Of Sheep and Battle Chicken : And Then There Were None

(AKA The Sexual Adventures of Shepard Featuring Naked Thane)


A/N and Intro:

Welcome to OSABC: And Then There Were None. ATTWN is a continuation of my AU rewrite of Mass Effect 1, titled "Of Sheep and Battle Chicken". This story covers the period of time from the end of ME1 to the beginning of the two years before ME2. It's a story about the trials and tribulations of one Sara Ying Shepard, a story about maturation, about overcoming pain in one's past, about having a kinky ancient asari for a father-in-law, and about god-stomping the shit out of Batarians.

In case the story summary eluded you, this is FShep/Liara. Other pairings include Joker/Tali, Garrus/OC, Ash/Kai (but Kaiden is teh ded), and Chakwas/OC (eventually). Things you will not see include a stupid Council, moronically evil Cerberus, weak-ass turians, or pretty much anything that Bioware half-assed. The story runs on the Rule of Crazy Awesome, so in game terms the setting is a mix between Insanity and Easy.

It's also a story about the difference between being a martyr and being a hero.

As an aside: This is rated M for strong language and heavily violence. While there are a number of sexual innuendos, there are no explicit sex scenes in this work. Given my version of Shepard's proclivities, that's probably for the best.

This is an AU (Alternative Universe) fic. I have taken a shotgun to canon in every possible way, and if you think I changed things up in the first story, you are in for a treat. That means you will be completely lost if you haven't read the first story – and if you click my profile, you can see other supporting documentation that fleshes out the backstory of the universe, such as the Cerberus Files, the Systems Alliance Order of Battle, and the Encyclopedia Biotica.

None of these are required reading, but if you ever wonder why salarians operate in bullet-time, asari have biotic lightsabers, and the entire universe is a vile, conspiracy ridden shithole that makes 40k look like My Little Pony...you may wish to check them out.

This linking piece is something I've always wished Bioware would do. I never liked the fact that barely a few weeks past defeating Saren, Shepard got killed. No promotions, no new ships, nothing but "go hunt Geth". No military force is that stupid. At the very least they would have given her some awards – something. Instead we got no real 'closure' at the start of ME2. Do not even get me started on the stupidity of Shepard falling through the atmosphere and doing anything but burning up entirely and splattering on an icy rock. I fixed that too.

The story is told in five arcs.

The first arc covers the aftermath of Shepard's promotion to Major of Marines, and serves as prologue.

The second arc covers Shepard training under Admiral Ahern at Pinnacle Station.

The third arc covers her leave period, and some other minor fluff.

The fourth arc covers my version of Bring Down the Sky.

The fifth arc is the fall of the Normandy, and the recovery of Shepard's Body.

Hopefully I can get this completed in short order. (Progman, stop laughing at me)

Before we start this trip, I want to bring up a story. A story that has not gotten anywhere near the proper number of reviews. A story that is so goddamned brilliant I feel like a hack compared the writer. That story is "Living an Indoctrinated Dream" by Aberron. If you like my writing, check his out.


"Never forget the best weapon any soldier has is their mind, and the worst weakness is their emotions." – Major Kyle, 'Reflections of the Lion'

The endless black curtain of space shattered in a blaze of light as the long, low shape of the Alliance cruiser Accra erupted from FTL, lightning flickering briefly over the pale white surfaces of the ship. Ahead of her, backlit by the awesome swirls and storms of the gas giant it orbited, the bulk of Arcturus Station loomed. A thousand ships moved in complicated patterns from the edge of the station, some flickering into FTL with a displacement of space, others flaring thrusters to dive down towards the inner solar system.

The Accra smoothly accelerated, bursts of energy flaring as it lowered it's kinetic barriers on approach. Aboard the vessel, a calm voice rang out over the 1MC announcement system, almost droning in it's pitch.

"Attention. All hands prepare for docking. Engineering, draw core output down to nominal levels. Tech-team Three, report to docking connector bay two for hardlock systems checks."

Major-Commander Sara Shepard sighed as shudders ran through the frame of the small cabin she was assigned. Her dark black hair fell in limp curtains around the dark features of her face, cold blue eyes boredly scanning over the datapad in her hands, lips drawn down into a scowl. The cabin she was in was spartan and mostly bare, boasting a narrow bed, a set of lockers, and the small desk and chair unit she was sitting at. Like most Systems Alliance warships, living space was at a premium, and even with her new rank and importance, she didn't rate much more than bumping the XO from his room.

Still, it was better than making the trip stuck in a hibernation coffin. The people she had brought with her – Liara, Tali, Pressly and Joker – were given smaller cabins, somewhere on the second deck of the ship carrying her to her new command. Only by dint of a long and tedious amount of haggling with the SA Bureau of Assignment had she been able retain command of any of her marines from the Normandy. Senior Chief Emilo Vega and two Drop-Assault Combat Troopers, Sergeants Jack Florez and Uriel Montoya were the only ones she could hang on to, since Ownby and Haskins would require months of rehabilitation, and Chief Haln had been given a honorable medical discharge due to his injuries.

Ashley Williams, of course, both pregnant and still wounded, couldn't make the trip, and it was likely she would be reassigned elsewhere anyway. Her old engineer Adams had been given a promotion and a job aboard a dreadnaught, and a berth near his wife, so he was happier where he was. The rest of her old crew was still on the Normandy, locked in repair cycles to fix the battering the frigate had taken in the act of chasing down Benezia.

The rest of the crew she would need for her new command would be assigned at Arcturus Station...where they were now docked. With a sigh, Shepard tucked the padd into her shipbag, sliding it along side her journal and a light pistol. Pausing to make sure she'd left nothing behind in the cabin, she picked up her duty duffel and exited the cabin once the final lurching motion and heavy clangs reverberating through the ship let her know docking was completed.

The corridor outside was standard Alliance. Heavy white bulkheads, steel decking, a foam-sprayed overhead festooned with cabling and TDL piping. Arcane letters were embossed on the walls to identify electrical access hatches and damage control equipment, and blocky lockers jutted out at just the right angle to painfully crack against an elbow if one wasn't careful.

Still unfamiliar with the layout of the Accra – she'd only been aboard two days, and much of that time was spent with Pressly going over command requirements – she managed to find her way to the main assembly deck. The deck ran half the length of the ship, a combination of assembly hall, galley, and lounge for the ship's crew. Equipment lockers hung from the junctions of bulkheads and overheads, while rows of tables dominated the center of the room, arranged around a haptic display screen showing recent news and entertainment.

Shepard glanced around, not seeing any of her crew, but before she could look her name was called from behind. She turned to see Captain Charles Swinton descending the stairs leading to the CIC. The commanding officer of the Accra came up to her, his slender figure almost comical against the bulky outlines of his uniform, his hair hacked down to stubble in a spacer's cut.

"Major Shepard. As you can probably tell, we are docked. Already getting priority traffic for you and yours to disembark, ma'am." He handed her a padd, it's surface covered in glaring red graphics indicating high security orders. "My men will offload any luggage you have, and the ships steward is collecting the rest of your command team. It's been a pleasure having you aboard."

She nodded, remembering she should smile at the man. "Thank you, Captain. You run a tight ship. Where should I go to meet up with my crew and board the station?" She glanced over the padd as she spoke, rolling her eyes at the fact that simple orders telling her to meet with her liaison were classified higher than the design specs of the Normandy.

Swinton pointed to the far end of the deck. "Docking bay two, ma'am. They're running across the hard-locks now. Should be someone there from the Admiralty waiting for you with transport."

She nodded, and he saluted, which she returned before walking away. The uniform she wore was no longer the comfortable and shapeless undress of a line officer, but the elaborate leather-paneled uniform of a command officer. The hanging gold chain and higher collar bothered her, and the heavy gold epaulets on each shoulder almost felt as if they were pressing down on her.

Still, she kept her head high and her face blank as she walked the length of the deck. Sailors and marines stared at her in poorly hidden fascination, which was nothing new.

Butcher of Torfan. Savior of the Citadel. Baroness. Twice awarded the Star of Terra. Less a person and more a collection of media perspectives, rumor, and hearsay, she doubted any of them could understand the living hell and journey of pain and growth she'd undergone the past year.

Not that it mattered. She had Liara. She had David. She had Kahlee and Aethyta, Tali and Joker, Garrus and Tel, Pressly and Jiong, and of course General Von Grath. Hell, she even included Udina in her 'list of people that made life worth living'.

Let them stare.

With a slight grimace she stepped through the heavy bulkhead doorway, a twinge of pain in her thigh reminding her that, even with modern medicine, she'd very nearly died not too long ago fighting Lady Benezia. The thigh wound had healed, but the bone was a touch weak, and that wasn't including all the other assorted injuries she'd collected in the chase and final fight.

Many people thought she was a lethal warrior, but sometimes she felt like she got by with more luck than skill. Some enterprising hacker had managed to get a hold of the surveillance footage in the Council Chamber. While thankfully there was no audio, the video of the fight was impressive enough for most people to be overawed. Yet when she had looked at it, at her own actions in that fight, she only saw her getting her ass beaten like a drum. Fighting a biotic warrior who was killing back when humans were still using swords wasn't easy.

If not for Liara, there were several times that Benezia would have splattered Shepard's brains over the stupidly opulent Council Chambers.

Turning down a narrow, armored corridor, she was lost in her thoughts. The bag over her shoulder made it a bit hard to maneuver as the ship's company began to head to the disembarkation area, and several times she brushed past sailors and techs. She decided to stop woolgathering when she nearly shoulder-checked an inattentive marine into a wall, and apologized with a mutter.

Passing the last of the crowd, she saw an asari in a SA officer uniform, next to a quarian female and a single human male, all gathered in a tight knot near a massive airlock that already stood open.

Her people.

Walking up, she nodded to Liara first, then to the rest of the team. "Everyone have a good trip? And where is Jiong?"

Joker, unsurprisingly, was the first to pipe up. "Haven't seen him. He's probably off terrorizing the ship's XO or something. And no, the trip sucked. Whoever the pilot is needs to trim up his drive alignment, I could feel the ship shaking even from my cabin. And I'll never complain about the coffee on the Normandy again. Ugh."

Tali shrugged, after giving Jeff a look. "I didn't really feel comfortable wandering around. Some of the sailors gave me strange looks." Tali had made slight modifications to her suit since Shepard talked her into joining the SA fleet military – rank stripes carefully painted on her left arm, quarian fashion, and the SA logo and her name were neatly stenciled across her chest. The SA was apparently working on a uniform code for quarians, but it wasn't completed yet, so Tali could pretty much wear what she liked.

Liara, on the other hand, was wearing standard SA undress blues, which Shepard felt looked disturbingly good on her, emphasizing her figure in ways they'd never done for Shepard. "The ship's library was quite extensive. I spent some time looking into your fleet regulations. They are not far different than the security and discipline agreements I had to work under for many archeological digs."

Joker rolled his eyes. "And back to the science again."

Pressly walked up a moment later, his own shipbag slung over one big shoulder. "Your marine team is being offloaded now, ma'am. I've already messaged Arcturus Command of our arrival and our transportation is waiting. Commissar Jiong messaged me a few minutes ago, he will be along presently after he reports to the regional Commissariat command."

Shepard gave him a wide smile. "Pressly, what would I do without you?"

He only shrugged. "Just doing my job, ma'am. I'd rather do my job than have to do yours. Too much shooting for my taste." He turned to glance Joker. "But speaking of taste, and with all due respect...couldn't we have found a less mouthy pilot?"

Joker snickered, and Shepard found her spirits lifting. "Let's get a move on, people."

The trip through Arcturus Station was an eye-opener for Tali and Liara. Few non-humans ever visited the massive station, home not only of the main command of the SA Second Fleet but also where many Senators and other government officials resided. Half the year the SA Senate convened on Arcturus, dealing with laws and issues affecting the SA outside of the Sol System.

The station was gigantic. While no match for the sheer mass of the Citadel, it was still more than two miles long and nearly half that in depth. There were two pieces to the construction – a spherical core, mostly living spaces and business areas, and two long 'wings' that angled away from the core at ninety degree angles, filled with docking areas, warehouses, and industrial parks.

Transport through the station was done with line-cars – maglev vehicles on long powered tracks, each one holding twenty people or tons of cargo. Shepard and her team were on one such vehicle now, the endless ranks of warehouses and storage bays in the port docking flashing by in smears of gray and Alliance white.

The mag-line dipped under a heavy armored bulkhead, angling down and then leveling off to enter the Sphere. It was a huge open space, with much care taken to provide a natural setting near the center. Rows of windows jutted from tall racks of buildings that extended from the curving walls, while smaller buildings were centered around platforms built up towards the middle. The floor of the Sphere was flattened, filled with small buildings, a lake, and groups of imported trees and grass from Earth.

Tali smiled. "It's like a miniature Presidium..."

It was Pressly who spoke next. "Yes. It used to be much different – a lot more utilitarian, all ugly buildings and the like, but after humanity got a chance to see the Citadel, President Jackson spent large amounts of money refurbishing Arcturus. He wanted aliens who saw the Gateway to Sol to be impressed with our race, and … well, I think they got a bit carried away."

Shepard snorted. "A bit?" She pointed at a long series of metallic walls framing various tanks of water, each containing certain kinds of sea-life from Earth. "They built an aquatic zoo!"

Liara nodded. "My people would find that an attractive area. The landscaping is very elegant..."

Shepard only snorted.


It took a good three hours to get the ball rolling. She had to hustle Liara and Tali over to the main Administrative the two of them for their ranking aptitudes, since neither the asari or the quarian had any SA military background. Then she and Pressly had to hunt down her Marines, and their gear, and get them to a barracks. Finally, she met up with Jiong briefly before sending him and Pressly off to gather up the rest of her command team – whoever they were – and for Pressly to get ops orders and check out the state of the Kazan.

After all of that, she barely had time for a quick meal at a fast food stand before she report to her liaison Following the instructions on the padd she'd been given on the Accra, she arrived at what the sign out front said was Special Operations Command. The office building she entered was pure Alliance in it's architecture – sweeping lines, white armorplast and gray bulkhead plating, plain blue and white carpeting. Inside, a disgustingly handsome ensign with stars in his eyes leapt to attention and said he'd take her to her new office.

She was escorted to an upper floor, passing a series of smoked-glass rooms and strange signs such as 'Exfiltration Debrief – No Admittance' and 'Sanctioned CI', eventually reaching a large office overlooking the central park area of Arcturus through a series of wide windows. The brass nameplate on the door read "Maj Shepard, CO BG Chiron" in deeply embossed lettering, and the room beyond was luxuriously appointed.

A heavy desk of black armorplast dominated the room, it's surface half taken up with haptic screens, a large chair behind it. One wall was covered with a haptic map of Alliance space, the other with empty shelving, a small doorway half open showing a bathroom, and a set of lockers. Thick carpets covered the floor and two crates of something marked 'Admr. Supp. , Misc' took up a corner of the room.

Standing in the room as Shepard entered was a young woman in a sharply-cut suit of pastel blue and white, with an SA pin on her lapel. Her honey-blond hair was almost severely cut, long bangs framing a beautiful but cold face, with the same hard eyes as President Windsor. Her voice was an even , calming contralto, and her posture was almost military in it's bearing.

"Welcome, Major. This will be your office and duty station when not onboard your new ship. I'm Elizabeth Windsor-Turham, your liaison officer and technically your link to Uncle James. Have a seat."

Shepard nodded, shutting the door behind her, and walking over to the desk. She sat down almost experimentally in the heavy leather chair, even as Elizabeth pulled up another comfortable chair and placed herself in front of the desk, her hands holding a thick padd.

Shepard exhaled. "Still getting used to this, ma'am."

Elizabeth inclined her head slightly, an eerie copy of the motion Shepard had seen President Windsor do several times. She seemed naturally elegant and refined, in a way that made Shepard feel a little clumsy and plain, but the crispness of her speech gave her no time to reflect. "That is to be expected. You have been elevated to the heights of human society, in terms both military and socially. But we have little time to allow you to settle into your new post, I fear."

Shepard arched an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that I was going to be given training and time to get used to this situation. Is that not the case?"

Elizabeth waggled a hand. "To a degree. However, I'm afraid in the past twelve hours certain political realities have changed the plans my uncle set up, and we will be forced to move more quickly than originally anticipated."

She tapped the padd. "My uncle is under siege, Major. I am not exaggerating in this. He has found evidence, based on several factors, that elements within the structure of the Systems Alliance are moving towards some larger goal, one he worries is not in the best interests of the SA. He has suspected this for some time – hence, his plans to utilize you being expressed as far back as your meeting on Noveria – but information he says you gave him, as well as information from unnamed sources, has him worried. He feels he may be removed from office or even assassinated if he pushes too hard to stop these influences."

Shepard scowled. "He's the President. Can't he just send in the AIS and Commissariat to clean whoever is behind this out?"

She shook her head. "Unfortunately, no. His powers are sharply limited by the Alliance Charter, while his enemies are both a danger to his political goals and the safety of the SA. To recklessly presume the AIS or the Commissariat are not in league with them would be premature at this stage. Additionally, given the delicacy of the issue, Uncle James is reluctant to force things now with an uncooperative, alien-hating government and a fleet that is in tatters."

The young woman exhaled, firming her jaw. "In many respects I wish this was simpler, but there is every possibility my own life is in danger, and so is yours. Thus, we will be forced to move swiftly, but in such a way that hopefully the forces arrayed against my uncle – and you – will think you are no longer a threat to them. With that in mind, I do not expect you to care much or assist with the political side of things, but your assignment to his personal command will require you to understand the larger situation in some detail."

With that, Elizabeth brought up the big display screen on one wall. "Your first task is command training and a shakedown cruise of the SCH Kazan, your new command. We've done what we could to get you the best crew on short notice. They won't quite be the elite crash-team of the Normandy, but each one of the ratings and NCO's will have at least five years experience, and your marine regiment all are experienced A-rates, with some … interesting additions."

The map flared. "The shakedown cruise will be simple, traveling from Arcturus to Watson to finish out the armaments of the ship, and engineering and combat drills on the return trip. You will have an escort of four destroyers, but they are not under your command and are there only in the event someone attacks the Kazan. Your XO, Chief Engineer and Science Officer are being briefed right now on their roles in this evolution, but it should be a fairly simple trip. Questions so far?"

Shepard shook her head. "None, ma'am, except the obvious – I assume the ship has been outfitted with stores, supplies, and the like? What are we picking up at Watson?"

Elizabeth nodded. "The ship is fully loaded, except for torpedoes for the center-line launcher. Techs at Watson have come up with a three-stage torpedo using degenerate matter carefully mined from a neutron star near Perseus. This new torpedo should have nine to ten times the yield of the old M-AM matrix torpedoes. Additionally, you'll be loading the new model M11X Sharktooth missiles, replacing the Spearfish."

She highlighted a section of the map, drawing a line from Watson to Arcturus. "You will perform weapon calibration in deep space on your return trip. Once everything checks out, we'll discuss the second phase of your in-brief before you ship out to Pinnacle Station. The agreement you reached with Admiral Retham throws a wrench into the deployment plans we had in mind … but after some thought, I believe that having older frigates and damaged destroyers gives us an opportunity."

Shepard frowned. "I'm not sure I follow. I agreed to the trade because … well, the Fleet needed them more than I did. But how is that an opportunity?"

The younger woman shrugged slightly, cutting off her padd."My uncle already has assignments planned for you, but it's clear you will require some training before those can be undertaken. That gives us time to refit and repair the vessels in your command … and since they are ineffective as they are, they will be test-beds for experimental new programs and armaments. Rather than repair them to original spec, some will be converted to missile units, or sensor units, or assault craft. This should give you additional flexibility that five Normandy class frigates wouldn't be able to match in terms of specialization."

Elizabeth stood. "You have two hours before the rest of your command team arrives. We've found a competent Navigator, of course, but you will also have to do an in-brief for your new BDO. A cruiser also has several other officers that you will need to brief. Your command team will arrive at 1500 sharp in this office, so I recommend you carefully read over the requirements and the plans of the day for your trip to Watson." She paused, thinking.

"The first phase of the plan is not much changed from our original concept. For the moment, I doubt you will be in any danger. It is the next phase after this where danger will begin, so use this opportunity to improve not only your command ability but your readiness for combat, if you can. I cannot say more at this time – to be honest, Uncle James is also keeping me in the dark to some degree – but I will be in touch upon your return, Major."

With that, she left the office, shutting the door behind her. Shepard looked across the office that was now hers before sighing. "Fuck." Deciding she'd review the stuff waiting for her in a minute, she fished a cigarette out of her uniform and searched for a place to smoke.


Meeting her command team was an interesting experience.

At 1500, Liara, Pressly and Tali entered, followed by Joker. A moment later six other humans entered, followed by the limping form of Commissar Alfred Jiong, wearing his usual black coat, red sash, and peaked cap, but using a cane.

Shepard had used the time to read up on the roles and responsibilities of each officer, and had their dossiers uploaded to her desk comp, but had never been in complete command of a battle group before. Reviewing their information had reassured her that, at least on paper, every one of them was solid, although the comm tech was very light on practical experience and the supply officer had no space-side chops. Still, they would do their duty, and with Liara and the gang to back her up, she was more worried about how they would interact than how well they did their jobs.

She was also able to pull up some information on the existing crews of the rest of her fleet, but skimmed over it and then dismissed it. Given that her ships were going to be put through dry-dock and rebuild, she doubted their existing crews and captains would stay in place. Still, two of them were coming to this meeting as well, the two most likely to hang around, so it would be a good time to get a feel for them too.

She'd gotten the ensign downstairs to bring more chairs into her office, and gestured everyone to sit. "Alright, people, let's get started. I've never done this before, so if I'm a bit informal, well, get used to it."

"I'm already familiar with the officers I brought with me, but for the sake of everyone getting to know each other, we're all going to introduce ourselves. I'm Major-Commander Sara Shepard, CO of the Kazan and Battle Group Chiron. I'm an N7 biotic specialist in the Vanguard program, formerly C7 and A6 rate marine, and I've passed level IV and level V command, ops, and engineering classes. My previous command was the Normandy, a stealth scout frigate. My specialization in naval terms would be weapons systems, but I'm qualified if not experienced in piloting and CIC ops. My personal pet peeve is people who don't tell me everything I need to know up front."

She turned to Pressly. "Commander Pressly."

Pressly straightened his uniform. "Commander Charles Pressly, O6 CIC, P5 Weapons, rated Navigator, level nine. Seventeen years service, four as an A-Rate marine, P4. I've passed level V command, engineering, ops, and service classes and am a Q3 rated naval pilot. Previous commands were the New Orleans as Navigator, the Normandy as Navigator and then executive officer. Specialization is in CIC battle ops and ECM deployment. I strive for excellence in all things and expect everyone under Major Shepard's command to do the same."

She nodded. "Commissar Jiong is my political officer. Alfred?"

Jiong took off his hat. "Commissar-Captain Alfred Jiong, Systems Alliance Commissariat. I'm afraid very few of my skills translate cleanly into the MCV rating, but I'm roughly on par with an N-series marine in terms of combat ability, and my shipboard specialization is encryption systems and basic ops and ECM handling. I do have some skill in both engineering and weapons, but not to the level that I would stand a watch comfortably. I have extensive xenology training and speak asari and two salarian cants, along with some turian. As with all senior commissars and like the Major here, I am a qualified biotic, and I assisted Major Shepard during the last stages of her mission against Lady Benezia."

He paused. "You will note there are non-human crew members here, namely Lady Liara and Ms. Zorah. If I have a pet peeve, it would be if citizens of the SA – which both ladies are – are subjected to bigotry or racist remarks. If anyone has a problem serving alongside people who risked their lives to protect us all, then you will wish to find another berth, for I have no tolerance for such. Other than that, I consider my primary focus to assist Major Shepard, not to police the crew."

She smiled. "Thank you. What he said goes double for me. Liara and Tali aren't just crew, they are my very close friends. If it's a problem working with them, let me know now, not later."

No one spoke up, and she smiled. "Good! I don't have to throw anyone out the window. Let's proceed."

Shepard glanced at Joker. "Ah, right. Lieutenant Commander Jeff Moreau. Callsign Joker. Q7 rated naval pilot class fifteen. No, I didn't misspeak. R6 rating small craft. Nine years of service. Lead pilot on the San Angeles and secondary pilot on the Calais, and primary pilot on the Normandy. Specialization is flying my ass off. I really hate it when people assume since I have medical issues with my bones that I'm helpless. Seriously, don't do that."

Shepard sighs. "You'll get used to Joker. Unfortunately." She glanced at Liara.

"Y-yes. Lieutenant Liara T'Soni. I believe I will be … promoted … to Lieutenant Commander once we are formally assigned to the Kazan, where I will be the Science and Intelligence Officer. I have been given a rating of K7 xenology, asari as well as a provisional Y3 R&D Rating, subtype space. I posses a doctorate in xenoarcheology and Prothean studies from the University of Serrice, and was a practicing archeologist prior to all of … the past year. According to the gentleman I spoke with at the administrative building, I also have the equivalent of a C7 biotic rating. My specializations include Prothean history and technology, archeology, geology, planetary physics, and xenological survival. I am afraid I have no prior service with the Systems Alliance...but I spent five years training with asari commandos under the instruction of a war priestess, and was a part of Shepard's team that stopped Saren and … Lady Benezia." She paused. "I am too new to all of this to .. have pet peeves?"

Shepard smiled, and glanced at Tali'Zorah. "I am Tali'Zorah nar Kazan, daughter of Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Alarei. I am a Lieutenant , provisionally a Lieutenant Commander, and Chief Engineer of the Kazan. I have passed an examination of level V Engineering technology given to me by a rated Chief Engineer, and taken the tests to posses a M6 engineering rating and a E4 damage control rating. I have three years experience working with engineering systems, including a year spent on the Normandy, and I spent two years training with the Migrant Fleet Marines. I was also part of Shepard's team. I specialize in ship systems and omni-repair systems. My only problems are with people who forget my name and call me 'quarian'."

Shepard smirked, and pointed to the first man she didn't know well. He was tall and barrel chested, with heavy muscles. His face was slightly familiar to Liara and Tali, but they didn't know why until he spoke. His features were dark and even, his brown eyes almost amused and his chin covered with a thin non-regulation goatee.

"I'm Lieutenant Tyrone Cole … the son of Master Chief Gregory Cole." He saw the flicker of grief on the faces of Shepard and Liara but continued. "I just completed Officer Training School, but I spent seven years as a B-rate on Horizon, and three as an A-Rate marine in the Sixth RRU. I have a J3 first aid responder qualification, level II security systems training, and I'm a R2 small craft pilot. I also have my authorization for N1 training to begin whenever I get time in my duty schedule. My specialization is direct assault and I'll be the ships Battle Duty Officer, ma'am." He folded his arms. "My only pet peeve is that I don't like marines who don't push themselves."

Shepard nodded. "Lieutenant … your father was a key part of my team. We miss him greatly, and I'm glad you decided to take this position...even knowing he fell under my command."

Lieutenant Cole snorted, in a way that sounded almost identical to his father. "Ma'am, with all due respect, that's the reason I am here. My father was … very, very proud to serve under you, on the Normandy, fighting to protect us all. He never wanted to die in any other fashion than he did – talking shit, standing on his feet, and making sure the job got done. And from what little they tell me about Eden Prime, if not for you he would have died there." He smiled. "I'll try to live up to the standards he set, but I'm afraid I can't fire a Revenant LMG one handed or choke out a geth."

At that, Shepard had a memory of Cole doing just that and laughed. "Well said, Lieutenant. Welcome aboard." She turned to the woman sitting next to him.

The woman was slightly built, with darkly tanned skin, dark wavy hair and serious if slightly nervous blue eyes. Her voice had a rich English accent with a hint of a stammer. "Ensign Samantha Traynor, ma'am. O3 Communications specialist, Comms Officer for the Kazan. Graduated Oxford University summa cum laude, two year OCS scholarship through the SA. Five months active service. Qualified as a level nine communications tech, and I speak asari, both dialects of turian, fleet-service quarian, and nineteen salarian cants. I'm trained in multispectrum data communications routing and second level intelligence support services, so I will be reporting to Lieutenant Commander T'Soni. I .. uh, don't have a lot of practical experience, ma'am – this will be my first ship posting. B-but I was the first of my class in all aspects of my job. Ma'am." She looked a mix of defensive and defiant, and Shepard smiled.

"We all start somewhere, Ensign. I'm not exactly sure what the hell multispectrum data communications routing even is, but that's why you have the job. If you're here, you are one of the best the SA has to offer. Welcome aboard."

"Thank you, ma'am. I won't let you down, ma'am."

Shepard turned to the man next in the line, who gave a nod. He was lanky and rather thin, with fading blond hair cut short, calm gray eyes, a narrow beak of a nose and bloodless lips. His voice was very deep, but he spoke rapidly and with a heavy Arcturus accent. "Lieutenant Commander Jerred Colms, ma'am. I'll be your weapons officer. Eight years experience on the Orizaba, the Orleans and two years with BuWeapons. P6 weapons tech, O3 targeting systems and CIC integration. Level V ops and weapons certifications. I helped design the new Kyle-class torpedoes we'll be taking onboard at Watson, and I have a doctorate in particle physics. Graduated from ArcTech, so this is my home. Had to beat out ninety-six applicants for the position. I'll also assist in maintaining the armory. Pet peeve is people who don't' take care of their weapons... doubt that will be a problem with you, ma'am, or Lieutenant Cole."

Shepard nodded. "Are you familiar with the rest of the Kazan's weapons systems, then?"

He nodded. "Yes, ma'am. The core of the ship is built around a mass-effect accelerated torpedo launcher. The acceleration solves the old problem of torpedoes taking so long to get on target – this launches them at a good fraction of light-speed, before enemy ECM can even respond. Main guns are three 27mm MA cannons and a 17 mm inline mass accelerator rated at 1.8 MeV with a slug mass of 11.2 pounds. Four 9mm MA turrets, port and starboard, with 280 degrees of rotation. Three banks of stage IV GARDIAN lasers, using chemically accelerated red-orange frequencies. And two banks of missile tubes, four per bank, with a ripple fire rate of six missile per second for nine seconds. Total torpedo capacity is forty, missile racks hold eight hundred missiles."

Shepard whistled. "Alright, you know your stuff backwards and forwards. Welcome aboard." She glanced at the man next to Colms, who coughed.

The man was a touch out of shape, but his jaw was firm even if it had a slight bit of stubble near the left ear. He was shaved bald with an SA tattoo barely visible on his neck and a scar bisected his cheek, trailing over his right eye. His eyes were black, or very dark brown, and his uniform was a bit rumpled. "Lieutenant Dallas, ma'am, Anthony Dallas, Ship's Supply and Logistics Officer, L6. Five years in service, but it's all been planetside, mostly running supply and logistics chains for Fifth Fleet's groundside units. However, I did serve nine months as a ops ensign in the Solguard. I'll keep us up and running, your marines in good armor and your ship in coffee that doesn't taste like garbage. I fear I'm a bit out of practice in the physical department, but I can work out now that I'm not buried in paperwork sixty hours a week."

Shepard nodded. No matter if the guy seemed a bit flaky, anyone good enough to serve in the Solguard was bound to be excellent at what they did. Service in that task force was very nearly a holy thing for SA personnel, only the very best could even hope to serve. "I'm afraid I have rather unconventional ideas about how my marines should be equipped, Lieutenant."

He grinned. "So I've heard. BuSups was pissed at you for your stunt in buying armor for your Marines, but I thought it was a great idea. Given how famous you are now, you could probably talk some big shot armor designer into equipping your whole force at reduced cost."

She grinned. "Not a bad idea. We'll come back to that." She turned to the last two figures, sitting a bit apart. "Neither of you are on my crew, but introduce yourselves nonetheless, please."

The older man spoke first. His hair was neatly cut but going a bit gray at the temples, and his features were lined, giving his dark gray eyes a sense of heavy weight. "Captain Michael von Khar, squire of the DMKoA , Marquis of Charleston Beach. I'm the senior destroyer commander of Battle Group Chiron and your squadron XO. Twenty one years of service. I haven't gotten my admiral-designate qualification yet, and I doubt I will given my age, but I'm happy to be of service. My ship is the SDD Mindoir, third gen destroyer hull. I was assigned to the 69 Scout, but I'm happy to be with your group after that ugly fight at Terra Nova. Thank you for picking us up, the Fleet was planning to give us four days repair and send us up against the geth."

Shepard shook her head slowly. "My very first rule is that no one under my command gets fucked by the SA penny-pinching bean counters any more. I've lost too many good soldiers to that shit. Your ship – all the ships under my command, actually – will not leave dock until I am personally satisfied they are ship-shape and each CO is confident at taking them out into a fight."

Captain von Khar nodded. "That's a relief, ma'am. Our duty in the squadron – the destroyers, that is – will probably be as flankers and pressure units, backing up the big guns on your monster of a cruiser. We'll have to sit down and go over tactics once we know what our mission tasking will be."

Shepard nodded, glancing at the other figure. A slender woman with straight blond hair and narrow, almost slanted green eyes, her uniform was immaculate and her posture rigid. "Yes, ma'am. Commander Rachel Gatlin. I'm the senior commander of the frigate group assigned to you. I've been in service for eleven years and this is my first command. My ship is the heavy missile frigate SM Thermopylae. Right now we're also in need of drydock, we're a second-gen class and I'm afraid both our electronics and cooling systems are very much out of date. My crew is mostly newer enlistees, with a handful of officers pulled from ships destroyed in the Battle of the Citadel, so we have a lot of training to do. I'm also pulling double duty as the squadron liaison officer to BuPers, so I'll be vetting applicants to join the crews of the destroyers and frigates in the battle group. I'm very excited to work with you, ma'am. My family was on Dirth when you saved us all."

Shepard smiled. "Your people saved themselves, Commander. I just helped." She exhaled, and pulled up a screen on her desk. "Now that we all know each other...it's time to go over our tasks. Thanks to the fact that our fleet got the shit smacked out of it at the Citadel and Terra Nova, we get to be the tip of the spear for a series of tasks coming straight from President Windsor. But before we can do that, we have to get our shit together."

She brought up a map on the wall, and smiled. "Let's begin."


The briefing took a good two hours, during which time Shepard began to learn about her new team members.

Cole, like his father, was silent for most of it, only speaking up about what touched on the marine contingent. That hadn't even been put together yet – Cole's impression was that they would be assembled at Pinnacle Station.

Jerred Colms was brilliant and memorized facts instantly, but a touch reactive to perceived criticism. He had lots of ideas, and enough practical experience that he could point out improvements in the planned schedules of tests, but little tolerance for the questions Tali had about how the weapons systems would affect the experimental new mass core of the Kazan.

Liara and Traynor got along wonderfully, but Traynor was both a touch nervous and a bit star-struck. Shepard resolved to work that out of the girl ASAP.

Anthony Dallas, despite his lack of experience on shipboard ops, was the most useful when it came to planning how to load the weapons and make sure the Kazan was supplied properly. He had connections everywhere, and if he was a bit prone to taking shortcuts, she couldn't fault his enthusiasm.

Tali had a long list of things she wanted to check on the Kazan and was clearly impatient to get started, while Joker's only contribution – as usual – was a series of wisecracks and jokes that kept the meeting from getting too boring.

Jiong merely observed, except for a few minor questions regarding ship security.

When it was all said and done, Shepard smiled. "Good work, people. Captain von Khar, Commander Gatlin. Have your ships ready to depart for Pinnacle Station when we get back from our shakedown cruise. We'll tow the Silverfish, since her core is still out. Joker should enjoy that."

Ignoring his rolled eyes, she continued. "The Kazan should be ready for initial inspection tomorrow morning, if this report I have is accurate and not a pile of BuShips BS, which I highly doubt. Assuming it is correct, Pressly, have the crew squared away and ready for departure by 1500. My understanding is that the crew aboard is mostly a skeleton commissioning crew stiffened by officers and enlisted from other ships lost or crippled at the Citadel, so it's up to you to whip them into the kind of team we had on the Normandy. Tali, Liara, Jerred, Anthony – review the officers answering to you and your senior NCO's and flag anyone who can't or won't do the job properly. If anyone has a problem with the way you run things they can get the fuck off my ship."

She turned to Jiong. "I assume we have barracks or staterooms or fucking something assigned to stay in?"

Jiong smiled. "Already handled. Given the situation, I've arranged hotel rooms at the Arcturus Arms until I can work out more permanent arrangements, but I should have everything wrapped up shortly."

She chuckled. "I knew you would be handy. Make sure Tali has anything required for her special needs ready to go by the time we get back."

Tali tilted her head, and Jiong smiled. "I am looking into the possibility of obtaining a certified medic with experience with quarians as well as a clean room, Ms. Zorah. I'll keep you appraised of what I find out."

Tali stammered out her thanks, but Shepard waved it off. "Alright, it's getting late and I'm hungry and tired of being in this damned uniform. Dismissed. Liara, hang around a bit." She smiled as the group filed out, Jiong being the last to go.

The door closed behind him, and Shepard laid her head on the desk. "This is … a big job."

Liara smiled. "It is no less stressful for me, Sara. I fear I will have to do a great deal of work on areas of science I have not paid much attention to. The science suite aboard the Kazan sounds very well equipped, but I do wonder if there will be any resentment from those answering to me about my position, given my lack of – "

Shepard looked up and shook her head. "There better not be, or I'll see if I can keelhaul someone in space. Do not take any shit from the staff working for you, Liara. Hopefully everyone will have enough brains not to fuck with someone who biotically piledrives geth collosi, but if anyone causes trouble, let me know."

Liara gave a wider smile. "I am withdrawn, Sara. That does not mean I am … meek. Perhaps a little of you has rubbed off on me, after all."

Shepard nodded, then grinned. "More than a little, if what we did at the hotel a few days ago is any measure. I could barely fucking walk the next day, Liara."

Liara blushed, but also smirked. "If I had known you would pass out halfway through, Sara, I would have gone slower."

Shepard shivered, then shook her head. "Let's find someplace to eat and relax, evil woman."