Author's Note:

Disclaimer: Mass Effect and all its associated terms, images, etc. belong to EA/Bioware. No profit is being made from this story, it's just for fun. Original Characters belong to me.

The genesis for this idea hit me after watching a clip of the N7's on shore leave in the Citadel DLC. I especially loved the bits with Susan Rizzi, the N7 Fury who keeps getting issued Graal shotguns in her requisition packs. I sympathize strongly with her, particularly after getting an Argus rifle five times in a row.

The Shepard in this story is based on my own prime playthrough: a full paragon male vanguard imported through all three games in the series. This story opens partway through the third game, before/during the Priority: Perseus Veil mission and after the Batarian Codes sidequest.

Lieutenant Susan Rizzi checked the seals on her armor again as the shuttle rocked as it hit atmosphere. In theory all equipment was thoroughly maintained and cared for between missions, but one of the lessons drilled in by the N7 program was that you always took care of your own gear. If you were going to entrust your life with it, you'd better be able to vouch for it yourself. She slipped on her left glove, feeling the brief squeeze as the wrist seals engaged. She sent a brief pulse of biotic power through her left arm and nodded in satisfaction to herself. That particular check done, Susan looked around the shuttle cabin at her other team members for this mission, and once again silently marveled at the drastic changes that had overtaken the galaxy and by extension her life. Her team members included a turian from the Armiger Legion, a vorcha formerly of the Blood Pack mercenary group, and an armored krogan who was examining the omni-blade mod on his shotgun with childlike glee.

Not so long ago, she would probably have been carrying out missions against the individuals she was sharing a shuttle with. It was a sign of how monumentally vast the Reaper threat was that such old grievances were set aside in the common interest of survival. She wasn't surprised that it had taken such an apocalyptic common foe to bring the various sapient species together. And while the Alliance brass and such high-and-mighty heroes as Commander Shepard might wax poetical about standing together and the unprecedented achievements brought about by that cooperation, Susan Rizzi doubted that they had to put up with all the disruption and mix-ups the N7 Special Ops teams did.

She'd thought integrating and coordinating operations with the turian military had been difficult enough, despite their background in joint exercises. Then small units of asari commandoes and specialists had shown up and volunteered their services, and nobody sane was going to refuse that. The reputation of asari operatives was well earned, but the Alliance quickly learned they needed to factor in their independent and informal structures and methods. Dealing with asari commando units was more like dealing with a large family than a military outfit. Yet that had proven nothing compared to the revelation that Shepard had cured the Genophage and secured the undying loyalty and adoration of krogan throughout the galaxy. Krogan troops from the clans on Tuchanka as well as mercenaries from abroad threw themselves into the biggest fight the galaxy had ever seen with an enthusiasm and fervor that frightened Susan and did nothing to help maintain discipline among the ranks. To the krogan brawling was a natural stress outlet and social ritual that was typically followed by heavy drinking.

She'd thought things had been crazy then. The legendary Shepard appeared intent on gathering every known species to fight the Reapers. There came an influx from mercenary groups like Eclipse and the Blue Suns, hardened combatants she'd normally have been fighting against. There'd been rumors that Shepard had cut some deal with Omega's former ruler to make that happen. Susan mostly avoided the mercs when off-duty. She'd been part of enough covert ops against them that she didn't want to risk being recognized for having vaporized somebody's buddy or something. Still, she had to admit to herself that vorcha could be surprisingly personable when they weren't trying to kill her.

Then Shepard had somehow convinced what remained of the Batarian High Command to lend their strength to the increasingly diverse alliance. There'd been a lot of mutters among the N7s and Alliance marines, especially veterans of the Skyllian Blitz. Susan had been among those assigned to help integrate Batarian troops into their operations, an assignment she'd accepted with only marginally less dread than baiting a thresher maw on foot. To her surprise that had gone remarkably smoothly. The batarian remnant was disciplined if a bit demoralized. She couldn't fault them for that. Their systems had been the first to fall to the Reaper invasion, barely before Earth. Perversely, that might have helped smooth things between Alliance and batarian troops. Losing a homeworld tended to encourage looking at the big picture, and gave both species added incentive to set aside their mutually hostile history and focus on the Reapers.

In any event, the sheer variety of species and the different culture and mindset they brought to the table would have rendered conventional Alliance methods and organization woefully inadequate. Compounded with the fact that the Reapers were trampling all over everybody's fleets whenever they tried to stand and fight and command structures were a mess, team organization and mission deployment protocols were… informal. Teams and missions were put together as needed, and the majority of the time saw career military personnel deploying alongside those fighting for more immediate mercenary gain. In between fighting for their lives, Susan considered it a good day if she didn't have to deal with, krogan head butting, jealous tiffs for asari affection, or making sure people weren't eating the wrong kind of food and going into anaphylactic shock.

Another tremor rocked the shuttle, pulling Susan out of her thoughts. The turian across the shuttle's passenger compartment from her was intent on his armor, especially the distinctive jump jets built into the suits of the Armiger legion. The pale yellow tattoos covering his face were a stark contrast with his dark gray skin. She leaned a bit closer to him and raised her voice over the droning roar of the shuttle's engines.

"I didn't catch your name at the muster," Susan said. The turian looked up from his armor checks and flashed a grin.

"Felix Kerranus, Armiger Legion," he said. He extended his hand in human fashion and Susan shook it after a brief moment of surprise.

"Susan Rizzi, N7."

"Susan Rizzi the 'Furious Graal'?" Felix said as his eyes widened. "It's an honor!"

"What?" Susan cocked an eyebrow at the turian's delighted expression.

"You're Susan Rizzi? The N7 biotic, Fury specialization?"

"Yes," she said. She thought again about what Felix had called her and had a sudden sinking feeling where this conversation was going to go. She also noticed that the vorcha and krogan were looking over at them with expressions uncomfortably like awe.

"Oh, you're legendary in the Armiger!" exclaimed Felix.

"Urdnot Grunt uses you as an example of human spirit," said the krogan.

"Yes! Fearsome warrior," added the vorcha. "Also, very inventive use for Graal. Me consider trying sometime."

"Oh no," said Susan. She brought a hand to her face and groaned.

"You're talking about the incident with the-"

"Requisition officer," confirmed Felix. "You know I heard the manufacturers were planning to add a note to the user's manual that testing the in-built blades via 'forceful insertion into nether orifices' is not an approved use?"

"What?!" Susan blushed. "I didn't actually do that!"

"I know, just threatened to," said Felix. He chuckled. "I never imagined I'd actually meet you. You really dislike shotguns, huh?"

"It's not that," sighed Susan. "I was having a particularly bad day. That req officer just… tipped me over the edge."

"Over a Graal Spike Thrower?" Felix asked.

"A Graal Mark Three," Susan said. "I'm a biotic - do you know how often I bring shotguns on missions? Never!"

"Right, I got you. Don't want to mess with your cooldown rates too much with such heavy weapons."

"Exactly! And I explained that nicely to Requisitions the first two times they issued Graals to me. I'm never going to use one!"

"Tell me about it," said Felix. "They issued me a biotic amp upgrade the other week. I'm not a biotic!"

Susan snorted. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Anyways, I didn't mean to cause such a scene. I didn't know there was a crew filming either. I should probably be glad I still had my faceplate on."

"So, why bad day?" asked the vorcha.

"You mean aside from the imminent destruction of sentient life as we know it?" said Susan.

"Can't think about Reapers all the time," the vorcha shrugged.

"My brother was an engineer in the Fifth Fleet," she said. Susan closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. "He survived the battle of Charon Relay when the Reapers hit. It was all chaos for a while as the fleet tried to regroup and picked up various stragglers. He got a message out to me some time after that. Said they were looking to tap him for some project that could win the war."

"We've heard the rumors," said Felix. "Something called the 'Crucible'."

"Probably," said Susan. She didn't know why she was sharing this with a squad of strangers. It felt… right, however. "Anyway, a week after that his ship answered a distress call from a refugee convoy. It turned out to be a Cerberus ambush. The initial attack knocked their power out. He was part of the repair crew that got them back up and running, just in time for another shot that vented their section. I got the news as we were returning from a mission that day. The captain even sent me a letter talking about what a hero Sam was and how he saved the ship."

"You and your brother were close, then?" asked Felix.

"Yeah," said Susan. She smiled as she gazed off into nothing. "Did everything together growing up."

The shuttle trembled again, jolting her out of her reverie.

"Anyways, that's why I kind of lost it with that poor req officer. He didn't deserve that."

"Oh," said the krogan. He sounded disappointed. "I thought a stick puppet show using bureaucrats mounted on Graals was a great idea."

"Me too!" said the vorcha.

"Uh, thanks?" said Susan as she lifted an eyebrow. "By the way, I don't know your names either."

"Dagrob Lurg," said the krogan. The pattern on his head ridges indicated he was still a relative youth. "Vanguard, trained under Thresher Company."

"Me Grahzshik!" said the vorcha, who wore a pair of circular welding goggles on his forehead. "Incendiary specialist!"

Susan nodded at them. "Good to meet you."

"What are we doing here?" asked Felix. "I didn't get a full briefing on this mission. I only know we're headed for someplace called Verdanta."

"It was an agricultural colony," said Susan. "Last report said it's been evacuated. However, a scout ship tracking Reaper movements went down on the planet. We have their location from a distress beacon."


"Unlikely," Susan said. "The last transmission received from the crew said Reaper forces were closing in."

"Data recovery then?" said Felix.

"Yes," said Susan. "Our objective is to make sure we recover that Reaper movement data. We get in, upload the data, and get out. No non-combatants expected in the mission area."

"Ah, good!" said Grahzshik. "Me free to use fire!"

Susan was a little unnerved by his enthusiastic grin. "Try not to roast the objective."

He looked crestfallen for a moment, then the grin returned. "Me try!"

"ETA to groundside five minutes, Lieutenant," the pilot's voice came over the intercom.

"Copy that," replied Susan. "Everybody finish your gear checks."

Quickly she finished checking her armor seals and drew her weapon from its holster. She double-checked the weapon's ammo block and heat sink. As a biotic, she tended to fire fewer rounds from her weapons than many other soldiers, but hard experience had taught her that when you needed a weapon, you needed it now and it had better work. Felix was doing the same, she noted. He handled his Phaeston with practiced ease, checking the action and heat sink. Susan went back to her own weapon and activated the power magnifier mounted on the Eagle.

"ETA two minutes," announced the pilot.

Finally, she slipped on her helmet and the world came alive with a flurry of diagnostics and retinal displays in the eye lenses. A crosshair appeared in the center of her vision, as did an indicator for how many shots the current heat sink in her weapon could handle before it needed replacing. Faint blue outlines appeared around her teammates. She cycled through some other displays, making sure the shield status display and objective markers were functioning.

"One minute."

Satisfied with her helmet checks, Susan reached back and drew up the hood issued to all N7 Fury specialists. Like the rest of their armor, it was woven through with microcircuits and energy directors to help control the Annihilation Fields they were trained to project. She looked around and saw that Felix and Lurg had both put their helmets on as well. Grahzshik had slipped his welding goggles over his eyes and gave her a thumbs-up.

"Crap," she heard the pilot say. "Lieutenant, we've got enemy air assets on an intercept course. They'll be here within minutes."

"All right," said Susan. "Drop us off and get clear. Try to make it back to the Antietam and maintain communications."

"Aye, aye, lieutenant."

The shuttle's engines changed pitch as it slowed down approaching the drop zone. The side door opened with a hiss, and Susan took in her first sight of Verdanta. A rose-hued sun shone down through clear skies onto fields of green and gold crops nearly as tall as she was. There weren't any signs of Reaper occupation, but that didn't mean much. More than one team had been lured into complacency by seemingly tranquil surroundings, only to be ripped to shreds when Reaper forces suddenly poured out of nowhere.

The wreckage of a crashed ship was about a hundred meters away from the shuttle. Susan recognized the design as an Alliance ship. A long furrow of gouged earth trailed behind it, showing the trail of its crash. Burned and flattened crops surrounded the wreckage along with bits and pieces of the ship itself. The ship had come to a halt close to a miraculously intact set of farm structures, tall prefabricated white structures that probably served as storage or processing.

Rizzi took all of this in even as she hopped out of the shuttle and ran towards the nearest cover, an abandoned tractor. It was standard practice for a squad to deploy and spread out from a shuttle as quickly as possible to minimize opportunities to take them down all as they were clustered together. She heard the crackle of a cloak activating and looked around, verifying that it was Kerranus. Lurg and Grahzshik were spreading out as well.

The shuttle took off, climbing at a sharp angle. As the roar of the engines faded a sullen silence fell over them. Rizzi was suddenly reminded of the stillness before a breaking storm. For a moment she felt an odd desire to take her helmet off and breathe in the scents of the fields, to forget the war and pretend she was visiting this scenic planet for the sheer delight of it. But of course that wasn't the case. She couldn't forget the war, and neither could anybody else. It was too large: the scale too grand and the stakes too high. It would leave an enduring mark upon all the races of the galaxy - or it would erase them all. Rizzi pushed the thoughts aside and focused on fighting the war the only way she could: one mission at a time. She gestured to the crashed ship ahead.

"Move out."