The Candidate

Disclaimer: I don't own Mass Effect. All that belongs to Drew Karpyshyn and Bioware. I am just playing in their world.

Prologue

"As you all know, ladies and gentlemen, the Council has agreed to consider our candidates for the Spectres, gentlemen," ground out Donnell Udina, addressing his audience. He continued in his characteristically superior tone, "After extensive evaluations of our candidate, they may select him if they deem him worthy to be a spectre. We need to send our recommendations on this matter." Four other figures stared back at him, all of them seated around a heavy oaken table, that was covered with datapads and dossiers.

At the head of the table sat the commander of the Arcturus fleet, Admiral Steven Hackett. This grizzled, scarred and grey haired veteran of the First Contact war had been sent down by the military secretary to the Alliance to decide after reviewing all the potential candidates. Knowing that the different factions in the military were trying to push their own candidate as a potential spectre, Admiral Hackett had been chosen as the final arbiter, given his own neutrality. One of the most sober voices in the Alliance navy, he could balance every faction and viewpoint with aplomb and style, and consequently, it would be his opinion that would count most in the coming meeting. This was the man Udina needed to impress most, if he was to get his way.

Udina looked at the others at the table. The closest to him was an elderly man, small and wiry, with steely grey eyes framed by horn rimmed glasses. This was the chief of Alliance Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral Yehoshua Barzilai. It was his group that had done the heavy lifting in the wake of the Skyllian Blitz, building up their contacts and establishing listening posts in the Attican Traverse and the Terminus Systems, producing actionable intelligence that had made the raid of Torfan possible. They kept a close watch on the pirates, mercenaries, slavers and other riffraff, apart from the Batarian Hegemony. It was testimony to their ability that there had been no major attack on human colonies in the Traverse in the last five years. They had forestalled almost every major attack with precise intelligence, many of the worst criminals in the Traverse were safely lodged as permanent guests of the Alliance government thanks to their efforts, and, finally, they had arranged the occasional disappearance of inconvenient pirates or slavers. It would be Yehoshua Barzilai who would be proposing one of the candidates for the spectres.

Opposite Barzilai was his bete-noire, a short, dumpy woman, Rear Admiral Yi Lin, the commander of the Special forces in the Attican traverse. Her troops had performed many miracles, in the Skyllian blitz, in the raid on Torfan and later in the five years that followed, keeping peace in the Attican Traverse. Usually multi-talented and extraordinarily resourceful men and women, the combat prowess of her troops was beyond question. Times without number, the pirates and slavers had felt the wrath of her soldiers, and half the colonies in the Traverse owed a debt of gratitude to her troops. She would be proposing the other candidate for the spectres.

At the bottom of the table was the previously rejected spectre candidate and the most decorated officer in the Alliance Navy, Captain David Anderson. Much respected for his valour in battle and his other accomplishments in the special services, he was tipped to observe the spectre candidate. Besides, it was likely his ship on which the spectre would travel, since he was the captain of the Normandy. The reasons for that were simple. After an acrimonious battle with the Council about the impartiality of their spectre candidate evaluation, the Alliance had obtained the concession that there should be an Alliance observer along with the Council's evaluator. The observer would have no powers to intervene in the operations, but his presence was expected to exercise a salutary check on any Council appointee. There would be no more Saren style frame ups of the next spectre candidate, and having been the victim of the frame up in the previous attempt to get a human selected as a spectre, Anderson was deemed the best person to frustrate any such attempt by the Council's evaluator, since he would be constantly on the watch. The Alliance would make sure that any spectre mentor of their candidate would play fair. Having obtained the concession from the Council after applying the irritant in the form of an acrimonious speech about the Council's impartiality, it was now time to apply the unguent by showing the goodwill of the Alliance. Consequently, it was likely that Cap. Anderson's ship, the Normandy – a stealth frigate that had been designed in collaboration with the turians – that would be the base of operations for the spectre candidate. That ship – a gesture of the human willingness to work toward Council goals too, while protecting its own interests – was also a technological masterpiece and was reputed to be one of the stealthiest vessels in the galaxy. Doubtless, there were other asari, turian and salarian vessels that could challenge the Normandy for the appellation of the stealthiest ship in the galaxy. However, the Normandy was the stealthiest ship in the Alliance command, it was ideal for any spectre , Anderson was well known as a neutral in the factional warfare in the Alliance navy, and consequently, was the ideal person to watch over the potential spectre, without carrying any prejudices over.

As usual, Hackett began in his deep gravelly voice, without further preamble, "Okay, so who are our choices? Lin – care to begin?"

Rear Admiral Yi Lin began in her hard voice, "The choice of the Special forces is Staff Lt. Kaidan Alenko." She handed a dossier apiece to the other four at the table. "Kaidan Alenko – born in 2151 in Vancouver. Father is Captain. Kohlien Alenko – a much respected alliance officer, who commands a frigate – SSV Novgorod. Kaidan attended BAaT (Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training) after he showed exceptional biotic talents in his childhood. Fitted with an L2 implant, his biotic powers rival that of the asari. After completing his training at BaAT, he joined the Alliance in 2173 and he has a degree in chemical engineering. He was among the first reinforcements during the Skyllian blitz, and performed admirably in the conflict, leading his troops in a daring move to relieve Alliance soldiers at the damaged main communications facilities on Elysium and repair them to a functional state, keeping up the communications with the Alliance forces in the orbit. Two years later, he took part in the assault on Torfan, and led the unit that disabled the Batarian guns to enable our initial landing on the moon with minimal casualties, and helped secure the landing strip. His team was responsible for blowing up several pirate strongholds during the campaign. After that, he graduated from N7 with one of the best scores ever. Over the next five years, he has led several raids on batarian, pirate and slaver strongholds, always successfully. In fact, there is not a single failure on his record, and he has always completed his objective with minimum casualties. All his subordinates, both officers and men, have rated him highly and his ability to command is unmatched. He is our best explosives expert and one of the strongest biotics in Alliance service. Also, his cool head and steady nerve make him ideal under hostile conditions. I nominate him as our choice for the spectres."

"A worthy choice," muttered Udina. He had quickly reviewed the career and nothing stood out in his career as damaging to the interests of humanity, or Udina himself, in the Council. Also, an apolitical creature like him would be easy to guide in the maze that was Council politics. Udina could gain another ally. Having a spectre eating out of his hands would be of great use to Udina in his political climb.

Yehoshua Barzilai kept his tone carefully neutral, "He is an L2 implant, I see. Has he suffered no ill effects?"

"Some migraines," returned Yi Lin with apparent indifference. "It does not affect him any in the field."

"I also see that he was involved in an altercation with his teacher, one Commander Vyrnnus, at BAaT. One that had fatal consequences for the turian." pointed out Barzilai quietly.

"Staff Lt. Alenko was cleared of any wrong doing by the board of inquiry that looked into the incident," returned Lin stonily. "The turian attacked Alenko with a knife and ended up paying the price for his stupidity."

"I hope," murmured Yehoshua Barzilai silkily, almost with sinister relish, "there is no chance of such a thing occurring again under stress in combat."

Lin sprang to the defence of her candidate with alacrity. "He has been tested under fire and such a thing has never happened. His biotics are completely under control."

"I hope so, Lin, I hope so," returned Barzilai, the tone of his voice suggesting that he nowise believed that.

Admiral Hackett saw the need to prevent Barzilai and Yi from killing each other, and he knew this was his cue to intervene. "What do you think, David?" interposed Adm. Hackett, in his deep rumbling voice.

"He seems very promising, sir," returned the dark man who had been sitting quietly listening to this exchange, without a word. "But let us hear of our other candidate."

The others looked at Barzilai, and the small man adjusted his horn rimmed spectacles and handed out four dossiers to the others in his turn. "The choice of naval intelligence is Lt. Commander Johann Shepard. Born in 2154 in Strasbourg. Father – William Shepard, a rich businessman who makes rugs. Mother – Capt. Berengere Shepard – a high level intelligence officer in the Alliance Navy, who did excellent work during the First Contact War and later. As a child, Shepard was found to have biotic capabilities and more importantly, was reckoned as something of a genius with electronics and computers. His parents are rich and hired an asari tutor to help him hone his biotic abilities, so he did not attend BAaT camp. After getting a master's degree in computer science, he joined the Alliance in 2177. Organised and oversaw a masterly enemy communications blackout on Torfan. He was the reason why the enemy received so few reinforcements and so late. Also, he arranged viral attacks on enemy computers, orbital targeting systems and communications devices that left our enemy totally uncoordinated and incoherent. After that, he graduated from N7 with top scores and he was one of our first intelligence operatives to be trained by the salarian Special Tasks Group (STG) as part of the joint training efforts and officer exchange programmes. Even the salarian instructors were awestruck by his decryption and intrusion detection capabilities. He is probably our finest agent in the Traverse, and in five years, has been the spearhead of our intelligence gathering efforts. He has wide contacts everywhere in the Traverse, is very diplomatic, has broken into the information networks of every major group on several occasions, and is the main reason why there have been so few attacks in the Traverse in the last few years. He can get jobs done without any fuss, quietly and behind the scenes." Barzilai finished, a touch snidely, "He is also the main reason why Lin's forces have had so many successes in recent times."

"He is an L3 implant, I see. His biotic strength seems rather limited and he spikes much lower than the strongest human biotics," remarked Anderson quietly, as Yehoshua Barzilai finished his summary.

"It is more how he uses his biotics that is important," returned Barzilai drily. "Shepard, according to his asari instructor, uses his biotics in a rapid fire fashion – all moderate power attacks, but he uses his powers relentlessly, continuously. His instructor thinks that it is much more effective for his style of combat. When he does have to fight, that is."

Immediately Yi broke in, "What is his command ability?"

"He has always performed well with others, whenever it is needed, Lin," replied Barzilai

"He has never been tested under fire in battle, has never led a unit to victory. He is just a glorified hacker, and a back office wheeler and dealer," rasped Rear Admiral Yi Lin.

Barzilai shrugged contemptuously, "He is an intelligence officer, not a glorified bridge burner."

Admiral Hackett broke in once more, "Please, ladies and gentlemen." Both Barzilai and Yi fell silent at that, though both glowered resentfully at each other. However, Udina jumped in at this moment, "I have concerns about Shepard, Admiral."

Barzilai fixed him with a steely glare, but Udina continued in his theatrical fashion, "He was trained by asari and salarians with whom he maintains excellent personal relations, he has batarian contacts, and he has traded information with almost all other species' intelligence forces in the galaxy with no reference to the Alliance Naval HQ! How do you account for all that?"

Barzilai cut in coldly, "He has always put Alliance interests first! Ambassador, the Traverse is a huge space and there is no way we could possibly gather the needed intelligence from that entire space. The only way, I must point out, is to go into partnership with the intelligence agencies of other governments, particularly their law enforcement agencies. Therefore, thanks to Shepard, we have built up good links with every group that is not actively trying to raid or enslave us. It works for everyone."

"Links with batarians helps us, Admiral?" questioned Anderson skeptically.

Barzilai explained patiently, "The Hegemony has adopted an attitude that encourages pirates, terrorists and slavers to act against us. However, this policy has serious blow back that hurts batarians as well, to an extent. It does nothing to stop the occasional pirate lord or slaver from raiding the batarian colonies. As long as the damage to Hegemony's interests is not too catastrophic, it is tolerated. However, at the local colony level, the batarians want to keep their lives and liberty. So, while the Hegemony does not cooperate with us, plenty of low level colony officials and even the batarian army officers are not averse to trading useful intel about these bastards on the sly. It was Shepard who found out this by intercepting communications and he has built up a good rapport with many batarians – both military and civilian."

"So you actually condone giving useful intel to batarians with nothing in return?" echoed Udina incredulously.

"It's what we need to do if we want useful intel in return when we need it!" snapped Barzilai. "It keeps all of us alive, so I don't see what you're complaining about!"

"This sort of thing will make us a laughing stock among the other races! They will privately sneer at our ineptitude!"

"I don't see why they should," returned Barzilai equably. "They are all doing the same thing!"

"The best way of dealing with criminals and terrorists is to have a stronger fleet, with better patrols," snarled Yi Lin, "not by cutting deals with criminals."

"No amount of ships and troops will allow you to patrol every colony, and guard every interest. It would only bring down our economy," returned Barzilai icily. "The only way to do it is to build up stable and productive relations with other species. And it would help if you diplomats at the Council did not go around throwing your weight, rubbing everyone the wrong way, ignoring our long term interests to sit quickly at the high table!"

Udina rose to snap at Barzilai, but Hackett cut in before the debate escalated in acrimony. "Please, ladies and gentlemen! Let us return to the matter at hand. We are to decide on our candidate for the spectres, not debate our policies in the Council or towards other species!" Udina, Yi Lin and Barzilai all subsided, although the tension at the table was like electricity, as Hackett continued, "What do you think, David?"

"Both candidates seem sound, sir. Either would fit the bill perfectly," answered the captain honestly.

"But if you had to make a choice?" asked Hackett delicately.

"From the Alliance point of view, Alenko is the safe choice. He has demonstrated a very good ability to lead, is battle tested and ideologically sound. He would be practical and reliable. However, from the Council's point of view, Shepard will be preferable and is one they are less likely to sabotage. They will prefer a known quantity and since Shepard has been trained by asari and salarians, he fits the bill. Also, he is one who has proven his ability to work with other species, and one who is diplomatic enough not to cause embarrassing incidents," answered Anderson quietly. "However, his penchant for trading information with everyone, even our potential enemies, and his lack of direct battle experience worry me a bit. He is a bit of a radical in this."

"He is a damned xenophile, from the sound of it," muttered Udina. "He is the kind most likely to forget that he is a human, once he gets to the Council employment."

Anderson did not answer. He thought for a long moment, head bowed and chin resting on his hand. Finally, he raised his head and answered, "Even so, if I had to make a choice, I would pick Shepard, sir. He is likely to be much more comfortable with his Council superiors, and they with him. He can serve the Council without forgetting us."

"And the rest of you?" queried Admiral Hackett, looking at the others. Unsurprisingly, Yi Lin and Udina voted for Alenko, and while Barzilai voted for Shepard. Hackett thought for a long moment. He was aware of the arguments of all sides. The navy and the special forces wanted a larger fleet, more men and better equipment. They also resented the intrusion of the Council into the affairs of humanity and wanted a freer hand in dealing with the thugs that terrorised that the Traverse. While the Council rarely lent any direct help in dealing with these creatures, it was always too ready to intervene into human affairs in the Traverse. The diplomats wanted humanity to sit at the high table. It would give humanity a strong voice in the proceedings of the Council. As it was, humanity was forced to take care of its own interests, while keeping in line with the Council's wishes, which led to all sorts of ridiculous compromises. And finally, there were the intelligence forces, who wanted close cooperation with the other species. While the diplomats and the politicians might haggle over terms in the Council, it was the intelligence and law enforcement that were answerable for any attacks that happened on the colonies. Consequently, they cut deals with other intelligence agencies to share intelligence, both overtly and covertly, and were resentful when Alliance diplomats and politicians squabbled with their counterparts from other species, causing complications for them. All arguments were sound from their own perspectives, and Hackett was honest enough to realise that, even if he did not agree with some of them. He finally raised his head and then pronounced this judgement, "David, you will take both of them with you on the Normandy. You will take them both on the first mission. After the first mission, I empower you to make the judgement about who is better suited to be a spectre."

"Very well, sir" returned Anderson, while all the others nodded slowly. With the decision made and the meeting concluded, they filed out of the room, behind Admiral Hackett.

-(Author's Note)-

I have always seen Shepard being a powerful soldier, magnificent with his guns, superb with his hands, often with extraordinarily powerful biotics. I have never seen a Shepard who is only decent at combat, but whose strengths lie elsewhere. Always, it is Shepard who is the misunderstood creature. Now I am going to create a very different kind of Shepard, with not great combat skills, but other skills. And my Shepard will be a cool headed realist, a career oriented creature, but with a few scruples.

Secondly, I have noticed that in fan fiction, whenever politicians/others oppose Shepard, they are being idiotic/corrupt/cowardly and Shepard is always right. Now, in this fiction, I am going to look at the matter, not only from Shepard's point of view (which is very different from the ME Shepard's point of view), but also from the Council and Alliance points of view. Also, I will explore the various factions inside the Alliance. I might add that my Shepard is often wrong.

As usual, all comments and criticisms are welcome.

-(A General note)-

Now that the third and probably, final, instalment of Mass Effect is out, I have to say I was fairly disappointed by the whole series. The first game set up an excellent stage for the rest, but from there, the whole thing went downhill. While the companion missions and the idea of Collectors being Protheans was excellent, in general, I was disillusioned with Mass Effect 2, which wallowed all over the place without any serious, coherent and credible plot, forced me to work for the Psi Corps – er, sorry, Cerberus – and forced me to destroy a batarian colony for what? I mean – would the designers have made such a decision to force the player to destroy the colony if it was a human colony? What was the point of destroying the Collectors? Add in the death-and-resurrection bit, and it was quite unpleasant for me.

However, Mass Effect 3 completed the disappointment for me. While the general direction was no surprise (come on, how many of you doubted that the final instalment of the game would be uniting the galaxy against the reapers?), I was utterly shocked by the number of deus ex machina events pulled by Bioware. I mean – asari are smart only because they are all leeching off some old Prothean artefact? What is the use of their 1000 year life spans and 2000 year science lead over humans? The plans for the crucible have been stored for a long time, for gods know how many cycles, and in a place that was being investigated for at least 30 years, and no one noticed those plans until the reapers were in the backyard? The crucible is being built with engineers from all over the galaxy going there, and yet, the reapers waited until it was complete, without attacking it? The curing of the genophage was another deus ex machina (it is particularly jarring and offensive if you are a researcher in genetics or biochemistry, who understands how bio-weapons work), although, I must say that I saw the cure coming. Further, what was the point of Cerberus turning on you? I was on excellent terms with the Illusive Man in one of my playthroughs, giving him the Collector base and agreeing with his goals, and even then, he simply turned on me. Cerberus has taken two 180 degree turns in the series, from abominable bastards, to misguided and overzealous defenders of humanity, back to abominable bastards. It is simply agonising to think about it. And finally, that AI in the end, seems to function with a logic so faulty that it would be surprising if it were able to tell right from left, let alone design something as complicated as reapers and mass relays. And where was Harbinger in all this? It seemed to have a personal grouse against Shepard in the previous game, and it simply vanished in the last one?

So, I sat back and wondered what I would do if I wrote the entire series. I will adopt the Mass Effect Universe, and most of the cast, along with the vague outlines of the story, but all details will be filled by me. So, this is my attempt to write the story of Mass Effect. But there will be few deus ex machinas in my story, and all my characters (both heroes and villains) will have to rely on their limited resources at their disposal to solve the problems they face, and more importantly, there are no super characters in my story. Even Reapers will have their weaknesses. Also, my characters will have to struggle for their successes, and there will be no ready made solutions.