W/N - This is just a one shot piece on how the whole thing started and occurs a few days before the beginning of ME1. I wanted to look at character background and motivation as well as a bit at life in the military. Please enjoy. Doozo! Next up - "Driving Miss Tali" a fic on Tali learning to drive the Mako. Many thanks to Padawan Mage again for the motivation and support. :D

Captain David E. Anderson

"A hand-picked crew…," he mused, tapping his chin with his fingers. The captain stood tall, his imposing musculature dwarfing his superior officer and his mocha-colored skin stood in contrast to the admiral's pale features. The years had been a little tough on Anderson though and his face showed the lines of worry and stress that had been his constant companion throughout his distinguished career.

The captain looked back to see Admiral Hackett nod. Anderson knew that the old man was the brains and heart behind the push to bring the Systems Alliance Navy to the forefront of the galaxy's militaries and thus, to the forefront of Citadel politics. As Commander, Alliance 5th Fleet, Hackett had become one of the faces synonymous with the Navy throughout the colonies as was Anderson's.

Hackett's eyes were firmly set in his weathered face. "You'll like the Normandy," he said in his gravelly voice. "She's a prototype frigate created with help from turian engineers."

"Turian?" Anderson wasn't entirely sure he liked that idea. He wasn't prejudiced by any stretch of the imagination and knew there were a lot of good turians out there, but he knew that their empire had its own agenda. He fought against them during the First Contact War nearly two decades ago back when he was an elite N7, a special forces operator. He was in the famous Class N7-06, the "First of the Best." To start the war, the Turian Empire had ambushed a small Alliance exploration fleet and then went on to conquer the colony of Shanxi. At the young age of 20, Anderson was himself hand picked by Rear Admiral John Grissom to fight in the liberation of the colony. The turians were ill prepared for the speed and ferocity of the Alliance attack and capitulated to Grissom's novel and dynamic tactics. Fortunately, the casualties on both sides were light.

Later, as a staff lieutenant, Anderson was forced to team up with a turian Spectre named Saren and that only served to reinforce his mistrust of the empire. And, as members of the Citadel Council, the turians always seemed to hang humanity out to dry when the opportunity presented itself. Anderson made a little snort.

"I understand your feelings, captain," Hackett said. "There's still a lot of mistrust of the turians among our people…a lot of bad feelings. But this is a new era. Ambassador Udina is pressing for human admission into the Council and cooperation is the key to success here. We all want what's best for humanity and we have to put aside old prejudices."

Anderson had always liked how the admiral was so open minded about things and how his liaison skills got him what he wanted without pissing everyone off. Hackett had climbed the ranks of the Alliance Navy through both strategic skill and political acumen. The captain let out a sigh of acknowledgement. "You're right, sir. It's not easy letting the past go."

"I know you'll do the right thing, David. It's why I selected you for command of the Normandy. We've got a special mission for you on her shakedown cruise." There was a glint in the admiral's eye that told Anderson that something big was coming.

"I can see this is going to be interesting."

Admiral Hackett handed him a sealed package with the title – EYES ONLY – TS – PENULTIMATE. The data pad inside was meant only for those with the highest clearances. This had to be huge. Hackett chuckled at some inside joke. "Yes, it is, David. The details are inside, but you're going to be taking along a turian Spectre-"

Anderson recoiled, recalling the contentious mission with Saren. "Sir…."

Hackett held up his finger, silencing the captain. "Hear me out. This Spectre is young with a cooperative spirit. He was a C-Sec officer before being selected and has great respect for humans." The admiral then leaned in as if unveiling a conspiracy. "David, there's a movement afoot to have the first human Spectre selected. We have supporters in the Council."

This was all sounding a little too familiar to Anderson. He'd heard this whole crock twenty years ago. And look how that turned out. He was going to have to force himself to trust Hackett on this one. "Okay sir, I'm listening." He may not have to like it, but he would follow orders.

Hackett put his hand on Anderson's shoulder. "I know you've been down this road before and it's not going to be easy for you. This is precisely why you're the man for the job."

"I suppose this is where I thank you?" the captain said, a little sarcastically. Anderson had known the admiral long enough to poke the bear and there was a lot of trust between them. "So, what's the story with this Spectre, sir?"

"His name is Nihlus and he comes highly recommended by the Council. Last time he was in the Traverse, he was like a one-man army."

Anderson knew how powerful one Spectre could be. He'd seen first hand how much carnage Saren had caused. "Are we expecting trouble?" Anywhere a Spectre went, drama was sure to follow.

"No, but he has a special purpose which I just mentioned. I want to come back to that, but let's talk about your crew first. Whom do you have in mind, David?"

The captain had been thinking about this since the time his command was announced. Sure, he'd been on bigger vessels with more responsibility, but the Normandy was special – everything about her was top of the line from the Tantalus Drive Core to the GARDIAN close-in defense systems. That frigate packed the punch of a heavy cruiser and had the first true stealth system in Citadel Space. Even her name was special. Normandy was a region in northern France conquered by Norsemen, who became culturally integrated the feudal system. In the 11th Century, Duke William of Normandy was offered the crown of England by King Edward the Confessor. Upon Edward's death, the matter fell into dispute and William launched an invasion of England in 1066. Against all odds, he triumphed and changed the course of Human history. Much later, in 1944, Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europa and, against all odds, liberated Europe. Anderson knew that his Normandy would have big shoes to fill and would have to live up to its name.

"Sir, I want Colin Pressly at Navigation; he's been with me for years and he's a good man." Pressley's dad fought with Anderson in the First Contact War too and Colin had the same feelings about aliens as the captain did.

Hackett nodded. "Lieutenant Commander Pressley's a good officer. Consider it done."

Anderson was gaining confidence now and he found that he was liking the idea of this hand-picked crew. "I need Greg Adams in Engineering and Jeff Moreau at the helm.

The admiral took a sudden breath. "Adams I can see, but Moreau? You know the boy can barely walk."

Anderson afforded himself a faint grin. "But damn, can he fly…top of his class. I saw him barrel roll a destroyer during one of those pirate sweeps that keep us so busy. Nearly tore them apart, but it put the ship's guns right on the pirates."

"All right, if you say so, I'll make the call."

It was Hackett's turn to trust the captain now. Despite Moreau's skill behind the helm his condition made him somewhat of a pariah in the starship community. Few captains wanted to take a chance on their pilot shattering a thigh in the middle of a battle for moving the wrong way or sitting funny. Moreau's sarcastic attitude over how he was viewed didn't help his standing in any way either. Anderson was going out on a limb here, but he knew good talent when he saw it. "Thank you, sir. Also, I want Karin Chakwas as our doctor."

"Done. She's a good egg. Kind of a romantic, but steady in a crisis."

Anderson chuckled. "She loves her steely-eyed soldiers."

"What about your marines? You know you get a squad aboard the Normandy."

Here's where the captain hadn't given it too much though. A few names floated up on the short list. He made a snap decision. "I need Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko to lead my marines."

"Never heard of him. Shouldn't you pick someone with more experience than a lieutenant."

"He's got a stellar record and I need a biotic onboard."

"I see," said the admiral, stroking his chin. "I can agree with that."

Anderson was pleased as punch by now. It was like a dream come true – a prototype ship under his command that came with the best damn crew in the Alliance fleet. "I'd also like Corporal Richard Jenkins on my squad. He's green, but he has heart." The captain clearly remembered standing tall before Admiral Grissom once, showing that he had heart and Grissom selected him to lead the first assault on the turians at Shanxi. Anderson had run across Jenkins several times and knew the boy had potential to be an N7…if he got a little experience under his belt. He found the boy's manner to be appealing and he had a soft spot for the kid. Anderson stepped back, thinking about the others whom he would lead. "I'll have a list of the rest of the crew for you by tomorrow, sir. I've already got a few names I'm tossing around for my XO."

A wry look came over the admiral's face. "And that brings me back to my original line of thought."

"Sir?"

"The first human Spectre…. Nihlus is going to be aboard the Normandy to evaluate our candidate. That person will be your XO."

Anderson was now putting the pieces together. His past was going to play a huge role in this mission. His failure would fuel someone else's success. "I see…. I was considering Hiro Takeda for the job."

Hackett shook his head and the captain felt a tinge of disappointment. "Takeda's slotted for something else. He's a great ship to ship tactician, but he'd make a poor Spectre."

Anderson had to agree. A Spectre needed to be an N7, someone with outstanding physical prowess. "I sense you have some people in mind, sir."

Hackett handed him three dossiers. "Take your time, David. I'll give you until tomorrow."

So, the crew wasn't entirely hand-picked and the job came with strings. Still, Anderson couldn't complain too much. "I'm sure all three candidates are excellent."

"It'll be a tough choice. I had a difficult time narrowing it down to three."

"Thank you for your support, sir. I'll meet with you in the morning."

"Good luck, David. Swing by around 0800," the admiral said, extending his hand. The two had known each other long enough to dispense with salutes in all but the most formal settings.

Anderson took the hand warmly. Admiral Hackett had been a great mentor and an even better friend. When Anderson was at his lowest point twenty years ago, Hackett helped him pick up the pieces and forge an even better career. Now, the admiral had just handed him his greatest challenge yet. As he walked off, he glanced down at the dossiers and raised an eyebrow. Sure, all three were well known in Alliance Navy circles, but he would have never considered any of them as Spectre material. Each was a great officer, but each of them had some interesting…issues.

Lieutenant Commander Mario Farrare. Bold…aggressive, but too flamboyant for my tastes. Guy's got an ego the size of Jupiter. Can't keep it in his pants either. Making him a Spectre would be like pouring gasoline on an inferno.

Lieutenant Commander Tseu Bao-Dur. Great tactician…steady in a gunfight, but the guy can't get along with anyone. He alienated everyone on his last cruise. How's he going to liaison with our new allies? We'd end up in the Second Contact War.

Lieutenant Commander Claire Shepard. Incredible physical prowess…top notch with any weapon, but her personal life…. I don't even want to get into it. Sure, she was a one-woman battalion on Elysium during the Blitz, but all the media attention made her a head case. She was worse than a rock star.

It was going to be a longer night than he thought.

Lieutenant Commander Claire Shepard

She had the finest body that money could buy. Thanks to Binary Helix, the genetic enhancements given to her in vitro by her high-ranking navy parents had flourished into characteristics of unbelievable speed, strength, stamina, and smarts. She was easily the match for any human male and genetic tinkering had made gender irrelevant in combat. Tailor-made genes had also given her looks to match, which made her the darling of the media following the Skyllian Blitz, a massive raid on the human colony of Elysium eight years ago. Shepard was on leave, visiting the idyllic, but precariously placed world when the attack came down. Pure incompetence on the part of the provincial guard command allowed the batarian and pirate led forces to sweep the guards aside like so many ants. The entire city lay open to slavers and worse until Shepard launched a one-woman counterattack into the flank of the enemy, inflicting enormous losses on them. Thinking that they had been struck by a whole company of marines, the pirates broke and fled.

In the months following the Blitz, her face became plastered on thousands of electronic billboards across Alliance space and her name became synonymous with the navy itself. Recruits would flow into navy and marine depots with the image in their young heads of her toothy smile, chocolate brown hair, wearing her elite N7 armor. Everywhere she went, reporters and paparazzi shadowed her moves, doing interviews, taking videos, and speculating on her latest paramours…and she ate it up. The brave and happy Claire Shepard had become the paragon of humanity.

Why then, was she miserable?

Shepard sat on her bed in the dark in some posh hotel on Terra Nova. She looked down at the naked backside of some guy she'd picked up in a bar. The dude was now snoring loudly, causing her much irritation. What was his name? She thought it was John or Jake or Jerome something. What did it matter? The sex was mediocre, but she needed it to take the edge off.

Wait, this was Randy or Rob, she recalled. John or Jake or Jerome something was the guy on Arcturus. He had rocked her world. She would have to go back there some time. Shepard took a sip from the glass of wine that was sitting on the nightstand. How did she get like this?

Shepard was the daughter of navy brass, heroes of the First Contact War. Her grandmother was on Rear Admiral John Grissom's expedition when Humanity first made the jump through the Charon Mass Relay, which propelled Earth into a bright new future. She was the descendent of warriors and even had her family's medieval coat of arms tattooed on her ass to prove it. "We're always proud of you," her mother would say, but proud of what? She'd been in the right place at the right time once in her life and the rest was all hype. Was there a gene that could give her happiness? That was what she needed, not the flocks of phony admirers. The attention and adoration of the entire Alliance was on her and the pressure was eating her alive.

"Maybe I should just ETS and go hide out somewhere," she whispered to herself, thinking she might just let her service term expire and leave the military. She could go be a guinea pig for Binary Helix on Noveria or join the small ExoGeni research team on Feros; they needed guards. Something brainless would suit her just fine about now.

Randy or Rob something moaned and rolled over. "Huh? You say something?" he asked sleepily.

"No, just shut up and go back to sleep," she responded tersely and he quickly resumed snoring. This brought her some relief as the sound of his voice made her feel cheap and dirty inside. She thought back onto the time when she stood proudly before the board which accepted her into N7 Selection. Everyone and their kid brother wanted to be an N7 and just getting into Selection was a feat. You had to be the best of the best. The training was the most grueling thing that the most sadistic minds could dream up and, using an old wet navy tradition, there was a brass bell for the weak. "Ring the bell!" the instructors would scream at the less than qualified. At any time, any candidate could ring the bell and would then begin the walk of shame out the door of N7 Selection never to be seen in those hallowed halls again. But Shepard would not be deterred. Twenty-one weeks later, exhausted, cold, and sleep deprived, Lieutenant Claire Shepard pinned on her operator's badge, a silver representation of the legendary sword, Excalibur, with wings of gold. She was the top of Class N7-34, the "Black Knights."

A faint smile came to her lips just thinking about that. Life was simple – survive another day. Even when the Blitz hit Elysium, her body and training kicked in and there was no worry…no fear. She actually would have preferred being back in combat compared to the slow, agonizing death of celebrity that was consuming her day by day. She looked out the window and could see a cameraman crawling around on the balcony and she was half tempted to go out there and throw him off the ledge. But she would be a good girl, like always. Instead, she just hit the controls to close the drapes.

It had to be near morning. With the exception of the vast equatorial deserts, Terra Nova was just like Earth; plants, animals, sunrise, sunset. Like Eden Prime or Elysium, it was a veritable paradise on parts of the planet. Shepard liked this time of day, the time just before dawn. There was something about the coolness on her skin and the smell of the air. Yes, the time had a particular smell to it that pleased her. She took a deep breath, just letting the scent linger in her nostrils. It was cleansing.

Then, she noticed the light blinking on her phone. It was probably some news outlet wanting an interview or a corporation wanting an endorsement. "I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite store on Arcturus," she said in practice for the sales pitch. With a grunt, she rolled out of bed, glad to be away from the sleeping dude. The light was blinking in a series telling Shepard that it was a long distance call, brought to her by the comm buoy network that linked worlds thousands of light years apart. "Must be important," she mused out loud.

She hit the receive button without thinking and a familiar face appeared on the monitor. The man started to speak, but then pointed at her. "Commander, you may want to cover up."

Shepard's mouth formed an 'O' and she desperately grabbed for a nearby robe. "Sorry, sir…. It's not quite dawn here yet."

He seemed to realize the time difference and nodded. "Apologies, commander. There is something important I need to discuss with you. Can you go secure?" he asked, prompting her to switch to a channel that used the latest encryption algorithm in the Alliance.

She looked back toward the bed for a second. "Standby, Captain Anderson. I'm going to put you on hold," she said and tapped the button to suspend audio and video. She walked back to the bed and rousted Randy or Rob.

"Get up, I need you to go."

"Huh? What time is it?"

She tossed his clothes on his head. "It's time to go. Get moving." He tried to protest, but she lifted him from the bed with one arm and dropped him on his feet. The look in his eyes told her that he knew not to protest.

"Uhhh, okay. You'll call me later?" he asked as he pulled on his pants. Shepard hustled him towards the door with one hand as she hit the door opening switch with the other.

"Sure thing…see yah." The door closed on his shocked face and she pressed her back against it with a sigh of relief. Damn, that actually felt good. She thought she could hear the paparazzi blitzing the poor guy outside.

"Oh, Captain Anderson. I almost forgot." What could he want? He wasn't in her chain of command. Did one of her indiscretions get back to Alliance Headquarters? Well, he wasn't part of the IG or Inspector Generals so she wasn't being charged with anything. That was a relief. Anderson was a living legend in the Alliance military – he was the real deal, not like her one hit wonder career. She rushed back to her purse and whipped out her Personal Identification Badge or PIB, which allowed her to access Extranet security systems. She plugged it into the card reader. Suddenly, she was back into professional mode. "Going secure. Personal authentication Delta Zulu Two-Five-Three," she said as she pressed her thumb onto the glass pane on the reader. A green light flashed.

"Authentication complete. Secure channel access granted," the computer chimed in a pleasant female voice with a distinct British accent. Captain David Anderson's face reappeared. He looked a little impatient.

"Sorry, sir. There was a small matter I had to take care of first," Shepard said. "I show us secure, top secret." On top of the encryption, the secure channel also emitted an EM wave that defeated audio and video surveillance systems that might be listening in. In that instant, paparazzi within 100 meters were deafened by a piercing, high-pitched squeal though their headsets. Shepard smiled inwardly.

Anderson let out a breath and nodded once. "Good. Let's get down to business, commander. I want you as my XO aboard the Normandy. Our shakedown cruise embarks in four days from Arcturus. We'll do a tour of Earth for the brass and then test her through the Mass Relay at Charon."

Shepard paused a moment, somewhat shocked. She narrowed her brows. "Sir, isn't the Normandy the new prototype frigate?" She'd read about the ship and it was impressive. What was the catch here? It had to be a publicity stunt.

"Indeed she is. You came highly recommended by Admiral Hackett. I want you on my team. Ambassador Udina will make the arrangements if you're interested."

Udina? How was the ambassador to the Citadel Council involved in a mere PCS transfer of a lowly lieutenant commander? She squinted one eye in a skeptical look. "Uhh, thank you, sir. What can you tell me about the posting?"

Anderson seemed to read her concern. "Yes, this is out of the ordinary. But rest assured it's only due to the fact that this ship is special and there are Turian interests involved."

There was something in the captain's face that screamed that there was more to this, but Shepard held her tongue. No doubt the rest would reveal itself in time. "That's good to know, sir."

The captain continued, "Commander, I've read your file and you have the skill set that I'm looking for. I want you to keep the crew fit and ready for this shakedown. A lot of eyes will be upon us. After this cruise we're to be attached to Admiral Mikhailovich's scout squadron."

Shepard knew it was a good gig. Frigates and destroyers formed wolfpack squadrons that screened the movement of the fleet and exploited openings. When all was said and done, fast frigates hunted down the crippled and weak and destroyed them. It was like being in the cavalry of old Earth. She liked horses. "I accept, sir. Thank you for the opportunity."

Captain Anderson let out a faint, almost imperceptible smile and his eyes twinkled. "Excellent, commander. I look forward to meeting you on Arcturus in two days. We'll talk more then."

"I look forward to it," she said as the link went down. She pulled her PIB out and replaced it into its case. There was something about the captain that touched her. He had a fatherly way about him that appealed to her. His voice was deep and commanding and he had the look of eagles. Shepard was a student of history and knew that he ranked up there with such greats as Nimitz and Hood. Perhaps some day, she might too…if she could just get this monkey off of her back. Something within her had just changed though. The call from the captain was just what she needed and there was a sense of hope and energy that flowed through her once more. Sure, this was just a gig to show the people of the Alliance her pretty face again, but it was a space gig and she felt most at home in space. Whatever she was doing out there sure beat what she was doing here.

She started to pack her things into her suitcase and made sure to take some reading material along – a historical magazine here, a book on space power projection there. After all, the trip would take a day or so. "And this shakedown cruise is bound to be boring," she said to herself, preparing her mind for the tedium of space trials.