Updated 10 MAY 10 - Let's do a little tongue in cheek on this chapter before we look at anyone selling their soul. This leads to the next story, Scouring the Galaxy. Another installment is in the works, looking at a vacation that takes place just after the Citadel Battle and before ME2. That is being kindly beta'd by my friends Padawan Mage and Joseph Hayes.
C-Sec Academy – 1800C
Staff Commander Claire Shepard - SPECTRE
Claire sat on a mat with two other people, a turian and a salarian. She assumed that they also had to be SPECTRE inductees. Captain Anderson once told her that Alliance Intelligence believed that there were only around 100 SPECTREs serving the Council. For an entire galaxy, that wasn't a whole lot. As a teen living in space, she loved to read stories of the mythical Jedi Knights, a small band of roving do-gooders who tried to make the galaxy a safer place. Her favorite character was a fallen Jedi named Revan who was redeemed in the end. The whole story had over the top heroes and villains that shook the pillars of Heaven in their epic battles. Kind of like…now.
She was tempted to speak to the other two, but she remembered N7 Selection where you did not speak unless spoken to. Flapping your lips was a sure ticket to abuse. Anticipating a similar type of hell, Claire prepared herself for anything – the room flooding, a sudden attack by ninjas, heck, even pigs flying at her. Any second now, a foul-mouthed training instructor would burst through the floor and she'd be submerged in a pool with her hands tied or on a 15 kilometer run through a thunderstorm with full packs. Back in Selection, her genetic modifications made her a superstar with nearly unlimited stamina and strength, but those traits couldn't prepare you for the unknown.
Claire nearly flinched when the door opened softly and a shapely asari literally glided into the room. Without moving her head, the new SPECTRE's eyes roved around, looking for any movement, any sign that all hell would break loose. She watched warily as the asari came up and sat down in front of them, crossing her legs. Claire placed her palms on the mat, ready to spring up and attack if necessary.
"Greetings, new SPECTRE's, I am your trainer, Master Sha'rin. Goddess willing, I think we're going to get along just fine here. Please, introduce yourselves. I'd like to get to know you better."
The commander narrowed her eyes. What the heck is going on here? Is this some kind of trick to get us to lower our guard?
The salarian raised his hand, almost nervously. "I am Ren Goratu Dalian Shu Pra, but you can call me Ren. I was an STG member before I became a SPECTRE," he said in the speedy, high-pitched voice of his kind.
Sha'rin bowed respectfully. "Welcome Ren, we are pleased that you could join us."
Next came the turian. "I am Shaara Mika. I was an Imperial naval officer before. I'm honored to be here." He seemed steady and thoughtful, guarded in his answers.
Again, the asari bowed. "Welcome, Shaara. I think you will find the training to your satisfaction."
Claire was really confused now. This was more like a tea party than any training she had ever been to. Was Sha'rin going to start serving scones now? When was the screaming going to start? When was the pain going to begin? She could still see her first N7 instructor, Operations Chief Mike "Mac" MacReady, a big, cigar chomping, whiskey swilling operator who would kill you sooner than shake your hand. The image of Mac, holding a stupid umbrella over his own head, blowing noxious cigar smoke in her face under a driving rain storm was still quite vivid. "I don't give a shit what your name is! I don't care if you have a pet! I don't give a shit that your daddy is an admiral! You're going to go crawling back to him with your Barbie Doll and your thumb in your mouth when I'm done with you!"
Sha'rin turned to the commander. "And what is your story?" she asked, snapping Claire back to reality. "I am anxious to hear about the first human SPECTRE. Please share with us."
"Oh…me? I'm Claire Shepard, a commander in the Alliance Navy. I'm very honored to represent my people."
The asari smiled and clapped for everyone. "Please stand. Let us begin."
Okay, here it comes…. Sha'rin stepped towards Claire and the commander tensed, ready for a fight. The asari gave her a warm, gentle hug. "Welcome. I look forward to teaching you."
When the hugs were finished, they all lay down on the floor and meditated. Sha'rin had them focus on their breathing and visualize a calm meadow with a stream. "Feel the energy course through your body. Can you see the light?"
"Uh…yeah." She could actually feel little tingles of power jumping around from her head to her toes and see flashes of light before her closed eyes. In her vision of the meadow, she could see a black horse and her pet, a small dog that looked a lot like a little bear. As a kid, Mittens was her best friend since she had no brothers or sisters and the life of a spacer kid could get kind of lonely.
Then, there was a presence near her head and she thought it was Sha'rin. Warm fingers pressed down on her forehead and began to soothe her worried brows. "You seem to be very tense, Claire. Please, relax."
"I…I'm having some difficulty with that."
"This is not what I expected. I keep anticipating this training to evolve into the type of misery that I've gotten use to in Spec Ops."
The asari laughed a joyous laugh. "Oh Claire, by the Goddess, you are so funny. Well, let's get it out of your system, shall we?" Sha'rin clapped her hands. "Please rise, everyone."
Claire bolted to her feet, coming to attention. "Ready, ma'am."
"What would you like to do then?"
This had to be a trick question. The commander looked confused, her eyes narrowed and one eyebrow bumped up. "Um, we have a choice?"
"Why, of course! Please, pick an event."
"Okay then…hand to hand combat."
The asari bowed. "A good choice. Come everyone, let's get the blood flowing so we can focus on our growth."
This is more like it. Claire was beginning to wonder if she had wandered into the C-Sec Yoga class by mistake. Sha'rin gestured to she and the salarian and the two squared off. Claire eased back into a defensive stance, weight on her back leg as she studied Ren's slight form. It would be easy to underestimate a salarian because of their build, but they could be fast and tricky – deception was a hallmark of their fighting style.
On the signal, he made a feint, reaching out with his hand, but Claire didn't react. She kept her feet light and moving, never giving him a stationary target for long. Her eyes ranged over his body, his stance, his form, looking for any weakness. He was quick and wiry, but he seemed to lack conviction in his movements. She lowered her guard, giving him an opening.
He moved right and then left, trying to draw her into a reaction, but she was nothing if not steady under fire. He looked frustrated and launched straight at her, having lost patience. He reached for her throat and she slid to his outside, grasping his wrist lightly. His momentum propelled him past her and she used that energy to press his wrist back toward his elbow in a technique known as kotegaeshi. In an instant, his entire body spun upside down with his feet whipping through the air and he landed with a ground-shaking crash. Claire was moving on instinct now and, with her other hand, seized his elbow and she corkscrewed his face into the mat.
"Unph…," was all he could say and she let him go. Victory was hers and she was feeling pretty good for her first encounter as a SPECTRE. Her instructors at the Advanced N7 school always said that there were no points for second best.
Sha'rin smiled and knelt down to make sure that Ren was ok. Claire extended a hand to him and he used it to pull himself up. "You're a good fighter," he said respectfully.
They bowed at each other and the asari stepped in front of Claire. "I am impressed. Here, let us give it a go," Sha'rin said to the commander and then turned to face the turian. "Always remember how important focus is. Reach deep into yourself for your inner energy."
So, are we going to fight or not? Claire crossed her arms, waiting for something to happen, but the master continued lecturing to the others. After a couple more minutes, she made a face and began tapping her foot.
Sha'rin suddenly turned back and, in the blink of an eye she was face to face with Claire with her hand on Claire's throat. "You had lost before I even touched you. I can see how impatient you are. Your mind is scattered…wandering."
The commander was a little taken aback by the surprise attack. She wasn't going to let this mystic get the better of her. No one had ever done it before and she wasn't going to let someone start now. She pried the asari's hand off of her throat and twisted her wrist around, but Sha'rin merely somersaulted away…without effort. Shepard was nothing if not aggressive and she rushed in and swept the master's legs with her foot. The asari went down and Shepard was on her, pinning her arms with her thighs. I've got you. Sha'rin only smiled.
Before Shepard could even think about gloating, two legs wrapped around her neck and slammed her head into the mat. The stars that she saw were brighter than the Milky Way from the windows of the Normandy. She struggled to regain her vision and her footing, but suddenly, her arms and legs were immobilized and someone was pulling her head back, threatening to break her like a twig. There was nothing she could do. An honorable warrior knew when to concede. "Okay! I give!"
Sha'rin let go in an instant and pulled Shepard up. "Do not be discouraged, young SPECTRE. Now…are you ready to learn?"
The commander let out a conciliatory chuckle. "I am." Shepard was finding that she had a very healthy respect for the master and her soft training style.
Earth – 2200Z – Langley, Virginia
Systems Alliance Intelligence Branch Headquarters
Admiral John M. Shepard – Director of Systems Alliance Intelligence
John Shepard watched the news feed on Alliance News Network where the pundits played out the events on Eden Prime, debating the minutiae of the entire ordeal. For some reason he couldn't take his eyes off of the images of Claire disarming the nukes that were set to annihilate the entire colony.
On the monitor, a round-faced man with crew cut blond hair waved his hands around. His eyes were bulging and the veins in his neck popped out like rivers on a map. "I'm showing you recently declassified videos of Commander Shepard's assault on the geth positions! Those robots nearly wiped out millions of people! Are you as outraged as I am? Why would these AI's attack us? Is Parliament withholding information? I believe they are! What are these videos not showing us?" The pundit, Ben Gleck, was famous on the talk show circuit for stirring up trouble. Despite the ranting, such a man could have his uses to the admiral.
Shepard snorted out a chuckle. Wouldn't Gleck like to know? The existence of the Prothen beacon was still highly classified and everyone involved was forced to sign a non-disclosure pact with the government, even his daughter. Still, the media was pretty savvy and they were slowly putting two and two together. They knew that something big was being concealed on Eden Prime and it really was only a matter of time before they figured it out. Perhaps getting ahead of the intelligence was the best course of action. He would have to meet with this Gleck soon.
The images on the monitor changed to show Claire. She was back in the limelight, something that she always had a weakness for. He tried to warn her more than once, but his daughter was always a stubborn one. Gleck pointed to the image. "Here's the heroic Commander Claire Shepard disarming nuclear charges at great risk to her own life. This journalist has contacted the commander for a statement and is waiting on her call. Maybe she can cut through the red tape and give us some answers. The people deserve the truth!"
A couple of older clips then played showing Claire participating in a game show and then another of her in a reality show in which she dated 20 bachelors to choose one in the end. It didn't work out…like all of her other relationships. Admiral Shepard sighed. For such a smart girl, she was such a dumb girl.
Gleck brought up more images. "We have exclusive footage of Claire Shepard's induction into the mystical SPECTREs, known as the right hand of the Council. Finally, we have a human on the inside! It's only a matter of time now before humans have a voice on the Council."
John Shepard had to agree with the guy. Perhaps that was why he always made it a point to watch Gleck when he could. Now that Claire was a SPECTRE, he could influence things on a galactic level. She seemed to be coming back into the fold after their last discussion. He knew she would come around. She always did.
Images of other people came up on the monitor around Gleck; a retired general, a former member of Parliament, a musician, and a teacher. They began to debate the action on Eden Prime and the merits of Claire's having been made a SPECTRE. Callers from the myriad of human colonies phoned in, giving their opinions.
Caller #1 - "If I was Commander Shepard, I'da shot dat smuggler! She was too soft."
Gleck - "Thank you, next caller."
Caller #2 - "How come she couldn't save Nihlus? Wasn't she a SPECTRE?"
Gleck - "Not at the time. Thank you, next caller."
Caller #3 - "Well, I think she's a hero! I just got her autograph on the Citadel. She's really nice."
Gleck - "Emily Wong thinks so too. Emily just reported that the commander busted up a gang over there too, right?"
Caller #3 – "Yes, she did! She deserves to represent humanity in the SPECTREs. I'm behind her one-hundred-percent."
Gleck – "And your name, sir?"
Caller #3 – "Conrad…Conrad Verner."
Gleck – "Thank you, Conrad. Next caller…."
Shepard shook his head at the spectacle and took a bite of his Gyro sandwich. He had grown particularly fond of the kiosk out on the Washington D.C. mall, run by a man named Katsulakis. Such a fine meal needed a good drink to wash it down with and he removed a crystal decanter from an 18th Century oak cabinet. There was something about hand crafted furniture that spoke to the character of a man and he spared no expense to make that statement loud and clear. He admired the label on the decanter, which read, "Louis XIII." The bottle had set him back 10,000 credits, but that was peanuts compared to the Shepard family fortune. He poured the brown liquid into a brandy snifter and swirled it around before taking a deep sniff of the aroma.
Gleck's show was now over and the news switched to a human interest story. The focus was on a young woman, Jane Something, who had grown up in the vast slums of Earth. Somehow, she had escaped unspeakable poverty and crime and enlisted in the Alliance Navy. She was sent to the colony of Akuze to find a missing colonial exploration team and her unit was wiped out by a Thresher Maw – she was the only survivor. Her actions allowed the colony to escape. The newscaster went on to say how this woman had overcome such great odds to have been chosen after N7 Selection. It was a real heart warmer.
Shepard thought about how Claire had grown up with all of the advantages – wealth, connections, all of the finest trainers. The Shepards were certainly a better class of people than this other person and it was their God given right to guide humanity into a new era. The admiral snorted. "Manifest Destiny," he commented, drawing reference to theory that a certain type of men would one day rule the world.
Then, he noticed that he was receiving a call on a secure line. It was Ambassador Udina. So, the insufferable bastard needs something?
"Admiral Shepard." He was all smiles this time. "You're aware that your daughter was made the first human SPECTRE?"
"Well, then you know that she will need a ship to pursue Saren. I thought you might be able to pull some strings to make this happen."
An idea sunk into his head. It was one of those dark ideas that could only be spoken of in the back rooms of the powerful. "In fact, I can. Why not the fastest, stealthiest ship in the fleet?"
Udina looked surprised at first, but then he seemed to get on the same wavelength. "I think that's an excellent idea. How can we make it happen?"
"There are some people we can call. I'll get back to you shortly."
"Very good, admiral. I hope for good news."
"Don't worry, ambassador, you'll get it." He logged off the call. He knew deep down that someone was going to be screwed when his daughter received command of that ship. Unfortunately, that was just part of the politics of military life. Things were not always fair and, at that high level, it was Darwinism at its finest. Claire often hung onto outdated notions of honor and loyalty, but she would learn. Honor was a luxury that few could afford in this dog eat dog world of power or it was a grand notion that was fed to new recruits to get them to die for an ideal. In the end, only the strong and the smart prevailed and it made humanity better for the struggle.
John Shepard then switched channels to speak to his friend at Cerberus. It was odd, he considered the man a friend, but still did not know the man's real name. He was just referred to as the Illusive Man. The man's symmetrical face appeared on the monitor.
"Yes, John. What can I do for you?"
"I am hoping to call in some of my investment in your company. I'd like you to pull a few strings with your contacts in Naval Operations. My daughter needs a ship of her own."
The Illusive Man cocked his head, appearing confused. "John, you're an admiral…the Director of Alliance Intelligence. Surely, you have more pull on something like this."
"It can't come back to me. You know that."
A spreading realization came over the man's face. "Ah, I understand. I know just who to call. You realize that this will cause others to be displaced?"
"I do. Don't worry about that. Just make it happen, if you please."
The man nodded slowly. "Very well. What ship did you have in mind?"
"The fastest and stealthiest."
"Understood. You'll know when it happens so there is no need for me to call with any confirmation. One other thing, John, I am putting your investment to good use. I hope to see results within half a year. A specimen that we procured from Noveria seems to be very promising. The fact that those scientists have no scruples makes this venture almost too easy."
"Good. I look forward to our next meeting. We should do lunch some time."
"I look forward to it."
Shepard logged off again and sat back into his leather seat. He remembered his first large command fondly. He had beaten out three other officers for that post and the competition had been fierce. He had top marks going into the final selection, but so did the other officers. The fact that John's father was a general didn't hurt and in the ever-increasing competition for higher rank and responsibility, every advantage had to be played. Claire would now be the next Shepard in the long line of proud leaders. Besides, it was time for Captain David Anderson to step aside and enter the fold of the inner circle. He might pout for a time, but he would eventually accept his fate and become one of the Alliance Navy's power brokers. After all, John Shepard did.