He was an officer and a gentleman, the pride of Earth, a soldier and a hero. Abandoned as a child, he ran the streets and suffered a life of poverty and crime, until the fateful day he picked the pocket of an off-duty captain. His wise mentor unlocked the true goodness of the brave soul within, and that poor boy rose from obscurity to a distinguished career in the Alliance Navy. He was a paragon of justice and freedom and his name was destined to live forever.
And so, when the Alliance Navy needed a man to lead the marines aboard the fleet's newest vessel, a man to stand before the Council as a worthy candidate, it was only natural that all eyes should turn to the mighty Hero of the Skyllian Blitz.
Unfortunately, he died in a motorcycle accident three weeks ago. His name was struck off the top of the list, and those distant others were bandied about. Admiral Hackett preferred strong and decisive men and women who represented the might of the newly-discovered human race; Ambassador Udina insisted on a charismatic and socially adept representative, someone with personal charm and "people skills".
"Personal charm? People skills?" Hackett had barked. "What the hell do you think this is, a dance card for a spring cotillion?"
"No, it is you who does not understand what the hell this is!" Udina snapped. "We are putting forth a potential candidate for a human Spectre, the first we've ever had. We have to show them we are a mature species with much to offer. We aren't going to send some gun-toting psychotic! We can't stand on military strength! The turians--"
"You're bringing that up?" Hackett said. "That was decades ago. "
"My point remains, we cannot stand on an image of--"
"We've learned from then, and, God knows, we would have smoked those bastards if Williams hadn't gone and given up Shan Xi, and if the Council hadn't butted in to save them--"
"We should bring out Shepard," Captain Anderson said.
"The Turians are stronger and there's no need to try and convince anyone otherwise, what we want to project here is someone who can communicate and represent a positive image of--"
"Hugging all the aliens, singing kumbaya," Hackett said. "They only respect strength."
"Shepard," Anderson said.
"What they respect is good behavior, thoughtful actions, and the ability to see from different perspectives," Udina said. "That is why I recommend Lieutenant Redding. You will find his full profile here which I have enclosed."
"Redding! He isn't even on this list."
The ambassador angled a look down his nose. "I have enclosed his profile."
"Forget Redding. Shepard's our man." Anderson sat patiently.
"Anderson-- ("Yes sir") not Redding. Sweet Jesus. The man's a blowhard and a coward. He's irritating enough to the home team, you think the aliens are going to put up with that?"
"He comes highly recommended!"
"Only because of whose son he is! It was a mistake to have you in on this, Udina. We can't play petty politics with this! You think the Turians are going to be wowed by his social circles? You think that's gonna blow the beaks out of the water when they find out whose cocktail parties he got invited to? They'll know what he is in one minute. They smell blood."
"You forget, Admiral, that I am 'in on this' because the Normandy project was also sponsored by the Council. The Spectre program is run by the Council. I, the ambassador, represent Earth to the Council. If anything, I should have final say on the candidate as you speak only for the military whereas I speak for all of Earth-- and our colonies."
"And you don't have an ego about it at all, do ya, you're a real saint Udina." Hackett sighed, and helped himself to a handful of mints from the dish on the table. "Not Redding. I can tell you that much."
"Gentlemen," Anderson said. "Sir." He looked to Hackett, and he smiled. "What about Shepard?"
Hackett looked at him like he heard him for the first time, really heard him, and what he had heard was Anderson naming the name of the Cookie Monster. "You can't be serious," he said, chewing his mints. "He's not even on this list." He thought about it a little more and said, with a smirk of disbelief. "Maybe on the list that says people not to send, under any circumstances."
"He's on our list now." A dramatic beat, and then Anderson continued, "Shepard was personally recommended by the Turian Spectre, Nihlus Kryik."
"I hadn't heard of this," Udina said, brows furrowing suspiciously. "Shepard." The wheels were working. "That young man who caused all the trouble at the Danvers party? That Shepard?"
Captain Anderson waved it away with gentlemanly disinterest in other people's business. "I don't know about what happened. I wasn't there." He plunged in. "Commander Shepard. John Shepard. Born on Mindoir, age 29, biotic, versed in major turian dialects--"
"He punched Danvers' wife in front of everyone." Udina remembered now, latched onto it, the outrage all across his face.
"Well, I can't remark on that, but that business was between Shepard and Mrs. Danvers," Anderson said, in a sensible tone.
"She fell in the cake." Udina narrowed his eyes. "And the punch bowl."
Hackett threw up his hands in absurdity of it all. "So aptly named, he just couldn't help himself." He made a sarcastic smirk through the chewing of his mints. "Are we seriously discussing this?"
Anderson smiled and shrugged, as if dismissing the deeds of a favorite toddler or a naughty puppy. "Shepard has a.. strong personality. I'm sure the other species will love him. They always do."
Hackett said, "I heard about that," popped another mint in his mouth, and said, "Anderson, you've got to be shitting me."
"He's also very intelligent, and he has good judgment."
"Which he has shown by, say, assaulting Mrs. Danvers in front of all her guests?"
"Shepard is usually very charming, no problems with anyone. Self-confident, and men listen to him," Anderson went right along, "and he understands a lot more about alien species than most others on this list, so I think that--"
Hackett jacked up his brows. "He's also batshit insane. Just a minor point for our consideration. Everything else is stellar, it's just that batshit insane part, captain."
"Like many of our biotic soldiers, he displays certain personality quirks, but his abilities vastly outweigh any negative points. Quirks, really. Minor personality quirks."
"Batshit. Insane. You don't think I get a chuckle now and then about our boy and the shit he gets up to, but do you really want him and his crack-ups out there for the galaxy to see?" Hackett shook his head. "I don't know if we can take a chance here with Crazy Johnny. Although I can't say I wouldn't like to scoot up with some popcorn and watch it all go down, this is a big deal. They'll never let us play in their reindeer games."
"With all due respect, sir," Anderson went on, "his most recent psych evaluation came back clean. He has never betrayed our trust, and he always gets the job done."
"No matter the price," Udina said. "The Butcher of Torfan." The ambassador's tone contained the same level of contempt with which he pronounced his opinion on the Danvers Cake episode.
"The batarians had it coming." Hackett shrugged. "Nobody wanted what happened... but they started it. Shepard finished it." After the initial surprise, a point of interest filtered back to him. "Anderson. You said a Spectre recommended him."
The captain seized on this, sensing opportunity. "Yes. Nihlus, the Lone Wolf. A turian. He sent me a message this morning. I did forward this to you both.. "
Hackett and Udina frowned at him. The ambassador toggled the screen on his viewer, glanced contemptuously over the top, and then saw it there on the computer, that offending fwd: re: article. Hackett didn't bother to read his own. He never did. That's what Miss Woods was for, anyway.
"A turian Spectre. What does that mean?" Hackett wiped mint dust from his hands, and then leaned back. His furrowed brow and twitchy eye telegraphed the suspicion he was working through, as though what could those beaks be up to now?
"He'll embarrass us," Udina said, his hands giving a light shove away from the table. The realization was sudden and terrible. "He wishes to embarrass us in front of the Council. This Shepard.. he isn't qualified. The turian will stand him up in front of everyone and it will only prove we aren't ready yet. I'll look like a fool in front of them. I'll never be a Councillor."
Hackett, meanwhile, kept his panties out of a twist. "As though they haven't already tried that game," he murmured, glancing along to the captain.
"I don't know. Who can really know what he intends?" Anderson shook his head. "I believe him. It makes sense from a turian's point of view. Shepard is ruthless when he has to be. Direct. He is a true soldier.. he knows his place. Say what you will about him, but he has always obeyed. He knows what he is. He lives for the Navy. I can believe that this turian looks on him, hears his deeds, reads his record, and says, 'there is a human a turian could respect'."
The admiral tapped his fingers on the desk. He had one of those old-fashioned ink blotters. "Anderson, you almost, almost make a halfway decent case. We could really use this, if we could just rein him in. He always does well with aliens. A little too well, if there's anything to the rumors. He knows how the turians operate." He followed this line of thought silently, and then said, almost eagerly, "You know, it's the turians who matter most on the 've got the strongest fleet, according to policy, their dreadnaughts.."
"I can't believe we are seriously discussing this," Udina said. "Even if we suppose that Nihlus has no underhanded motives, he is only one Spectre out of several. And not the only turian. Do you suppose Saren Arterius would believe Shepard a good choice, looking on him like a turian would?"
"Saren hates all humans," Anderson said. "His opinion in that matter means nothing. Less than nothing. I know the salarians would see potential in Shepard. He was brought up to be well-educated, and not only is he intelligent, he's a crafty son of a bitch when he has to be. The salarians will understand the decisions he's made. And the asari.. "
"I suppose they'd be better-disposed toward a biotic Spectre," Hackett mused. "And he's a good looker, too, you know the ladies get a soft spot for that."
Udina crossed his arms. "The asari are not truly women as we would consider them, and it is offensive to assume that--"
"Relax, Ambassador. I'm just throwing that out there. I suppose I'm still in shock and the reality hasn't set in yet. Christ on a crutch." Hackett grinned that grin that made him the youngest Hackett's favorite grandpa. "Can you imagine-- " the absurdity on his face, "--Johnny Shepard, Spectre? Representing all humanity? I give it two weeks before the Citadel's on fire and the asari councillor is pregnant. And the turian."
Anderson rose with dignity, or damned stubbornness, holding steadfast to his dream. "Gentlemen, say what you will about Shepard, but I believe he is the best man for this mission. We'll bring him onboard for the Normandy's maiden voyage and there I will prove your reservations to be unfounded."
"Why do I have this picture of him steering it straight into the nearest sun?" Udina grumped.
"Because you've been putting stock in petty gossip, ambassador," Anderson said. "I've known the man for many years. I'd trust him with my life, and I already have. He is like a son to me."
"You could invite that turian along. That Spectre." Hackett leaned back in his chair. "You'll have the chance to evaluate his motives.. as well as Shepard's behavior. See if he's ready for this."
"Shepard is ready. I believe it. I've seen it. I know we all wanted our famous Hero of the Blitz, and it's a damned shame to lose him, but we have to go on now with the men we have left." Seeing that the admiral seemed to warm to the idea, Anderson was emboldened. "Shepard is our man. It's his time."
Then Hackett just heaved a sigh. "Damnit, Anderson. It's just he's one of those biotics.. who's to say he wouldn't just have a meltdown one day? You know what I'm talking about."
"That was an isolated incident," the captain replied. A moment passed before he stressed, "My report was clear on the external nature of that incident. The testimony of the chief medical officer reflect that as well. That's not relevant to our discussion here."
"Isolated or not, that was one hell of an incident." Hackett went sour. "I don't want to wait around and see if he snaps one day, not if he's handed over to the Council. What about all of the things that he knows?" After a slight pause, the unthinkable came to him, and he blurted, "What if he wakes up one day and decides to get Palaven on the horn and tell all our weaknesses? That's what I'm worried about. I'm worried we can't trust him out there with them."
"Everything is about the turians, isn't it? To you? Wake up, Hackett! We would have lost that war. There isn't going to be another."
"If it hadn't been for Williams--" Hackett started back up again.
"Gentlemen." Anderson raised a staying hand. "We can trust Shepard. We already have. He is a firm patriot and he would never turn against Earth. I can tell you that. The Navy is like a family to him. All that he has left. He's not insane. He's.. a colorful character, that's true, but it's the stuff legends are made of. Like Kastanie Drescher. Like Patton."
"But I don't recall Patton killing people with his mind. Or fucking turians," Hackett said. He went back to his mints.
"If he had, I might have studied World War Two more in-depth," Anderson rejoined.
The admiral was growing weary of this discussion. He crunched on the mints for a moment, working, thinking. "Anderson. If.. if we do this. If this happens. He'll be on a short leash. Your leash. Your watch."
"Absolutely, and there are two additional crew that I believe will be perfect for this mission. One is Doctor Chakwas, you'll remember her, she knows Shepard well and she has some experience in treating biotics. She'll be able to help monitor any physical, medical issues that might arise. And I will want to include another biotic, Lieutenant Alenko; he's had over a dozen commendations and displays no negative psychological effects. Competent, patient, level-headed, and personally courageous."
"You think you'll be able to keep him under wraps. The two of you and your good biotic."
"He doesn't need to be 'under wraps', sir. But yes. In a way. I think the two of them will be a good influence on him, Alenko in particular."
"And when the two of them commandeer the Normandy on some psychotic tangent?"
"No chance, sir. Alenko isn't like that. He's a regular Boy Scout. Isn't the least unstable, he just gets headaches from time to time. No. He always follows the rules. No Major Kyle business here at all. He's solid as a rock."
Hackett sighed. "I don't know what to say."
"Say, 'At least it isn't Redding,' sir." Anderson smiled.
"Redding stands head and shoulders above Shepard, above any of these names." Sensing things were not going to go his way, Udina was suddenly spiteful. "You'll wished you had listened to me when this Shepard makes fools of all of us. How can you let this happen when you have such doubts?" He turned to Hackett, looking for a last chance.
For a moment, there was no sound but of the admiral crunching on mints. Anderson leaned back slightly, watching his face, expectant.
"Too late, Udina. It's done." Hackett rested his forehead on his fingertips. "Captain Anderson-- good luck, and Godspeed. If this goes south, you'll be lucky if I let you be a mall cop after this, let alone a captain."
"Duly noted, sir. Ah. There's one more thing."
"Just a formality.."
Hackett smirked. "Oh, that." He just shook his head. Was there anything else today? "Yes, I'll call down there. Level five, isn't it. You can go get him out of the brig."