The Makings of a Hero
by Trisar

Of what is it that heroes are made? What circumstances during the raising and rearing of a child, what genetic predispositions, can cause an otherwise average girl to grow to be one of the greatest heroes of all time?

Note: The established year is 2183 C.E., so after the initial establishment, unless we engage in a flashback, I won't be putting the year into each location establishment at the start of the chapter.

Chapter 2: Unearthing the Past

Arcturus Stream

Arcturus System

SSV Normandy

2183 CE

Lieutenant Commander Theresa Shepard walked somewhat unsteadily on the decking of the ship she was now aboard. I can't believe Anderson picked me as his XO, she mused as the pilot's voice crackled over the intercom, announcing the first step of a jump through the mass relay. A prototype ship, with prototype systems, and a prototype huge-goddamn-engine core, and he wants me as the second in command.

She nodded a greeting to several people she passed—a marine corporal, the navigator and third in command, a few crew members—on her way to the cockpit. Overhead, the pilot's voice continued calling off the steps to mass relay transit, and she idly braced herself for the teeth-rattling experience of the element zero in her body syncing with the element zero in the ship and relay. She saw the turian—Nihlus, Anderson called him. Special tactics and recon, she recalled—and stepped up next to him as the final approach to the relay began.

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jeff "Joker" Moreau, had a steady hand at the holographic controls of the ship. "Hitting the relay in three... two... one," he called off, and Theresa grit her teeth as a lance of blue light reached out from the relay's enormous element zero core to touch the Normandy, preparing to catapult her through a tunnel of warped space-time to her destination. The rattling of her teeth subsided after a moment, and she spared a glance to the man at the gunnery station.

Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, she recalled, smiling as she saw him unclench his own jaw. A biotic with technical affinity. Or, as it goes colloquially, a "Sentinel" to my pure-biotic "Adept." "Thank God it doesn't last long, huh?" she said quietly to him. Kinda cute, too.

"Yeah, you're not kidding," he said with a grin of his own, before looking over and seeing who had spoken. "Uh, ma'am."

"As you were, Lieutenant," Shepard replied with a little inner sigh. Formalities. That's the problem with ICT. It broke me of formality. I'd rather be friends and compatriots with my crew than their superior officer.

The ship jolted just slightly, barely enough to be noticeable, as it came out of the FTL tunnel. Joker immediately checked his displays. "Thrusters... check. Navigation... check. Internal emissions sink engaged," he began.

IES, Shepard thought. That prototype stealth system? Why do we need that activated already?

"All systems online," the pilot continued. "Drift... just under 1,500 K."

Shepard gave a low whistle. Only 1,500? Don't often get that close to "spot on."

Nihlus was a bit more vocal. "1,500 is good," he said, turning to leave. "Your captain will be pleased."

Joker was silent for a moment as the turian walked away. "I hate that guy," he finally said when Nihlus was out of earshot.

"Nihlus gave you a compliment," Kaidan remarked. "So, you hate him?"

Before Shepard could chime in her agreement with Alenko, Joker spoke up again. "You remember to zip up your jumpsuit on the way out of the bathroom? That's good," he declared without regard for the superior officer behind him. "I just jumped us halfway across the galaxy and hit a target the size of a pinhead. So that's incredible!" This time, Theresa was about to mark her agreement with both of them, but Joker continued on just as she opened her mouth to speak. "Besides, Spectres are trouble. I don't like havin' him on board. Call me paranoid."

I'll call you chatty is what I'll do, can't get a word in edgewise with this guy, Shepard thought with a half-frown as Kaidan did exactly as asked and called Joker paranoid.

"The Council helped fund this project. They have a right to send someone to keep an eye on their investment," he continued.

"Yeah, that is the official story, but only an idiot believes the official story."

Finally catching a moment she could jump in, Theresa commented, "They don't send Spectres on shakedown runs." She didn't quite like agreeing with Joker, but he had a good point. A Spectre meant trouble. Council wouldn't send Special Tactics and Recon on a little jaunt through a few relays to test the IES stealth systems or to make sure we aren't going to blow ourselves up with that huge engine. And that's another thing, why put something that big in a frigate?

Whatever Joker was saying was interrupted by an intercom beep. "Joker," Anderson's voice spoke from the comm. "Status report."

"Just cleared the mass relay, Captain. Stealth systems engaged, everything looks solid."

"Good. Find a comm buoy and link us into the network," Anderson ordered. "I want mission reports relayed back to Alliance brass before we reach Eden Prime."

"Aye, aye Captain. Better brace yourself, sir," Joker warned. "I think Nihlus is headed your way."

"He's already here, Lieutenant," Anderson replied, his tone dark. "Tell Commander Shepard to meet me in the comm room for a briefing." With that, the comm went silent.

Wincing slightly, Joker glanced back. "You get that, Commander?"

"He sounds angry," Shepard noted, rather than take the opening Joker left her. "Something must have gone wrong with the mission."

"Pff, Captain always sounds like that when he's talking to me."

Can't possibly imagine why, Shepard thought as she turned, smirking as she heard Kaidan mutter that exact thing. She headed back toward the CIC of the Normandy, overhearing the navigator—Pressly, his name's Pressly, Shepard recalled—conversing with Engineer Adams over the comm.

"I just saw him, he marched by like he was on a mission," Pressly explained.

Adams replied, "He's a Spectre, he's always on a mission."

"And we're getting dragged right along with him!"

"Relax, Pressly," Adams said. "You're going to give yourself an ulcer."

Shaking his head, Pressly shut off the comm., then noticed Shepard watching him. Snapping a salute, he said, "Congratulations, Commander. Looks like we had a smooth run. You heading down to see the captain?"

Shepard nodded, recalling overhearing Pressly's conversation. "It sounds like you don't trust our turian guest," she said.

"Sorry, Commander, just having a chat with Adams down in engineering. Didn't mean to cause any trouble. But you have to admit, something's odd about this mission. The whole crew feels it!"

Shepard tapped her chin in thought. "Think the brass is holding out on us?" she prompted.

Adams nodded vehemently. "If all we're supposed to do is test out this stealth system, why is Captain Anderson in charge?" he asked, prompting a nod from Theresa. "And then there's Nihlus! Spectres are elite operatives—top covert agents. Why send a Spectre—a turian Spectre—on a shakedown run? It doesn't add up!"

A turian on an Alliance ship is bad enough in some eyes, Shepard mused. A turian with unlimited authority? Could almost start another war. "You don't trust Nihlus," she said, not entirely keeping the accusation out of her tone.

"I don't like turians in general," the navigator admitted. "Runs in my family. My grandfather fought in the First Contact War, lost a lot of friends when the turians hit us."

"That was thirty years ago," Shepard said quietly. "You can't blame Nihlus for that."

"No, I guess not. But it still makes me nervous to have a Spectre on board, especially a turian. We're an Alliance vessel, human military," he replied. "But Nihlus doesn't answer to the captain like the rest of us. Spectres operate outside the normal chain of command. And they don't come along just to observe a shakedown run. Nihlus looks like he's expecting some heavy action. I don't like it."

He's a Spectre. I don't think any of them walk around with anything less than a division's worth of firepower even on leave, Shepard thought wryly.

Recalling Pressly's off-hand comment about Anderson, Shepard pressed at that angle. "Do you have a problem with the captain?" He seems solid, if he suspects something about Anderson...

"No, ma'am," was the immediate reply. "I just can't figure out what he's doing here—he's one of the most decorated Special Forces officers in the service. If he melted down all of his medals? He could probably make a life-size statue of himself."

Shepard grinned. "I've noticed the same thing myself."

A bit relieved by her joke, Pressly continued, "You don't send a soldier like that on a do-nothing mission. He's treating this shakedown run too seriously—picking you as his XO, for instance. The Hero of Elysium being pulled for a shakedown and trial run? Something big is going on."

Blushing slightly at the reminder of her own honors, Shepard was nonetheless no longer feeling paranoid. This guy's just an old soldier still holding a few grudges, she thought. "What do you know about the stealth systems?" she asked, wanting to familiarize herself with the ship.

Pressly did not disappoint. "I just know it masks our location from scans and sensors. Cutting edge technology," he explained. "Normandy is the only ship with this prototype drive. But why are we fully staffed?" Leaning in, he spoke a bit more quietly, "A skeleton crew would have been cheaper and had less chance of security leaks. Plus, there's Nihlus. It's pretty obvious this shakedown run is just a cover."

Shepard blinked. "For what?"

"Damned if I know, Commander," Pressly admitted. "But we're out here on false pretenses. I'm not a fan of being in the dark."

"I'll try to wring some answers out of Anderson when I see him," she assured the man.

"Good luck, Commander," Pressly said with a grin, saluting one last time as the redhead walked away. As she left the navigator, she approached a woman in the gray-and-white of a medical officer's uniform talking with a corporal she had passed earlier.

"I grew up on Eden Prime, Doc," the corporal was saying. "It's not the kind of place Spectres visit. There's something Nihlus isn't telling us about this mission."

Jenkins. Corporal Richard Leeroy Jenkins, that was his name, Shepard recalled from the personnel file. And Doctor Chakwas. What was her first name? Something a lot more ordinary than that...

"That's crazy," Chakwas dismissed the corporal with her thick British accent. "The captain's in charge here. He wouldn't take orders from a Spectre."

"Not his choice, Doc," Jenkins pressed. "Spectres can do whatever they want, kill whoever gets in their way!"

Kid watches way too many spy vids, Shepard thought, grinning inwardly as Chakwas echoed her thoughts. Besides, any Spectre trying to off Anderson would be in some real trouble. ICT was not fun.

"Hey, Commander," the corporal said, trying to draw Shepard into the conversation. Remembering himself, he saluted, as did Chakwas. "What do you think? We won't be staying on Eden Prime too long, will we? I'm itching for some real action."

The medical officer glared at Jenkins. "I sincerely hope you're kidding, Corporal," she drawled. "Your 'real action' usually ends with me patching up crew members in the infirmary."

"Doc's right, Jenkins," Shepard said, a slight grin curling her lip upward. "Calm down. A good soldier needs to stay cool, even under fire."

Jenkins nodded, recognizing the gentle rebuke, and took a deep breath to settle himself. "Right, sorry ma'am. But the waiting's killing me, and I've never been on a mission with a Spectre aboard," he admitted, still fidgeting.

"You'll do fine," she answered. "The Captain hand-picked the crew, you included. Just treat it like every other assignment you've had and everything will work out."

Evidently that touched the wrong chord for the young Corporal, as his jitters came back just as much as before. "Easy for you to say, Commander! You proved yourself during the Blitz! Everyone knows what you can do, but this is my big chance! I need to show the brass what I'm made of!"

Kid's determined, I have to give him that, Shepard conceded as she examined Jenkins in a new light. She vaguely recalled his service record as she considered his words. No reprimands for insubordination, lots of minor ones for being too eager. Good with a gun, excellent point man. Finally, she spoke up, "You're young, Corporal," she said, adopting the tone Admiral Hackett had used to speak to her garrison commander on Elysium. "You have a long career ahead of you. Don't do something stupid to mess it up." Thoughts of Elysium drifted through her mind at his mention of it, and her adoption of Admiral Hackett's tone. I proved myself, sure, after we already lost a lot of people. "Elysium was a pretty bloody-nosed victory for me, after all."

"You're right, sorry, Commander," Jenkins replied, sounding sober again. "I had friends on Elysium, they're alive because of you, that's all. It's a bit easy to get carried away, serving with a living legend. Don't worry, I won't let you down!" His excitement bubbling up again, just slightly, the Corporal saluted Shepard while the doctor just shook her head in wry amusement.

"Good to hear. Captain's counting on all of us, from me to you. Speaking of, I'm due to meet with him in the comm room. I'll see you both later," she said.

"Commander," the pair chorused, Chakwas joining Jenkins in saluting, before Shepard departed for the comm room. Instead of Anderson, she ran across Nihlus again, the turian staring intently at an image that looked like it came from an extranet travel brochure.

Eden Prime, probably, Theresa inferred, not imagining any other garden world the Spectre would be observing so intently. Definitely a human colony if nothing else, by the prefabs. If it had looked a bit more arid, she might have thought it was Mindoir. She ignored the pang in her heart those thoughts brought her.

"Commander Shepard," Nihlus said with a brief glance over. "I was hoping you'd get here first. It will give us a chance to talk."

"I thought I'd be meeting the Captain here?" Theresa asked, walking over next to the Spectre. Gun's useless this close. He's taller than most turians, has reach. Doesn't look too flexible. Probably go for a disabling joint lock, vulnerable to biotic counterstrike to the knee, she thought automatically, resisting the urge to shake her head and clear the ingrained lessons from her N5 and N6 training at ICT out of the forefront of her thoughts.

"He's on his way," Nihlus assured her. "Besides, this will give us a bit of time to talk," he said, moving over to the display console.

"About what?" Shepard returned, adjusting her own posture. Her fingers wriggled slightly, and she fought the instinctive urge to follow through on the implants in her right arm warming up to power her biotics. Goddamn mnemonic reactivity, she groused mentally. It wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't been following me this whole time. I couldn't even step out of a bathroom at 2 a.m. without bumping headlong into him.

"I'm curious about this world we're visiting, this Eden Prime," Nihlus confessed. "I've heard it's quite beautiful."

It was an obvious probe, and Theresa decided not to grab at the bait on the turian's hook. "They say it's a paradise," she replied, shrugging.

"Yes, a paradise. Serene. Tranquil. Safe," Nihlus said with a nod. Stroking at his mandibles, he continued, "Eden Prime has become something of a symbol for your people, hasn't it? Proof that humanity can establish colonies throughout the galaxy and protect them. But how safe is it, really?"

Shepard's eyes narrowed, and she pushed back another wave of suspicion and tried to force her nervous system to stop powering her implants. The hiss of the door into the comm room opening behind her accompanied a change in the air blowing over her neck, settling her nerves and cooling her amp. "What's that supposed to mean?" she finally asked.

"Your people are still newcomers, Shepard," Nihlus replied. "The galaxy can be a dangerous place," he continued as Captain Anderson stepped up next to Shepatd. "Is the Alliance truly ready for this?"

"That's enough, Nihlus," Anderson broke in. "I think it's time we told the Commander what's going on."

Finally! Shepard thought, furrowing her brow. Pressly's right, this isn't a normal shakedown.

Nihlus nodded and turned to the redhead. "This mission is far more than a simple shakedown run."

"You don't say," Shepard replied, her voice dry.

Coughing into his hand, Anderson quickly spoke again, "We're making a covert pickup on Eden Prime. That's why we needed the stealth systems operational."

Makes sense. If this is covert, I hope they're working, Shepard mused. If he wants to play formal chain-of-command, though, I'm game. I have to practice for Alenko anyway, looks like. "There must be a reason you didn't tell me about this, sir?" she said, not entirely keeping the accusation from her voice.

Anderson raised his hands as if warding something off. "This comes down from the top, Shepard," he replied. "Information on a strictly need to know basis." A brief flick of his hands signed to her that he was no happier about it than she was, mollifying her slightly.

Relaxing her stance a bit, she pressed on, "So what's with all the secrecy, then? What exactly are we picking up?"

"A research team on Eden Prime unearthed something," Anderson replied, a bit of tension easing out of his shoulders. "A beacon. A Prothean beacon."

Too stunned to recall she was supposed to be angry, Theresa blinked, her green eyes flicking from Nihlus—who hadn't moved—back to her CO. "Prothean?" she asked. "I thought the Protheans vanished fifty thousand years ago?"

"Their legacy remains." Nihlus crossed his arms as he spoke. "All of our technology—the mass relays, the Citadel, even our own ship drives—based off of Prothean technology."

"This is big, Shepard," Anderson explained.

Shepard snorted. "Yeah, I got that, sir," she replied.

Anderson let that pass. "The last time humanity made a discovery like this, it jumped our technology forward two hundred years. But Eden Prime doesn't have the facilities to handle something like this. We need to bring the beacon back to the Citadel for study."

Shepard nodded, briefly tuning Nihlus out as the turian and Anderson went on about how monumental the discovery was. What's a Prothean beacon doing in the middle of a human colony? she wondered. And what's on it? Maybe something we can use to advance ourselves. "I guess it never hurts to have a few extra hands on board," she conceded, almost absently. Her attention returned to her commander and the turian when Nihlus mentioned that the beacon was not the only reason he was on the mission.

"Nihlus wants to see you in action, Commander," Anderson explained. "He's here to evaluate you."

Evaluate me? she wondered. "That explains why I bump into him every time I turn around," she retorted.

Anderson coughed into his hand, a nervous gesture Shepard recognized. "The Alliance has been pushing for this opportunity for a long time," he said, warning bells starting to go off in her head not unlike a certain meeting she had with Rear Admiral Hackett years ago. "Humanity wants a larger role in shaping interstellar policy. We want more say with the Citadel Council. The Spectres represent the Council's power and authority."

Oh no. Oh no. He can't be implying what I think he's implying, Shepard thought, glancing back and forth between Anderson and Nihlus. The Council would never go for it even if he was.

"If they accept a human into their ranks, it shows how far the Alliance has come."

Nihlus chose that moment to speak up again, preventing Theresa from voicing her opinion on the subject. "You held off an entire enemy platoon during the Blitz single-handedly," he said. "You showed not only exceptional courage but also incredible skill. That's why I put your name forward as a candidate for the Spectres."

Theresa paused, thinking about that. A turian put my name forward? Me, a human? she wondered. "You put my name forward?" she asked. "Why would a turian want a human in the Spectres?"

"Not all turians resent humanity," Nihlus said, for the first time causing Shepard to begin relaxing. "Some of us see the potential of your species. We see what you have to offer, not just to the Spectres, but to the entire galaxy. Spectres are an elite group, Shepard, and it's rare to find an individual with the skills we seek. Too rare to let it pass by when we see someone who has those skills." Now Shepard had to resist a slow flush at being told that her skills were on the same level as the Council's elite special forces unit. "I don't care that you're human, Shepard. I only care that you can get the job done."

Shepard turned, glancing at Anderson again. "I assume this is good for the Alliance."

Anderson gave a distinctly uncomfortable nod. "Earth needs this, Shepard. We're counting on you."

"I need to see your skills for myself, Commander," Nihlus explained. "Eden Prime will be the first of several missions together."

Huh. I think I could actually get to like this guy, once you get past his exterior and initial attitude, Shepard thought. Maybe working with him won't be so bad.

"You'll be in charge of the ground team, Shepard," Anderson commanded. "Secure the beacon and get it onto the ship ASAP. Nihlus will accompany you to observe the mission."

"Just give the word, Captain," Shepard responded.

Anderson nodded, turning toward the holo-image of Eden Prime. "We should be getting close to Eden—"

The intercom crackled to life, Joker calling out, "Captain! We've got a problem!"

"What's wrong, Joker?"

"Transmission from Eden Prime, sir! You'd better see this!" Joker replied.

As Nihlus and Shepard glanced at each other, Anderson frowned. "Bring it up on screen."

The idyllic picture blinked out and was replaced with an image that was almost hellish in comparison. The feed appeared to be coming from a helmet camera if Shepard was any judge, and if Shepard had not known better, she would have thought it was a completely different world she was seeing. Shots zipped across the view, lit by the phasic envelopes of their guns' mass effect generators, smoke choking the video.

Suddenly, a woman in pink and white Phoenix Armor rushed into view at the camera, yelling, "Get down!" and shoving the camera operator to the ground and out of the line of fire. She stood over him, firing shots from her assault rifle at an unseen enemy.

As bullets flew, another soldier suddenly moved into view of the camera, shouting, "We are under attack! Taking heavy casualties!" The ground several meters back from him exploded in a burst of dirt and rock. "I repeat, heavy casualties! We can't—" The soldier's call for help was cut by another explosion, muffling his words. "—eed immediate evac! We need—!" This time, he was interrupted not by an explosion, but seemingly just stopped talking, his eyes wide with what Shepard could only guess was horror. The camera panned around, seeing the other soldiers standing and staring dumbly at something, their guns no longer firing even as shots continued to rain down in their direction.

Unexpectedly, a blaring noise suddenly drowned out all sound, and Shepard winced and tried to hold back from clutching her head. The camera danced back and forth, before settling on what appeared to be a metal hand, wreathed in red lightning and seeming too massive to be real. With no warning, the signal completely cut out, leaving only static. As Joker reported the total death of the comms to Anderson, Shepard spared a glance at Nihlus. She saw that even the turian Spectre seemed baffled by the sight, his eyes wide and mandibles flaring slightly. As he glanced at her, she knew he was just as puzzled as she was... and maybe just as frightened.

Finally, Anderson spoke, "Reverse, and hold at thirty-eight-point-five." The video moved back, holding at the sight of the massive object seemingly reaching down from the Heavens to smite Eden Prime. Irrationally, Shepard found herself thankful that such a thing had never come to Mindoir, that no Prothean devices had been found on her home.

Get a hold of yourself, Tessa! she thought furiously. Something like that isn't going to be satisfied with one colony, it's going to go after the next, and the next, and the next! Mindoir might even be next on the list!

"Status report," Anderson ordered.

"Seventeen minutes out, Captain," Joker replied, his voice steady. "No other Alliance ships in the area."

"Take us in, Joker. Fast and quiet." Now Shepard could hear the difference in Anderson's voice too. "This mission just got a lot more complicated."

Nihlus snapped back to attention. "Anderson, a small strike team can move in quickly and quietly, without drawing attention. This may be our best chance to secure the beacon," he advised.

The soldier in Shepard admired Nihlus's strategy to take advantage of the confusion. The colonist in her hated the idea of leaving those people and their home to the fate of some unknown enemy capable of so much destruction. Anderson appeared to be a soldier, ordering Nihlus, "Grab your gear and meet us in the cargo hold!" The turian nodded, deferring to Anderson's order, and left, even as the officer turned to Shepard. "Tell Alenko and Jenkins to suit up. You're going in."

Theresa nodded, turning to pass the orders on, but was stopped when Anderson called her name again. The redhead glanced over her shoulder. "Sir?"

"I am sorry about keeping the true nature of the mission from you, Shepard," Anderson said, sounding contrite. "Admiral Hackett gave the order himself. Even he gets a little paranoid sometimes, I suppose."

"Don't worry about it, Anderson," Shepard replied, glad to be able to go informal for a moment. "I understand. Besides, it's good to be working with you again."

"Yes, well, the brass decided I had better things to do than babysit a bunch of N5 potentials in Rio," Anderson said with a slight grin. "Go get Alenko and Jenkins and meet us in the cargo hold," he said, leaving the room.

It took Shepard almost no time to retrieve the officers, and Jenkins was practically bouncing in place in his hardsuit. Alenko, by contrast, had been stoic about the order to suit up, though Theresa had to keep her eyes from tracing how well the suit defined his form. I bet this boy broke the heart of every girl in high school, she thought with a smirk as she and her squad approached Anderson and Nihlus. Maybe I should have him take point while I walk drag down here.

"Your team's the muscle in this operation, Commander," Anderson ordered. "Go in heavy and head straight for the dig site."

"What about survivors, Captain?" Alenko asked, voicing a question Shepard had been about to.

"Helping survivors is a secondary objective!" asserted Anderson. "The beacon is your top priority!"

Hell with that, I'm helping any survivors I run across, Shepard thought fiercely. I won't let there be another Mindoir.

The bay door popped open, a rush of wind greeting the people in the hold and giving a first-hand look at the smoke and devastation rising from the terrain around them. "Approaching drop point one," Joker's voice called out over the intercom.

Jenkins glanced over to the turian in the hold. "Nihlus? You're coming with us?" he asked.

"I move faster on my own!" Nihlus replied over the rushing wind, checking his shotgun and jumping through the opening down to the ground.

"Nihlus will scout ahead," Anderson explained. "He'll feed you status reports on the mission—otherwise, I want radio silence."

No mission succeeds without a bit of camaraderie, Shepard decided. If you don't have your squadmates' backs, a team is just three one-man squads. It was one of the first things hammered into her during small squad tactics in ICT. "We've got his back, Captain!" she replied.

"The mission's yours now, Shepard! Good luck!" Anderson replied, stepping back as Joker announced the arrival at drop point two. As the ship coasted to a hover over the drop point, Shepard and her squad leapt from the open bay, landing on the terrain of Eden Prime.

Immediately, Shepard noted several familiar smells. Grass fires tickled her nose with smoke, a breeze brought along the slightly ionized smell of eezo-driven weapon discharges, and...

She fought back a gag as she recognized a third smell. Burnt flesh, she thought with horror. Whoever's attacking, they're not being careful about capturing civilians.

"Oh, God," whispered Jenkins. "What happened here?"

With a start, it occurred to Shepard that Jenkins would be worse off than she was. This is his home. This would be like if I came back to everything burning on Mindoir, she realized. "Form up," she ordered. "Alenko, you've got drag. Jenkins, take point," she added, pulling out her pistol. Both soldiers responded immediately, their training overriding personal feelings for a moment, Jenkins drawing his assault rifle and starting forward, while Kaidan flexed his fingers in anticipation.

The squad passed a few floating gas bags, with the only sounds being distant weapon discharges that become more and more scattered as they walked. Jenkins paused as the trio passed through a small opening between two large rock formations, glancing back at his commander. After a moment of thought, she motioned him forward, and he grinned as he stepped out of cover into an open field, taking his point duties seriously.

That grin of acknowledgement would haunt her nightmares afterward, as without warning, two flying objects with heavy assault cannons flew out of nearby scrub, opening fire. Shepard watched in horror as the assault cannons ripped through first Jenkins's kinetic barriers, his armor, and finally his flesh, blood spraying from each shot. Red filled her vision, fury and heat rushing through her limbs.

Forgetting her gun, she snapped her right arm toward one of the drones with a yell, a purple-blue aura surrounding her as her implants activated. A similar aura twisted and furled around the drone, its frame trembling, before it exploded out and away from her, fragments of the cannon and its ammo block scattering over the grass behind it. Ignoring Lieutenant Alenko's shocked yell of "Holy shit!", she turned to the other drone, clenching her fist and swinging her arm down like a hammer. A wave of pure kinetic force smashed into the drone from above, overpowering its antigravity generators and crushing it into the ground, little more than a useless pile of scrap.

Her breath came in short, heavy gasps as she searched for a new target to crush, the adrenaline in her blood beginning to thin again as she realized there was nothing. Only her, Alenko, and the corpse of a good soldier she had just inadvertently ordered to his death. Holstering her pistol and ignoring the heat of her amp at the base of her neck, she knelt down, carefully closing Jenkins's eyes, trying not to look at the damage as she placed his hands on his chest.

"Ripped right through his shields," Kaidan said, finding his voice again. "He never stood a chance..."

Shepard stood. Swallowing past a lump in her throat, she spoke. "We'll see that he receives a proper burial once the mission's done," she said. "For now... let's keep moving. I'll take point," she ordered, drawing her pistol and moving on. She barely heard Kaidan's acknowledgement as she walked. I just ordered a good man to his death, and now I'm just walking away from his corpse, not even able to take the time I need to acknowledge his sacrifice. What have I become?

Jenkins's sacrifice proved to not be in vain, however. Knowing that the enemy was employing attack drones prepared Alenko and Shepard for their appearances, even as sudden as they were. Pistol shots rang out through the glade as they walked, destroying the assault drones and even a few rocket launcher-equipped ones without even compromising their own shield integrity. Briefly, after one fire exchange, Shepard heard Nihlus contact her over the radio, reporting on the devastation that had befallen the colony.

Shepard stopped at the next open clearing, peering out from cover as she heard gunfire. She saw a pink and white armored marine—Phoenix armor again, is that the one from the transmission earlier? she wondered—running from two assault drone. The cannons' shots had difficulty tracking the sprinting marine, but one shot did impact, sending them to the ground. Not missing beat, the soldier rolled onto their—her, Shepard thought, now able to see the soldier was female—back, whipping out a pistol and shooting down both drones before they could take advantage of her position.

As the marine began pushing herself up, Shepard noticed more movement in the field. Motioning for Kaidan to stay in cover, she squinted her eyes, seeing what looked like two androids pinning a colonist over some strange tripod. Reaching for her own pistol, Shepard began creeping forward, then stopped in gaping shock as a spike thrust up from the platform, running clean through the colonist and killing him instantly.

This was less personal than seeing a soldier under her command gunned down. It didn't matter. Not hesitating for a second, she popped out of cover, sighting perfectly on the almost flashlight-like protrusion that served to take the place of a head on the synthetic. The crack of a mass accelerator discharge made the soldier she had been watching jump as Shepard's shot sailed perfectly, destroying the flashlight protrusion and causing the synthetic to drop like a puppet with its strings cut.

The other synthetic turned, raising an oddly blocky assault rifle and aiming at Shepard, but it fell under fire from Lieutenant Alenko before it could open up. While Kaidan's shots were not instantly lethal, they did stagger it for Shepard's own withering fire to join in, and the marine that had ducked into cover even leaned out and finished the machine off with a burst from her assault rifle.

Lowering her pistol, Shepard turned to face the marine, who similarly lowered her own rifle. The marine spoke, breathing heavily and coming to attention, "Thanks for your help, Commander. I didn't think I was going to make it. Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212. You the one in charge, ma'am?"

Rather than worry about the chain of command, Shepard looked Williams over with a critical eye. "Are you wounded, Williams?" she asked, deploying her omnitool to ready a dispensing of medi-gel just in case. Behind her, Lieutenant Alenko moved into position to cover the approach, pistol raised.

"A few scrapes and burns. Nothing serious," Williams replied, but glanced to the side with a bleak expression. "The others weren't so lucky. Oh, man," she said, her shoulders drooping as if under heavy weight. She began pacing. "We were patrolling the perimeter when the attack hit. We tried to get off a distress call, but they cut our communications. I've been fighting for my life ever since!"

We probably only caught the signal that we did because we were so close, Shepard realized. "Where's the rest of your squad?"

"We tried to double back to the beacon, but we walked into an ambush," Williams explained. "I don't think any of the others... I think I'm the only one left."

Holstering her pistol, Shepard stepped forward, putting a reassuring hand on the marine's shoulder. "This isn't your fault, Williams," she said firmly. "You couldn't have done anything to save them."

"Yes, ma'am," Williams answered automatically. "We held our position as long as we could. At least, until the geth overwhelmed us."

Geth? Shepard thought with a start.

Overhearing the conversation, Kaidan spoke up. "The geth haven't been seen outside the Veil in nearly 200 years," he said. "Why are they here now?"

"They must have come for the beacon," Ashley reasoned out loud. She pointed off to the distance, and Shepard's eyes followed her finger down the path she indicated. "The dig site is close, just over that rise. It might still be there."

Shepard nodded. "We could use your help, Williams."

"Aye-aye, ma'am. It's time for payback."

Shepard drew her pistol, motioning down the way with it. "Move out!"

The trio moved quickly down the path toward the dig site, another small squad of geth attempting to intervene. Theresa found herself mildly admiring of Kaidan's biotic talents when he knocked over a geth drawing a bead on her with a wave of kinetic force while she had been busy lifting another helplessly into the air. Ashley, meanwhile, justified Shepard's choice to bring her along with controlled bursts of fire from her rifle keeping the geth moving and ducking.

As the last geth fell, a thoughtful expression came over Kaidan's face. "That man was still alive when they stuck him on the spike," he mused out loud.

"Killing us isn't enough," Ashley snapped back. "The geth want us to suffer." She looked around as the squad stepped into what Shepard decided looked like a dig site. A small central altar showed several scuff marks as if something heavy had been moved around it. "This is the dig site. The beacon was right here," she said. "It must have been moved."

"By who?" Kaidan asked. "Our side, or the geth?"

"Hard to say." Ashley shrugged vaguely. "Maybe we'll know more after we check out the research camp."

"You think anyone got out of here alive?" Shepard asked, looking around at the site doubtfully.

"If they were lucky. Maybe hiding up in the camp. It's just on the top of this ridge—up the ramps."

Shepard nodded, motioning her squad on. As they began to climb the hill, Shepard's hardsuit radio beeped again, signaling another transmission from Nihlus. "Change of plans, Shepard. There's a small spaceport ahead. I want to check it out. I'll wait for you there," the turian reported. Before Shepard could answer, he killed the line. Unable to answer Nihlus, Shepard simply followed her squad up.

"Looks like they hit the camp hard," Ashley murmured, and Shepard could only agree. One of the buildings was completely collapsed and there was a slowly growing fire. The commander blanched when she saw three more of the spikes, complete with bodies impaled on them.

"It's a good place for an ambush," Kaidan warned. "Keep your guard up." A grinding noise drew their attention to one of the spikes beginning to recede, and the body atop it started twitching. "Oh, God!" Kaidan cried out, horrified. "They're still alive!"

"What did the geth do to them?" Ashley asked in a small, sick voice.

Silently, Shepard approached the body as it slid off the spike device, coming to rest on its feet. It looked humanoid, although nearly skeletal, with blackened, shriveled skin veined with glowing blue implants. Even the eyes have that weird glow, she realized, stepping back as the creature growled at her approach. Before she could draw her pistol, it lunged at her, and she responded instinctively, throwing her hand forward and firing off a kinetic wave that smashed the husk-thing into a nearby hillside.

Unfortunately, it had friends, the other two spikes retracting and depositing their own husks to the ground. Unlike the first one, these two showed no hesitation in charging forward, even as one stopped and shuddered under a storm of assault rifle fire. The other one began a similar marionette dance as Shepard drew her pistol, Alenko joining her in pumping shot after shot into the creature until it and its friend fell.

Kaidan panted heavily as he looked around, searching for any other hostiles. Finally, he said a single word, "Clear," and holstered his weapon. "Well, now we know what those spikes are for. Turning our own dead against us."

Ashley shivered at the thought. "Must take a few hours for the spikes to turn people into husks."

Shepard shook her head slowly. "This is unreal," she muttered. "Where did the geth get this kind of tech?" She glanced over at the two prefabricated buildings still intact and not burning, then paused. Seeing a red light next to a door caught her attention, and she began jogging toward it.

"Hey, that door's security lock is engaged," Ashley pointed out.

"Yep. Alenko, pop it open?"

Without even a second's hesitation, Kaidan activated his omnitool. The door's light blinked to green after a few seconds, and then the door itself slid open. Shepard stepped inside, her team just behind her, and saw two civilians—one male, one female—in the darkened structure. The woman's momentarily terrified expression melted into relief and she breathed out a relieved, "Humans! Thank the Maker!"

The man did not seem to share her relief, however. "Hurry! Close the door before they come back!" he hissed.

"Don't worry," Shepard said calmly. "We'll protect you."

The woman gave a strained smile. "Thank you. I think we'll be okay now; it looks like everyone's gone."

Ashley spoke up then. "You're Dr. Warren, the one in charge of the excavation," she declared. "Do you know what happened to the beacon?"

"It was moved to the spaceport this morning," Warren explained with a nod. "Manuel and I stayed behind to help pack up the camp. When the attack came, the marines held them off long enough for us to hide." Her expression turned downcast at that. "They gave their lives to save us."

"No one is saved!" the man—Shepard presumed he was Dr. Manuel—protested, his expression strained and face almost haggard. "The age of humanity is ended! Soon, only ruin and corpses will remain!"

Doom and gloom. My day wasn't complete without one last reminder of Mindoir, Shepard thought sourly. "Did you happen to notice a turian in the area?" she asked the pair.

Before Warren could answer, Manuel spoke up, hissing, "I saw him! The prophet! Leader of the enemy!" He glanced around nervously. "He was here, before the attack!"

A turian here before the attack? Shepard thought. Can't have been Nihlus then.

Kaidan chose that moment to put voice to Shepard's thoughts. "That's impossible," he denied vehemently. "Nihlus was with us on the Normandy before the attack. He couldn't have been here."

"I'm sorry," Warren cut in. "Manuel's still a bit... unsettled. We haven't seen your turian. We've been hiding in here since the attack."

Shepard nodded sympathetically. She remembered her own reactions after the Gettysburg had set her back down on Mindoir, seeing all the dead friends and family. "We should go," she said. "Williams, take us to the spaceport."

"You can't stop it!" Manuel hissed. "Nobody can stop it! Night is falling! The darkness of eternity!"

"Hush, Manuel!" Warren barked. "Go lie down," she added, more gently. "You'll feel better once the medication kicks in."

Shepard gave another sympathetic nod, following Ashley out of the prefab with Kaidan right behind her. The trio drew their weapons, moving forward with caution as they climbed yet another hill. All three dropped to their knees and looked around as a loud shot rang out in the open air, looking around for the source of it. "Pistol?" Shepard guessed.

"Big one by the sound of it," Ashley agreed, the trio inching forward. "I think it's clear."

Kaidan gasped sharply, standing up and pointing as the team crested the hill. "What is that? Off in the distance?" he whispered, eyes wide. Shepard followed his pointing and her own eyes nearly popped out.

"It's a ship!" Ash yelled. "Look at the size of it!"

The ship, which seemed too massive to be real, began to lift from the ground, wreathed in red lightning. A massive armored center with several long, trailing structures that Shepard might have almost said looked like fingers. That's the thing we saw in Williams's transmission! she realized. But where the hell's it going?

Loud, metallic grating drew her attention away from the departing ship. It was, in fact, a familiar metallic grating, and accompanied by clicking and whirring she had come to associate with the geth. "Incoming!" she yelled, seeing several geth and husks charging up the hill from the spaceport. She swung her arm in an uppercut motion, feeling her amp warm up as she sent a trio of geth sailing weightlessly through the air. On her right, Williams exchanged her assault rifle for her long barreled sniper rifle and was popping husk heads with each shot, while Kaiden motioned a thrust with his arm, causing one geth to smash into a rock outcropping while another barely missed it, only to be impaled on an unoccupied spike.

Grinning, Shepard turned, riddling the three flying geth with bullets from her pistol until they ceased moving, then turned back. Seeing a battlefield devoid of motion, she called out, "Clear," and begin marching forward again. At the foot of the hill, she could see what appeared to be a tram or train station, boxes scattered all over the loading dock area. Down the hill and up the steps, she thought, and then we'll—what the hell?!

"Commander," Kaidan said quietly, "It's Nihlus."

Indeed it was Nihlus, The turian was quite clearly dead, a bloody hole in his head telling half the grim story, leaving Shepard to wonder at the other half—A geth? None of the husks used weapons. Maybe some marine or militiaman who shot first and didn't ask questions? she mused silently. She knelt down to examine the corpse for any other clues, but she only had a few seconds before Ashley yelled out.

"Something's moving!" the marine yelled as she and Kaidan readied their guns. Shepard popped up, doing the same. "Over behind those crates!"

"Wait, don't shoot!" a man's voice yelled, as a thin man in workman's clothing stumbled into view, arms raised. "I'm one of you! I'm human!"

More angry than anything at letting herself be surprised by a civilian, Shepard snarled out, "Sneaking up on us like that nearly got you killed!" All the same, she lowered her pistol.

"I-I'm sorry, I was hiding. From those creatures," the man said, lowering his arms as the marines lowered their guns. "My name's Powell. I saw what happened to that turian," he added, and motioned with his hand at Nihlus's corpse. "The other one shot him."

Other one? Shepard wondered, but said aloud, "I need to know how Nihlus died."

"The other one got here first," Powell said, stammering slightly. "He was waiting when your friend showed up. He call him 'Saren.' I-I think they knew each other."

Must have been friendly... The hole was in the back of Nihlus's head. Nihlus wouldn't lower his guard around a known enemy, Shepard mused silently. She motioned for Powell to continue.

"Your friend seemed to relax," Powell said, confirming Shepard's suspicions. "He let his guard down... and Saren killed him. Shot him right in the back." The workman shivered, clutching himself. "I'm just lucky he didn't see me behind the crates."

Taking a glance around, Shepard realized the beacon was not present, and that she would once again be forced to put aside the death of a comrade for the sake of the mission. I'm starting to hate my job, she thought. "We were told a Prothean beacon was brought to the spaceport. What happened to it?"

"It's over on the other platform," Powell said. "Probably where that guy Saren was headed. He hopped on the cargo train," he pointed further in to the spaceport as he spoke, "right after he killed your friend. I knew the beacon was trouble. Everything's gone to hell since we found it. First that damn mother ship showed up... then the attack." He shook his head, leaning on a crate and shivering. "They killed everyone. Everyone! If I hadn't been behind the crates, I'd be dead, too!"

Shepard narrowed her eyes in suspicion as she stared Powell down. "How come you're the only one who survived?" she asked. "Why didn't anyone else try to hide behind the crates?"

Powell's expression turned to one of shame, but not guilt, Shepard noticed. "They never had a chance," he admitted. "I... I was already behind the crates when the attack started."

"Wait a minute," Kaidan said, his expression clearly disbelieving. "You were hiding behind the crates before the attack?"

"I..." Now Powell's face was pained, as if he didn't want to admit what he was about to. "Sometimes I need a nap to get through my shift. So, I sneak off behind the crates to grab forty winks where the supervisor can't find me."

Shepard could only blink, stunned by the admission. He... what?

"You survived because you're lazy?" Ashley all but snarled.

Finding her voice, Shepard added, unable to keep the scorn out of her tone, "If you hadn't snuck off for that nap, you'd probably be dead, just like all the others."

"Yeah... Yeah, I guess," Powell admitted, his head bowed. "I don't really want to think about it."

Shepard nodded, now almost sympathetic. "We need to find that beacon before it's too late," she told her squadmates.

"Take the cargo train," Powell told her. "That's where the other turian went. I... I can't stay here. I need to get away from all this." With that, he turned and began to flee away from the spaceport.

Shepard turned, motioning her squad forward, and raised her weapon. Thus prepared, she and her squad made very short work of the geth that awaited them on the way to the cargo train, cutting down the synthetics and standing on the vehicle. Getting a ready confirmation from the pair, Shepard activated the holographic controls, propelling the train forward. A short ride brought then to the other end of the platform, where the train shut down automatically, and the trio began to disembark.

By chance, Shepard happened to glance to her left as she stepped down. Oh hell! she thought, jogging over and crouching next to what she recognized as an explosive charge. She activated her omni-tool, running a pre-programmed disarming subroutine, and let out a sigh of relief as it began working. Someone on the other side is either cheap or in a big hurry to not set some kind of intrusion countermeasure on this thing.

"Demolition charges!" Kaiden hissed. "The geth must have planted them!"

Shepard nodded, standing as the disarming finished but seeing other hot receivers for other charges on her omni-tool's readout. "Hurry!" Ashley called, urging her commander up a nearby ramp. "We need to find them all and shut them down!"

"Cover me," Shepard ordered, waving a hand in a wide, sweeping motion in front of her to reinforce her suit's kinetic barriers with her biotics. She felt rather than saw the geth shots ricocheting off of her reinforced shielding as she ran across an open catwalk, and one geth even attempted physically blocking her path. Rather than draw her gun, she cocked back a fist, charging it with dark energy as she ran, and punched clean through the synthetic's body. Ducking behind a pylon, she found the second charge and activated her omni-tool's disarm program.

She heard Ashley's assault rifle coming up behind her on autofire as she crouched down to let the program work. "You've got a mean right, ma'am!" the marine said with what Shepard was sure would be a grin if she turned to look.

"Practice, Williams, that's all it takes!" the redhead replied, standing up as the bomb shut down.

"Two more, Commander!" Kaidan replied, swiping his arm horizontally and sending a pair of geth flying off the upper platform they were on.

"Williams, take point! Alenko, cover my rear!" Shepard pulled out her pistol as Ashley jogged forward, spraying shots over the platform to keep the geth ducking. She was, however, the one to duck behind another pylon as the third bomb was hidden in its alcove. "Cover me!" she yelled, activating her omni-tool again.

"Switchin' to my boomstick!" Williams called, pressing flat against the pylon and exchanging her assault rifle for her shotgun. As one brave geth ventured close, she popped out of her cover and fired, knocking it flat and turning its chest into a pile of oily metal ruin. She quickly ducked back as Shepard's omni-tool finished its work. "Last one, right? There's three geth back there that aren't coming out, I bet they're on the last bomb. You fancy biotics feel like a bit of play?"

"I'm always game for that," Shepard replied with a grin. "Alenko, think you can pull some of that cover away?"

In response, Kaidan popped out of his own cover and reached out a hand, a blue aura surrounding him. Shepard leaned out and watched as, with a metallic grinding sound, a massive crate slid aside to reveal three geth troopers. Before the synthetics could take to cover, Shepard swung her arm like making an underhand throw, her own biotic aura forming as the geth began lifting into the air. "Pick your targets, Chief," Shepard said between grit teeth.

"I think I see a few I like," the marine replied, pulling a long rifle from her back. Three supersonic cracks later and the geth were dangling like useless puppets, so Shepard let them drop bonelessly back to the deck. With the other two marines covering her, Shepard sprinted forward, priming her omni-tool and running the disarm program. As she found the bomb, the Commander crouched next to it, deploy the prepared program, noticing several minutes remaining on the charge's countdown timer.

"That's the last one," she said as the countdown shut down.

"Good thing. I don't think we would have wanted to stick around for that fireworks display," Kaidan remarked. "I see a few more of those spikes and thought I saw a geth over there," he added, pointing toward a nearby ramp leading further back into the spaceport.

"Let's go, weapons free," Shepard said, raising her pistol and heading in the indicated direction. The spikes began retracting almost as the team approached, the sound of grinding metal forcing Shepard to grit her teeth, and a pair of geth troopers making her squad duck for cover. It was, all the same, a very short and ugly fight for the synthetics and the cyber-organic husks, and the Commander felt a sense of pride as her squad found the beacon, shimmering but intact.

Misplaced pride, she reminded herself. You're down a point man and a Spectre, and not out of the woods yet. "Secure the beacon," she ordered the marines, "I'll call for pickup." As Kaidan and Ashley began approaching the beacon, Shepard turned away, activating the comm. piece in her helmet. "Normandy, the beacon is secure," she called into the radio. "Request immediate evac." Behind her, she overheard Kaidan and Ashley talking about the beacon not being the same as when it was dug up, but tuned it out for the response.

"Roger that, Shepard," Joker's voice was crisp and clear over the radio. "Normandy en route to your location, ETA three minutes."

"Roger, Normandy," Shepard replied. "Standing by." She turned back around, seeing Ashley approaching her, and automatically began examining the soldier for any injuries either might have missed in the heat of combat, barely noticing Kaidan continuing to approach the beacon. However, a flash of light and a loud mechanical noise from the beacon drew her attention, and she saw the lieutenant fighting to keep from being pulled in.

Springing into action, she dodged around Ashley, taking two running steps and leaping into a dramatic body grab of Kaidan, spinning and throwing him away from the beacon. But now she began to feel its pull, as strong as any biotic gravity field she had manipulated, and she struggled in vain to pull away, when at the last second, she felt herself lifted. Her muscles ignored all of her brain's protests and went completely slack, her back arching in the throes of some unnamable sensation. Images screamed through her mind, people fleeing from machines and being slaughtered en masse. The sound from the beacon grew piercing, resonating through her mind, screaming like the screams of the people being slaughtered. A distant corner of her awareness recognized a word, "reaper," but could put no meaning to it.

And then, in a flare of light, her vision went black and consciousness left her.

End of chapter!

It's really hard to write something based off of playing it. Because I recorded the game as I played to review as I wrote, I end up watching the recording and then wanting to play. And then I lose the recording so I have to go back and play again to record it and review it... Vicious cycle. And one I may or may not have intentionally perpetuated.

As it may have been noticed, there is no "cut scene" to Nihlus getting a headshot from Saren, nor of Saren ordering the geth to set the demolition charges. Aside of the one scene in the first chapter detailing the meeting between Udina, Hackett, and Anderson, the story will be told from the perspective of Theresa Shepard, with her thoughts and views—correct or incorrect—on the matter.

Now then, bonus scenes! Just some random humorous things that popped into my head during playthrough, review, or writing.

Without even a second's hesitation, Kaidan activated his omnitool. The door's light blinked to green after a few seconds, and then the door itself slid open. Shepard stepped inside, her team just behind her, and saw two civilians—one male, one female—in the darkened structure. The woman's momentarily terrified expression melted into relief and she breathed out a relieved, "Humans! Thank the Maker!"

The man did not seem to share her relief, however. "Hurry! Close the door before they come back!" he hissed.

"Wait, hold on," Shepard said, holding up a hand. "I think you guys have the wrong studio."

The woman blinked. "Isn't this BioWare studio seven?"

"No, this is studio six, Mass Effect." Ashley dropped her face into her palm behind Shepard, stifling a groan as the redhead continued. "Studio seven with Dragon Age is across the lot next to the cafeteria. How did you not notice you were putting on sci-fi clothes when you're in a fantasy epic?"

"Why are we hearing about clothes from the woman whose story includes space-magic mind-controlling spaceships and telepathic spider-roaches?" the man sneered.

"Oh, that's it, it is on now," Kaidan said, cracking his knuckles.

The director winced as the scene before him degraded into random violence. "Okay. Let's, uh. Let's just take five there," he mumbled.

Shepard stood. Swallowing past a lump in her throat, she spoke. "We'll see that he receives a proper burial once the mission's done," she said.

"I'm not dead," a voice weakly called from below.

Solemn-faced, Shepard put a hand on Kaidan's shoulder. "But I need you to stay focused on the mission."

"Seriously, I'm not dead," the voice called again. "If you can just give me some medigel, I might pull through."

Straining to maintain his composure, Kaidan nodded firmly. "On your order, Commander," he said, his voice cracking.

"Really, if we hurry, there might still be time to stop the bleeding."

Unable to contain herself any longer, Shepard doubled over, bursting into helpless laughter as Kaidan did the same. Viciously, the redhead aimed a kick at the "dead" soldier on the ground. "Goddammit, Jenkins, we almost had a good take there!" she said between fits of laughter.

"Saren!" Nihlus said, his eyes wide with surprise and recognition at the sight of the other turian.

Saren's voice was cool and emotionless, the picture perfect Spectre. "Nihlus."

"What are you doing here, Saren? This isn't your mission."

Quickly coming up with an answer, Saren responded in a friendly manner with "The Council thought you could use some help on this one."

"I wasn't expecting to see the geth here," Nihlus admitted, turning away from Saren. "The situation's bad."

"Don't worry," Saren said. He slid his pistol from its holster, pointing it at the other turian's back. "I've got everything under control."

"Everything?" Nihlus asked. "But you were just told about this mission. I found out the situation was this bad literally half an hour ago."

"Yes, it's fine, the geth are under control," Saren pressed, maintaining his aim.

"And there's no sign of that giant metal hand thing Shepard and I saw in the video."

"It's nothing to worry about, really, Nihlus."

Nihlus, however, was still not convinced. "And there's the fact that the Council knew how bad it was and got you here so fast? I don't really buy that, Saren. I haven't sent any reports on the situation yet."

Saren blinked, his weapon still pointed. If Nihlus turned now... "Well, you see..."

"In fact, I don't think the Council sent you here at all," Nihlus accused, his back still to Saren. "You came here on your own. Not under orders. You came... because you knew I was taking on an apprentice and wanted to make sure I could handle it."

"... Yes. Yes, that's exactly right," Saren said, deadpan. "Now, then—"

"You always were a good friend, Saren, and the best mentor a turian could have asked for. I'm honored to have served with you," Nihlus said, his voice reverent.

Saren stood there for several moments, unable to form a reply... and then pulled the trigger on his pistol, killing Nihlus with a single shot. "Boring conversation anyway," he grumbled.

"Nobody is bothered by the fact that my character completely lets his guard down around a known human hater on a human colony, with cybernetic implants, surrounded by synthetics, out of nowhere?" Nihlus complained from the ground. "And I'm supposed to be this elite action spy? Come on!"

End bonus content.