Interview with Admiral David Anderson (former Commanding Officer of the SSV Normandy SR-1)
"What can you tell me about the commander's first days on the Normandy?"
"Shepard's first days were stressful on him. Everyone could see it."
"Shepard was something of a lone wolf after his previous assignments. He wasn't used to working with others."
"Why was he like this?"
"That N-Seven badge on his chest? He earned that. Worked his way through hell to get it. Watched a lot of fellow soldiers – friends – die in the process."
"I see. You refer to the mission on Akuze?"
"That's right. Watching fifty marines die while you escape leaves you with scars. Shepard was still coming to term with those scars when I ordered him to transfer to the Normandy."
"Can you elaborate?"
Arcturus Station, 2183
The chill. That was the first thing Commander Shepard noticed when he stepped aboard the docking bay that led to his new post. The ship was cold, colder than most warships he'd served on in the past. He felt a shiver race up his spine, though not due to any feelings of anxiety or nervousness. This was simply another post, another mission, nothing to get excited about. The fact that he was serving under the Alliance's first N7 graduate, or that this was probably the most expensive ship in the entire galaxy was cause for slight hesitation, but not anxiety.
At least that was what he kept telling himself.
He adjusted the collar of his dark blue dress suit, straightened out the badges on the left side of his chest, then took a deep breath and hit the intercom.
"This is Commander Shepard, requesting permission to come aboard."
The deep, gravelly voice of the captain replied, "Permission granted, Commander. Welcome to the Normandy."
The door hissed open, releasing another blast of cold air. Shepard narrowed his eyes, but kept his face as relaxed and calm as possible. He was going to be first mate of this ship, after all. He needed to show the crew that their new XO wasn't weak-willed or prone to nerves. He was starting from square one to begin with; being a newcomer aboard a ship this size was like being the new adopted member of a very close family. He was in for some rough weeks ahead of him.
He stepped aboard, holding his hat under one arm. The captain was waiting for him just inside, on the main deck. A tall, dark-skinned man in his mid-forties, Captain David Anderson was an imposing figure, though not in a threatening way. His presence demanded respect, but his kind gaze made him seem almost instantly trustworthy.
The captain's military record was also cause for admiration; Captain Anderson had served in the military at the start of the First Contact War, when humanity had first met the turians. He had not only survived the war, but had come out of the conflict with several commendations and awards. He had served in the navy since then, eventually earning his position as captain of the Normandy. The position itself was a great honor, though Shepard had heard from some officers that a post to the Normandy was a dead-end position.
Shepard didn't know why Anderson had personally requested him as XO on the ship, and he didn't know whether to be honored or worried. But despite the circumstances, Shepard was glad to see him again. He quickly stood at attention and saluted crisply. "Reporting for duty, Captain."
Anderson returned the salute, then held out a hand. "Good to have you aboard, son. It's been too long."
Shepard shook the captain's hand and nodded. "It has, sir."
Anderson nodded back and gestured for him to follow him deeper inside. The docking bay door slid shut with a loud hiss, sealing them inside. There was something uncomfortably final about the sound, as if Shepard's fate had been similarly sealed. He shook aside such thoughts, knowing they would only distract him from the task at hand.
"What has the brass told you so far?" Anderson was asking.
Shepard looked around, studying the ship as they walked. "Not much. I was told to report to the Normandy for reassignment. That you had requested my transfer yourself."
The walls were curved, sloping inward. There were control stations set into either side of the central pathway, lit with the flickering orange light of the holographic terminals that allowed the crew to monitor the status of the ship. Every seat along the pathway was occupied, the crew members issuing orders, requesting status reports, or merely working in silence to get the ship ready for launch. Behind him, Shepard could hear muttering from the cockpit. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the pilot slouched low in his seat, an Alliance cap pulled low over his eyes.
"That I did, Commander. I was given special permission to handpick my crew. You were at the top of my list."
Shepard frowned, but said nothing for the moment. He had known Anderson for a long time; they had first met when Shepard had been formally introduced into the prestigious Interplanetary Combatives Training military program. While engaged in training, Shepard had been placed under the tutelage of Captain Anderson. The captain had been a gruff teacher, but a good one. Shepard was sure he wouldn't have graduated with the coveted N7 rating without the man.
Further along the bridge, the control stations branched out in a rough oval shape, curving around the CIC, the Combat Information Center. There was a large, raised holographic projector in the center of the room, surrounded by glowing orange terminals. Stairs led up to a platform that overlooked it all; the captain's post, most likely. A glowing orange representation of the Normandy hung in mid-air over the projector, flickering slightly in the dim lighting. Shepard had seen this kind of interface before. In battle, the crew could quickly gather real-time damage assessments to the ship as it was projected onto the hologram. It was an extremely efficient piece of technology, not to mention extremely expensive.
"Sir," Shepard said slowly, staring at the hologram as they passed, "could I ask a personal question?"
"Ask away, son."
"Why did you request my transfer? I'm a marine. I'm used to fighting on the ground, not commanding a ship."
"Technically I'll be commanding the ship." Anderson came to a halt, turning to face him and folding his arms across his chest. A smile was tugging at his lips. "And I think it's high time you were put in charge of an important assignment. Something deserving of an N-Seven graduate."
"I've seen your record, Shepard. You're a soldier, yes. But you're also a born leader, and that's the kind of person I need watching over this ship."
"But my record-"
"I know what you're going to say," Anderson said, holding up a hand. "And we both know what happened wasn't your fault. The brass may think otherwise, but I know you. I know you would have done everything in your power to turn that situation around."
Shepard remained silent this time. Anderson sighed and said, "Shepard, I know why you have reservations. Hell, I'd have the same concerns if I were in your shoes. But all that matters is this: I trust you."
Shepard frowned. "Thank you, sir. I think."
The captain pointed to the N7 insignia on Shepard's chest. "You wouldn't be wearing that on your dress blues if you hadn't earned it. And I think an N-Seven is exactly what we need for this mission."
"I think you mean two N-Sevens, sir," Shepard said, nodding to the tiny insignia on Anderson's own suit.
Anderson cracked a smile again and said, "Commander, I think you're going to be just fine."
He turned away, giving Shepard the impression that the matter had been dropped once and for all. "Now follow me. We've got to get you settled in."
Anderson led Shepard to the back of the CIC, to one of a pair of doors that were set into either side of the room. The captain nodded to the guard standing watch, then keyed open the door and led Shepard down a long, curving flight of stairs to the second deck.
The Crew Deck was similar to the CIC; same curving walls, same dim lighting. There were a collection of tables set up in the center of the room where the crew could dine or simply enjoy their off-duty hours. There were a few crew members standing around, but the deck looked mostly empty.
"You'll eventually receive security clearance allowing access to the entire ship," Anderson explained as they walked. "For now, though, we need to have you check in with the doctor and have you prepped for a deep space mission."
The medical bay was a long, rectangular room set into the starboard side of the deck. As he stepped through the door, Shepard saw a typical medical facility: medigel dispensers, sick beds, and a desk where the doctor could perform tests or do day-to-day work. It seemed well stocked for such a small ship. Shepard wondered if the Normandy would be seeing enough fire to warrant such overabundant supplies.
The doctor herself, who was introduced as Dr. Karin Chakwas, was a middle-aged woman with shoulder-length gray hair and green eyes. She seemed friendly enough, greeting both the captain and the commander with a warm smile. She set aside the datapad she was reading and said, "Captain. What can I do for you?"
Anderson gestured to Shepard. "This is Commander Shepard, the Normandy's new XO. We need to have him cleared medically before we can get underway."
"Of course, Captain." Dr. Chakwas turned to Shepard and shook his hand in greeting. "I'm sure you'll find it most welcoming here, Commander. This ship is crewed by some of the best the Alliance has to offer. I can vouch for that personally."
"Nice to know," he said. The doctor picked up a needle and gestured for Shepard to give her his arm. He complied and she quickly drew a sample of blood. Her work was quick and efficient, giving Shepard the impression that she was extremely qualified in her work.
"I can safely assume you were studied by medical staff for routine concerns before setting foot aboard this ship," Dr. Chakwas explained as she worked, "so all we'll need is a blood test. It should be finished by the end of the day. However, I do have some questions I must ask."
"Are you aware of any diseases you might carry, or sicknesses you have had recently?"
He shook his head. "I've had a clean bill of health for the past six months."
"Any medical concerns I should be made aware of? Allergies and the like?"
He shook his head again. The doctor consulted her datapad for a few moments, tapping at the holographic screen, and frowned thoughtfully. "It says here you show traces of element zero exposure. Do you have biotic implants?"
"Minor ones," Shepard said, rubbing at the back of his neck were said mechanical chips had been surgically implanted in his body. "I'm no true biotic, but I can sometimes store up enough charge for a halfhearted shove."
"That shouldn't be much of a problem, then," Dr. Chakwas nodded, then looked up at the captain. "Everything checks out. After that blood test comes back, I'd say the commander will be fine."
Anderson nodded. "Good. Carry on, Doctor. I'll be in touch."
"Of course, Captain," Dr. Chakwas said. She smiled at Shepard again. "I do hope you will enjoy your time here on the Normandy, Commander."
Shepard nodded. "I'm sure I will. Thank you, Doctor."
They left the medical bay, passing by a silent, grim-looking man working on the wiring just outside the captain's quarters on the other side of the room. Shepard was led around the back of the crew deck and to a heavy blast door set into the area just in front of the stairs. Anderson keyed the door open and ushered Shepard into a compact elevator. Another keystroke and the elevator started down.
"This is an impressive ship, sir," Shepard felt compelled to say. He meant it, too. He'd served on many ships during his career, but nothing quite like the Normandy. Never before had he seen such precision and functionality mixed with such elegant architecture. From the outside, the Normandy looked more like a luxury yacht than a stealth frigate. Long, sleek, and elegant, the ship was rounded along the top, with four heavy mass driver engines flowing from the rear. From within, the ship was curved and graceful, more reminiscent of an asari vessel.
Anderson nodded. "The Normandy was part of a joint construction project with the turians. Little more than a political maneuver to try to get our races holding hands again after the First Contact War. But even publicity stunts can have good outcomes."
"And what exactly is our mission, sir?" Shepard said. He was genuinely curious. So far, all he'd been told was that he was the right man for the job. What job that was, he still had no idea.
"Right now, all we're doing is taking the ship out on a test run. It's all we've been doing for the past few months. The Council funded the construction of the Normandy and they want to see her in action."
"What kind of action?"
Anderson chuckled as the elevator ground to a halt and the doors slid open. "Any kind of action we can find, Commander."
The doors parted and they stepped out into the spacious cargo bay. Along the starboard wall of the room was the massive eight-wheeled, turret-equipped war machine that Shepard guessed was the Normandy's ground vehicle. Shepard raised an eyebrow at the transport: a Mako Tank, designed for high-risk air drops into combat zones. Shepard had never driven one personally, but knew that the tank sported several altitude thrusters that could be fired in combat to launch the vehicle into the air; a novel form of evasion, but useful for dodging gunfire, rockets, or other projectiles.
If the Normandy was equipped with a tank, Shepard guessed Anderson knew more than he let on about the "action" they were about to find. Again, he got the feeling there was more going on than he was being told. But he trusted Anderson and he knew if the captain was holding back, he would eventually come clean.
"This is the main cargo bay," the captain explained. "Along the port wall you'll find your armor locker and a weapon bench to work on your firearms. We have some standard weapon mods in stock on board, but you can buy others when you're on shore leave. Or you can talk to the requisitions officer when he gets back from his shopping on Arcturus Station."
A tiny, cramped hallway led to the rear of the ship and its most impressive feature: the drive core. Shepard had seen the reports of the Normandy's tech, but he wasn't completely prepared for what he saw in the engineering bay: a massive sphere, humming violently, shooting out bright flashes of blue-white light every few seconds. Shepard had to pause for a moment and stare at the construction.
It almost seemed impossible. The drive core's spherical design was huge, far too large for a ship the size of the Normandy. It obviously took a lot of maintenance to keep it functional; the engineering deck was crowded with busy crewmen, all hurrying to keep the engines functioning at peak efficiency. Shepard felt a little uneasy standing in its presence, as if he expected the drive core to detonate at any moment.
As Shepard looked around, a bald man with a lined face approached them and saluted. Anderson saluted back, Shepard following suit a few moments later.
"Chief Engineer Gregory Adams, sirs," the man introduced himself. "Glad to be welcoming you to the Normandy, Commander."
Shepard nodded and shook the man's hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Chief Engineer. You're in charge of this area?"
He nodded. "We call it The Zoo. Sometimes that name is more fitting than it sounds."
Shepard turned back to the drive core, shaking his head. "This is unbelievable. Why spend so much money on such a huge drive core? Wouldn't a normal core have worked just as well?"
"A normal core wouldn't have fit into the Normandy's designed operations," Adams explained, taking position on Shepard's right and folding his arms. "Sure, they could have re-evaluated the strategic value of the ship, but they needed Normandy to do a specific set of tasks, and this size of drive core was the only thing that would let the Normandy do that."
Shepard looked over at the man. "You were part of the original Normandy project?"
Adams nodded. "Oversaw the installation of the core myself. Well, not by myself really. I had an uptight turian who was supposed to be overseeing it with me. Didn't do anything but insult humans and their weak, unarmored hides that couldn't even hold up against a strike from an asari's manicured fingernails..."
He cleared his throat. "I digress."
Shepard cracked a slight smile. He liked Engineer Adams right from the start. The man's calm, easygoing attitude put him at ease; he felt that the man had everything under control here. "So what can you tell me about the drive core?"
"She's a prototype, like the rest of the ship," Adams reported. "Designed for speed and stealth. Useful on a frigate like the Normandy."
"I can understand the speed," Shepard said, "but how does it help with stealth missions?"
"As you know," Adams said, "the biggest problem of jumping to Faster Than Light speeds is the heat. Going the speed a ship does, even when assisted by a Mass Accelerator, heats the ship up a few million degrees when it leaves FTL and begins decelerating."
"Right," Shepard said. He had a basic knowledge of ship functions. It was a necessity when serving in the Alliance Navy.
"Add that to the heat produced by the day-to-day systems and the fact that the Normandy operates against the absolute zero temperatures of space, and it's not a very effective stealth ship. We show up on any kind of thermal scanners almost instantly. All ships do."
"That's where the drive core comes in, at least partially," Adams said. "Among many other things, it powers the ship-wide Internal Emission Sink systems, the IES."
"And what does that do?"
Adams gestured to several large conduits and coolant pipes that ran out from the drive core room and into the hull of the ship. "It catches the heat and stores it in massive heat sink devices in the hull. Kind of like the heat sinks in the weapons you carry, only ten times the size. These catch the heat and store it, keeping the outside hull of the ship the exact same temperature as the space around it."
"So anyone scanning for the ship will just see the blanket temperature of space," Shepard said, nodding. "Impressive."
"It doesn't work forever, of course," Adams said. "After about three hours of running silent, the heat sinks have to be vented or we risk an internal overload that would cook the crew alive. If we're just drifting and watching enemy movement, though, we can go for days without needing to vent."
Shepard adjusted his collar. "Explains why it's so damn cold onboard."
Adams nodded. "It's necessary, sir. There's enough heat that the sinks have to regulate as it is. Any more and we'd risk overload."
Shepard nodded. "I understand."
"In addition to the stealth systems," Adams said, "the larger size of the core means we can travel at FTL speeds for longer before needing to pull out and discharge built up static charge. We can move at twice the speed for twice as long as any other ship in the Alliance."
"With all due respect, sir," Adams said with a smile, "you have no idea."
Anderson chuckled and patted the engineer on the shoulder. "As you were, Chief."
Adams saluted again. "Sir. I'll be here if you need me."
The man turned back to his duties, heading over to another technician and requesting an update on the capacitor charge disruptions. Anderson watched him go, then turned to Shepard and said, "Well, what do you think?"
Shepard shook his head. "It's an amazing ship, sir. I'm proud to be serving on her."
He was being honest. He'd heard the Normandy was a waste of credits, a fancy technological toy to get the humans and the turians working nicely together. But after touring the ship and seeing everything it was capable of... he was certain the Normandy would be a valuable asset to both the Alliance and the galaxy at large.
Anderson nodded. "As was I when I first set foot on her. The Normandy is an incredible ship, staffed by an incredible crew. You'll find that it may not be the most glamorous or exciting position at times, but this will be one of the best posts in your career, I promise."
He put a hand on Shepard's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly.
"Welcome home, son."
Author's Note: Ha ha! I'm done! That took forever to get through, and it was all just introductions! That said, it was a ton of fun to write. It's great that Mass Effect has so much dialogue because characters I would normally find challenging to write – Anderson springs to mind – have so many lines that I can imagine their voices and write their dialogue accordingly.
So one chapter down, bunches more to go. Next one will be all about getting to know the crew and Shepard's first steps on Eden Prime. See you then.