Shepherds and Shepard – 1

(Author's Note: The second part of the Mass Effect Trilogy is out now. While the story was excellent in many places (particularly the companion quests, and the Collectors being Protheans), the outer logic of it annoyed me enormously. Am I the only one who, having taken the Paragon route to the end, felt he had stepped into an inverted world – as if through the looking glass – in ME2? The Cerberus, in the previous version, was a terrorist organisation performing abominable experiments, breeding rachni, turning entire human colonies into husks, murdering high level Alliance Military officers who found out about them and what not and now they are suddenly a nice bunch of people interested in humanity, albeit a bit overzealous and misguided? Add to this, the mass stupidity that seems to have affected everyone in the Citadel – even Anderson who believed in Shepard and about the Reapers and was willing to sacrifice everything in ME1 is now suddenly callous and indifferent? Apparently, joining the Council drops your IQ by 100 or so. In the previous game, the Council came across as intelligent sceptics. In this game, they come across as utter morons, in total denial about what is happening.

Don't even get me started on the non-available ME1 Shepard's companions and hell – even love interests. All of them, who in the previous chapter were willing to follow Shepard to hell and back are now totally furious with him (of course, everyone knows exactly what Shepard is doing by some magic) and will not even give him a chance to explain his side. And there was that `death and resurrection' bit that I really loathed – as if humans are some kind of re-inflatable rubber rafts and can be simply blown back into shape after they are dead. If you are looking for a rehash of the official lore, you will be disappointed. While I will follow the vague outlines of the ME2, there will be a lot of changes. This is an attempt to construct the post-ME1 and ME2 time line assuming a male Sentinel Shepard. The story will feature a lot of politics and manipulation from everyone. I am not sure if I will write any romance – I am not fond of any romances, in general.

Finally, I am throwing the back story of the PC, the artificial constraint of three people in the squad and the extremely limited gameplay powers out of the window. They hamper story telling and I see no need to tie myself up with those. As usual, all criticism is welcome.)

Disclaimer: I don't own Mass Effect or any of the other characters. I am simply playing in the world crafted by Bioware and the authors of the Mass Effect universe.

A Plan of Action

(The story begins after the Council has been saved and before Shepard is assigned any other task.)

Prometheus [1] Shepard was bent over his desk, reading and correcting a report he had been assigned to work on. One of the orderlies from the Council rapped on the door, "Commander, they are asking for you."

Shepard nodded, and followed the orderly into the makeshift reception chambers of the Council. The walk took him past the original presidium, which thanks to the battle which had raged within and the falling wreckage of Sovereign had now been reduced to a mass of rubble. Prometheus Shepard reflected that this, more than anything, had literally brought home the message to the Council what the arrival of the Reapers might portend for the entire galaxy.

The three original Council members, and Captain Anderson were all already assembled there, along with Executor Pallin, and a salarian that Shepard did not recognise. It was the asari Councillor who began the meeting, "We are all assembled here today to begin our investigations into the attack on the Citadel by this rogue Spectre, Saren Arterius. It is the decision of this Council to focus on the activities and motivations of Saren, and how he managed to circumvent all our defences. While the full investigation of the geth attack is beyond the scope of this meeting, it has been decided that only in learning of Saren's activities and plans can we learn the source of the devastating attack on the Citadel itself."

There were quick glances exchanged at this. Not a single mention of the Reapers had been made. This, Shepard realised, did not bode well for the future. However, the asari Councillor was already continuing, "Of particular concern is the dreadnought that Saren commanded. For the last two days, our team has been examining that wreck. Dr. Fulsoom," she nodded towards a salarian who was standing on the other side of the room, "will give us a brief gist of what he has learnt from it."

"Fascinating," barked the Salarian doctor. "Must research more. Never seen such material. Not of any Geth manufacture. Can't imagine where he got it."

The turian Councillor frowned, "How can you be certain doctor, that the ship is not of any Geth make?"

"Examined lots of geth ships," responded Dr. Fulsoom, in the staccato fashion. "Construction and assembly totally different. Geth ships completely inorganic. This one – surprising mix of organic and inorganic material. Geth ship armour and hardware very different and much inferior. No – Sovereign not made by Geth."

The asari Councillor interposed, "Officially, we have given out that the Citadel was attacked by the Geth in the service of Saren Arterius. That story must hold, if for no other reason than to prevent widespread panic. Commander Shepard, Dr. Fulsoom, your colleagues and crew must be sworn to full secrecy about this."

There were nods from everyone about this. The last thing needed after the near destruction of the Citadel was a general panic among the Council species about the Reapers. The asari Councillor continued, "Then, Dr. Fulsoom, you will continue with your investigations about Saren's ship. We shall await your next report."

The salarian professor nodded and left the meeting. The salarian Councillor interjected for the first time, "However, we know the truth. Saren Arterius was working with – or for, as Commander Shepard believes – this .... vessel of unknown origin. The ship definitely took a dreadful toll of our defenders, and we must make sure that there are no repetitions of this attack on the Citadel. This Council, after much deliberation, has come to this conclusion. We authorise Commander Shepard to investigate Saren, his agents and this ship, and to take all possible measures to destroy any more of these ships that may be out there. All resources needed for the task shall be put at Commander Shepard's disposal. However, given the sensitive nature of the assignment, full operational secrecy must be observed."

Prometheus Shepard inwardly sighed softly, with mixed feelings. The good thing was that, at least, they had admitted the truth of what had happened. Limited operational freedom after recognising the depth of the problem. While they had not yet accepted his theories about Sovereign's desire for the destruction of all space faring races in the galaxy, they had at least granted him the authority to investigate Saren and Sovereign. He had hoped for as much, since Captain Anderson had hinted he would be able to extract that much from the Council. On the bad side, however, they were asking – no, demanding – the impossible from him. There was precious little to go on. Saren and most of his henchmen were dead. Sovereign was destroyed, its remains scattered all over the Citadel. There was no crime – not yet. He had very few leads. He would need to build up his team significantly to stand a chance, and even finding, much less recruiting, the people he needed for the job, was a daunting prospect. He was not vain enough to realise that he would be out of his depths to attempt this on his own resources.

Councillor Anderson spoke, with a shade of regret Shepard thought, "Shepard, given the importance of the problem, it has been decided that your operations will be supervised by the Council. We wish to be fully apprised of your activities in this regard."

Executor Pallin's flanges had stiffened, but otherwise the turian had evinced no reaction at all, while Shepard murmured softly, "Great Gracious Heavens!" So the wolves would keep snapping at his heels. Theoretically, they were all there to advise him about the best course of actions, and put the resources they commanded at his disposal. But Shepard knew better. It would turn into a playground for bitter recriminations if anything went wrong at any time. The turian Councillor, given his disposition thus far, would prove to be the most vocal, while he would have to endure the silent reproach of the others.

The salarian Councillor gave Shepard no chance to recover. He brusquely inquired, "Commander, we had asked you to prepare a set of possible leads for this task. Can you please fill us in?"

Shepard drew a report from his pocket, "I have four different possibilities for us to investigate, Councillor. Our first and best lead is to check a Prothean VI on Ilos. It seemed to possess a lot of information about the sort of ships Saren possessed. When I was on Ilos, I was unable to interrogate it fully owing to paucity of time. But it should hold more information."

Both the turian and the salarian Councillors frowned in displeasure, but Captain Anderson nodded. The asari Councillor objected mildly, "Commander, Ilos is deep inside the Terminus systems. We cannot operate there without being detected."

"I understand the risks, Councillor," replied Shepard. "However, a small team can retrieve the necessary Prothean artefacts without much fuss. Besides, it is very likely that there is also a cache of valuable Prothean data, not to mention the Conduit itself, which opens a back door into the Citadel. We cannot let those fall into the hands of vandals from the Terminus systems. It would be a disaster."

There was agreement about this, the turian and the salarian Councillors nodding grudgingly. The salarian spoke up before Shepard volunteered to go there himself, "I can detail a salarian Special Tasks Group to pick up the artefacts. They can do it with minimum fuss, and keep this Council informed."

Shepard replied, "Thank you, Councillor. That should help. The second lead is Matriarch Benezia. Her home in Thessia and her disciples who escaped destruction with Saren might provide us with some clues. One of them, Shiala, is on the human colony Feros. With her aid, I am sure we can trace others, and they may be able to give us some insight into what Saren had planned and where, if there are any more, those ships exist." Shepard knew better to directly mention the Reapers – that would be a great way to lose any cooperation from the Council.

"Did they know what Saren was planning, Commander?" The sharp question had come from Executor Pallin.

"Even Matriarch Benezia did not know the full extent of Saren's plans, Executor," returned Shepard. "I do not believe any of them had complete knowledge of his schemes. But they all knew bits and pieces, and when we assemble them all together, we may be in a better position to direct our energies."

"Continue, Commander," encouraged Anderson.

"Thirdly, Saren had a research facility on Virmire that was working to undo the krogan genophage, apart from studying the effect of indoctrination all sapient beings," spoke Shepard. There were sharply drawn breaths at this. "I have, on the Normandy, many of the records of that research."

"How do you come to possess them, Commander?" inquired the salarian Councillor.

"Before detonating his facility on Virmire, I had one of my subordinates collect all the records of his research that we could extract." replied Shepard coolly.

"And why did you not simply destroy the research, Shepard?" queried the asari quietly.

"There were a number of geth ships coming in and out of the place. Any of them could have taken copies of his research away from Virmire and into geth territory. Can you imagine what might happen if the geth manage to sell or trade the genophage cure to the krogan for an alliance? Or if the geth develop this indoctrination technique further to turn important people into their agents? Further, we need to know exactly what research he conducted, how he planned to cure the genophage, how far he had got, and most importantly, how this effort tied in with his other plans."

"Do you consider this indoctrination serious, Commander Shepard?" queried the salarian.

Shepard, who was almost certain that the man had been filled in by Captain Kirrahe about the indoctrinated salarians, nodded, "It turned all the captured salarians in Captain Kirrahe's team into Saren's mindless pawns, as you have doubtless noticed, Councillor. Matriarch Benezia, an asari of incredible mental prowess, could not break free of its power. I would consider that very dangerous indeed."

"This is a very serious business, Commander Shepard. You did not mention this before," remonstrated the turian Councillor sharply.

"I apologise, Councillor," Shepard answered humbly. "But I did not dare to mention that bit of information in any transmission. And the only meeting we had after that .... well, that did not go well, did it?" His reference to the meeting where they had grounded the Normandy and virtually stripped Shepard of his command brought blushes and winces all round. Only Anderson retained his calmness, "So what did you get, Shepard?"

Shepard returned, "I have not analysed the krogan genophage data, sir. It is beyond me. But his control came from that ship of his that gave him the opportunity for indoctrination of sentient beings. How it was done, I don't understand. Among the research, I can see that he was obsessed with assessing the strength of this indoctrination, and means to undo it. If any one can find a way to counteract the indoctrination, they it would be of great help in going up against those ships. Now, anyone going up against those ships risks turning into a mindless drone."

There was a long silence at this. The asari Councillor finally broke it, "This is a very serious business. A krogan revolt at this stage would be disastrous. We need to monitor them more closely. I believe we can authorise further research into both these topics. Thank you for drawing our attention to these problems, Commander."

"And what is the last lead, Shepard?" queried the turian Councillor.

"Cerberus," spoke Prometheus Shepard softly.

Anderson's head snapped up, Executor Pallin's eyes narrowed, and the other three councillors frowned, "Please explain, Commander."

Shepard mused softly, "We found Saren's hand in utilising unspeakable geth technology [2] turning humans into husks. We discovered his role in using Exogeni's research in Feros, and in breeding rachni in the Binary Helix facility in Noveria. Cerberus was also experimenting with the same geth technology, destroying entire human colonies with it, with thorian creepers which Exogeni group in Feros was involved in and finally, they also had the same rachni from Noveria, and were deploying them in various places. Three coincidences are a bit too much. We need to find their association to Saren and his plans."

Executor Pallin spoke carefully, "Cerberus is an organisation that is devoted to human supremacy at all costs. Agent Saren believed that humans were inferior. Why would they cooperate?"

Shepard smiled, "For one simple reason. Both of them resented the authority of the Council. Saren sought to replace it with his own authority." Shepard privately thought that the only authority that Saren would establish was that of Sovereign, but did not voice it. "The Cerberus wants the other species put in place and everyone to acknowledge human greatness. But before either could achieve their respective goals, they had one common objective. The Council had to be destroyed."

"You believe that Cerberus helped Saren in his plans?" questioned the asari Councillor.

"I believe that they are a factor we must not ignore," replied Shepard. "Even if they are not Saren's allies, they will have information that could be vital."

There was a long silence at this pronouncement. Finally, the asari Councillor spoke, "Very well, Commander. Please proceed with your investigations."

"I shall do that. I will wish you all a very good evening." With that, Commander Prometheus Shepard bowed and left the Chamber, accompanied by Executor Pallin.

After Shepard had left the chamber, the turian councillor spoke, "Shepard's thorough, I'll give him that. But he's unpredictable, erratic. He disobeyed our express orders, stole the Normandy and went out on his own into the most hostile region of the Terminus systems....."

"He saved all our lives," reminded Anderson quietly.

"Nevertheless, we need to be better informed on Commander Shepard's progress and activities. The Council should provide a crew member to ensure that Prometheus Shepard does not turn into another Saren Arterius!" rasped the salarian councillor.

The asari and the turian nodded, and Captain Anderson saw that he was outvoted in the group. The best he could do now would be to soften the blow on Shepard.

---(Scene Break)---

Later that evening, Shepard walked into Pallin's office as the turian was about to leave for the day, silently closed the door without preamble and dropped into the chair in front of the chief of C-Sec.

"You come at an odd time, Commander," intoned the Executor. "I was just about to leave."

"I am aware of that. I waited until everyone else in your office had left," returned the human, and there was a deep, awkward silence between the two. Prometheus Shepard broke the silence, "Okay, Executor. I know you're not happy about this because we Spectres have a licence to break the law. I am not over the moon about it either. I will begin, therefore, with a token of my desire to work with you and for the law, and not against you." He reached into his tunic, drew an OSD and dropped it on to the Executor's table. "A small gesture," he said in explanation. "Something that came to my notice."

The Executor examined the OSD the Spectre had dropped in front of him. After a few minutes, his face crinkled, "Very interesting details of Helena Blake's operations here on the Citadel, Commander. May I inquire how you got it?"

"From her associates," returned Shepard shortly. "I offered them a chance to return with me and stand trial here. They – um – refused to take it."

"I see," murmured the Executor. "Thank you very much, Commander. Now what can I do for you.?"

"I have a simple request. A few months ago – a volus freighter named MSV Callaverta disappeared with all hands. I want to know what its crew and cargo was."

"And why is that important?"

"That freighter was attacked by mercenaries in Saren's pay. But for some odd reason, every single mercenary involved – except the one who told me of this event – was murdered on the orders of Saren."

"You think there was something precious in the cargo?" queried the Executor.

"The mercenary I spoke to did not see anything in the cargo except food and medical supplies," admitted Shepard. "But I cannot conceive of any other reason why the mercenaries should turn up dead."

"Very well, Commander. I will see what I can do."

---(Scene Break)---

While Shepard and Pallin were having their little tete-a-tete, Ambassador Donnell Udina was heatedly arguing with Rear Admiral Thomas Freisle. "I'm telling you, Admiral, Shepard's completely out of his mind. We need someone who can keep him in check. If not, the first human Spectre will bring down everyone of us with him."

"We don't even know full details of what he's been doing as a Spectre. The details of his missions are classified and I don't think he's even reporting everything he's doing," returned the Admiral worriedly.

"Well, there's a way to find out what's he been doing," returned Udina thoughtfully. "His crew has one Lt. Kaidan Alenko, an alliance soldier who is technically under your command. He's been with Shepard on all these missions. We could have him brought here for a debriefing."

"We can do something better," intoned Freisle. "He's a bloody hero, having been with Shepard, and we'll look boorish if we ignore him. Invite both of them here in a few days, Udina. We can promote Alenko to Lieutenant Commander and Shepard to Captain. That gives us a chance to talk."

He rose to his feet. At the door, he turned to Udina, "Find someone who can analyse Shepard and his crew psychologically. I will give orders that she be part of the Normandy crew." With that Parthian shot, he was gone.

---(Scene Break)---

Prometheus Shepard was not a happy man, as he stared into his third glass of scotch. No, scratch that, he was a very annoyed one. He had just returned from the Alliance reception hosted in his honour, where they had pinned a few more medals on his shoulder and promoted him to Captain. The sting, however, was always in the tail – he had just been informed that an `administrative assistant' had been placed at his disposal on the Normandy `for better coordination'. After the Council spy – a turian named Cavestra Dronik who was in charge of all communications, taking the place of Navigator Pressly who had chosen to retire – in his ship, he now had an Alliance spy there. His ship, dammit, and he was having no control over his own crew and everyone and his grandmother was planting their stooges there! The alliance snoop was called Kelly Chambers and the bloody bitch had a degree in psychology. Apparently, the Alliance did not believe he and/or his crew were mentally sane and they wanted this trick cyclist to keep the Alliance updated about their mental health.

To add insult to injury, he was losing half of his original squadmates. Wrex, the krogan battlemaster, was returning to Tuchanka now that this mission had been accomplished, Tali, the quarian mechanical genius, was returning to the flotilla having successfully completed her pilgrimage, and finally, Kaidan Alenko, his real second in command had been promoted and there were doubts whether he would be allowed to return to the Normandy. That left only Garrus Vakarian – the former C-Sec officer, though impulsive and ruthless, had already proved his courage, coolness under fire and his tactical abilities before – and Liara T'Soni, who, though thoroughly versed with the Protheans and their extinction and a capable fighter, was considered little more than a child by the asari. Shepard needed people who were not only capable fighters, but also had knowledge and authority in Citadel space, in short, others whose abilities approached that of the Spectre himself. Instead, even what he had was being taken away, only to be filled in with trash from the Alliance and the Council. It was nauseating!

An orderly appeared in the doorway, "Matriarch Lidanya wishes to speak with you, sir."

Shepard closed his eyes. How much worse could the night get? "Send her in," sighed the Spectre.

The asari Matriarch entered, every step of hers betraying a feline grace, and Shepard, who was nothing if not courteous, rose to welcome her, and bidding her be seated, pressed refreshments on her.

Her voice was soft, melodious and almost hypnotic, "Commander Shepard, I wanted to thank you for saving my life, not to mention the lives of all my crew and the Council, of course."

Shepard shrugged, "I merely did my duty, ma'am."

The asari Matriarch looked closely at him, and saw a world weary creature, who was being borne down by the load he was forced to carry. There was genuine warmth in the Matriarch's voice. "Is there anything I can do to help you in any way, Commander?"

Shepard had a sudden inspiration. "Actually, there is. I cannot speak to you of the mission assigned me by the Council, but for that mission, I need capable individuals. People who are not only good at combat, but are also knowledgeable of the asari worlds and command respect there. Can you think of anyone?"

Matriarch Lidanya frowned, "The asari who would best fit your description, Commander, are Spectres and Justicars. But ..."

Shepard's ears had perked up at that. "Can you tell me more about these Justicars?"

"Justicars? They are a monastic order devoted to root out injustice. They are completely loyal to their code, their knowledge of the asari worlds is unmatched and finally, no asari would ever question the word of a justicar."

"Excellent," said Shepard, his spirits rising up at once. "Excellent! Where can I reach them?"

"Um .. - they are not particularly forthcoming with details about their order, Shepard. They work singly or in very small groups. I don't think they have a central organisation, controlling all of them."

"So I cannot reach them?" queried Shepard, his spirits deflating.

"I can put you in touch with one of them. Her name is Samara. Whether she will join you, I cannot say. The Justicars are notoriously independent."

Shepard nodded sombrely, "Very well. So how do I reach this Samara?"

"She is on Ilium at the moment, though what she is doing there I do not know. You can reach her through Officer Dara in Nos Astra. Just be warned, Shepard, don't try to bribe or intimidate her. She will be obliged to kill you just as a matter of honour, if you do!"

The Matriarch rose to her feet, "Shepard, I don't know what the Council has ordered you to do now, but please be careful."

Shepard answered lightly, almost cynically, "What have I to fear as long as I have their favour?"

"Everything, believe me," answered the Matriarch seriously. Seeing the human's questioning glance, she continued, "Shepard, you defied the Council, went out on your own, and saved the Council despite itself. They will never forgive you for showing them up like that. They would be delighted to see you fail and fall, to show that you have – what is that charming human expression? – feet of clay, yes. Take care!"

Shepard nodded and sighed softly, "It was so much simpler when I was chasing Saren. I knew who my enemies were – a deranged Spectre, an out of control asari Matriarch, and a ship determined to bring ruin on all of us. But now ...."

"And who is your enemy now?" questioned Matriarch Lidanya, looking at the young human in interest.

"Now, I have to wonder who isn't"

---(End of the Chapter)---

[1] - I invite my readers to guess the source of the name and what it might portend for the story. The name is somewhat symbolic. Hint: Classical Greece.

[2] - I know that it is much more likely that turning humans into husks is Reaper technology than geth technology since we saw more proof of it in Mass Effect 2. But my Shepard does not know that. He still believes turning humans into husks is geth technology.