"Well, what about Shepard? She grew up in the colonies."
The noise from the recording bounced around the enclosed space of the personal cabin before fading into the ducts. Alone, a man sat listening, silent in his concentration.
"She knows how tough life can be out there. Her parents were killed when slavers attacked Mindoir."
He lifted his hand to check relevant data on a pad he'd acquired recently, for the mission. His eyes did not flick back to the recording, nor did they move over the screen.
"She proved herself during the Blitz. Held off enemy forces until reinforcements arrived."
Visible knuckles grew white with the strength the hand used to clutch the pad, either in desperation...or anger.
"She's the only reason Elysium is still standing."
"We can't question her courage..."
"Humanity needs a hero. And Shepard's the best we've got."
The screen broke from pressure as the final words left the recording:
"I'll make the call."
The man sat in his seat for some time, staring off into space. Eventually, he reached under his desk and produced a small disk. His omni-tool expanded, and he slid it in.
"Shepard did everything right. More than we could have hoped for."
This time, his feelings were tempered somewhat by curiosity. He didn't recognize the woman or the conversation from any official records.
"Saving the Citadel, even saving the Council. Humanity has the trust of the entire galaxy. And still it's not enough."
He began to wonder if perhaps it was some unaired tabloid report, but something about it felt...off. As though he was intruding. Eavesdropping.
"Our sacrifices have earned the Council's gratitude. But Shepard remains our best hope."
Not that any of this was news to him...
"But they're sending her to fight geth. Geth. We both know they're not the real threat."
This caught his attention. The recording must have been made sometime shortly after the Battle of the Citadel, so why did it sound as though...
"The Reapers are still out there."
Then his omni-tool held his full and undivided attention.
"And it's up to us to stop them."
"The Council will never trust Cerberus. They'll never accept our help, even after everything humanity has accomplished."
'Cerberus'. He mouthed. His mind reeled. When he'd asked for 'all relevant files', he'd never expected this. And he suspected that he knew where this was going.
"But Shepard...they'll follow her. She's a hero, a bloody icon. But she's just one woman. If we lose Shepard, humanity might well follow."
There was a pause. The man in the recording sounded as though he was already calculating exactly how he would craft the events over the two years that would come after. As though he might have already known about Lazarus, decided on that course.
"Then see to it that we don't lose her."
The recording stopped, much like the last one. No ceremony, just silence. He held up one last disk. His scans had told him that it held more than the other two. A longer conversation. But he was hesitant. Would this be more Cerberus meddling?
He considered putting it away. But there was a mission to worry about, now. He needed whatever he could get. He couldn't turn back.
The sound of a door opening. "Ah, Admiral Anderson. Good, good."
"You wanted to see me, Chairman?"
"Yes...yes I did. Have a seat." A chair being pulled, then a soft grunt from the second man, Anderson. "You see, I wanted to speak to you personally because of your...position."
"My position? About what?"
"The committee is torn asunder trying to decide this, and I think you're the man to talk to. You see, you've made your position very clear, but at the same time, I know you for a rational sort."
"Then this is about Shepard."
"I'm not sure what I can add to the committee's decision, Chairman. As you said, my position has been made clear."
"I wanted to question you about your reasoning. I'd like to think I know both sides of an argument before making a decision."
"And yet you cast a vote for Shepard to be court-martialed and turned over to the Hegemony."
"In any other case, we would have made a unanimous decision. But as has been made clear, the 'first human Spectre' is allowed certain...additional time and consideration."
"What were your questions?"
"I merely want to know why you place so much trust in Shepard, in spite of everything she's done."
"'Everything she's done' includes more good than harm, Chairman. You know that."
"Do I? Does anything justify the deaths of so many, the detonation of a Mass Relay of all things?"
"Her record speaks for itself. I may not know the circumstances, but I trust Shepard to have made the right decision with what she had."
"The right decision? Like detonating a nuclear device on a planet, killing one of her own crew, an Alliance Gunnery Chief?"
"To destroy a krogan breeding ground operated by Saren. Yes. The cost was high, and I'm certain that no one regrets Williams' death as much as Shepard does."
"Yes, Chairman." Anderson's voice took on an icy tone. "The 'Alliance Gunnery Chief' had a name. Not just a number."
"Hmm, yes. She does have a penchant for destruction. Shepard. Virmire may yet be the smallest example. I'm sure that I am not the only one who recalls the Citadel? When so many Alliance lives were lost because of her decision?"
"To save the Council and destroy Sovereign, giving us a seat and keeping us from being systematically destroyed?"
"Noveria, when she killed an asari matriarch and released the Rachni upon the galaxy again?"
"Eliminating Saren's lieutenant and reversing genocide in the process?"
"Escaping impoundment and illegally pursuing a rogue Spectre to Ilos!"
"An act which, I might add, you were accomplice to!"
"Why did you call me here, Chairman? To soothe your ego? It's clear that you're determined to see the worst in her actions."
"And you are determined to let your personal stake in this blind you to the dangers this woman represents! Her arrival only worsened her case! Piloting a Cerberus ship? Becoming involved in our disappearing colonies?"
"Trying to save them from the Collectors!"
"Admiral, I admit that this rattles me as much as it does you. But you have to face the facts, here. Shepard is-"
"Shepard is a hero. Something a lot of people seem to be forgetting lately. I won't argue this anymore with you."
The man in the chair was already engrossed in an old news article from just before Earth had been attacked. Reports indicated that the SR-2 had landed on a faraway outpost to let some of its crew loose before returning to Alliance space. According to the reports in question, as well as some top secret anonymous verification, a great majority of the crew had been kept alive.
Shepard did everything right...
Well, he thought, he couldn't argue with her results, at least. But he still had to wonder. Why this file? Did that week's crisis have something to do with Shepard? Perhaps no one knew. But either way, he was determined to go in prepared.
Five years ago, an ancient race of sentient machines known as the Reapers launched an attack on Earth and several other planets in Council space as part of a 'Cycle' repeated once every 50,000 years to cleanse all organic life from the Milky Way.
She gripped the weapon tightly, like a lifeline. Each step sent waves of fire up her body. Her vision tinged with red.
Racing against time, an elite strike force lead by Commander Jane Shepard, first human Spectre, enlisted allies across the galaxy to react against the threat. An ancient Prothean device known as the Crucible would be their key to victory.
She needed to keep going. They couldn't have much time left. It twisted and slowed and quickened around her, rendering it impossible to tell how long she had been walking. There was only footstep after footstep.
Together with the fleets of the Turians, Krogan, Quarians, Geth, and many other sentient races, the Alliance military launched a counterattack against the Reapers, centering on planet Earth.
She raised the pistol. The shots moved her arm, but she could hear nothing. Fire scorched her body, but she could not feel the pain. Only step after step mattered. A final end to all of this.
Though the combined might of the multi-racial fleet was formidable, it was not enough. All seemed lost when Commander Shepard made the decision to board the Citadel, which had connected with the Crucible to form a superweapon that could turn the tide, personally.
Images flashed through her mind as the debris fell around her. A pilot, a friend, tipping his hat in respect. A Captain, a mentor, turning to hide a smile. A turian, a lover, looking on at the shattered worlds left in their wake. Mementos. Reminders of what she fought for. What she would die for.
The Crucible generated a massive blast of energy that raced through every connected Mass Relay in the galaxy, destroying the sentient machines and bringing an end to the war. Commander Shepard was declared Killed In Action, but no one in the galaxy knows what truly happened to her.
As she fell, she knew only vaguely that she had succeeded. The station erupted around her and, unbidden, a final thought traced its way across her mind, laced with her touches of irony. A message that no one would hear, but the Reapers would receive.
"You cannot resist."
But not all secrets remain buried.
Mass Effect 4
After The Fall