Author's Note: Unlike most fanfictions for ME3, I'm actually going to try and work with the ending provided, rather than rewrite it. It's a challenge, because like most, I wasn't terribly fond of how the trilogy ended... although not for the reasons most do.

The start of the story doesn't actually happen in game; think of it as a side-quest that Bioware hasn't written a DLC for. (Don't worry, I won't charge you $10.)

This story does make some assumptions that other players of the game may not have done. It assumes a full Paragon Shepard that survived the Crucible and destroyed the Reapers, so take that into account.

Hopefully, I can make this story work.

Chapter 1

Reticuli was in a truly rare position. The top-secret research and development colony had been spared the Reaper advance, likely because it had only been known to a handful of Alliance brass. That mercy was going to end today... unless Commander Shepard did something about it.

Admiral Hackett had sent Shepard, his crew, and the Normandy to this fairly remote system to recover the weapon currently within the frigate's shuttle bay; the Massive ElectroMagnetic Ordinance, or MEMO. The colony brass suspected that the weapon could short out an entire Reaper if detonated in the right place, and early testing had been promising.

Shepard wasn't sure how the Reapers had found out, but he had gotten warning from Admiral Hackett that the Reapers were on the move, in force, and was approaching the Arcturus Relay quickly.

Shepard's orders were to secure the safety of the MEMO at all costs, but as Shepard looked back to the display, towards Reticuli Prime, the untouched serenity... and he couldn't let the inevitable happen. He couldn't let another planet be exterminated on his watch. No single weapon was worth that; especially one that even Admiral Hackett conceded was an even longer shot as a backup plan if the Crucible failed.

Shepard had a chance to actually save a planet for once. He was going to take it.

"Joker." The commander ordered to his pilot. "Before you hit the Mass Relay, wait for Cortez and Vega to prep the MEMO, and have it attached to the Mass Relay."

"Sir?" Joker queried with uncertainty. "I don't think that was the Admiral's orders."

Shepard ignored his pilot. "Tell the colony that once we have cleared the relay, they are to detonate the MEMO. With any luck, that thing will take out a relay just like it can theoretically take out a Reaper."

Joker finally got where Shepard was going with the order. "Without the Mass Relay, it would take the Reapers months to get here."

"Months that we'll have to end this damn war." Shepard grumbled. "It could save millions of lives."

"I don't think Admiral Hackett will be happy." The pilot noted.

"I think Admiral Hackett will get over it." Shepard retorted crossly. "Now, get to it." Turning away from his pilot, he was in communications with his crew down in the shuttle bay. "Lieutenant Vega, Cortez... I have something I need you to do, and quickly..."

The video ended with a thrilling fireball and explosion which not only was completely inaccurate for an electromagnetic pulse, but also completely contrary to history, as anyone with a powerful enough telescope could see the lifeless Reticuli Relay still floating about at the outermost fringe of the system.

The MEMO had certainly performed as advertised. The mass relay had gone completely dark, losing all power, now a floating piece of scrap metal as far as its use was.

With the video ended, the lights in the lecture hall brightened, and the holographic display in the center went into standby mode. Captain and Professor Marshall Brasser approached the podium at the head of the class, and addressed his students, "Glaring errors aside, the important events within the video are largely accurate. Commander John Shepard used the Massive ElectroMagnetic Ordinance to disable the Reticuli Relay, and spare the world the same gruesome genocidal fate as other planets within the galaxy."

With a single chuckle, he added, "And judging from the fact that there hasn't been a Reaper in orbit pounding this planet to slag in the one hundred years since, I think it's fairly safe to say that the Commander, and the Alliance's, endgame was successful regardless."

Several hands shot up in question, and Marshall picked the one that he suspected would be the most intelligent one, a remarkably bright senior graduate named Kaeli. There were times where her eyes, full of question and curiosity reminded him of...

… He shook his head of the thought, just like the millions of times those memories tried to weasel into his head. He couldn't let his thoughts go down that road. Not yet. Maybe not ever. "Yes, Cadet Bronson?"

"This is something that has always bothered me about the speculation of the Reaper War. If the Alliance had been successful... why hasn't contact been made since?"

The question was perhaps an obvious one, but it was also a valid one. "To be honest, no one knows." Marshall explained. "While there has been a handful of automated buoys that we've picked up on deep space transmission, it is true that nothing from an intelligent source has reached our range of detection. There are any number of theories for this. One is that the Reapers left after assuming they secured victory. I think this theory ignores the fact that the Reapers already knew this colony world existed, and that it wouldn't take a hundred years even without a mass relay to get here.

"Another is that the Alliance and the Reapers wiped themselves out, or at least the Alliance was reduced to a point where they no longer had the ability to communicate with outside systems. I don't like that theory because there was more than the Alliance out there... and we are relatively close enough to where the Quarian Flotilla patrolled that we should have picked up stray communication on that score."

He shrugged, implying to his students that his guess was as good as any. "The best theory I have is that Reticuli Prime was such a top-secret colony that it's entirely within the realm of the possible that the leaders who knew about our existence perished. I believe we... were just forgotten."

That wasn't a particularly settling thought, and Marshall knew it. Even now, it was a question that lingered, both in casual conversation and in scholarly debates. What had happened? It was almost as if the rest of the galaxy just... went dark... like the Reticuli Relay, and no theory adequately explained why.

Three trilling beeps indicated that the class was over, his students wasting no time cramming pads into their satchels or bags, and gathering all their personal goods to vacate the classroom. But their professor wasn't about to let them off just yet. "I know it's the Centennial and all, so I'm going to go easy on you. All I need is for you to read Chapter Forty-Two in Old Alliance History for next week. Have fun during the holiday, and be safe!"

Marshall had noticed the trio weaving through the throng of students an hour ago, when they had appeared in the doorway as the vid had been playing. They were from High Command, judging by their uniforms, red and not carrying any distinctive regiment patch; lower officers, judging from their bars; and messengers, judging from the fact that they weren't carrying heavier arms, and didn't have twenty shock troops behind them.

"Captain Brasser?" The lady at the head of the trio asked, saluting crisply. She was a tiny thing, most likely an Admiral's assistant, fresh out of the academy and in her first desk duty before beginning higher officer training. Her hair just about matched her uniform, and was long down her back, and had a sickeningly adorable dusting of freckles across her high cheekbones. "Probationary Lieutenant Jessie Michal. I've been sent to inform you that the O-9 Board wishes to speak to speak with you."

The O-9 Board was the official title for the 5-star Admirals, the highest brass in the Nimea Military. Marshall wasn't terribly intimidated of them, having worked directly under their supervision for several years. But it did mean that whatever the issue was that Marshall was being asked for, it was a big deal.

He knew better than to ask what it was about. If it was an O-9 matter, that meant it was of the utmost secrecy, and that none of the three asked to send the message would even know. Returning the salute, he asked, "When?"

"As soon as possible, Sir."

Must be a really big deal if it came with an ASAP request. Marshall's mind ran through all the possibilities, and didn't particularly like any of them. Nonetheless, as he was still technically in service, he couldn't exactly decline. "Very well. Let's get this over with now. Have you already informed the academy administrators that I've been summoned to the O-9?"

"Yes, sir. Your assistant should be on his way to relieve you for your next period class."

"Will I be dismissed in time to retrieve my daughter from school?"

Lieutenant Michal shook her head. "Not likely. The O-9 Board has already made arrangements. Your next of kin has agreed to accept responsibility for your daughter."

It was both fortunate and sad that Kelsey was already quite familiar with this protocol. "Then I suppose you've covered all your bases, haven't you? Very well... let's not keep the admirals waiting."

Marshall took position behind Lieutenant Michal, the two other low officers falling in behind both of them. The procession took a longer route through the academy, likely to avoid main halls and drawing attention from the majority of the student body. They had also parked their vehicle convoy at the south exit of the Academy, a seldom used faculty lot that was furthest away from anything of note.

The middle of the three armored vehicles popped a rear door for Marshall's entry. The used of armored transport didn't necessarily mean anything, as most Nimea Military vehicles were of the armored variety, but it did serve as a reminder that whatever was going on was likely not something to be taken lightly.

Lieutenant Michal slid in first, allowing Marshall the seat closest to the door. The interior was far different to its rough armored exterior; with plush black leather seats along the walls rather than rows, an ice box separating each pair of seats, as well as full holo support in the form of a projector in the center of the cab. An armored transport re-purposed into a luxury travel vehicle.

Let no one say the Nimea Miliatry wasn't frugal.

Once Marshall had settled in, the lieutenant tapped the partition separating cab from driver, and the vehicle started to move, remarkably smoothly considering what it had originally been designed for. Marshall let silence rule for several minutes before he couldn't take Lieutenant Michal nearly drooling over him.

"Can I help you, Lieutenant?" He asked, perhaps with more coldness than he should have. She looked starstruck more than anything else... he should have been a little more cordial.

Jessie flushed nearly as red as her hair, and she looked away. "I am sorry, sir. I never thought I'd have the chance to meet you in person. You're... quite well known."

"For all the wrong reasons, I'm sure." Marshall answered dismissively. "How long have you been out of the academy? I teach so many classes I can't imagine you didn't run into me once."

"Two years, sir." She answered, "But I went to Leeds Academy... not Seattle."

The Nimea Military had several academies all throughout the continent. Marshall supposed it was rather presumptuous to assume that Lieutenant Michal had gone to the one in the same city as the one he taught; although the Seattle Academy tended to be the funnel for positions within High Command, as it was based in the same city. "I see."

"I had... dreams of making Black Ops, sir." Jessie admitted, curling the hair just above her shoulders with her right index finger. "I had heard so many stories during the Oceanic War... it stuck in my head. Even if I... didn't even come close to passing the physical quals... the specialists that took part in those missions... let's just say it's an honor, sir."

Marshall frowned. The Nimea media machine had horribly glorified the roles of Black Ops units during the short, small scale conflict that had offically ended six years ago. "War makes a person just as infamous as it does famous, lieutenant," he advised, "For every person like you in Nimea that thinks I'm a demigod, there a person in Sedin who would love to put a slug through my head and prove my mortality."

"I know, sir... but there's still that little girl in my head, who giggled in delight when I was told to escort you to the O-9 Board." Jessie rubbed the back of her head, embarrassed. "I probably sound like a lovesick teenager right now, don't I?"

Marshall shrugged. "I've seen worse. Don't worry; if you ever get the chance to know me, the majesty will die quickly." After a long pause, he asked, "So, when Black Ops didn't work out... what did you specialize in, Lieutenant?"

"Language and communications, sir." Jessie answered. "Specifically, what we know of the ancient Reticulan language. I also learned several human languages as well as the primary languages of the Asari, Quarians, and Turians during my graduate studies to maintain universal translator programs."

"There's still a market for those translators?" Marshall asked. Humans on Reticuli had adopted a common tongue nearly from the moment the colony was founded roughly one hundred and thirty years ago, and no one had heard even a peep from any other galactic species since the slagging of the Reticuli Relay.

Jessie tilted her hand back and forth. "It's good study, and... you never know, right? Ya gotta think those species are still out there... somewhere. Who knows who's gonna stumble into orbit one day?"

"I suppose so. Good point."

Jessie gathered up the courage to ask, "So... how many missions did you execute during the Oceanic War?"

"Offically? Seventeen."

A smug grin pulled across her features, "But how many did you really do?"

"Officially seventeen."

"No fun." She leaned back, then hastily added, "Sir."

"See? The wonder is already starting to fade, isn't it?"

Jessie shook her head, and laughed, "Hardly."

Marshall bit off his next retort when his omni-tool made a sharp three-tone beep, signaling an incoming communication, the specific trill identifying the caller without Marshall having to look at the ID displayed. He set the communication volume to personal, and held his palm to his ear. "Jonas. Interesting time for you to call. Almost like it was planned."

Jonas Moss was a 'retired' 5-star Admiral, and had been Marshall's direct superior for nearly nine years before said 'retirement.' Said 'retirement', however, was largely in name only; the man still had considerable pull with the O-9 Board, as well as political leaders, and very, very little happened in Nimea without Jonas's knowledge.

"How could that be?" Jonas replied, and Marshall could swear he heard the man smirking. "I'm retired. Complete random chance. Anyway, I trust Lieutenant Michal has already swung by the academy, and is bringing you to High Command?"

"Identifying my escort by name probably isn't the best way to convince me you are in the dark, Jonas. What does the O-9 Board want with me?"

Jonas clicked his tongue derisively. "Not my place to talk about it, nor do I want to ruin the surprise. All I can tell you is that it's a big deal. I mean, really big, and it's not what you think."