Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or storylines from the Mass Effect Universe.
Author's Note: This is the second installment of E.W. Shepard's life …The story follows the lives of those aboard the SSV Normandy SR-1 as they hunt down the former Spectre Saren Arterius, as well as the lives that they touch along the way.
"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16)
"Well, what about Shepard?" The question hung in the air of the Human Ambassador's office.
The Ambassador, Donnel Udina, was seated at the head of the conference table with Admiral Steven Hackett and the United North American States Senator Claudette Varus to his right while Captain David Anderson and Udina's Executive Assistant, Antun Obradovićo, were to his left. On the table mixed in with the coffee cups, glasses of water, the Senator's purse and Hackett's flask were datapads, pictures of the Mindoir massacre, the Blitz, the dead body of the turian Admiral Carthaana and an Alliance soldier being awarded the Star of Terra.
For the past few hours the group had been reviewing the record as well as the political advantages of a human becoming an agent of the Citadel Council … One human in particular, Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth W. Shepard. It had been two weeks since the Ambassador had been notified by the Citadel Council that one of their SpecTRe agents had submitted the name of the human as a potential candidate to the elite group. While Udina sensed hesitation, actually disapproval by the turian Ambassador, he knew that there was hope. Hope not because of the nomination, candidates had been submitted throughout the years, but because for the first time the nomination did not come from a human. This nomination came from another species and a turian at that. This was not only truly a first, but a very surprising first.
Udina had spent a great portion of his time pushing for humanity to be accepted within the 'trilogy', as he privately called the Citadel Council. The trio had made him feel small, dim-witted and weak when he first became Ambassador but over time he had pushed to be, if not equal … well, then recognized. And it hadn't been easy. It still wasn't. It was a constant battle for each half step that humanity took. Udina's struggle to further humanity's role in the galactic community and especially within the Council, just as his predecessor had, resulted in a daily dose of diazepam, bottles of Bourbon and sleepless nights. As he slowly sold off his soul he told himself that if it meant that humanity was that much closer to having an actual seat on the Council, having an equal voice in galactic decisions and not having to wait on approval for every decision then he would gladly strip his soul bare. Having a human inducted into the SpecTRes was one step closer to humanity having that seat on the Citadel Council … A seat that he saw as his and his alone.
But he was also nervous that the human picked might not be approved. His nervousness increased after reviewing the military record of the just recently promoted Lieutenant Commander. Yes, she was the reason that Elysium survived but she was also known as the 'Butcher of Children' as well. He saw no higher education, no real pedigree and, truth be told, he would have preferred that Shepard had been male. He was concerned about Shepard's ability to hold her own against humans, turians, asari and god only knows what else in the galaxy. He would have preferred a male for the physical strength, highly educated to be able to mentally maneuver socially as needed and from a respected family. That would have been his choice.
He had always monitored the types of humans arriving on the Citadel, since they represented humanity. Anyone or anything seen as inappropriate or unseeming in manner by his office was dealt with swiftly. He was just thankful that one had to have some funds to fly out to the Citadel. One of his re-occurring nightmares was a dream where shuttles full of dirty, filthy colonists arrive on the Citadel bringing their vulgarity, crime and stench with them. There was enough of that deep in the wards, although not like Omega. He just didn't want humanity rolled into that. Udina knew that others may see him as a snobbish hard ass, but they did not have the burden of answering to the Council or explaining every step that his kind made. They did not have the burden of justifying and promoting the human race to other species, while covering up their own shortcomings.
Why has this turian picked a non-educated female colonist? Udina had thought as he prepared for the meeting. What does he plan to gain? Udina was not one to trust anyone or anything straight out of the gate and was always looking for ulterior motives; the knife aimed at his back. Paranoid? Maybe. Some would say a healthy politician's mindset. Yes, Udina was always cautious of strangers bearing gifts. And this gift concerned him at the same time that it pleased him.
Before the guests began to arrive at his office, Udina ran his staff ragged in preparation. He had never met the prominant and very influential Claudette T. Varus, who was not only the United North American States Senator and a retired Fleet Admiral of the Systems Alliance, but she was also one of the Varus' of North Carolina. The Varus name was old money tied to railroads, aviation and American politics with a US President and countless Senators in the tree. As she entered the office he felt his stomach tighten.
Udina was not unaware of the Senator's connection to Shepard but did not know just how deep that connection ran. The Senator had been behind the young soldier's career since the Blitz, pushing any ceilings out of her way and responsible, although not intentionally, of the soldier becoming an N7. The Senator was instrumental in seeing that Shepard not only received the Star of Terra but also that she was promoted to Staff Lieutenant after not only defending Elysium but also avenging her son's death during the siege. Senator Varus had come to the meeting to ensure that nothing stopped the nomination, to blow out another ceiling if needed. She was glad that she came when she saw that Udina had files of other soldiers and law enforcement officers as potential replacements. She could also see that all the files were of males which made her look at her old friend Hackett and smile as she whispered, "Strange … I do not see any females in these stacks."
"Now, Claudy," Hackett grinned back. "You and I know that there is only one Shepard. On the battlefield political correctness can get people killed. The Ambassador is concerned that a female out in the galaxy may be more at risk then a male. I would agree except that we both know that this female is unique. She has a gift to overcome even her own limitations."
The Senator thought of the massive injuries that would have killed a weaker soul ... injuries that Shepard had received on the planet Antibaar just six months prior. It had placed her in the hospital for a month, physical therapy for another three months and from what she heard the soldier was now a fanatic of strength training. "Unique. I hear that she spends a great time in the gym now."
"Did you read the Antibaar report?" He asked. "How she not only survived but killed General Lers Wrylhilm … and with a knife. Not many men could have done that from what I understand of the General."
"But Shepard did," She reminded as she placed a hand on his arm and said just loud enough for his ears only, "I could not have picked a better candidate than her and I trust that you will see that she is approved."
Hackett pulled her chair out for her to sit and as she took her place he bent down and whispered back, "Have I ever disappointed you, Claudy?" This had made the two old friends laugh.
"Senator, I am very pleased that you have graced us with your presence," Udina welcomed her as the meeting was called to order.
"Ambassador," the Senator responded, "To have a human inducted into the SpecTRes is of the utmost importance. We cannot allow the chance to be lost once again." Captain Anderson shifted uncomfortably in his chair at the words. Varus, ignoring the effect of her words on him, continued, "Do you know why this agent chose her?"
"He must have seen her on the extranet," Udina answered.
"Did he wake up one morning and decide to find a human to nominate?" She asked as she opened her purse, "I find that improbable. No. There was a reason."
Udina watched as the Senator took out a small bottle of perfume, "Maybe they met previously?"
"No," Captain Anderson responded. "Our records show that Shep-"
"Commander Shepard," Hackett corrected.
"Excuse me, sir," Anderson nodded, "Commander Shepard and this Nihlus Kryik have never met."
"How can we be sure?" Udina responded.
"Ambassador," Hackett frowned, "the Commander has been in the Alliance since she was nineteen. Before that she was either on Earth or Mindoir. If they met it would not have been in an official or military capacity. That is a fact."
"Maybe they met in passing, while the Commander was on shore leave?" Udina questioned.
The Senator gave a small laugh, "Ambassador, while Commander Shepard is an extraordinary soldier … she is still a woman. And a soldier, male or female, on leave would not inspire someone to see SpecTRe potential."
Hackett looked at the Senator, "Unless the shore leave was on Elysium. But we show no records of this Nihlus being there."
The Senator's brow furrowed at the mention of Elysium causing Hackett to touch her hand. The Senator patted him back and then turned her eyes on Udina, "Ambassador, why the Commander? What was the reason given?"
Udina could feel the tension as the knot in his stomach returned, "I am sorry Senator, how or why he chose her was not shared with me. The Council only said that he had reviewed her record and felt that she had the potential to join the ranks."
"He reviewed her records? Based on what?" the Senator said more to herself.
"The Blitz?" Hackett mused.
The Senator looked over at Hackett now himself deep in thought, "I have heard that the turians were impressed with her art of the general on Elysium."
"Art of the general?" Udina asked the Senator confused.
Hackett hearing the old term being used was roused from the Blitz and answered for the Senator, "Her military strategy, Ambassador. She was able to plan, coordinate and execute a defensive line using a very rag tag team on Elysium."
Anderson pulling a picture of Elysium showing scorched bodies of men, women and children added, "She brought soldiers, colonists and even children together to hold back pirates, warlords and slavers until the Alliance could break through."
The Senator thinking of her son, as well as those that were more fortunate and survived, looked directly at Udina and said, "What she did on Elysium was not only impressive as a soldier … it was inspirational as a human. Not only her acts of courage, but her resilience serve as a reminder to what we as a species can do, inspiring those who serve in the trenches and to colonists carving out new settlements in unknown and very dangerous waters."
Hackett loved it when the Senator got up on her soap box, the fire returning to her eyes. As his friend finished her short speech he reached out and squeezed her hand again. "Mindoir is very proud of their daughter and honoring her again as we speak. The Commander is there now at the opening of her childhood home as a museum."
"I hear that she donated the ranch that belonged to the Sheriff Birgit Hallestrøm back to Highland Falls," Captain Anderson said.
"Yes, Captain." The senator answered. "The main home is a museum to the Sheriff and from what I hear it houses some amazing artwork as well. The Sheriff was an avid art collector and some of the pieces are worth millions. The remaining thirty acres were turned into a park … The Birgit Hallestrøm Reserve, they call it."
"It is hard to believe that it's been almost thirteen years since that raid," Anderson lowered his head as he thought of all the civilians killed and the children carried off. "What she must have seen."
Now three hours later after reviewing and ultimately rejecting all alternatives, dissecting the Commander Shepard's service record and personal history, discussing options if failure appeared down the road and potential backlashes as a result, Udina asked, "Well, what about Shepard?"
"She knows how tough life can be out there," Captain Anderson answered as he looked at photos of the Mindoir massacre. To highlight how much she knew he added, "Her parents were killed when slavers attacked Mindoir." With Hannah Shepard dying just 4 days prior to the attack the general belief was that she had also died in the assault with her husband, Pierce Shepard. No matter how many times Shepard tried to get this corrected, she found that once the information had been entered into the Systems Alliance data base it was forever cited as truth.
"She proved herself during the Blitz," Admiral Hackett added, "Held off enemy forces on the ground until reinforcements arrived."
"She's the only reason that Elysium is still standing," Captain Anderson agreed.
Ambassador Udina looked at pictures of the aftermath and there was no denying what she had went through there, "We can't question her courage."
Udina's secretary, Mary Rhys, brought in the afternoon tea as Captain Anderson rose to stretch his legs. After reviewing the Commander's record he realized that if anyone could make this work … well, the colonist that had survived everything she had faced to date was probably their best bet, "Humanity needs a hero … And Shepard's the best we've got."
Admiral Hackett took a swig from his flask as the Senator nodded her head in agreement moving the Ambassador Udina to rise from his seat, "I'll make the call."
As Udina went to the other side of the office to contact the Council and the Senator excused herself to the ladies room, Anderson looked at Hackett, "Admiral, what do you personally know of the Commander?"
"Outside of the reports?" Hackett asked as he stopped the secretary from pouring tea in a cup she had placed in front of him, choosing to drink the Scotch whiskey in his ever present flask instead.
"Yes, sir." Anderson answered as he sat back down. He knew that you couldn't get a true sense of a person based off reports. He needed to understand a person's motivations … what drove them. You couldn't find a person's soul in documents.
"She barely survived Mindoir '70," Hackett said as he put the cap back on his flask. "I would think that seeing the horrors there were part of her drive to join the Alliance. It was also seeing what an enemy will do that gave her the understanding that she could not flinch from making hard decisions during the Blitz."
"Those children would have died," Anderson said in reference to the group that Shepard had called her LOTF team, named after 'Lord of the Flies'. These children ranging from six to eighteen were handed weapons, morse code devices and used to run supplies as needed. Many were killed as they stood beside the adults and after the dust had settled she was demonized by some for this. Lawsuits followed and as one mother, Tawny Hillard, called her the 'Butcher of children!' during a press conference the name stuck. But to most, the Alliance, Elysium and Mindoir especially, she was considered a hero.
Hackett, along with the Senator who at that time was an Admiral, were one of the few privy to the full report and knew that Captain Anderson had no idea of what the young Alliance Naval Operations Chief E.W. Shepard had not only commanded but really done during the Blitz. There were times that she had made very ruthless decisions that must not have been easy. Decisions that a true military mind would understand but civilians would have not only found inhumane … they would have condemned. Looking at the Senator's lipstick on her half-empty coffee cup, Hackett thought of the night that Shepard with three Marines stripped down naked, covered each other in mud and taking only their weapons carefully snuck behind enemy lines to not only avenge the death of Major Dander Varus but to cause fear and psychological damage to the enemy. Following her lead, all four were cruel and without mercy as they overtook the enemy. What Hackett didn't know but would have guessed was that a part of Hannah Shepard's daughter died that night. He could have guessed that Shepard knew that if others were going to survive she would have to sacrifice a part of herself and so without hesitation she removed all compassion and empathy as she crossed into enemy territory. He would have guessed because as an old soldier he had his own scars … scars not visible but carved deep into his very being.
After Elysium was liberated and the Alliance began investigating the events, the brutal acts of 'Dander's Night', as the Alliance codenamed the event, were covered up for fear that it would not only add to the small group that was demonizing the "Hero of the Blitz"… but it would also have far reaching and very negative repercussions within the galactic community. Granted, there was no love lost with the batarians but her acts of retribution were so severe and violent that the Alliance believed that the other alien species would see the acts as not only unnecessary violence, cruelty and torture, but also standard operation procedures for humans during battle. The other alien races already saw humans as brutal and what she had done that dark night would have confirmed the unforgiving and darker side of humanity that the Alliance was trying to keep from the Council. The Alliance brass had been grateful that Shepard had used only Marines during the infiltration since civilians were more likely to talk about what happened to the press. She did what she had to do that night, Hackett thought to himself as he looked over at Anderson, "Yes … the children."
As minutes passed, Anderson finally asked what he had wanted to ask since he was summoned away from the responsibilities of the SSV Normandy to the Citadel. After all, for the last six months he had been instructed to focus all of his time and attention on overseeing the construction process of a new type of frigate, a deep scout frigate that was co-developed between the Alliance and the turian hierarchy. All other matters had been placed on hold and now as the frigate was nearly completed, his crew handpicked and finishing up their training, he was called away for this. "Admiral, while I am honored to be included in this potential advancement for humanity …. Well, there are more qualified individuals that could have been here in my place."
Hackett looked up at Anderson as he finished answering a text and then as he turned to look at Udina across the office speaking with the asari Councilor he said, "Ask your real question, Captain."
"Why was my presence needed her today, sir?" Anderson asked as he turned the tea cup absentmindedly in the saucer.
Hackett put his flask back into his inside pocket before answering, "A fair question, Captain. After careful deliberation with the Senator Varus we have agreed that in light of the Lieutenant Commander's potential SpecTRe status … she is to be placed under your command as the Executive Officer of the SSV Normandy."
Captain Anderson respected the record of E.W. Shepard but he had been carefully picking and training the crew for over six months, "Admiral, the Normandy crew has been in training together now for half a year with a very qualified XO."
"Yes, Chief Navigator Pressly … A good man," Hackett smiled. "Captain, this will only be temporary. Once Shepard is inducted into the SpecTRes then she will be placed elsewhere."
"I see," And Anderson did see. He was not being consulted on this decision, the decision had been made. "Wasn't Shepard being assigned to the 63rd Scout Flotilla?"
"Yes," Hackett not only could see that Anderson was concerned about changing XO's so close to the shakedown run but also understood his reasons, "I have been in discussion with the Rear Admiral Mikhailovich of this latest development. He had personally requested the Commander so he was just as happy as you, Captain." Anderson tried to protest but the Admiral held up his hand, "But unlike you he is under the impression that she is just to be involved in the shakedown run. The nomination is not being shared outside of a very small circle."
Anderson began turning his cup in semi-circles as he cleared his throat, "I am just concerned that with only a few more weeks, a month at the most, left of training … well, the Lieutenant -"
"I can assure you Captain," Hackett interrupted, "the Lieutenant Commander will not only meet any expectations that you have, but she will exceed them as well. We would not put the success of the Normandy at risk for political reasons. Of that I can guarantee you."
"I did not mean to give the appearance that I thought the Alliance would, Admiral."
"It's agreed then," Hackett smiled and stood up as both the Ambassador and Senator returned to the conference table. "Lieutenant Commander Shepard will report to you by the end of the week."
"As will the SpecTRe Nihlus Kryik," Udina said as he sat down.
"The SpecTRe?" The Senator asked as Hackett held out her seat. She looked down at it, shook her head no and continued, "Was this approved by you Stevie?"
Udina spoke before either Hackett or Anderson could, "He will need to start evaluating as well as training her if she is to even be considered … as the Captain here can fully attest to."
Anderson was quickly brought back to when he had been a candidate and the image of Saren Arterius flashed in his memory. "Of course, but I would like to meet with this Nihlus first."
"Of course, Captain." Udina said as Hackett and the Senator continued to stand. "He has requested to meet with you later this evening at Flux's for drinks. I told him that you would be glad to meet with him."
"Well, gentleman and lady," Hackett said as he began to move away from the table, "I must leave your company as I have a dinner engagement with my niece in just under an hour."
"Your niece is on the Citadel?" Udina asked. "Do I know her?"
"Auggie is here?" The Senator asked, "How is she?"
Hackett grabbed his cap from the hat rack as he answered, "She is well and still full of spit. Perhaps you would like to join us? I am sure she would love to see you."
"Just let me stop by my suite and freshen up," The Senator smiled.
Hackett looked over at Udina, as he helped the Senator on with her coat, "My niece, Captain August Roux, is here visiting a friend that just recently joined the C-Sec … an Officer Eddie Lang."
"Officer Eddie Lang?" Udina repeated. "Where is he stationed on the Citadel?"
"In the Wards from what I understand," Hackett answered, extending his arm for the Senator. "According to my niece, he loves it there."
"I am glad to hear that," Udina smiled at Hackett and then turned to his real focus, "It was a pleasure meeting you, Senator Varrus. I hope that the diplomatic suite is to your satisfaction."
"Thank you, Ambassador," Senator Varrus smiled, as Udina bent slightly at the waist and lightly kissing her hand. "My … Stevie why aren't you as well-mannered as the Ambassador?" Hackett could be heard grumbling a response as he adjusted his hat, prompting the Senator to squeeze his arm playfully, "What was that?"
Hackett's eyes crinkled as he couldn't help but smile, "I said we needed to leave so that Auggie doesn't have to wait too long for us."
"Yes, I'm sure that is what you said, Admiral." The Senator laughed.
Udina had hoped to be invited as well, but when no invitation came, he offered his hand to the Admiral and said, "If you or your niece needs anything while on the Citadel … anything at all, please don't hesitate to call me."
As Udina walked the Senator and Admiral out of his office, Anderson smiled at Udina's assistant who had sat quietly taking notes throughout the meeting and then walked over to the terrace. As he looked out over the Presidium he couldn't help but worry. Commander Shepard, he thought, let's hope that you are everything they say you are.