As usual, I do not own, nor claim to own, anything affiliated with BioWare's most magnificent piece of Intellectual Property. I merely write about it. If you're not interested in the OC's here, don't worry - this story is indeed about Shep and Co. Stay awhile and take a gander, and please leave a review, a critique, or maybe just something fluffy. Most important, I hope you enjoy the yarn.

Prologue: Silent Running

The lights dimmed in the communications room as Captain Allen Kutuz stepped inside. The door partitions hissed closed behind him, and he tugged fastidiously at his uniform jacket, star and anchor sparkling on the collar. Formal dress, just as Kutuz had preferred for his odd two-decades of service. Strictly speaking, the dress-blues were unnecessary and stiff in the presence of the more sensible dungarees worn by just about everyone else, but they spoke of tradition, and Captain Kutuz held a healthy respect for tradition.

Of course, it helped that those dress blues happened to have a small discrete bit of gold pinned by his rank. Few would give lip to a holder of the Star of Terra.

Waving off a brief acknowledgement of the collected officers, Kutuz sat down at the conference table, nodding to the woman at its head.

"Right," Lieutenant Kierney Phillips said. "This morning's briefing will be just us on the ship for now—Commander Alenko is busy dealing with the natives."

Rolling right past the subdued groans of frustration, Kierney tapped the haptic display and said, "First up: the GARDIAN lasers we offloaded are still giving us fits. Engineer Orozco is going to assemble a team to go ashore in two hours time. Commander Alenko thinks he may have a lead on both the unauthorized power usage and the calibration errors, so you'll have something to follow up on planetside, commander."

"Great," Orozco said. At the captain's glance, he continued. "I want to take Chief Tanner and Serviceman Robinson with me—the kid needs some experience in the field, and this is a good chance for it."

Kutuz drew up the roster in his mind. Tanner was a good choice, level-headed and a software guru. Robinson was so young it was painful, but the captain could see his potential, just as Engineer Orozco was quietly pushing the kid towards fast-track status. Training the recruits was one of the many things he could trust Orozco to pull off with flying colors.

"Approved," Kutuz said with a curt nod. "Next."

The minutes rolled by as Kierney continued her briefing. Even as he listened, Kutuz was running through today's schedule in his mind. The Ain Jalut hummed in quiet activity as the shifts changed. Kutuz watched as the hairs on the back of his hand pulsed while the ship performed its weekly static discharge at Horizon's south pole.

Kierney was smiling. She always smiled when she had something juicy up her sleeve. Kutuz hated it when she waited until the end to reveal her secrets, but the rest of the wardroom always ate it up. So the captain merely bided his time while she droned on about Horizon's weather forecast and shuttle operations.

Almost absent-mindedly, she tapped a holographic button and flipped to the next slide. Instantly the banter and smiles died.

"And now we get to the important bit," she said, all hint of a smile gone. "InOps passed along the report a few minutes ago."

The blasphemous image of a ghost ship burned on the viewscreen. Sleek, flowing lines betrayed none of its secrets, none of its hidden poison. In all fairness, Kutuz considered her a beautiful ship, save the small symbol brazenly painted across the front. The sheer arrogance of those bastards, the absolute disdain with which they spat upon the most revered name in the System Alliance Navy's List of Honor, had never ceased to amaze the captain in the month since the frigate had first been sighted pulling into dock at the pisshole that was Omega.

Kierney continued. "The Normandy cleared the Hawking Eta relay yesterday, and was last known to be in the queue for the Omega-Iera relay. This information is barely an hour-and-a-half old, so it's likely she'll be appearing in-system within the next hour."

Kutuz let silence envelope the room as officers looked in turn at him, the table, and the picture of the ghost ship, taken from the observation deck of the Citadel as she undocked. InOps was right. Cerberus was gunning for these colonies.

Not on my watch.

"Mr. Levitt, prepare the ship for silent running. Miss Phillips, I want a recon drone dispatched to the relay for early warning. Orozco, belay your previous orders; you're going groundside in thirty minutes. Get your team together and get those GARDIANs online before the dogs show up.

"You know your jobs. Do them. Dismissed."

Placing a hand on Levitt's shoulder as the pilot sat at his post, Kutuz watched the feed from the recon drone as it circled the Iera relay barely ten minutes later. On the display, the drone relayed imagery of a strange, absolutely perplexing spaceship. Active scanners recorded every detail, caressing the newly arrived vessel with pings of energy and relaying the data back to the frigate.

"Sir, what the hell is that?" Levitt said as he flipped the Ain Jalut to expose her fin-mounted sensor suite to the new contact, arbitrarily designated Sierra 13.

The captain watched as the telemetry streamed in, measurements and power readings, a strange sense of unease washing over his mind as Kierney firmed up the contact. Noting the profile and rough energy signature, Kutuz glanced at the system chart for a brief moment, checking planetary and lunar alignments before turning back to Levitt.

"Mr. Levitt, engage silent running and plot a course to Prospect IV," he said. Left unspoken was the sudden fearful recognition that struck Kutuz as the data tugged at old briefings and the last battle analysis he'd read before assuming command of the Ain Jalut. A battle analysis he'd read with the knowledge that someone, somewhere, had killed his ship's older sister with the casual aplomb of swatting a fly.

"Aye aye, sir," the pilot said.

Kierney muttered a subdued curse, startling half the bridge crew as her hands flew across the haptic display while a much louder burst of static blared from her console. "Lost the drone, captain."

Kutuz frowned. "Were you painted by ladar beforehand?"

"Yes sir."

"Did it match any known signal patterns?"

"Hold on, sir" Kierney said. "Computer's chewing on it."

He already knew what it would find. What InOps called "super-ladar" was a nasty surprise to the Normandy those two years before; it remained one of the longest ranged active scanners ever found on a spaceship, for reasons which became abundantly clear the moment the unknown cruiser opened fire. Directed energy weapons of that power and magnitude weren't supposed to be possible. Human, even Salarian understanding of physics simply could not allow for that kind of damage and range to exist properly, especially in the visible light spectrum.

And yet it clearly did. And now Captain Allen Kutuz was certain he was staring down the barrel of those guns that physics insisted couldn't exist.

"Miss Phillips?" he said.

"Yes sir… ladar matches signals recorded by the Normandy's black-box before her destruction."

Silence ruled on the bridge. Seated at their stations and strapped in for combat, servicemen traded nervous looks as they watched their consoles update. Levitt coughed, betraying the nervousness everyone within earshot was struggling so studiously to hide. The gravity flickered momentarily as the pilot angled the Ain Jalut into the star Iera, as though the ship herself were hesitant and unsure. Batarians were one thing. So too was Cerberus, the terrorists playing at being a galactic power. The former had only ever seen the Ain Jalut once in action, and to this day they rued the name Kutuz. The latter were simply terrorists. However many former Alliance members they'd snapped up, Kutuz had little fear that Cerberus could match the Alliance ship-for-ship in training and discipline.

This abomination, though. The killer of the Normandy. The unfair, unsporting killers of Commander Shepard herself. The ones who murdered Pressly. This ship was an unknown, something Kutuz hadn't prepared for. How could he? Pressly's killers hadn't been seen in two years, had vanished into the black of space as violently as they had emerged.

Protocol came easy. When faced with overwhelming force: Alert, Evade, Improvise, Observe, and sUrvive. Most important at this point were Evade and Observe, a task for which the Ain Jalut was ideally inclined.

At length, Kutuz began snapping off orders. "Tracking, upgrade Sierra 13 to Master 2. Mr. Levitt, best possible silent speed to Prospect IV. Maintain sensor coverage of Master 2 at all times. Miss Phillips, launch another probe and start your profile." A chorus of aye's followed him as he clasped his hands behind him and set off for the CIC.

"Captain, shall I notify Commander Alenko?"

Kutuz's words caught in his throat. Master 2 hadn't given any indication that he'd spotted the Ain Jalut, but any active transmissions—for instance, an alert to the shore party—might betray their presence. If it were Batarians he was up against, the procedure would be different, but Master 2's sensor suite was a complete unknown. A complete unknown that saw right through the Normandy's stealth. The answer came all too readily.

"Negative," he said, cold thoughts coursing through his mind. "We cannot risk detection. Commander Alenko's on his own for now."

Codex Entry: Ladar / Lidar and the Normandy-class Stealth Systems

The loss of the SSV Normandy, SR-1 came as a rude shock to the Alliance public, especially when news media reported that the Normandy's stealth systems had been completely ineffectual. Members of the Terra Firma party were quick to lay blame upon Turian design flaws, and the subsequent political firestorm buried the facts of the encounter beneath a veritable tidal wave of recriminations.

At the most basic level, the loss of the SSV Normandy was due to her opponent's highly accurate intelligence, a disquieting fact to InOps analysts. The Normandy was brought under fire barely a minute after translating out of FTL, and little to no magic was involved in her detection by the aggressor force.

FTL travel infallibly radiates a visible signature at the speed of light, with no possibility of trapping emissions with the Normandy's stealth systems. As such, the aggressor force had an extremely accurate datum with which to localize the Normandy. Following this, the aggressor force displayed an extremely advanced ladar capability, using visible light in order to detect the Normandy.

The greatest reason for the Normandy's loss was simply in the nature of ladar. A ladar telescope capable of imaging a ship at the ranges involved is constructed in almost the exact same manner as a directed-energy weapon, more commonly known as lasers. Once the aggressor force had identified the Normandy, crippling and destroying the frigate was simply a matter of boosting the power to the ladar systems by several orders of magnitude.

Currently, the Alliance has yet to develop a true counter to this advanced ladar capability, instead investing heavily in ablative armors and further research into dispersing directed-energy weapons. Asari research into the matter has proved more fruitful, yielding high resistance Silaris Armor which has been fitted onto several test-bed Asari frigates in an effort to determine its feasibility for general fleet usage.

Author Notes:

This story had its beginnings in a Creative Writing class I took in the Spring of 2010. I was told that my characters all sounded alike, and so I started this project, with the intent of developing the ability to write distinct sounding characters. That and I also wanted to poke at the thoughts behind the squadmates of Mass Effect 2, and solve the riddle of just how Kaidan / Ashley was able to shake off his / her stasis so damn fast on Horizon. Besides, I like Kaidan's character. Not so much a fan of the fluff-for-fluff's sake or the "wrecked Kaidan loses control after Shepard's death" aspect that a lot of fan-fic takes - he's still a soldier. I will be altering some events and continuities, given that a third-person-shooter doesn't lend itself well to a good narrative. "I took cover, I fired, I took cover, I fired," etc.

Anyways. This is going to continue being a WIP through the school year, and might not update very often. Then again, I did write this prologue in less than two days, so I guess my update schedule is going to be more "erratic" than anything else.

Stay tuned for the next chapter, in which Kaidan will deal with those pesky colonists, after which you all should know what happens.

~ Ferrard