Location: Unknown

An unknown star casted its light into a darkened office. The star burned with a beautiful, yet prophetic glow of an angry red surrounded by a serene blue, each vying for dominance.

A lone figure sat inside the office, his chair facing the star. He was immaculately dressed in an expensive designer suit. Surrounding his chair were holographic monitors with varying charts and reports surrounded him, detailing reports of varying operations, funds, and information to be stored, analyzed, and used when the time comes.

The Illusive Man smiled grimly at some monitors, scowled at others, but always continued to process the information he received with a calm, cool, and clinical detachment. News vids coupled with reports from some of his operatives told the story of the attack on the Citadel, the so-called "heart" of galactic power. The destruction of the presidium, the collateral damage on the wards, the remains of the once mighty Citadel Fleet; everything regarding the attack was observed and studied by the Illusive Man.

The attack has shown how vulnerable the aliens were. That the Citadel Council was not infallible, was not untouchable, and was not invincible. All of Citadel space was in mourning of the tens of thousands of lives lost in the attack, but the Illusive Man was a man of vision. He saw opportunity; the opportunity to elevate humanity to their rightful place in the galaxy.

Another report came in showing the Alliance's response to the attack. The Illusive Man glanced at the report before moving on to others. The Alliance was weak. Politicians, bloated officials, and clumsy military branches; the Alliance was a slow, blunt tool weighed down by conventions, laws and public opinions. They could not be trusted to make the necessary decisions to bring humanity to the future. If the Alliance weren't foolishly standoffish to their alien partners, then they were kowtowing to the other species in pathetic attempts to appease them.

The Illusive Man knew that only Cerberus could champion humanity. Only Cerberus could elevate humanity above all others. Cerberus is humanity. The Illusive Man turned his head toward a picture of Lieutenant Commander John Shepard when he appeared on another monitor. Cerberus may be feared and hated now, but that is a power on its own. Our goals will be met no matter the opposition.

Other reports flooded in, gathered by various Cerberus operatives. In the following weeks following the attack, the Illusive Man immediately ordered any and all information regarding the ships, races, and personnel involved, specifically the actions of the first human Spectre. The Illusive Man was not a fool. Both the Citadel Council and the Alliance will not divulge any details regarding the attack, but the Illusive Man was patient. He knew that all the information would come to him in due time.

We live in interesting times, thought the Illusive Man as he smoked from the cigarette in his hand. Humanity was given a spot on the council. For centuries, the council remained a triumvirate. The three "dominate" species in Citadel space: Asari, Turian, and Salarian, held the highest positions of power and had always tried to keep humanity at a distance. With the geth attack and the Alliance's timely rescue, none could deny the presence humanity held. With the destruction of the Citadel fleet and the alien races rushing to protect their own individual spaces, the Alliance now held the dominate fleet.

Even with this victory however, politics will undoubtedly become involved. The Illusive Man knew that holding onto power was more difficult than seizing it. Now was the time to strike, while humans held the political advantage. What power the Alliance will have would be temporary as memories fade, gratitude would change to distrust. Old suspicions and resentment would return and in time, the alien's fleets would rebuild and they would seek to get the power back and cast humanity back down. This was all but another step for Cerberus. The continued struggle for dominance.

As the Illusive Man studied the classified reports regarding the attack, he heard the door to his office open. Very precious few were ever allowed to be in his office, much less gain the honor of a personal meeting with him. The confident steps told him who it was, long before he saw his guest.

"Miranda," the Illusive Man greeted without looking away from the reports Shepard gave to the council throughout his mission to stop Saren.

~o~O~o~

Miranda Lawson walked purposefully into the Illusive Man's office. Very rarely was anyone called to meet the head of Cerberus personally, so she knew what he was about to say was of the utmost priority. The message she received only stated that her next mission involved Commander Shepard. Always ready, she immediately conducted research on the Spectre en route, to be prepared for whatever the Illusive Man wanted.

As she walked into the darkened office, she slowed her steps at the Illusive Man's voice. "Sir," she greeted simply.

She stopped past his holo-monitors and looked at the star. Nothing was said between them and she knew he was testing her, to see if she was the right operative for what job he had in mind. Fortunately, she knew it was no coincidence that her mission involved Shepard so soon after his victory at the Battle of the Citadel. Without turning to face him, she started the conversation. "Shepard did everything right, more than what we could've hoped for... saving the Citadel, even saving the council. Humanity has the trust of the entire galaxy." Turning her head toward him, she continued. "And still, it's not enough."

Her guess was rewarded with a glance. Tapping the cigarette in his left hand, he finally spoke. "Our sacrifices have earned the Council's gratitude, but Shepard remains our best hope."

She turned around to fully look her superior in the eye. She noted an assistant walking behind him with a holopad in hand. "But they're sending him to fight Geth. Geth!" she said as she walked through the holovids to stand before the Illusive Man. The assistant passed the holopad to him. "We both know they're not the real threat. The Reapers are still out there."

After glancing at the holopad, the Illusive Man passed it back to the unknown assistant. Taking another drag from his cigarette, he simply stated, "And it's up to us to stop them," before exhaling his smoke.

She crossed her arms. "The council will never trust Cerberus. They'll never accept our help, even after everything humanity has accomplished." She turned toward the monitor with Shepard's picture still displayed. "But Shepard, they'll follow him. He's a hero, a bloody icon." She turned back to face her superior. "But he's just one man," she stated. "If we lose Shepard, humanity might well follow."

She watched as he put out his cigarette in the ash tray built in the armrest in his chair. Looking up at the reports, he finally issued his order to her. "Then see to it that we don't lose him."

The Illusive Man's assistant stood next to Miranda, holding a holopad out to her. Miranda took one last glance at him to see if she was missing anything, before taking the holopad and leaving. Once outside she studied her new orders.

The Lazarus Project.

~o~O~o~

Location: Omega Nebula, Amada System, SSV Normandy SR-1

One month after the Battle of the Citadel

In the empty void of space, all was quiet. Stars continued to twinkle millions of light-years away and planets and moons continued their unending dance. A ship appears, as if flashing into existence. As the frigate returned to normal space, the vector engine nozzles extended and propelled the ship forward, the name "Normandy" and "SR-1" prominent on the hull of the vessel.

Within the ship, a man walked toward the bow of the Normandy, his gait suggesting years of experience within the military. His balding head was crowned with gray and his eyes are surrounded by crow's feet. The crew acknowledged him with deference and respect.

As he walked past Dr. Chakwas in the CIC, he heard Joker's report overhead. "Disengaging FTL drives, emission sinks active. Board is green, we are running silent."

When he finally reached the bridge, Navigator Pressly voiced his opinion to Joker, "We're wasting our time. Four days searching up and down this sector and we haven't found any sign of Geth activity."

Joker turned to glance at the XO, before returning his attention to the displays in front of him. "Three ships went missing here in the past month. Something happened to them."

Pressly tapped Ensign Jamin Bakari on the shoulder to relieve him of his shift. Bakari nodded gratefully and left. "My money's on slavers," Pressly retorted. "The Terminus System is crawling with them." The disgust was evident in his voice. Whether it was at the slavers or the inaction, Joker didn't know.

Any further debate was interrupted by Ensign Addison Chase. "Picking something up on the long range scanner," she announced. She moved a screen to the left and pulled another up to better see what the anomaly was. "Unidentified vessel… hmm…" Addison looked closer at her monitors. "Looks like a cruiser."

Joker took a glance at a monitor to his left. "Doesn't match any known signatures."

Addison looked troubled. Sitting up straighter, she looked at her monitors and said, "Cruiser is changing course." Tapping a few more monitors, she said, "Now on intercept trajectory."

Pressly looked at his own monitors, but couldn't believe his eyes. Double checking the ensign's findings, Pressly exclaimed, "Can't be, stealth systems are engaged. There's no way a geth ship could possibly…"

His disbelief was interrupted however when Joker grimly stated, "It's not the geth." Fingers flying across his panels, Joker yelled, "Brace for evasive maneuvers!"

Pressly wasted no time. Trusting Joker, he disengaged the stealth systems and immediately hit the commands to put the Normandy into red alert.

~o~O~o~

The cruiser followed the Normandy closely, tracking it's every movement. In the darkness of space, a yellow glow emitted from the center of the cylindrical ship. A yellow beam lanced toward the Normandy barely missing but continued a sustained attack as the frigate did everything it could to outmaneuver the unknown enemy and escape to FTL speeds.

The enemy ship continued its relentless attack however, and soon scored a direct hit on the port side vector thrusters, tearing through shield and armor with minimal resistance.

~o~O~o~

Throughout the ship, that glancing blow was felt. Systems immediately overloaded as the attack tore its way through the Normandy. Alarms blared and crewmen were scrambling to contain the damage.

In the bridge Pressly had only moments to read out the damage report before the console exploded. As he fell, his final thoughts drifted toward his last mission. Saren, geth, reapers, and how they defied the odds time and time again. His final thoughts were toward the crew of the Normandy, human and alien alike. At the thought of the nonhuman members of the ship he couldn't help but think, the commander was right, they really weren't that bad.

~o~O~o~

Joker desperately tried to push his girl out of harm's way. His eyes flashed across different monitors trying to predict the enemy's attack, the damage Normandy sustained, and his ability to maneuver. His ears heard the screams of the wounded and dying, every explosion that they were experiencing, and every command that was issued from dozens of different people.

He heard Pressly's scream of pain and hoped that he was all right. He heard Allison's shout before her console exploded. Through it all, he continued to pilot Normandy as best as he could. "Kinetic barriers down!" Joker shouted. The heat from the fire from Allison's console grew behind him. "Multiple hull breaches! Weapons offline! Somebody get that fire out!"

As he looked back at the enemy cruiser's position, he knew that there was no way to avoid the next attack and braced himself for impact.

~o~O~o~

The Normandy flew as best as she could, but her pursuer continued to persist. Another shot from the enemy's main cannon struck the frigate on her main body. Fires erupted as oxygen from multiple breaches fed the flames, only to be extinguished moments later from the cold vacuum of space.

In one last act of defiance the Normandy entered the orbit nearby planet of Alchera and pushed around the plant to break the line of sight, using the planet as cover in an effort to get away from the enemy ship.

~o~O~o~

Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams sprinted through the second deck, moving past scrambling crewmen that were trying to deal with the fires and explosions. She ran to the captain's quarters only to see that the doors were jammed. "Shepard!" Ashley cried, trying to open the doors. One crewman carrying another wounded shipmate passed her.

"He's at the end of the hall!" he yelled as carried he the wounded towards the escape pods. Ashley wasted no time and tore her way through the mess of wires and debris. More explosions rocked the ship as screams of the injured and dying flooded her senses. Just like Eden Prime all over again, Ashley thought as she tried to find the one man that mattered most to her.

There! Ashley ran toward the figure in N7 armor. She stopped as she saw Shepard secure his helmet. Life support was no doubt failing. "Shepard!"

Standing tall and calm despite the chaos that erupted around him, Ashley was once again reminded why, out of all the possible candidates, the Alliance chose Shepard to represent humanity. His background and service record be damned, they were only footnotes compared to standing before the man himself.

His visor was tinted to prevent any exposure to the explosions or when the hull breaches, the nearby sun to blind him. Ashley could almost imagine the calm, reassuring, and penetrating blue eyes behind the mask.

"Distress beacon is ready for launch," Shepard said, turning toward Ashley.

Ashley secured her own helmet. "Will the Alliance get here in time?"

Another explosion rocked the Normandy. Ashley stumbled, but Shepard caught her in time before she fell. Always trust him to catch me, Ashley idly thought. She looked up at him as she regained her balance.

Another fire broke out near a console. None of the fire suppression systems kicked in. "The Alliance won't abandon us!" Shepard said as he grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher to combat the blaze. "We just need to hold on!"

Ashley grabbed another fire extinguisher and helped fight off the flames. "Get everyone onto the escape pods!" She heard Shepard shout.

"Joker is still in the cockpit. He won't abandon ship!" Ashley yelled. She turned toward Shepard and saw him trying to get the fire suppression system working again. "I'm not leaving either!" Ashley declared.

The nearby console flashed to life. Shepard turned toward Ashley and gripped her shoulders. Looking into her eyes, Shepard said, "I need you to get the crew to the evac shuttles." Turning away, Shepard moved toward the console. "I'll take care of Joker."

Another explosion shook the deck. Regaining her balance, Ashley tried desperately to get her words out. All she could say was, "Commander."

"Ashley, go." Shepard turned to look at her one last time. "Now."

Ashley stood frozen for a moment, only a moment, considering defying Shepard's order, but reason won and all she could say was, "Aye, aye." Turning around she ran to get as many of the crew as she could.

Manipulating the console, Shepard finally activated the fire suppression system, giving everyone alive a chance to get past the blazes and into the escape pods. Once finished, he activated the one alarm every captain hopes they would never use. The evacuation alarm rang throughout the wounded frigate. The Normandy VI rang out: "All hands abandon ship. All hands abandon ship. This is not a drill."

~o~O~o~

Having gathered as many people as she could find, Ashley led the way to the nearest escape pod. Foam from the nozzles above made the way harder to run, but the fires were no longer a problem. Turning right at the next junction, she heard the VI telling everyone to abandon ship.

Stopping in front of the hatch of the escape pod, Ashley barked out, "Everyone in! Go! Go! Go!"

Dr. Chakwas and other crew members sat in the seats at the rear as their training taught them, so as to make room for others as they came in. Ashley saw one last crew member trying to reach the entrance of the pod before another explosion rang out and caught her, mere feet away. Forcing away the echoes of her dying scream, Ashley jumped into the pod and sealed the door. As she felt the pod rumble, preparing to eject them from the Normandy, she found herself praying to God. Not for herself or for the others with her, but for Shepard. She was praying that he would be all right, that he wouldn't go down with the Normandy. That he would return to her.

~o~O~o~

The hull of the Normandy opened, revealing six escape pods on her stern. One by one they ejected, sending all the survivors of the Normandy toward the planet she was orbiting. The Normandy accelerated with what power she had left, limping away from the pods. With luck, the Normandy would be a better target for the enemy than small escape pods. Futilely using what thrusters remained, what thrusters worked, Normandy continued to orbit the planet she was trapped in, lacking the power to break it's gravity well. A trail of smoke and debris were drifting behind it.

~o~O~o~

Satisfied that the pods were ejected, Shepard turned away from the console. An explosion from his left nearly rocked him off his feet, but he regained his balance quickly. Looking at his HUD, the brunt of the explosion was caught by his shields and was already regenerated.

He ran down the length of the corridor avoiding what explosions he could and trusting his shields to protect him from the explosions that did get him. His radio picked up Joker broadcasting on all available channels.

"Mayday, mayday! This is SSV Normandy! We've suffered heavy damage from an unknown enemy!" he yelled.

As Shepard reached the stairs leading to the CIC, he heard Joker plead with the Normandy, "Come on baby, hold together, hold together."

Reaching the top of the stairs, the doors opened, stealing what little atmosphere remained from the lower decks and venting it into space. Shepard looked up, seeing the massive hole torn in the hull by the attack from the enemy weapon. He saw the planet they were orbiting and the debris that floated around them. Looking around, the power to the CIC was out, which meant mass effect fields were out, which meant no more artificial gravity. Only thanks to his magnetic boots was he spared from flying out into space. Every marine a rifleman, every marine zero-gee certified, Shepard thought as he moved as quickly as he dared toward the bridge.

Pushing aside chairs that were dislodged from the explosions or attack, Shepard saw that a barrier was protecting Joker from the merciless elements of space. Passing through the barrier, Shepard felt gravity again. Power was still on in the cockpit. Normandy's still trying to protect us. Looking down he saw Pressly and Chase were dead. Focusing on his goal Shepard ran up to Joker and grabbed his arm while shouting, "Come on Joker! We have to get out of here!"

Joker pulled his arm away. "No! I won't abandon the Normandy! I can still save her!"

One quick glance at any working monitors told a different story to Shepard though. "The Normandy's lost. Going down with the ship won't change that."

Joker looked at his commander with despair in his eyes, fighting the truth that they were going to lose another member of the crew no matter what. Giving in, he nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, okay. Help me up."

When nothing happened, he turned to Shepard. He saw him focused on one of the monitors and turned his head to see what was up. Dread fell down his spine as he saw what Shepard was seeing voiced out what they both knew.

"They're coming around for another attack!"

~o~O~o~

The unknown cruiser had finally caught up to the frigate. The Normandy was trapped with a planet below and the enemy above. The cruiser charged its main gun as it closed in for the kill.

~o~O~o~

A high pitched screeching sound caught Shepard's attention as he turned around and saw the energy weapon of the enemy cut through Normandy, as if they were trying to shear off the bridge from the rest of the ship. Knowing that time was running out he turned back toward Joker and threw finesse out the window. Roughly grabbing his arm and ignoring his pained cry, "Watch the arm!" Shepard picked up Joker and dragged him out of his chair, taking care not to break his brittle legs.

Together, they limped toward the last escape pod, the one reserved for the bridge and CIC crew. It was still there. The crew probably got spaced, Shepard grimly thought as he pulled Joker to the pod. Hitting panel on the side, the doors opened. he wasted no time pushing Joker inside, carefully as he could, into the nearest seat. Just as Joker entered the pod, another explosion rang out, right next to Shepard. He tried to get into the pod, but the next explosion tore the ship apart, the shockwave blasting him back against the wall and away from the pod draining his shield. Power shut down and artificial gravity was gone forcing him into zero-g. Pain flooded his senses, broke some bones probably, he thought. Knowing that Joker wasn't wearing a hardsuit and that the vacuum of space would kill him, Shepard did the only thing left; he hit the panel to close the pod just before floating away.

He managed to hear Joker's cry, "Shepard!" just before another series of explosions pushed him into space and drained the last of his shields.

Looking back as he floating in the black, Shepard saw his ship torn apart by the relentless fire power of the enemy. As he floated among the debris, all he could hear was his own breathing. All he could see was the remains of his ship floating around him. As he observed the death of the Normandy, he dimly became aware of the cold chill within his suit.

Hard suits were environmentally controlled, which included temperature. The only reason he'd feel a chill inside his suit was if the suit was malfunctioning. Looking at his HUD, his suspicions and fears were confirmed. The readings were flickering, but he saw that his oxygen levels were dropping rapidly. White gas filled his vision then and Shepard knew his suit had been ruptured. Already, he could feel a choking sensation involved with asphyxiation. Grabbing at his neck, he desperately tried to hold the damage back, but it was useless. Still, he struggled, as he always had, never giving in, never stopping, and always refusing to admit defeat.

As darkness crept along his vision, his thoughts turned back to Benezia's last words: "No light. They always said there was a light." In his last moments, Shepard saw a light from the nearby sun and then… nothing.

Author's Notes:

This is my first fic. Having played Mass Effect 1 and 2, I'm hoping to keep to the lore of the game. I've also read the books written by lead writer of the series, Drew Karpyshyn. If any of you read his second book "Mass Effect Ascension", then some of you will recognize some of the early paragraphs as inspiration of the Illusive Man. I do not plagiarize. I used his work as an atmosphere for the Illusive Man himself.

As you may have no doubt noticed, this is a novelization of the Mass Effect 2.

The greatest problem with writing a fic based off this game is that the developers delivered. Each and everyone will have different games, different choices, and different opinions. Because of this, you may not like my version as it may not relate to yours. I make no apologies, because yours could be fun, great or better than mine.

With that said any comments or criticisms should be about my spelling, grammar, or delivery. You can also help me with my Mass Effect lore. I played the games, read the books and check wikis, FAQS, and YouTube vids to ensure I'm staying true to the game, but I can still make mistakes.

To any that care, Shepard is the default Shepard. Meaning he's male, has the default face, default name (John). I'll be using his given name very sparingly. (My Shepard is actually called Aramas.)

In the interest of appeasing a wider range of people, I'll do everything in my power to limit, if not omit his background/service record. However, it still may show up in his personality in how I interpret him.

To those that care, my Shepard is Earthborn/War Hero. Earthborn means he grew up orphaned, tough, with an intimate knowledge at how the world works, but still possessing a strong sense of right and wrong. As a war hero, he's elevated past his origins while still having strong roots from it. He was tough enough that he stood his ground against enemy forces by himself, saving as many people as he could. In Mass Effect 1, Earthborn gives a renegade bonus, while War Hero gives you a Paragon bonus. That means my Shepard will be a mix of Paragon/Renegade dialogue choices. In terms of story, it will mostly be Paragon choices.

As for his class, I'm changing it to be a very custom class with a diverse set of abilities. Training as an N7 Marine, Spectre, and everything else he's done, should have given him some wider talents. What they are, I don't know yet. He won't be over the top, but Shepard is badass for a reason to many people. Biotics are a definite, but different than you think.

Finally, in ME 1, Ashley was my Love Interest (LI), but in ME 2, Miranda became my LI. Again for those that care, this will eventually become a Shepard/Miranda fic. But like the Loyalist vid, she'll have to earn it.