I jumped on the bandwagon, falling to the temptation. Well… it was tempting. I just couldn't avoid a self-insert forever.

This is an SI of unknown quality. My goal is to survive the Reaper Apocalypse (obviously) through manipulation of knowledge, technology, and people, but without changing the 'feel' of a Mass Effect story. This is not a Mad Genius Death-Lasers story, nor is it akin to a superhero movie.

If anything, the canon 'feel' of Mass Effect will be altered only slightly by reality, not by author appeal. There will be no bikini armor, no 'idealized' women, no obscenely muscled men (except Vega, if he shows up), no ignorance of the consequences, no blatant favoritism in the writing, and no goddamn Mary Sues.

In the Real World, there would be an Endor Holocaust, simply because of basic physics. In the same way, this story will have the consequences of my actions, whether good or bad. If I fuck something up, it will have horrible consequences.

Vague feelings of falling hit me, like I'd gone eight rounds with David again, like …

Like I was sleeping, falling endlessly, only I fell through places, events, people…

As I fall, I make out the barest of glimpses of the wake of the boat. I'm too small to see over the railing, and I can just barely see the disturbed water so far below, like the boat had been kicking its legs harder than usual.

Grandma laughs, and tells me that the boat is a ship, and that it doesn't have legs. I try to hear what I already know that she will say next, that Papa Frank is here, but I'm falling again, and I sink beneath the waves.

This was so long ago; I had forgotten that this had even happened.

Suddenly, I realize that I almost saw Papa Frank, for the first time, but had again missed the opportunity, as though even my subconscious mind denied me that privilege.

Next up is the my first day of work at the construction company, as I'm handed a wire brush and told to start scraping. They smile kindly at me, proud to see the next generation starting his work. Then I am no longer scraping diligently, but watching myself scrape the boom section, as the concrete and gravel gives way to dirt, and I'm gone from the Shop.

Whoever's directing this slideshow of memories decides to skip forward a bit, as I start to understand what's happening. I start pondering how I can be conscious while in a dream, but before I can explore this issue further, I feel a prodding, like some is pok-

August 25th


I can feel wetness on my chest, and hard ground underneath me. Oddly enough, it doesn't feel like concrete, but there is definitely a puddle of something on my chest.

My body is killing me. I haven't felt this sore in a long time.

I groan and roll over, on to my back, and slowly checking everything.

My biceps were tender, but experience told me they'd be fine in half an hour. I told experience to shut the hell up. Legs were decent, and would need a little stretching. Last but not least, my head felt like an axe murderer had attacked me, but again, I should be fine in a couple minutes.

Opening my gummy eyes and blinking, I am greeted by a shady set of old I-beams, connecting to support a rocky looking cave ceiling. To the side of me, though, are metal walls, and I can hear the hubbub of a bustling city behind my pounding ears.

I sit up, cracking my neck and swinging my arms to loosen up. Oddly, I'm wearing my gi pants, not jeans, and my backpack is lying just a couple feet away. As I sluggishly climb to my feet, I lean over and snatch the strap of my backpack, digging into the pack to see what's in there. First thing I touch is a sweaty rag, which means my towel. A hard thing, I run my hand along it and find a slim wooden cylinder, my tanto. Light padding and some Velcro: my sparring gloves. Tie that in with my gi, and I must have been coming home from class.

Huh. Must've fainted. I briefly wonder what we did for class tonight, but discard that thought. First priority is getting home, then figure out what happened.

But then why am I in a cave? Why can I still hear-


A harsh garble of sound snaps in my ears, but it's meaningless.

Something small, blunt, and hard pokes me in the back. I drop my pack instantly, realizing that the noise before was trying to talk to me.

...but why was his (or, God forbid, her) speech so mangled? It didn't sound like any language I'd heard before, and believe me, I've heard a few.

The voice continues, ever harsher now, but I think I can distinguish it as a male with a slight oddity in his voice, almost like he'd been watching too much Stargate.

"Listen, buddy, we don't have to do this." I try to reason, my voice low and calm, despite the fact I have absolutely no idea what the man is saying. Given that he's poking a gun into my back, I am not going to try to be too argumentative.

Snapping with barely contained ferocity, the voice returns again, and I think that the mugger is running out of patience. It (He?) is angry.

"I don't have anything of value," I try again, adding a slight pleading sound to my voice that isn't entirely faked.

Snarling, the voice roars in an enraged fashion, and the barrel of the gun jabs a little further into my back. It's about dead center. The voice keeps yelling, but the tone is slightly hesitant, as if it's worried.

Worried perhaps, but he's getting annoyed, I realized. Annoyed person plus a gun equals dead Nick.

Keeping my hands up but my elbows low, I turn my head a bit and spot the man's right arm protruding out of the corner of my eye. Okay, buddy, if you're this serious, then I think we're gonna have a problem.

The voice sounds again, and I feel a slight change in the pressure of the gun barrel on my back. Flicking my eyes down, I see my black and gold sling-backpack get tossed back, behind the mugger.

This is my chance, I realize. This is the only chance I'm going to get before it decides to use that weapon.

Before he can finish, I spin, knocking his gun arm across his body with my right forearm. He's shocked, but he holds onto the pistol. I swiftly follow up with a left palm heel to his upper arm, jarring it. A phantom voice echoes in my head, reciting locations, as my body swings into autopilot.

I punch out, putting hips and shoulders into the strike to his chest.

The man backs up, choking, looks like he's gonna bring the pistol back at me.

As my right hand comes back, I snatch the man's gun arm and pull, bringing him back forward.

A half-open snarl turns into a howl of pain as I break the man's arm with another palm strike. The pistol clatters to the ground as his arm disfigures.

But before I can move again though, he counters. A left punch with a sting connects to my temple. He got some force into the blow, but I can tell he's never trained for this. A brawler, probably used to back-alley negotiations, and now he's well and truly pissed, so he's hitting with every bit he's got.

He's surprised when I don't fall back, and I'll bet even more surprised when my left hand comes back, aiming for the eyes. I hit the neck instead of the chest with my first strike, but now I'm spot on. Or so I think.

But instead of a knuckle strike to his eyes, I hit something fleshy that I don't recognize.

As we traded blows, I didn't get a good look at the man's face, but now I can tell that his eyes are far apart, like really far apart. His nose looks squished, though, so I congratulate myself in a flash before moving in again. This guy's shorter than me, but I don't want to risk the chance he's got a second gun or a knife.

A knee to the groin puts him off his game, though, and an elbow strike to the jaw knocks him back.

He's dazed, so I look frantically for the gun, spotting it and punting it back behind me, out of reach. Just as I look up, the mugger has recovered and is throwing another left hook. Having a broken arm doesn't give you a lot of options, I guess.

But he's slow, and in the instant between my block and his fist colliding, I pick up a few details. He's ailing, leaning back now, and he's left his front leg locked and open.

I knock his arm to the side and kick out, halfway between a kick and a stomp. Shihan would shake his head at my technique, but it's effective: his leg buckles back like kindling, and he crumples.

I step back for a second; waiting for him to get back up before the result of my instinctive stomp becomes apparent. As it does, my mind whirls back to the pistol on the ground.

On impulse, I turn around and dive for the gun, scrabbling to grab it as my hands start shaking. God, I'm shaking as I finally seize the pistol. The fight is almost over and now it hits me that I just beat the stuffing out of somebody.

I turn back, but the mugger's already crawled away in the time I was fumbling over the pistol.

I look for him wildly, pointing the pistol everywhere, but he's gone.

Backing up, I hit the side of the alley and sink down to the ground, hands shaking.

It seems like something trivial to be worried about, but I just want my hands to stop shaking.

Struggling to focus as adrenaline rushes throughout my system, I somehow manage to concentrate enough to think for a minute about that mugger.

His eyes were spread ridiculously far apart, his nose was squashed, and he just plain didn't look right.

As I slowly rewind the furiously quick brawl, I gradually piece together details. I didn't have the spare brainpower to concentrate on looking at the guy, but I was looking at his chest, trying to read his body movements. In my haste, I focused lower on his chest than I should've, and I didn't quite read him as well as I would have like.

As the adrenaline began wearing off, I begin to shiver, despite the fact that my wool-lined winter jacket was very warm. I tried to force myself to calm down, but my body refuses, and I quickly leap to my feet, gathering up my spilled pack and pulling it on. Pulling my baseball cap on, I head out of the alley, only to stop, astonished, at the end.


Well, chimes in a corner of my mind, that explains why that mugger's eyes were too far apart.

Shut up, the rest of my brain shouts, as I numbly stare at everything whirling around in a chaotic rush of purpose and poverty. Salarian merchants are hawking goods at passing turians, while batarians in Blue Suns armor muscle through the crowds of poor. I even spy an elcor with a cigar hanging out of his tiny mouth.


I'm on Omega, I think, the steady mental voice completely at odds with my current disposition.

Oh shit.

As I regain my awareness, I move away, finding a shadowed cranny with an overlook of the main walkway past Afterlife. Plopping myself down, I decide to stay here for a while.


As in, Aria T'Loak.

As in, Mass Effect.

Hoo boy.

But I can't linger on that incredibly amazing oh my-

Okay… focus… try to focus.

I have no food, no water, and no shelter.

Okay, let's stay away from the negative, I have a feeling there will be too many of those.

I have clothing: a school crew top, my black gi pants, my worn outdoor jacket, and a formerly white baseball cap. I have a sweat-covered towel, my sparring gloves, and … my ceremonial tanto.

Now I want to slap myself silly. The tanto would have made fighting that mugger a lot easier. I now also have a pistol, though I don't know how to reload it or any of its more intricate functions.

Other than that, I have my wallet, about fifty bucks US and Canadian. My pocketknife, a nice Benchmade, is clipped to my pants, and I'm wearing my runners. I'm not yet hungry, I'm slightly thirsty, and I'm way too paranoid to go to sleep anytime soon.

Looking down, I can see the elcor bouncer maintaining discipline in the line, though I don't see any stupid humans bothering the bouncer. Well, I could be a couple days or ...

Hmm… I don't know the date.

Hell, I barely know the date when the events of either game took place. I think it's the twenty-one hundreds, but that's literally all I know. Okay, given that I don't see Reapers or Collectors slaughtering everyone in sight, so I should be good in that sense.

If I'm lucky, I've arrived before Mass Effect 1, though since I never played the first game I probably will be having a lot of stumbling around and messing up.

Still, being on Omega means I might interact with characters from the second game. Hopefully, I might be able to catch a ride to the Citadel, or maybe hook up with Garrus or Mordin if I'm closer to that time frame.

But… should I? Should I intervene with the events of the game? What if I mess things up? The suicide mission alone can claim the lives of the entire team, Bioware made that clear enough.

On the other hand, I could save a lot of lives if I helped Shepard. The question is not should I or should I not, the question is how do I go about trying to save the galaxy from an ancient race of machine exterminators.

At least, I console myself, they're not shaped like peppershakers. Then we would all be doomed.

No, hooking up with Shepard is definitely the best option. So let's list off all the companions that I could hook up with.

First game companions… all I know are Wrex, Garrus, Tali, and Liara. Wrex could be anywhere working, Garrus, would be either at C-Sec or Omega, Tali would be somewhere in the galaxy with the flotilla, and Liara is either on the archeology planet, or on Illium.

Okay, so the only viable option would be Garrus, or Wrex. But I doubt Wrex would take along some human on his contracts, and even if he did, I'm not sure I'd be able to pull my weight. That goes for Garrus as well. Maybe if I joined C-Sec, I'd be able to join up with Shepard and have the time to improve myself to that point, but other than that… it'd be impossible.

What about the dossiers from the second game?No, every person in the second game that you could recruit was the expert in something. Tali was – is – a tech expert, Garrus is a sniper and tactician, Thane is the best assassin in the galaxy, Miranda and Jacob have ins with Cerberus, Samara and Jack are biotics, Grunt, Legion, and Zaeed are some of the best fighters, and Kasumi is the best thief.

Me? I'm just a kid, barely into college, with limited shooting knowledge and no real interest in physics, or chemistry, or computers. I've got no – well, no practical – military experience.

Sure, I'm athletic, but I don't have the genetic improvements or cybernetic implants of the Alliance Marines. They'd destroy me in a straight fight, and there's plenty of out of work marines in the mercenary groups.

Except… they don't know that. If I could bluff them or trick them, then it doesn't matter how strong or fast I am. Only how smart I am, and how I play the game.

So really, all I have to do is manipulate my opponents into falling for my tricks.

Of which I have none.


How am I going to survive here?

"That's the human, get him!"

Oh, shi-

I bolt from my outlook spot, hopping over veranda railings while three batarians try to chase me from the main walkway. I'm not in the best running gear, but I have a feeling I'm more athletic than any of these guys.


But if they have guns, then I've gotta get the hell out of here right now!


I'm not a practitioner of parkour, but I've got plenty of friends who are, used to big cities as they were, and it didn't look too hard to do. As well, I was in gi pants, which are made to avoid restricting movement as much as possible, for those high-flying karate kickers. Alright, coming up the first ledge…

I jump over the gap, reaching out with my hands. Slapping down on the railing, I try my hardest to swing my legs out, around my twisting torso and over the railing. Whoops, legs didn't quite go all the way… pain explodes up and down my left leg, from where it smacked into the railing. I stumble, almost falling, but recovering just in time to take a step up a small coffee table and make the next leap.

The landing on this is a bit off, though, and I trip and fall face first, while the batarians yell and fire at me. Luckily for me, I'm well used to tumbling, and with a quick front shoulder roll, I'm back on my feet and moving again.



They have a shotgun, that treasonous corner of my mind says, almost as if watching from a distance. Must go faster, I think, ignoring that thought. Must go faster, must go faster, must go faster!

Running carefully, as narrow as possible, I started cursing out everyone in the apartment block I was passing. Really, who leaves a decorative urn on the ledge where it can be knocked over?

I couldn't keep this up for long, though, because I was quickly running out of room on the ledge. I look desperately, but there was no more room on the ledge, it just droppes off. Glancing back at the batarians, I saw one of them a little close, but the other two were lagging behind. Okay, then, looks like I have just enough space.

As I reached the end of my space, I unslung my backpack and tossed it over the edge onto the walkway. Unlike vaulting the railings, falling from height was something I was very used to. I slowed as much as I dared, before crouching and dropping down in a more or less smooth motion.

I was still moving a bit forward, but I had plenty of room. Extending my legs but keeping them from being locked, I landed on the balls of my feet and rolled, my chin tucking into my left shoulder, hands coming up to brace, and my right shoulder smoothing meeting the metal flooring. I rolled back up, grabbed my backpack with my left hand and took off again, down the side walkway that had cut of my escape.

The first batarians turned the corner just as I was turning another farther down the way, and let lose a one-handed shot. As I wheeled around the corner, the tiny fragment of metal bounced off the wall and blasted right in front of me.

Swearing quickly, I kept going, knocking aside grumpy bystanders, who got a whole lot grumpier when the batarians thugs came behind me, firing over the heads of the crowd. A couple people screamed, but the rest just ducked and moved to the side, apparently fully used to gun battles in the streets.

The crowds running back and forth didn't help my escape any, as I started bouncing between bodies, jostled to and fro as the batarians keep firing at me, the rounds flying overhead. In the jumble of the mob, I lost my bearings and got spun around.

I ended up facing a small portal to some courtyard, and with the batarians coming quickly I sprinted into the opening I was presented.

The courtyard was full of low, functional benches and planters, in the same metal that seemed so prevalent on this station. More windows from apartments looked out on all sides down on the secluded courtyard, though the occupants didn't seem in a rush to assist me. However nice it looked, there was still the problem that stared me straight in the face as I entered.

There were no other ways out of the courtyard. I was trapped like a rat, and the batarians were now following me in.

Another round flew over my shoulder, and I dove over one of the low planters, landing awkwardly on my backpack. Groaning in pain, I push my pack away, but not before reaching in and grabbing my tanto, which goes by my side. I draw the pistol I took off the first mugger and hold it in a careful two-handed grip. The weight of the pistol isn't balanced in the slightest, but as I put my finger on the trigger, the mass effect field kicks in, and the pistol becomes much lighter. I cautiously get into a firing crouch, before peaking just over the planter.

One of the thugs is running straight at me, pistol in hand, while the other two seem to have dropped into cover.

I drop the crouch to a kneeling position and pop my torso out of cover long enough to squeeze off a shot. Unexpectedly, despite the different ergonomics of the boxy pistol, it's very similar to the pistols I've shot before. As I fire, I think instinctively that I missed, but a bloom of blood spurts from the batarian's chest, and I'm so astonished that I reflexively fire again, and a second hole appears in the batarian. The first shot hit him in the upper chest, and the second penetrates where the batarians chest meets his neck.

The batarian stumbles, choking and trying to grab his neck, as if to staunch the flow of blood. His form crumples, sinking to his knees before going motionless on the floor. Cries of rage come from his two friends, as they spot their dead comrade. An idea pops up in my head, if I can get the idiots to leave cover, I can kill them quickly.

"Hey, bastards, how's it feel to get yer asses kicked?" I yell past the planter's protective bulk, peaking slightly over the lip of cover to gauge their reactions. They still look angry, but there's no sign that it's because of my remarks. Oh, right. I don't have an omni-tool, so my English isn't being auto translated for them. Oh well, might as well keep trying. I let loose a barrage of curse words, each harsher than the last, in hopes that if the content of my taunts does not reach then, then the tone will.

This continues for a tense minute that seems like forever, the batarians losing occasional potshots while I conserve my ammunition. Eventually, though, my words and the blood soaked body of their companion pissed off another of the batarians enough for him to leap up and charge. His companion lets loose with his shotgun, but he fires wildly and misses.

I let off a carefully aimed shot, but it misses the loud batarian by a small margin and the thug drops into cover, much closer to me than before. But I see that he's behind a bench, and if I dive out, across the open spot and to the other planter, I might be able to hit him.

If I waste any more time, though, he'll move up and shoot me. With no time to waste, I coil my legs and leap. I grunt in pain as I ram into the floor, but I've got my angle, and I focus through the pain long enough to bring up the pistol and shoot. The batarian isn't even aware I've moved, and his right side is in plain view. The first shot rips through him like he's jello, shredding flesh and destroying his kneecap. The batarian shrieks in pain and flops over, clutching his leg.

God, his screams are downright terrifying. He's pleading, screeching to me, begging me to not shoot him. For a moment, I lower my pistol, reluctant. Then that little, formerly traitorous part of my brain pipes up. How many people have begged this guy to spare them? How many has this ganger executed in cold blood, for a little money?

I blast the bastard's brains out with two more shots.

Then my pistol clicks, as the final batarian jumps out of cover and charges, blasting from the hip. I'm lying on my side barely behind cover, and the batarian is going absolutely batshit crazy.

I would scream in fear, but all my breath is gone, as I huddle as close to my trusty planter. The batarian moves quickly, I can hear his boots clanging against the metal of floor. I would count the shotgun blasts, but I have no idea how many that gun can fire before he needs to reload.

A blast goes off, chipping of bits of the planter above me. But as the batarian sprints closer, I hear the most beautiful sound in the world: a click. The batarian stops running, racking the slide of his weapon and fumbling.

I jump up, grabbing my tanto from the ground and unsheathing it as I take off, running faster than I've ever run before. Adrenaline spikes and I throw the tanto's sheath straight at the batarian, striking him on the head. He looks up, just in time for me to stab the thug in the chest, as well as running into him and knocking him over. We slam down together, the fall pushing the blade further into his chest.

He punches me in the face, hard. My vision starts swaying, but now I'm close enough that I don't need to see. Withdrawing the tanto, I stab again and again, but this bastard just. Won't. Die. More punches rain on me, until the batarian actually punches me off him.

My back hits metal, and I can barely make out the batarian, blood pouring out of his chest, as he keeps hitting me. Blows to the face, to the temple, to the jaw, and I'm slowly losing it as… hints of black….

Oh… I think, deceptively calm…I'm going to die...

For some reason, this is funny, and I want to start laughing, as the batarian's blows gradually decrease. I wonder why he stopped, until the sound of a falling body resonates through the floor. Turning my head sluggishly, I see the batarian, motionless in a puddle of blood. The bastard bled out.

With no more incoming punches, my head suddenly feels worse, as if it had gotten used to the pain. I know this will pass, but before it can, I feel… a little…off…

Pain, like cracks in glass, spreads across my brain. I'm awake, conscious, but just barely. My back is wet again, and I feel like absolute shit.

It takes a little while to loosen up enough to get back off the ground, and when I do, I have to sit back down against my trusty planter. All my adrenaline has finally drained away, but that just means that I can feel the aching in my shoulder from when I smashed into the ground. Still, I'd had worse, and with a grunt of effort, I clamber to my feet. I kick a pistol accidently as I do, and I reflexively scoop it up.

The first thing that I really look at is the corpse of that last batarian, still clutching his stab wounds. I stare at the body, feeling nothing, but after a minute, I begin to feel a small sense of … pride?

I recoil in disgust, not at the blood-soaked corpse, but at myself. I just killed a person! Why the hell am I feeling proud? I am a murderer!

Except… I am proud of killing the thug. He was a criminal, after all. How was this any different from the self-defense or vigilante justice I had supported before? I had always been a firm Second Amendment adherent, but this was not the same!

This time, I was the one who had killed three people in my own defense.

I was about to consider the immediate ramifications of this new development in my life, when I heard a tap…tap…tap.

What little adrenaline remains in my body surges forward, and I quickly and silently duck behind a bench. Peeking through the thin slits in the metal, I search for whatever made that noise, and settle on a metal stick.

For a moment, I wonder what the rod is, when the tapping comes again, and the pole moves. Oh, I see. It's a crutch.

A crutch supporting a limping batarian, his right arm was swaddled in a crude cast.

The Batarian moves just inside the courtyard, and rapidly spots the still carcasses of his goons. He's shocked, and quickly tries to hobble away from the courtyard, that is, as fast as his crutch will let him. If I let him go, he'll just go get more mooks to chase me. I can't allow that. This may make me a killer, but I'll be damned if I'm going to just keel over and die.

"Hey! Asshole!" I call out, rising from behind the bench and aiming the pistol at him.

The Batarian turns, all four eyes widening as he sees me. No more guilt, I tell myself. This one has it coming. The Batarian tries to limp away, but I open fire. The first shot hits the Batarian's right hip, spinning him slightly. The second penetrates his stomach. The third barely clips his shoulder, but the fourth is takes his eyes. The Batarian's head jerks back, a river of blood pouring from a massive hole where his face used to be.

Another body collapses to the floor of the courtyard, and I'm in the clear.

I move over to check the body, rolling it over to be face up. The gore disgusts me, and I feel nausea rising, but I bite it down. This isn't any different from a cadaver at the morgue, really.

The more I think about the Batarian's face exploding, the more I focus on the immediate.

I pull my slightly sweaty towel out of my bag and wipe off most of the blood on my person, focusing on the visible areas first. I doubt I'll have a good reception if I walk around coated in blood, though Shepard gets away with it. The towel is a loss, now, so I chuck it in a garbage bin.

That done, I began to loot gear from the bodies in the courtyard, starting with their weapons. Two more M-3 Predators join my first one, though I still don't know how to eject the thermal clip. Coming up to the shotgun wielder, I quickly find a surprise waiting for me. It turns out that the batarian wasn't using the usual M-23 Katana, but a much less streamlined, white and black M-22. What was a Cerberus-only gun doing in the hands of a common thug? Much less a shotgun banned for it's wedge-firing system instead of pellet-firing system.

Whatever. I fumble for a bit, then jab an inconspicuous button. I expect it to fold up; instead it spits a thermal clip in my face. I lean back, but the still hot clip singes my jaw. It burns for a moment, but I ignore it. Hot casings are nothing new to me, even though this one was more scientifically advanced than the others.

I search the batarian's belt, coming up with another clip, which I insert into the now empty spot. The little hatch locks back. Huh. I now know how to reload a shotgun with a thermal clip.

Now knowing the general shape of the ejection port button, I eject the clips on the pistols, and stow them away in my pack. My first pistol I shove in my coat pocket, after figuring out which button folds them up.

Next up, I grab anything that looks vaguely like money. I know they use credits, but when Shepard gets credits from a vault or a terminal, all you see is Shepard waiving an omni-tool. Ah, omni-tools. It takes me a minute, but I find the little datapad-like link-thingy that is belted around the batarians waists, which I figure has to be their omni-tools. I can figure out how to use the devices later, I hope.

Next comes the all-important pocket and bag search, which reveals the mystery of credits finally: blank chips. I stumble across hundreds of tiny metal chips, which all have the number zero glowing softly on the face. Ah, so spending credits is like a check. Or maybe it's literally like a credit card? Probably a combination of both, I suppose. Using cash is now exchanging untraceable chips, and using a credit card is just using your omni-tool to transfer the funds.

But the best is last. In the pocket of the Batarian, the very first thug I met on Omega, I find another omni-tool. Unlike the others, which look older, worn, and shoddy, this one is nice and brand spanking new. I mean, it's literally gleaming. Even better, when I grab it, it opens up and warbles out a bit of nonsense.

"Huh? 'The hell?" I mumble, turning the device end over end.

"Language recognized. Modern English, Human." the omni-tool chimes in a semi-realistic, uncanny-valley voice that is just human enough for to recognize, yet just inhuman enough to bother me. It look's like Microsoft Sam got an upgrade.

"It's looks like you are using an omni-tool for the first time. Would you like help?"

"Uh… yeah. Yeah, that'd be just great, but could we do that in a minute? Pause instructions, or something."

"Instructions paused."

Okay. So now I got a nice new omni-tool, which will hopefully translate my words for everyone else. I've got my first omni-tool, credits, and plenty of guns. Time to hit the town.

Setting up my new omni-tool took literally five minutes. The holographic interface occupied most of that time, as the device wouldn't register a too-deep or too-shallow keystroke. But other than that issue, tech-use comes pretty easy to me. I don't want to call myself a techie, but adapting to new tech never really posed an issue to me. The only thing I have a problem with about an omni-tool is the lack of a traditional keyboard. But I can't be the only person with that problem, and a patch or adaptation has to exist, or I'll make one.

Luckily for me, enabling the translator software is the easiest task to do on an omni-tool, probably for good reason. It also allowed me to sync omni-tools and snag away more than ten thousand credits off of the batarians' accounts. This model turned out to be a Polaris, made by Kassa Fabrication. When I found that out, I couldn't help but start humming, even when I finally left to get in to Afterlife.

Which is how I found myself standing in front of a tunnel filled with a good twenty or thirty vorcha, all of which were staring at me like a lump of meat. I'd forgotten one of my first realizations: there are a lot more people on Omega (or the Mass Effect 'verse) than the game portrays. Case in point; the vorcha occupied tunnel by the secondary entrance to Afterlife in damn near full of them. I'm guessing that they don't like a human encroaching on their turf.

I'm put off, and I really want to turn right around, but if I have the impression that if I do, the vorcha will jump on me and rip to shreds.

Just think of it like a bad section of town, I realize. This is no different from passing several dozen greedy meth-heads looking for money.

So meet me at Hill-Of-The-Moon…

I start walking again, descending the steps into the vorcha corridor, and each and every damn one of them is glaring at me. One in particular steps up with a mouth full of jagged fangs.

"You no welcome here!" it snarls. Suddenly, I find that being intimidated of them isn't as big a problem as I thought it would be. Now all I have to do is not laugh at the drool spilling out of his mouth. Hmm… Time to take a risk.

"Back off Shisk, I'm not here to make trouble." I retort, stopping right in front of the vorcha. The others slowly stand up, and I feel a shiver of fear going down my spine. Don't show fear, these things are pack animals. They'll smell it.

The vorcha recoils, then tries to recover his lapse.

"Why you call me Shisk?" it asks, but its tone gives it away. Vorcha just aren't meant to be liars, I guess. "I no Shisk!"

"Look, Shisk, there's no point trying to lie. Now get the hell out of my way before I decide Aria needs to know about vorcha insolence." I snap, making a cutting motion with my hand. Inside my head, I sincerely hope that I didn't go too far there. Insolence is a big word, after all.

"And what if you no make it back to Aria, human?" Shisk hisses, and I have to think quickly.

"What, you think I'm stupid enough to pass through vorcha country without a backup?" I laugh. "If you kill me, my omni-tool registers my death and sends it to Aria, idiot. And let's just see what she thinks about you killing a messenger bringing her important news."

Might have been a little over-the-top there, but vorcha don't exactly understand subtlety, do they? This hunch proves right a second later, when Shisk scowls and moves to the side. I contain my grin of excitement and walk off. I just bluffed a vorcha out of my way! Granted, the average vorcha is pretty stupid, but still.

A quick right then a left, and I'm facing a bored-looking batarian bouncer who is guarding the back entrance to Afterlife. I try not to grimace as I approach, thinking great, more batarians.

"Need to talk to Aria, pal," I say, handing over five hundred credits. I really have no idea how much is appropriate, but five hundred sounds about right to me, assuming there isn't too much inflation or deflation of money in the future.

"I'll need you to leave the pack here." the batarian palms the credits smoothly, and holds out a hand for my bag.

"What, is Aria no longer capable of using her biotics?" I retort, shaking my head. "I think she can handle one measly man."

The batarian shakes his head again.

"Orders. I have to take the bag."

"Listen, buddy," I interject again. "I know you can scan me right here and now, so go ahead. I've got one pistol in my pocket, two more in my bag, and a shotgun with 'em. Other than that, all I've got is my omni-tool and a couple knives."

The batarian tilts his head at my admission, but I don't see any good reason to lie to him. If I did, I'm sure he'd find out and just shoot me for lying.

Nonetheless, the bouncer lifts an arm and activates his omni-tool, bringing up an image of a human body. Bright red dots highlighted my contraband, with three dots in the pack, one in each of my pockets, and one in my lower back. At the bouncer's gesture, I lift my coat slightly and unsheathe just enough of my tanto for him to see. He nods, content, and waves me through.

I nod back and head into Afterlife, passing through a dim corridor and up into the set of familiar-yet-not stairs. As if on cue, the loudspeaker pipes up, and an announcer begins reading the news.

"And in other news, the first human Spectre, Commander Shepard, has been killed by pirates while in the Omega Cluster. Escape pods from Shepard's vessel, the SSV-Normandy, were picked up yesterday by trading vessels orbiting Eingana in the Amada System."


Shepard's dead.

Oh shit. Ohhhh shit.

I'm stuck on Omega, at the start of the two-year break between games. That means Garrus is still at C-Sec, Mordin isn't here, and I know absolutely nobody on Omega.

I'm so damn shocked I just stop walking, and lean heavily on the handrail.


Shepard is dead. Shepard is the Hero, Shepard is supposed to be there. With Shepard dead for his or her two years, then I'm pretty much screwed. No hope of joining the Normandy's crew, or of joining Cerberus. No way I can shoot faster than an ex-Alliance Marine. I don't have biotics or alien musculature. Hell, I'm the kid who almost flunked grade eleven physics, I can't comprehend the complexities of Mass Effect fields and FTL travel.

But you know ballistics. You know caliber and pressure points and blunt force trauma. You're a fighter. You might not like it, but you are. Martial artist, military history buff, hillbilly gun-toter, admit it. You're made for this. You know just enough background knowledge about this time, and have the right mindset to use it.

That knowledge is only useful while things don't change, I shoot back.

So make little changes. Death of one thousand cuts. Shepard will recruit allies when he returns, and you can recruit the allies she wouldn't. The ones that would never associate with Commander Shepard. You've got two years, Nick. Time to go make a difference.

Now go talk to Aria T'Loak.

"So, I hear you have information for me, human."

A slight smirk, the one that I was always told made me look arrogant.

"What'd you know about Collectors?" I inquire.

A scowl appears on her face. The guards shuffle uneasily, as if they are expecting her to smear me all over the walls with a push. Look's like she doesn't tolerate idiots.

"The Collectors want flesh." I say, dropping my smirk and going serious. "They're paying the Blue Suns to get them slaves. You've seen them, haven't you?"

Polaris is watching above…

Aria drops the scowl. Her head tilts, and she regards me less like something she just trod on, and more like a person.

"How do you know that?" she demands, for there is no mistaking that tone. Aria wants to know, and she wants to know now.

"You and two guards stopped a slave-deal between the Collectors and the Blue Suns. The Collectors paid in raw eezo and weapons technology. You killed them all, with biotics, and lost one of your guards. The other one is standing right here, holding a gun to my head. If he had told me, then he would have already blown my brains out."

I turn my head to the right, and sure enough, said guard is holding his pistol straight flush to my head. He looks a little annoyed.

"You don't want to know how I know. You want to know what else I know, you want to pick my brain." Any more, and I think Aria will shoot me just for being bratty. I keep quiet, and wait for her to signal.

Aria sits silently, looking at me. I feel uncomfortable, and I briefly compare Aria to the Headmaster at my last school. Both have the uncanny ability to make anybody feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Then I stop the metaphor and compare the six foot tall Scot with the slim, sexy blue alien. Yeah, I can totally see the resemblance.

But then she jerks her head to the right, gesturing towards the couch. Yes! She's actually taking me seriously! That could either be really good or really, really bad. I move over to the couch and sit down carefully, making sure to sit up, facing her equally seriously, rather than lounging. If I relaxed and sprawled out on her couch, she may just kill me out of disgust.

"Go on." she requests.

"It's not just humans. I know for a fact that the Collectors have or will soon contact the krogan Warlord Okeer, for the same reason."

Aria nods, as her guards move back to their usual positions. Apparently, I'm no longer a possible threat. Then I remember that Aria can crush me into a paste with one thought.

"Knowing Okeer's prior character, he'd be crazy enough to drug krogan and deliver them to the Collectors. The various technological advancements they can offer him are more than enough incentive."


"Well, Okeer has always tried to improve the krogan through Darwinism-"

"Don't insult my intelligence." Aria sneers, looking over at me with a hint of annoyance. I backpedal furiously, and try to figure out what she wants.

"Why the Collectors want bodies of different species? Eh, what I think is that they are designing some kind of disease or bio-engineered plague." I shrug. I never liked the ending of Mass Effect 2. It always seemed too stupid.

Yeah, it fits the pattern of abducting colonists, and the oddities of the vorcha plague and Okeer's experiments, but I still think a bio-engineered plague is a much easier option. I mean, Mordin talks enough about making the genophage that you can tell he would have no trouble with creating a special disease for each species. And if he can do that, I think that the Reapers would have no trouble. What about those pods near the end? If they can crush a human down to it's base proteins and nutrients, while having just enough control to not reduce a person to the elements, I think a simple high-transmission rate plague wouldn't be too hard. I know absolutely nothing about higher-level chemistry or anything like that, but if the Collectors could reduce a human to it's raw elements, or even molecules, then why abduct humans? Why not break down asteroids?

"But that doesn't eliminate other possibilities." I continue. "Consider that the Collectors have natural armor and how their guns look like fanged mouths. That can't be natural evolution, so they have to be damn good bio-engineers. If that is the case, then maybe they want krogan for their redundant physiologies? Possibly for enhancing their own musculatures?"

"But why take humans then?" Aria asks. "Krogan are strong. Humans aren't naturally biotic, strong, smart, or have any other special characteristic." Well okay, lady, smack down on the humans if you want, but I've got a rebuttal just waiting.

"But that is a special characteristic." I argue. Aria doesn't look as annoyed, though. Instead, she sits up slightly. She's still reclining in her couch, but she looks more interested. "Explain."

"Well, krogan are strong, yeah. But they aren't very smart, at least not usually." I defend, Mordin's lecture coming back into my head.

"If you look at the average krogan, you can assume he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. But you can't assume that with a human. Sure, I'll grant you that salarians are more intelligent, and asari are biotic freaks, but you can look at a salarian, an asari, or a krogan and guess things like strength, intelligence, or biotic potential. But a human…"

"You can't predict." Aria whispers, intrigued. A hand goes up to her chin, and she stays silent for a minute, obviously thinking hard. I shut up and wait for her to resume the conversation.

"Hmm… so they want human diversity? Why?" she murmurs, before cutting herself off and regarding me again. "So what do you want, then?"


"Me?" I say, surprised. "What'd you mean?"

"Everybody wants something." Aria dismisses, turning away and looking up at the ceiling again. "Why bother bringing all this to my attention unless you wanted something?"

"Well…" I mutter sheepishly, "Now that you mention it… I'm kind of marooned on Omega. I've got nothing more than the clothes on my back, and a place to stay for a while might be nice."

We'll sleep in the old way, out under the stars...

"Well aren't you interesting." Aria chuckles. "You can figure out a mysterious alien race's agenda, but you're incapable of surviving on your own."

I chuckle in response. That's truer than she thinks.

"Seeing as you helped me, the least I could do is give you a job." Aria granted. She waved over a turian guard with a rifle.

"Grizz, can you take our friend here to the guards quarters? It seems he'll be joining us in some position."

"Yes, Aria." Grizz nodded, then gestured for me to follow him. I got up from the oh-so-comfy couch and picked up my pack.

"I guess I'll be seeing you around then." I send a parting quip to Aria. She looks up from a datapad for a second to smirk, then goes back to her work.

Grizz leads me out a small, unobtrusive door near the back lounges, and out onto the streets of Omega.

"So… Grizz, is it?" I venture, trying to kick-start some kind of conversation.

"Shut it."

Woah. Okay, Grizz being very aggressive. Odd, I always thought he was a little nicer to Shepard. Well, I suppose babysitting a young human can't be his favorite thing in the world. One thing I never noticed before though… Grizz is barefaced.

As in, he had no face paint. As best as I understand it, turians wore face paint to distinguish homeworlds, as the turians spread out into their colonies. A turian without face paint is an outcast. A barefaced turian is the equivalent of a human having LIAR carved into their forehead… Actually, scratch that. A human would ask how that poor sucker was brutalized like that. I guess a barefaced turian has no equivalent for humans.

Anyway a barefaced turian is publicly reviled. He can never be trusted to keep his word, despite the Machiavellian whisperings in my ear tell me not to trust anyone anyways. I don't know why a bareface doesn't just apply face paint to hide his status, but they don't. A barefaced turian never seems to try to change or disguise his status, though that might be acceptance of their place, I guess.

Saren was barefaced after all. That was probably just Bioware trying to fit the barefaced thing in the codex into that actual game, but how the hell does that work out in the actual universe?

But… that doesn't fit anything from the codex entries. Not at all.

Lets see… from what I remember, the history of barefaced turians is from the colonies getting annoyed at each other and fighting their version of the Civil War. To wear your face paint was to show publicly where you were from. So… maybe Saren and his family were supporting Palaven? But then… why are there so few barefaced turians? Surely if the loyalist faction didn't wear face paint, then there would be a lot more barefaced turians running around. And even if the colonists won the civil war, then the loyalists would still proudly bear their barefaced nature, probably even more so.

No, no, no... No face paint means to you haven't declared your allegiance. As the turian society is a weird feudal warrior honor-based type, not publicly declaring your allegiance was to not be trusted, on either side.

Goddamn aliens. If we humans had ever had a system like that, it fell to the wayside a long time ago. A system of that nature can only work if a good eighty-percent or more of the population wear the face paint, as after that, the common nature of being barefaced will make it lose all stigma. In addition, what kind of idiot would publicly declare what side he supported? Suppose he wandered into the wrong bar, or happened to pass by five of the opposing colony in a neutral place? Poor bastard would get killed, because he was stupid enough to declare his allegiance to some side. Wearing a brown coat, or some other identifier of side, can be switched, disposed of, to suit the situation, but I doubt that face paint can be rubbed away in a hurry without leaving large smears.

I'm mean, look at Garrus. Garrus is intelligent enough where he knows to ignore his people's customs if it gets in the way of something good. Smart enough to blunt some edges of his culture, so as not to offend every non-turian he came across. And yet he still wears face paint, because it is the standard. Because it simply is done. It'd be unthinkable for the son of a C-Sec legend to not have his colony's face paint.

If more turian was smart enough to think about it, break through the cultural norm, then few turians would have face paint. There is nobody forcing you, physically holding you down to apply the face paint, and with the turian unification wars over, no logical reason to have the face paint. All it does for you is identify your colony and make pariah's of the turians who can think enough to discard the face paint.

What if Saren stopped wearing his face paint when he started serving the Reapers? Out of some remnant of his common decency, as if to warn his fellow Spectres and the Council that he could not be trusted? Ugh… this is more complicated than I thought.

On the other hand, I haven't had a puzzle like this to crack in a long while, and it look's like the rest of this universe will be just like that. I've got my pleasure all laid out for me.

So what if Grizz is being a stuck-up bastard ? I'm on Omega, I'm working for Aria, and I've got a whole 'verse to unravel at my leisure. The background I have tells me that nobody will have the knowledge I posses, or the mindset to manipulate the variables properly.

And dream of the good time to come...

I've got the biggest advantage ever, like a one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

We'll dream of the good times to come...

Well, Time to get to work.

There is a minor problem with this 'fic, and that is that I wrote the first two/three chapters before ME3 came out, so a few things are glaringly wrong with the revelations of ME3, such as me not liking ME2's ending. After learning that the Reapers want to make more Reapers, it fits; but at the time, I thought it was too melodramatic.

Let me make this clear right off the bat, I hate most Mass Effect Self-Inserts.

Other than the usual shitty spelling, grammar, and lack of character depth, they are boring and repetitive. Most start off on the nice, safe, Citadel. The SI joins C-Sec, learns to fire a gun and is an instant expert, figures out the advanced technology effortlessly, and in general becomes as badass as a N7 Black Ops member, one of the most elite members of the entire human race, as good as the graduates of a mixed warfare schools formed out of the best of the US Armed Forces, SAS, GSG9, JTF2, Mossad, Spetsnaz, and every other badass organization (I don't have the room to list them all).

I shouldn't need to describe the logical problems in such an approach.

I've been shooting guns since eight years old, am a brown belt (seven years) in Karate, and am quite good in a variety of sports. I like to think I'm very independent and can survive by myself. I am probably one of the more capable non-military people in our Home Universe.

So naturally, I will still get my ass kicked by everyone and everything out there. A normal Alliance Marine, the kind you see massacred all over the place, can kill me. A member of our military IRL can kill me. I am not a badass. I'll admit it, as much as it hurts my pride.

Instead of taking a place I don't deserve in Shepard's Squad, I'll be taking a different approach, as well as trying to actually flesh out the Mass Effect backstory. This is not AU (at the start anyway), this is not contain Author Powers or make me a God Mode Sue.

But I can't rely on myself, because I'm just a human being, as flawed as any other normal human being, so I'll need you guys to keep me honest.

So, readers, what do you think?