Author's Note: I would like to thank Bioware, for bringing us the Mass Effect universe; Electronic Arts, for funding Bioware; Bungie, for molding the Halo universe; 343 Industries, for continuing to bring us Halo; and Microsoft, for bringing me Microsoft Word, and for creating 343 Industries specifically to bring us more Halo. I do NOT own Halo, Mass Effect, or any of their component characters, settings, plots, etc. I do NOT wish to steal or take money from Bioware/EA or 343/Microsoft; I merely wish to combine some aspects of the two. Enjoy. –Snufflesdog

"Chief? Can you hear me?" Cortana asked, as Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 awoke. For a moment, he felt that he was falling, but a second later realized that the ship's artificial gravity was not functioning. With a thought, he turned his armor's helmet-mounted flashlights on. "I thought I'd lost you too," she said.

"What happened?" he asked. The Master Chief began propelling himself towards his standard issue MA5 assault rifle. He floated along the corridor, which came to an abrupt end. As John looked out at the stars, he noticed that the edges of the apparent tear in the ship were glowing bright orange.

"I'm not sure; when Halo fired it shook itself to pieces—did a number on the Ark. The portal couldn't sustain itself; we made it through just as it collapsed. Well, some of us made it," she added, after a pause. At that, the Chief turned around and headed to cryo room, where the stasis pods would be. Next to the pods was a small holoprojector. As Cortana's chip was inserted, she projected an image of herself and said, "But you did it: Truth, the Covenant, the Flood; it's finished."

"It's finished," he repeated wearily as he climbed into the stasis pod nearest Cortana's holoprojector.

"I'll drop a beacon, but it'll be a while before anyone finds us, years even—I'll miss you."

The SPARTAN's last words before the pod closed were, "Wake me when you need me."

As Commander Eve Shepard ate her meal in the kitchen of her mother's apartment on deck C of Arcturus Station, she pondered why she was there. The Commander was no stranger to the Systems Alliance headquarters; she had received the Star of Terra here for her actions during the Skyllian Blitz on Elysium. For the duration of her last stay, it hadn't seemed possible to get five minutes to herself. Now it seemed as though everyone had been given orders to accommodate her, but to interact with her as little as possible. Even the paparazzi were absent, given a large incentive to leave her be, she thought. Recalling her last conversation with her CO, Captain Alves, Eve noted the anxiety in his voice as he woke her, interrupting her rack time.

"Shepard, be in my quarters in five."

"Yes, sir."

She got up and dressed quickly, running her hands through her mid-length flame-red hair. Her eyes, the color of newly grown grass, searched the faces of her shipmates for any clue as to what the Captain wanted. Their eyes held no answers. She shrugged as she walked out of the crew quarters into the mess hall. Walking straight through the mess hall, the door to the captain's quarters hissed open as she approached. The Captain waited until the door closed before speaking.

"Shepard, I just received orders from High Command. You've been reassigned temporarily to Arcturus."

"Sir, may I ask what they want me for?"

"Didn't say. Whatever it is, it's classified way above my pay grade." At this he gave her a significant look. "Did you do anything extraordinary while I wasn't looking?"

"Not that I remember, sir," she grinned, "but I did kick Kowalski's ass the other day on the mats."

Alves didn't laugh. He looked her over with concern in the eyes of his stoic face. "I don't like this Eve, but if you stay honest I think you'll make it back to us alright. The shuttle is waiting to take you over to the Seoul, which has just been reassigned to Fifth Fleet." The Captain turned back to his computer terminal, adding, "Hurry back Shepard, Kowalski won't stay humble for long."

"Aye, aye sir."

The Commander went over and over this conversation. Absentmindedly, she rubbed her hands up and down her arms to warm herself. The station was kept cool enough that the politicians in their suits would be comfortable, but left something to be desired for the average fatigue-wearing soldier. Distracted as she was, Shepard was startled by the soft chime of the door. When she opened it, a young serviceman saluted.

"Ma'am? I need you to come with me," he said, an apologetic look coloring his features.

What the hell? she thought, I can't even have a few hours of rest after a two-day trip? Sighing internally, she stood up. "After you, Serviceman." They walked for what seemed like hours through a labyrinth of corridors and up multitudes of stairwells, finally arriving outside a small conference room. The Serviceman gave her a salute and an encouraging smile, then stood guard next to the door. In an attempt to calm herself, she took a deep breath and concentrated on her heartbeat. Then she opened the door.

"Commander, come in," said Admiral Hackett, highest ranking officer of the Fifth Fleet, and an extremely influential member of the Alliance. She blinked, nonplussed. His voice was gravelly and his manner severe; this was not a man she wanted to cross, she thought. Taking in all aspects of the room, Eve saw Captain Anderson, the first soldier to graduate from the N7 program, and rumored to be the first, and so far, only, human Spectre. She also noticed a turian sitting in a corner, sizing her up. She was struck by the turian; his face paint was extensive, covering a large portion of his face in white pigment. He was well-built, and looked to be an extremely capable fighter. In the time it takes to blink, she had seen all this and returned her attention to Hackett.

"Commander," he greeted her. "You've heard of the Normandy?"

"Yes sir, it's supposed to be some new ship we're building with the turians." Her eyes flicked momentarily to their quiet guest. Anderson noticed her look at the turian.

"It's a bit more than that," Anderson said. "The turians are providing most of the design input, and we get to keep it, but the Council is paying for it. Nihlus is here to make sure that it's money well spent." Nihlus inclined his head, his mandibles flexing in what she thought was a gesture of respect.

"That doesn't explain why I'm here, sir."

There was a pause while Anderson eyed her critically. When he spoke, there was steel in his voice. "You're here, Commander, because I asked for you."

"I don't follow, sir."

"The brass wants this to look good." Hackett nodded. "That's why I'm Captain; it's also why you're going to be my Executive Officer, they gave me free reign to pick the best. This will show the Council that we can play nice with the Turian Hierarchy. We're hoping that they will give our requests more consideration if we show them that we're reasonable."

"I'm sorry, but you don't have a choice here, Commander." Hackett's raspy voice was a stark contrast to Anderson's steel. "All we need you to do is be a good XO, put up with the political malarkey surrounding the ship, and then you can get back to the Shanghai. In all honesty, you'll probably only be on the ship for her maiden voyage."

"We're rolling out tomorrow. The Normandy's parked in hanger A-14," Anderson said. "Report there and get to know the crew."

"Aye, aye sir."

As Eve retrieved her rucksack from the apartment, she wondered why she and a Spectre were being sent on a do-nothing shakedown run.

Be gentle in the reviews, please. I DO want to hear what I can improve upon, and in great detail, but please don't flame. I'll get better, I promise. -Snufflesdog