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Mass Effect: A Hero Rises

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Splashing cold water into my face, I waited until I felt all the droplets ran down my cheeks and over my nose before I looked up into the mirror. Cool blue eyes stared back at me, the same eyes that had since the first time I’d looked in mirror. Even at my somewhat early age, they’d already seen enough that they were relatively blank, trained to show next to no emotion. I had what they called a defined jaw, stubble lining my cheeks as well. Not particularly within regulations, but no-one questioned me. I kept my hair nice and short at least. Not quite buzz cut but not long enough to run a comb through.

Standing tall, grabbing the towel to wipe my face dry, I looked down my torso. Aside from the scars of war, there was a definition that came only from years of gym work, military exercise and constant battle. I’m vain enough to admit that I waxed my chest, otherwise it would be covered in hair, same with my back. Some women liked the hair, most did prefer it smooth. Those I slept with anyway.

I was currently wearing trousers, but knew I had that defined v-shape that ran down to my crotch, and I definitely received enough comments from women, and sometimes men, about my rather firm butt. I’m confident enough in my sexuality that, if a man were to comment, I’d simply smile and thank them. My legs were powerful, having run endless miles over the years, and one should never forget leg day when they are working in the gym.

Putting on a thin white t-shirt, I threw the towel over my shoulder and headed back to the bunks. Though I was the XO of the Normandy, I still had to bunk with the enlisted men. The ship was rather small and compact, and though the crew itself was limited in number, space was at a premium. Only Captain Anderson had his own quarters. I didn’t mind bunking with the men, and quite frankly, I had more than enough space. I’d seen the first ships that had been sent into space once Grissom passed through the first relay. Barely enough room to swing a cat, more like sardine cans than ships. The Normandy was a luxury cruiser compared to the early model ships the Alliance built as we explored the stars.

I lay back on an empty bunk, waiting for the call. We were heading somewhere. Where? I wasn’t sure, I hadn’t been told. Why? That was even more of a mystery. And for what? I assumed Anderson would tell me eventually. But I guess while I’m waiting, I can tell you a little about myself. It’s quite the story how I managed to wind up on the most advanced warship in the Alliance Navy.

My name is John Shepard. I was born on April the 11th, 2154. I was born on Earth though what city doesn’t really matter as, by the time I was born, the idea of the nation-state was starting to die out. Once we discovered alien life, humans started to think as a collective, the old borders starting to fade, whether you black or white, from Europe or Asia, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were human. Generally, two arms, five fingers, two legs, five toes, our eyes came in all sorts of colours, as did our hair. Some of us were short. Some tall. Some fat. Some thin. Male or female.

I was an orphan. To this day, I still have no idea who my mother was. I have asked one or two people since then and they believed it was probably a young girl, far too young to be giving birth, and giving me up for adoption was the best thing. Despite all the technology available, I’ve never managed to track her nor my father down. I’m not even sure Shepard was her surname.

So I grew up in an orphanage as a kid. I saw few of us actually leave over the years, which in itself was disheartening. With next to no hope of actually being adopted, the streets kids that would come to the gates spoke of the life living on them. To a ten-year-old kid, it sounded appealing, considering one is not particularly old enough to understand the consequences. But it was better than the orphanage. Don’t get me wrong, the ladies who ran it were nice, but it was a job. There was no real love involved, though they were not mean. But we simply existed, knowing we’d remain until we were of age, then we’d simply be kicked out, though we’d probably be helped into our own accommodation.

I started hanging out with the street kids and soon learned the ways of petty crime. I realised early on I was one of the biggest, so while I proved quite good at pickpocketing, I was generally used as the distraction so others could pilfer goods for us. The longer I hung out with them, the more I thought about leaving the orphanage. I’m sure they knew what I was up to, and at thirteen, I simply left one day and didn’t go back. I would come to regret that decision though not in the way imagined.

The only way to exist was through crime. Pickpocketing. Shoplifting. That sort of stuff. It wasn’t entirely victimless, but at that early age, we were certainly not violent. If it looked like we were caught, we simply split up and ran until we had escaped. The group I ran with, the Reds, were a rag tag bunch of kids, most having ended up there the same way as me. One or two did have families, and they’d either been kicked out or they’d run away too. I liked to believe we were all in it together.

There was a code we lived by but it was also dog eat dog as well. Being one of the bigger kids, I soon learned that some wanted my protection, and some wanted to prove themselves against me. I quickly learned how to throw fists and fight, and learned that although I felt pain, I could happily fight my way through it. I could have the literal shit kicked out of me, and I’d still stand up, fists raised, blood streaming from cuts, ready for more.

Slowly but surely, I ascended the ranks, particularly as I got older, even bigger, and certainly a lot stronger. While that happened, the element of our crimes changed, became more violent. Muggings and robberies were a favourite, though we still drew a line at things like murder. We didn’t want to kill anyone, or at least that’s what I thought. I’d certainly drawn blood on more than one occasion, but that was generally during battles against opposing gangs. That’s when I definitely earned my reputation, and after Mikey, the only one above me in the hierarchy, had a metal pole put through his head, that’s when I found myself in charge.

It all went to my head, obviously. I was an arrogant fool, believing I was above the law, or at least they couldn’t catch me. It didn’t help that most in my charge worshipped and failed to question me, and those that did were handled harshly. It was all bound to come crashing down, and it did when one of us ended up killing an old man when a mugging went wrong. We should have laid low, but when the cops were led to our hideout, we were done for. We could have fought, but we had baseball bats and lead pipes against pistols and rifles. I had to tell them all to surrender. I didn’t want all their bodies on my conscience.

I was dragged to the nearest police station and charged with a list of offences. To be honest, I was looking at being put away for a long time. Honestly, I can admit I deserved it, but I’d had a bloody good time, and I’d do it all the same again. The cops even appeared impressed by the set up. I looked after those under my care. Everyone was fed. Everyone had a bed. Don’t question my authority. And none of them did, following any order I gave them.

I certainly wasn’t expecting any preferential treatment as I was a right smartarse during questioning. I knew they had plenty on me, not enough to put me away forever, but enough to ensure I’d sit in a cell for a few years. Most of it was circumstantial but some of it would stick. My fingerprints were everywhere.

Led to the interview room for the umpteenth time, I sat back and waited for whoever it was to walk in. They always asked different questions, trying to get an idea of what our gang actually did. We had our fingers in plenty of pies, most if not all of it illegal. But we made credits and we lived comfortably. And, most of the time, our presence was ignored. People don’t like to look at the homeless and destitute, definitely not in their eyes.

I was surprised when a tall, broad, dark-skinned man walked into the office, and I knew enough to know he was wearing an Alliance uniform. I’d walked by their offices more than once, a slight yearning in the back of my mind, telling me to head in and apply. Escaping Earth would be just that. An escape. A way to see the stars and… Well, although I enjoyed the life I’d been living, surely travelling the galaxy would be far more exciting.

The man sat down opposite me, placing a datapad on the desk. I assume it held all my details.

“John Shepard?”

“That’s me. Most people just call me Shepard.”

“Okay, Shepard. I’m David Anderson, Lieutenant of the Alliance Navy. I’m here as word of your… exploits, let’s call them, has reached our ears.”

“O… kay…”

“Sounds like you had quite the little operation going. Lots of little foot soldiers doing your bidding with you in command. Almost like your own little army.”

“In a way, I guess. I looked after most of them and they simply did what they were told. The streets are a shit place to grow up.”

“Yet, from what I’ve read, you did run away from an orphanage?”

I shrugged. “Didn’t seem likely I’d get adopted so I figured I’d take my chances on the streets. I can’t complain too much. Would have ended up here one way or the other.”

He nodded, making a noise, as he picked up the datapad. “Looking through the charges, Shepard, there’s a few here that raise eyebrows, but nothing that I would call… Would you consider yourself violent?”

“I only bring violence to a violent situation. Push me, I’ll push back harder. Hit me, you’d better damn well I’m knocked unconscious because I will hit you back so you are. There is a code on the streets.”

“There is a code in the military as well.” He put the datapad down, crossing his arms on the desk. “Stand up for me.” Figuring there was no harm, I stood up and took a step back, noticing he lean back to get a good look at me. “Well, you’ve certainly got the physique of a soldier. How old are you? No-one was able to tell me.”

“Think I turned eighteen around two weeks ago. Not sure entirely,” I replied as he gestured for me to take a seat.

“I’m going to make you an offer, Shepard. It’s a one-time deal. If you say yes, you leave with me today. The charges will be dropped and you will be under my care. I will explain after you make your decision. If you say no, I leave, you will face trial, be found guilty of your crimes, and you will see the inside of a cell, at least for a few years.”

“Gee, I wonder which option I’m going to take,” I replied sarcastically. That made him grin at least.

“That’s what I thought. So you will take my offer? I need to hear you agree.”

“Yes, I accept.”

“Very good. Once we leave this building, I will escort you to the nearby Alliance office. There, you will be inducted into the Alliance Armed Forces. Your previous record will mean nothing once you put on that uniform. But the expectations on your shoulders, you will learn very quickly what is expected of you. But in your record, I also see something in you, Shepard. That’s the only reason why I’m here.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re always on the lookout for bright young kids from any walk of life. I have some contacts in this city. One of them contacted me, told me all about you, said you were made of the right stuff. Sure, you were on the wrong side of the law, but a few weeks at boot camp would straighten you out, then the world, or the galaxy, would be your oyster.”

“You’re serious?”

“If you prove yourself, Shepard, I already have an application for officer training ready to be sent off. As I said, you had your own private little army, and from the sounds of it, you ran it effectively. If you could transition that to the armed forces, then I think you’ll prove to be a natural. You’ll even find kids easier to deal with than soldiers. Probably less complaining from the kids.”

“Um, thanks, I think.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Boot camp will be gruelling and you will be nothing but a grunt in their eyes.” He smirked. “I expect you’ll spend a few days in punishment detail, but I think you’ll adapt quickly enough. But if you’re the leader I think you could be, then I think they’ll have you in charge sooner than even you think.”

“No pressure then.”

He picked up the datapad and got to his feet. “Well, no point sitting here talking. If you follow me out of this door, a new life awaits.” He turned and walked to the door, opening it and walking through. I waited a couple of seconds before figuring I didn’t have much choice, rose to my feet and followed him out. Following him through the station, my handcuffs were taken off before we walked through the secure door, the paperwork regarding my release was filled out, and then he escorted me outside to the waiting car.

“Don’t even think about running, otherwise I will shoot you,” he stated, I think half-joking, half-serious.

“Not thinking about it, and that’s being honest.”

“Good man. Hop in and we’ll head to the office. We’ll take all your details, you can have a wash, get some new clothes, some decent shut eye. Then you’ll be sent on with the next batch of recruits to boot camp.”

I had to admit, I quickly came to like the idea. Sure, I’d enjoyed my time on the streets growing up, but to be honest, it was always bound to end how it did. Frankly, I always figured I’d end up dead somewhere, killed by either another gang, my own gang, or the cops. In a way, this was the perfect escape. I just hope I didn’t come to regret it in the end.

Boot camp was gruelling. I didn’t like being yelled at by people. It took a while to adapt. Anderson was right about one thing. I did have to get used to being punished for being insubordinate. But they must have seen something in me, as they never stopped believing. First time in my life I had people who seemed to give a shit, in their own sort of way, pushing me to be better.

It was exhausting rising before dawn and heading to bed well after dark. The running, jumping and assault courses were actually the fun part. I turned out to be a real natural at shooting, which was a good thing. But it was the little things like being presentable, and the state of my bed and kit, that often let me down. Took a lot of push-ups and sit-ups, getting into my head, learning to be a soldier. Again, they never gave up. Sure, a lot of it was yelling, but there was a point to it. Do it properly and I wouldn’t get yelled at. At the start, I’d glare, set my jaw, and I could see the joy in their faces, hoping I’d throw fists. As I grew in the role, if I made a mistake, I learned from it and respected why they were doing it. As one of them explained, they broke us down then rebuilt us. What I’d done before meant nothing to them. What mattered was who and what I was when I walked out the door.

Straight out of boot camp, I applied to become an Alliance Marine as although the idea of flying in a spaceship sounded like fun, I definitely preferred the idea of walking across different worlds across the galaxy. Something must have impressed them as I was initially accepted for an interview, sent across the Atlantic to Europe and the old United Kingdom, the Alliance Marine program roughly following that of the old Royal Marines. I somehow managed to pass the interview, then had to perform a fitness test, which was an absolute breeze. Sounds arrogant, but I’d never felt fitter. This is when Anderson must have got wind of my progress, as I found myself in an office one day, sat in front of an Admiralty Interview Board. For the first time since joining up, I was a little intimidated, almost feeling out of my depth.

They questioned everything about me, and they expected complete honesty. I thought that was going to ruin my chances immediately, but I didn’t plead nor beg, I simply told them the truth. I think that’s what they were after, knowing where I’d come from to the man that sat in front of them that day. Before I was accepted, there were more physical and mental tests, and they really tested my ability. The physical stuff was fine, it was the mental stuff, the intellectual tests, that concerned me. Somehow, I was smarter than I thought and managed to pass. When they told me I was accepted as an officer, I have no problem admitting that I nearly wept. All the pain was worth it.

What followed was thirty-two weeks of intensive training that, by the end, had me walking ten foot tall and more confident in myself than ever. And after basic, you are treated like a soldier. In fact, I like to believe you’re treated more than a soldier. They treat you like a marine already, you simply have to earn the right to call yourself one, the right to earn that beret.

There are tests what feels like every week. The amount of training was nuts. I learned skills that I didn’t even know I had or were possible. But as you watch others around you develop, you know you are developing at the same time. Fellow marines become firm friends. There is a brotherhood that exists. You would fight and die for those around you.

If anyone thought the training was tough, it was all in preparation for the Commando Course. That separated the wheat from the chaff, and only those who passed it would become Alliance Marines. Within a seven-day period, a marine had to complete four tests. The first is a nine-mile speed march, carrying 32 pounds of equipment, finishing it in ninety minutes. The second is a six-mile endurance course, again with 32 pounds of equipment, to be completely in seventy-one minutes, that includes a two mile run across moorland and woodland, and a four mile run back to the Commando Training Centre. After that is a marksmanship course, where 60% of targets must be hit. The third test is the Tarzan Assault course, again with equipment, to be completed in twelve minutes. By then, even the fittest of us are starting to struggle, but it is nothing to the last test.

The thirty miler is spoken of in whispers by even those marines who have passed it. It is the one test to really sort the men from the boys. It is here that most potential marines fail. The first three tests take place over four days. If you’ve already failed one of them, you’re pretty much done. The thirty miler is regarded as such a gruelling event, the event can be re-run over the next three days, though it is accepted that if you didn’t pass it the first time, you probably won’t pass it the second.

The thirty miler is a march across Dartmoor, a barren landscape with few defining features, again carrying 32 pounds of equipment, including addition safety equipment in a daysack. For officers, it had to be completed in seven hours, one hour shorter than the enlisted men, and we had to navigate ourselves. Sounds easy but it was a right bitch. The idea was for all of us to work together, inspire each other, and get us all to the finishing point within the required time.

After passing out as an Alliance Marine, earning that beret I had come to covet during my training, Anderson made an appearance and, I’ll admit, a small part of me had done all of this to impress him. He looked proud as punch, taking me to the nearest town for a beer to celebrate, knowing I’d be out later with my fellow marines to really let our hair down.

“Now, Shepard, this isn’t the end of your training. At least, it won’t be if you don’t want it to be.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, how far do you want to go? What do you want to be?”

“I’m really not sure. Passing out as a marine was the objective. What else is there?”

“The N-Program.”

“Special Forces? Really?”

“Not right now, Shepard. You haven’t exactly served yet. You’ll have to wait two years before you can apply, and even then, you’ll have to really impress them to have a chance. But what you’ve just been through? It is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, compared to what you’ll experience in N-training.” He paused before meeting my eyes. “I’m N7. Been through it myself. Honestly, wouldn’t want to do it again.”

“Two years?”

“That’s right. But, let me tell you something. You walk around, wearing that N7 emblem? You will walk taller, feel broader, and the respect from everyone else? They won’t have a clue what you’ve been through, but they’ll understand it was as close to hell as one can get.”

“Two years… I think I can wait that long.”

“So you’re interested?”

“I want to be the best I can be. That kid from the streets? Long gone. What I’ve just been through has come to define me. While part of me would like to do it immediately, I’ve done all this training for a reason. I guess it’s time I headed out and actually applied it all.”

Those words would come back to haunt me.

“Looks like we have another soldier boy,” one of the drunks slurred, before he held up a glass, “I’ll have a drink, Corporal!”

I grit my teeth but tried to ignore them. My date across from me could see I was getting angry, clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. “Just ignore them, Shepard.”

“I don’t like being disrespected, Annie. I’m a lieutenant of the Alliance Marines, not some… joke…”

Annie… If that is a case of ‘What might have been’, she would be it. I’d been serving for a couple of years by then, still looking at the N-Program, though I’d delayed joining as I found myself enjoying my time as a marine, ending up touring the front-lines around the galaxy. At the moment, I was on furlough on Elysium. I’d met Annie previously and we’d hit it off immediately. She was a gorgeous redhead with emerald green eyes, the faintest freckling over her nose, and a pair of lips that just made me want to kiss her all the time. She was unbelievably pale, blaming it on her Scottish heritage, laughing away whenever she lay next to my rather tanned and toned body.

Still not sure how we’d hit it off exactly. Maybe I was more charming than I thought. Perhaps, despite the comradery and friendship of my brothers in uniform, I wanted something intimate. I’d lost my virginity ages ago, and being boys on tour at times, I’d certainly had my fair share of whores. The first time with Annie, though. That was… meaningful. Damned near fell in love with her straight away.

“We should go, Shepard. Go somewhere else.”

“No. I won’t have us forced out by some drunken dickheads.”

“Just don’t…”

I gently grabbed her hand, running my thumb over the back of it. “Don’t worry, I can handle things peacefully.”

I stood up and turned, noticing the bar immediately fell silent as I slowly walked towards the three drunks. They tried to puff themselves up to try and intimidate me. They failed miserably. They were probably on holiday themselves, just having a good time. But they were ruining my time and I’d seen more than one couple or group already leave the bar because of them.

“Something wrong, pal?” one of them asked.

I smiled, making it appear as genuine as possible. “Not at all. Just wondering if you are serving men as well? Perhaps you’ve gone through the marine program like myself?”

“You a marine?” one of the others asked, already hearing the concern.

“Sure am. If you were fellow marines, I was going to offer you a drink and I’d forget about the disturbances you’ve caused.”

“And if we’re not?” the one who called me ‘Corporal’ asked.

“Well, let me tell you everything I’ve been through so far. Boot camp takes six weeks. In there, they break you down, build you up. At the end, you know where to point a rifle and shoot, but there’s still a lot of building work to go. But some of us, like myself, immediately join the Marines. Thirty-two weeks that takes, and it is the hardest thing anyone will ever do. Thirty-two weeks, seven days a week, nearly twenty-four hours a day you are switched on. During that time, you learn to do many things, but the one thing every marine learns is how to kill. And I don’t mean just with a gun.” I held up my right hand. “I mean with just one of these. Maybe that knife on the table over that. I could use one of these chairs and put all three of you in hospital within seconds.”

Two of them shared a glance. My body language remained relaxed but I was ready to move in an instant. A coiled spring. I didn’t want to fight three drunks. It wasn’t worth it. “Any of you served before?” All three shook their heads. No surprise there. I stepped forward, just one step, but that forced them back. “Then I would suggest, gentlemen, that you finish your drink and depart this establishment. You are disturbing other patrons and, quite frankly, ruining my evening.”

“You and what army?” the first drunk asked.

“My friend, to deal with the likes of you, I won’t need an army. I’ll barely need to use both hands.” I glanced at his friends. “Do the right thing, take your friend here, and kindly leave. I’m asking nicely as I don’t want this to get violent. No-one wants a fight and I don’t want to put three drunks in hospital.”

My tone. My body language. My sheer presence was enough for them to wilt. The other two drained their glasses, said nothing, simply walked out. The first drunk was more defiant but I simply glared at him until he too wilted. He looked ready to throw whatever was left in his glass over me but thought better of it, simply putting it down, calling me a wanker, then he walked out.

Receiving thanks from those behind the bar, I walked back to the table, sitting down across from Annie. “Want to get out of here?” she asked.

“What? I just…” I looked at her face and it spoke volumes. I couldn’t help smirk. “Did that just impress you or something?”

“The way you were so calm but authoritative. I’m not the only one in here swooning right now, Shepard.”

Now I laughed. “Swooning? Who still says that?”

“Okay, how about I’m really fucking wet right now and…”

I stood up, grabbed her hand, threw some credits on the table, and we made our way quickly back to the apartment I’d rented. Soon as we were in the door, clothes were taken off and Annie was on her back on the bed, and she wasn’t lying about being wet, moaning loudly once I lowered my mouth. Though she enjoyed it as always, she wanted something else, both of us groaning as I slid my cock inside her. She held on for dear life as we simply fucked like rabbits, hearing her urge me on in between her moans and other delightful noises she made.

I didn’t last long, there was something about it all that made it that much better, and after a last groan, I buried myself and suddenly felt rather tired, hearing her giggle as I only just prevented myself from squashing her. “God, that really turned me on,” she whispered once we’d cleaned up and she was spooning back into me.

“Really?” I wondered, running my fingers up and down her arms.

“Never been one into military men, Shepard. But there was something about you that first time we met. Just the way you strode in, looking all… you. Thing is, it took my girlfriends to give me the courage to even approach you at the bar. When you smiled at me, that was it. I was a hopeless cause. They still joke that I abandoned them that night.”

“Well, you kind of did since we left without them and I ended up back at your place, doing what we’d just done though I like to think it lasted a lot longer that first time.”

“It was worth the angry messages next morning.”

She fell asleep in my arms, kissing the top of her head as I felt myself relax. We still hadn’t told each other our real feelings. I knew I’d probably fallen in love with her, but still wasn’t sure if this was just some sort of fling or if was already serious. I mean, she had flown to another planet to be with me, so that would suggest serious, right?

My peaceful rest was destroyed by air raid sirens. I leapt out of bed immediately, heading straight for the window. It was barely dawn but there was enough light to see what was going on. Projectiles were raining down on the city. Turning around, Annie was sat still with fright. “We have to go, Annie.”

“Go where?” she asked quietly.

“I need to go do what I do. You need to get to a bunker.”

“Are there any in the city?”

“I don’t know but…”

“Then I’ll stay here. We don’t even know who or what it is.”

“Surely you’ll be safer…”

She got up and approached me as I threw on my shirt, sitting down so I could put on my boots. Standing in front of me, her flat but soft stomach in front of me, she gently grabbed my head, holding it against her. “I’ll be fine, Shepard. You’ll be out there protecting me.”

I didn’t like the idea but I didn’t know the city we were in at all. I certainly hadn’t thought we’d be attacked, if that was what was happening. Grabbing my coat, I headed to the door, Annie grabbing the duvet, wrapping herself in it, as I opened the door. Turning back to her, I kissed her hard before leaning back slightly. “I love you,” I whispered.

That earned one hell of a smile as, for some reason, it felt like the time to tell her. “I love you too. Now go, see what’s going on, then come back. I’ll get cold all by myself under this duvet.”

“Hopefully it’s nothing. Just make sure you lock and bolt the door. Don’t answer it unless you know it’s me. I’ll call before I do.”

I took the fire escape downstairs, bursting out into the street. Already I could hear the sound of fighting. High above, where there was still darkness, I’m sure I saw explosions. Elysium had planetary defences, but if a force arrived with enough firepower of their own, they could definitely cause trouble. And whoever was up there was definitely firing at us.

I ran for the nearest assembling point, plenty more men and women in uniform joining me. Grabbing a rifle and a shield pack, we warned that ships were incoming, as the defences were overwhelmed. I looked around and noticed mostly enlisted men. In fact, I didn’t see a single marine. “Anyone above a lieutenant here?” I called out. No-one said there was.

“Guess it’s on you then,” one of the men nearby stated. He wasn’t making a joke.

“I’ll get in contact with command. For now,” I grabbed a nearby schematic, “These are the sectors. Break into groups of half a dozen and head for possible breach points. No idea yet who the enemy is, but once they make their appearance, greet them in the way you’ve been trained.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Move out!”

They didn’t need hand-holding or orders, counting out into groups of six and moving towards the areas required. I had five with me, and as we ran towards our sector, I tried getting in contact with command. That proved pointless, and I received information soon afterwards that Alliance HQ on Elysium had been targeted. Whether it was destroyed or not, no-one knew, but it had been targeted.

“Guess it’s up to us then,” I muttered as we fanned out, taking cover, and simply waited.

The enemy made themselves known soon enough. Should have known it would be batarians, but the fact I saw some humans and turians involved just pissed me off even further. As soon as they entered the killing zone, we opened fire, watching as they fell like nine-pins. But they’d come prepared at the same time, launching missiles and rockets towards our position. I heard more than one scream of agony as their firepower was surprising and overwhelming.

“Where’s our heavy weapons?” I yelled out.

“Beats me, sir,” I heard a reply.

“Probably don’t have any. Planetary defences, minimal defence force on the ground, sir,” someone else replied.

“Well, shit,” I muttered.

We held the line for as long as possible until we simply had to pull back. Even this early, I noticed we’d already lost a few soldiers. We pulled back to the next line and it was there that I noticed the machine gun. “Cover me while I get this ready,” I ordered, feeling at least two people fall in beside me, waiting for the breach. Colony worlds were almost built like old citadels, though on a grander scale. The main buildings and residences rested behind a wall, the farmland located outside. It was amazing as to how technology progressed, we’d reverted to ancient techniques of defence. Thing is, the Alliance still built forts and other buildings in a similar manner, so it did generally work.

The invaders finally breached and flooded through. I lit up the machine gun and roared as I met fire with fire. Bullets continued to fly in our direction, but over the machine gun, I couldn’t really hear anything. I took a bullet in the shoulder, thankful it was my left, as I could simply keep firing with my right. The bullets were not limitless, though, and I was soon running low.

“Any more?” I asked, glancing. The soldier to my left was dead. The soldier to my right was wounded and on the verge of bleeding out. So I kept firing until the machine gun was empty, the clicking sound telling me what I already knew.

Grabbing my rifle, I took cover and opened fire. They kept on coming though the flood had turned to a trickle. I eventually stood up, dropping my empty rifle, and drew my pistol. Each bullet found its mark until that too was empty. The next three kills were with my knife. I was shot twice more before I buried the knife into the chest of a batarian, watching his eyes widen for a moment before the life drained.

Only then did I roll off him and lay on my back, the adrenaline slowly draining away and the pain from the wounds finally overwhelmed me.

I woke in a field hospital a few hours later when it had gone dark. They’d operated on me fast and medi-gel was already working wonders. They gave me the good news; the invasion had been stopped. The bad news was that everyone in my sector was dead, the casualty list was high anyway, and that the city had been bombarded heavily during the attack. I felt the onset of a bad feeling, rising to my feet somewhat unsteadily. They tried to stop me leaving but, after finding my clothes, I dressed and hobbled my way down the street.

The building was…

“Commander Shepard?”

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Captain Anderson is requesting your presence up in the comm room in five minutes.”

“No problem. I’ll be there shortly. Thanks.”

The line cut and that left me alone with my thoughts. Sitting up, dangling my legs off the edge, I reached into the small pack I kept under my pillow. In the pack was a wallet. Inside the wallet was a photo. It was of Annie and I the day before the attack. It was the only memento I’d kept of our time together. I couldn’t keep anything else as it was a reminder that it was my fault. I’d told her to stay put. If she’d left, she wouldn’t be… gone… I sighed, kissing the photo, before placing it back where it was, putting the pack back under my pillow.

Heading back to the bathroom, I quickly splashed some water on my face before taking a deep breath, looking into the mirror again. Even on my Alliance blues, I had two emblems. The Alliance Navy. And the N7 emblem. I’d joined the N-program immediately after Elysium. After completing that program, I’d found myself assigned to the SSV Normandy, promoted in rank to Commander, the Executive Officer to the Commanding Officer, David Anderson, who had told me in no uncertain terms that he had practically ordered my presence onto the ship. All I could do was assure him that I would return the faith he’d shown in me all these years.

Still, I knew little of what we were doing, where we were going, or why I’d seen a turian wandering around the ship. I guess I was about to get my answers as I walked into the comm room. The turian I’d seen wandering around since leaving Earth orbit was waiting for me, taking a moment to introduce himself as Nihlus. We shook hands, meeting each other in the yes. We chatted for a moment about Eden Prime, one of our colony worlds, wondering why he was asking, when Anderson walked in.

That’s when some bombshells were dropped. I knew the Normandy was a new ship but this no shakedown cruise like I’d originally been old. A science team on Eden Prime had recently found a Prothean beacon. All of humanity knew who they were. We’d found their technology on Mars long ago and it was that which jump-started our exploration of space.

But it wasn’t just the collection of the beacon. Apparently Nihlus was there as my name had been submitted as a candidate to become a Council SPECTRE (Special Tactics and Reconnaissance). I didn’t really know what to say to that.

Before the conversation could continue, Flight Lieutenant Moreau, otherwise known as ‘Joker’, interrupted us over the comm with footage from Eden Prime. It didn’t look good. The marines on the ground were under attack from unknown forces, while an enormous alien looking ship, like nothing any of us had seen, appeared in the distance, before the transmission was cut.

Nihlus and I shared a glance. “Looks like this mission just a lot more complicated,” Anderson muttered, “You’d better head down to the hangar bay, Shepard. Lieutenant Alenko and Corporal Jenkins will be on the ground with you.”

“Aye, sir.”

Heading down to the garage, as I called it as that was where the M-35 Mako was parked, I donned my armour and helmet, grabbed a rifle and shield pack, a few grenades and a pistol. Having only just joined the ship, I didn’t know Alenko or Jenkins too well, but from whispers, I assumed Alenko was a biotic, or had at least some biotic talents.

Joining Nihlus as the ramp was loaded, he told us that he usually worked alone and would therefore scout ahead, feeding up information as he moved. That left me in charge of the other two.

“Well, here goes nothing,” I stated as the Normandy came into land.

It would be the day that would change my life forever.