:: Chapter One :: Broken Dreams ::
Here's to love, the sickness,
The great martyr of the soul.
Here's to life, the vice,
The great herald of misery.
In this cup, spiritus frumenti,
For this is the nectar of the spirit.
Quench the thirst, drown the sorrow,
And forget about the cold yesterdays…
"Are you sure about this, Anderson?"
"Absolutely. I need someone with his kind of track record to even have a chance at putting a human in the Spectres."
Admiral Hackett shook his head slowly. "I know what he did on Elysium makes him a hero, but he's not the same man that he was five years ago."
"I know Akuze was traumatic, but it's what makes Shepard different. He's experienced loss first hand, he knows what there is to lose if he doesn't fight."
"A man with nothing to lose isn't much of an asset."
Anderson bit his lip and sighed. Hackett had a point. "Then we'll have to find something for him worth treasuring."
"If you can pull that off, do you think it'll work?"
"Just look at his recent performance reports," Anderson stated confidently, "in his last mission, he neutralized seventeen of the twenty-six hostile pirates that were bunked down on Trebin."
"Look more carefully." Hackett lifted up a datapad from atop his desk, tapping on the screen a few times before handing it over to Anderson. "Four killed from gunshot wounds. Seven stabbed in various vital organs. The remaining six were tied to each other, and their throats were slit one at a time. We both know he took it too far."
Anderson slowly nodded his head as he took in the information. Hackett continued on. "A man with those kinds of brutal impulses shouldn't have access to the kind of power that Spectres have. We both know that Spectres are already loose cannons… we can't have a murderer with government backing."
Anderson was silent for a few moments. "I know there's some good in him."
"And how would you know that?" asked Hackett, leaning back in his chair.
"I knew his Father, once."
"Father? The one that died back on Mindoir?"
Anderson slowly shook his head. "No. His real father… was off the records. Shepard's mother died in childbirth, and his father couldn't take care of him alone. He was a military man."
"So who do we have listed as Shepard's parents?"
"Shepard's aunt and uncle. I'm sure they would have told him that they weren't his real parents at some point, if they hadn't been attacked."
Anderson sighed. "His father was a good man. He was always ready to help, stopping pirates, providing refugee relief… whatever it took. Shepard has to have some of that in him."
Hackett was silent for a while. Eventually, he sighed, and leaned forward once more. "I'll authorize the transfer. Take good care of him, Captain."
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
Shepard stood in the middle of an open field of lush, green grass, underneath the massive expanse of blue skies. Small clouds dotted the skies, lazily floating along. In the distance, Shepard could hear the sound of running water. Like a small creek. As he struggled to catch the sound, it began to grow louder. And louder. And louder still, until the sound of a gentle creek became a river, a hurricane, the noise growing louder and louder about him. Shepard put his hands to his ears, trying to drown out the deafening noise, falling to his knees on the grass. And then, the noise stopped. All was calm once more. Blood began to well up from the ground. The grass was melting, dissolving away in the tide of sticky, red blood that suddenly began to erupt from inch of the ground. Before long, the blood was up to Shepard's knees, then up to his chest, rising until he was submerged. He tried to swim to the surface, paddling as desperately as he could, but his armor was weighing him down. Keeping him from breaking free. His vision began to swim, the dark red of blood slowly turning black.
"You abandoned us," came a voice from everywhere, yet nowhere at the same time. "You left us to die!"
The screeching voice was like the grating of a piece of steel against concrete, scraping against Shepard's very soul. "A… Andrew?" Shepard asked, reaching out, recognizing the undertones behind the demonic howl. His vision began to clear, and before him was a control room, dimly lit with a man wearing a suit of black combat armor facing away from him. "Andrew Michaels. Engineering tech." Shepard walked towards him, reaching towards his friend, grabbing him on the shoulders. The man turned around, revealing his broken and torn face. His eyes had been gouged out, leaving empty, dead holes in his face, blood streaming down his cheeks, dripping towards the floor. His face had been sliced down the right side, leaving the left half of his jaw hanging freely. "You did this to us!" shouted the monstrous creature.
It slowly reached for Shepard, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him into the air. The creature reached for a worn, notched knife at its hip and smiled venomously as it slowly sunk the blade into Shepard's chest. Shepard couldn't move, let alone breathe or speak, and merely watched as he watched the creature carved his heart out, pulling the still beating organ out of his chest.
"Now you will die too!"
Shepard jumped as he woke, nearly slamming his head into the low ceiling above which his small bed was located in. Shepard reached for his chest, feeling his heart still beating within, slowly calming down as he took a few deep breaths. Shepard leaned back, falling back into his bed. It had been like this almost every night. The accusing eyes of his former friends, tormenting him for his cowardice, punishing him for his weakness.
Shepard rolled off the side of his bed, and stood up as best he could in the cramped quarters. He stepped out the small room into a larger hallway, the main hall of the SSV Edmonton, the ship which he called home. Or rather, the ship that he slept in. He hadn't been able to find enough reasons to call the dingy piece of metal an actual home. In the few months which he had been stationed on the Edmonton, he still hadn't come to know any of the other crewmembers with any familiarity. He was there to shoot and kill. Nothing more.
As he walked towards the mess hall, prepared to pick up another tasteless dish of some rehydrated rations of some sort, he saw the Captain, a somewhat stubby man by the name of Captain Carlson, beckoning to him from inside of his private chambers.
Shepard gave the man a curt nod, and quickly followed him in. "Yes, sir?" Shepard asked, as Carlson closed the door behind them. "Did you need me for something?"
"Well, Lieutenant Shepard," the man said, somewhat stressing his rank. "I've gotten a notification from Admiral Hackett requesting your transfer to the SSV Normandy under Captain Anderson's command." Carlson looked at Shepard inquisitively, wondering if the man had arranged a transfer behind his back.
"Why?" asked Shepard, blinking a few times in confusion. He hadn't done anything spectacular in quite a few years—and nobody had requested him before. Had he done something wrong? His mind shot back to those pirates back on Trebin.
It was one of the few times he had lost his composure in his military career. It was supposed to just be a reconnaissance mission, but when he saw the armor that they wore, the same kind that he so vividly remembered from Akuze... pure rage had filled his veins, overthrowing any logical thought or reasoning.
But even watching the men screaming in their last moments hadn't brought him any satisfaction. Plunging his knife into their chests hadn't dispelled any of his demons. And now he had their blood on his hands.
But what did it even matter? He had the blood of hundreds on his hands, slain by the so called "Hero of Elysium". But no war title would protect your closest friends from your own damned cowardice, and no ribbon would bring them back from their graves.
"I wouldn't have the damnedest idea of what they'd want with you, Shepard." Carlson shook his head. "Well, if you want to transfer, I'll can authorize right here, right now."
Shepard hesitated a moment. He had no reason to stay on the Edmonton, but a transfer was still a fairly big deal. He would have to gather up his meager collection of belongings, arrange transport, spend the next year correcting old records, and…
To hell with it. Why not?
"Do it." Shepard nodded his head once more, as if to indicate its finality, and watched as Carlson quickly typed a few pieces of information into his terminal, before he turned around and nodded to Shepard. "Well, it was good having you here. They'll send a shuttle over here to pick you up in the next three hours."
Three hours? That was certainly shorter than he was accustomed to. Apparently, they wanted him quickly, if not badly. Shepard walked out of Carlson's room without another word, and quickly jogged over to his locker in the adjacent armory. He quickly punched in the combination, and slid open the metal door. He grabbed his pistol and sniper rifle, locking them into place at his side and back respectively. He quickly picked up a few small medi-gel packets, and stuffed them into the pockets in his uniform. He slowly reached for the shotgun still inside of the locker, silently admiring it as he always had. It was an old shotgun, a Hydra, but it had always done him well. There were a series of small notches on the side of it, marks for each life he had taken. He slowly ran a hand down the side of the barrel. He rolled the gun over, running his hand over another set of notches. One for each life that was taken from me.
He locked the shotgun into place on his back as well, slamming the locker shut. Shepard stood still for a moment, realizing that he still had a few hours to wait before they would be picking him up. A small bit of disappointment fired through Shepard's mind, but he quickly brushed it aside. A small smile began to form on his face as he realized something.
He was excited.
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
"And be safe, ok?" Shala'Raan patted Tali on the shoulder, trying to assuage Tali's growing nervousness. "Everybody goes on their pilgrimage at some point. We've all done it—and we all came out fine."
Tali took a deep breath. "Thank you, Auntie. I just hope that I can find something useful."
"I'm sure you will. The galaxy is a big place, with untold treasures just waiting to be found."
Tali nodded silently. After a few moments, she asked "Is father going to say goodbye?"
Raan grimaced underneath her mask, and slowly shook her head. "He's preoccupied with other important business." She saw Tali's shoulders slump slightly, though by now, Raan knew that Tali's hopes would never come to fruition. Perhaps getting away from the fleet would be good for her. She could meet new people, see new worlds. It wouldbe good for her.
Raan reached forward with outstretched arms, and hugged Tali as she saw the glowing light, indicating that Tali's shuttle was ready. "Remember, always keep your shields and armor ready. The galaxy isn't… accepting of quarians. And you have your shotgun."
Tali nodded once more. She turned around, and headed into the now open shuttle, looking back at Shala'Raan once more before she shut the door.
"And… tell father I said goodbye."
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
"Damnit, Vakarian! Stand down!" Captain Karrok glared at Garrus, the two men holding their hateful stare for a few moments, until Garrus turned his back on the man.
"What the hell do you mean, we can't bring him in?"
"I mean exactly what I said," said Karrok, matter-of-factly. "If you put a hand on Markus, C-Sec will be neck-deep in shit for the next six months."
Garrus shook his head. "So you're telling me we just let the damned murderer walk?"
Karrok said nothing. He looked at Garrus' back for a few moments before he turned around as well. He now spoke in what was almost a whisper.
"Do you think I liketo let criminals go, Vakarian? Do you think I don't want to carve their damn hearts out for what they've done?"
"So why the hell don't you? How many more people is Markus going to kill if we don't do anything about it?"
"Too many." Karrok sat down in his desk. "Too damn many."
"Then I'm going to put a bullet in his brain." Garrus began to walk away before Karrok stood up, slamming his hands down on his desk.
"If you do so much as touch him, I will personally drag your ass back here and lock you up for the next three years. Don't make me do it."
Garrus stopped for a moment in the doorway. He lowered his head and silently muttered to himself, mourning the lives that he knew would be lost in the next few days. "Damnit."
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
Shepard stood in the airlock of the Edmonton, waiting as the decontamination cycle scanned the small room, equalizing pressure between the two vessels, hissing as it did so. Shepard rolled his shoulders, now weighed down with his forty-kilo suit of combat armor. It was standard Alliance armor, just a simple set of interlocking metal plates that would deflect mass accelerator rounds with some degree of efficiency, as long as the rounds weren't too powerful. The deflecting nature of the armor had a terrible habit of attracting long, deep gouges from bullets sliding across the sides of the large, silvery plates. But it was still better than dying.
Shepard ran a finger across the polished N7 logo on his chest. He remembered how proud he had been when he had first received his logo, so many years ago. Now he felt nothing—it was just another meaningless commendation.
He realized that the decontamination cycle had completed some time ago, and he reached for the hologram on the door. As soon as the door slid open, a dark skinned man wearing a formal military uniform—most likely Captain Anderson, based on the rank emblazoned on his left shoulder—stepped forward. Two other men stood at his side, dressed in combat garb, though he mostly ignored them.
"Second Lieutenant Jonathan Shepard." The man's voice belied his age. Shepard had guessed him to be in his early thirties based on appearances, but something about his voice made Shepard rethink his guess. He felt a deep wisdom, an understanding within. He felt loss—those same subtle undertones of sorrow which Shepard even noticed within his own voice.
"Yes sir," Shepard replied. "Reporting in from the SSV Edmonton under the command of Captain Carlson."
"Welcome to the Normandy, kid." Shepard blinked at the sudden informality. "It's not quite the same as your average spacecraft—I'm sure it's an upgrade from your last station."
There was a short pause, as Anderson seemingly waited for some kind of reply. When Shepard was not forthcoming, he continued. "The armory is located downstairs, where you can store your equipment," he said, gesturing to the Shepard's weapons. "Your sleeper pod will be located in the room just adjacent to that. You can ask a crewmember for specific directions if you need them."
"A sleeper pod?" Shepard couldn't help but ask.
"Yes. On a vessel like this, space is at a premium—so we've installed state of the art sleeper pods. Don't worry, you'll get used to them." A small smile appeared on Anderson's face. "If there are no other questions, feel free to make yourself at home." He began to turn away, when Shepard interrupted him.
"Sir?" Anderson turned back around, and waited as Shepard took a deep breath. "What do you want with me?"
"I want you," Anderson answered simply. He spun on his heel once more, and left the airlock, walking to what he presumed was the cockpit. Shepard looked around him, interested to see what this "upgrade" might entail. He stepped into the main flight deck—a long hallway with terminals stationed all along the sides. He could see other crewmembers at some of the terminals, some managing data and other information, and a few playing what looked to be some variant of poker.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir." Shepard turned around to see the other young man looking at him. "Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, sir. I had friends on Elysium… non-combatants. They told me about what you did."
"What weapons training do you have?" Shepard asked, seemingly ignoring Kaidan's compliment.
"Sir?" Kaidan asked, somewhat confused.
"What weapons training do you have? I need to know if I can count on your in a firefight. Or are you just holding a gun for something to do?" There was a bit of unintended snark in Shepard's voice. He hadn't intended to be cruel, but a bit of bitterness came through.
"Um, I am most proficient with handguns, though I have some training with assault rifles as well."
Shepard scoffed, another unintentional bit of cruelty that came through, despite not really consciously being upset or disappointed with the man. Kaidan continued regardless.
"I am also an L2 biotic. I've received extensive biotic training which allows me to effectively control the battlefield by incapacitating enemies."
Shepard raised his eyebrows at the statement. A biotic?Shepard had never met a biotic before—as far as he knew, human biotics were myths. How did they say that biotics were formed… Eezo exposure? It was something like that. He had never seen a biotic in action, but it would certainly be… interesting.
Shepard merely gave Kaidan a curt nod. "Good." He walked past the man, heading towards a more open part of the ship, hoping that he was travelling in the right direction.
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
Kaidan sighed as the man walked away from him. One more illusion shattered.He had met many "heroes" before. And not yet had a single one lived up to his expectations. The titan of a man he had heard of, the Hero of Elysium, who had held off hundreds of batarians from murdering the defenseless colonists, was a withdrawn, snappy, crass, bitter man, as far as he could tell. He hoped that Shepard would loosen up in the days to come.
Kaidan turned around and headed the opposite direction, walking into the cockpit. Anderson sat in the copilot's chair, while Joker was leaned back in his seat, waiting for the Edmonton to acknowledge the transfer and withdraw their docking bay. Kaidan walked up behind Joker, leaning on his seat.
"So… Shepard?" asked Kaidan, still somewhat disappointed with his initial meeting.
"Yes," replied Anderson. "His kind of experience is what we need around here—especially if that Spectre representative is coming around here soon."
"Are you sure that he's… an appropriate candidate?" Kaidan asked, somewhat daunted by the idea of someone like Shepard making it into the Spectres.
Joker looked up at Kaidan. "What, did he bite you in the ass already?"
"No… well, kind of." Kaidan said, somewhat submissively. "I guess he just isn't quite what I expected from the War Hero of Elysium."
"He's still a good soldier," Anderson said, folding his hands together on his lap.
"But a Spectre has to be more than just a good soldier. He need to be able to provide help when people need it, he needs to be able to work in a team. He needs to be like you, Anderson."
Anderson blinked a few times at the subtle compliment. "I'm sure he'll settle in soon."
Kaidan sighed. "If you really think so. I've met people like him before… and they haven't changed much." He was thinking about some criminals that he had brought into custody before. Serial murderers, rapists, pirates—the scum of the galaxy, cruel people who would rather watch you suffer than let you die mercifully. He realized he had unintentionally compared Shepard to a rapist when he shook his head once more, realizing he was being unfair. "I hope you're right, Captain."
Welcome to the first step in my tale. Be warned; I do not intend to follow canon, though I will try my best to exist within the boundaries of already established facts.
Have any questions, comments, burning anger, or pet peeves about my writing?
Leave a comment, send me a private message, or email me at evangj .