Creatures Real and Mythical
Cybele Ophelia Shepard, Commander of the SSV Normandy, Hero of the Citadel, Spectre, Destroyer of All Things Reaper-tech, and Superior to one Jeff "Joker" Moreau, was a humongous shopaholic.
In every possible way a shopaholic.
She wasn't the kind to spend money traipsing the Citadel or Omega, nor was she the kind that browsed kiosks in search of something shiny. Unless they were polished metal guns or bullets, but that's more an acquisition-type of shopping and more or less something the quartermaster was responsible for on the ship. Not even Commander Shepard could possibly afford all of the maintenance work spent on the Normandy.
But Commander Shepard did not do her work for free, and her personal money accumulated to a point where she did not know what to do with her stash of galactic credit (except buy a high-rise apartment and host epic parties in said high-rise apartment). This honestly hadn't been much of an issue, up until Joker suggested she spend her money soon, because there would always be the next suicidal mission to run into.
It was a huge mistake on his part, though he hadn't realized this until it got out of hand.
So it came down to purchases on a whim, which Joker had seen first-hand, being the pilot who watched as the acquisitions officers lugged boxes on board. And, to be honest, it hadn't been so bad the first few times. Boxes of Serrice Ice Brandy, exotic fish, space hamster toys, miniature ship models, magazines and dime novels, toothbrushes with tiny mass-effect fields (though that was a little excessive), vouchers for cinematic screenings and other entertainment shows during offshore leave. Even crates of Tupari, though Shepard hadn't remembered ordering those (Admittedly, she had a bit of a kick from its 10 percent of tupo berry flavor. Joker, on the other hand, hated that blasted drivel).
Then the purchases became just a bit ridiculous. An automated fish feeder (why buy fish when you can't take care of them?), ancient gladiatorial battle armor (which she never wore--ever), virtual reality helmets ("For an immersive adventure into a world of magic!"), barrels of krogan Ryncol (which Joker avoided like the plague, though it hadn't stopped him from pushing the drink to Garrus, who, hell, was pretty damn amusing when drunk as sin), a shipment of exotic asari dancers ("Don't ask," Shepard had said grimly, just before she let the asari loose in the Normandy lounge, clad in almost nothing. Joker had technically approved that, though EDI made absolutely sure to keep him locked inside the cockpit, with no camera access to the lounge at the time.).
At some point Shepard even bought her entire crew first-class seats to the full performance of Hamlet. This would have tickled Joker, who was a closet Shakespearean fan at heart, but damn. The entire play was performed by elcors. There was only so much droning Joker could take before he had leaned over to EDI, begging her to break his legs completely and devise some sort of emergency. She didn't comply, though; the AI actually found the damn play interesting.
The worst part about all these purchases was that Shepard had absolutely no compunction to apologize or explain any of them. Shepard was undoubtedly just being Shepard, and she didn't need to justify herself to anyone. Not even Joker, who was slowly losing his mind, both with guilt and with irritation.
The breaking point, however, had been the varren. Dear God above, that damn varren.
The entire situation was bad enough, it could very well have led Joker into downing an entire pint of Ryncol, just so he could forget the nasty beast from slobbering all over his cockpit. He wasn't even sure how it got up to the command deck, considering it had been deposited at the cargo bay. He had theories, of course, ones he voiced out loud to EDI, ones that accused a certain Commander for screwing with his emotional stability.
It had started, innocently enough, with two massive, rectangular boxes on the Urdnot docks.
"EDI, please tell me she hasn't gone and purchased a crate of Ryncol," Joker had groaned at the thought. "Some of the crew is still reeling from the last time we had that on stock in the lounge."
"Doubtful," his sexy robot co-pilot responded. Well, not so much co-pilot, considering she encompassed the entire Normandy. Her corporeal body was an added benefit, and completely easy on the eyes. Joker did not often vocalize his partiality to EDI, but he was sure she knew. She was an unshackled AI after all. Fortunately for Joker, she welcomed his ogling and even flirted back from time to time. "Preliminary scans indicate that the objects within the first crate are not liquid. It appears to be dried pyjak meat for the pseudo-canine species."
EDI tilted her head to the side, as though trying to find a way to further describe it. When she finally spoke, it was decidedly brief. "Varren food, Jeff."
Joker gaped. "Excuse me, what?"
"The crate is filled with food for varren. Varren are a species of what humans designate as vicious canines, though they look like a Condrichthyes and Canid hybrid. Natives of Tuchanka--"
"I know what varren are," he snapped.
"Excellent. Then you are aware that their diet solely consists of indigenous pyjak meat, also found mainly on Tuchanka." EDI had a way of punctuating the most obscure facts and making Joker feel like an ignoramus. All the same, this was the stuff he knew already.
He waved at the explanation in the attempts to get to the heart of it. "The last time I checked, we're not exactly desperate for monkey chow. So why has the Commander ordered a year's supply of dried pyjak?"
"I believe that is self-explanatory, Jeff."
"Not to me. Wait." He frowned. "You said the first crate. There's another one?"
"Excellent deduction, Jeff."
He looked at the monitor again and saw what he'd missed the first time. Honestly, he wasn't sure why he'd missed it the first time. The crate was even more massive than the previous. And once he looked closer, he paled. The box was shaking.
"Mother of all that is good. She did not just buy what I think she bought."
Beside him, EDI made a small noise that sounded suspiciously like laughter.
"This." He waved at the camera. "This has got to stop."
And so there was a varren on board. A bright red varren that the Commander had introduced to the crew as Bloody Mary. Because having a red varren on board was not intimidating enough, she'd gone and named it after some horrific Earthen legend. Shepard had taken her varren out for walks afterward. Walks. It followed her everywhere, even to the cockpit.
Where Joker was.
It was massive. The varren looked vicious and hungry, and to Joker, no amount of dried pyjak meat would satiate its appetite. He was also damn sure that the varren would have taken a bite out of him the day the Commander took it to the command deck.
He couldn't prove it, but he was also pretty damn sure that the Commander had taken her pet to him with the intention of having it bite him.
EDI would neither deny nor confirm this, but he knew. HE KNEW. Knew it by the way the Commander smirked at him, by the way her eyes had sparked that brief spark of mischief whenever she had a sarcastic quip in stow for him.
"Joker, you did suggest I spend my money," she'd said blandly. "And I like varren. They're like mabari warhounds."
"What the hell are mabari warhounds?"
Her eyes had widened, and she raised her hands in a dramatic manner. "Have you not played with the VR helmets? There are some really good fantasy adventures in them. I liked this one world where the lands are at the mercy of dragon gods..."
Joker groaned. "Forget I said anything about your credits, Shepard. Keep them in your account. Just please, please no more varren."
Commander Cybele Ophelia Shepard just smiled in response. Then she winked. "Hey. Look at it this way. At least they aren't rachni."
The cockpit doors closed, and Joker was left watching in horror at the implication of Shepard possibly buying genetic rachni eggs. He certainly didn't want to be around for that.
His paramour looked at him, beautiful metallic face devoid of any telltale emotion.
"Are you sure you don't want to kill me now and get this over with?"
"Don't be dramatic, Jeff."
Poetry poetry poetry! This is where submissions get a bit more creative than most, and it's a wonder how many HOLers (particularly the eagles) are filled with fabulous artsyness.