Mass Effect: Astrum Pastor

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."

-Rebecca Harding Davis

"Alright recruits get your ass in gear and rank up! We're gonna be running you lot through the exercise, again, because some of you lily-livered fruits just can't manage it!"

"We'll be starting off with the few grunts amongst you sad wastes of human flesh that actually managed to get through the exercise in good time. I'm hoping he'll set a suitable example for the rest of you to follow, and then ya'll won't be a complete disgrace to the human race!"

"Shepard! Get up here!"

It felt surrealistic for him, being here in basic training. The familiar screams of the drill sergeants drilling insults and orders into their skulls to motivate them, the sheer exhaustion of the day-to-day exercises that they were called upon to do. It wasn't too long ago, he remembered, that he'd been living a different life on Earth... a much different life.

Shepard shrugged off these thoughts, though they seemed to continually invade his conscious with each step, as he walked forward, the course in front of him typical of what they'd been drilling the past few days. Red tinted sand, large rock formations and oppressive heat: all meant to simulate just one of the many difficult environments one in the Alliance military would encounter while out defending humanity...

Still, this familiarity with this course didn't feel days old... it felt even longer.

"Get ready Shepard!" The drill sergeant screamed, knocking Shepard back into his train of thought. A quick study of his person revealed the assault rifle carefully magnetized into the seals on his back, pulling the weapon from its perch as he dropped into a bit of a stance.

"Remember, hit the targets within the shortest amount of time... should be easy for ya by now."

The jab was felt a little more deeply than it should've been: yeah, he's been running laps around this course for days now, but... it felt like he had more experience on hand.

"Go!" Without a second thought Shepard began to run through the course, ignoring the simulated heat as he ran around, jumped over, or side-stepped various environmental obstacles placed to attempt to impede his progress, firing a round or two from his assault rifle as various targets presented themselves.

"Keep your ass moving Shepard, keep this up and we'll be home free in no time Johnny."

The sergeant's voiced changed, his harsh tone beginning to morph and delude, becoming hastened, lighter and, unless he was mistaken, fearful. The voice sounded almost familiar to Shepard, like an echo of a distant memory that just wouldn't stop reverberating.

As Shepard continued to run, the sandy ground that he had been forced to run through began to stiffen and solidify, changing from grains of dirt that would slow him due to the weight of his footfalls to solid concrete, allowing Shepard to speed up.

The rocks soon shifted out of his vision, some sinking into the concrete, some progressively growing smaller and smaller until they were mere pebbles and asphalt atop the concrete road, while others in his periphery grew larger. They grew until they towered over him, windows and doors appearing on the faces of the stones as they shaped into great skyscrapers he had once known, in a city he had once called home.

"Johnny, what the hell are you doing? Get your gun out man! I don't want to be the only guy here firing back!"

The voice rang in his ears, Shepard shaking his head as he looked down into his hands, only to find the assault rifle he had been lugging forward missing from his grip. In fact, on top of this, he noted that the training armor for the exercise had also gone missing, replaced by red-dyed clothes; t-shirt, baggy jeans and sneakers. Feeling on his hip he pulled out from his pocket a pistol, not Alliance grade, but all the same it had gotten him out of trouble like this before.

Speaking of trouble, Shepard now looked behind him and, instead of the sergeant and fellow trainees, he now found himself being pursued by various human figures, their features hidden by a blue haze that seemed to surround them, that kept their identities withheld from him. In some corner of his mind he wondered if it was better that it was this way.

A few pot shots flew past his head, Shepard's pace picking up as he continued to sprint as fast as possible. Shepard, not one to just let people shoot at him without consequence, kept his head looking behind him as he angled his gun, two shots piercing one of his pursuers square in the chest, dropping him like a sack of potatoes.

"Shit! We're coming up on a dead end Johnny!"

He looked ahead to see a young man wearing similar colored and styled clothes pointing ahead, and indeed where there had formerly been open street ahead there was now a large brick wall jutting forth from the buildings standing at either side of him.

Shepard blinked as they approached the large wall, had he been paying so little attention that he didn't notice this coming up in front of him? Had he been so preoccupied with running that he had let this idiot lead him right into an alleyway?

Regardless, more shots just barely grazed Shepard's body as he and his friend jumped quickly to the side, using what trash cans and piles of garbage were in the alley as cover. Still, as the actions began to catch up with him, Shepard found his head spinning further and further: where the hell had the city come from, why was he being pursued, wasn't he supposed to be training for the Alliance...

"You assholes are dead! Ya hear me, dead!"

That's not important, what's important is shooting the blue bastards who were shooting him. The situation was still desperate even as Shepard focused on his firing, dropping one thug after another after another. Despite this, the garbage that had been used as a shield by both himself as his fellow Red were being whittled down to nothing more than scraps.

It almost seemed as though this would be the end, though if Shepard remembered correctly, this isn't where things would fall out for him. As he began to sweat heavily, his nerves wracking from the continuous barrage of fire, the Blue thugs suddenly found themselves bombarded from behind. Some turned just in time to receive several bullets to their front, while others would only manage a shot or two before quickly finding themselves torn asunder by the hail of gunfire.

"Oh, thank God!" Shepard called out as he and his fellow pursued Red came out from behind their cover, greeting their fellow Reds in the middle of the alley with a few thrown out greetings. The congratulatory feelings amidst the Reds dissolved as a low groan emanated from one of the Blues, a short one laying in the side of the alley, grasping his arm as he winced upon noticing he had drawn attention.

"Well Johnny, honor's all yours this time. Take this little sucker out." The Red he had been running with said, an almost comical bow presented to him as Shepard shrugged. It wasn't as if the offer was uncommon for him, after all. Striding up to the little nuisance that laid on the ground, Shepard kicked a nearby pistol out of his reach before grabbing him by the collar, lifting the Blue up onto his knees.

Shepard brought up his pistol and placed the muzzle of the gun right in front of the crown of the Blue's skull, a small grin forming on Shepard's lips as he prepared to fire the pistol. The one before him slowly lifted its eyes, the blue haze around its form beginning to fade.

And suddenly all that was staring back at Shepard were a pair of terrified brown eyes.

Shepard flinches as, for once, he looks at the soul kneeling before him with an unusual attention. The shortness didn't appear to just be a defect of stunted growth: the person was young... very young, even younger than Shepard was when he started running. The brown eyes, filled to the brim with tears, afraid, begging for their life even as strands of red hair obscure them.

"Well, what're you waiting for Johnny?"

What was he waiting for? This person had just been trying to kill him earlier, tried to end his life. Shepard shouldn't have had a problem blowing his gray matter all over the ground. Yet, here he was, his hand beginning to quiver as he exchanged a stare with the young boy in front of him...

This kid was too young to know what he was getting into. Too young to know what the consequences of his actions were going to be... he didn't deserve to be gunned down just for making one stupid mistake.

"Johnny... we're waiting here. Shoot the little bastard."

He couldn't do any harm, right? What'd be the harm in letting him go?

"John... now I'm being real nice by letting you have this one, but now I'll give you to the count of five to gun that fucker down or else I'll personally blow his skull open. One."

Shepard began to sweat as he stared down the length of his arm... this wasn't right, he didn't know how he knew, but he knew.


Just let this one go, just this once.


Maybe he'd turn over a new leaf, get out of the gangs and make something of himself, somehow...


Shepard's right hand began to shake, the gun rattling in his grip as he screwed his eyes closed.



Shepard awoke with a start, the young man sweating heavily as he took in deep breaths. The nightmare, once so vivid, began to fade from his vision as the environment of his hotel room began to kick in. Confused for a moment as to where he was or why he had such this nightmare, he was suddenly and painfully reminded by way of a massive, throbbing headache forming.

"Uggggh... the morning after shore leave..."

In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.

They called it the greatest discovery in human history.

The civilizations of the galaxy call it... MASS EFFECT.

For Shepard, coming to a hotel room to spend the night of shore leave was no brainer. Sure, it left him farther out from the ship when they'd be leaving next morning, but the honest to goodness experience of sleeping in a bed rather some some cramped sleeper pod aboard the ship was too good for him to pass up. Besides, if he woke up early enough he would make it back to the ship, no problem.

For the N7 marine a night of drinking, sleep in a bed, and a good shower was a welcome reward for spending weeks upon weeks at a time aboard a star ship flying around the galaxy.

This, he thought, while drying off his hair from a quick shower. Looking at himself in the mirror Shepard rubbed his eyes in order to try to get some of the sleep out of them. His buzzed short hair, a fine layer of somewhat light black across the entirety of his head, was dried in a flash, while the stubble of his beard didn't take much longer to get dried out as well.

Stifling a yawn as he exited the bathroom Shepard searched around the hotel room, looking for the clock. The ship was supposed to leave at this space station's '0900', nine o'clock, and he needed to know how much more time to relax he'd have before it was right back to the grind.

Finally finding the object of his search beside the bed, having probably fallen over when he drunkenly stumbled into the room last night. Lifting the small device to eye level he carefully took in the display projected by the machine's hologram.

8:48 G.S.T. August 13th, 2177...

8:48 G.S.T...


Before we continue, it is a must to mention that it was a very quiet morning thus far. People were just waking up and going down to the lobby to checkout, and staff were just getting around to cleaning the empty rooms. The hallway in which Shepard's room was rented in and of itself was particularly busy...


Of course everyone immediately jumped in surprise when, still putting on his Alliance uniform, out came Shepard, cursing up a storm as he ran through the hotel.

"Shit, shit, shit... I'm never going to make it in time..." Shepard muttered under his breath as he buttoned up his uniform, running through the hotel lobby at full speed and only stopping for a brief moment to lay down a credit chit on the counter. "Keep the change, thank you!" Shepard called back to the lobby clerk, the employee rather stunned by Shepard's sudden appearance, rapid fire sentence, and then very quick exit from the building.

Sprinting as fast as he possibly could Shepard buzzed through the passages and streets of the station, glancing at the clock on his omni-tool every few seconds in order to keep track of how much time he had left. As he began to run down the stairs towards the dockyard, Shepard checked it again: 8:55. He was pushing it, but as he reached the bottom of the stairs he was feeling ever more confident that he was going to be able to make it on time.

Barely even stopping as the door to the bay actually opened, Shepard grinned a great deal when he saw that the SSV Cannae, an Alliance frigate-class warship, was still locked into the dock just a ways away from him. Making the final dash for the ship, noting his omni-tool stating that the clock was ringing at 8:57, Shepard was almost positive he was going to make it into the ship.

However, as Shepard ran down the connector towards the ship's still open airlock, Shepard began to see the door closing just as he was a few meters away. Practically throwing himself at the closing airlock. Shepard's last minute jump succeeded: the Alliance marine just barely managed to slip through the closing airlock of the ship, but also managed to slam face first into the door at the other end of the airlock.

"Oooooooh..." Shepard groaned as he slowly slid down the side of the door, the intercom in the airlock activating as he heard a voice sighing on the other end.

"Just barely made it in time there Shepard, wait a minute while we activate the decon-cycle." The voice over the intercom hardly sounded amused before cutting off, Shepard standing up straight as he rubbed his face, snapping his nose back into place as the artificial voice of the ship's VI spoke up.

Decontamination, in progress

The line was repeated many times over as a light, sterile mist began to flow into the airlock, a small scanner running throughout the room. After a few moments of scanning, and even more repeats of the VI's voice, the doors of the airlock opened up, Shepard being greeted with a sight he wasn't exactly unfamiliar with.

The older man standing in front of him was prepped and primed in his Alliance Naval uniform, a few small trinkets and awards attached to the suit. The man had a much darker complexion than Shepard, though his hair, what was left of it anyway, was an equally dark shade of black, with only some odd gray hairs amidst them.

And, of course, he didn't look at all pleased. Par for the course really.

"Commander Stuart." Shepard greeted his superior officer, swiftly moving into a salute as Lucius Stuart just rolled his eyes.

"A quick snap to attention isn't going to work your way out of this one Lieutenant." Stuart fired back at Shepard, whose stance only faltered for a moment, causing Stuart to roll his eyes. "At ease..." At this Shepard's posture relaxed once again, the younger soldier entering the frigate.

"Commander, it's not like I was late; still 9:00 by my time." Shepard stated as he pulled out his omni-tool, the device's holographic readout only just then switching to 9:01.

"That may be so, but I expected you here earlier than just avoiding being late. Can't have the only other N7 officer in this unit being so..." Stuart's sentence cut out at the end, the commander's lips quirking a bit as his brow furrowed, obviously trying to think of a good way to end the sentence, before Shepard jumped in.

"Being so abhorrent when it comes to scheduling, reducing himself to near misses for departures instead of clear focus, attentiveness and punctuality, not obviously spending most of his shore leave just doing whatever, disgracing the title of 'N7' in general?" Shepard quickly listed off each of these, Stuart sighing as he pointed at Shepard, a wary expression on his face.

"How about all of the above. Take it from a fellow graduate Shepard, just earning the title of N7 isn't enough, you have to be punctual, focused, collected..." Stuart began listing the traits as he and Shepard moved throughout the ship, Shepard sending a quick salute to the captain of the vessel before turning his attention back to Stuart.

"Come on Commander, we hardly get any shore leave when we're patrolling the Traverse, can you blame me for wanting to squeeze every second out of a night off of a ship?"

'Or sleeping in so late that I have to run halfway through a space station to get to the ship on time...' Shepard thought after his statement, Stuart's expression seemingly softening up a bit as he glanced to the side.

"... Would've preferred it to be on a shore leave where we don't have important business right afterward..." Stuart muttered a bit, Shepard raising his eyebrow. The entire reason they'd been given shore leave in the first place, besides the long-stretch of time they'd been serving already, was because things had lulled all this time after the Blitz... unless.

"New orders come in last night Commander?" Shepard asked, the superior officer shaking his head as he opened his omni-tool.

"Try ten minutes ago." Stuart said firmly, as the hologram of a garden world rose from the omni-tool, Shepard noting the apparent sparse signs of population or development. "Lieutenant Shepard, this little world right here is Akuze. Up until two hours ago it was just another new world the Alliance had begun colonizing. Now, however, it's dropped completely out of communications: last set we received were just minutes before the blackout." Stuart summed up the information, lowering his omni-tool and the hologram, before continuing.

"We're heading there because, according to Alliance brass, we're the closest team of marines to the planet. Our mission is a pretty damn simple one: find out what happened to the colony." Stuart finished, Shepard nodding before he began his questioning.

"Did the last message give a hint as to what caused the communications black out?" Shepard asked, Stuart only shaking his head.

"No; just a normal information update concerning some supplies sent to the colony. After that, nothing." Stuart responded, Shepard's next question having quite nearly left his lips by the time Stuart answered his last question.

"Do we know if slavers or pirates are involved?" Shepard's question was pertinent, if obvious, which made Stuart's answer come just as quickly as the question had.

"Officially? No, we don't know. But I wouldn't put it past them. Wouldn't be the first time since the Blitz these bastards tried to destroy an entire colony... it'd just be the first time they'd manage to cut communications before trying." Stuart said with no small amount of scorn in his tone, turning towards Shepard. "We'll be arriving at Akuze in an hour. You know the drill." The commanding officer stated, rather than asked, Shepard nodding as they approached an elevator.

"Get down to the lower decks, get the others down to the armory to suit up and rally 'em for a big fight. This isn't the first time we've hit some Batarians Commander." Shepard stated firmly as he called for the elevator, Stuart suddenly pressing a hand to his shoulder to firmly grab a hold of his attention.

"Those were skirmishes where we knew our enemy John." Stuart said, Shepard actually blinking a bit when the commander called him by his first name: usually meant he was dead serious... well, more dead serious than usual. "We're heading to a silent planet, with no idea of the strength of our enemy or the condition of the colony; this can't be treated lightly." Shepard, while respectfully nodding towards his commanding officer, shrugged off his hand as the elevator arrived.

"I know Commander, I know." Shepard said as he stepped into the elevator, turning to face Stuart with a bit of a cocky grin. "But really Commander, what's the worst that could happen?" Shepard's rhetorical question went unanswered as the elevator doors slid shit, Stuart merely standing at the threshold of the doors, a serious gaze penetrating into the steel as he walked off.

Even before the elevator doors opened to the crew deck Shepard could hear the boisterous laughing and rapid talking coming from the deck. Stepping off the elevator Shepard grinned as he saw forty-nine other marines of various stripes sitting, standing or otherwise relaxing around the crew deck. As Shepard arrived he was welcomed with a round of cheers and applause, one of the other marines quickly standing and giving a quick salute to the N7 marine.

"Ay, John, about time you showed up. Thought the Commander was going to have a fit when he realized you were going to be so late for arrival again." A cheeky grin formed on this soldier's face, Shepard tilting his head back towards the elevator.

"What can I say, he did give me a good chewing out at first, and after he was done with that he seemed to be alright." Shepard said, a few of the other marines raising an eyebrow as they looked at him.

"That big old bruise on your nose would say he did a little more than 'chew you out' John." A random shout from the back of the room earned a series of laughs from the other marines, Shepard reaching up to his nose and recoiling at the touch of his own hand, realizing that, even with his earlier fix, he'd hit the thing pretty damn hard, leaving a pretty nasty bruise.

"Oh, well, no he didn't do this..." Shepard said quickly, the other marines glancing at each other.

"Well then, how did you end up getting that bit of purple on ya?" One of the other marines quickly shouted, all the eyes directly gazing towards Shepard as the N7 marine tried to think of a better answer than 'I broke it by running straight into the airlock's door'.

"Ummm... bar fight, while I was out on shore leave." Shepard mumbled out, the other marines hooting as they all began to grin.

"Really now?" A random heckler spoke up, Shepard nodding vigorously as he continued.

"Oh yeah, you all should've been there! I was just minding my own business, drinking to relax, when these schmucks started trying to pick a fight with 'the Alliance marine'." Shepard started off with some energy, the other marines nodding along, a quick 'uh-huh' being muttered by one of them.

"Now you guys know I don't ordinarily get into a fight, but this particular bunch was just asking for a beat down, delivered by yours truly. There were, like, five, no, seven guys trying to take me down!" Shepard spoke boisterously as the other marines began to grin.

"Do tell?" One of the marines asked to a small chorus of chortles, Shepard sweating as he just kept on moving forward.

"You should've seen these guys. A few of them were human, but there were two Turians, a Salarian... and I think one of them was a Krogan!" A few snorts began to emerge from the group of marines, Henry raising his hand as a shaky grin formed on his face.

"'You think' the guy was a Krogan?" One of the marines mocked Shepard's tone before continuing. "I'd think you'd remember if one of the bruisers you were facing was a Krogan." The soldier said, a few small laughs escaping his lips as Shepard pulled at his collar.

"Well... I was a little drunk, so it's hard for me to remember exactly. But I'm sure he was a Krogan... either that or an Elcor!" Shepard said, barely even bothering with telling a story with any vague semblance of truth as he could heard the very audible sound of barely contained laughter coming from the other marines.

"Really Lieutenant? Weren't you scared that the... Krogan-Elcor and the other guys were going to mess you up?" Another marine asked, barely holding in his laughs as Shepard put his to his sides, striking a bit of a heroic pose.

"Pfft, scared? Me? I'm Lieutenant John Shepard! I ain't afraid of anyone or anything, especially a Krogan, or Elcor. I fought them all, and all they could do to me was bruise my nose a little!" Shepard stated proudly, with a bit of an embarrassed blush to his face, as he saw the marines were just barely keeping it together.

"Oh... well... John... that's a very..." The poor soul couldn't even finish his sentence as he suddenly burst into loud fits of laughter, the marine joined by every other soldier in the room as loud hoots, erratic cackling and bombastic laughter were let loose by the other marines. After a few moments of embarrassment, Shepard joined in with the other marines in the laughter.

It took a good few minutes before the marines could come off of their uncontrollable laughter, the group of soldiers attempting to catch their breaths as Shepard began to speak again.

"Enough about how damn amazing I am, Commander Stuart sent me down with a mobilization order." Shepard stated, the laughter slowly dying down as a hush went over the marines, their focus clearly on their fellow marine once again.

"As I'm sure you've all be informed, we'll be arriving on the planet Akuze within an hour, perhaps sooner, perhaps not. We suspect that Batarian slavers and pirates have shut down communications on the planet and either have or are currently attacking the colony. Our job when we get there depends on whether those four-eyed bastards are still around." Shepard began, eying all of the marines in front of him as he continued.

"If they aren't around it's our job to ascertain damage to the colony and find survivors, maybe try to find hints as to where they went and get the information to the Alliance asap..." Shepard stated a tad solemnly, one of the marines raising his hand, Shepard nodding to acknowledge him.

"And if they are still around sir?" The marine asked in a faux-innocent tone, Shepard and the rest of the marines smirking as Shepard brought up both of his hands, slamming his fist into his open palm.

"We do what we always do. Take a grenade and shove it colon-deep up their ass!" Shepard said with a loud burst towards the end, the marines roaring in approval as Shepard put his hands back at his side. "Alright then guys, you know the drill. To your lockers: time to suit up!" With that order the crowd of marines began to disperse, filtering into the different sections of the crew deck as they were readying for combat.

Shepard, after watching the other marines file out towards their lockers, made a bee-line for his own, unbuttoning his uniform as he prepared for the arduous process of putting on his armor. Working off his normal attire Shepard input the code of his locker, the door of the device sliding down to reveal several dozen pieces and bits of armor, with a single bodysuit hanging above it all.

Working the thin suit on, Shepard couldn't help but feel envious of biotics in the group: this was usually the first and only step of the process for them, with only inputs for a few small weapons and ammo needed afterward. But as Shepard finished forcing the last of the suit on him, he tapped a few commands into his omni-tool, the device springing to life on his right arm as its holographic projector sprung forth with the basic blueprints of the suit.

As the omni-tool flashed, the body-suit's magnetic strips flared to life upon activation. Pulling out a thickly armored glove next, Shepard slid the piece of metal onto his arm, large amounts of space between each plate making the fit rather easy. With another few taps onto his omni-tool, the piece of armor seemingly came into a life of its own, the outstretched plates pulling themselves inward and together, locking themselves into each other and firmly securing themselves onto the magnetic strips on Shepard's left hand.

Shepard repeated this process with each new piece of armor, using his omni-tool to secure each piece of equipment onto the original bodysuit's magnetic strips. After a good thirty minutes of this process, Shepard finished placing the last bit of armor onto him, sighing as the process had nearly come to an end. With a longer series of commands in his omni-tool, Shepard was greeted with a small screen from the omni-tool:

Installing armor...

Shepard felt a sudden jerk all over his body as the armor's gears and strips began to move into place, the omni-tool flashing again as the process continued.

Identifying armor model... Armor identified: "Systems Alliance Armor, Class 'N7'"... Securing...

The armor's bits and pieces began to connect together, plates coming together and locking together tightly, Shepard feeling the connecting of the magnetic strips on the bodysuit as every last plate and strip connected to secure the armor. As this process was finished, Shepard heard a faint hum come from a small section of the armor directly on his back, the hum growing progressively louder, and then dying down suddenly, as he could see thin blue lines begin running across quite a stretch of his armor. When the blue lines reached his very digits, Shepard felt a small 'oomph' push at him, with a faint glow forming around him.

After a minute, the mechanisms of the suit stopped, Shepard looking towards his omni-tool for confirmation.

Secured... All pieces aligned properly... Kinetic barrier successfully raised... Installation complete. Please connect to helmet to upload information to the HUD.

Shepard sighed as he lowered the omni-tool, moving to check the armor in a nearby mirror. Looking at the large piece of, expensive, equipment he had protecting him, Shepard couldn't help but raise his eyebrows. Large shoulder guards, very thick braces along his arms and legs, and a large torso-piece. The armor was largely black, the usual for marines, but with a thick red line surrounded on both sides by thinner white lines righting down the outside of his right arm and a small, white 'N7' painted onto the right side of his chest, both signifying his rank upon graduation from basic.

Although the armor was very thick, and quite heavy with all the extra plating, he still had a lot of his range of motion, the armor giving way around his joints. Wouldn't do any good to protect him if it meant he couldn't move around at all. Nodding his head Shepard quickly walked back by his locker and picked out the helmet from the unit, closing it up as he walked towards the elevator. The crew quarters were empty of the marines, meaning they had likely all funneled down into the cargo bay.

One painfully slow elevator ride later the elevator doors opened to reveal the cargo bay of the ship. On one side of the bay Shepard saw his fellow marines rummaging through carefully laid out weapons and other additional equipment, while on the other he saw a handful of the ship's crew prepping what the marines would be riding down to the surface of Akuze in: three M35 Mako Armored Vehicles, or tanks as Shepard preferred. The Mako packed a hell of a wallop, its main gun being able to blow open an enemy bunker in no time flat, and machine guns able to tear through enemy shield as if they were tissue paper. Difficult as all hell to drive though: Shepard himself was barely qualified to drive one of them.

Luckily, he didn't have to, there were other, lower-ranking marines he could hand that job off to... provided of course Stuart didn't pull rank and order him to drive one of them.

Shaking off the unsettling shudder that came over him at the thought of driving one of the Mako, Shepard quickly made his way over to the rows of equipment on the tables. Setting his helmet onto the table, he began tapping a few more commands into his omni-tool, Shepard felt a few shifts on his back, hips and on the lower part of his right thigh, the magnetic strips for his additional equipment and weaponry raising itself from the armor.

First and foremost Shepard grabbed a compact square from the table, a quick tap of the safety on the device causing it to unfold into an assault rifle. Checking the gun over, and finding an active heat sink in the cartridge, Shepard re-activated the safety, causing the assault rifle to fold back into its compact form. Sliding the weapon onto one of the magnetic strips on his back, Shepard repeated the process with a shotgun, which he slid onto a magnetic strip across the small of his back, and a heavy pistol, which he placed on his left side.

The weapons attached, Shepard grabbed up two other pieces of equipment from the table: two square packs, one about the size of his head, the other the size of his fist, and a long, thin metal strip, several glowing blue-circles running down the length of the strip, all connected by thin blue lines similar to the ones upon his armor. First sliding the lengthy strip along a magnetized strip next to his assault rifle, the glowing blue circles of the strip flared for a moment, the rest of the lines on his armor doing the same moments later as his shields flared momentarily.

Reaching the fist-sized square pack down towards his thigh, he slid it into the magnetized strip there, a small beep on his omni-tool ignored for the moment as he slid the head-sized square pack onto his hip opposite the pistol, another beep from his omni-tool following. With his hands free Shepard gave a few taps onto his omni-tool, the holographic projection taking a moment to rise as the machine dealt with the new equipment.

Additional equipment installed... Systems Alliance Standard Assault Rifle... Systems Alliance Standard Shotgun... Systems Alliance Standard Heavy Pistol... Additional Kinetic Barrier Buffer... Grenade Pack... Ammo Pack.

Satisfied that everything was in its working order, Shepard turned his attention towards the rest of the crew, whom had just finished checking up their equipment... well, most of them anyway. He noticed one officer in particular who was repeatedly pulling off and checking pieces of gear, checking every nook and cranny of his guns, counting up the amount of heat sinks he had in his pack, checking his omni-tool for the integrity of his armor, the works.

"Take it easy there soldier. Your shields aren't going to die off on you just by standing around here." Shepard said in a joking manner, the other marines around the soldier laughing a tad as the young man turned to face Shepard. "Don't believe I've seen you around before, you new?" Shepard asked, not recognizing the new face in front of him whom just nodded.

"Y-Yes sir. Corporal Toombs sir... N5... first actual tour out in the Traverse. Just double-checking all my gear... well, triple checking in some cases." Toombs relayed a very nervous tone as he spoke, Shepard shaking his head as he grabbed his helmet from the desk and walked over to the new marine.

"Look, Toombs, I know what you're feeling like, I was just as nervous going into my first tour around the Traverse. Believe me, even if there are slavers and pirates down there it'll be a cake walk." Shepard tried to reassure the new marine, Toombs just looking up at him and raising an eyebrow.

"Really Lieutenant?" Toombs asked, Henry suddenly upon the new recruit in no time flat.

"Really Toombs, John isn't kidding. If your first time's anything like mine was it'll be quiet, fast-paced and over before you know it..." A few stray chuckles alerted Henry to the double-meaning of his own advice, the soldier quickly raising his hands in his own defense as he shook his head. "W-Wait, that came out wrong!"

"A little late to cover for that one soldier." Shepard said with a small grin, Toombs laughing a little as the new recruit seemingly loosened up. "Besides Toombs, even if things get heated we all have your back. If things are really bad the Alliance will have others on their way as soon as possible. No need to worry so much that you're working yourself into exhaustion just checking your gear." Shepard said, patting Toombs on the shoulder a couple times as the marine just nodded.

"Yes Lieutenant." Toombs said, giving a quick salute as he re-secured his gear, Shepard nodding as the sound of the elevator climbing down to their level reached his ears. All the marines turned their attention to the opening elevator doors, snapping to attention as Commander Stuart walked through the precipice of the lift. Armed to the teeth and in armor near identical to Shepard's, right down to the N7 insignia.

"Alright boys, we're hitting the mass relay as we speak. Which means that, in a matter of seconds, we'll either be neck deep in slavers and pirates, or passing through empty space until we reach Akuze. Steinman, Mercer, Townshend: you three are in the driver's seat of the Mako. Cohen, Morris, Ramirez: you three'll be handling the main guns. Mason, Marston, Ryan: machine guns. The rest of you load up!"

Sighing in relief as he wasn't called upon to drive one of these screaming, metal death traps Shepard waited behind the others a bit as he placed his helmet onto his head. The omni-tool flared to life on its own as the machine parts around his neck began to lock into each other, the visor in front of his eyes crackling to life as rapid amounts of information began to fly by his eyes.

Eventually the information began to set itself into place: armor integrity, kinetic barrier power, and grenade and heat sink counts. With a nod and confirmatory beep from his omni-tool, Shepard quickly jumped into one of the Mako, seating himself in with the other marines crammed into this particular one as they awaited confirmation from the captain of the Cannae.

"Alright marines, we have Akuze in sight. Looks like if there were pirates and slavers here that they're long gone... despite that we still have a complete communications black out from Akuze." The captain's voice crackled to life over radios in the Mako, the mood amongst the marines taking a noticeable nose-dive as the information sank in.

"So, the entire colony's gone then?" Stuart's voice came back through the radio, a small silence lingering in the air as the inevitable response came.

"Our preliminary scans aren't picking up any signs of life... so... yeah, looks like the colony's gone." The captain's voice came through as somber, the tone equally matched by the mood in all three Mako.

"... Alright... land this thing on a landing port and we'll get out to start investigating." The Commander's sentence followed a heavy sigh, the frustration in his tone not missed by anyone on that line.

"That's a no go Commander." The captain's response came as a surprise to the marines, a small bit of radio silence occurring before the captain continued. "The only space port on the planet's looking like it was damaged in whatever action occurred. The shuttle would be able to land... but you'd be taking about a dozen trips down and back from the surface just to get onto and out of the colony, not counting survivors or anything else you might find. The Makos will get you onto, around and off of the colony much faster."

"... Alright, get us to a Mako drop zone closest to the colony." Stuart's response came quickly, a small confirmation on the other side of the line as the marines began to secure themselves into the seats of the Mako, Shepard himself taking a shaken breath as he secured himself firmly into his seat. Their preparations came none too soon, as the bay doors began to slide upon slowly, the Marine's able to look out to see clouds and a bright sky just outside of the ship

"Steinman... Mercer... Townshend... drop us!" Stuart's order was met with an immediate firing off the engine of all three tanks gunning it straight forward towards the bay doors, all the marines absentmindedly tightening their muscles as they prepared for one hell of a drop.

A Mako drop, if one were to properly describe it, would be something akin to the straight vertical drop rides at old theme parks on Earth... at least, that's what Shepard thought. There were those moments of weightlessness as the entire machine body fell, your body rising in your seat as the only thing keeping you from leaving your seat entirely were the numerous straps securing you. It was an intense moment, yet pleasant, as you could revel in the feeling of just floating-

"Hit the thrusters!"

Until those damn thrusters hit.

From that moment on your body crunched against the your seat, your able to feel and hear your hard-suit grind into your body, your spine seemingly contracting as the full weight of your gravity was seemingly forced against you all at once. The fun wouldn't end there, no sir, as moments later the vehicle would hit the ground, the dampeners doing only good enough of a job to keep you from slamming your head into the guy next to you or to keep you from breaking your neck, but certainly not doing nearly a good enough job to keep you from flailing about for a few moments as the tank settled itself on the planet's surface.

After the entire ordeal was over, and the marines found themselves able to release their white knuckled grip on their seats, Stuart's voice came over the intercom, this time a tad shaken in its order.

"Alright boys... take a deep breath: we've had a successful landing." The commanding officer seemed to take himself up on his own offer while delivering this bit of news, causing Shepard to roll his eyes a bit.

"I always wondered what it'd take for it to be considered a failed landing for the Mako if this was a good landing..." Shepard offered up to the marines within the Mako he occupied, lightening the mood somewhat as the less shell-shocked marines in the vehicle to laugh at Shepard's prod.

"Ground Team to Cannae, we'll radio you when we're ready for pick up. Stand by until then." Stuart's voice came through once again, the firmness of his tone returning. "Alright then, let's move out. We have a missing colony to investigate." The three tanks immediately began to roll out, heading for the main colonial compound of Akuze.

- Elsewhere -

"Status update on Project Leviathan?"

"Initial tests have proved wanting. While we were able to see some of their capabilities, the fact was that this colony was built with possible raids from pirates and slavers in mind, not the sort of monstrosity they were met with on the ground. Without a firm resistance to more forcefully test their resilience and constitution, this means that our data on the... 'Maws' is incomplete."

"I suppose you have an 'and' to go along with that statement. I'd rather not go to the Illusive Man with an incomplete assignment."

"We managed to round up a good flock of the Maws before they managed to escape elsewhere on the planet's surface with the rest of the original pack. On top of this the Alliance, predictably, has sent a team of marines to the planet. They're investigating it as we speak."

"Status on communications?"

"We lifted our shut down on the colony's communications long enough for them to get a confirmation of their arrival in. We're setting it back in place as we speak."

"Their forces?"

"Fifty-one marines spread out amongst three M35 Mako Armored Vehicles. Should give us a very thorough shake-down of the Maws' physical capabilities."

"Good. Anything else to report in?"

"Not until after the second phase of the experiment sir."

"Good. Report in once either all the marines are dead, or all the Maws have been neutralized."

"Will do sir."