for a thousand years. If a politician disagreed with them, all they had to do was wait until the problem passed away. The long game was a racial pastime of the Asari, and they had made it into an art form.

There were of course the hopefuls amongst the crowd, races who were vying for a seat on the Council. To have a seat on the Council was to have made it. It meant that your race was powerful enough to make and enforce galactic politics, that your opinion mattered.

The lone pair of Elcor stood out amongst the audience. Having evolved on a high-gravity world, their quadrupedalism and massive, muscular bodies were a natural byproduct. Their monotone speech was not. It had taken centuries for the Asari to convince them that announcing their emotions and intent before they spoke was crucial for ease of communications, after all, no other race could make heads or tails of the complex pheromone language that the Elcor actually spoke with.

Harder to pick out were the Volus; short, rotund little creatures with an ammonia based biochemistry. Forced to live in environmental suits off of their home planet, they were forced into the awkward position of looking like a balloon if they wanted to interact with any race aside from their own.

Sha’ira took a moment to thank the goddess Athame that she had a Volus looking after her rather impressive bank accounts. They could do things with numbers that she was almost certain had to be dark magic, done only with the will of an elder god behind them. She then sent another quick prayer of thanks that she herself was not a Volus.

Several Hanar floated near the back of the theater, their long tentacles hanging down to the floor. It still made her stare in wonder at how effortlessly they levitated through the air. Out of all of the beings on the Citadel, only the Hanar shared the Asari’s aquatic origins and their deep desire to return to the sea. It had led many a maiden to fall for the sweet, poetry loving race, though it was often to the disgust of the others.

Turning her attention finally to the last two, and by far the most enigmatic of the races, Sha’ira narrowed her eyes. It wasn’t often that anything could truly surprise her, but when she had heard the news that a Turian fleet had been forced to retreat after a failed invasion, it had made her sit up and take notice. Not only had it turned out that more than a single race had taken part in the humiliation of the Turian fleets, but they had already begun to form a rudimentary version of their own Council. Nothing could have been more surprising.

Not in any of her seven hundred years had Sha’ira ever seen the Council in such a panic. What use were fleets when a single being could smash ships to pieces with a star? She’d made enough from Councillor Tevos’ subsequent visits alone to outright purchase the top ten floors of her apartment building.

It had been an extremely lucrative year.

The source of Tevos’ frustration? Humans and Equestrians. There was nothing about them that would alert anyone to the fact that they were observing some of the most paradoxical and threatening beings to have ever evolved in the galaxy.

With the ferocity of the Krogans, the discipline of the Turians, and the creativity of the Asari, humanity upset the status quo. They were brash, loud, and entitled, strutting about like the galaxy owed them. They shared so many similarities biologically with the Asari that it was still being explored by scientists to this day whether or not they were genetically related. Sha’ira had heard more than her fair share of crackpot theories on both sides of the matter.

Equestrians were a different matter entirely. Until their discovery, all planets had seemed to follow one universal constant: only one sentient race. Ponies, Griffins, Zebras, Minotaurs, Dragons, Cows, Sheep, Donkeys, they just kept coming. It was almost easier to count the non-sapient creatures on Equestria. On top of that fact, Equestria was home to three of the strangest beings that Sha’ira had ever met. Gods in all but name, the Alicorn princesses.

She had consoled more than a few scientists who had tried to explain how they moved stars and celestial bodies effortlessly, and that was without mentioning all of the other impossibilities that filled every aspect of their day to day lives. How could one reconcile science with a living, breathing deity standing before them, much less three, effortlessly flaunting the laws of physics like they were mere suggestions only meant for lesser beings.

Before she could ponder any further, the hall fell silent as the lights dimmed and she sat up higher in her chair, resting her chin in the palm of her hand. Sha’ira smiled in quiet anticipation as a shiver ran down her spine.

* * *

The familiar feeling of anticipation washed through Octavia Melody from the tips of her hooves to the end of her tail, something that happened to her before every concert she played. She took deep, calming breaths, shifting her forehoof around the neck of her cello. Balancing on her back legs had long since become a natural thing for her, using her cello as a third leg to balance on. It had taken many long years of practice to be able to do so, but it was worth it.

When she had been just a filly, everypony she had met had told her that she would never matter. How could a simple earth pony ever play as well as a unicorn? How would she ever play the cello without magic? Stupid filly, go back to playing in the dirt with the rest of the mud ponies.

Octavia had proven all of them wrong. She was the best of the best, and everyone in the galaxy knew it. Everyone knew Octavia Melody’s name. Who remembered Classic String?

No one, that’s who.

Stupid old nag.

If she was honest with herself, she felt more than a little vindication at that.

Standing on the rising platform, the grey mare let her music run through her head in last minute anticipation, her eyes closed. Her coat tingled with what felt like static electricity and she relished in the feeling. The moments before were always the best, and she savored every second of it.

The platform jolted as it began to rise up to the stage above, but Octavia kept her balance from years of practice. It only took several moments for her to be lifted up to the circular stage of the concert hall. Octavia could hear the audience surrounding her, a false silence of people shifting in their seats and occasionally whispering to each other.

Lifting her bow, she began to play.

* * *

The applause was still ringing through the concert hall as the stage lowered back down. After nearly three hours of uninterrupted playing, she was ready to get back home and rest. Octavia was happy with her performance, and from the fact the audience was still clapping, they were too. Dropping down onto all four of her hooves, she flipped her cello onto her back with a long practiced gesture. The position was far more stable than it would suggest. Stepping down off of the platform, she walked over to her case, still on the floor exactly where she left it. None of the stage hands had dared to touch it.

Flipping open the latches, Octavia opened the case. A jolt of sadness ran through her body as she found herself face to face with a well-worn picture, intimately familiar to her. That picture had stayed in her cello case for the past twelve years ever since the... incident. Vinyl might be gone, but Octavia made sure that she would live on in some way, by achieving the success that Vinyl always dreamed of.

She hated that it always caused a flurry of emotions to flood through her when she saw it, but Octavia could never imagine removing it either. That would be sacrilege of the highest order. Vinyl had loved her with all her heart, and Octavia would always do the same. Her wife deserved that much at least.

Looking down at her hoof, Octavia studied the familiar polished gold wedding band. It wasn’t very expensive, it didn’t have any diamonds or flashy jewels, and it wasn’t very eye-catching, but Octavia didn’t care. It was the last thing that Vinyl had ever given to her, and she had not taken it off even once since that day. It had become as much a part of her as her perfectly maintained mane style and her pink bowtie.

Steadfastly, she pulled her memories away from that day. Octavia wanted to remember her wife in better times.

With the gentle respect of a professional musician, Octavia laid her cello in its case. Closing the lid, she locked the latches, so wrapped up in her thoughts and memories that she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her.

“Mrs. Melody.”

Startled, Octavia spun around to find Sha’ira and her maidens standing a respectful distance away. She ignored her pounding heart, and with practiced ease, she wiped the nostalgia from her face and plastered on a subdued smile. “Consort Sha’ira. It is good to see you.”

Sha’ira bowed gracefully, and Octavia took a moment to marvel at how human the Asari looked. Completely female in appearance, all Asari were varying shades of blue and purple. The only true difference between humans and Asari that Octavia had ever noticed was the mane, or hair as she reminded herself they called it. The Asari had none, instead possessing cartilage based scalp crests, striking and graceful in their appearance, hinting at their past ancestry as aquatic mammals. They still had the ability to stay underwater for absolutely jaw-dropping amounts of time. Well, that and the fact the Asari were a mono-gendered species.

“You played beautifully tonight,” Sha’ira said, unaware of Octavia’s inner observations. At least Octavia was hopeful she was unaware. With the Consort, you could never be quite sure. She was insightful in a way few others could match. ”It is always a treat to hear your concerts.”

“Thank you.” Octavia ducked her head, blushing, ears laying back in embarrassment.

Taking a step closer, Sha’ira clasped her hands behind her back. “Regretfully, I am here on business.”

“Oh?” Octavia’s ears swiveled forward as she turned her full attention on the Consort. Business was business after all, and you were only ever as good as your last performance.

“A Turian General,” Sha’ira said as she looked around the skeleton of the stage above, “by the name of Septimus Oraka has requested that you play for him privately.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Octavia said.

“This is excellent news, Mrs. Melody.” Smiling gratefully at the mare, Sha’ira gave another bow. “General Oraka will be pleased to hear it.” Turning, Sha’ira led her retinue away. The maidens all took the opportunity to give lingering glances back at Octavia, even as they followed after their employer.

Watching the Consort as she walked away, Octavia let her false smile falling away. Her ears dropping down forlornly, she slung her cello case onto her back and started walking to the back entrance. The only sounds to comfort her were the clip-clop of her horse shoes. The applause of only minutes ago was gone, leaving her with a pit of emptiness inside.

* * *

The shuttle ride back to her apartment seemed to pass in no time at all. One of the best perks about living on the Citadel were the free shuttles. They served as the main form of transportation between the ward arms of the space-station.

Leaving the relative safety of the Ward Arms of the Citadel was always a sight to behold as the shuttle rose up in a gentle arc into the vacuum of space. The soft purple glow of the Serpent Nebula that engulfed the Citadel made the beautiful sight simply marvelous, setting everything alight in an almost holy way. It had always been a welcoming sight to her in the past, quick to lift her spirits and emotions.

For the first time since she had moved to the Citadel, the view did nothing to lift Octavia from her depression. She barely even noticed the ride, she was so wrapped up in her own thoughts. As soon as the shuttle landed, she stepped out, pulling her cello onto her back once again. The shuttle took off as soon as she stepped away, flying off to collect the next customer on its automatic queue.

“Mrs. Melody, how was your concert?”

Looking up, Octavia found the doorman smiling down at her. He was wearing a tailored suit, and Octavia could barely make out the bulge of his pistol. Octavia found the aging Turian a welcome treat from the general unappreciative masses. He always had a kind word to say to her, and she made sure that she tipped him extremely well during the holidays for his dedicated services.

“It was fine,” she replied morosely. “Thank you for asking, Fidelis.”

“My wife and I are looking forward to seeing you play next month,” Fidelis said as he opened the door for her. He gave her a smile, recognizing she was in no mood for an extended conversation. She was always this way around this time of year. ”I can’t thank you enough for the tickets.”

“It was no problem. I hope you two enjoy it.” Octavia gave him a friendly smile, though it was distant. Stepping into the lobby of Tilican Tower, she made her way across the marble floors, polished to a shine. At the familiar sound of her hooves, the few residents conversing together in the lobby turned and waved at her. As the only Equestrian resident in the entire tower, everyone recognized her. Octavia gave weary nods and weak smiles in response.

Stopping at the elevator, Octavia pressed the up button, waiting patiently for it to arrive.

* * *

With a soft hiss, the door to Octavia’s apartment slid open. As the door slid back closed behind her, Octavia let her prim persona drop, sagging on her hooves. Loosening her pink bow-tie, she wearily walked into her practice room and propped up her cello gently on its stand.

Walking back out and into her kitchen on tired hooves, Octavia headed straight for the alcohol. Her memories were calling for a more expensive pain reliever than tylenol. Pushing bottles aside, she wrapped her fetlock around the neck of a dusty bottle near the back, one she had been saving for a special occasion. Setting it on the counter, she pulled a mug from another cupboard. Imported specially from Equestria, the bottle of Apple family cider was both ridiculously expensive and in all likelihood the only one of its kind on the Citadel. There was nothing quite like Equestrian Hard Cider.

Everything about living on the Citadel was expensive for Octavia. As an Earth Pony, nothing was built with a species like hers in mind. Only the Elcor were also quadrapedal, and there was quite the size difference between them and Equestrians. Unicorns had their magic, and Pegasi had their wings, but all that Earth ponies had were their hooves. When she had moved into her apartment, she had to hire contractors to make it more livable for her.

As her popularity and income grew, the changes and renovations increased with it. She now owned the entire top floor and had a near three-hundred sixty degree view of the Citadel from her floor to ceiling windows, made from a clear Asari metal to keep the atmosphere in. The only obstruction of her view was from the block of rooms in the right corner. They were closed off from the rest of the apartment, a glimmer of privacy during the parties she occasionally hosted.

Filling her mug, Octavia placed the bottle back in the cupboard. Picking up her glass in one hoof, she walked three-legged to her living room with a weird, limping gait.

Setting her mug on the small table next to her favorite chair, she clambered in and settled down. The first few months of trying to sit in the store bought chairs had made her cave and she had one specially made for her. Ponies simply did not sit the same way as bipedal species did. It was only fitting that her favorite chair look out over the best view from her apartment.

Outside her windows ships passed by, lumbering behemoths that ignored the smaller aircars that flitted between them. In its own way, it reminded her of the ocean, of a world she had never seen but long knew of. Seeing life pass by brought Octavia comfort, and she had spent countless hours just staring out her windows. Between practicing, playing concerts, and occasionally doing the odd session for Consort Sha’ira, Octavia spent most of her free time on her chair, thinking and staring out her window. That often led to her becoming far more drunk than she wished.

She was unlikely to ever change. There was no reason.

Sipping at her cider, Octavia tried to ignore the urge to look at her mantle piece. She was trying to get the dark memories out of her head, not fill it with even more.

With a snarl, she took a gulp from her mug, desperate to put her mind anywhere but where it had been firmly stuck all night.

Octavia didn’t want to look. She really didn’t, but trying to stop herself was quickly proving to be impossible. It stuck at the back of her mind, always there.

She never really stood a chance. The memories were too much to bear.

“Dammit!” Octavia growled, swiveling in her chair.

Built from imported marble, a vast sea of pictures covered the mantlepiece, artfully arranged in a careful manner. Octavia let her gaze wander over them. It was Vinyl and Octavia’s life, or at least what little there had been of it. Everything was there, from when the two had met as fillies all the way to their wedding. Octavia giggled at the picture of filly Vinyl. A foreleg around filly Octavia’s neck, she was smiling as wide as she could, her left eye swollen nearly completely shut from Octavia’s punch that started the journey of their friendship.

Clenching her eyes shut, Octavia downed the rest of the cider. She ignored the tears welling in her eyes as she stood up out of her favorite chair and returned the mug to the kitchen. It would be best if she just went to bed now. Better to let her thoughts and memories plague her in a place of comfort, rather than in front of her mantlepiece of regrets.

Even as she plodded tiredly towards her bedroom, Octavia could feel temptation coursing through her veins. She knew that she shouldn’t, but the need to just peek into the room was almost too much for her to bear.

Ears and tail twitching in agitation, Octavia grit her teeth together. Annoyed and disappointed in her inability to move past her pain, she turned to open the door opposite her own bedroom. It was not a room that she spent a lot of time in, but looking inside never failed to move her. Never mind that most of the time it was just depression.

The door slid open and lights turned on, revealing to Octavia a sight that she knew like the sound of her cello. The room was both a shrine and a tomb, though Octavia had never thought of it as such. To her, it was a memory.

Sitting in the center of the room was a state of the art turn table, meticulously cleaned and polished. The bookshelf lining the wall opposite the door held more records than most people ever saw in a lifetime. All of them had been imported from Equestria, one of the last planets left that still manufactured the vinyl discs.

Mismatched speakers hung from nearly every surface, artful in their chaotic arrangement. Everything was exactly the way that Vinyl would have wanted it. Vinyl might never have stepped hoof in the room, much less the apartment, but it made Octavia feel as if she had never lost her.

“Happy anniversary, Vinyl,” Octavia whispered, hanging her head. She stepped out of the doorway and let it slide shut behind her, retreating to her own room to hide from the galaxy.

Author's Notes:

Edited January 19, 2015

Next Chapter: Chapter Two - It's Gonna Be a Long Day [Edited] Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 46 Minutes
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