A/N and Intro:
Welcome to Of Sheep and Battle Chicken.
Yes, the name is ridiculous – I guarantee you will remember it.
Before you read any further, two things need to be kept in mind.
First, this is a very heavily AU (Alternative Universe) fic. I have taken a shotgun to canon in every possible way. Things you will not see include a stupid Council, moronically evil Cerberus, weak-ass turians, or pretty much anything that BioWare half-assed. Things you WILL see are salarians that operate in bullet-time, asari who have biotic lightsabers, a severely dark and evil SA, and pretty much an entire universe that makes War40k look like My Little Pony.
It's so AU that if you go to my profile, I've written up supporting documentation, such as the Cerberus Files, the Systems Alliance Order of Battle, and the Encyclopedia Biotica. These are not required to understand the story but will help. There is already a sequel, a link between ME1 and ME2 called OSaBC: And Then There Were None.
This story has some strange pairings. There's FShep/Liara, but also Joker/Tali, Garrus/OC, and Ash/Kai. Also, Saren/Benezia.
Second, this is rated M for strong language and heavy violence. While there are a number of sexual innuendos, there are no explicit sex scenes in this work. There is a good amount of focus on BDSM (although not explicit) and well, given my version of Shepard's proclivities, it is probably for the best that I don't get too detailed.
The story is told in five arcs.
Arc I covers what I call the Prologues – introductions to all the key players, and of course the Opening Scene.
Arc II covers from just before Eden Prime to the establishment of Shepard as a Spectre.
Arc III covers Therum, Feros, and the hunt for Cerberus.
Arc IV covers Noveria and Virmire.
Arc V is the finale, covering Ilos, the Citadel, and the Aftermath.
The story would not be possible without the kind assistance of WordKrush, Bebus, Michael110, and Progman.
As of October 2014 I am overhauling the story thanks to kind assistance from thebluninja, who has been proofreading each chapter so that it sucks less, as well as liethr.
THE FIRST ARC : You suggested me for what?
'I have to say, when I first heard the news about being made Spectre? I seriously wondered if Anderson was drunk.'
-Major-Commander Sara Shepard, 'Lay it on me'
A bastion of humanity's will to power, floating almost arrogantly in the depths of the void. Some viewed it as a weak copy of the far mightier Citadel; others saw it as merely a prudent defensive station that had grown over time.
What no one debated is that it had become a place where the government of the Systems Alliance did a great deal of backroom politicking, away from the cameras and publicity of Vancouver. Many dark secrets were embedded in computers within its walls, tucked away in filing cabinets among racks of OSDs and datapads gathering dust. Still more secrets were whispered into the air of the many conference rooms surrounding the Congressional Hall at the heart of Arcturus.
One of these rooms, proclaimed by its heavy wooden portals and the richly detailed brass plate to one side reading 'SA Joint Defense Board,' was perhaps the penultimate place where certain decisions were made by a handful of powerful figures. Here, humanity had come to a deal involving the Treaty of Farixen. Here, they'd hashed out a formal cessation of hostilities with the Turian Hierarchy, some eight years after the end of the First Contact War.
And here was where humanity took its first steps toward what its leaders hoped would be a more open acceptance by the Council.
The room was not large, given its importance, but was richly decorated. The walls were wood-paneled, the floor carpeted in thick, rich piles. A bar ran along one wall, a huge viewport along another, displaying a dazzling view of the beyond, stars burning in the eternal night. The long meeting table was real mahogany, imported all the way from Earth, inlaid with the Alliance symbol in gold. Marring its pristine surface were a collection of file folders and datapads, the very oldest and newest in documentation.
The air was tainted by cigar smoke, rising in lazy whorls before being snatched away by the air filters, the expensive Terra Novan tobacco bringing a teasing, sweet scent to the otherwise dry air. Five men and one woman sat in the room, but one of the men was unimportant, merely a recorder of events, faded blond hair shorn in buzz cut, framing a square, empty face. His uniform was crisp as he began transcribing the latest words into a new padd.
One of other four men in the room sat almost indolently, the woman at his side poised and elegant, while the other three men had far stiffer postures, each glancing over various reports, dispatches, and datapads. They perched in overstuffed chairs bespeaking their influence, their expressions fixed in grim visages more akin to a funeral than a calm discussion. The table was a warzone of political detritus, a light lunch, datapads limned in the red and white of secure documents, and old, bitter secrets. A heavy sheaf of papers was neatly stacked at the end of the table, the top page embossed with a raised set of pale white stylized wings inside a white circle on a black background.
A puff of cigar smoke threaded into the air, followed by a mellifluous voice. "And that is what has transpired thus far. In return for our kind cooperation with our damned alien overlords, the best that Udina and Doyle were able to dicker from them was the Spectre, the treaty changes, and the economic allowances. I trust you gentlemen understand the requirement for discretion in what we've discussed so far? There are, and always will be, elements back home who won't quite understand the idea of trading away our discovery to the spikes and blues for a Spectre and a few more ships."
The man who spoke puffed on his cigar briefly. He was not fat, but large, muscles once taut and powerful having faded over time. His expensive suit was unruffled from the trip from Earth, silk and demiweave, a muted gray-silver that gleamed faintly in the dim light of the holo-projection on the table. His eyes were dark, cold gray, the same as his perfectly trimmed hair. Every line in his face was cold, elegant, and calm. A tap of the large hand, festooned with gold rings, dumped a crumbling ash in a pile into the nearby ashtray.
The man that faced him across the table was like but unlike. Like the man, his frame was large, fading from muscle with age. Old, harsh red scars marred the craggy strength of his profile, the lantern jaw, the hard blue eyes, the firm, almost dour set to his mouth. His uniform was ablaze across the chest with ribbons, each one a testament to courage, valor, and skill. Four stripes of pure gold perched on either shoulder, symbols of both power and duty.
His voice was a grating, slate drawl, like the crunch of gravel. "Senator Adkins, I think if Fleet Master Dragunov were here, he would say the same thing I will… this is more than merely a few ships and a Spectre. A modification of the Treaty of Farixen would allow us to lay another two, maybe three dreadnought keels."
The man placed his fingertips together pensively. "That might make all the difference, should there ever be war again. Given the tense situation with the batarians, we can't afford to throw this away on political posturing."
The woman sitting next to the Senator nodded. Her face was classically beautiful even with age, with liquid dark eyes, an aquiline nose, and thin but shapely lips now curving into a small grin. Long cascades of auburn hair, only faintly touched with silver, were coiled tightly into a long braid, setting off the black and brown pattern of expensive dress. Her voice, a warm contralto cooled by a hard German accent, rang out with confidence.
"Very true, Admiral Hackett. Not to mention the concessions on trade and tariffs. The High Lords of Sol will not let you back down from this, Adkins. You might as well simply bite the bullet and pick someone to represent humanity in a good light."
Senator Adkins nodded his head. "Admiral Hackett, Lady Manswell. That's why we're here. That's why Captain Anderson and Major Kyle are here. Both the President and the Ministers agreed that having some damned committee with no experience pick our candidate would be a stupid idea. I merely want everyone to understand we will have to move… quickly on this. The Beacon won't be a secret forever, and if everything is already a done deal by the time the press, not to mention Earth First and Terra Firma, find out, we'll have fewer problems down the line."
Lady Manswell sniffed dismissively. "I hardly care of the thoughts of the masses, Senator. That is the role of the Commissariat, to keep them well inline. Let us see these candidates you have."
Adkins turned to Hackett, who nodded. "We've tried to pick candidates that can fulfill the requested role, milady. As a general rule, a Spectre would spend most of their time on the ground, so spaceside-only soldiers were not included in our selection. We've narrowed it down to five suggested choices… and one outside possibility."
Five digitized faces flickered into existence in cold blue lighting above the center of the table, each surmounting a scrolling list of achievements, commendations, and facts. A soft VI voice spoke each of their names.
"John Rodgers Young. Captain, SAMC. N6. Infowar specialist. Current assignment: 2nd Solguard."
Adkins looked across at Hackett, and then the two officers next to him. "Never heard of him. Assessment?"
The larger of the two officers, directly to the left of Hackett, gave a tired shrug. This man was barrel-chested, his frame thick with muscle, but his appearance was almost downcast, distracted. His medals blazed on his chest thickly, along with three red bold ribbons on his collar, but his posture was that of a defeated man, not a proud one, and his voice was very slightly unsteady.
"I honestly do not believe that we can expect him to perform the high-level tasks we need. Captain Young is more of a leader than a fighter. And there are other issues that make him unfit to interact with some aliens. Captain Young has had some troubling interactions with asari in the past."
Lady Manswell arched an eyebrow. "When you say 'troubling'…"
The other officer, to Hackett's right, frowned before speaking, his dark face set in severe lines. It was a face that spoke of great strength and great sorrow, and his voice, refined with a touch of London, belied his trim, muscular appearance. "I would have to agree with Major Kyle, milady. The incident involved Mr. Young's ex-wife and an asari lady while he was on duty. When he returned from service…" He trailed off delicately, and the lady made a moue of distaste.
Then she laughed. "How droll, Captain Anderson. Still, scandals of that nature are something we can do without. Next?"
The VI's voice was calm. "Jason Delacor. Captain, SAMC. N7. Current Assignment: CO, 5th Regiment, Mindoir Army Group."
Adkins frowned this time, glancing up at Hackett. "You cannot be serious. The man is literally walking bad luck and death."
Hackett coughed into his hands. "That is an unfair assessment. Captain Delacor has endured a great deal of tribulation in his life, but has never failed to do his duty."
Lady Manswell smiled slowly. "His colony of Mindoir was raided in the most savage attack in history, making him very nearly the sole survivor in his town. His boot camp class suffered from malfunction in the survival simulator, with only him walking away alive. His entire unit was eaten by thresher worms… maws, whatever they are called… on Akuze, again leaving him the sole survivor. He's tried to get married twice and both fiancées have died in a matter of days. To me, it appears as if he's the unluckiest bastard in the entire galaxy."
Anderson nodded slowly. "Also, keep in mind he's in command of the Fifth. If we made him a Spectre, that means Commander Shepard would be in charge of the 5th."
Adkins winced. "Ouch. Probably not wise. Next?"
The VI's voice spoke again. "Countess Melissa von Ituria. Lieutenant Commander, SAIS. P7. Current assignment: Citadel discovery ops."
Lady Manswell immediately shook her head, her voice dripping with amusement. "No. Even above the fact that her Family is a pack of Terra Firma lunatics, I happen to know the lady in question personally. She has… emotional baggage. She hates turians. Next?"
The VI spoke again, almost apologetically. "Julio Espinoza, Major of Marines, SAMC. KoUE. N7. Current assignment: CO, Beta Reaction Force."
Hackett folded his arms, glancing at Anderson and Kyle. "I have no reservations with Major Espinoza, except for the fact that he's married and recently had his first child."
Anderson frowned. "He has never worked with aliens, in any capacity. Nor does he have any spaceside experience outside of his A-level training. And he's been sitting behind a desk for the past two years, not in the field. He certainly has more seniority than any of the other candidates. Outranks me, which could be tricky in command situations."
Adkins carefully reviewed the data. "I'm not totally satisfied. He's good, but bland, and he's never been in a life-or-death fight. And that's a lot of caveats you just listed out. We'll list him as a 'maybe.' Next?"
The VI sounded off again. "Sir James Branson. Captain, SANF. Star of Sol. KoUE. N7. Current position: CO, First N Combat Brigade."
A long sigh sounded in the room, and the stern voice of Adkins sounded weary. "Gentlemen, we have now been through your first tier of candidates, and there isn't a single one I'd feel totally comfortable with. And this one is no exception. The Hero of Elysium is an outstanding warrior. A very ideal, heroic figure. But we all know that the public face is mostly Commissariat PR. Elysium was a sham, and the aliens will figure that out if we give them reason to look. On top of that he's racist, foolhardy, and worst of all a glory hound."
Hackett sighed, then turned – almost reluctantly – to face Anderson and Kyle. "Senator, my subordinates have one more recommendation to review with you. I'd like to go on the record and say this is their idea, not put forth by Alliance Command."
Anderson gave a tight smile, facing the Senator and Lady Manswell. Hackett – and the Fleet Master – didn't like his idea, but that wouldn't matter. He knew that the Senator had the Senate wrapped up, and that anything a Manswell wanted, they got. If he could convince the two of them that his idea would work, the SA would have no choice but to go along with it.
He took a deep breath. "Senator, I think we can all agree that whoever we submit must be a symbol that represents the best of what humanity has to offer, but I would like to know what else you think we should be looking for."
The Senator puffed his cigar again. "Symbolism is certainly important. But if we're going to do this, it has to be someone who can get the job done, whatever the job may be. Whatever the cost. I look at these fine men and women you have proposed and I see great soldiers. Heroes. Symbols, as you said. But I don't see someone who can make the hard calls a Spectre might have to undertake. They called Branson a hero because instead of falling back he showboated. I don't like that. Delacor is a survivor, but that's all he is, for all his achievements. Ituria is a complete novice at ground warfare, and this Espinoza has never been tested. Young doesn't sound like he has the chops to get it done. What I need is someone who will never, ever fail us."
The Senator glanced over at the other two men at the table. "Someone like the Lion of Mindoir. Of course, I know someone of that nature is hard to find. But I need more than merely 'good.' I need goddamned excellent."
Lady Manswell nodded. "If there are personal problems, those can be ameliorated, but I tend to agree. We are all familiar with your own attempt at being a Spectre, that the Council and that filthy turian derailed. We have made a great deal of effort to make sure this time the selection will be successful – but whoever is chosen must be the equal of any of the aliens."
Kyle glanced at Anderson, then sighed and nodded. Anderson gave a slight smile. "Then there is one other possibility, Senator Adkins. One we hesitated to submit given the delicacy of the position, and the various reactions putting her name forward might entail. But if you really don't approve of the other candidates, we have no choice."
He keyed his omni-tool, speaking aloud. "Open file 53-9 Alpha, authorization Anderson, David." A pause. "Major?"
The other figure at the table merely nodded. "Confirm, open file 53-9 Alpha, authorization Kyle, Preston."
The VI spoke again, in neutral female tones. "Accessing secure Alliance databases." A single holographic image replaced the five faces at the center of the table, and the Senator leaned forward.
"…Well, that's not what I expected, for sure." Adkins voice was almost amused.
The hologram was that of a human woman, her face a profile in stillness. Black hair framed features that would be lovely if not set in such a cold expression. Eyes the color of an angry storm front stared out unseeing, the nose, thin; the planes of the face set and almost unfeeling; the mouth, an angry slash marred by black lipstick. The eyes, though, drew one in, promising nothing but oblivion.
The VI announced in solemn tones. "Sara Shepard. Commander, SAMC, Star of Terra. N7. Current Assignment: XO, 5th Regiment, Mindoir Army Group."
Senator Adkins exhaled, smoke curling from his mouth. "The Butcher of Torfan."
Anderson coughed before speaking, trying to keep his voice even and calm. "Yes, Senator. A top N7 graduate, ranked first in every exercise. She's completed the entire workup for a space command as well. Cross-trained in both biotic and infowar combat. She's had tactical command at the battle of Dirth and again against pirate incursions at Terra Nova, and Horizon. Blocked the so-called revenge strike on Mindoir. And of course… Torfan."
Hackett spoke up. "Her background is… problematic. She had a horrific childhood, and was heavily involved with gangs and worse on Earth. She was force-drafted to avoid a capital sentence, which she served through the Penal Legions. There are some who will say she's not fit for a role of this nature."
Anderson gave the Admiral an angry look, and Hackett sighed. "But… I must admit, she's surpassed anyone's wildest expectations. Pushed herself to the top, from the very bottom. Deadly, never failed a single mission over the course of a hundred missions. Wounded eighteen times, never out of commission. Completely fearless. Not exactly a… people person, but that's not really what the job requires."
Major Kyle spoke, his voice quiet. "She was my best soldier. Her team was the best of the best, and she was the only reason Torfan didn't end up worse than it did. She doesn't just fight." The other three men turned to look at the Major, who was looking at his hands as if they were stained. "She destroys. She overwhelms. You can't imagine it. But Anderson and Hackett are both right. If you give her this, she will never fail, never surrender. But she will need someone to keep an eye on her. Someone she can't intimidate."
He gave an almost helpless look at Anderson. "Just be aware of what you're playing with. It's plasma fire."
Adkins nodded. "Is she stable? There's quite a bit of this record that's been redacted and she came from… very hard times, it looks like."
Anderson nodded. "I have worked with her a great deal, sir. She is often emotionless. She is utterly, completely professional. She has no bias – she had to work with turians once, fought alongside a krogan on Torfan, and participated in a month's long training exercise with asari commandos as well. No friction with aliens. No serious private life to speak of. Never gets into trouble outside of the things she gets up to in combat. No drugs, no messy divorces, not even civil disturbance tickets. Obeys every order, regardless of…"
Anderson hesitated, and then firmed his voice "…anything in the way. She won't embarrass us, won't try to show off, and I can't imagine her doing anything to betray the Systems Alliance."
At this, Kyle gave a very thin, sardonic smile. "Tell them the rest, David."
Adkins looked over at Anderson, who sighed. "I will be the first to admit she is not the perfect candidate. Torfan, sir. That was… not our best moment, in many ways. She murdered prisoners, she used her Marines like expendable assets, and she—"
Adkins shrugged, and waved him to silence. "She got the job done, Captain. That's what matters. We all know Torfan was not her fault, and the results were what the SA wanted." He exchanged glances with Lady Manswell.
She sniffed. "If we must send someone to show the aliens we are not to be pushed about, I cannot think of anyone better than the Butcher. I give my approval, and the High Lords of Sol will agree."
Adkins nodded. "As do I." He glanced at the glowing comm-link set into the table, one connected to the Citadel. "I trust you have no insight or opinion on this, Ambassador Udina?
A new voice sounded from the comm-link, slightly distorted by the mechanics of FTL data buoys. "Aside from questioning the obvious? I have to ask if that is really the kind of person we want as a Spectre, Senator?" The voice was almost nasal, but cold, with a touch of accent.
Senator Adkins, the most powerful of the members of the Alliance Senate Subcommittee on Galactic Affairs, scrubbed out his cigar. "Ambassador Udina, that is the only kind of person who can be such a thing. Forward the recommendation to the Council with our gratitude, and let them know Captain Anderson will be arriving at Eden Prime as soon as possible."
A pause, and then Udina spoke. "I'll… make the call."
Anderson nodded. "And I'll get the ball moving, sir, in regards to the Normandy. Thank you, for giving me this chance."
Adkins snorted. "You should have been the first human Spectre, Captain. The whole reason we're giving you this project – being put in command of our Spectre candidate, given our most advanced warship, dealing with the Spectre assessor – is to rub it in the face of the Council that we still have complete faith in you." He stood, pulling out a fresh cigar, and extended his hand toward Lady Manswell.
She took it gracefully, cool eyes raking over Anderson and Kyle. "I agree. Major Kyle, are you alright? You look fatigued."
The Major gave a smile, shrugging his massive shoulders. "I'll be fine, milady. Just a long trip here. Thank you both for your time and consideration."
The room emptied, leaving behind the single Lieutenant to finish up recording the notes and clean the documents and materials from the table.
Kyle and Anderson walked out of the room, and then down the adjacent hallway, ignoring the plain old steel paneling and Alliance logo stencils. Dress boots clicked with a metronome's precision as the two men rounded another corner, before Kyle stopped.
"David, you know what she's like. How far she has gone. Is this really a good idea?"
Captain David Anderson paused for several seconds, his dark face taut with a mix of emotions. "I don't know, Preston. That's not a question I can answer. I can say that, from what I've seen of the Spectres, they all seem pretty dark to me." He glanced up. "What I can't do is ignore Delacor's reports. The man is an idiot, and he's making her more unstable. If we don't do something she'll end up out of control and in a court-martial."
Kyle sighed. "I know. I should have done things differently at Torfan, but—"
Anderson closed his eyes, and grimaced. "Preston, now isn't the time to beat yourself up over that. You made mistakes, General von Grath made mistakes, and Shepard made mistakes. What is important is we have a chance not just to prove our worth to the Council, but help Sara out of the hole she's dug for herself. Can you reach out to Delacor?"
Kyle only nodded. "I'll see if I can't get Delacor on the horn and explain this to him. After that… I think, perhaps, it's time for me to find another path. I've recently found a few things that have disturbed me, and I need time to reflect. I will be retiring."
Anderson fixed him with a somewhat shocked gaze. "I was hoping you'd come along with me to explain this mess to her. She looks up to you. Admires you."
Kyle gave a gentle, sad smile. "She idolizes you, David. She'll follow your lead, no matter what. Make them include you in whatever mission they plan to assess her in, not just commanding the Normandy. Guide her. Show her the way. She'll listen to you; you're like her damned father."
Anderson nodded. "I'll try. For whatever that is worth. I owe her that much. As for being her father… I only wish. She's had a hard life, and if I can get her through it to something better… I have to try." He clenched a fist in frustration, and Kyle just nodded.
Anderson looked back up. "Preston. Are you sure you are okay? There's a lot of talk about some of the things you've been saying in recent months. Off-the-record reprimands. Official censure. That kind of thing. Does that have anything to do with you deciding to retire?"
Kyle's eyes flickered, once before subsuming. "Anderson. Do you remember when you made naval captain, and some Commissar sat you down to explain what the SA did in the dark, to 'protect humanity from harm' and keep us safe?"
Anderson's face tightened in disgust. "Of course I do."
Kyle's eyes were sad. "What you were told wasn't the worst thing we were up to, Anderson. My sons were L2s, did you know that?"
With that cryptic statement, Kyle turned and departed, leaving a bewildered Anderson by himself for several seconds.
He sighed, then tapped his omni-tool to bring up his comm-link. "Commander Vonn, I'm done here. Have my launch ready for me, then prep the Tokyo for immediate departure for Almor. When Captain Asis shows up, send him to my ready room so I can begin the hand-off."
He clicked off, turning to stare out a nearby window at the expanse of the Arcturus docks. "God, I hope this works."