Renegade: A Mass Effect/Command and Conquer Crossover

Chapter One: Gateway

The evening sky overhead was streaked with smoke and flame, and lit up by mass accelerator and missile fire. Rivers of illuminated ammunition – tracers and modified rounds – cut through the sky. In the distance, she could hear the crack, roar, and thunder of artillery fire, both missile and shell.

Smoke billowed from the half-dozen gaping wounds in the house-sized tank she crouched upon. The heat and fire boiling from the death-wounds masked her from thermal sensors, and the element zero core of the monster hid her from eezo scanners. She clutched her Werewolf rifle close to her chest, trying to keep her breathing under control. Rounds skipped off the tank's bulk, but the fire was suppressive, not directed. The batarians didn't know how many Marines were down the street, and were reluctant to advance.

That was good news for First Lieutenant Shepard. After all, it was just her now.

She peered down the street, and the clusters of microcamera nodes on the helmet displayed a high-resolution wraparound image to her. The helmet's flat, angular, metallic surface belied the detail and clarity she could see, but that detail and clarity simply told her how outmatched she was. Shepard could count dozens of enemy element zero cores and power sources out there as they massed for an attack. They were preparing for the charge that would let them bypass the last defensive wall and overrun Elysium.

The perimeter security walls had been breached in the initial assault, when the batarian pirate fleet had bombarded the city's automated defense towers from orbit. A company-strength force of men and women, totaling at about one hundred and sixty Marines and militia supported by several tanks (including the beast she was crouched upon now), had attempted to secure the streets leading to the breach. For their efforts, they'd been wiped out in a drawn-out artillery barrage from ground and orbital weapons. They'd given their lives at a high cost, but the batarians had pounded the defense to tatters, and now were sending in their infantry to secure the approach.

Shepard peered over the tank's turret, and saw both of the deformed cannons extending from the massive vehicle's turret. The top of the tank had been gutted by overhead fire from the artillery, and the crew inside had burned alive as they'd fought to keep the tank operational. Debris choked the avenue, ruined vehicles and piled chunks of building cutting off access routes for ground vehicles, but providing perfect cover for an infantry advance.

More mass accelerator rounds began to hammer the tank. A rocket-grenade exploded on the far side, followed by a couple of glowing pulses of energy – anti-personnel shots from enemy shotguns and their attached particle grenade launchers. The volume of fire continued to grow, and Shepard knew they'd either spotted her, or guessed she might use the tank as a good firing position. She couldn't stay put, and dropped down beside the tank, crouching and keeping out of the line of fire.

A burst of rounds stitched pockmarks across the tank's flank, cutting a swath across the swooping golden eagle emblem painted on the massive vehicle's track guards. Shepard looked up at the destroyed Mammoth Tank – one of the most potent and symbolic tools of the Global Defense Initiative's arsenal. She looked away from the emblem, and could see some of the enemy contacts drawing closer as the batarian infantry pushed down the street.

Shepard dashed to the nearest safe cover, which was in the inner security wall of this section of the city. It had been locked down when the batarian slavers had arrived in orbit, and most of the population of the city had withdrawn inside the security walls' protection. The breach was the entire reason the aliens were pushing so hard at this point in the city's defenses. Now, the gaping, ten-meter-wide wound in the wall was the only place Shepard could take cover without risking being flanked.

The gray-brown armor she wore concealed her from visual tracking, but that didn't hide her suit's element zero core. True enough, incoming fire picked up, slashing down the street toward her as she ran. Shepard gritted her teeth and ducked low, duck-walking behind wrecked cars and through orbitally-blasted craters. Her shields flashed, bullets flattening against the mass effect fields her suit threw up to deflect incoming rounds.

A rocket-grenade detonated a few meters away. Mass accelerator rounds smashed into the debris on all sides, while armor-piercing rounds lanced straight through the concrete and thin metal of destroyed vehicles. Shepard saw the breach in the security wall thirty meters away, but running there on foot meant it might as well have been a kilometer, with the incoming fire she was facing. Instead, she activated the flat, briefcase-sized backpack mounted on the rear of her armor. Light flared at the rear of the backpack as the mass effect field lightened her body and let the miniature thrusters on the jump pack propel her into the air. Shepard fed power to the jump pack, and it launched her up off the shattered street and toward the breach far faster than her legs could have carried her.

A storm of fire flew toward Shepard as she jetted across the thirty meters to safety, but the jetpack's boost gave her the speed she needed to get to safety. Her suit's shields flared as rounds skipped off it regardless, and the helmet beeped insistently to warn her that the shield battery was being rapidly depleted.

The ground rushed up toward Shepard, and she swung her feet in front of her body. The mass effect field intensified, further reducing her mass for a valuable heartbeat, while the thrusters cut out. She hit the ground inside the breach and dropped behind cover, disengaging the field and returning to normal mass as she spun toward the direction the batarians were approaching.

Her heart slammed up into her throat as her sensors displayed the number of enemy contacts. There were more than a hundred enemy troops incoming, advancing up the street by fireteams. Far, far too many for her to take on, and if they turned their artillery against her, she wouldn't last a heartbeat.

If the enemy breached this position, though, they would flood through the gap, and with the local garrison fighting on the other points at the perimeter, the civilians of Elysium would be helpless against the slavers.

Mindoir. Akuze.

The memories of those moments lanced into her brain, setting her thoughts ablaze with hate and fury. Killers in hardsuits looming like giants, murdering her family and dragging her neighbors off as slaves. Monsters of gemstone and darkness sweeping over a colony, wiping out the garrison with lightning and white fire.

Never again.

She rose, shouldered the rifle, and engaged the Werewolf's SAW module. As the barrel slid out and extended, she stilled herself, and sighted her first target. So long as she still breathed, Elysium would not become another Mindoir, or another Akuze.


Pain rolled through Shepard's temples, and she hissed as she fought to open her eyes. Sensations came to her dimly, distant and unclear. She recognized she was lying on her back, and the pliable, soft-yet-uncomfortable nature of the cushion she laid on told her it was an infirmary bed (not hospital, infirmary). She could hear the quiet hum of working machinery, along with the vibrations that only came from a vessel in motion – tinged with that unique timbre associated with mass effect drives that a biotic was attuned to. Air brushed over her bare skin, telling her that he'd been stripped down to her underwear.

And no one tucked me in, she thought. Bad idea; it hurt to try to smile.

The room was dark. Not to the point where she couldn't see, but she had to focus for a moment before she could make anything out. The light was dim, with a faint reddish tint to it. Shepard closed her eyes, taking inventory of the pains across her body to figure out where she'd been hurt the worst, and concluded that was "everywhere."

Next, she tried to remember what had happened before she'd passed out. Memories flickered up, flashes of pain and violence, and the last moments solidified.

Another surge of batarian soldiers attempting to rush her position, the third that hour, ignoring the pile of their dead fellows she'd left. They scrambled under covering fire, weapons barking, and she gunned them down one by one. They moved not like pirates, but like trained military. Hegemony-trained military.

One had gotten close, and as the alien had reached her, Shepard's body had surged with electricity and swirling dark energy, and she'd temporarily rewritten the laws of physics. The nodes of element zero in her body had interacted with the implant at the base of her neck, was boosted by the circuitry in her armor, and Shepard sent a pulse of explosive gravity into the alien's chest and head. It snapped back grotesquely and went flying away.

The world turned white as something boiled the street only a few meters away, and then there was pain and heat and light.

Shepard opened her eyes again, and glanced around the room. It looked like an infirmary, a standard shipboard facility, consisting of a long room with beds lining one bulkhead, each of them partially recessed into the wall, where scanners would no doubt be able to analyze the brain and upper body more effectively. Medical machinery stood beside each of the beds, and the walls were lined with lockers and storage containers for other gear. It resembled every shipboard infirmary she'd ever had the pleasure of waking up inside, with one exception: The standard, faintly blue-gray lighting of a GDI military vessel was replaced by that rosy lighting she'd noted earlier, and what might have been a faint, blurry white mist at ankle level.

There was no one on-duty in the room, which struck her as odd, unless the ship's VI or EVA unit was watching.

It was. She heard the hissing of a sliding door, and Shepard looked up, to see a tall, limber woman walk into the room. Correction: she wasn't walking so much as prowling, her body moving with a natural grace inherent to a predator. She had pale but clear skin, long black hair that came down to the top of her chest, and a black suit that only needed to be a size smaller to count as skintight.

"Lieutenant Shepard," she said, accent tinged by what she guessed was Australian. "Good to see you're awake. We don't have much time." She had appealing features and large blue eyes, and it took Shepard a moment's concentration to not be distracted by them. There was an odd symmetry to her features. Genetic modification?

"You have me at a disadvantage," Shepard said through the pain. She shook her head, but that was a bad idea, as it brought more headaches.

"You can call me Miranda," the woman replied. "No rank, so don't worry about that."

"How bad was I hurt?" she asked, getting to most pertinent questions. She could figure out whether to open fire after a self-diagnosis was complete.

"Concussion, some lacerations, shrapnel wounds, fourteen mass accelerator rounds embedded at various points in your body, some hemorrhaging in the lungs, three broken bones, and you bit your tongue so hard you nearly choked on your own blood," Miranda rattled off. "Nothing some medigel and a couple hours in an autosurgeon couldn't fix."

"What happened down on Elysium?" Shepard asked, after that had sunk in. That was one hell of an autosurgeon. Not even GDI military-grade nanosurgical equipment could repair that kind of damage that quickly. Or at least leave her ambulatory.

"The batarians achieved breakthrough and invaded the city," Miranda replied, walking across the room toward her. She noted Miranda was armed with what looked like a submachinegun – collapsed pistol, non-GDI variant - on her hip. "We estimate they managed to make off with perhaps ten thousand civilians before we managed to intervene and drive them off."

A sinking feeling ran through Shepard as she heard her words, and it took her a moment to process the entirety of that statement. A deep, wracking pain slashed through her that had nothing to do with her injuries, along with a realization that she'd failed herself. She was still breathing, and the enemy had won.

"No, don't blame yourself," Miranda said quickly. Shepard scowled a bit as Miranda seemed to so easily read her features. "It was no fault of your own. The batarians bombed every approach into the city, and killed practically the entire GDI garrison before they breached the walls. Your position held out the longest, right up until help arrived."

"GDI?" Shepard asked, but it was rhetorical. These people weren't GDI, that much was obvious, which left only one real possibility. The Citadel wasn't allowed military access to GDI space, and had nothing close enough to transition to Elysium anyway.

"The nearest GDI relief fleet is still six hours away," Miranda said. "We saved the colony instead."

Shepard closed her eyes, and nodded, understanding. But the reality of it made her head whirl.

The Global Defense Initiative had ruled humanity since the collapse of individual state governments in the early 21st century due to tiberium and the Third World War. It had stayed that way through two more world wars and the First Contact War with the Scrin. It had dominated humanity as it spread through Sol, right up through the discovery of the Prothean ruins on Mars, the development of prototype mass effect technology from said ruins, the discovery of the Charon Mass Relay, and the subsequent Shanxi War with the Turian Hierarchy and the opening of diplomatic relations with the Citadel.

Only one other organization had survived the collapse, and it had been GDI's rival and enemy through all three of those world wars. Conflict had calmed down after the Third Tiberium War had ended, but they were still out there. They were supposed to be toothless, a non-military religious organization bound under the Unified Human Armistice Treaty to possess no offensive military forces, and had stuck to that treaty for more than a century.

"Had" was the key word, as she put together the pieces.

"We," Shepard said, "meaning the Brotherhood of Nod."

"Clever woman," Miranda replied, giving her a ghost of a smile.

"Why would Nod care about a GDI colony?" Shepard asked, pointedly avoiding a much more pertinent and much more troubling question: where the hell had the Brotherhood of Nod gotten military warships? Nod's military had been stripped in TW3 and the UHAT treaty limited their military capability. Not even their breakaway Terminus colonies had anything larger than a light cruiser.

"We care about humanity, Shepard," Miranda replied. "GDI, Nod, Forgotten, independent, it doesn't matter. Elysium is a human world, and if GDI can't protect it, we will."

Shepard exhaled and tried to stand.

"Why'd you bring me here?" she asked.

"Because your particular talents may prove useful," Miranda replied. "We tried to save as many civilians as we could, but the batarians made off with ten thousand, and you were one of the few military survivors we found when we swept the wreckage."

"What talents?" Shepard asked, frowning.

"You're a survivor of GDI's Commando Training Program, have above-average biotic talents, and managed to hold off about five hundred batarians with a rifle and shouted profanity." Miranda asked. "Not to mention surviving Akuze-"

Shepard's eyes snapped up, and a spike of raw, boiling hatred ran through her.

Miranda stared at the Commando, not speaking for a moment, and then took a single slow step backward.

"My apologies," she said quietly. "I shouldn't have brought that up. I know the... memory of Akuze can't be pleasant."

Shepard scowled and nodded. She closed her eyes and pushed back the ugly bits of history where she'd gotten her facial scars from, forcing down the images of bladed threads of silver and crashing lightning bolts. She gestured to the far wall once the memories were banished.

"We're on a ship and moving," she said, the words slow and controlled. "Since I'm not a prisoner, you need me to help kill something."

"Correct," Miranda replied. "The batarian slavers retreated as soon as we arrived at the planet and assaulted their fleet. Most of their ships were ramshackle pirate vessels anyway, not true warships. The remainder, including the transport carrying the captured civilians, went to a system about twelve hours from Elysium, at cruising distance. The pirates are staying over for drive discharge and repairs."

"GDI won't arrive in time to find them and free the slaves," Shepard said, and Miranda nodded. That ghost of a smile returned.

"We, however, have recon drones watching them, and our fleet is two hours away and cruising at full speed," she said. "While we have our own marine compliment, all of whom are quite competent at their jobs, it would be better if they were led by someone with... exceptional capability in ship-to-ship boarding operations."

Shepard stared back, mind rushing as she tried to figure out the angle Nod was working at here. She knew from history that the Brotherhood excelled at secrecy and deception, and that they were treacherous at best. On the other hand, she knew from history that the Brotherhood had a humanitarian side and seemed to have honestly cared for the civilians under its rule. Though Nod was banned from having a military, the religion itself was still intact and had a strongly charitable bent throughout human space. They'd saved a lot of lives since humanity spread from Sol three decades ago.

And they were trying to rescue civilians. GDI civilians, at that.

But a Nod military capable of offensive action... That was a nightmare that GDI's leadership would go ballistic over. And any GDI personnel assisting a Nod military action could potentially be charged with aiding and abetting a hostile power, or even treason. If anyone knew what she was being asked to do...

"What if I refuse?" Shepard asked.

Miranda's response was to gesture at a datapad on a table by Shepard's bed. There was a thrumming of working dark energy, and the clipboard rose, hovered, and dropped back to the table.

She was a biotic, too.

Shepard understood the threat quite clearly. Alone, unarmed, and in her skivvies, her only weapons were her biotics. Miranda, meanwhile, was armed, on her own ship, probably had a contingent of guards at hand, and could counter Shepard's own mass effect capability.

She wasn't a prisoner, but it wouldn't take much effort to change that.

"We're on the same side, Shepard," Miranda said. "GDI or Nod, we're both human, and humans are in the hands of alien slavers. We have to stop them."

Shepard closed her eyes, mulling over it for a moment and trying to figure out what Nod's ulterior motive was.

If there even is one, she reminded herself.

Instead, she remembered Mindoir. She remembered her family and friends, fighting the batarian slavers and being gunned down and burned alive for their trouble. She remembered seeing people from her home being hauled away as slaves. She remembered the four-eyed, humanoid aliens as they hunted through the ruins for survivors, and her, hiding beneath rubble and ruins, praying to not be seen while curled up in abject terror.

Shepard opened her eyes, met Miranda's, and nodded, fighting back the deep unease bubbling up inside her at the notion of working with Nod agents. Criminal actions and interstellar treaties be damned.

"Get me armor and a weapon," she muttered, voice tight with anger and determination.

She wouldn't fail them again.

They dropped out of FTL outside the system, a three-world red giant that hadn't earned anything past a numerical designation. The Nod fleet, perhaps a dozen ships of frigate tonnage with three cruisers leading them, paused only for a few minutes. Shepard stood on the bridge of the Nod vessel as the pilot conferred with their own Electronic Virtual Agent on where to go next. Miranda was with her, though she'd changed from her skin-clinging black outfit to a set of armor that made the Lieutenant imagine an insect wreathed in black metallic carapace.

"We have a recon ship inside the system," Miranda explained as they jumped to FTL. "Drone vessel with stealth systems."

"Stealth, in space?" Shepard asked, to which Miranda smiled. Stealth in space was supposed to be impossible, but history showed the Brotherhood always had technological surprises in store. It shouldn't have been a surprise that they were ahead of the curve.

"Why are you letting me up here?" Shepard asked, gesturing around the long, narrow bridge.

The ship's commander sat on an elevated command chair while senior bridge crew sat in a semicircle below and in front of him. Lower-ranking crew manned consoles on either side of the bridge running back to the elevator. An enormous holographic display showed their fleet's relative positions in the system.

"Orders," Miranda said. "We want you to see it all."

That left a deep sense of unease in Shepard's gut, and she started suspecting what the real ulterior motive to this whole endeavor was.

They came out of FTL speed a few moments later, and the batarian fleet sat in front of them, directly under their guns, with absolutely no warning of the incoming attack. The batarian fleet consisted of only three vessels, two light cruisers and a huge transport.

Shepard watched the holographic display with concern, noting the weaponry Nod was using.

Most warships carried mass accelerator cannons for their main guns, but the cruisers were using lasers for their main weapons instead of solid-slug weapons, as shown when they opened up with barrages of ruby-red light. Shepard knew that the salarians used higher-frequency lasers that gave their point defenses greater range, but most warships relied on mass accelerators for long-range firepower due to beam diffusion over distance. Even GDI's ion cannons diffused rapidly when fired in space, which was why they relied on mass accelerators for long-range fire and switched to ion cannons at medium range. But the Nod ships' spinal-mounted lasers retained coherency over a far greater range than she expected, and longer than GDI's directed ion cannons.

Warships only carried kinetic barriers, which did nothing against directed energy weapons. The Nod vessels tore through the batarians' barriers in seconds, the cruisers slagging the warships's weapons before pounding them to pieces with mass accelerator fire. The frigates, meanwhile, disabled the transport's weapons before they could start returning fire. It was a worrying show of their firepower.

"Head down to the launch bay, Lieutenant," Miranda said, and started toward the rear of the bridge. "Now the hard part begins."

Once the freighter was disabled, the assault boats launched and docked to the hull of the slavers' ship. Shepard and Miranda led separate platoons. The frigates made sure that the GARDIAN point-defense lasers on the transport vessel were completely disabled before the assault boats even launched. Instead of cutting into the hulls, Shepard noted, the Nod personnel hacked and overrode the airlocks.

The Brotherhood marines wore black armor, bereft of symbols or markings, and carried mass accelerator rifles with incendiary ammunition. She would have expected them to use laser weapons, but instead they went in with mass accelerators. It didn't take much thought to figure out why: they were hiding their presence. Laser weapons would have left distinctive marks on both the ships and the crew.

The next few minutes felt like hours, and it was among the worst tight corridor combat she'd ever engaged in. Try as she might, Shepard's subsequent memories of the boarding assault only came back as flashes of disconnected brutality, of tight combat with desperate alien troops, mass accelerators blazing and the ruby light of incendiaries slashing up and down the corridors.

She remembered pouring fire into a batarian slaver's shields until the rounds punched through his chest, shredding the alien's torso into hamburger.

She remembered hurling a grenade into a fleeing slaver, the explosive striking his armor and latching on with magnetic clamps, and the horrified cries before Shepard triggered the detonator.

She remembered looking at a mauled and deformed alien corpse as she set loose with a rippling biotic field that warped and twisted the slaver's body like clay.

She remembered pounding a batarian's face in with her biotics, remembered pinning one to the ceiling where the Nod commandos could blast it apart, remembered shoving her pistol into a dying slaver's mouth and pulling the trigger, and remembered the sizzle and welcome scent of burnt alien flesh as the Brotherhood marines blew them apart with searing fire.

Shepard thought of those images and scents and sounds, and she remembered the dominant emotion she'd felt as she killed, over and over and over again: disgust and hatred. The latter for the enemy, and the former for herself.

They finished clearing the freighter's cramped bridge, and the vessel was secured. Shepard leaned over the bridge consoles and accessed them via her omnitool, the batarian script translating automatically, and she brought up camera feeds from the slave pens. The captives were being held inside large, sealed bays, separate from the crew sections of the ship where the fighting raged. Shepard wanted to go to them, to check on the captives and tell them it was all right, but she couldn't; Miranda had been very specific on that.

Nod didn't want anyone to know who had actually saved the civilians. To that end, they activated the ship's security systems, and pumped gas into the bays that rendered the entire population unconscious; what was supposed to prevent the slaves from breaking free was instead used to conceal who their rescuers were. Nod had already risked a great deal, Miranda explained, by having their ships openly fight the slavers over a GDI colony. Verifying their existence by rescuing the colonists would alert GDI that they still had military strength.

"And what's to stop me from telling GDI?" Shepard had asked her as they stood on the bridge of the captured transport. "You're in violation of the UHAT by even having this kind of capability."

"If you report this to GDI, you would be implicated in assisting Nod military personnel," she replied, her tone cold, calm, and entirely reasonable. "That's a crime under the UHAT as well. Would you be willing to cause the kind of political instability that telling GDI about our small flotilla would invoke? Are you so sure you want to do that for the sake of an organization that would have let these colonists be taken away?"

Shepard stared back at her, arms crossed, and tried to think of a proper response.

"It doesn't matter whether they did it intentionally," Miranda said, and Shepard blinked. She'd been just about to say that very thing. "Incompetence or malice, it amounts to the same thing. If it weren't for us, these people would be in batarian mining camps within the month. Are you willing to betray us after we saved these people?"

Shepard knew Nod's history, but their actions here spoke differently. She closed her eyes and shook her head, not sure what to say or do.

"You don't need to do anything," Miranda said. "Just use the fabricated story we've given you when GDI's fleet arrives. Don't mention our fleet or our assistance. We disappear, you keep your job and are rewarded for being the hero you are, and these people get to go home. Everyone wins."

Shepard opened her eyes, stared back at Miranda's cold blue eyes, and said nothing.

Six hours later a GDI relief fleet arrived in-system, following a distress beacon. They found two destroyed batarian slave ships, and a freighter loaded with ten thousand civilians that had apparently been retaken by a single biotic Commando named Shepard. According to the story, Shepard had stowed away on the slavers' ship, seized the bridge, gassed the crew, and used the ship's weapons to launch a surprise attack on the cruisers and destroyed them, but not without being badly damaged by return fire.

It was a wild story, but two destroyed ships, a pile of batarian corpses, and ten thousand jubilant, rescued colonists were plenty of verification. Meanwhile, reports of unidentified ships intervening and attacking the batarian fleet in orbit were discounted with the surety of bureaucracy that was convinced that it was right and all evidence to the contrary was wrong.

The assault on Elysium City was considered a tragedy and a provocation, but Shepard came out of that battle a hero thanks to the Brotherhood of Nod's silent intervention, complete with a medal and ceremony and drinks and parties and all that pizzazz. It left an ugly taste in her mouth whenever someone praised her for being the Hero of Elysium, and the medal stayed in the drawer in whatever desk she sat at that week.

But at least Elysium's people had been saved.

A year after Elysium, GDI tracked the pirates who had been raiding human space back to their hub on the barren moon of Torfan, and bombed their base and everything within fifty kilometers of it into rapidly-expanding clouds of high-temperature dust. Shepard was with the fleet that destroyed the base, and watched the ion cannon bombardment of the surface with grim satisfaction. Nothing survived.

Six years passed after Torfan, and a round of promotions came and went. The Verge War with the Batarian Hegemony started in 2180 over control of the Attican Traverse and to punish the Hegemony for their support of the constant piracy. Shepard volunteered for a number of operations that earned her distinction, and she rose up through the ranks to become Lieutenant Commander Shepard. Nod's military never showed their faces again, and she never spoke with another Nod soldier. There were the occasional reports of oddly-designed warships at the fringes of GDI space, but nothing concrete, and the Nod Terminus colonies never showed any evidence of substantial militarization.

Assignments came and went, but halfway through 2183, Shepard was recalled from a patrol mission in the Verge to Earth, where she found she had been reassigned to some new secret military project.

Two days later, she was on a shuttle heading for the shipyards overlooking Earth. She stared down at the planet with mixed emotions, noting the vast, almost endless stretches of green and blue across the continental masses, with wide sections of the planet marked by the white and gray of civilized areas, scattered among the vast swathes of sickly green Tiberium zones. Huge barriers, visible from space, kept the alien crystal from devouring the chokingly-crowded human cities.

No wonder the colonies grew so quickly. Humanity's homeworld was a hellhole of xenoformed green and blue crystal. Few wanted to stay on Earth. If Tiberium wasn't so damned useful for industry and power generation, the human species might have gone extinct long ago. Most of the population in Sol lived on Luna, Mars, Jupiter, or the countless orbitals threaded between them or over the other planets in the system.

Shepard crossed the small shuttle's passenger compartment, and started looking out into the darkness of space. Up ahead, there was one of the massive, multi-kilometer-long orbital docking stations at Lagrange Point 3, and she could see numerous ships docked to it, released toward the embracing void or moving into position to attach. One in particular caught Shepard's eye.

"That ours?" asked the only other man on the shuttle, a Lieutenant Pressly. He was bald, had a squeaky voice, and had a dark goatee tinged with a bit of gray. He stood and joined the Commander at the window, peered out, and spotted the vessel Shepard was looking at: a dagger-like frigate, painted in the ubiquitous gray and gold of GDI military ships.

"That's the one. GDS Normandy," he replied, and Shepard nodded. It looked good. A heavy, long, rectangular shape, narrowing a bit toward the bow, with a set of thrusters on thick, long wing-struts emerging from the vessel's flanks toward the aft end. Shepard could see GARDIAN batteries on either side of the ship, the main ion cannon mounted in the bow, and the launching ports for Orca support craft in the lower bay sections, but no craft were currently mounted. The Normandy's name was etched across the flanks of the frigate in large, blocky black letters.

The shuttle turned on a new heading, moving straight for the station, and the porthole turned to show the blackness of space. Against the transparent material, Shepard caught a reflection of both of them. Pressly, with his short, regulation-length mustache and beard, resplendent in his navy blue, gold-trimmed Naval uniform. And Shepard . . . .

She stared into her own face, vicious scars running across her features, reminding everyone she encountered just how she'd earned her stripes. Hard eyes, along with narrow, tight features. She'd been told a few times that she was attractive, and had received offers to get rid of the scars, but the ragged lines across her face were too important to get rid of. They reminded her of the price of survival.

"This is going to be an interesting deployment, ma'am," Pressly added, sitting down in his crash seat. Shepard nodded as she turned around and settled down as well.

"I hope you're wrong, Pressly," she replied, scratching her head. "'Interesting' tends to end up with corpses. Do you know where we're going on this run?"

"Shakedown run to Eden Prime," Pressly replied. "Shouldn't be too eventful, I'd wager."

Shepard frowned, nodded, and peered out the porthole once again, and lost herself in that memory once more.

Codex - Global Defense Initiative – The Verge War

Following GDI's entry into the galactic stage during the 2160's, humanity fought a series of skirmishes and trade conflicts with the Batarian Hegemony, whose borders intertwined with GDI territory in the Skyllian Verge. This conflict consisted mostly of skirmishes between patrol craft and Hegemony-funded privateers raiding GDI colonies and shipping. The Hegemony made appeals toward the Citadel Council to declare the Skyllian Verge an "area of batarian interest" which would make GDI infringement on the territory an act of war, due to GDI's refusal to join the Citadel. The Council denied these appeals, stating that they had neither authority to define a foreign power's borders nor willingness to provoke a war. In protest, the Hegemony withdrew from the Council's collection of associate species and closed their embassy.

This proxy war came to a head during the Skyllian Blitz, when an alliance of Hegemony-funded pirates attacked Elysium, a major human colony in the Verge. The attack was repelled, but not without heavy losses to the defensive garrison. Though the Council denounced the attack, they did not call the Hegemony to task for funding the offensive, either.

A year after the Blitz, GDI retaliated against the pirates' base on Torfan, obliterating it from orbit with dreadnought-based ion cannon fire, in a display of military might that sent an unspoken message to the galaxy that GDI would not tolerate further aggression. The Hegemony refused to bow to this overt display of force, however, and continued to fund pirate raids.

In 2180, four years after the Blitz, GDI stated that it would no longer tolerate the pirate attacks, and declared war on the Batarian Hegemony. The Hegemony petitioned for Citadel support, but the Council refused, stating that the batarians had provoked GDI into action. By 2183, the Verge War progressed with GDI forces securing three batarian colony worlds along the border and cutting pirate attacks by more then sixty percent. Despite GDI technological advantages, most notably being the ion cannons used by their dreadnoughts, human advances into Hegemony space have been limited due to heavy resistance, reduced FTL speeds, significant logistical constraints, and a sluggish civilian bureaucracy on Earth.

Author's Notes: The lunatics over at Spacebattles gave me this idea. Blame them.

If one has a sharp eye, they might note some changes. This chapter has been revised and cleaned up in some areas. I'm doing a general revision of the entire story. Not a lot of major changes; just some adjustments to prose to clean things up and correct some continuity errors, i.e. the fact that Valern was confirmed as the salarian Councilor in the third ME game.

Two additional notes:

First: This story ignores the events of Tiberium Twilight. This story assumes that the "good" ending of Tiberium Wars is canon and that Kane disappeared from Earth at the conclusion of the Third Tiberium War.

Second: If you are interested in other stories set in this universe, look up "Eagle's Fall" and "The Verge War" by CharNobyl. I consider the former to be loosely canon with this setting, and the latter and definitely canon with my setting.