The Makings of a Hero
by Trisar

A hero doesn't protect because it's their job. Protection is the hero's job because she wanted to do it. What is it that can so drive a person to risk their own life to help others?


Chapter 1: Before...


Attican Traverse
Mindoir
Farming village of "Green Haven"
2170 CE

Theresa Shepard wiped the sweat from her brow, glad for the close crop of her copper-colored hair as the sun beat down on her head like a hammer. Sure, I'll be glad the sun's that hot and strong after these things are out of the ground and in my belly, she reasoned as she worked to harvest the vegetables on her family's farm. But damn if I wouldn't like it better if it were nice and cool right now. She glanced down, noticing her current basket was full, then looked for an empty one, spotting it a short ways off. A ten second walk. Ten seconds too much of a walk, she thought with a grimace, looking around again. No one's looking... She reached a hand out toward the basket, curled her fingers like she was gripping something, and pulled.

She was rewarded with the familiar tugging sensation in her brain that matched the basket sliding over toward her. Grinning, she began depositing fresh vegetables into the basket as she pulled them out. Life doesn't get much better than this, even with the heat. I'll have to register this thing eventually, and who knows, maybe I'll enlist, but for now? I like being a simple farm gir—

Shepard's thoughts were shattered by the roar of a ship engine blasting overhead. Clutching at her ears from the deafening noise, she glanced overhead as an unfamiliar ship blasted over Green Haven and toward the central port city several miles distant. Not supposed to fly that close overhead of a farming village, could spook the animals, ruin them, Alliance is supposed to know better, wait that ship isn't— Once again, her thoughts were interrupted by the cracking sound of twin mass drivers discharging supersonic rounds, with paired detonations from their impacts telling the redhead that the shots had landed in the small spaceport.

We're being attacked! Mom! Dad! Shepard thought, eyes widening in horror. She discarded her tools, slipping out of her tool belt and running for the house. Gun. Keys. Then find Mom and Dad. Get to safety, her mind raced. She swung a backhand at the door, shoving out with her mind and smashing her front door off its hinges. She had to find her father's pistol. It was an old gun and overheated quickly, but... But I don't have implants or an amp to make my biotics as strong as a military biotic! she thought, rifling through her parent's closet before finding the object of her search. Checking the power cell, she saw the pistol was still good to fire, with the ammo block almost as fresh as if it had never been used.

Keys now, she thought, running back downstairs. She heard gunfire, heard screaming, even as she grabbed the keys to the car her parents had gotten her for her birthday. Her sixteenth birthday. I only just turned sixteen! I'm not ready for this sort of thing! I'm a farmer, not a soldier! My dad's a farmer, my mom's a farmer, we're farmers! Her thoughts ran in a panic to match her body as she scrambled into her car, starting it and flooring the accelerator. She shot out into the field she had been working at just a few minutes ago, turning hard to drive toward her father's and mother's larger fields.

"C'mon, c'mon," she muttered, fiddling with the radio as she drove. Finally, she reached a station that was not broadcasting blank static. The station reported that Mindoir as a whole was under attack—Yeah, no kidding—by batarian raiders and slavers. A distress signal had already been sent to the mass relay requesting assistance from the Systems Alliance Navy, but it was unknown when help would be arriving.

"Citizens are advised to evacuate their homes and report to the nearest militia outpost for shelter. Repeat, the colony of Mindoir has fallen under attack by batarian raiders and slavers. We have sent a distress signal to the Systems Alliance requesting support from the Navy, but we are uncertain when reinforcements will arrive. Citizens are advised to evacuate..."

Fuck that, Shepard thought. "I'm getting my parents first." The field was coming up soon. She could get them to the car, they could drive out to a more remote militia outpost and secure themselves with the soldiers, and they could—

Shepard slammed on the brakes, eyes widening with horror at the fires burning in her parents' fields. She opened the door, slipping out without bothering to kill the engine, half-stumbling forward. The field was burning, and she thought she could see some figures through the smoke and flames, but it was hard to be sure. No, no, no, this can't... why would... who would burn the fields? she thought, numbly, stepping forward again, this time tripping. Her face slammed into something soft and wet.

Pushing herself up with a groan, Shepard wiped at her face with one hand. As she pulled her hand away, she stared in a moment of shock at the red streaking on it, now acutely aware that the wet covering the side of her face and hair was good, red human blood. No no no no no, she thought in horror, slowly looking down into the pained death grimace on her mother's bullet hole-riddled corpse. Her skin prickled, realizing her hand and face were covered with her mother's blood. Mom's blood. Mom. Dead. She's dead, she. She would have been with Dad. Where's Dad. Dad wouldn't have left her behind.

A stray thought crossed her mind. Slowly, eyes wide as she silently prayed, Theresa lifted herself up a bit more, turning around and coming face to face with the man she called "father." The man who had sired her, raised her, and protected her. Dead. Dad's dead. Mom's dead. Everyone's dead. "N-no," she moaned in disbelief, standing up. "Y-you can't be dead, you can't, where... how..." Her eyes slowly passed his face, stopping at the ugly, bloody hole in his forehead. Bigger than the holes in mom. That's like his pistol. Mom looks like a rifle. They shot him head on. He must have fought so Mom could try to get away. Mom. She glanced at her mother—the holes riddling her torso, some slightly larger on her front than back. They shot her while she was running. They're slavers. Must have been trying to take her alive. They would have come for me. Why didn't they come for me?

"We got another one!" a rough, deep voice bellowed. Theresa spun around, coming to her feet with wide eyes. Two tall humanoid figures in body armor marched toward her, sallow yellow skin framing a quartet of eyes in each head. Batarians, she realized. One carried an assault rifle in his hands—He killed Mom!—while the other had nothing in his hands but a large, ugly pistol at his hip—The one who killed Dad! "Look at that, nice and young. Seems to have some muscle on her too. Bet she works the fields here, she'll probably bring in some good money," the one with the rifle said, training the gun on her. "Lay down on the ground, girl! I've already had to waste a lot of money today killing those two worthless fools you're standing over. If I have to fight you over this, I'll make you regret it!"

Waste of money... My parents' deaths were a waste of money to this... this leech? This... TICK? Gripping her hands tightly into fists, Shepard struggled to steady her breathing, realizing her heart was beginning to race. How can anyone say that about killing another living person! He... He... they... A pressure began building in her head as her blood raced through her. I'm going to kill them! she roared in her mind. She raised her head, a shimmering purple corona surrounding her as she stalked toward the two batarians.

"Shit! She's a biotic! Shoot her! Shoot her!" yelled the one with the pistol, fumbling for his gun as his companion opened fire on the teen. Theresa ignored the bullets bouncing off of the barrier she had formed, snapping her arm forward at them with a yell of fury, a wave of raw force blasting the batarians off their feet. The redheaded teen stalked forward with a snarl, straddling the waist of the rifleman batarian as he struggled to get up. Even as the one with the pistol began firing round after round into the biotic shield around her, Theresa grabbed the batarian's face with glowing hands, intent upon twisting his head from his shoulders. The intent carried a bit more weight than she had thought, however, her surging biotic power twisting its way into the batarian's head. He had just enough time to scream in agony before her hands ripped through his suddenly soft flesh, tearing his head apart and covering her hands in his dark red blood.

The other one, she thought dimly, standing up and turning to the other batarian. His pistol was steaming in the air, pointed at her still as he began to back away. A dull click greeted him every time he pulled the trigger—Overheated, she realized. Finally, with a cry, he threw the pistol at her and turned to run. Theresa, ignoring the weapon impacting her protected shoulder, imagined him as a straw basket, reaching out and pulling. With a yell of surprise, he launched back toward her, slamming into the ground at her feet.

"You can't go yet," she said, dully. "You haven't apologized for what you did. For killing my parents." Dimly, she was aware of clenching her fist, of gathering her power into it again. She could hear him begging for his life, pleading with her not to kill him, and finally apologizing for murdering her parents. "That's good," she whispered. "Now go say hello to your friend for me," she finished, raising her fist up. The last thing she heard before her hand blasted through his skull was his scream. Then, pain wracking her own head and covered with blood, Theresa finally collapsed, blackness taking her, with the last thing she could hear being a dull ringing tone.

Attican Traverse
SSV Gettysburg — Alliance Medical Cruiser
In orbit over Mindoir
2170 CE

Pain was the first thing to greet her when she slowly opened her eyes later. A stark white ceiling, lit with fluorescent bulbs, greeted her agonized squint. A nearby beeping sound formed a cacophonic rhythm in her throbbing head. She was vaguely aware of plugs up her nose, her eyes following a line leading from her face to an oxygen tank. Struggling with an intense weight that seemed to completely cover her body, she tried to sit up, fighting waves of nausea as she did. Her dry throat refused her first attempt to voice a question to the room, and her second came out as a weary, wordless groan as she laid back.

Weakly, she lifted her hand, looking at it, marveling at how clean it was, unmarked except for the IV lines and monitors hooked to her. Where's Mom's blood? And those batarians'? I... Her stomach turned, heaving, the beeping coming faster now. I killed them... My face, my hand... Mom's blood...! Their blood! She heaved again, ignoring the pain in her skull as she searched for anything. Two hands holding a bin appeared before her, and almost gratefully she held her lips close to the bin as she heaved a third time before her stomach fell silent.

The bin moved away, allowing her to lay back. A young man in a gray and white medic's uniform set the bin aside, moving to the foot of her bed and retrieving a clipboard. "Glad to see you're awake," he said quietly. "Theresa Shepard, right?" Theresa nodded carefully. "Let me get you some water," he said, moving to fetch a glass and fill it. "I'm Dr. Aaron Marshall, by the way. Alliance Navy, Third Fleet, 52nd Marine Detachment, currently attached to the SSV Hong Kong. Mindoir is under Alliance control again, the batarians are either dead or captured. Here," he said, holding the glass so she could drink from it. She did so greedily, feeling two pills slide down her throat and realizing he must have slipped her a painkiller. Her throbbing head already began to settle. "Some marines found you when they were securing Green Haven. Local militia identified you and your... parents. They also found two dead batarians near you. Would you know anything about that?"

The water gave her time to consider her answer, and as she swallowed, it occurred to Shepard that this doctor was possibly more than he seemed. Why does he care about the batarians? she wondered. "What do you already know?" she asked.

"That you're a highly intelligent, extremely dedicated worker on your parents' farm, but that you also wouldn't be a match for two armored, armed batarians with just your dad's old pistol—which was still in your car," the doctor explained quite pointedly.

Theresa sighed, looking at her hands. "Before I answer, how long was I out?"

"About a month, give or take."

Another sigh escaped the redhead. Time to spill the beans, she conceded. "I'm sure you already suspect. You probably checked for it. I had secondary exposure to element zero two years ago. I had already been exposed while my mother carried me, but had never shown any inclination. The secondary exposure settled that—I'm a biotic. Unregistered, but I was planning on correcting that soon."

"You're right," Marshall agreed. "We suspected that, Shepard. All those furrows in the ground, the destruction, only someone with considerable biotic ability could have done that." He noted her puzzled, but somewhat amused expression. "Something funny?"

"You know you found me in my father's field, right? The fields were probably furrowed for harvest and planting. That's what we do," she said, trying not to chuckle. Then what she said struck her, and her face fell. "I mean, that's what we did."

Marshall clicked his tongue. "I see. You're not aware, then?" The puzzled look resurfaced from her depressed expression, and he held up his hand, the orange glow of his omni-tool overcoming the light from overhead. "Here, have a look," he said, tapping at a control and forming a holographic picture for Shepard. The redhead's eyes widened as she did see. The careful rows her father normally used for his crops had been blasted outward, starting from where she had first confronted the batarians. The next picture showed a twisted, warped area where she remembered the batarian rifleman dying.

Being killed, she corrected herself, fighting another wave of nausea and pain as she thought about it. She pushed the image away, trying not to focus on the thought of the blood, of his scream, the way his head almost melted in her hand. The next picture came up, showing where she remembered pulling the batarian back from when he had tried to run from her. A long, wide trench marked the path he'd taken, ending with a noticeable crater where his head had laid. Before I crushed it. She clutched at her mouth, turning slightly green.

"Do you need the pan again?" Marshall asked, already reaching for it. Theresa waved him off, settling her stomach. "I'll be blunt, Shepard. I've worked with some biotics. The L1 implants were child's play compared to the L2s, even if there were issues. Power output by L2 users was through the roof compared to earlier models. But this? This was natural, unamplified talent, Shepard." He paused, looking at the pictures himself. "I've seen L2s who couldn't do this sort of thing without suffering severe brain hemorrhaging. You, you got a bad headache and passed out—without implants or amps. Even if you get the newer L3s, you'll be stronger than most L2s."

"You're... you're exaggerating. I've never used my biotics for anything stronger than moving a bucket or basket around. I've heard stories from the garrisons about what an L2 can do, I'm nowhere near that strong," Shepard said, eyes wide.

"I'm an expert on the subject, Shepard. In fact, when you've recovered, and your affairs and living arrangements get sorted out... Sorry, I didn't mean it quite like that. Once you're out of here and back in control of your life, I can arrange for you to be fitted for L3 implants."

Shepard sighed, laying back. "Sure, sounds good," she mumbled. My parents are dead. I'm going to be outed as a biotic once I get out of here. What's left for me? Enlistment's looking better and better...

Local Cluster
Vancouver, British Columbia
Earth
2172 CE

Theresa Shepard fidgeted with the collar on her new dress-blue Systems Alliance Navy uniform. Well, you finally went and did it. No looking back now. You sold the farm, said goodbye to all your friends who survived and weren't mind-fucked by the Mindoir raid, buried your parents, and now here you are... God, I hope this is worth it, she mused to herself as she started for her posting. Maybe I'll be lucky and just get a nice, uneventful career.

Petra Nebula
Illyria, capital colonial city
Elysium
2176 CE

I need to go back about four years, mused one First Lieutenant Theresa Shepard, clutching her pistol as she ducked from enemy fire behind a wall, and punch my younger self in the face for thinking about boring careers. Leaning out of cover, the redhead fired two shots, killing a pair of advancing pirates. I will not let Elysium become the next Mindoir, she thought fiercely. I will not!As she heard more pirates begin their advance on her position, she gathered her will, feeling the bio-amp at the base of her skull start to warm up. Popping out of her cover, she snapped her arm forward, a wave of force knocking several advancing pirates back into their friends. Retrieving a disc-like grenade from her belt, she flung it into the toppled mass before ducking their wild return fire. "Boom," she muttered, pressing the detonator on her belt, sending several more pirates to their end.

I hope those reinforcements from the Alliance get here soon. That breach is big and only going to get bigger, Shepard thought with a grimace. She chanced a look over her cover, disturbed by the silence, and more disturbed by the lack of anything advancing on her. She couldn't have killed them all, and the breach was too big for so few raiders to have noticed it. I mean, I've only killed... a lot? she wondered as she looked over the corpses on the ground. Okay, so I killed a lot, but not enough to stall their offensive. Maybe this was just a distraction...

She tapped her radio earpiece. "Shepard to base, what's your status?"

"All's quiet, Lieutenant. I don't like it," the base commander's voice spoke through her earpiece, echoing the redhead's sentiments. "Picking a lot of intercepted chatter up. Looks like they're headed for that breach in the wall. Most of our troops are dug in pretty deep, it'll be half an hour before we can mobilize anyone to reinforce you. Fall back if you need to."

"Not a chance. I'll hold them as long as I can, base. Shepard out." Without a word, Shepard turned off her earpiece. She could later claim to have come under fire at that time, or interference, or any number of things to avoid the lecture she'd get for disengaging her radio, but it hardly mattered to her. I have a duty to these people. I will protect them, I'll hold these bastards off the city until the Alliance gets here and clears them out of the system.

Hopping up, Shepard ran for the breach in the wall, thrusting an arm upward and lifting herself up to the top to look over the fortifications. Seeing a line of pirates marching in her direction hardly filled her with confidence. But on the other hand, there's just too many of them to come in all at once. Lowering herself back to the ground, she attached a grenade to the damaged wall where the pirate troops would have to pass to get to her. This might be more defensible than I realized, she mused, sliding back into her foxhole and waiting for the sound of approaching raiders.

She was not disappointed, hearing the tromping of armored boots through her kill zone. She waited... One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths. Now! She tapped the detonator again, and was rewarded with cries of pain and surprise as her grenade detonated right in the middle of the enemy formation. Popping up out of cover, she centered her focus on a group of raiders—batarians, she saw—and snapped her arm to the right, smashing them against a solid rock wall with her biotics. Her other hand centered her pistol on a human raider's head, a single shot popping it like a melon. As her free hand returned to grip her pistol and steady her aim, three more shots took down a pirate as he leveled an assault rifle at her. Beginning to take fire on her shields, Shepard ducked back into her cover, trying to tally up her kill count.

Good, but not enough, she thought, remembering how many men were still up and firing when she had ducked back down again. She leaned out around her wall, firing several shots and taking out knees and shoulders, unable to go for headshots with her awkward position and not wanting to fight chest armor. Not waiting for her enemies to adjust their aim, she rolled back into cover and popped back up. Another biotic throw smashed some men into a wall, and three more shots took down just as many batarians.

Ducking back into cover, Shepard felt at her amp again. Warm. Still got a bit before I risk blowing my brain. At that moment, a new sound cut into her thoughts—ship engines. A chill settled over Shepard as she thought about what that meant. As long as the pirates were willing to capture and loot the city, she could try to stop this "blitz" attack against Elysium. If they had decided to level parts of the city with close ship fire instead...

The pirates, however, had begun yelling in despair, and from the sound of it, retreating. Mass driver fire forced her to clutch at her ears, and as she looked up, she saw an Alliance VTOL gunship hovering over her, bombarding the fleeing pirates. She activated her earpiece.

"—to Lieutenant Shepard! Lieutenant Shepard, please respond!" came the headquarters' CO over the radio.

"This is Shepard. Sorry, Commander. Interference when a new group showed up," Theresa lied.

"Lieutenant, we've just been reinforced by the Alliance. The SSV Agincourt has just shot all of the transports the pirates were using down, and the SSV Benjamin Davis is deploying fighters to deal with remaining pockets here on the planet. Are you alright?"

Shepard glanced at the remaining fleeing bandits, then at the gunship pursuing them. Her eyes moved back to the corpses laid out in front of the breach. Pirates who would have marched on the city behind her and killed, raped, captured, enslaved, pillaged, and plundered. Six years ago on Mindoir, she had nearly gone crazy after what she had done to the two slavers who killed her parents finally hit her. Now, pirates she hadn't even spoken to or heard were dead, and she didn't even feel a thing about them.

"Shepard?"

"I'm fine, Commander. No injuries. Returning to base now, sir." Mom, Dad... Watch over me, please. Don't let me turn into them. Setting her pistol at her hip, she began the walk back to the back in Illyria.

It was not a long trip, but it was long enough for her to see Alliance shuttles and gunships flying overhead and to hear radio chatter of marines finding what pirate bands had not managed to escape already. Soon, she was back inside the barracks where she had been setting in for shore leave before the attack on Elysium. So much for that, she mused, trying to remember how much time on leave she still had. Silently, she removed her pistol, setting it into the mass effect generator next to her bed to secure it.

"Guess I'd better get a shower in before they assemble us for debriefing," she muttered, heading for the locker room. A quick, but hot shower drained a lot of the tension in her body, and the methodical act of cleaning her bio-amp port helped her calm down from the day's exertions. Gritting her teeth, she "plugged" her amp back in, gasping as she felt her implants flush warmly for a second and a vague tingling from the element zero "nodules" through her body. A million explicit videos are all over the extranet involving getting a woman excited by repeatedly plugging and unplugging her amp, I bet, she thought wryly.

Stepping out of the barracks in her service uniform rather than her officer's dress blues, she nearly walked right into a jogging marine. "Lieutenant! I was looking for you!" he said, coming to a stop. "We've got brass here, and the Commander dropped your name to them! They want to see you!"

"Damn," Shepard muttered. "Think I should change?"

"Might be a good idea, ma'am."

The redhead nodded. "Right, tell them I'm on my way," she said, heading back into the barracks to change into her dress-blues. No rest for the wicked, I guess, or the virtuous, she thought wearily, pulling on her blue and gold officer's uniform. Checking her hair to make sure it was still styled to regulations, she pulled on her hat as well, then began walking to the command center of the base.

The short trip gave the young officer a chance to think her story through. Local interference from my amp and the pirate forces nearby disrupted my communication with the base, she reasoned. Keep it simple, Shepard. Nice and simple. She stepped through the last door into the room, spotting the base CO talking to an older gentleman wearing an Admiral's bars. Coming to a halt a respectful distance away, she saluted, noting the gray beard the Admiral wore, as well as the long scar on his cheek as they turned to her. "Lieutenant Shepard reporting as ordered, sir," she said crisply.

"At ease, Lieutenant," the Admiral said in a low, gravelly voice. Removing her hat, Shepard slipped her hands behind her back at the wrist, widening her stance a bit. "Commander Phelps was just telling me about your participation in fending off the attacks here."

"Just doing my duty, sir," Shepard replied modestly.

"This is Rear Admiral Hackett, Lieutenant. He commands a division of the Fifth Fleet, though I hear rumors the brass is thinking of pinning another star on his uniform—if they can find room," Phelps said. "Admiral, Lieutenant Shepard may have saved this colony. I'm ashamed to admit I floundered, I've never commanded a colonial defense against a raid of this size before. Shepard kept her head and rallied the local militia and the other soldiers on leave to defend against the main attack. There was a breach in the walls away from the main colony, though, far enough away that moving the bulk of the main force would have left us defenseless. Shepard's been out there for two days holding that line."

"You were placed here under the expectations that you'd be dealing with smaller groups, Commander," Hackett said, not unkindly. "We never expected you to have to declare war on the raiders."

"Thank you, sir."

Hackett nodded, then turned to Shepard again. "Shepard, I'd like to have a word with you in private."

"Of course, sir," Shepard replied, following Hackett to the base commander's office. When Hackett motioned for her to have a seat, she did so, while he sat in the big chair behind the desk.

"I'm not gonna lie, Shepard, you've impressed a lot of people in the Alliance brass today," Hackett began, examining a few papers before picking one up. "Commander Phelps's debriefing has already reached the top levels and they've sent a communiqué back to me at top priority. We'd like to offer you the opportunity to transfer into Interplanetary Combative Training."

Momentarily forgetting herself, Shepard's composure dropped, her eyes widening as she sat back in her chair. ICT? The special forces school? N rank and all? she thought with wonder. "Um... Well, ah, permission to speak freely, sir?"

"Granted."

"You're not yanking my chain, are you, sir?"

Hackett shook his head. "No, Shepard, this is a genuine offer. You're a war hero now, not just some bumpkin colonist who enlisted. The Alliance needs people like you to be the absolute best you can be, and that means going to the N-school. And we've got a little more to sweeten the deal—you're already going to receive a promotion just for what you've done here today. The brass is offering a guaranteed second promotion when you complete your term at ICT."

So they are yanking my chain, but only to guide me up the steps. Rubbing at the back of her neck, careful not to dislodge her amp, Shepard considered the offer. Staff Lieutenant as is, then a guaranteed promotion to Lieutenant Commander if I can make it to N7, plus all the prestige that comes with that. The second promotion was far from guaranteed, ICT being known as one of the hardest training camps in the Alliance. But if I can pull it off... I can be someone my parents would be proud of. I can be someone I can be proud of, instead of some scared little redhead on a farm.

"What do you say, Lieutenant?"

Seeing the Admiral stand and extend his hand, it occurred to Shepard that he had probably read right through her indecision. She stood, gripping his hand with her own. "Admiral, I would be beyond honored to accept."

"Glad to hear it. We'll have the promotion officially take place in a few days during the honoring ceremony," Hackett said, shaking the redhead's hand. "For now, Lieutenant, you're back on shore leave. Go get some rest."

Shepard smiled, then saluted the Admiral. "Yes, sir."

"Dismissed, Shepard."

As ordered, Shepard got some rest, alternating sleeping and eating for the next day as her body relaxed out the tension of two days of heavy fighting. On the second day, she went into the colony itself, a little disconcerted by what seemed like hero worship of her by the colonists. Even some of the militia and her own fellow Alliance Marines were looking at her in something akin to awe. She was quite relieved when the day of the ceremony came to honor everyone who had helped fight off the raider attack, which was now being whispered of as the "Elysian Blitz," though some disagreed and said it should be called the "Skyllian Blitz."

I think Elysian Blitz sounds cooler, myself, Shepard thought as she stood in her officer's uniform with her fellow marines. But at least these guys will get the recognition they deserve.

"Good morning," Hackett's gravelly voice rang out over the impromptu parade grounds as he spoke into a microphone. "We have gathered here today to honor all the fine men and women who stood in the defense of this colony. I want all of you to know, when I say 'the Alliance's finest,' I refer to everyone up here with me today, everyone who showed those pirates and slavers what it means to be human, what it means to be a part of the Systems Alliance."

Cheers from the gathered attendees forced the Admiral to pause, and he used the opportunity to shuffle his papers—what Shepard assumed was the speech he was giving. That's right. Remember, it's more than one woman, they're all awesome guys.

"Each of these fine men and women will receive special commendations from the Alliance for their service today, and for those men and women who fell, we promise to do everything in our power to compensate their families for the loss of their loved ones. But, for now, we must look to the triumph we have earned here today. And for that reason, I intend to recognize the soldier responsible for the total success of this colony's survival."

Yeah, Phelps deserves some recognition, Shepard thought. Not Shepard, Phelps. Call Phelps up, Hackett.

"Lieutenant Shepard, please step forward."

Dammit! Shepard cursed in her mind, but kept her expression on the positive side of neutral as she did as ordered, walking over to Admiral Hackett as two aides joined him, each bearing a lacquered black wooden box.

"First Lieutenant Theresa Shepard, for your display of valor and command ability, as well as your commendable conduct in the field, I hereby award you a promotion to the rank of Staff Lieutenant, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereto," Hackett intoned gravely, turning as one aide opened the box, revealing the new officer's bars resting on a velvet lining. Solemnly, Hackett replaced Shepard's rank bars with the new ones, and the redhead could not avoid some swelling of her pride as the Admiral pinned her bars on.

"I'm honored to receive this promotion, Admiral. Thank you," she said, struggling to keep her voice from catching as she shook Hackett's hand.

"You're a credit to the uniform, Shepard," Hackett said, then turned off the microphone for a moment, "but don't go anywhere just yet." Leaving the redhead staring in confusion, he turned back to his podium and reactivated the microphone. "In times of great services, there are often other recognitions granted to our soldiers aside of a new rank, which often carries no freedoms but more duties."

He can't mean what I think he means. He'd better not mean what I think he means, Shepard thought desperately, her eyes narrowing.

"For that reason, while President Huerta could not attend this ceremony himself, he has chosen to award Lieutenant Shepard with the highest honor."

He meant what I thought he mea—highest honor? Wait, I know this one. What's the highest honor you can give someone... Her rage stalled as she tried to remember, Shepard scrunched her brow up slightly.

"Lieutenant Shepard, it is my proud honor to present you with the Star of Terra," Hackett finished, breaking through her thoughts.

The what? The Star of Terra! The... holy fuck! I, that... How! To say Shepard was flabbergasted would have been a profound understatement, simmering rage stalled by profound confusion as the second box was opened, the star-shaped medal lifted out and pinned to the breast of her uniform. With the medal symbolizing the highest commendation in the Alliance pinned to her breast, Shepard could not avoid a swell of pride that dwarfed her anger at the award as well as her confusion at receiving it. Finally, she stammered out, "I... I'm profoundly honored. Admiral. I... don't know what to say. Thank you."

"You've said everything that needs to be said, Shepard," Hackett replied, smiling at her with a twinkle in his eye.

He knew! He dropped this surprise on me on purpose! I might kill him.

Hackett stepped back to the podium. "Today we honor all those who fought and bled in the defense of this colony. Above all, we honor Lieutenant Shepard, the hero of Elysium!" he said, turning to Shepard and saluting. Her vision blurring slightly at the edges, ears ringing as the crowd began cheering wildly, Shepard turned, seeing the other marines and militia present also saluting her.

Pride welled up in her chest again, and she was acutely aware of the sudden, new weight of the star on her chest and the new bars at her collar. Steadying her hand from shaking and blinking away the tears in her eyes, she snapped to attention and returned the salute. She did not hear the rest of the ceremony as she returned to the line. She only barely heard the dismissal of it. And when she lay in her bed that evening, all she could hear was a woman's voice whispering in the back of her mind.

I'm so proud of you, my little Theresa, her mother whispered.

Arcturus Stream
Arcturus Solar System
Arcturus Station
2176 CE

Staff Lieutenant Theresa Shepard waited, along with her fellow ICT-bound trainees, for the shuttle heralding their departure to the famed N-school to arrive at Arcturus Station. Some seemed hopeful, like she was, while some seemed to look on it with dread. When he had briefed her on the departure schedule, Admiral Hackett had also informed her to wear her awards on her uniform to inspire the men. She wondered if it was having the opposite effect, since a couple of the hopefuls had looked at her Star of Terra and lost heart.

On the other hand, some of the downer looking ones look pretty excited knowing they're in the same class as the woman who won the Star, she reasoned, noticing a few of the ones dreading the assignment having perked up on seeing the award.

"Shuttle now arriving, Interplanetary Combative School, at docking bay E7. Repeat. Shuttle arriving, ICT, bay E7," a man's voice announced over the intercom, the dry nature of the announcement making Shepard wonder if it was a Virtual Intelligence. She could hear the thunking of metal touching metal, and the light over the airlock into the extended gangway to the arrived shuttle changed from a red light to an amber one.

"Equalizing interior pressure with exterior atmosphere," a dry feminine voice remarked, almost certainly the shuttle's VI. "Pressure equalized," the VI continued, the light switching to green as the airlock hissed open, revealing a dark-skinned man in officer's blues and enough medals on his chest that Shepard wondered if she could make a life-sized statue of him out of them. "Welcome aboard Arcturus Station, Captain Anderson."

The dark man, Anderson, took stock of marines in the room with him. Shepard almost let her pride get the better of her when she saw his eyes widen at the sight of her Star, especially when she noticed he didn't have one on his chest. "A Star of Terra? Most people who have one of those in the Marines have already graduated ICT," he said, his voice a deep baritone that she found pleasant on the ears. "You must be Shepard." He extended his hand out.

"And you must be the famous Captain Anderson, based on your VI and all the metal on your chest," she said, shaking the offered hand. "Must be hell getting through a civilian airport with your uniform on."

"There's a reason I go through military channels to get around, even when I'm on leave," he replied, matching her grin with one of his own. He straightened, glancing at the other marines who had snapped to attention. "As you were, all of you. You're not going to have time to come to attention in the presence of a superior during ICT, and you're certainly not going to have the energy for it. If we're lucky, by the time all of you get to wear an N7 logo on your chest, we'll have broken you of that habit, and I mean for all of you to wear that logo. If you think you can't do it, try harder—we didn't bring you here because we thought you would fail."

I think I like this guy, Shepard mused. He's got a sense of humor, he's not big on the formalities, and he's good at motivating the troops. She noticed some of the less enthusiastic "recruits" had perked up at the commanding voice Anderson had. Even if I don't make it to 7, I could learn a lot from him.

"I'm sure you all noticed that Shepard is apparently one of the vaunted Star of Terra bearing officers. She's not up here to show you what to aspire for, she's up here right now to show you where you all are," Anderson continued as Shepard sat back down. "I'm the one up here to show you what you can become, including Shepard. And we're going to start that now. Everyone, aboard the shuttle. We're going to ICT."

"Sir, yes sir!" replied the marines, saluting in unison as they marched aboard the shuttle—all except for Shepard, who tried not to crack a grin as Anderson sighed in exasperation.

"Not going to salute and march into the shuttle like a good little drone, Lieutenant?" he asked.

"Not unless you really want me to, sir," Shepard replied, unable to stop her grin as she walked for the gangway.

"Hmph, I haven't given you permission to go all formal on me yet, Shepard," the Captain replied as he followed the redhead aboard.

It's going to be rough, no doubt, Theresa thought as she sat down on board the shuttle. But I think I'll like this ICT training. Not like things are going to be as exciting as Elysium was.

Arcturus Stream
Arcturus System
Arcturus Station
2183 CE

Lieutenant Commander Theresa Shepard looked once more at the communiqué that Admiral Hackett had given her upon her recent promotion to Lieutenant Commander and just as recent graduation to N7 status. 'Report in three weeks to Arcturus Station for posting. Details to follow on arrival. You are on immediate shore leave until that time,' the message read. Hackett, now a Fleet Admiral and leader of the Alliance Navy Fifth Fleet, had been smiling when he arrived to personally congratulate her and give her the assignment.

He knows something. Something big and something secret, she reasoned, beginning to pace. She had heard rumors that the Admiral had beaten her there, and that Captain Anderson was aboard the station as well. There was even talk that the human ambassador to the Council was present, a man who Shepard had always thought sounded like a drunken Irish monkey, and had the face to match. If the rumors are true, then they're probably having a meeting. That's too much politicos for just a coincidence.

Were Shepard a stealthier sort, or had she ears in a secured meeting room, she might have overheard the meeting that would have confirmed her suspicions. Admiral Steven Hackett and Captain David Anderson watched with something approaching amusement as Ambassador Donnel Udina paced the length of the floor.

"Do we have any candidates we can put forward to the Council?" Hackett finally asked.

Udina stopped his pacing, picking up a set of dossiers on his desk. Discarding two with a disgusted sigh, he stopped and looked at the one now on top. He stroked his chin in thought, considering the file in his hand. "Well, what about Shepard? She grew up in the colonies," he suggested.

Anderson and Hackett smiled knowingly at each other. "So far so good," the Captain mouthed while Udina was focused on the dossier. "She knows how tough life can be out there," he said aloud, pitching his tone to sound thoughtful about the prospect, careful to control his eagerness. "Her parents were killed when slavers attacked Mindoir."

"She proved herself during the Blitz," Hackett added. "Held off enemy forces on the ground until reinforcements arrived." Hackett felt no need to also include mention of the immediate promotion and award Shepard had earned then, since it would be in her file.

"She's the only reason Elysium is still standing," Anderson piped in on Hackett's tail.

Udina nodded. "We can't question her courage," he agreed with a reluctant tone.

"Humanity needs a hero, and Shepard's the best we've got," Anderson pressed.

"I'll make the call," Udina conceded.

The subject of their conversation fidgeted uncomfortably in her chair, well away from the meeting, and wondering why she suddenly felt the urge to punch Captain Anderson and Admiral Hackett in the face.


Content warning!

This fanfiction is basically a telling of my mostly-Paragon Adept Colonist War Hero Shepard. There will be some "behind the scenes" scenes happening—conversations and interactions with crew mates not shown on screen. I will obviously be taking a bit of liberties with it.

Another word of warning is that I am less than fond of the ending options given in Mass Effect 3. Some people like them, and that's fine. The extended cut makes them less horrible, from what I've seen, depending on your choices, but that's an opinion. I really don't want to get into any long discussions with about my opinions of the endings. I've had four months of owning the game to make my choice, I've seen all the arguments, and I've made a few myself. Let's just leave it at "it's my opinion," please. The point is, the results of the four options given are ones I don't particularly care for or believe fit with the theme of the game. When it gets to that point, I will be altering the path of the endings based on my creative process.

As a side note, this writing being based on my playthrough of Mass Effect means that I'm going to be running alongside a playthrough of the game as I go, taking notes. Probably in the Hammerhead because I like how it handles better than the Mako.

Because the Mako handles like a stick of rebar in concrete.

But at least it's durable concrete.

Trisar out!

P.S. Gasp! No Ranma! That's right, this story will have absolutely nothing to do with Ranma ½! Isn't that amazing?