The first thing I did on getting up was set to work thinking of all the Shepards I'd ever interacted with. Which one would best carry my point? Which one would cause him to ask the right questions? Which one, indeed.

"You gotta preference?" I asked.

"What do you got?" he shot back. To be frank, it'd be easier to list what I didn't have: alcohol. I don't mind drinking if it's offered, but I personally don't care much for drugs in general.

"I got cokes," this was my Texan showing: we called all brands of soda 'coke' after coca-cola, "juices," if he's a wannabe rookie, then he's expecting some sort of awesome, fire-breathing badass Shepard, "sparkling water," another thing about fans is that they expect to like the protagonist, asshole or not, "lemonade," so the first ones that come to mind as far as contradictions went were Ray-Ann, Lukas, Helga and Louise, "iced tea… ya know what? How 'bout you come and pick for yourself?" He looked at me dumbly for a moment (it seemed to me a theme with teenagers) before getting up to follow my suggestion. I grabbed me a pitcher of iced sweet tea and poured myself a glass. The internal debate continued as I walked back to the table.

Helga was a woman used to throwing her brawn around. She was a vanguard of such size and stature as to put the average man to shame. I also recalled that she had a soft spot for cute things, and perhaps one day I might have the opportunity to tell the ballad of Mr. Schnuggles, but today would not be that day.

Louise was Floridian and I needed an asshole, not a woman with an uncomfortable affection for snakes.

By this point, I was starting to get an idea of what I wanted in my subject Shepard, and Ray-Ann seemed the better fit. Lukas was a Renegade only by temperament. He was otherwise a perfect, straight-laced Paragon. Protect the weak from the strong who would prey on them, and all that.

Ray-Ann, however, was an asshole. Not your average Renegade I don't have time for your bullshit asshole, but a Dolores Umbridge type asshole. If we're talking alignments, I was a (relative) neutral good to her lawful evil (emphasis on the lawful). I took my seat at the table, staring off into space as I tried to come up with another Shepard to fill the role. While my mind quickly grasped another, equally suitable FemShep, there was not enough time to recall her specifics before Steven took his seat directly across from me.

"So, first question, Mr. Grimes: what will you do when you meet a real asshole?" He answered as if I'd said Renegade instead.

"Curl up in my bunk and pray to God I survive another night?" Cute, I thought to myself. I leaned in and lowered my voice. A trick I'd picked up for getting people to listen.

"Sometimes, your mission as an agent will be as much to save the world from the protag as it will be to keep to their path clear." That gave him pause. As a fan, he'd obviously never stopped to consider to the possibility, but as a veteran, that was basically my every other Monday. "So I'll ask again: what will you do when you meet a real asshole?"

"Give 'em a chance?" His voice was lower this time (monkey see, monkey do, I guess) and more uncertain, as well. As I leaned back, his response put a massive smirk on my face.

"That's what I used to think."

What I remembered most about Ray-Ann is how she had exactly two kinds of smiles: her "you poor little bitch" smile and her slasher smile. She typically wore the former in the form of a mask. If you ever saw the latter, however, then you knew it was time to cut your losses and run. Ray-Ann may have been a bitch, but she was a bitch you did not cross. After all, she was still a Shepard and to describe what she could do post-rebuild as 'beating your face in' cannot begin to be accurate.

So, with these things in mind, Ray-Ann was far from my first Shepard. I had yet to meet a truly detestable asshole, someone who was irredeemable even after I came to know them. I'll be honest with you, my pre-mission research did not view her favorably. From both the timeline given me of her life and the included words that others had to say about her, my initial impression was that she was a sort of asshole Joker: hell of an ego, with the skill to back it up.

It was fitting, then, that I first encountered her at Dr. Michel's clinic.

"Really Leftenant, you should stop thinking so much with your heart." The upper wards were largely divided into cubed sections which were 100 yards on an edge. Ray-Ann often spoke at a high volume with carefully enunciated words, as though she were the only adult in any room. My usual method of introducing myself at the time was to either enter into a coincidental meeting in the middle of a fight or to intercept Shepard's path on the Citadel. No sense running about hoping that I might blunder into the Normandy team when I could guarantee a confrontation on my terms.

Anyway, I spotted Ray-Ann from my entryway into the cube via the distinctive N stripe on her armor. She was flanked by Alenko and Williams on either side. "Officer Vakarian is a detective," this last word she placed an unusual emphasis on, causing me to wonder whether she had a low opinion of Alenko. The man wasn't exactly brilliant, but even I could tell that you don't make LT by being stupid, "and one does not make detective by… without some measure of skill." It was plainly obvious to me that she'd changed her words at the last moment.

Whenever I go on a job, I choose 8 of the many abilities I've gathered over the years. Of these, I always include the same 4 in what I call my 'standard suite': Enhanced Vision, Enhanced Hearing, Mind Control and Psionics for emergency use.

Steven interrupted me. "Hold on. Mind Control? Psionics?!"

"What?" This… could go a couple of different ways (I'd had similar conversations before).

"I just… wouldn't it… couldn't you just talk to them?" Ah.

"Well, to be honest, if I had that kind of silver tongue, I sure would abuse the stuffing out of it. As I was, though, I more often found myself in situations that forced me to choose between killing myself and having my will subverted and my own self used against my allies. In my experience, the option to fight back is a much preferable door number 3." He seemed somewhat mollified at this, but not entirely so. Hmm. There is one thing I could add. "Besides, there's only so many times you can shoot yourself 'fore you get pulled for failure." At his newly surprised face, I added, "You didn't read the Concordat." He shook his head no. Well, that's concerning. "Article 2, section 413, paragraph 3 states in whole: Firstly, as expanded upon in sections 413c-f, the 'Death' of an agent, as previously defined, is forbidden per the no " His eyes went wide in a sort of 'oh, shit' face. "Yeah," I whispered. "It sounds crazy, but after the 4th 'miraculous resurrection' you start to get the picture."

"And the psionics?" That made him think. Since he wanted to move on already, however, I could only hope that at least the seed of doubt had been planted.

"Like I said, emergency use only. Meaning it's really only for when I get caught flat on my ass." A pressing question itched the back of my mind: what about the library bit? Steven merely gave a thoughtful 'hmm', then:

"Soooo, you're a mage?" Not how I would've put it, but considering the pseudo-scientific nature of Psionics, I shrugged.

"More or less." I then stared at him patiently, waiting for a question that would never come.

"What?" he asked instead. I shrug again.

"Oh, nothing. I just figured you'd want to ask about the fact that I basically have an ability palette, or a library to support it or even the part where all this technically makes me a Mary Sue." The significance of that last part to the agency went sailing over his head, so obvious was his innocence to all of this.

"Well, you did say that agents tend to get more powers over time. It only makes sense that if you wanted to use less of them at once, you'd put them in a library. And aren't Sues supposed to be a Council op?" Using pro jargon. Cute. Well, in the same sense that 'birds in a barrel' sounds natural to the American ear. The more he tries to talk the talk, the more I cringe.

"Nope," I started, popping the p, "not one bit. What happened is that I was the first Council Sue that they encountered. So even though they're not actually a part of the Council or the agency, I still have to report in for a drink and nice chat." Those last I meant with complete sincerity. See, there exists a clinic run by and for reformed Sues like myself. I'm not gonna get into it too deeply, but sometimes an agent gets a bit more power than they're ready for, and that's when the Clinic steps in. "However, an active Sue is a horror that no universe deserves to suffer under." He still didn't get it, obviously, because I wasn't really showing him so much as telling him. "I'll tell you about a couple of 'Sue Shepards I dealt with later. You good otherwise?" He nodded.

With normal hearing, her voice would have been highly grating to the ear. With my enhanced hearing, her voice was genuinely painful in addition to its existing cringeworthiness. She had a really bad, really forced RP accent like you would've heard in any character parodying the English upper class. With my vision, I spotted a 6 foot tall, black-haired woman who held her nose at exactly 10 degrees of elevation. Not once did her eyes bother to take in her surroundings like any proper solder of Shepard's caliber ought to have. Just… everything about her simply screamed pretentious. And before you can try and tell me that I was just hating on a strong woman, let me tell you something: the last time I had seen someone with that kind of erect carriage was in medieval Venice.

If I'm being perfectly honest, if she merely carried herself with the energy-conserving prowess of the predator, or the wary gaze of the spook, I'd be ok with that. But no, Ray-Ann just piled on more and more and more pretentiousness that I finally had to just go.

When I entered the wards that day, I was going to intercept Tali and join the crew there. When I left, I considered myself bound and determined to stay off the Normandy. No other Shepard before or since has ever given me cause to name them so quickly. And what did I name her?

The Mindoir Hick.

"Really?" His question was understandable, given the fact that I'd been doing a lot more telling than showing. I nodded.

"Really." He still wasn't convinced. I began to suspect that I'd be having that thought quite often during our session. "Tell you what, how about you ask me what she did with the ME2 loyalty missions and I'll tell you what she said." I barely finished before he shot off his first query.

"How would you even know what she said?" Ah.

"That's another thing I forgot to mention: I'm friends with a lot of synths. I asked one of them to take EDI's place." It looked like he was gearing up for another back-and-forther.

"So what was EDI doing?" Not dead, to start with.

"Helping me keep Ray-Ann's path clear." My answer mystified him.

"You still did that for her?"

"Of course. Just because the protag's an utter bitch doesn't mean the mission doesn't go on. Should I sacrifice an entire galaxy just because I don't like its Shepard?" He gave a thoughtful 'huh' to that, then added a jerk of realization on top.

"Wait. You said she didn't take in her surroundings like a soldier should." There was that.

"She was a helluva killing machine on the battlefield. Can't do that without situational awareness, which her upturned nose and straightforward gaze would have prevented. My money was, and still is, on some kinda cybernetic bullshit." I shrugged. The problem really hadn't interested me beyond discovering that a majority of ME 'verses offer data suites for cybernetics, where you can hook your robo-eyes into your 'tool and add to your friend/foe detector's capabilities, for example. As a programmer, I knew well the power of a unified interface. Knowing about it, however, had seriously irked me at the time. Oh, you're gonna trust your tech to do the looking for you? You just gonna turn your nose up at all the dirty peasants? Well, fuck your face. "Anyhow, g'head and shoot."

"Jack." That one was pretty spiky, as I recalled it. I snorted.

"You should cover up, dear. It's unladylike to show so much skin." Few Shepards instilled in me such charged memories and most of them did so negatively, but only Ray-Ann's voice still rings in my ear every now and then.

Steven snorted. "What'd she say?" I chuffed.

"Why, you intimidated?" His eyes widened in a sort of 'ooooh' face.

"What's even better is what she put Jack down with: With all that ink? I almost didn't speak up. It won't matter to me if you refuse, dear, but I do hope you rather don't enjoy being a whore." This time, his jaw nearly dropped clean through to the floor.

"Wow." I snorted.


"She's a bitch." Another chuff.

"More or less," I smirked. "Wanna ask about another one?" He was suddenly unsure with regards to proceeding. I waited patiently for 2 full minutes as the silence grew past awkward clear into cringe territory, then proceeded for him. "When Garrus first mentioned Sidonis, her response didn't seem so bad: You shouldn't be so focused on revenge, dearie. It's unhealthy." This seemed to blow a fuse in his mind, as his stare simply went blank. I waited for him to recover before continuing. "Of course, it was later discovered to be utterly hypocritical when she shunned Liara for standing up to her."

"Ok. Stop. Just stop." Wat? "There's no way that any Shepard could be that bitchy." His eyes narrowed at me in accusation. "You're bashing on her." Well, it's true I didn't like her, but… I sighed wearily. Alright, you old ass, time to put your big boy pants on.

"To be honest, she earnestly believed that she was helping people. When she told Garrus to give up his revenge, she did it with all the sincerity of a concerned friend. How the hell they bonded, I'll never know, but like her comparison, any redeeming qualities she might have had were utterly overshadowed by her insistence on her way, and her utter cluelessness with regards to her behavior." Steven didn't quite seem mollified, so I added more. "When Tali's loyalty mission came up, she was her usual egotistical, dismissive, arrogant self, and she even turned the evidence over Tali's objections (and got her exiled), but surprisingly enough, her reasoning was not in any way shape or form a sort of 'fuck you.' Withhold evidence from the court? I will not encourage the propagation of bad science." That did the trick. Steven leaned back, a forlorn look on his face.

"And, she was... also turning it into Xen's grubby hands." He was speaking more to himself than to me, but I pitched in anyway.

"Yup. And while her personal interactions may have made her out to be an abomination, she actually conducted the suicide run and the following war pretty smartly." That, too, gave him pause.

"You thought so? I mean, you obviously hated her, and-" I interrupted him with the intent to head off that thought.

"Yes, I did hate her with a fiery passion. But when I'm being honest with myself like I am now, she was actually a pretty smart cookie. She understood the value of closure on the Collector run, she appreciated the way the Krogan valued honor and as dismissive as she was of Garrus, she had a lot of respect for the tenacity with which he clung to his ideals, despite the way he'd go through any level of mental gymnastics to make his viewpoint agree with hers." I shrugged. "Still didn't change the fact that she was a tyrant, but at the same time, my professionalism forbade me from abandoning the galaxy for her sake, so take it with a grain of salt."

"What'd she think of Ash?" I grimaced.

"Ray-Ann couldn't peg Ash. She spat out racist words but was firmly opposed to the Terra Firma party line. She was a helluva soldier, but also held the soul of a poet. Had a lot of heart, but also a lot of cynicism to go along with it." As I left him to digest these thoughts, his eyes grew wide with fear, joined by the curling of his lips and a horrified scrunching around his nose.

"What'd she do?"

"Nothing much, really. Wouldn't have thought it proper to be like the alliance towards Ash and slam her for being the way she was.

"When Virmire came up, though, she chose Kaidan." Steven relaxed with dismay to accompany the relief.

"Well, shit."

"Yeah," I whispered, the thought of Virmire bringing up a painful wistfulness. By now, both of our glasses were empty, but there was no thought of getting a refill. "Anyway, wanna ask about him?" He nodded. "There wasn't much to it. He took one look at Ray-Ann and then walked off. I later found out that he wasn't too surprised to find her with Cerberus. The first chance he got in 3, he took a position under Hackett, just to stay off the Normandy."

"Shit." he whispered.

"Yeah. Probably the least offensive interaction she had with anyone. Didn't even seem to notice, just kept chugging right along."

"So, how the hell did she get anyone to follow her?" Good question. I shut my eyes to concentrate.

"Honestly, I think that she coasted on her legend a lot of the time. Folks were more n' confident that Ray-Ann would get them through, so that got them as far as the Normandy. Beyond that, they could see she was effective, and that she took time for her people." I opened my eyes here. "They just started going out of their way to avoid her when they figured out how she felt about shortcomings. It was a near limitless source of entertainment when Garrus was the last of the old crew to stick by her side in 3."


"So most of the time, she taught them to hold themselves to damn near unrealistically high standards," another sigh from me, but being honest was more than worth it, "and it worked. But most of the crew took the first out they could get, with the understanding that hers was not a way to live." My reward for honesty? A thoughtful 'hmmm.' (It was enough to know that he was thinking.) "So let me ask you again: what will you do if you meet an asshole?"

"I…" he honestly didn't know. "I don't know." he whispered. I can see that, I thought. "I don't think I'd want to work with someone like that." He suddenly looked right at me, eyes narrowing one more time with some indiscernible emotion, lips flapping about as though uttering some arcane turn of phrase under his breath. "But you did. How do you work with someone like that?" Huh. There was a sort of newfound respect blossoming in his expression. Wonderment too.

"The first thing you'll need is a concrete reason for doing the job to begin with. I guarantee you that every veteran agent'll have their own, and it won't be something like I love the lore, or I love these characters, or even l-o-l, boobies." Wonderment gone, now replaced with a narrow-eyed, tight-lipped stare of cringing. "Sorry, got a little carried away.

"I guarantee you, Mr. Grimes, that you'll not get far without a reason so concrete that when said aloud it sounds something like," I held up my right hand and stared a perfect hole in the wall directly in front of my line of sight, "I am doing this mission to protect the weak from those who would prey on them, insofar as is practicable." I lowered my hand and took my seat. I then noticed the empty glasses. "Refill?" I offered. He gave me his glass and I went to the kitchen.

I heard him lick his lips behind me. Probably thinking. "That sounded-"

"Oddly specific?" I asked.

"Yeah." Not exactly a new conversation for me.

"That's because it's my own reason. I actually picked it during that very same tour." It'd helped to say that sentence over and over to myself, along with I will not kill Shepard, I will not kill Shepard, etc.


"Yup." Another popped p.

"So how did it end?" Well, that was one of the few times where I was eager to see the canon run have a canon ending, except for the choice part.

"Well, I joined the Crucible project early and stayed there the entire war (fun fact: Ray-Ann did an almost perfect canon run, I never really had to lift a finger to help her. That experience would prove highly influential.) When the time came to dock it with the Citadel, I hid myself long enough to be left behind. The plan, to override Ray-Ann and destroy the Reapers, would require some careful finagling, but the only real variable would be Ray-Ann herself."

"What about the Catalyst?"

"See, that was the linchpin of the plot. I'd done the whole show and rodeo a few times before, but this was the first time I'd be trying to subvert the Catalyst for real. So, in order to keep an eye on it, I chose technopathy as one of my abilities."

"Techno-what?" Clearly, the kid ain't afraid of lookin' dumb. I can respect that.

"Technopathy, the ability to interface directly with technology."

"So you made yourself able to handle computers?"

"I gave it back to myself."

"Huh." Now here's a part where I had trouble with his expression: the blank, slightly narrowed look in his eyes spoke of concentration, which was supported by the open mouth and slack jaw. However, his voice was a mixture of mystification and insight, with the former being supported by his overall expression and the latter by the sheer intensity of the expression. It was as if he could see where this was going, but not where it would end.

"With my oversight, everything went off one little catch: the process completed just as Ray-Ann shot TIMmy. Originally, I had thought to engage the Crucible before Hammer could take off. The hassle involved in doing so, however, proved to cost me valuable time. I had two choices to make to make: whether to fire then and there, and whether to involved Ray-Ann."

"Why didn't you just let it happen?" Because I didn't want her to terrorize the galaxy.

"As a person, Ray-Ann was a pretty flat character. I believed that I could count on her to chose control, simply to impose her self-righteousness on the galaxy. It was either that or synthesis, the other 'feel-good' choice that would have let her knock up all the sapients in the Milky Way, essentially. But I put my money on control, for the sheer ego boost of it."

"But how did you know?" He was insistent on this. Looking for something?

"That's the thing: as an agent, you need to be ready to make these kinds of calls. That nice guy from down the road may be seconds away from a rampage through the local elementary school, and if you don't know it, yet could've done something about it?" He seemed slightly discomfited by this, so I added, "pre-emptive strikes? Kind of an expectation from agents. If you want to be one of us, you need to be ready for this sort of thing." Aaaaand back to the long face.

"Wow." I nodded.

"You basically have a lot of responsibility." And at long last, he had his moment. I looked down on his dawning realization with pride, knowing that I'd helped someone realize just how unready they were. At least that's one less for the meat grinder. Now if only I could go back and do this every time some wannabe came up to me. "Anyway, it wasn't much of a choice, really. I decided, if Shepard survived being right next to the Crucible as it fired, then she deserved to continue living, and if she died, all the better to preserve her image. I set the Crucible against the Reapers in particular, and fired."

A/N: I don't like that last story section. Like, at all. And the ending feels weird. I am very tired, however, and must put this down before I write something that I will cringe over later.

(6/15/16: 4,398 words)