I am quite gratified and pleased at the reception towards the first compilation of Commander Shepard's logs. Curiously, responses to these logs fell into three distinct and disparate categories. The first category consists of readers who viewed the compilation as an amusing piece of fiction or a well-written bit of 'light reading.' A small fraction of readers responded with what I can only call barely restrained hostility, accusing me of libel and a lack of patriotism or loyalty. I can only speculate that those groups, for their own reasons, chose to cherish the image of Shepard over the truth.
On the other hand, a slim minority of readers noted Shepard's frequent claims of self-serving behaviour and ulterior motives. While acknowledging that these revelations affected the myth and legend that had sprung up around Shepard, they also came to value the insight and understanding into Shepard's character, and considered the logs as proof that Shepard was a silent guardian, a watchful protector, and a true hero.
In the interests of shedding further light onto Shepard, his character and his activities, I have edited another compilation of logs for distribution to those with the appropriate levels of security clearance. Once again, I merely added footnotes and reports, in order to provide a broader perspective wherever necessary, and separated the logs into chapters for easier reading. The majority of this narrative—with its opinions, concerns and perspectives—come from Shepard's own words.
Councillor, Citadel Council
Chapter 1: I Was Having Such a Nice Day
People—and not just civvies—often claim to hate boredom. (1) They complain how much they loathe it, how they'd prefer to do something, to get some action. I think they're nuts. Boredom is great, in my opinion. I never get enough of it. So you might understand why I was pleasantly surprised by how boring my present mission was.
It was a month after the "Battle of the Citadel". Humanity had been invited to join the Council. I'd recommended Anderson for the post of human councillor, though TPTB had yet to make a formal decision. Partly because Citadel space as we knew it was still reeling at the fact that anyone would dare to make a run at the Citadel and come so close to getting away with it. Partly because TPTB couldn't get anything done fast unless their lives depended on it. They much preferred to pretend everything was business as usual.
Case in point: the whole idea that the attack had been sparked by the Reapers—an ancient race of beings that had built the Citadel and the mass relays. They'd been popping up every fifty thousand years or so to wipe out all advanced forms of sentient life for the fun of it until their last victims, the Protheans, thwarted their usual scheme. Once they realized that they couldn't recycle the same plan they'd been using for countless millennia, they improvised using a bunch of agents, including former Spectre Saren Arterius and the geth. Thanks to my bumbling and this idiotic heroic reputation I'd been saddled with since Elysium, I got swept up in the whole disaster and had to save the day.
Anyways, TPTB much preferred the notion that Saren went nuts on his own and hired a bunch of geth to wreak havoc, as this Reaper thing scared the crap out of them. So that's the story they stuck to. And to prevent me from saying otherwise, they sent me and the Normandy off to hunt down the last few pockets of geth.
Fine by me. We scoured the Attican Traverse with a fine-toothed comb, and got nothing but a single geth dropship for our trouble—which was delightfully easy to take out. I took advantage of this time to relax, maintain my weapons and listen to some jazz. I even managed to get caught up on my paperwork, believe it or not.
By the end of the month, we had moved into the Terminus Systems. Technically, that was outside our jurisdiction, and if anyone caught us, we could trigger hostilities between the Citadel races and the Terminus Systems. But that was what our handy-dandy stealth systems were for. Business as usual.
Or so I thought.
The day started innocuously enough. Got up. Did my morning exercises. Showered. Had breakfast. Read my vid-mail before starting my usual rounds touring the Normandy and harassing the crew. Most of the unread messages were boring stuff. Or spam.
There was only one interesting message. Reports of Alliance ships hunting geth in Citadel space had noted an unusually high rate of fire from the opposition. Investigation discovered that the geth were modifying their weapons with detachable heat sinks. This allowed them to redirect the heat generated from weapons fire into these heat sinks, eject them once they were saturated, and insert a new one. As a result, they could fire at a faster rate without pausing to vent excess heat or cool their weapons down. The author of the message recommended that organic armies adopt the use of these heat sinks to counter the improved efficiency of geth weapons. Given how these detachable heat sinks allowed a finite number of shots, he proposed to call them "thermal clips".
Interesting idea, but it probably wouldn't pass muster. Bean counters wouldn't allow it.
Closing my terminal, I donned my old N7 hardsuit, the one I was issued upon graduating from Basic. Just on a whim, to relieve the monotony of an otherwise delightfully boring day. Having successfully stalled for another ten minutes, I headed up to the command deck. We had been exploring the Omega nebula for the past couple days. Yesterday, we finished searching the Fathar system. Today, we were going to poke around the Amada system. Woohoo.
"Disengaging FTL drives," I heard Joker report as I entered the CIC. (2) "Emissions sinks active. Board is green, we are running silent."
"Pressly," I greeted my XO. "How're things going?"
"Fine, aside from the fact that we're wasting our time," Pressly replied while signing off on the daily maintenance logs. "Four days searching up and down this sector and we haven't found any sign of geth activity."
"Three ships went missing here in the past month," Joker pointed out, pulling up the relevant logs to verify his statement. "Something happened to them."
"Any intel on who might be responsible?" I asked Joker. He shook his head.
"My money's on slavers," Pressly stated firmly. "The Terminus Systems are crawling with them."
"Picking up something on the long-range scanner," Ensign Draven interrupted before I could respond. "Unidentified vessel." She accessed the ladar imaging system to get a better look at the silhouette. "Hmm. Looks like a cruiser."
Joker glanced at the appropriate computer panel. "Doesn't match any known signatures."
That was the point where my paranoid streak stirred from its month-long hibernation.
"Cruiser is changing course," Draven continued. "Now on intercept trajectory."
Pressly glanced at Draven incredulously, moved to an empty computer console and tapped into the sensor systems. "Can't be," he said, despite the readouts that clearly said otherwise. "Stealth systems are engaged. There's no way a geth ship could possibly—"
"It's not the geth," Joker interrupted. The tension in his voice echoed the sudden screaming from my paranoid streak. "Brace for evasive manoeuvres," he yelled.
We jinked to port then dove starboard, trying to dodge the weapons fire that spat out from the unidentified cruiser. It looked like some sort of focused particle beam, but no one used those kinds of weapons. The energy requirements, which were at least a thousand times greater than a traditional mass accelerator, tended to discourage their use by most sapients.
Then the beam, or whatever it was, grazed the top of the Normandy.
The computer console Pressly was using exploded in his face. As fire enthusiastically roared from the console, Pressly staggered back a step before collapsing to the ground. "Pressly!" Draven called out, rising from her seat to check on him. The cruiser hit us with a second shot, rocking the Normandy to the side and knocking her off-balance. She clipped the edge of the seat with enough force to knock her out.
"Kinetic barriers down," Joker called out as Draven fell to the deck besides Pressly. The Normandy was shaking like it was suffering a seizure or something. "Multiple hull breaches," he continued as panel after panel exploded into flames. "Weapons offline. Somebody get that fire out!"
I wasn't available to help, as I was already running down the stairs to Deck Two. The cold hard facts belied any cowardice behind my actions: less than a minute since we detected that cruiser, and it had already crippled us. There was no way we'd be able to fight back. As much as I hated to admit it, it was time to abandon ship. But I had to do a couple things first. Burden of command and all that.
I raced through the mess hall, passed the console that Kaidan spent every other hour tinkering with, ran the gauntlet of sleeper pods to the emergency situation console and frantically started entering commands. Behind me, I felt the cruiser hit us one, two, three times. I heard emergency sirens blare out as I continued typing away. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that the main lights were offline, leaving only the emergency breakers and the fires that had started just about everywhere to provide some semblance of illumination. A man cried out in pain as yet another piece of equipment exploded. Gritting my teeth, I ignored the urge to turn around and kept working.
"Shepard," Kaidan called out as I finished. By this point, we were venting all sorts of compressed gases, most of which weren't very healthy. Plus, the smoke was starting to get thick. I put on my helmet and engaged the seals before turning around. I took a deep breath of fresh air, and then opened my mouth. "Distress beacon's ready for launch."
"Will the Alliance get here on time?" he asked, sealing his own helmet. Another hit knocked him off his feet. I caught him before he sent us both sprawling on the ground in a most un-heroic fashion. "The Alliance won't abandon us," I replied, dodging the question. Glancing around, I saw a couple fires that were getting too close to the emergency situation console. If that thing blew, we wouldn't be able to launch the distress beacon or officially issue the evacuation order. Grabbing a fire extinguisher, I tossed it to Kaidan. "We just need to hang on," I continued, grabbing another extinguisher and putting out the nearest fire. "Get everyone onto the escape shuttles." (3)
"Joker's still in the cockpit," Kaidan told me, copying my actions. "He won't abandon ship." He paused before adding "I'm not leaving, either."
Oh for crying out loud.
"I need you to get the crew onto the evac shuttles," I repeated. "I'll take care of Joker." Another explosion rocked the ship, dislodging a couple wires. Key wires apparently, given how the display panel on the emergency situation console suddenly developed a bad case of static.
"Commander..." Kaidan began.
"Kaidan, go," I interrupted. I paused to look at him. "Now."
"Aye, aye," Kaidan said after a pause.
Reconnecting the wires, I stumbled over to the console and slapped a big red button. This simultaneously launched the distress beacon and activated the evac alarms.
As the new alarms blared, I saw the crew start to head for the shuttles. Kaidan opened the hatch to one. "Everybody in," he ordered, waving his arm in a circular motion towards the hatch. "Go, go, go!" About three or four people, including Dr. Chakwas, dove in and locked themselves in their seats. Kaidan waited for another female crewman who we could see running towards us. She was a couple metres away when the ship rocked under another hit, sending her flying through the air with a screech. Her cry ended abruptly when she hit the deck head-first. The sickening crack, coupled with the unnatural angle of her head to the rest of her body, told us that she wouldn't be getting up any time soon.
Stifling a curse, Kaidan clambered into the shuttle, latched himself in and hit the launch button. I glimpsed their faces, tense and scared, before the hatch closed shut.
Time to get Joker, I decided. I was just starting to head for the command deck when another console exploded into flame right in front of me. Staggering back, I managed to regain my balance and start walking again.
"Mayday, mayday, mayday," I heard Joker call out over the comm systems. He must have accidentally triggered both the intra-ship and long-range communications systems. "This is SSV Normandy."
I had to squint as I stumbled through the deck. There was so much smoke billowing through the corridors now, it made it very difficult to see where I was going. The muted lighting from the emergency breakers didn't do much to alleviate the situation. All I could see was smoke, fires, sparks, and the distinct impression that a lot of panels had buckled or cracked. Thankfully, after wasting so much time making daily rounds of the ship, I could navigate blindfolded.
"We've suffered heavy damage from an unknown enemy," Joker continued as I turned left and started to head up the stairs, only to see that the passageway was blocked with a pile of debris. Making an about-face, I was relieved to see that the other stairs was clear.
"Come on baby, hold together," Joker urged as I jogged up the stairs. "Hold together!"
There was a hissing sound of escaping air as the doors to the command deck opened. I left Deck Two behind and entered the command deck.
At first, I wasn't sure if this was the same command deck I had left two or three minutes ago. That one was alive with colour and light from the holographic displays, computer consoles and lights. It was full of people sitting at their stations or moving around, focused on their work while indulging in the odd minute of idle conversation. There was always a certain warmth to all the hustle and bustle.
Now it was dead. The only lights came from a few pieces of equipment fitfully spitting sparks. The weapons from the cruiser had chewed completely through the hull above me, exposing the command deck to the vacuum of space. The 'ceiling' gaped open, with a few girders protruding out, like some beast gasping for air. As I watched, a panel detached from the hull and lazily spun off, briefly obscuring the stars that were blazing coldly at me.
Looking away, I started to plod my way to the cockpit, the mag-locks on my hardsuit boots keeping me from floating away. I was struck by how empty it was in here. There was no one around. I know, I know, there shouldn't have been anyone, what with the evac alert and all. But still, to see things like this? It was like walking through a graveyard.
It didn't really help matters that I couldn't hear anything. I'd just come from a cacophony of alarms, roaring fires, and screaming crew mates. Now all I could hear was the clump of my boots mag-locking on the floor and my own heavy breathing.
Pushing aside a few chairs that had detached from the floor and were blocking the way, I was relieved to see a shimmering barrier curtain up ahead. The command deck had an emergency kinetic barrier installed between the cockpit and the CIC to protect the pilot in the event that air pressure was lost. It wasn't the best when it came to maintaining a breathable atmosphere, but at least it would keep Joker from dying of hypoxia. (4)
Arriving at the cockpit, I pushed my way through the barrier curtain. The first thing I noticed was the sudden return of sounds in the form of alarms. There were also lights, as the computer consoles were still working here, but I could see them on my approach, so I was already aware of them.
Joker was madly tapping away at the controls. He'd activated an emergency breathing system, which erected a kinetic bubble over his head like some kind of transparent helmet. Guess he didn't want to trust the air in the cockpit right now.
"Come on, Joker!" I yelled. "We have to get out of here!"
"No!" Joker immediately yelled back desperately. "I won't abandon the Normandy! I can still save her!" (5)
I couldn't blame him. Not really. Seeing the Normandy crippled like this, dying in gasps and whimpers, really hurt. It hurt a lot, considering how I'd only lived on board for less than a year. Which meant Joker must've felt even worse, considering how his Vrolik's Syndrome made it almost impossible for him to leave the Normandy. He'd established a closer connection to the ship than anyone else, so the thought of abandoning her must've killed him. Not literally, though, unlike the fate we would surely suffer if we dawdled around here any longer.
"The Normandy's lost," I said sadly, trying to ignore the lump in my throat as I voiced my realization out loud. "Going down with the ship won't change that."
Joker's head drooped. "Yeah... okay," he said after a couple seconds. "Help me up."
I reached over and started to lift him out of his seat. As I did so, he happened to glance at the sensor display. His eyes widened. "They're coming around for another attack!" he warned.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a sudden flare of light stab into the darkness behind me. Letting go of him, I ran back to get a better look. A huge beam of light had punched its way into the command deck, churning up a pile of sparks and shrapnel.
And it was coming our way.
I ran back to the cockpit and yanked Joker, who was frantically trying to manoeuvre the Normandy out away from the beam, out of the chair. "Ah! Watch the arm!" he protested.
"Thought your legs were brittle, not your arms," I cracked. For the first time, I thanked the designers of the Normandy for putting one of the escape shuttles next to the cockpit. The access hatch was along the starboard wall, between the co-pilot's chair and the barrier curtain. Slinging his arm over my shoulder, I hauled Joker to the access hatch, opened it up, helped him in and buckled him up.
I should have dived in after him. But, just at that point, an explosion erupted behind me. I paused for a second, glancing behind me to take a look.
And that was when a second explosion knocked me off my feet and sent me hurtling back into the cockpit.
I managed to grab the corner of a wall and stop myself before I went flying into the wall. By that point, though, the beam had caught up to us. It was now merrily sizzling away between me and the access hatch.
"Commander," Joker yelled out.
Well, clearly I wouldn't be getting out that way. Which only left Plan B. Bit of a gamble, but it was all I had left. The only thing I knew for certain was that Joker wouldn't be able to follow me. So I lunged forward.
Joker saw what I was doing. "Shepard!" he cried out, struggling in his seat.
I slapped the access hatch controls to seal him in and launch the shuttle before he could do anything stupid. Then I let go. My hope was that I would drift out of the Normandy, through that gaping hole above me and wait. My suit's life support systems should keep me alive in the vacuum of space until help arrived.
Then yet another explosion sent me flying through the air, bouncing off a wall and spinning out of the Normandy into space.
As I flew away, I managed to right myself and look back. The Normandy had gashes and tears everywhere, with fires flickering visibly like blood flowing from multiple wounds. Following that particular metaphor, it was clear that she had been decapitated, as the bow had been separated from the rest of the ship. The cruiser struck again and again, its beams carving into the Normandy. There was a cruel pause...
...and then she exploded.
I watched as the Normandy, my home, disintegrated into a conflagration of violent light and smoke. That bright flare disappeared all too quickly. Stifling a tear, I started to notice other things. Like the sheer amount of debris around me. And the fact that various pieces of the Normandy were still on fire even in the vacuum of space. And the hissing that I could hear...
Pulling up my hardsuit stats on my HUD, I could see that it had sprung a leak. Three of them, in fact—one just below my chin and two between my shoulder blades. Must've happened when I was bouncing out of the Normandy.
Looked like Plan B wouldn't be helping me out this time.
I frantically started flailing, slapping my hands over the ruptures in a vain attempt to stem the flow of much-needed oxygen. Stupid, I know. But no one was there to see me, so I didn't have to worry about acting in a heroic or sensible fashion.
As I struggled about, I noticed something else. One of the planets in the system seemed awfully big, and it was getting bigger by the second. It was getting hard to breathe. And think. But it occurred to me that maybe the planet was getting bigger because I had gotten caught in its gravity well and was now on a terminal descent vector.
Before I knew it, I had entered the atmosphere. In the back of my mind, I absent-mindedly noted that my hardsuit was starting to glow, and that things were getting awfully warm in here.
I think that was the last thought that surfaced before everything went black.
(1): Most Alliance soldiers enjoy boredom as well. It's usually the senior officers who love conflict, mostly because they've forgotten how much stress and suffering occurs.
(2): Command Information Centre, where tactical information is displayed and processed.
(3): There has always been a debate over whether to call them escape pods or escape shuttles. Shepard uses the latter term here, which was the officially accepted term.
(4): Even today, there is a misunderstanding that exposure to the vacuum of space will cause an unprotected organic to explode, freeze or boil to death. Rather, the change in pressure would cause any remaining air to leave the lungs. Any oxygen dissolved in the blood would leave the blood and enter the lungs. Once this deoxygenated blood hits the brain, the organic would soon lose consciousness and die.
(5): It is common for humans and other organics to anthropomorphize their ship. Given how ships carry a crew from place to place, and provide the environment and resources to keep them alive, it is understandable how many crewmates come to assign a female gender to their ship, like a surrogate mother.