Mass Effect 3: The Hero Rises

Editorial Note

In my maiden years, I sought and devoured anything and everything to do with the Protheans. What they were like as a people? What were their hopes and dreams? Of course, the biggest questions that consumed my thoughts for the better part of a century were shared by trillions of other sapients: What happened to them? Where did they go? Why did they disappear?

In 2183, I discovered the horrifying truth. About what really happened to the Protheans. How they met the same fate as countless other species, as part of a grim and horrific slaughter and harvest. A galaxy-wide invasion and genocide that occurred every fifty-thousand years or so. And worse, I learned that the cycle—our cycle—had come to an end. It was our turn.

With an unlikely group of allies, friends and heroes—led by the most singular individual I have ever had the privilege of knowing—we thwarted the next invasion. We stopped the Reapers.

But our efforts only delayed the inevitable. The Reapers would come. Despite our best efforts, our pleas to take action fell on deaf ears, meeting apathy, skepticism and outright denial.

And so, in 2186, the cycle came full circle and the Reapers returned to the galaxy once again.

As an archaeologist, and later as the Shadow Broker, I sought to uncover the unknown. To gather all I could about the Protheans, analyze and understand it, and bring it into the light. The dearth of information gleaned from all those dig sites stands in stark contrast to the sheer abundance of data available about the events that came to be known as the Reaper War. Historical analyses. Academic dissertations. News stories, investigations and series. Biographies and autobiographies. Collections of firsthand accounts and testimonies. And yet, something was missing. Something crucial. Something I felt had yet to be done.

It was my honour to edit and present the personal logs of Commander Charles Irving Shepard during the Reaper War. While they are presently restricted to those with sufficient security clearance, it is my hope that it will someday be disseminated to a broader audience. I believe readers would benefit from experiencing the war from Shepard's perspective. From the first days of the invasion to how he took an undeniably desperate leap of faith to how he forged an alliance that was unprecedented in scope and composition, despite numerous obstacles, age-old bigotry and short-sightedness.

As always, I have restricted my editorial changes to occasional grammatical corrections, explanatory footnotes for further elucidation and separation of logs into 'chapters' for easier reading. The majority, therefore, remains a true representation of Shepard, raw and unfiltered. The pits and valleys he stumbled through. The doubt and despair that plagued him. The strength of character to fight against any and all enemies. The rise and ascension of a true hero to triumph and victory.

Dr. Liara T'Soni

Chapter 1: The Best Place on Earth

I've mentioned before that I grew up a spacer navy brat, and how that meant I spent more time walking the decks of starships and space stations than pounding the pavement or kicking up dirt. Breathed more recycled and filtered air than not, for which my lungs were undoubtedly grateful. You get the idea.

But I did spend some time planetside. Visited a fair number of cities and countries. And if I had to pick one that stood out, I'd have to choose Vancouver, British Columbia. Also known as The Best Place On Earth. (1) It's in the westernmost province of the Earth country known as Canada, which was engulfed in the United North American States since 2096.

So why did I pick that spot? I dunno, exactly. I guess… I have a lot of memories from there. For starters, they have this science centre called, wait for it, Science World. It's always been Science World. Way back in 2005, after some telecommunications giant called Telus dropped some big donation, it got renamed Telus World of Science. Everyone still called it Science World, though. And it was at Science World that I learned about things like mass effect fields—and actually understood it. (2)

Then there's Stanley Park. Had my first planetside picnic there. Really nice. Tons of trees. It actually looks like you're in an honest-to-gosh wilderness—which isn't surprising considering it covers 400 hectares. Located on a peninsula, it's surrounded by water, which makes for even more great scenery. And it's right smack-dab in the middle of the downtown area, which means there are tons of different kinds of food available if you don't want to eat at any of the venues within the park itself.

Another peninsula that's fairly popular is Granville Island. Started off as an industrial manufacturing district—in fact, it was originally named Industrial Island, but wound up with Granville Island since there was a Granville Bridge running over it. While it saw a fair amount of industrial activity, it fell on hard times after World War II. The need for major industrial output dropped, fires gutted factory after factory, business after business moved away… then the federal government bought it in the 1970s and turned it into a 'people-friendly' place. Today, it's basically a centre for public entertainment and nurturing of the arts. Think glassblowing, arts and crafts of all sorts, nurturing of music in all its genres, that sort of thing. No mass-market or 'big box' businesses welcome, thank you very much.

Don't get me wrong: it's a tourist trap. But a really nice one. Lotta good memories. My fondness for jazz? Came from all the free jazz concerts that were held there. And when you weren't listening to all the jazz and blues, you could munch on some overpriced but undeniably fresh food.

Chinatown's another place I remember. It's very similar to other Chinatowns you might've visited: lots of loud store owners and employees hawking their wares, lots of exotic smells from all the food and items that are dried or preserved or pickled or whatever, occasional piles of garbage. That didn't sound very good, did it? It's true, though. So why go there? Well, there's the history. There's the architecture. There's a lot of stuff concentrated in one place that you won't find anywhere else in Vancouver. I still remember that one rainy day—more on that later—when Mom dragged me out to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Broaden my horizons, she said. Catch a cold, I said. But the rain died down, the clouds drifted away and the sun poked through. And because the threat of rain drove everyone else away, we practically had the whole place to ourselves. Which made it all the more peaceful and delightful. The food afterwards didn't hurt.

Oh. The food. It's… wow, the food. It's amazing. So many different kinds of food from so many different countries and cultures. It was a veritable smorgasbord of options even before humanity became one of the Citadel members. Canadian, West Coast, Mexican, Caribbean, French, Italian, European, Moroccan, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, steak, seafood, asari, salarian, turian… I could go on and on forever.

On a related note: it's no surprise that sushi's a big deal over there. Over a thousand restaurants serving sushi at last count. Granted, the quality can vary and even the best spots probably can't compare to the ones in Japan. But it's still really good. Never really understood what the big deal was about real salmon until I had my first sockeye salmon sashimi.

Coffee's also pretty big in Vancouver. Coffee and bubble tea—you never heard of it? It's also known as pearl milk tea. There are lots of different kinds: fruit-flavoured, milk, hot, cold, powdered and so on. It can have these chewy tapioca balls added if you want. (3) Pretty popular. But not as popular as coffee. Not surprising, considering Canadians seem to like coffee. Canada's usually in the top 10 Earth countries when it comes to coffee consumption. Not sure why. Never liked the stuff myself. (4) But I have to say, a hot cup of coffee—or tea, I guess—can be pretty welcome on a cold, wet day.

Because it's often cold in Vancouver. Or wet. Or both. Question: what is one of the most common things flash-fabricated by omni-tools in Vancouver? Answer: umbrellas. Because it rains. A lot. You know the ol' saying 'When it rains, it pours'? There are some days—and some months—where that phrase could very well apply to Vancouver.

Oh, don't get me wrong: the weather's not always miserable. If you go at the right times—or just simply have Lady Luck or the gods or some random manifestation of the universe smiling down upon you—the weather can be downright spectacular. And there's a lot of wonderful natural scenery in Vancouver. You don't get that a lot these days, unless you go to uninhabited or colony worlds. But Vancouver still has lots of greenery, wide open spaces, parks, and mountains. Small wonder that there's a lot of athletic activities going on. Walking, jogging, running, badminton, tennis, soccer (or football), (American) football, skating, ultimate, field hockey, hockey, biotiball… you name it, you can probably find it.

Though, out of all the sports, hockey probably has the highest profile. Canadians are pretty big hockey fans, but Vancouverites… holy cow are they ever crazy! Sport the colours of a team other than the Vancouver Canucks and you are asking for trouble. Rub them the wrong way and you're definitely putting your life in your hands. People think I'm certifiable? Try being a Canucks fan. Still, it makes things way more interesting. FYI: first sports game I went to wasn't a biotiball game or one of the sports you hear about on the extranet. Nope, it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Tons of excitement. The crowd was literally on the edge of their seat.

Unfortunately, the Canucks lost. Fortunately, there was no riot. (5)

Wow. Yeah. I really have a lot of memories from Vancouver. It's a beautiful place. It really is.

Not that I got to enjoy any of that recently. Hard to do so when you're locked up.

It had been six months since history was made when a mass relay was destroyed—thus dispelling the illusion that they were indestructible. The Bahak system and almost three hundred and five thousand batarian lives were wiped out. And the whole debacle was blamed squarely on me. Which was fair: I was on the scene, I was the senior commanding officer and I did personally activate the thrusters on the asteroid that rammed and blew up said relay. So I had to face the consequences and turn myself into the Alliance, if only so the galaxy might have some more time to prepare for what was coming. Not to mention the minor, inconsequential need to look at myself in the mirror without feeling the need to vomit.

Of course, there were a few niggling details that no one seemed to care about. Like the fact that I didn't have to turn myself in—I could've gone on the lam, after all. Or the fact that ten thousand lives were saved thanks to the help of the Normandy crew. Or the fact that I only found out with days to spare and, thanks to some indoctrinated spec-ops agents and scientists, that timeframe was reduced to a few hours. Or, more importantly, the fact that the only reason I was driven to make that horrible, horrible choice in the first place was because it was the only way, given the options and resources available to me, to stop a relentless, monstrous race known as the Reapers from invading our galaxy for the umpteenth time and wiping out life as we knew it.

Like I said, no one seemed to care about that. They were content to waste whatever time I'd managed to buy them playing the blame game. Doing their best to look good for the vid-cams and get that over-the-top sound bite out for the extranet news, even though it wouldn't matter once the Reapers arrived. Because you know what? They didn't believe that the Reapers were coming. They didn't believe me. If I didn't know better, I'd think my name was Cassandra. (6)

So I spent those six months defending my actions, explaining my rationale and giving my warnings. All of which fell upon deaf ears. Aside from one night, I was kept under lock and key. Doomed to face the same rigmarole over and over and over again.

Until time ran out.

I started that fateful day the same way I did every day: a bit of exercise, a quick shower and a glance out the window. Below me, some blonde-haired kid was running around the rooftop playing with a model starship, just as he had every day for the last couple weeks. Hadn't gotten old yet, I guess.

He clearly had no idea of what was out there. What was coming out of the darkness. And who could blame him? Not me. I couldn't be mad at him. It was the right of every kid to keep some measure of innocence, even if that innocence is borne out of blind and wilful ignorance. Adults, though—like the so-called adults who'd been throwing me to the wolves for six months and had been bad-mouthing me long before that—they had no excuse.

Checking my chronometer, I saw I had a few more minutes. I was already dressed in my battle dress uniform—someone in Requisitions didn't see fit to issue me any formal dress blues—and had nothing better to do. So I watched the kid play on the rooftop. It was a relatively sunny day. There were a few clouds on the horizon, just enough to screen out some of the glare and heat, not enough to make it truly gloomy. A perfect day, in many respects. So naturally I'd be locked up inside until my guard and escort came.

James Vega arrived at 0845—prompt and punctual, courtesy of Alliance training. Tan, tattooed and fairly muscular. I say 'fairly' because I'd spent some time fighting alongside krogan—ah, how I missed those days with Wrex and Grunt—and just as much time fighting against them. After that, I had to grade muscular physique on a curve. By human standards, though, James packed enough muscle to make one think he was swallowing steroids or unauthorized gene mods like candy. But he didn't. It was just good ol' fashioned exercise.

Anderson recruited him to guard the Normandy's brig and its contents—which, at the time, consisted of me, myself and I. To this day, I still remember when he brought James straight to my cell, giving him his orders on the way. "Shepard," he said to me. "This is Lieutenant James Vega. He'll be guarding you on the trip to Earth and escorting you to and from the court martial."

James immediately stood to attention and saluted me. I looked at Anderson in surprise before saluting him back. "Pleased to meet you, Vega," I offered. "Just a heads-up: I haven't been actively serving with the Alliance for… three years now. And even if I was, I've recently been relieved of duty. So you don't have to salute me anymore."

"No I don't, sir," he stated, lowering his hand. "Don't have to call you 'sir', either."

"Vega was defending your good name on Omega," Anderson explained.

"My what now?" I asked.

"Your good name," Anderson repeated with a chuckle. "Some of the locals took offense. Had to help him when he was… exercising a tactical withdrawal."

Vega seemed to appreciate Anderson's bullshit euphemism for running for his life, judging by the way he relaxed.

"Well, then. If the two of you will excuse me, I have to order a course for Earth."

"I'm sure you haven't forgotten," I told Anderson. "Like riding a bike, am I right?"

That prompted a quick grin from him. "Something like that." On a more serious note, Anderson added "Hang in there, son. You'll get through this."

Then he left. And it was just me and James.

I soon found out that James was pretty easy-going. Always with a big wide grin. Always supported the grunt perspective above all else. Always with an eye for the ladies. But when it came to his military duties, he was all business. Technically, that included not chatting or fraternizing with the prisoners.

Unfortunately for technicalities, James was too amiable and I was too bored.

It took some doing, but I wore him down. Not enough that I learned his life story. Hell, I couldn't even get the details on his service record out of him. But we reached the point where James felt comfortable chatting with me—while making sure he didn't accidentally slip any current events that might be construed as useful intelligence—before he escorted me to yet another day of accusations, grandstanding and time-wasting.

Despite my best efforts, though, James stubbornly remained an Alliance marine to the core. Which meant that when the doors opened at 0845 and he stepped through, dog tags gleaming against the white T-shirt stretching across his muscles, he immediately stood to attention and saluted me. "Commander."

Like every day since we'd first met, I had the urge to make him wait. And just like every other day, I forced down the juvenile and downright rude impulse and saluted him back. "How many times have I told you that you're not supposed to call me that anymore, James?" I asked him.

"Lost track, sir," he replied. "Don't have to salute you or call you 'sir' either."

True. But it was one of the few fun moments I had left to look forward to. Along with the salute, which meant more than I could possibly say. One of these days, I'd have to tell him how much I appreciated the gesture.

"We gotta go. The defense committee wants to see you."

That was another first. More than one, actually: when we first arrived on Earth, James would show up at 0850 to escort me. After a while, he began showing up—and saluting me—at 0845, using the extra five minutes to bring me up to speed on various things. Nothing classified, mind you. Every news story was a year old. Maybe more. But at least it made me feel like I was still connected to the galaxy in some way.

But to show up at 0845 only to go straight to business? No grin or joke to provide my one source of amusement for the day? And to bring me to a defense committee instead of yet another court martial hearing? "Sounds important," I said. I tossed the datapad I was playing with on my bed and followed him out.

I almost didn't make it out of my cell, as a man in Alliance blues came this close to running me over. Had to screech to a stop before we collided. I waited until the coast was clear before leaving my cell and hurrying to catch up to James.

As I closed the gap, I noticed I wasn't the only one in a rush. The people I saw weren't dashing about as much as that other guy, but neither were they taking their sweet time. Something had them moving quickly. Efficiently. Maybe even urgently. "What's going on?" I asked James when I finally caught up to him.

"Couldn't say," came the reply. "Just told me they needed you. Now."

He slowed down after a few seconds. I could see why: walking towards me was Admiral David Anderson. My former CO. My mentor. My friend. He walked with as much purpose and intent as any other soldier. Unlike them, though, he had something more. He walked with an air of authority. Confidence. It looked so natural. Out of everyone in the corridor, I think I was the only one who knew that it only came automatically because of years of forcing himself to pretend he had things under control when the truth was anything but. One of many things I tried to emulate. I don't think I was very successful, but I flatter myself in thinking I managed to fool enough people. (7)

"Anderson," I said.

"Admiral," James saluted.

"Lieutenant," Anderson greeted James with a quick salute before turning to me. "You look good, Shepard. Maybe a little soft around the edges."

He punctuated that last part by patting me on the stomach. Which, to be fair, might not have been as firm as it used to be. "I see being an admiral hasn't affected your sense of humour," I told him.

"Just my feeble attempt, but thanks for lying," Anderson joked. We started moving again. "How're you holding up since being relieved from duty?" he asked.

"It's not so bad, once you get used to the hot food and soft beds," I said, feeling it was my turn to display what passed for my sense of humour. "Though the food still sucks. And, aside from you two, the company isn't much better."

"We'll get it sorted out," Anderson reassured me as we went around a corner, narrowly avoiding another collision. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this. "If you say so," I said. "Anderson: what's going on? Why is everyone in such a hurry?"

"Admiral Hackett's mobilizing the fleets. I'm guessing word's made it to Alliance Command… something big's headed our way."

For all the confidence he exuded, Anderson was in a hurry too: he was halfway up the stairs before he noticed I'd slowed to a stop.

"The Reapers?" I asked.

"We don't know," Anderson tried. "Not for certain."

"Oh come on," I snorted. "What else could it be?"

"If I knew that…" he trailed off. He didn't need me to finish that sentence.

"You know we're not ready if it is them," I said bluntly. "Not by a long shot."

"Tell that to the defense committee," Anderson offered, turning around and resuming his ascent up the stairs.

"I'd have been happy to do that six months ago," I retorted. "Hell, even a month ago. But now… unless we're planning to talk the Reapers to death, the committee is a waste of time. They're—"

"—just scared," Anderson interrupted. "None of them have ever seen what you've seen. You've faced down a Reaper. Hell, you spoke to one… then blew the damn thing up! And then you did it again!"

"Yes, with Harbinger. Minus the blowing up part," I amended.

Anderson continued as if I hadn't said a word. "You've seen how they harvest us, what they plan to do to us. You've fought against their slaves. You've seen their tactics. You know more about this enemy than anyone else alive."

"Oh really?" I asked with more than a little sarcasm. "Is that why they grounded me? Took away my ship?"

"You know that's not true," Anderson said, coming to a stop again. As I halted, I saw James do the same out of the corner of my eye. He'd been silently shadowing us the whole time, for lack of anything better to do.

"Shepard, when you blew up the batarian relay, hundreds of thousands of batarians died."

"It was the Alpha Relay and the body count was about three hundred and five thousand," I corrected. "And it was that or let the Reapers walk through the back door and take us off guard. Because no one believed my warnings. No one listened."

"I know that, Shepard," Anderson said softly. "I listened. I knew how much it cost you to turn yourself in and how you had the courage to do so anyway. Believe it or not: so did the committee and the officers presiding at your court-martial. If it wasn't for all of that, your court-martial would've been over, you'd have been found guilty and I'd be hauling your ass out of the brig."

"That and your good word?"

I regretted those words as soon as they left my mouth. All the bitterness, all the frustration, all the pent-up anger that had been building up in me like some hidden volcano over the last six months had just spat out, harsh and full of venom. At Anderson. My CO. My mentor. My friend. The last person who deserved anything remotely like that. "Sorry," I apologized. "I was out of line."

"Forget it," he dismissed. "If I was stuck in your shoes, I'd be pissed off too."

That's another thing about Anderson: he was always gracious. Even to those who didn't deserve it. "Thank you, sir."

"You're right, you know."

"Sir?" I couldn't help myself. I didn't owe him any kind of military courtesy since I'd been relieved of duty—and never formally re-enlisted after having been declared dead all those years ago—but I couldn't help it. It just felt right. Guess that's why James kept insisting me on saluting me and calling me 'sir' or 'Commander.'

"I did support you, even when everyone thought you were dead. Because I trust you, Shepard. And so does the committee."

"But… what can I do?" I asked. "I'm just a soldier, Anderson." And an occasionally sneaky bastard, a purveyor of jazz, a lover of other forms of outdated music, a connoisseur of archaic pop culture references, and an unabashed kleptomaniac. "I'm no politician."

"I don't need you to be either," Anderson told me, walking off again. Over his shoulder, he said "I just need you to do whatever the hell it takes to help us stop the Reapers."

I couldn't stop myself from glancing back at James and giving him a helpless look. All he could do was shrug. I mean, what could he say?

By that point, we had arrived at Courtroom Access. I knew it very well by this point. Hell, I could've been guiding the way instead of Anderson. There were only two officers in the foyer: a dark-haired male and a worried redheaded woman. As the former got up to leave, the latter stepped forward to greet us. "They're expecting you two, Admiral," was all she said.

She led Anderson, James—who was apparently expected to wait outside—and me into the hallway. There were a small scattering of officers, all thoroughly engrossed in their datapads. Every one of them was staring at the damn things as if they were praying it would hold the key to some miracle if they kept their eyelids from blinking. Poor souls.

"Good luck in there, Shepard," James called out.

"Thanks," I said, turning around to shake his hand. On an impulse, I added "And thanks for, you know, escorting me over the last six months."

"De nada," he replied. (8)


That voice…


I turned around. My ears did not deceive me. It really was Kaidan Alenko. One of the men originally assigned to the Normandy SR-1, back when everyone thought that Anderson would be the CO. One of the first men to join my squad when I became a Spectre and was tasked with finding Saren.

One of the first guys who greeted my return from the dead with accusations of being a traitor, a double agent for a xenophobic terrorist organization and basically a backstabbing scum who couldn't be trusted. "Alenko?"

"How'd it go in there, Major?" Anderson asked.

"Okay, I think," Alenko shrugged. "Hard to know. I'm just waiting for orders now."

"Major?" I interrupted.

"You hadn't heard?" Anderson asked.

"Didn't have time," I replied. "Too busy surfing the extranet for music vids. No, I've been out of the loop these days. The joys of house arrest and all that."

"Sorry, sir," Alenko apologized. (9) "Didn't mean to keep you out of the loop."

Oh it's 'sir', now is it? "Well it has been six months—no, it's closer to a year, isn't it?" I smiled thinly. "Since Horizon? Lotta time's passed since then. I'm sure you had your reasons for dropping off the radar."

Alenko shuffled his feet. "Yeah, I suppose I did. Still, it's good to see you."

"Admiral." It was the redhead again. She nodded towards the courtroom. "Come on," Anderson said, moving past Alenko towards the door. I followed him, ignoring the nod Alenko sent my way. Behind me, I heard James talking to him. "You know the Commander?" he asked.

"I used to."

Right back at you, buddy. Right back at you.

When we entered the courtroom, I ignored the stunning view of downtown Vancouver that was displayed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I was more interested in the fact that the room seemed bigger and emptier—mainly because all the benches had been removed for extra working space. Another unwelcome first. There were a few officers and non-coms running around. Some lady in a dress uniform noticed me and whispered to another similarly dressed officer. They turned around, catching the attention of more dress uniforms. A total of three REMFs sat down at what could only be called a platform, ridiculously designed to tower above the rest of us lowly grunts. (10) And me, still relieved from duty.

The lone exception was Anderson, who got a salute from at least one guy as we walked towards the bigwigs. "Anderson," one of the male REMFs greeted. "Shepard."

Normally, this would be the start of yet another tribunal or court-martial calling my character into question. But this was anything but normal. "What's the situation?" I asked.

The centre REMF, a bald man, bit his lip. "We were hoping you would tell us."

A nameless non-com wordlessly handed me a datapad. As I turned it on and scrolled through the reports it held, another REMF—a grey-haired woman—picked up where Baldy left off. (11) "The reports coming in are unlike anything we've seen. Whole colonies have gone dark. We've lost contact with everything beyond the Sol Relay."

"Whatever this is," Baldy said with dread, "it's incomprehensibly powerful."

"You brought me here to confirm what you already know," I said bluntly. "What I've been trying to tell you for six months now—hell, what I've been trying to tell you for the last three years: the Reapers are here."

Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing. Datapads were put down. Mouths dropped. Heads turned towards me with a synchronization that would be eerie were it not so laughable. "Can you hear me now?" I asked innocently.

"Then…" Granny whispered, "How do we stop them?"

With an effort, I put my anger aside. I'd vented enough. Probably too much, given the circumstances. Time to get serious now that they were finally willing to listen. "It won't be easy, that's for damn sure. The Reapers are more advanced than we are. More powerful. More intelligent. They don't fear us, and they'll never take pity on us."

Granny looked like she was gonna have a heart attack. Either that, or burst into tears. "But… there must be some way."

I still had everyone's attention. Why did this only happen when it was too late, I wanted to know. I shoved that thought in a corner of my mind. "If we're gonna have any chance at surviving this, we have to stand together," I told the room.

"That's it?" Baldy rasped. "That's our plan?"

Well, what did he expect? I'd spent so much time trying to convince them to listen to me that I hadn't had time to map out what I'd do in the increasingly unlikely scenario that they did listen to me. That's what happens when you waste time dicking around, ladies and gentlemen.

Before I could come up with a more diplomatic response, the redhead who'd led us into the courtroom piped up. "Admiral! It's… we've lost contact with Luna Base."

Anderson whipped his head towards her, a horrified look on his face. "The moon," he whispered. "They couldn't be that close already…"

"How'd they get past our defenses?" a stunned Granny gasped.

More advanced? More powerful? More intelligent? Seriously, was anybody paying attention?

The redhead's fingers were flying over one of the computer terminals. "Sir, UK headquarters has a visual," she reported. "Putting it up on Viewscreen 4… now."

We all turned our heads to the corresponding viewscreen. At first, there was nothing but static. Everyone leaned forward.

Gradually, a picture emerged. A man in Alliance armour was talking in front of a wall of smoke so thick it obscured everything behind him. No—yelling. We couldn't make out what he was saying, but it was clear he was frantically yelling to anyone who could hear. An errant wind blew away the smoke, revealing a city that was engulfed in flames. As we watched, several buildings collapsed. A huge explosion knocked the man off his feet. That we heard. Then…


Everyone slowly got to their feet. They were stunned. I was stunned. For once, I had the same thought they did: This can't be happening…

Someone switched Viewscreen 4 to various images. The first image was from a newsfeed, with some reporter talking while a Reaper loomed over a city behind her, its dark metal carapace highlighted in unholy lines of blue. The image shrank to show other images, each progressively more horrifying. Smoke billowing from a city in the distance. A couple running for their lives through the streets. A gunship flying over a city while some civvie frantically tried to get the pilot's attention. A Reaper standing in the midst of a city, while another gunship flew past it like a gnat buzzing past a giant. Countless Reapers descending through Earth's atmosphere, their carapaces ablaze like wrathful angels from some warped version of Heaven.

One image expanded to fill the screen. It was hard to see any details due to all the glare, but the basics were there: a Reaper in the middle of a city, its arrival unchallenged. Its presence undeniable. Its intent ominously clear.

Anderson was tapping at his omni-tool. I had no idea how long he'd been doing that. Giving up, he turned to me. "Why haven't we heard from Admiral Hackett?"

I didn't have any answers for him.

Baldy was the next to speak. "What do we do?"

All eyes turned to me again. Now I had to come up with an answer. I closed my eyes, turned around and walked towards the REMFs. "The only thing we can," I said simply, pointing towards the image of the Reaper on the viewscreen. "We fight or we die."

The other officers and non-coms stared at the REMFs. The REMFs stared at each other or at the desk. None of them knew what to do. The lone exception was Anderson, who took a step towards me. "We should get to the Normandy."

That was when I felt a tingling on the back of my neck.

Aw, crap.

I heard it first. A rumbling vibration, so deep I felt it more than heard it. It was coming… up ahead. In front of me. As the REMFs staggered to their feet and turned, we all looked up through the windows.

"Oh my God," Granny whispered.

The skies had grown dark. Red lightning flashed and crackled through the clouds.

And then…

…a Reaper plunged through the clouds, a red beam of energy sweeping from its unstaring, unfeeling eye. Burning everything in its path. It took me a second to realize that the beam was heading…

…towards us.

"Move!" I yelled.

As always, Anderson was the first to heed my call. "Go, go, go!" I yelled. Now a few others managed to shake off their dazed horror and start to run. My feet pushed against the floor as I lunged towards the door…

I heard the glass shatter behind me…

The tingling on my head intensified, just as a shadow rose up behind me. I ducked just in time as the tribunal's desk flew over my head. I watched as it rolled over and over like a giant misshapen log. For some reason, I couldn't help but turn around and stare at the Reaper in all its horrible majesty…

The shockwave hit me, knocking me off my feet, sending me flying through the air…

I hit the desk, my head cracking against its hard, unfeeling surface…

I collapsed to the ground…

(1): A marketing slogan, accompanied by a sunshine and mountains logo, that was launched in 2005. While the logo remained, the catchphrase was gradually retired throughout the year 2011.

(2): During 2186, it was known as the Eldfell-Ashland World of Scientific Education. Small surprise that the only people who called it by its official title were' senior members of the Eldfell-Ashland Energy Corporation.

(3): The term 'bubble' is actually an Anglicized imitation of the Chinese word bōbà, which means 'large breasts'.

(4): Ironically, by the end of the Reaper War, Shepard became a regular coffee drinker.

(5): The first two times that the Vancouver Canucks got into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and made it all the way to the final round were against the New York Rangers in 1994 and the Boston Bruins in 2011. Both times, the Canucks lost in the last game—each round is played for the best of 7. Both times, a riot broke out after the game concluded.

(6): A human woman from Greek mythology who had both the power of prophecy and the curse of never being believed. Small wonder that Shepard found some common ground with her.

(7): This wouldn't be the first time Shepard unfairly cast himself in a poor light and it won't be the last.

(8): 'You're welcome' in the human dialect known as Spanish.

(9): Even if Shepard had been reinstated, he would have only been a Lieutenant Commander. According to the Alliance ranking system, Major Alenko would have outranked him. I also wish to point out that Shepard used to call Kaidan by his first name. The fact that he reverted to using his last name can be interpreted as a sign of how far their relationship had deteriorated.

(10): Rear Echelon Motherfucker,' a less-than-polite and derogative phrase for an officer who was so out of touch with the battlefield that he or she could give orders without consideration of the tactical or strategic repercussions.

(11): Shepard occasionally assigned nicknames to various people, though he generally kept their usage to himself. With only a few exceptions, these nicknames were usually derogatory.