MASS EFFECT II: REAPING
Prologue: C-Sec Academy, 1400 Hours, Year 2183
There was once a blind surgeon, the best in the whole galaxy. He was set to perform internal surgery upon a human, a turian, and a salarian, one after the other. All three patients were laid out on separate operating tables, side by side. How could the surgeon tell which one was which?
Give up? The human was the only one with any guts!
Captain John Shepard, newly promoted from Commander after the near-cataclysmic events of the past few months, had always liked that joke. Even now, as he struggled to keep a hold of his temper at the C-Sec Academy, it brought a satisfied smirk to his lips. Some called him truly loyal to humanity; others called him a world-class xenophobe. Most everyone called him sir.
Regardless, everyone who knew Shepard (and many who did not) thought it a complete surprise when he selected Surgan Muress, a fifty-five-year-old turian male, to be the new Commander of the NORMANDY. No one dared ask him about this, however; his decisions were the closest thing to law outside of the Citadel Council itself. Shepard, after all, was a Spectre.
"Muress?" asked Shepard. "You see these grunts here?" He gestured toward the C-Sec, or Citadel Security officers, many of whom were engrossed in conversation. "Not one of them would stand a chance at being a part of my crew. Nor should they stand a chance at being a part of yours."
The turian nodded, his face stiff and impassive. "Understood, sir."
That was what Shepard liked about this particular soldier, even though he happened to be of a species other than human. He understood things instinctively, without having to be told which object was a hole in the ground and which was his rear end. Surgan Muress knew the kind of recruits that would be needed to stop a galactic invasion. Capable ones, yes, but also ones that proved themselves far greater than their peers--in blood if necessary. C-Sec could handle pirates and smugglers and such, but the Reapers would require the best of the best to fight against them if the galaxy were to survive the coming invasion.
Who would Muress choose to stand at his side? This was a test for him in Captain Shepard's mind, one that would reveal his true colors as well as his combat stripes. If the turian failed, Shepard already had another potential option waiting in the wings: his own wife of nearly two months, Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams Shepard of the 212, Alliance Marines. Shepard knew that almost anyone would call selecting her an act of nepotism, but since when did the Captain truly care about the opinions of other people? Shepard got the job done no matter what the cost; it was this iron-clad philosophy which had allowed him to take down the Reaper ship Sovereign
and the rogue Spectre Saren Arterius in the first place...
"What about her?" Muress gestured toward a light-blue alien female, clad in black standard-issue Onyx protective armor, standing nearby. A pistol hung in her belt.
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "An asari commando?"
"A recruit." The turian obviously knew his stuff; otherwise, he would have answered in the affirmative and gotten the question wrong. As for Captain Shepard, even though his distaste for aliens was beginning to fill his throat with stomach acid, he wanted to test Muress and see how he handled the situation. In the heat of battle, there was nothing worse than a commander who either overestimated or underestimated his soldiers. Overestimating them undoubtedly led to unrealistic expectations being placed upon those who were clearly not ready for greater responsibility. Underestimating them led to the recruits' true potential not being used for fear of their making mistakes. Regardless, it was not to be done, and if Muress did either in regards to the asari, he would fail.
Shepard decided to give both the turian and the asari a test, but first stared sternly.
"Well? Are you going to go over there and say hello, or stand there like a VI console?"
The turian, showing no display of emotion of any kind, strode to where the asari stood.
"Miss?" he asked. "Commander Surgan Muress, of the NORMANDY." The asari nodded, and when Captain Shepard made no move to introduce himself, the turian flexed his jaw. "To my left is Captain John Shepard, who has been promoted in the past few months. We're here to see if you might be interested in going on a little trip with us."
"Space voyage?" A small smile came to the asari's full lips. "I'd love to, but it has to be on business. You see, I'm with C-Sec, trying to pass the trials that have been set for me as a part of applying for this job. Want to see what I can do?" She flicked her wrist over toward a poly-rubber foam target on the wall of the dim and blue-lit Academy.
"Think you're good with a pistol?" asked Captain Shepard, doubting that so fragile and voluptuous-looking a creature would be anything of the sort. She reminded him of Dr. Liara T'Soni, who had traveled with him on his initial voyage commanding the NORMANDY. Liara had been wide-eyed, innocent, eager and naive, and this one appeared to be no different. However, there was also something jaded and cynical about this asari's air, suggesting that perhaps C-Sec was not her first choice of career.
She turned to face the target and pointed her pistol at it. "Stand back, gentlemen."
In the blink of an eye, the target was full of holes, and almost every one of them was close to the bull's eye. Shepard and Muress both did a double-take, not sure that they were really seeing what they saw. They hadn't even heard the non-lethal practice rounds being fired from the asari's gun, and now? Now, the target was smoking.
"What the hell was that?!" shouted Shepard, sure she had pulled a fast one on him.
"I can slow time down," she said dryly, "and also speed it up so that my--objectives--can be accomplished that much faster. It's a biotic ability, but not one of your run-of-the-mill ones. I can't do telekinesis, distortion, levitation, or anything like that. I can only do tricks with time, and that's what's earned me distrust and marginalization from my fellow asari. Usually, we are a very tolerant and xenophilic species, welcoming strangers into our midst, but as soon as one of us shows 'abnormal behavior'--all bets are off. That's the way it was with me at the Academy on my home planet, and that's what's about to happen to me here at C-Sec because that woman over there, Officer Jane, looks like she's about ready to roast me over electric coils." The asari winked.
Surgan Muress felt a sudden tightening of his bowels that was due to either fear or utter shock; it was a good thing he hadn't yet eaten anything this afternoon!
"Come with us," he said quickly, "and that won't happen. We want you on our team."
Shepard gave the turian a pointed look: Are you sure? This one's a loose cannon.
The turian folded his clawed hands thoughtfully and gave a nod. Shepard stiffened.
His body relaxed when the asari held out her hand to him: "Yeru V'torym," she said.
"I hate aliens," spat the Captain, "including asari, but you're--you're incredible. I've never seen anything like what you just did to that smoking rubber target over there, and with any luck, you'll blast as many holes in the Reapers just as quickly." He paused for a moment. "You do
know what the Reapers are, don't you?" When the asari, Yeru V'torym, shook her head, Shepard shook his as well. "The turian will debrief you."
"I'm no mere turian," said the new Commander of the NORMANDY, biding his time.
As for Shepard, he merely stared at the two aliens in front of him, doubting them both.
You passed the first test, soldiers, but I'll be watching you. Move out.