Authors Notes: This story was originally going to be a one shot story set after the end of mass effect 2 but with the release of awesome new downloadable content Lair of the Shadow Broker I've expanded it to include the events of the DLC with a few little twists for story purposes.
Shepard in this story comes from the colonist, war hero background and is a biotic of the vanguard classification. For story telling purposes like other vanguards encountered in the game Shepard is capable of throwing biotic warps but to balance the scales other vanguards are also capable of using biotic charge. Other biotic characters have also had there abilities brought more into line with their classifications e.g. Jack and Samara are capable of creating singularities and Samara is capable of using stasis.
The reason I've overhauled the biotic abilities is while they were fine in the game for the game I decided to add a little more realism to the reality – thus Shepard is not the only one who can use class specific or individual loyalty powers.
My thanks to Sayle for beat-reading this.
Lieutenant Commander Aldrin 'Al' Shepard – Council Spectre, Systems Alliance N7 marine, ex-dead man and ex-unwilling Cerberus operative – stood alone in the shuttle sub-decks rear storage bay. His only company were the spare parts for both the Normandy's Kodiak drop shuttle and the Hammerhead hover tank, and the coffin of the member of his squad who'd not survived the mission against the Collectors. In reverent silence he gazed at the metallic grey coffin and thought back to the battle that they'd just been through.
It had been an intense fight, one of the worst he'd ever been in – and that was saying something considering all the life or death battles he'd been in across the galaxy. Conflicts such as the Skyllian Blitz, the Heretic Geth attack on Eden Prime and the Battle of the Citadel. Fighting their way into the Collector base passed legions of Collector drones of all types, numerous husks and scions and even the occasional appearance by Harbinger had been taxing in itself – especially as he'd used his biotics as often as he could to serve ammo as much as possible as he'd somehow known he'd need it later. The final battle itself against the Human-Reaper larva and the Collectors – both possessed and non-possessed – making a last stand to defend it had further taxed his combat skills and burned through almost all his thermal clips and used up all but a handful of his heavy weapon power cells.
But it was over now the unfinished Reaper dead, the Collectors and their base destroyed in a blaze of thermonuclear fire – much to the ire of the Illusive Man who'd wanted the base for Cerberus something he would have only let TIM have over his dead body – there would be no more colonial abductions, no more people melted into bio-metallic paste to fuel the construction of Sovereign's replacement. I completed my mission, he thought, but it's not been without a cost in blood. And its not really over is it, Aldrin? Yeah you've stopped the Collectors but there masters are still out there. Harbinger and the Reapers are still a threat to the galaxy and Harbinger did indicate in his last monologue that they would be coming, that the loss of the Collectors and the Reaper larvae is only a temporary setback to the Reapers genocidal plans. You've only won a battle you still have to win the war.
Mentally sighing he put a hand on the coffin of Thane Krios and said the words of prayer from his childhood to speed the Drell on his way to whatever afterlife his kind believed in. He would miss Thane – the Drell assassin had been an interesting individual with depths that he wouldn't have expected from someone who'd been trained in the arts of stealth and assassination since childhood by the jellyfish-like Hanar. Those depths and Thane's occasionally lapses into his species eidetic memory during conversations had made conversing with him always interesting. At least Thane died on his own terms rather than the slow death he'd been doomed to from Keprel's Syndrome, he thought though it brought him no real comfort just as he doubted it would bring Kolyat comfort when the younger Drell was informed of his fathers death.
Silently shaking himself Shepard forced himself to stand back up to his full six foot one inch height, before turning around and leaving the storage bay. Walking along the shuttle deck he wasn't surprised to see some other survivors of his squad present. Exchanging polite nods with Garrus, Samara and Jack he continued walking towards the stairs that would lead up to the engineering deck and the lift to the rest of his somewhat battered and battle scarred ship. He was almost to the stairs when someone appeared beside him and cleared their throat to get his attention. Pausing he turned and found himself face-to-face with Joker.
"Yes, Joker what is it?" he asked giving his loyal if very cocky pilot a curious look. Rather than answer with words Jeff 'Joker' Moreau just handed him a holographic data pad and indicated for him to read it. Giving the younger man another curious look he turned his attention to the pad and stared in disbelief at what he saw.
For on the pads holoscreen was the schematics of a Reaper, a Reaper that he somehow instinctively knew was Harbinger. The design of the Reaper was eerily similar to Sovereign but he noted a number of differences – the cuttlefish design was the same but unlike Sovereign Harbinger had two glowing yellow slits on its back above the tentacles that housed some of the living dreadnoughts powerful thanix weapons, length ways Harbinger also seemed to smaller than the two kilometre long Sovereign but not by much. An icon on the bottom of the screen indicated that he was only looking at one of many pages of data. Pressing the button to advance made the screen to show more data – all of it relating to the Reapers in general as well as Harbinger himself.
"Where did we get this," he asked looking back up at Joker in shock.
"EDI mined it from the databanks of the Collector base while you were busy with the Human-Reaper and rigging their fusion reactor to overload," Joker replied grinning.
"How much did we get? What did we get?" he asked, hope building within him. With this data he would be able to finally convince the Council that the Reaper threat was real.
"A lot," Jeff replied. "We got data on how the Reapers are built, schematics on their weapons systems, kinetic barrier configurations and more. There's too much data to be displayed on one pad, EDI has forwarded it to Mordin's lab for the professor to take a look at it."
"So we got enough to prove that the Reapers are real?"
Jokers grin widened as he realised what his friend and commanding officer was saying. "Yeah we do," he answered. "I take it you would like me to set a course for the Citadel?"
"Great, I already plotted it."
"Am I that predictable?" Aldrin asked raising an eyebrow.
"Only where the Reapers are concerned, commander."
Aldrin chuckled. "I guess I am at that," he said. "Probably has something to do with all the Prothean data kicking about inside here." He pointed to the side of his skull to indicate the Prothean beacon data and the Cipher still kicking about inside his mind from the battle with Saren in his previous life.
"Probably," Joker agreed. "That and I know you've been dying to wipe the smug look off Councillor Valern's face."
Aldrin chuckled again before grinning evilly at the thought of presenting the arrogant Turian Councillor with evidence of the Reapers that he couldn't possibly ignore. Valern had been a thorn in his side from before he'd even become a Spectre – and he hadn't forgiven Valern for calling him deluded in his last meeting with the Council. It would be nice to finally get some payback.
"Unfortunately giving the Turian council member a kick in the daddy bags will have to wait commander," Engineer Ken Donnelly said from behind Shepard making the Spectre jump in surprise and spin around.
"What do you mean?" he demanded. "And what are you trying to do Donnelly? Give me a heart attack?"
"Never commander," the auburn haired Scotsman answered. "What I mean is a number of our power systems are seriously damaged, Gabby is also worried about some of the readings the main engines are spitting back – looks like some of the vector thrust systems and fuel flow controls have been damaged. She, Tali and Legion are looking at it now but there is no way we'll be able to make it to the Citadel in our current state. We'll be lucky to get out of the Terminus Systems without some major system going bang."
"I did notice the thrust on the number two port engine was a bit sluggish," Joker agreed scowling at the thought of the damage to his baby. Though unlike the original Normandy they were intact after a fight with a Collector cruiser – albeit damaged – and hadn't been torn apart, unlike the first Normandy. At the thought of the original Normandy a flashback burst into his awareness.
The Normandy shook violently as yet another blast of energy from the unknown vessel tore into her already compromised hull. Sparks and arcs of electricity danced around him as he fought to keep the dying ship in orbit all the while his guts twisted with the knowledge that he could do nothing to save his baby.
Abruptly Shepard's armoured hand grabbed his arm and gently but firmly pulled him to his feet – drawing a cry of pain from his lips as his brittle arm bones nearly broke from the motion.
"Watch the arm," he moaned as Shepard half carried, half dragged him to the escape pod and helped him get in. Through the narrow round opening he could see the fires and explosions tearing through the cockpit – the only part of the upper deck with any atmosphere left. The ship jerked again and all around there was the concussive roar of explosions, the hissing and crackling of sparks and fires and the screech of rending metal making it sound and feel as though Normandy was writhing and screaming in the throes of a painful but inevitable death.
An internal explosion knocked Shepard away from him and for a moment all he could see was one of the lethal yellow-white energy beams that were tearing his baby apart. Then he saw Shepard again – floating in the air as artificial gravity flickered and died. Faintly he heard himself call out for his commander before the hatch closed and with a jerk the pod was propelled clear of the Normandy.
Thrusters on the pod automatically fired bringing the pod under control even as inertia carried it away from the ship. Through the view port he saw the dying Normandy hanging in space burning and breaking apart. A faint figure was tumbling away from the separated cockpit module, Shepard propelled by the force of the blast that had thrown him into space. Another energy beam cut across space and sliced into the rear section of the ship – triggering a massive explosion that momentarily blinded him as in a blaze of radiation and plasma flame his baby died.
A hand touching his arm brought Joker back to reality with a jolt and he looked down for a moment – to see Shepard's hand touching his arm sympathetically as he shivered with the after affects of the flashback.
"Flashback," Aldrin asked as Joker looked up and found understanding and memory in his friend and commanders rare cerulean blue eyes.
"Yeah," he acknowledged but didn't elaborate. He didn't need to as he could see in Shepard's eyes that he knew or at least could guess that he had just been seeing the destruction of the original Normandy once again. Joker was well aware that Shepard had had many flashbacks to that and suffocating to death over the last two months – more than once he'd found Shepard sitting in the mess late at night unable to sleep from nightmares that weren't nightmares, sometimes alone other times with either Garrus, Tali and Dr Chakwas or all of them for company. Many times he'd joined them – the five of them not speaking just offering silent support to each other.
"I'm alright," he assured Shepard.
"You sure," Aldrin asked and was satisfied when Joker nodded back. Not wanting to embarrass his pilot he let go of Joker's arm and looked back at Donnelly who had a faint look of understanding on his face. "Donnelly how far roughly do you think we can go before we experience a major systems failure?"
"Two maybe three mass relay jumps at the most," Donnelly answered. "And maybe eight or nine hours of conventional FTL flight."
"That puts both Omega and Illium in easy range," Joker provided.
"I'd rather not stop at Omega if I can help it," Aldrin commented. "Though I'm never truly defenceless I don't like having to constantly sleep with a gun under my pillow. Plot a course for Illium, Joker. Best possible speed."
"I'll get us there as quickly as I can," Joker replied before grinning, "look at it this way commander at least you get to spend some quality time with your girlfriend on Illium." With that he turned and hobbled away heading up to the main part of deck four and the lift to the other decks of the ship.
Aldrin rolled his eyes at Joker's retreating back all the while inwardly smiling at the prospect of spending some time with Liara on Illium. Assuming of course he could pry the Asari archaeologist turned information broker away from her terminal and her quest to bring down the Shadow Broker for a little while. Knowing how stubborn Liara can be I'll probably have to use a nuke or every ounce of biotic power I've got to get her away from that terminal. Even then I probably wouldn't succeed, he thought before turning his attention back to the pad he was still holding in his left hand.
Perusing its contents again he could hardly believe the information windfall that had just fallen into their laps while at the same time thinking that he'd already known some of this, but hadn't realised he did. Another little facet of the data the Prothean beacons put in my skull as well as the Cipher Shiala gave me back on Feros, he thought looking up from the pad again and going to one of the gaping holes in the shuttle sub deck where the Oculus had cut its way in to try and destroy the ship from the inside.
The hole in the hull was blocked by the faintly shimmering blue curtain of a kinetic barrier, which was the only reason why he was able to stand on this deck without breathing apparatus, but despite the shimmering it afforded an excellent view out on space. Gazing out upon the stars Aldrin could almost imagine the Reapers staring back at him from their hiding place in dark space. We'll be ready for you, he thought thinking of the Reapers, your coming this time will be your last. Your precious cycle will end at last.
Smiling faintly at the thought of the nasty surprise the Reapers could get when they came to harvest this galaxy again he turned away from the breathtaking view out on space and resumed his journey to the Normandy's upper decks. He only had two things on his mind now one was grabbing something to eat from Rupert to replace the calories that he'd burned up flexing both his biotic and biological muscles so much on the Collector base. And two getting some sleep as he was bone tired as well as being hungry and he couldn't afford to be either when they arrived at Illium. Though it was a beautiful world his last few experiences on Illium – and in Nos Astra in particular – had been more than enough to convince him that despite it's largely Asari population Illium could be as dangerous as Omega.
Commanding Officer's Quarters
Normandy SR-2, Next Morning
The insistent bleeping of his alarm roused Aldrin Shepard out of the deep, exhausted sleep he had sunken into. Groaning he forced his eyes open and glared at the offending device on the cabinet besides his old N7 helmet. For a moment he contemplated smashing the alarm and its irritating weep, weep, weep sound into a million tiny bits with a warp and going back to sleep but decided against it. It would be kind of embarrassing if someone asked him why he had to buy a new alarm clock on Illium and he hadn't biotically blasted an alarm clock like that since his abilities started manifesting when he was fourteen so wasn't about to start now.
It didn't stop him being irritated by the alarm though.
"Alright, alright I'm awake," he groaned as he sat up. "Alarm off, lights."
Immediately in response to the vocal command the alarm stopped its insistent bleeping and the lights in his spacious quarters came on – rising slowly from darkness to full brightness to give his eyes chance to adjust.
"Good morning Shepard," EDI's voice greeted as he threw off the bedclothes and got up before peeling off the sleeping shorts he'd worn all night.
"Morning, EDI," Aldrin answered yawning as he started padding across his quarters to the upper tier and the bathroom. "What's our status this morning?"
"We've recently cleared the mass relay into the Tesale system and are heading towards Illium at 50% normal sublight thrust. We will reach orbit in six hours."
"Fifty percent that's a bit slow isn't it," Shepard asked as the door to his private bathroom – a perk of this ship being largely civilian built that he'd really gotten used to –swished open. "Is something wrong?"
"The number two port engine has had to be shut down due to a malfunction in magnetic containment field for the primary hydrogen-antiproton intermix chamber, Shepard," EDI answered. "We will begin deceleration manoeuvres in thirty-two minutes with only three functional engines it will take considerably longer than normal to overcome inertia and slow the ship down to orbital insertion speed."
"Understood is there anything else I need to be aware of EDI?"
"You have received two emails during the night one has Citadel Council encryption and the other is from Cerberus Intelligence."
Shepard scowled. "Cerberus Intelligence," he repeated. "What the hell do they want? Surely The Illusive Man would have told them about the severing of our relationship."
"Unknown Shepard I have not read the email. Do you wish me to do so?"
"No it's alright I'll take a look at it once I'm out of the shower."
"Very well Shepard. Do you require anything else?"
"Not at this time EDI."
"Very well logging you out, Shepard," the A.I replied as her orb like avatar disappeared from its display plate near the door to Shepard's quarters.
Stepping into the bathroom Aldrin switched on the shower and stepped under the instantly warm jets for his regular morning shower. As the water washed over him he thought about the messages he'd received and wondered what they could contain. He wasn't particularly surprised to have received one from the Council – he'd forwarded a primary report to them last night before he'd gone to bed informing the Councillors that the Collector abductions of the independent Human settlements in the Terminus Systems had been stopped, the permanent ending of the Collectors as a threat and the severing of his ties with Cerberus. They probably want to know how long the essential repairs I mentioned are going to take on Illium, he thought knowing the Council would want him to come to the Citadel as soon as possible for a debriefing before them.
Try as he might though he couldn't think of a reason for the message from Cerberus Intelligence. What they could possibly want with him he had no idea, especially as he and The Illusive Man hadn't exactly parted ways on amicable terms. Whatever they want I'll find out soon enough, he thought before shrugging off his thoughts on the matter before reaching for his bottle of shower gel to continue his normal morning routine.
A few minutes later, freshly dressed in a clean set of Cerberus fatigues – though hopefully he'd be able to do away with the things soon – and with hair still slightly damp from the shower Aldrin settled down at his desk and powered up his terminal. Bringing up the email server screen he pulled up the email from the council first, for a moment all that appeared on the screen was a mass of coded symbols which decoded themselves into normal characters when he input his Spectre security code. Leaning forward he carefully began reading:-
To: Commander Shepard, A
From: Councillor Anderson, D
Subject: Your status
Shepard I was glad to hear that you were able to accomplish your mission and stop the Collectors attacks on Human colonies. The fact that you've broken ties with Cerberus as well is a great relief to me, the Council and the Alliance. I won't lie to you, Shepard there have been some in the Alliance Internal Affairs who've been talking about bringing you in and charging you with being AWOL for that two years and treason for working with Cerberus…
As he read that part of the message Aldrin growled and made a fist in anger and felt a familiar tingle run down his spine as the tightening of his fist and shoulder sent a charge through the tumour-like eezo nodules melded with his nervous system. A faint aura of dark energy flickered around his body as he fumed that some people in Alliance Internal Affairs would call him a traitor – even if part of him understood why they would do so. The Alliance had been his life ever since he'd lost his family at Mindoir, he would no more betray them than he would cut off his own hand. That some paranoid moron in Internal Affairs would consider him a traitor was infuriating.
Closing his eyes he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to calm down. The glow of biotics around him died away as he calmed down and stopped subconsciously thinking of hitting whoever was accusing him of treason with a full strength warp. Opening his eyes again he continued reading the email from Anderson.
…however Admiral Hackett, Commander Alenko, myself and surprisingly Udina have been able to head them off. Your breaking off ties with Cerberus has also led to the rest of Council fully reinstating your Spectre status and brought them – even Valern if you can belief it – around to our side. I wouldn't worry about those paranoids in Internal Affairs they won't dare move against you now.
On the matter of the Collectors the Council would like you to come here to the Citadel for a full debriefing as soon as is possible for you. We understand that you are currently heading for Illium for repairs to your ship and to give your crew a rest. You've certainly earned it… and Aldrin do your old commander a favour and get some rest yourself you've earned it as much as your crew has.
I look forward to seeing you on the Citadel sometime soon, Shepard. Until then take care of yourself, Cerberus is bound to be after you now so be careful.
Sitting back in his chair Aldrin sighed in relief as he finished reading the message. He was more than a little relieved that he wouldn't have to worry about an AIA agent pulling him in for questioning about where he'd been for the last two years and his 'defection' to Cerberus. Anderson was right with the political clout of the Council behind him – at least on that particular issue – AIA wouldn't dare move to arrest him. To do so would be career suicide for the agent involved and a political nightmare for the Alliance Parliament.
He was also relieved to discover that Kaidan had been arguing with AIA on his behalf. It was a sign that there was still hope for the friendship they'd built up on the original Normandy and that despite there verbal altercation on Horizon Kaidan didn't truly doubt his loyalty. He was surprised however to find out that Udina had argued on his behalf – mostly because he and the former ambassador had never truly seen eye to eye, indeed more than once he'd quietly entertained the idea of throwing Udina across a room with his biotics when the other man had been at his politically motivated worst. Valern's willingness to help was also surprising though he was willing to bet that Valern had been forced to by Anderson and the other Council members – the Council hated displaying a divided face to others so they always tried to appear united regardless of their internal politics.
After a few moments of careful though on the email he moved it over to his read items folder and brought up the message from Cerberus Intelligence. Mentally bracing himself for a threat on his life – or some other nasty message he began to read.
To: Commander Shepard, A
From: Cerberus Intelligence Division
Subject: Shadow Broker
Shepard we're aware of the fact that your old friend Liara T'Soni has been hunting the Shadow Broker for the last two years or so. We wouldn't mind helping her in the hunt for the Shadow Broker considering his previous associations with the Collectors and by extension the Reapers.
Some information recently came into our possession that will give Liara a lead on the whereabouts of the Shadow Broker and his base of operations. Unfortunately due to some misunderstandings in the past Dr T'Soni is unlikely to believe any information we provide if we were to give it to her ourselves. The information has been forwarded to the Normandy's computer if you would pay Dr T'Soni a visit we believe she would be a lot more receptive to the provided data.
We will forward any additional data on the Shadow Broker to you should we receive any. Despite our differences we hope that you will not ignore it.
Good luck, Shepard.
"EDI have we received the data on the Shadow Broker from Cerberus?" Shepard asked looking over at the A.I's display plate as EDI's avatar blinked into existence.
"We have, Shepard," EDI confirmed. "I have thoroughly scanned the file for hostile programs and have not found any I believe it to be genuine."
"I see," Aldrin answered before opening a drawer in his desk and extracting a blank OSD, before sliding it into his terminal drive. "Transfer the data to the OSD in my terminal."
"Of course Shepard," EDI replied and paused, "data file transference completed. Shall I send a message to Dr T'Soni alerting her to the contents of the file?"
"No. Just send a message to her alerting her that we're inbound to Illium. Advise her of our ETA and that I would like to see her in her office as soon as we arrive."
"Very well, is there anything else I can help you with, Shepard?"
"Not at this time EDI. Thank you."
"Understood, logging you out, Shepard."
As EDI's avatar disappeared Aldrin turned his attention back to his console as he ejected the OSD. For a moment he cradled the small data storage device in his hand knowing the information if contained would be extremely valuable to Liara. Though he would be lying if he said he wasn't thinking about possibly not giving it to her.
From the moment he'd first seen her again on Illium he'd been worried about her and that had only grown when she'd reluctantly told him what she was doing. Liara was walking down a very dark road, one that he would rather she not have to walk down. The dark world of intrigue was not for Liara – at least the Liara he'd known and fallen in love with. He would love to find away to turn her away from her path of vengeance and bring her back to him. But there was no way, all he could do was help her and hope. Hope that she wasn't consumed by the fires and that she would be able to find her way back to him.
Sighing he slipped the OSD into a pocket and powered off the console before turning to look at his holo of a faintly blushing Liara. A faint smile appeared on his face as he remembered when that photo had been taken, it had been on the Citadel just after the destruction of Sovereign. The whole crew had gone to an amazingly intact Flux to celebrate and as he recalled Garrus had made a comment that had had Liara blushing. Kaidan had caught a shot of it on his omnitool and quietly given him the shot afterwards to put in his private files.
Liara in the photo looked so innocent, so trusting, so much like the child that she in some ways still was – at least by Asari standards. It was so different to the driven, faintly menacing young woman waiting from him on Illium – though he had gotten a glimpse when they'd first met that had been more than enough to tell him that his Liara was still there. He just hoped she survived her battle with the Shadow Broker without sacrificing her soul. He had to hope that she would survive and would still be his Liara.
Because he had no idea what he'd do if she didn't.