Opening Author's Notes

First off: thanks to everyone who asked about a sequel during "Cause and Effect". I hope you'll not be disappointed. C&E covers this Shepard's background and is not necessary reading. A few events/conversations/characters are referenced, though. Shepard here is Jalissa Aileen (though her first name appears only rarely) of the Mindoir/War Hero/Infiltrator (combat/tech) variety. I have taken some creative license. Nothing drastic.

Second: I don't have a beta just now, so I ask your forgiveness in advance for any spelling/grammar errors. I catch as many as I can.

This story's format takes a little explaining (it may be new if you didn't read "Cause and Effect") If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these are those pictures. These are 1000-word snapshots; some are from Shepard's point of view, quite a few are not. The thousand words do not include author's notes, or any time/locale indicators.

The prompts come from my 100 Themes NaNo challenge, and are supplemented by the 100 Themes challenge.

Special thanks to the Mass Effect Wiki (masseffect[dot]wikia[dot]com[backslash]wiki[backslash]Mass_Effect_Wiki) for providing so much information in one place. They are my source.

Special thanks to Bioware, who owns Mass Effect – this disclaimer applies to any and all chapters of this work.

So, here we go. Enjoy.


Newton's First Law states that an object in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force.

"Bottom of the Barrel"

Ambassador Donnel Udina was not a happy man. On most days, it was a character reference, but today he was decidedly and with effort an unhappy man. He sat in a comfortable chair facing his desk in the Alliance embassy on the Citadel, while Capt. David Anderson and Adm. Steven Hackett stood, giving the impression of restlessness.

As well they should be, he thought darkly. This was not a decision to be made lightly. Not that their votes counted for much, more like character references to be reported to the deciding factor than anything else. He would never admit it, but his vote probably counted less than theirs.

At the ambassador's desk sat a turian, armored head to toe, luminous eyes fixed on three holos arrayed before him, two women and a man.

"What about this Shepard?" Nihlus Kryik, turian Spectre, picked up the holo of the taller woman.

"What about Shepard?" Udina managed to make it sound like a credible 'what would you like to know' question, but did not quite succeed. He had never met Shepard—nor any of the soldiers on display—but he had heard enough about her.

She was an idealist, someone who belonged on the front lines. She was a career woman, a lifer, a dog of war the likes of which the Alliance liked to have: a real live hero. Anderson liked her, if like was the word, which did not bode well for Udina being able to exercise any sway over her.

"No family, they were killed by slavers on Mindoir. Enlisted at seventeen, lied about her age. No one was looking too closely." Hackett could not applaud the lying, but when a victim like that tried to enlist people were apt not to ask many questions. No one was the wiser until her age on record and her bones told two different stories.

Ah, the training accidents Ns got into. Still, she exhibited those three desired qualities for most of her career: adapt, improvise, overcome.

"Lt. Commander Shepard, Jalissa A.," Anderson spoke up, after exchanging glances with Hackett. Anderson was there after the Skyllian Blitz. He knew Shepard's current CO, and as such knew what Robbins was willing to say—all of it good. "She was there during the Skyllian Blitz, organized forces on the ground—mostly civilians—and held the enemy at bay until the Fleet could get there. She's the only reason Elysium is still standing."

Nihlus ceased examining the holo. "Does she remember doing it?"

"Not coherently. Bits and pieces." Anderson shrugged. Many people in those sorts of situations remembered fragments rather than the whole. However, what she did remember either filled in between or set up for the highlights other people remembered.

Any other answer and Nihlus would have questioned whether she was being entirely truthful. People who boldly proclaimed to remember everything in such a situation with clarity generally either filled in the blanks, or were being less than truthful.

"Who's this?" He pointed a talon at the man.

"Lt. Commander Sheffler, John D. He was on Akuze, his entire unit was killed," Hackett rattled off. He had looked into that one himself. "He's a survivor."

Udina shook his head slowly. Forced to choose between Shepard and Sheffler, he would have to pick Shepard. If anyone asked his opinion, they both had too much baggage, too much trauma.

Nihlus agreed with Udina about Sheffler vs. Shepard, but for different reasons. He was not worried about emotional baggage. He worried about Sheffler being a machine, sacrificing free will to serve a greater whole, paring down the possibility of getting someone killed. He was the type who relied on a self-recognized authority to govern his every action, to give him prescribed methodology.

Take that away, that commanding entity and what happened?

Shepard was a by-the-booker too, but nothing like Sheffler.

"That last one is Lt. Commander Rogers, Eva K.—recently promoted." The bottom of the barrel as far as Anderson was concerned. "They call her the Butcher of Torfan."

Nihlus did not withdraw his hand from Rogers' holo, but politely requested details. He was surprised to find, during his research before this meeting, that the events on Torfan were connected with the Skyllian Blitz on Elysium, even though the events occurred two years apart.

He did not want to be responsible for training someone who would end up like his own mentor. Too many Spectres like that and there were foreseeable problems. The human would have enough trouble being the black sheet…was it 'black sheet'?

It couldn't be 'black sheet'.

"Grew up on Earth, gang life, got out when she was eighteen. Powerful biotic, an L2." Hackett's assessment was clinically clean. Only because she got jobs done was the only this list. She was an 'ends justify the means' person. He privately believed her implants were not as stable as people believed.

Though she got the job done, as far as Hackett was concerned, Rogers was the bottom of the barrel.

Udina had not met her, only seen her censored file. Of the three, she was his pick—she was supposedly keen to advance, even if getting advancements was not easy. He could use that, he was a politician; if she scratched his back he could scratch hers, as the old saying went.

It would start that way, but by the end of the day she would be tickling his throat with her field knife if it benefitted her more than maintaining an alliance with him.

"What's your take on Shepard?" Nihlus inquired of the ambassador.

"We can't question her courage," Udina allowed with a grimace.

Nihlus returned his keen gaze to the holo. He could work with that. He did not expect her to choke under pressure, he would not have to deal with human L2 complications. Not quite the bottom of the barrel after all. At the outset he feared they would give him a toy soldier to train into something far beyond that soldier's scope.