Okay, I'm realizing that my stories are becoming incredibly difficult to put together chronologically. This has prompted me to take on a gigantic project that I really hope works out. Here goes: I'm doing…ONE GIGANTIC STORY and each of my original stories will be separate chapters. I will also be adding a ton more content in between and adding more to other stories, probably even editing them for continuity purposes. I was too divided and confused to write anything anymore. This will be my one story to rule them all sort of thing.

My stories are about my male John Shepard, the default look (Sheploo). Here are the main points: Spacer, sole survivor, soldier. There is also some Shepard/Ashley content (okay a lot of it…a ton of it) and some Shepard/Liara content and hopefully a few surprises even for those of you who have been reading my stuff so far. Thanks to all of you for reading and leaving really great reviews, which inspired me to do this. I really hope you enjoy it. So here we go. From the beginning.

Shipping Out

By Badpie

Commander John Shepard strolled along the deserted corridor of the SSV Normandy, the Alliance's newest and best frigate. It was completely empty at the moment except for Captain Anderson, who was in his private quarters and a Turian named Nihlus Kryik who'd been sent to observe the upcoming mission. Shepard walked along, feeling restless, admiring the sleek new ship.

Shepard had been on a lot of impressive vessels, but the Normandy surpassed them all by far. They were docked on Earth at the moment, in Vancouver awaiting the arrival of the rest of the crew, about thirty of them. In the meantime, Shepard was enjoying the quiet hum of the ship's near silent engine.

Shepard had to admit, he was looking forward to this assignment. He would be serving directly under Captain Anderson, a man Shepard had a great professional respect for. He'd met him on several occasions and had worked with him indirectly on a few missions, but now he was his Executive Officer aboard the Normandy.

Shepard had never been an XO before. His last three years had been as Lt. Commander aboard the Midway, a classified N7 frigate patrolling the outskirts of the Attican Traverse. He'd always been the muscle of the operation, leading the squad into the thick of it. It was no different here. With such a small crew, one of the smallest in the Alliance, Shepard had to take on double duty. He'd be going groundside with the squad on all the ops, but he would also be responsible for all the administrative reports on the ship.

Shepard wasn't looking forward to the extra desk work. He was no pencil pusher, and aside from mission reports he tried to avoid it as much as possible. From the time he could walk his parents had practically conditioned him to be a soldier, just as they both were in the Alliance Navy themselves. For as long as he could remember, Shepard had been moving from ship to ship with his parents' different assignments. He could only actually remember a handful of times his mother and father had even been in the same room together. They'd had to stagger their assignments when he was younger and most of the time it was one parent taking care of him at a time. It had been ingrained in him from the time he was born. And Shepard knew from a young age what he would be doing with his life.

Shepard walked into his tiny bunk area. It was little more than a single bunk, a locker, a tiny desk and console and a very small bathroom with just a shower stall and toilet. The sink retracted into the wall just above the toilet when not in use. Shepard had slept in far worse places. There were one or two cramped, smelly fox holes he'd rather forget about. In any case it was private, which was more than he could say for the rest of the crew. They would be hot bunking in shifts in sleeper pods crammed into two areas on the ship.

"Settled in?" Shepard heard Captain Anderson's voice in the hallway behind him. He turned.

"Yes sir." Shepard replied.

"Good. Had a chance to look around I assume." Anderson stood with his hands behind his back. Even in casual conversation he was a marine through and through. Anderson was one of the most decorated officers in the Alliance Systems Navy. He was one of the first graduates of the N7 Special Forces program, something that impressed Shepard especially. He knew how brutal N7 training was. N7 training was the worst punishment Alliance marines could ever have inflicted on them, and after a year of the most intense physical, mental and psychological combat training ever invented, Shepard had graduated at the head of his class, similar to Anderson. It had gotten them both noticed among the Alliance brass.

"I've had a chance to familiarize myself with her, yes." Shepard responded to Anderson's question.

Anderson smiled. "She is a beauty isn't she?"

"Yes sir."

Anderson nodded. He looked proud. Commanding a ship like the Normandy was certainly an accomplishment. The SSV Normandy was a prototype warship. A deep scout frigate, co-developed by the Alliance and the Turian Heirarchy with the sponsorship of the Citadel Council, the Normandy was optimized for solo reconnaissance missions deep within unstable regions, using state-of-the-art stealth technology powered by an experimental drive core. The Normandy represented the Council's confidence in the human race as a continuing productive member of the galactic community, something that no one took lightly. Anderson was the right man for the job.

The Turian on board, Nihlus was employed directly by the Council as a Special Tactics and Reconnaissance operative, or SpecTRe for short. Nihlus was there to observe and report back to the Council during the Normandy's first run. Shepard understood the Council's desire to keep an eye on their investment, but something wasn't sitting right in Shepard's gut about it for some reason.

"You know officially you're on liberty until 0900, Commander," Anderson said. "You don't have to stick around here. Go get some ground under your legs."

Shepard looked at the time. It was only 1800. Even he couldn't occupy himself on an empty ship for that long. He nodded. "Thank you sir. I think I will."

Anderson turned to walk away. "See you tomorrow Shepard," he said as he walked.

Shepard entered his bunk and the door hissed shut behind him. With the door closed it was positively claustrophobic. He considered what he might do to occupy his time. He could go to one of the Alliance friendly bars in the area, but he wasn't a big drinker and he didn't really want to run into any of the new crew before tomorrow. He supposed he would do what he had considered earlier and call Marisa.

When he'd heard the Normandy would be picking up her crew in Vancouver, Shepard couldn't help but think of his old friend, Marisa Nilsson. The last time they'd emailed almost a year ago she was in Vancouver. He hadn't actually seen her in about two years, but ever since high school they'd kept in touch.

Marisa's father was in the Alliance and both he and Shepard's father had been stationed on Genesis Station when they were sixteen years old. Marisa, Shepard and several other kids Shepard still counted as friends were close knit. When parents were in the military, kids made friends fast and kept them as long as they could, because moving on to something else was a very real possibility at any time.

Marisa and Shepard had become close fast and he credited her with more than a few of the "firsts" in his youth. She was ridiculously beautiful. At 5'10" with exotic looks born of her Swedish father and multi-racial Brazilian mother, her blue eyes and dark blonde hair contrasted nicely with her light coffee colored skin. It was no wonder she had been able to parlay her appearance into a successful modeling career.

Shepard sat at the console and punched in his clearance to get a live outside line. In a few seconds, after the source of the message was scrambled, he would be able to call her. He often did on the rare occasion they were in the same location. A couple of times they'd just had dinner, and a couple of times they'd had more than dinner. They always had fun, and Shepard liked catching up with her.

The console beeped, indicating a connection on the line. And after a couple of tones, Marisa picked up.

"Hello?" She said. She sounded a little confused.

"Marisa," Shepard started. "John Shepard."

There was a small pause on the other end and then "Oh! Oh my god. Hi! Haha. I had no idea who it was. Your ID is blocked or something."

"Oh yeah it's a secure line. How are you?" Shepard asked.

"I'm…I'm good! How are you? Where are you?" She asked.

"I'm in Vancouver."

"Right now?" She sounded excited.


"Oh." She sounded disappointed. "I didn't even know you were coming."

"Yeah, I'm sorry," Shepard apologized. "I didn't actually find out until a couple days ago and then it was classified so…"

"Uh huh," she teased. "Same story as always. God it's great to hear your voice, John."

Shepard smiled.

"You too. I know it's short notice and I don't want you to feel obligated if you have plans, but –"

"John," She interrupted him. "Meet me at Malagueta in an hour. It's a Brazilian place, 364 Old Robson."

Shepard laughed. "I'll see you there."

Jeff "Joker" Moreau was going to get drunk tonight. It wasn't a normal habit of his, but he was in a great mood.

The music from the bar practically smacked him in the face as he wobbled a little through the door on his leg braces. As he looked around he could see that the Dress Blue bar was packed. He was positive that 40% of the patrons were Alliance military and the other 60% were women who wanted to have sex with Alliance military. The name "Dress Blue" was something of a joke as the bar itself was a dark, dingy place that smelled like stale beer.

Joker was uncharacteristically giddy. Ever since he'd found out he would be piloting the SSV Normandy, the best ship in the Alliance fleet, he'd been fighting the urge to dance a jig. Not that he could actually dance a jig. Not with Vrolik's Syndrome, the genetic disease that caused the bones in his legs to be brittle. Even with the leg braces it was a chore to get around, but Joker refused to be put in a chair. He was just too damned stubborn.

As he sat on the nearest bar stool and nodded for the pretty bartender to come his way, he thought about how far his stubborn nature had carried him through life. He had been top of his class by far in flight school and piloted some of the Alliance's best starships in the past three years. At twenty-three years old Joker was considered something of a prodigy when he'd first enlisted. He was so staunchly serious about becoming the best that his flight instructors had called him "Joker" and it stuck.

"What can I get you, sweetie?" The bartender asked, pushing a strand of her short, bright magenta hair behind one ear. Joker took note of the small flower tattoo on her wrist.

"Molson," he said over the music. The bartender smiled and walked away to get his beer.

Joker was not particularly a ladies man. He was attractive enough. It wasn't that. It wasn't even that he had to wear leg braces, although he was sure that was probably a little off-putting for some women, especially in this day and age when most things could be cured genetically while still in the womb. His condition was rare. Mostly, though the reason Joker was no lothario was that he was a little shy and awkward around women. For all his confidence and bravado when it came to helming starships, Joker lacked the confidence to just start chatting up an attractive chick. Unless he was drunk, which he was planning on being tonight.

The bartender walked up, carrying his draft and put it in front of him. "You Alliance?" She asked cheerily. "You get a special discount if you are." She winked one of her green eyes at him.

"I am indeed Alliance and I love discounts," Joker said. "What's the damage?" He asked reaching into his pocket for his credit device.

The bartender shook her head and leaned forward on the bar, which accentuated the cleavage that peeked over the top of her form fitting leather vest. "This one's on that guy over there," she said, pointing toward a guy at the end of the bar. It took Joker a second to pry his eyes away from her but then he looked and saw Elliot Fitzer raising his glass. Joker laughed then turned to the bartender.

"Thanks," he said. He took a big swig of his beer. The hops burned his nose pleasantly. "What's your name by the way?" He asked her.

"Violet," Violet said, smiling at him. She turned and walked away, leaving Joker to stare shamelessly at her ass. When he looked back up Fitzer was just walking up to him with a big stupid grin on his face.

"Well shit," Fitzer said taking Joker's hand in a firm handshake. "What the hell are you doin' here?" Fitzer was an engineer and Joker had served aboard the Leipzig with him about a year ago. They'd gotten along really well and had the same sarcastic sense of humor. Fitzer was a hyper guy and a little strange, but he was all right. He was wiry and short, shorter than Joker's 5'9" with short dark curly hair.

"What's up, Fitzer?" Joker said. "Good to see you."

"You too, man. So what brings you to Vancouver?" Fitzer asked.

"Transfer. Gonna be piloting the Normandy come tomorrow morning."

Fitzer's eyes went wide. "No shit!" he yelled. "I'm there too! Working under creepy old Adams."

"Creepy old Adams?"

"Yeah yeah. Great engineer. Fucking genius, but uh…little bit of a mouth breather."

Joker laughed. "So who did you have to blow to get this assignment?"

"Fuck off. I'm a rock star when it comes to drive cores." Fitzer scoffed. That part was true. Joker knew that the entirety of The Normandy's crew had been handpicked by Captain Anderson, Admiral Hackett and Commander Shepard from a very short list. Everyone on it would be excellent at their jobs and Joker was looking forward to working with people who weren't complete idiots.

Joker had gotten distracted by Violet pouring a beer for another patron. Just a teensy bit of her midriff was showing above her short leather skirt. He could see hints of a tattoo that seemed to cover a part of her back and slink around to the front. He gulped his beer. When he looked up she was smiling at him. Fitzer noticed.

"Oh man," he said. "What I would do to that," he said drinking his beer.

"Right?" Joker said, still distracted. He gulped more of his beer.

"Heard she has a thing for pilots," Fitzer said. "I mean just sayin'."

Joker's head whipped around to Fitzer. "Really?" Fitzer nodded.

"So…" Fitzer said. "Shots?"

Joker nodded frantically and waved Violet over to them.

Sure enough, Fitzer was correct about Violet being into pilots, and after a couple hours and god knows how many shots shared with her, she was finally done with her shift. Fitzer, after patting Joker on the back and slurring something like "gogetterchamp" had left and before Joker knew it he was making out with Violet in a dark corner of the bar. He thought about the astronomical odds that something like this would happen. It was like the beginning plot of a crappy adult vid.

Truthfully, Joker was wrecked and most of it was a blur. But it was a really hot blur and it smelled nice. And Joker was just going to let this high ride, even though he knew he'd be hungover the next day. After some labored conversation about being a pilot, Violet finally said "lemmeseeyership" or something like it into Joker's ear. Joker weighed this. On one hand, to show up at the Normandy completely pissed out of his mind would be the worst possible thing he could do for his career. And it's not like Alliance security would just let him bring some horny bartender on board anyway. It was a terrible idea. On the other hand, Violet was kissing his neck and groping him pretty aggressively through his clothes, and since sexual conquests for Joker were very few and very far between his libido won out and they staggered out of the bar together.

After a short walk, or rather a very long one for Joker during which he had to explain his leg braces, they approached the docks that kept the Normandy and several other Alliance vessels. As they approached, Joker could feel himself almost suddenly sober up. It hit him what was actually happening and he stopped.

"What's wrong?" Violet said.

Joker already hated himself for what he was about to say.

"We can't actually go on the ship," he admitted. She looked at him, glassy eyed and confused for a second.

"What ship?" She said. "I mean whish one issit?" She gestured drunkenly to the two or three frigates sitting at various docks. Joker realized then that they were just outside of the restricted area. Thankfully he hadn't used his access card to get through the gate. He pointed to the Normandy.

"That one." He said, but she was already kissing him again. She stumbled a little and the two of them fell back onto a crate that was positioned well enough to break Joker's short fall without breaking him. He sighed relief as he realized there was no damage. Then he tensed again as she clumsily moved to straddle his lap. "Woah woah," he said. "Try not to break my legs," he said, his words muffled by her lips.

She pulled back then and pulled open her vest, revealing her bright pink bra, which housed her perfect breasts.

"Oh my god," Joker said. "Never mind. You can break whatever you want."

After a few more seconds of kissing, Violet pulled back again.

"It's not very big," she said.

"Wait, what?" Joker asked, suddenly feeling defensive.

"Your ship," she whispered.

"Oh! Oh right. Oh." Joker said, suddenly feeling relieved. "Well," he began again, suddenly feeling the need to explain that it wasn't big, but it was fast and quiet and technologically advanced, but he cut himself off when he saw the look on Violet's face. It was the unmistakable look of a drunk person that was about to vomit.

"Woah," she said and stood up, leaving Joker sitting on the crate.

"Um…you okay?" Joker asked. She waved him off dismissively as she bent over slightly.

"I'mokay," she said. "I'llbefine."

"Maybe your friend should go sleep it off," said a loud, stern voice nearby. It startled Joker and he stood faster than he ever had in his life. Before him stood an annoyed and disgusted looking Turian, who glared at him for a moment. Joker was firstly, surprised to see a Turian at all and secondly, suddenly feeling a little nausea himself.

"Uh yeah. Yeah I'll take her home," Joker said. He couldn't tell if the Turian was concerned for Violet's well-being, or simply irritated that she was about to be ill near him. Probably a little of both, but Turians had very few facial expressions and Joker was by no means good at reading them.

After another short glare and what sounded like an annoyed sigh, the Turian walked away and headed for the gate.

Joker sighed. He was suddenly stone cold sober. He turned to Violet, who had composed herself without getting sick. Joker got the feeling this sort of thing was a pretty normal occurrence for her.

"Come on, I'll put you in a cab," he said. She nodded and reached out for him. He hoped he wouldn't have to support too much of her weight.

As they walked away slowly, Joker glanced back in the direction the Turian had gone. He was just approaching the gate and Joker watched him use his access card, which meant he was affiliated in some way with the Alliance. Joker cursed himself. How could he have been so stupid? He desperately hoped he would never have to see that guy again.

Marisa was as beautiful as ever.

Shepard was waiting for her at the bar of the restaurant when she arrived. She was dressed casually in a pair of tight dark jeans, flat shoes and a gray oversized top that hung just a little off of one of her light brown shoulders. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a sleek high ponytail and she wore small diamond stud earrings that made her blue eyes sparkle. As usual she wore very little makeup, and as usual she was radiant. She had always been surprisingly low maintenance and laid back. She smiled when she saw him and he stood as she approached him.

She squealed a little and threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. He returned the gesture, a crooked smile creeping across his lips as well.

She pulled back from him and grinned. "How the hell are you?" She asked. Shepard felt like he'd seen her a week earlier. She smelled like jasmine.

"Overworked," he joked. "What about you?"

"Same. Let's get a table," She squeezed his hand and let go, making her way to the dining area. Shepard followed. Everything with Marisa was always very natural. Ever since they'd met thirteen years ago she had always been the type of person who made friends easily and kept them feeling special.

Marisa and Shepard had never technically been more than friends. Even when they were younger, they both had kept things pretty casual, especially since they both knew they would be leading very different lives later. It worked for them. Marisa was special to Shepard, familiar, and one of the few people in his life he could relax around. She knew John, not Commander Shepard, something that was rare in his life. She was a friend he hoped would be in his life for a long time, and so he'd decided years ago not to mess up their friendship by falling in love with her. Shepard wasn't very good at relationships.

They sat down at the table and Marisa asked the waiter in Portuguese if he would bring them a bottle of red wine. He nodded and stepped away. Shepard's Portuguese was atrocious at best, most of it taught on the fly, on occasion by Marisa over the years. He was fluent in Spanish, French, and Russian and functional in Korean and Farsi. He could even recognize key military terms and phrases in Salarian, Asari and Batarian, though true Turian language was impossible for humans to speak or understand. It wasn't uncommon for most people to speak at least two different languages on Earth. Travel from place to place was simple enough and ever since non-earth creatures had entered the mix Earth had become more like one gigantic community anyway.

"First things first," Marisa said. "Spill it. Why are you here, what have you been doing, that sort of thing. Ready set go." Shepard laughed. Normally she had no hint of any kind of dialect, but every once in awhile an adorable Swedish/Brazilian combination would work its way out of her mouth on certain words. It was barely noticeable, but it was one of the things Shepard enjoyed about her. "I know you can't really give me details," She continued. "You know, since everything you work on is all top secret and all, but just give me the gist."

"Hm," Shepard started. "When was the last time we talked?"

Marisa sighed, annoyed. "You sent me a four word email like a year ago, John."

"It wasn't four words," he said defensively, though embarrassingly enough, she was right. He was notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people. She gave him a withering look. "Okay I'm sorry," he said. "I know I'm…I'm a jerk." They smiled at each other. "My assignment has been the same as it was before up until about two days ago. I'm an XO now on a ship leaving out of the docks here tomorrow morning."

"New ship, new crew?" She asked, genuinely interested. Shepard nodded. "Wow. You gonna miss your old guys?"

"I am," he said. "They were a crazy bunch, so yeah. I'm gonna miss some of those guys." He shrugged. "Some not so much." He chuckled. He would miss them. N7 marines had a special bond. Most made it to thirty years old if they were lucky, due to the dangerous nature of most of their missions. It made someone really appreciate the guy watching his back.

"Who was the one guy you told me got impaled through the leg with some sort of pipe and pulled it out himself?" She asked. "That story always stuck with me."

"Oh, Hudson," Shepard laughed. "Yeah, he was crazy."

"He's not anymore?"

"He uh. He actually was killed in action a few months ago so…" Shepard clenched his jaw a little at the sudden turn in the conversation.

"Oh god," Marisa said. "Sorry. That's…too bad." She sighed. She'd never been comfortable talking about death. "I know whatever it is you do is really dangerous." He looked into her eyes. They were serious now. "I really do worry about you, you know." She said softly. "I worry about you all the time."

"I know." He said.

"If anything ever happened –"

"You're on the list they have of people to notify," he cut her off. The air was suddenly heavy. He knew it was a grim topic, but it was true. She was on the list. Every marine had a list. And Shepard's list had five names on it; his parents, a former CO, his buddy Tim Hicks from basic, and Marisa. He'd figured he had all his bases covered with those five. Alliance marines in general had to at the very least be accepting of the idea that they could be killed in action. They were soldiers. It was just what they did. N7s had to learn to expect death. They had to go in anyway to get the job done at whatever the cost. Shepard had reached a fairly comfortable set of terms when it came to death even though he hoped he wouldn't have to face it anytime soon.

Thankfully the wine came then, distracting both of them from their somber thoughts.

"Obrigada," Marisa thanked the man as he poured their wine. When he left Marisa quickly changed the tone of the conversation. "Wow, let's talk about something else now," she said and laughed.

Shepard laughed too. "Yeah, let's." They held their wine glasses up and Shepard gazed into her eyes. "God it's good to see you," he said. They touched glasses and then drank. Shepard cleared his throat. "All right," he said. "So what about you? Give me the run down."

"Ohhh boy," she rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay. Well since we last communicated,"

"With four words."

"Right. With four words." She giggled. "I've been all over the place doing shows and shoots and generally wearing my ass out." She moved a hand up to rub her neck.

"The price of beauty, I guess," Shepard added.

Marisa scoffed. "Yeah right. More like the price I pay for having a slave driver agent." She paused. "Thank you." Shepard nodded. "Soo that's about it…I guess…"

Shepard narrowed his eyes. "You sure there's not some tiny detail you're leaving out?" She looked guilty, but shook her head. "Nothing at all? Like maybe the reason you're wearing a wedding ring?" He added. He'd actually noticed it soon after she'd walked in, but he was kind of enjoying watching her squirm. He couldn't help but grin at it actually.

She bit her lower lip, a habit she had when she was uncomfortable and then she sighed and dropped her shoulders in defeat.

"Okay okay," she admitted. "I was gonna tell you…eventually."

"Uh huh," he said, smiling. "So who is he?"

She cleared her throat and drank more of her wine. "Remember that slave driver agent?" He nodded. "Yeah. Anyway it was kind of a whirlwind thing out of the blue and it just sort of happened a couple weeks ago and –"

"A couple weeks ago?" he asked. She nodded. "Wow." She looked a little embarrassed. He just looked at her face. "I think it's great, 'Reesa. I really do." He only occasionally called her Reesa, the shortened last half of her name when he was feeling particularly sentimental about her.

"Really?" she asked.

"Of course." It was true. He really was genuinely happy for her as long as she was happy. "You happy?" he asked to make sure. She nodded. "Good. He's good to you?" She nodded again, smiling. His eyes were locked on hers now. "Good," he said quietly.

She shrugged. "We just kind of work, you know?"

Shepard nodded, sipped his wine. "Well I think that's hard to find sometimes."

"Yup. He's actually in Paris right now. I'm meeting him there in a couple of days for a show." Her look got mischievous. "So you know," she said. "No trying to seduce me."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Shepard joked in a deadpan tone. Marisa giggled. "I am…shocked and offended at your assumption." She giggled more. He had to laugh at her. Her giggle was cute.

The waiter returned then to take their order and throughout dinner they enjoyed comfortable conversation as usual. Shepard got updates on some old friends, and they relayed stories about fashion and modeling and bullets and space marines. Marisa asked about Shepard's parents, and they flirted a little, clearly not avoiding it, but not being too overt about it either. By the time dinner and a bottle of wine were done it was getting late and Shepard felt truly happy and relaxed. He was glad he'd called her.

He paid the bill.

"What time do you have to leave tomorrow?" Marisa asked. It was an innocent enough question, but she was looking at the table when she said it, smiling and fidgeting with her hands a little. It was subtle, but the message was clear.

"I have to be on board at 0800. We shuttle out at 9." He watched her nod, then meet his gaze. She cocked her head to one side a little and the hair from her ponytail grazed the bare skin on her shoulder. She had always been an expert at little silly things like that that drove men crazy.

"Be a gentleman and walk me home?" She asked softly.

Shepard simply stood and took her hand to help her up. As they walked out he thought about her previous question. He could walk her home, sure. It was the first part he wasn't so sure about.

Kaidan Alenko had been up all night with a migraine. It was finally subsiding now, just as the sun was coming up. He yawned as he stared out the window of the Vancouver hotel room the Alliance military had put him up in for the past two nights. He looked at the clock. 0600. Not enough time to sleep before he had to report for duty on the Normandy.

If he wasn't so exhausted, he would be very excited. With his much coveted post on the Normandy, had come a promotion from 1st Lieutenant to Staff Lieutenant. He'd been plucked from a slim roster of potentials by Admiral Hackett himself and he had to admit it made him feel proud.

He ran a hand through is dark hair and wearing just his boxers, walked to the vid screen showing the weather report for Vancouver and turned it off. He considered getting in a workout before he had to go, but thought better of it knowing it might exacerbate his headache. It was a shame. He could really use the time to blow off some steam.

Aside from the normal constant threat of migraines, caused by his L2 biotic implant Kaidan was fairly certain he knew what had brought this one on. As he thought about the conversation he had with his father the night before last he began to get angry again.

Matthew Alenko was, to put it simply, a jerk. Former Alliance military himself, Matthew had discouraged Kaidan from enlisting, calling the Alliance "meddling bastards." Kaidan had never had a particularly great relationship with him. He drank, was verbally abusive to his mother and had a habit of gambling and having affairs. He also had quite a bit of money that Kaidan's mother saw none of when he abruptly left her for another woman about ten years ago. And for the last couple years, since his mother had sustained a back injury, Kaidan and his sister had been supporting her for the most part monetarily. Kaidan was the only one who still kept in touch with his dad. His sister had stopped speaking to their father years ago.

Kaidan could think of no other reason he continued to occasionally connect with his father other than the fact that he was his father. He didn't particularly like him, even though not everything had been bad growing up. He had some fond memories of spending time with his dad fishing and hiking in the mountains, and generally his childhood had been pretty happy.

He supposed that's what made him call him when he was coming into town two days ago. Kaidan's mother had moved back to Singapore after the divorce, but Matthew was here in Vancouver. He'd met him at a bar, had a couple of beers and caught up with him the night before last. Even during civil conversation, Matthew managed to infuriate Kaidan somehow. The hour they'd spent talking was enough to last Kaidan a good long while.

Kaidan decided a shower was the best course of action. He would get to the Normandy early. He wanted to check out all the systems anyway. As the hot water melted away his stress, he was blissfully distracted by the thought of their first mission. The details were still classified, but he imagined it was just a shake-down run. It was pretty typical for any new starship.

Freshly showered and shaved, Kaidan put on his uniform and checked out of the hotel, carrying his ditty bag. It was a short walk to the docks and the streets of Vancouver were quiet. The air was cool and damp and the sky a signature gray, the smell of rain in the air. Kaidan had always liked Vancouver. He'd grown up just outside of it, and knew that a lot of the kids he'd gone to high school with were still around the area. It was a good place to raise a family. Kaidan didn't keep in touch with anyone from high school because he hadn't actually graduated with them. When he was seventeen years old, the men in suits had come to take him away to Brain Camp, and sometimes he regretted and resented having been robbed of the normal high school experiences. Of course, even if he hadn't gone his high school experience wouldn't have been normal.

Kaidan wasn't normal. He was shy growing up, mostly because he was different, special. His biotic abilities had begun to manifest themselves early on in chaotic ways. Sometimes when he was a kid when he would get angry or upset, objects in the room would simply fly and hit the wall, smashing into a thousand pieces. He learned to control his emotions at a young age and kept to himself mostly. He felt outcast among his peers.

He was almost to the docking bay now and his thoughts turned once again to his service with the Alliance. He'd joined up late in his life, at twenty-two. After Brain Camp was shut down he hadn't had a clue what he wanted to do with his life, so he kind of dropped off the map. Or at least he thought he had. When he was approached by some men in Alliance uniforms who suggested his biotic talents would be useful, he realized they had been keeping tabs on him. It wasn't surprising. Biotics did not go unnoticed by the authorities. Seeing the chance to do some good, Kaidan became inspired and he'd been on the fast track up the chain of command ever since.

Kaidan used his access card at the gate and it slid open slowly He nodded to the MP standing guard and headed to docking bay 4, where he would find the Normandy. He got a chill as he saw it. She was the sleekest, most interestingly designed ship he'd ever seen. He'd seen vids of it and simulations of its systems, but seeing it for real was impressive.

He walked past the two MPs on the outside of the door and into the airlock, where the pleasant voice of the ship's computer said "Logged. O624 hours. Lt. Alenko boarding. Please standby for decontamination." A thin wall of light made its way over and through Kaidan twice and then the door opened to the inside of the ship. Kaidan walked on and looked around him. It was quiet. At 6:30am probably very few, if any crew members were there yet. He'd memorized the layout and made his way to the crew locker rooms to deposit his personal items. He supposed the Captain was around somewhere by now, and probably Commander Shepard too.

Kaidan found his small locker with his name already on it and shoved his bag inside. Space was going to be tight on the Normandy. He'd never actually slept in a sleeper pod before, but he'd heard they were fairly comfortable. The use of them was a pretty new practice on newer Alliance vessels.

He made his way up to the bridge, taking note of the clean, cool air circulating throughout the ship. He was already starting to feel at home. As he approached the passage to the airlock, he heard the door open and Commander Shepard stepped through, dressed in civilian clothes. Kaidan had never met him, but he recognized him from his basic personnel file. He stopped, stood at attention and saluted.

"Commander Shepard," Kaidan said.

Shepard nodded. "At ease Lieutenant." He said. "Alenko right?"

"Yes sir."

Shepard extended his hand and Kaidan shook it.

"I've heard a lot about you," Shepard said. "You come highly recommended. Glad to have you on the crew."

"Thank you sir," Kaidan responded. "I'm looking forward to serving with you."

"You're here early." Shepard wasn't carrying a bag which suggested he was just returning to the ship rather than just getting there for the first time. He probably hadn't expected to see anyone at this hour.

Kaidan felt just a tad awkward. "Yes sir. I wanted to take a look around and familiarize myself more with the systems."

Shepard nodded. "See you later, Alenko."


As Shepard walked away, Alenko's respect for him doubled. On paper, Shepard had an extremely impressive career and Kaidan had been genuinely looking forward to meeting him. In person, Shepard seemed a born commanding officer. Even with just the small exchange of dialogue they'd had, Kaidan could tell Shepard was the kind of commander he would want to follow.

When Kaidan finally made it to the bridge he found that there was already a young bearded man there. He appeared to be wearing leg braces and was just sitting down into the pilot's chair, tipping Kaidan off that this was probably Jeff Moreau. He walked over to him.

"You must be Lt. Moreau," Kaidan said. The bearded man looked up.

"That's me." He responded. He didn't try to stand again, which Kaidan was glad for. It looked like it had been painful for him to sit down.

"Kaidan Alenko," Kaidan said and extended his hand, which Moreau shook.

"Call me Joker," Joker said. "You're the biotic right?"

Kaidan was a little surprised Joker knew that. And a little surprised that he was "the" biotic to him.

"Yeah," he answered. "Yeah I am." He gestured to the chair and console next to the pilot station. "I'll also be riding shotgun here for the most part."

"Cool. I heard you don't talk much, but that's okay. I talk enough for both of us."

Kaidan laughed. Joker was blunt and abrasive, the exact opposite of himself. Kaidan liked to think he had more tact.

"You're a tech right?" Joker asked.

Kaidan nodded. "General tech. I'm level 2 cert in all the major systems on this frigate. I'm also a trained field medic."

"Good," Joker joked. "When I fall down and snap one of my legs off you can patch me up and fly this bird."

Kaidan resisted the urge to ask about Joker's legs. Three female voices broke the silence of the ship as the door to the outside opened. Kaidan and Joker watched them walk in, chatting amongst themselves. All three were attractive and wearing their Alliance uniforms. They carried bags over their shoulders.

"Oh please let the rest of the crew be female," Joker said as he watched them walk down the hall.

Kaidan smiled. "I doubt it."

"Gonna be awhile til we get some shore leave I bet," Joker said, still staring down the now empty hallway wistfully.

"Guess you should have thought about that before you came on board." Kaidan teased. Kaidan knew it was pretty customary for marines who were shipping out to try to get lucky the night before. He supposed it was because most of the time, even if it was small, there was still a chance they wouldn't be coming back. Kaidan had never really gotten the appeal of hooking up with random strangers for drunken sex. It wasn't really his style.

Joker put his head down and shook it. He sighed. "I did think about it. I more than thought about it," he said. He looked at Kaidan. "Oh man, there was this bartender last night –"

"Where is the Captain?" A strong voice came from the door, cutting Joker off. Kaidan turned to see a Turian standing in the doorway to the bridge. He was waiting for an answer. Kaidan had no idea who he was.

"I don't know where the captain is. I just got on board." Kaidan said. He noticed Joker's face had gone white, and he looked embarrassed. "I assume he's in his quarters. Who are you?" Kaidan didn't hide the annoyance in his tone. The Turian had disrespectfully interrupted, and Kaidan had no idea who he was. He clearly wasn't with the Alliance, but regardless Kaidan was an officer and the Turian's tone had made him bristle.

The Turian seemed to soften just a little when he noticed Kaidan's face. "I apologize for my abruptness, Lt." He said. "My name is Nihlus Kryik. I'm a representative of the Council here to observe your first mission."

"Kaidan Alenko," Kaidan said. He nodded toward Joker, who looked even more distressed now. "This is flight Lt. Moreau."

Nihlus nodded. "Lieutenants," he said. Then he turned and walked away.

Kaidan turned to Joker. He now had his forehead in one of his hands. "What's the matter with you?" Kaidan asked.

Joker sighed, long and loud. "Forget it," he said. "Just forget it."

Kaidan shrugged. "All right." He was distracted then by the sounds of a few more crew members boarding. He guessed he wasn't the only one that had been excited about the ship. Everyone seemed to be showing up early, and Kaidan was suddenly very anxious to get going.

By the time Shepard was done with his shower in his tiny quarters, the Normandy was buzzing with the majority of the crew. It was 0730 and Shepard was pleasantly surprised to see everyone taking initiative and getting there early. He had imagined he would be the only one there at this time.

His stomach grumbled just a little. He was hungry. He cursed himself for not grabbing something on the way. Marisa had offered to make him breakfast, but it was very early and he didn't want to impose on her further. Of course, he was pretty sure their time together hadn't been an imposition, especially since she'd practically insisted he spend the night. He hadn't needed any shred of convincing, even with the knowledge that she was now a married woman. Deep down he knew this would be the last time. As far as Shepard was concerned, he would be content to continue the occasional affair for years to come. But he wouldn't do that to her. He knew Marisa, and he knew that if they continued to rendezvous while she was married it would start to wear on her conscience. He allowed himself a small smile at the bittersweet realization, and then brushed it off and headed to the CIC.

Anderson was already there leaning over one of the FTL coms, cup of coffee in one hand. Shepard wondered if he'd even slept. He turned to face Shepard and nodded.

"Good morning, Shepard." Anderson said.

"Good morning sir." Shepard replied.

"Big day. I trust you got a good night's rest?" Shepard paused for just a second to try to count the few hours he'd actually slept last night, but Anderson cut off his thoughts with a smile. "I didn't sleep either." They both laughed just a little. "I'll be honest. I'm too damned excited about this ship."

Shepard smiled. "The crew seems to be excited as well, sir. They're all here pretty early."

"It's a good crew, Shepard." Anderson said.

"Yes sir." Shepard agreed. Anderson and Hackett had included much of his input in the selection process regarding the crew. They'd put together quite an impressive bunch.

"I'm looking forward to you turning them into a better one." Anderson looked Shepard in the eye.

Shepard nodded. Anderson was a friendly, warm, and pleasant man on the surface. Shepard guessed that any civilian that met him would be positively charmed by him. Any military personnel though would immediately see the weight and authority the man carried in his presence. His bearing was that of a man that had seen a lot and fought a lot of battles.

"You know," Anderson continued. "You remind me of myself when I was your age, Shepard. You're tough, smart, calm and you have a hell of sense of duty. I see good things in your future, Commander." It was an odd thing to say, Shepard thought, but he appreciated the compliment.

"Thank you, sir." Shepard replied. It wasn't often that a superior officer said anything of the sort to someone under their command and Shepard knew that to get one from Anderson, he must have made quite an impression on him.

The door opened then and the Turian, Nihlus stepped in. Shepard nodded at him. Something was still strange about him being here. Shepard had everything about this day nailed down, but this one loose end was starting to really annoy him.

Anderson looked down, looked to be in thought a moment. Shepard watched his distinguished brow wrinkle and Shepard knew the next thing he would say would be very important.

"Nihlus," Anderson began. "I'm glad you're here. I was just speaking with the Commander. Since you're both here now I thought it would be a good time to brief him."

Nihlus nodded, looked at Shepard. "I agree," he said, rather knowingly. Something clicked in Shepard's brain and he figured out what it was that hadn't been sitting right in his gut about Nihlus. There was clearly more going on than he knew. As the XO, he was annoyed for just a moment that he hadn't had full disclosure on whatever it was they were about to discuss, but he also accepted that Anderson probably had a good enough reason for it.

"What's going on, sir?" Shepard asked. He was suddenly impatient.

Anderson sighed. "You've probably figured out by now that this isn't just a simple shake down run." Shepard nodded. "We're headed to Eden Prime just as planned, but we have a specific objective that's classified."

"What are the details?" Shepard had a military mind. He rarely took the few moments to speculate on what could or couldn't be. He never asked a question that didn't get right to the point. His brain worked like a machine sometimes, sorting the facts from the questions and piecing together things in the blink of an eye. He'd learned the skill quickly in his years of service since sometimes all a soldier had was a blink of an eye to gather facts, assess and act upon them.

"An archeological team on Eden Prime recently unearthed a Prothean beacon during one of their digs." Anderson continued. "I'm sure you understand why this is classified."

Shepard did understand the gravity of the situation. All of the technological advances humans and non-humans alike had made regarding space exploration in the past several thousand years were based on Prothean technology. Even though the Protheans, an ancient race of technologically advanced beings disappeared 50,000 years ago, everyone, even the council races were still trying to understand everything they had left behind. Shepard knew that there had been various smaller findings throughout the galaxy, but nothing as big as a beacon. Not since humanity had found the data cache on Mars thirty-five years ago.

"That's quite a discovery," Shepard said. It was an understatement. "What's the mission?"

"They don't have the resources on Eden Prime to study the beacon properly. Nor do they have the means to keep it safe. We're going to retrieve the beacon and return it to the Citadel for in depth study. I'm sure you understand how important it is that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands."

"Yes sir I do." Shepard knew that time was of the essence for something such as this. Eden Prime was a safe, colonial farming planet but it was still on the fringe of the Terminus Systems, and there were a lot of nasty things floating around just outside of it. Aboard the Midway, Shepard had learned just how fragile the safety of the colonists in the area actually was. Officially the Alliance had no authority on the very fringe of galactic civilization and encroachment into the space by any fleet would mean an all out war. The entire area had always depended, unbeknownst to them, on top secret N7 patrols that got in and got the job done without leaving a trace. They were the silent guardians of life in the colonies. Shepard knew that if any one group of pirates, mercs or Batarian extremists learned of the discovery of the beacon, the risks of them organizing for an assault on Eden Prime doubled.

"I'll be fully briefing you and Lt. Alenko after we set a course, but there was something else I needed to speak with you about, Shepard." Anderson looked at Nihlus. "As you know, humanity has been pushing to get one of our own accepted into the SpecTRes for quite some time."

Shepard already knew where this was heading. "Yes sir," he simply said.

"Nihlus isn't just here to observe the mission. He's here to evaluate you."

Shepard looked at Nihlus, who was staring at him intensely.

"We've been watching your career for quite some time, Commander," Nihlus said. "Of a small handful of potentials, you are the obvious choice. You not only possess all the qualities we look for when considering candidates for SpecTRe status, but your service record is more than impressive, and we'd like to see first hand what you can do. This will be the first of several missions you and I will have together should you be interested."

Shepard nodded, thinking. This was big. It would mean a great deal for humanity to have a representative in the SpecTRes. Shepard didn't relish the though of the special attention he would likely receive from the media if this became the case, but he also knew that he would be an idiot to pass up the chance to be accepted into an elite unit like the SpecTRes. He looked at Anderson.

"I assume that whether or not I'm interested doesn't really matter." The corner of his mouth turned up as he looked at Anderson. It had been nice of them to pretend he'd had a choice.

Anderson laughed. "Let's just say we were all hoping we wouldn't have to convince you."

"Then I'm looking forward to it, sir."

Anderson glanced at Nihlus and then back at Shepard. "Good. We shuttle out in less than two hours. At 0800 I want you to make the rounds. In the meantime, you're dismissed."

"Aye aye, Captain." Shepard said. He looked at Nihlus again before he walked out.

The next hour and a half flew by as Shepard made the rounds, inspected the crew, chatted briefly with them and gathered systems reports. Before he knew it, they were in orbit.

Anderson briefed Alenko and Pressley on the situation with the beacon, leaving out all talk of Shepard's SpecTRe aspirations. All in all it seemed to Shepard like a cut and dry, well planned maneuver, but he would feel much better once they'd secured the beacon.

As the Normandy approached the mass relay that would rocket them at faster than light speed to Eden Prime, Shepard made his way to the bridge. Alenko was already there in the co-pilot's seat and Joker was at the helm. Predictably, Nihlus was not far behind Shepard and he came in and stood next to him.

Shepard stood, hands clasped behind his back, watching the view screen as the gigantic mass relay, made by the Protheans thousands of years ago, slowly filled the screen.

Joker's voice narrated their arrival.

"Hitting the relay in 3, 2, 1…" he said, and then a bright blue light filled the space.