Chapter 1: Awakening

"Fire! Fire! Shoot the damn thing!"

Sweat pours off his body. Behind him, he can hear the screams of men dying, the sickening crunch of crushing bone and the smell of bile and blood. Shepard spins, frantically pumping fire into the enormous, dark brown form of the beast. It is a massive thing, as big around as a shuttle craft and fast. The assault rifle's rounds seem to do little more than pock market its thick hide, as it rears back and then lunges forward. A viscous blob of green liquid erupts from its maw. He dives to the right, the man running next to him isn't as quick. The stuff catches his left side and he immediately begins to scream, flesh and even armor running like wax in the hot sun. Others try to stand their ground, rifles and shotguns flashing brilliantly yet fruitlessly.

"Get back to the transports! Fall back! Go go go!"

Someone is barking orders, but he doesn't know who. The lieutenant leading the platoon had disappeared in a sticky red mist when the thing had first erupted from the ground. The beast disappears beneath the earth as suddenly as it appeared, the ground shuddering. Most of the soldiers stand unsteadily, looking around with weapons raised. The creature is subterranean... it must sense vibrations and pressure, sounds or moisture. The ground continues to vibrate, a low thrum like the bass at an overly loud concert. Another shout.

"Run! Its under the ground. It's not gone! Get off the plain!"

He realizes the shouting man is himself. He's only a corporal, but his survival instincts have taken over. Booted feet slapping the sand as he makes a mad dash for the nearest hill. He feels the sand shift, stumbling forward and rolling as stray bits of soil and grit shower him. The thing looms over him, giving a feral, deafening roar. Shots ring out, a sharp blue line traces its way across the things chin. A chunk of stone streaks to strike its plated belly, a faint azure glow about it.

"Get off your ass, Shepard!"

The voice is deep and gravely. He tries to scramble to his feet, rifle clutched in shaky hands. A turian is running across the sands, slow, methodical shots ringing out despite his gait. Turian? There weren't any turians on this colony. But he knew the turian. Garrus. Across from him another form stands, glowing with power as another piece of stone strikes the thing. The asari looks over her shoulder with a smirk. Liara. This wasn't how it happened. What were they doing?

"We need you, Shepard. Come on!" Fingers grab his armored collar, the unmistakable accent coming from behind as he finally levers himself to his feet. Tali runs past, shotgun roaring fire, the massive bulk of a battle scarred krogan right behind her. Wrex. Ashley and Kaidan standing their ground nearby, guns barking out a steady stream of fire. This isn't right. They don't understand. This thing is speed and claws... and death.

He stumbles backward, trying to cry out but his voice doesn't respond. The thresher maw leaps forward towards his crew. Screams echo in his ears.


"Shepard! Wake up, dammit!"

He jerked up as if a thousand volts of electricity had just passed through his body. The world was bright, white. A hospital? A lab? He shook his head. The last thing he remembered was watching the Normandy burn, tiny drive flares in the distance. He remembered... death.

"Excellent. There's no time to waste. You've got to get moving, Shepard."

"What-" his voice cracked, making him pause before trying again. "What's going on? Where am I?"

"I'm sure you have questions. Now isn't the time. Security has been compromised. Hostile mechs are closing on your position, you have to get out of there and get to the shuttles. I'll guide you. Hurry, soldier. Snap to it!"

As far as human beings went, Shepard considered himself one of the most confused on record. The woman's voice didn't sound familiar, neither did his surroundings, or even the fact that he was alive. The sharp tone at the end of her statement kicked old instincts into action and he levered himself off of the table, bare feet hitting the cool floor and standing on shaky legs. He pulled the IV from his arm and stumbled towards the door.

"There is a storage locker across the hall... you'll find some armor and a weapon, get suited up as quick as possible. I'll guide you..."

For the next half hour he didn't think, he just acted. The armor wasn't perfect, but it was better than being naked and the pistol felt reassuring in his grip. The security mechs were dangerous, but taking them down felt more like an exercise than a true life or death situation. Their jerky movements and slowness to aim gave him more than ample time to pump a round into their optics and move on. Each room was empty, save for the occasional dead body in a white and black uniform. The voice stopped guiding him after awhile, apparently experiencing troubles of her own. He took the opportunity to scan a few computers he came across, finding references to 'Project Lazarus' and references to himself, massive amounts of credits being expended.

He saw his first human face in a young soldier named Jacob. As far as help went, he couldn't complain. The guy was young, obviously fit and trained, skin the color of rich coffee and a set jaw that made Shepard think he'd be the type stand his ground in an argument. There hadn't been a great deal of time for questions, but the man had assured him that it was all real. He wasn't a clone or something more insidious, he was alive and he was himself: Commander John Shepard. A few dozen more security mechs later they had reached the shuttle bay. A door swished open and a shot rang out, the tech that had opened the door slumped to the floor lifelessly.

"What the hell?" he had his pistol trained on the woman before the tech had hit the floor. She was tall, all dark hair and pale skin. Beautiful, really, though the thin line her mouth was set in made her look severe.

Jacob seemed to be just as surprised, but didn't quite train his weapon on her. "Miranda? What-"

"Wilson was a traitor. He's the one that triggered the mechs," she said coolly. The voice was unmistakable, his guide during his first few minutes awake. She had been trying to keep him alive, and the tech, Wilson's, story hadn't added up. "Come on, we have to get off this station."

"I don't think so. I want answers. What the hell is going on here? Where is here?" he demanded. He dropped the barrel of his weapon, but kept it at the ready on the off chance his instincts were wrong. While thus far the he'd gotten nothing but help from the two in front of him it didn't answer the most pertinent question. Why was he alive and who was responsible?

"We don't have time for this."

"Miranda, we have to tell him! If we want him to trust us, we can't be playing games."

Shepard glanced between the two of them. "Tell me what, exactly?"

"Look, I'm going to tell you who we work for but I need you to keep your head straight," Jacob said, nodding towards the pistol held tightly in his grasp. The woman tried to cut him off but he pushed ahead. "We work for Cerberus. They're the ones responsible for bringing you back. And I do mean back. You were just meat and tubes when you got here."

That particular revelation was like a dreadnought had slammed into his gut. Jacob couldn't have blindsided him anymore if he had told him that the Geth were his benefactors. He could only manage a single question.


"Maybe we can answer that better after we get off of this station?" Miranda asked.

He simply nodded, motioning towards the shuttle doors. They'd already come this far, if they wanted to kill him they had an odd way of showing it. It didn't take long to get the shuttle up and running and within a few minutes they were in space. The ship lurched as it accelerated towards an unknown destination. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, holding his head in his hands. For the first time he noticed the fresh lines on his face, tracing the lines with his fingertips. Though he couldn't see what they looked like he suspected he had picked up some 'souvenirs' from his ordeal. Apparently Miranda was observant as well as ruthless as she immediately spoke up.

"Unfortunately we weren't able to quite finish, Shepard. With luck those will heal on their own."

Shepard looked up at his. The scars on his face glittered faintly in the dim light of the shuttle. "Finish what, exactly? I've played along so far, now I want answers."

"You'll have to talk to the Illusive Man to find out everything, but I can tell you this: Cerberus has poured considerable resources into Project Lazarus. It's sole purpose was to bring you back, Commander Shepard, after the destruction of the Normandy. Drugs, surgery, cybernetics. All bleeding edge, beyond experimental."

He was about to ask something when she mentioned the Normandy. His dream came back to him in a rush. "My crew. The Normandy. What happened? Did everyone...?

Jacob answered this time. "Most of them survived. Your XO, Presley, was killed in the initial attack and unfortunately some of the crew from the lower decks weren't able to get out. But your team, Liara, Garrus Vakarian, the quarian, they all made it out."

"'The Quarian' has a name, it's Tali," he responded crossly. He hadn't even seen a quarian until he had become a Spectre. But then he hadn't dealt with a great deal of Krogan until Wrex. The Normandy had been a learning experience, that was for certain. In between almost getting himself killed on a daily basis he'd learned more than he could have ever imagined listening to Wrex's war stories or Tali's excited chatter about the Normandy and her people.

"No offense intended," the other man said, raising his hands in mock surrender. "The Alliance and the Council downplayed your death and they didn't go out of their way to mention some of your team mates all that much after you were gone either."

"So... why?" he repeated his question from before, his fears for his crew assuaged.

"Because the Illusive Man believes you are the single best hope humanity has to survive the coming storm. I only hope he's right. We've invested two years and billions of credits into that hope."

"Two... years?"

"Bringing a man back from death isn't a simple trip to the hospital, Commander. It took considerable effort and... sacrifice just to retrieve your remains and start he process. It's been two years and nine days since you were officially declared dead," Miranda said.

"Two years..." he muttered, leaning back against the bulkhead.

"Humanity is at war, Shepard. Whether we'll admit it or not, we're under attack and Cerberus is the only one willing to do anything about it."

When they arrived at the station he'd been directed to a darkened room with an odd glowing floor. Moments later Shepard was standing before the pulsing vista of a star, speaking to a man only known by a code name: The Illusive Man. The first few minutes had been... tense. He was still a little mixed up, and he remembered quite well the experiments Cerberus had been performing. Especially on Akuze... but he'd reigned in his anger and listened. While he might chafe at the idea of working an organization he considered little better than terrorists, the Illusive Man had a point. The Alliance had buried its head in the sand, afraid of losing the political clout they'd gained at the Battle of the Citadel. He needed to get back out there and do... something. He needed a direction. And for now he was willing to play Cerberus' game.

"Fine, then how do you propose we fight this war?"

A thin smile played across the man's features. "So it's we, now? Good to see my point was made. I want you to do what you do best, Shepard. I want you to go after the truth and let nothing stand in your way. I have a lead: one of the outer colonies was just hit. We can be the first on the scene. I'll provide you with everything you need. I even acquired a pilot. He claims to be the best. Good luck, Shepard."

With that the room fell into darkness again before the ambient lighting activated.

"You know, Commander... you look pretty damn good for a ghost."

He spun on his heel. "Joker?"

The man gave a lazy salute. "Ready to go save the galaxy... again?"