Monday, December 17, 2012

How Many Times Must I Say “I Love You”? A Critical Analysis of Mass Effect 3 and Downloadable Content

How Many Times Must I Say “I Love You”? A Critical Analysis of Mass Effect 3 and Downloadable Content
By: Michael Frias
University of New Brunswick
Introduction to Critical Studies ED 6904
Presented to: Dr. Linda Eyre

How Many Times Must I Say “I Love You”? A Critical Analysis of Mass Effect 3 and Downloadable Content
            For as long as I can remember, a significant aspect of my personal identity includes being a student. Despite how much or little time an individual spends in school the majority of people today have attended classes, learned and had homework assigned. A common struggle shared by almost every student is juggling schoolwork with recreational activities. Hofer et al. (2010) present a cautious attitude towards the motivational interference that can result in lack of academic achievement due to indulging in recreational activities. Leisure can include a diverse range of actions people choose to participate in. Whether an individual builds models or sketches, the key factor is to participate in an action that is enjoyable. Leversen et al (2012) argue that participation in leisurely activities provides opportunities for positive development in adolescents as well as improved mental health.
Some people have more free time than others.  It can be argued that everybody benefits from having time to forget the stresses of their daily lives and participate in activities to help relax. On the other hand, some people are believed to devote too much of their time to recreational activities and ignore their responsibilities. A great deal of activity in today’s society takes place in the digital realm. Ellen Rose (2000) discusses the information technology discourse of “techno-utopianism” in which human dreams are believed to be realized on the virtual realm.  In some regards, this has come true. We can type papers on computers, perform bank transactions online and research information on the internet. Participating in leisurely activities constitutes a large portion of the technological discourse of techno-utopianism as well. Digital media is a significant aspect of today’s culture. In order to participate in society, it is increasingly common for an individual to have a digital identity of some kind. A digital leisurely activity that is of particular interest to me involves playing video games.
Video games and digital media expose an individual to a new world of possibilities only limited by the imagination of those who create the games. Finding the time to play a video game has always been a challenge for me. I have always lived a life with a schedule directing my energy in other directions. The application of academics to digital media and video games allows me the opportunity to develop a greater appreciation for their value in society. Mitchell & Savill-Smith (2004) explored the significance computer games can play towards enhancing educational experiences.  The use of games can enhance various virtues like information recollection, engagement of users and potentially improve social and cognitive skills (Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004). The styles of video games have evolved into ranging from a simple puzzle to allowing the player to construct and rule over and entire world.
My interests have been drawn to a trilogy of games known as “Mass Effect” created by the video game developer Bioware. I will explore the impact of downloadable content (DLC) within the game through the application of critical theory. The third instalment of Mass Effect was released March 6, 2012. This game was the first in the series when player was able to create a male protagonist with the option of developing a romantic and even sexual relationship with another male character. In the previous two games the option was always limited to creating a lesbian. My critical focus will be on one simple phrase: “I love you”. When Mass Effect 3 was first released the player was given the option to pursue a romantic relationship (like in the previous games). In the original version there is a romance scene in which the female Shepard tells her male romance partner “I love you”. However if Shepard is male, this little piece of dialogue is missing. On June 26, 2012 Bioware released DLC which can be downloaded for free known as the “Extended Cut”. This includes additional storyline, gameplay adding to the original Mass Effect 3 game as well as alternative endings to explore. The Extended Cut also included a riveting scene at the end in which the male version of Shepard finally says “I love you” to his male romantic partner.
These three little words have a significant impact on video game culture as well as society in general. Mitchell & Savill-Smith (2004) argue that video games can have an impact on the educational and social development of students. I argue that allowing the gay male Shepard the opportunity to admit his love openly for his partner demonstrates a potential for positive development as well as greater acceptance for LGBT’s. The decision to withhold this phrase from the original release of the game and insert it in the DLC also addresses the level of power and influence the game developer has over the player. If there is ever an aspect of a game the players are unsatisfied with, the developer simply can add content at a later time to appease the fans and therefore increase customer satisfaction. Greater attention needs to be given to this aspect of video games in order to understand the nature of video game culture.
Mass Effect:
Mass Effect is an interactive role-playing game based in a science fiction theme. It is set in a futuristic universe where humans have evolved into achieving great technological advancements. As a result the human race interacts with an extremely diverse universe made up of many different species. There are multiple missions assigned to the main character and his/her crew which involve interacting with these species, learning about other societies and possibly even influencing their development. The game involves a great deal of conversation with other characters, missions that contain shooting, violence and exploration of the universe (to collect resources to improve weapons, armour, etc.). The primary mission involves a group a mechanical beings known as the “Reapers” who have attacked and now threaten the universe. Every 50,000 years the Reapers return to inexplicably purge the galaxy of technologically advanced beings. The goal of Commander Shepard and his/her crew of the space vessel “Normandy” is to save the galaxy from this threat at any expense.
There is a great deal of violence and profanity in the content of this game which also means that players are warned before purchasing that it is rated “M” for mature. Bioware originally created the games to be available on the XBox 360 system but they can now be purchased on the Playstation 3 as well. The fan-base of this game has significantly grown as well as its contribution to the video game culture. There are several novels, comics published and merchandise available all relating to the Mass Effect universe.
 An intriguing aspect of these games is how the events in their storyline occur in chronological order. I admire the attention to detail programmed into the story of these games by the developing company. One of the options is for the main character to develop relationships with the non-playable characters. At some points in the game choices the player makes can even determine whether or not a particular character will live or die. This influences whether or not the same character will be “alive” in the next game of the trilogy as well as the circumstances around future missions.
From the very beginning of the first game, the player is given the ability to customize the main character known as “Commander Shepard”. The player is given the opportunity to choose Shepard’s details including first name, gender, physical appearance and personal upbringing. As the game progresses other decisions can be made as well like gaining the loyalty of selected crew members, upgrading aspects of the ship and improving weapons and armour. The storyline in Mass Effect is made up of a complex path with multiple options to follow as well as different difficulty levels to play. Mass Effect is a game that is very open for a variety of players with different preferences to play and explore. One of the most intriguing features of this game is how there is ultimately no right or wrong way to play. It is all about the decisions the player chooses for Commander Shepard. If however, there is a decision made that was not desired, the player must either restart at the previously saved point, or wait and start the entire game over again.
Video games like Mass Effect present a great deal of personal and academic interest for me due to the impact they can have on the lives of players. Video games and other aspects of this “geek” culture are very often confronted by a negative social stigma. There is a great deal of academic research devoted to the negative influences video games can have on players like aggression and addiction. I disagree with these opinions. Video games can inspire creativity and have educational applications. Giving the option of a gay male character in Mass Effect allows the video game developer to reach out to a wider demographic and give LGBT’s an opportunity to resist negative discourses against gay people and geeks.
Critical Theory and Mass Effect:
            According to Joe Kincheloe (2008) “knowing and learning are not simple intellectual and scholarly activities but also practical and sensuous activities infused by the impassioned spirit” (p. 11). Kincheloe was an influential figure in the area of critical pedagogy who sought to bring to surface the hidden politics of what is labelled as being neutral. Critical pedagogy identifies the human potential to enact social change, reshape his/her life, become a better scholar and realize cognitive potential (Kincheloe, 2008). 
As much as we like to think we have advanced in knowledge and evolved as a society, discourses preventing acceptance persist. Homosexuality is an issue with a great deal of controversy behind it. Lois Tyson (2006) defines homophobia as “institutionalized discrimination...against gay people because...we would be hard pressed to argue that such discrimination is based on anything other than collective, if sometimes unconscious, homophobia promoted by traditional American cultures” (p.320). In May 2012, North Carolina Pastor Charles Worley delivered a sermon in which he stated:
 I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and a great big large fence...put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what? In a few years they will die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce. If a man ever has a young'un, praise God he will be the first. (Eng, 2012).
Eng goes on to discuss the reaction of how various anti-hate groups protested this opinion. Attitudes like those of pastor Worley are the result of living in a heterocentrist society in which the dominant discourse excludes the consideration of homosexuals in positive aspects of everyday language. Tyson (2006) discusses how such myths directed at homosexuals contribute to negative stereotypes and other problems like internalized homophobia. A part of the homophobic discourse is that it is based on universal rules and religious doctrine. False beliefs like all homosexuals are insatiable sexual predators who seek to corrupt and convert others continue to fuel the oppression of the gay community.
In her book Critical Theory Today, Lois Tyson provides insights into a variety of topics including gay and lesbian criticisms. In most of her chapters, she applies theory in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. The interpretation of language is a powerful tool utilized by Tyson in her application of theory to the famous novel. Tyson (2006) is a firm enforcer in the power that information and language can have to enact social change and enlighten societies. She discusses the significance of the double standard in terms of how classical writers have been acknowledged as protesting oppression towards groups like race and gender yet the issue of sexual orientation has been preferably ignored. This form of oppression continues today in the school system. When children are taught, there are no books or resources which present homosexuals in a positive manner. Issues of sexuality are very strongly neglected in schools. To be heterosexual is to be “normal”. Graff & Stufft (2011) argue that “while students and our society in general claim diversity, as a society we do not practice tolerance especially when it comes to sexual orientation” (p. 15).
I agree with Tyson’s approach in which the language and discourses used must be explored and challenged. It is admirable to see the existence of anti-hate groups who protest individuals like Pastor Worley. However I argue that the progress sought by such groups is limited. Gay rights movements have made great strides in the fight for tolerance. In order to promote acceptance, I argue homosexuality must be included in the discourse of “normal”. According to Graff & Stufft (2011) the closed-mindedness of education systems and the refusal to integrate LGBTQ issues into curricula reinforce heteronormativity. Such attitudes continue to fuel the stigma against LGBTQ’s and hinders the very goal of education. Mass Effect 3 provides a positive approach towards promoting acceptance of homosexuals. Video games are another aspect of media with influence that parallels sources like movies and television (Van Rooij, 2009, Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004). The material placed in video games can have a great deal of influence over the people who play. The manner in which the public reacts to this game and the material in it demonstrates how much progress has truly been made towards acceptance.
Gail McNicol Jardine (2005) argues power and knowledge never occur separately. Heterocentrism renders lesbian and gay experiences invisible within society (Graff & Stufft, 2011). As a result, when a video game like Mass Effect 3 presents the option of two men pursing a romantic and sexual relationship, controversial reactions are no surprise. Blogging is a common activity many people engage in on the internet. It gives individuals the opportunity to hold conversations with others around the world. I was not alone in experiencing discomfort in the fact that Shepard lacked the ability to say “I love you” to his male partner. On the Bioware Social Network, a few players brought up the issue wondering if it was due to a glitch from not continuing the character from the first instalment of Mass Effect to the third. The conversation ends with the players determining that there is no error. The game was intentionally designed to have the female character admit her love but not the male.
Video games have advanced a great deal in terms of the story and content placed within them. When one considers the fact that the industry is only thirty years old, the fact that a game like Mass Effect 3 could include such openly sexual material for both gay and non-gay options demonstrates the level of maturity the industry has achieved (Boxer, 2012). Boxer (2012) reports how after a few days of availability for viewing on YouTube, the male same sex-relationship’s 400 likes were overwhelmed with over 2000 dislikes along with homophobic comments. This demonstrates the impact a heteronormative education system has on the manner in which people perceive homosexuality. An interesting factor regarding sexuality in Mass Effect involves a comparison between the gay male relationships with the female options. The ability to make a lesbian Shepard has been present since the first instalment of Mass Effect. It was not until the release of Mass Effect 3 that the player was given the option to pursue a gay relationship with the male protagonist. The majority of blog posts tend to lean towards straight males being acceptable of lesbian interaction. As far as many bloggers were concerned, this was sufficient to promote tolerance for homosexuals. The emergence of a gay male Shepard spawned extremely negative posts including:
This article boils down to morals. If you have morals(biblically based), then being gay in a game is ridiculous and stupid. If you don't have morals(atheist; an atheist can't have morals if he doesn't have a guide to follow, right?), then having a gay character is totally acceptable and it means that we're "growing" up. If you follow morals of culture(societal norms), then media like this site will subtly trick you into thinking that having gay characters in a game somehow means we are "growing" up and that it's a good thing. People want to fit in with the crowd(usually with media, fitting the political left views) so it makes sense that this article would be biased into persuading that having gay characters means we are "growing" up, meaning we are becoming more mature and less childish.
It literally boils down to where you get your values from; the bible(or any other religion), yourself, or society as to what it means for having a gay character in a game and what it means. I personally get my views from the Bible (which has fulfilled hundreds of prophecies I might add)
(Boxer, 2012).
            Many responses disagree with posts like this. I argue that such attitudes are the result of heteronormative discourse discussed by Tyson (2006). Because of the lack of inclusion of heterosexuals within curriculum, there is great resistance met when the option to create a gay character in a leisurely activity is offered. It can be understandable to see why Bioware chose not to include the option for the male to say “I love you” until a later time when the company learned it was what many players desired.  Adding these three words can present a threat to societal perceptions of masculinity.
            Epstein et al. (2003) attribute resistance to homosexual themes in society being due to the manner in which people are educated. According to Dr. Linda Eyre there is “danger of alienating heterosexual students from queer perspectives through mismanaged attempts to incorporate queer theory into the curriculum” (Epstein et al., 2003, p. 108). A common discourse in society is the myth of childhood innocence. The experiences of children in school have a strong impact on the personality of each individual. Graff & Stufft (2001) state “for many students, high schools are the center of life and culture, and they may be the most homophobic institutions in American Society” (p. 7). Childhood innocence is used as an excuse to prevent them from learning about issues like sexuality. Such methods are not only harmful to the children, but also justify enforcing powerlessness on them (Epstein et al., 2003).  
It may be argued that exposing young people to a video game like Mass Effect can be harmful due to the mature themed content. This can even be one of the reasons why Bioware originally neglected to include “I love you” for the gay male Shepard. Mass Effect 3 is a game with a great deal of shooting and physical violence occurring in it as well as mature language. Przybylski & Ryan (2009) present data that violence in video games does not have significant negative effects on individuals. If the negative impact of violence in video games is not supported, the same can be said for content like exposure to sexuality. Rather than searching for negative outcomes from video games, greater attention should be devoted towards potentially positive influences. For example, the inclusion of different sexual orientations through video games promotes improvement in education as well as social justice.

            Farr (2012) argues the storyline behind Mass Effect can be interpreted as a “coming out” experience for Commander Shepard. The events male Shepard experiences in the games can be viewed as him waiting and responding to his environment. “If someone who is gay is surrounded by people who are straight, he won't have sex with them” (Farr, 2012). Shepard and his potential male partners do not behave in flamboyant manners, or express other physical stereotypes that are commonly associated with homosexuals. There is no expression of insatiable sexual appetites, or the desire to cross-dress and seek out others to convert. Shepard and his partner are simply behaving in a manner very similar to what would be labelled as a typical heterosexual male in contemporary society (outside of their romantic attraction for each other). As a result, a straight man may perceive their behaviour as a threat to what it means to be a man. If these two characters are behaving “straight” and still pursuing a relationship, then how can we know what is the “right” way to act? Farr’s (2012) article presents a threat to the dominant heteronormative attitude of how a man should behave in order to be considered “masculine”. As a result, threatened individuals will produce statements like:
Well now, I do have a problem with gay people. Aka they are sick in the head and whatever excuse medics came up in USA when they realized they can't cure them did not just made them normal... Look, curing schizophrenia is not easy either. If possible at all (Jimquisition, 2012).
There was also some support from people who identify as straight. Statements in support discussed how the storyline in Mass Effect is based on choices. Epstein et al. (2003) argue “sexualities are not only institutionally produced in partial ways but are gendered, racial, and classed” (p. 15). The inclusion of material like homosexuality in a video game demonstrates resistance to discourses and language used to oppress gay people. A response to negative comments goes on to say:
Knowing gay people, talking to gay people gave me my opinion of them, and that opinion is that they're no different to straight people in any way other than who they're attracted to. The fact is that Mass Effect is a role-playing game, one with a particularly heavy emphasis on player choice. Having a gay relationship option is just another choice within that (Boxer, 2012).
It is intriguing to notice that the majority of negative responses to a gay male Shepard neglect acknowledgement that the game gives the player the choice on whom to pursue a relationship with. Mass Effect 3 is based on customization of Commander Shepard who sets out on a space adventure to save the universe. It is interesting to see the existence of a game in which the choice is open to play and behave homosexual, heterosexual or pursue no relationship at all. The end goal of the game is to stop the Reapers from purging the galaxy.
One of the most compelling aspects of Mass Effect 3 is the storyline. As Commander Shepard progresses through the game and forms relationships with other characters, the player can sense a connection to the Shepard character as well as others in the game. Mass Effect has an engaging science fiction story with attention to the details (character backgrounds, interests, hobbies, etc). The storyline behind Mass Effect has helped to generate a large fan base that branches off into other successful forms of entertainment (toys, clothing, novels, etc.). It is because of the popularity of the game I question the logic behind neglecting to allow male Shepard to express his love for his partner.
Restricting the phrase “I love you” to the heterosexual storyline demonstrates the level of control Bioware has over the Mass Effect trilogy. It suggests that for the most part, the majority of decisions made regarding the Mass Effect games were to appeal heterosexual males. There was little consideration given towards having a homosexual male until 5 years after the release of the first game. Even when the theme was added, the game developer chose to ignore attention to detail by limiting the expression of love to heterosexual relationships. Such choices can directly and indirectly hinder the development of rights for LGBT’s. It demonstrates even when queer individuals are included in the world, they are still not accepted. Similar treatment of homosexual workers are present in the education system in which “queer staff and students must negotiate their places within these institutions as universities have done little in either the hidden or taught curriculum to render heterosexuality less than compulsory” (Epstein et al., 2003, p. 118).
 The story in Mass Effect 3 demonstrates a great deal of open-mindedness from Bioware as well as willingness to deal with the repercussions of adding a gay male option. The aversion to add “I love you” until release of the extended edition of the game demonstrates what Foucault would address as the relationship between knowledge and power. According to Foucault “we are thoroughly formed by the system of knowledge and power that we are born into and raised within...even our perceptions of what is around us is influenced by this” (Jardine, 2005, p. 2).
            Adding “I love you” through the DLC that was released on June 26, 2012 appears to be such a small task performed by Bioware. The act of adding the phrase into the game is an example of what Foucault would describe as a technique of power. Through sources like the Bioware Social Network, the company was able to learn that fans of the game noticed the absence of the phrase in Mass Effect 3. An important marketing technique is to give the customer what he/she wants. By adding the phrase “I love you” through the DLC, Bioware was able to respond to the fans’ desires. This is an interesting aspect of video games that has not always been present. According to Jardine (2005), “the most basic theme in Foucault’s analyses is that knowledge and power function in our society to turn all individual human beings into objects that exist, act, or are knowable only in relations the rulers laid down by this power and knowledge” (p. 49). Players of games like Mass Effect are objectified by the video game developer into achieving the most important goal of a game, to produce profit. Offering downloadable content to customers is an impressive way of achieving such a goal. In the past, whenever a game was released and there was a feature fans did not care for, they could voice their opinions but it would be too late. The game was already programmed and released. Now, if the developer learns of something missing in a game, they simply need to create content that can be downloaded and adds on to the story of the game. “I love you” in Mass Effect 3 is a prime example of the players being the objects providing feedback freely to the video game developer. Whether or not the content would be paid for is the decision of the game developer.

            It is unfortunate that the phrase “I love you” was not included in the game from the very beginning. Adding the phrase in at a later time through DLC is an excellent demonstration of the relationship which exists between the player and the video game developer. The content placed in video games can be argued to either exert a positive or negative influence over the gamers. Van Rooij et al. (2009) argue the social responsibility of problems like video game overuse lies with the publisher of the game. Typically when a game is announced to have mature content that is not appropriate for any demographic, the government tends to step in with rating systems and internet monitors. The majority of responsibility is placed on the player as well as the parents of children who play.
            There is a great deal of attention devoted to the potentially negative outcomes that can come from playing video games (addiction, aggression, etc). I disagree that video games exert the degree of negative influence that this opinion takes. Claiming that video games provide such a large degree of harm to the players contributes to the social stigma against the identity of “gamer”. The content within video games does have influence over players. What that influence involves depends on the game itself. For example, “Resident Evil” is another popular series of video games that has spawned a large fan base. The fifth instalment of the game stirred controversy after a teaser trailer was released in 2007. This trailer for the game depicted “nothing but black zombies attacking -- and being shot over and over and over again by -- a white protagonist. It was highly charged imagery that led to allegations of racial insensitivity” (Pigna, 2010). If a short teaser trailer from one popular series of games can promote so much concern over racist portrayals, I argue another popular series like Mass Effect can promote social justice for an oppressed group.
 Playing a well made game that meets an individual’s personal interests is fun. The positive feelings from having fun can place an individual in a state where he/she does not wish to think about the outside world and is undergoing the “willing suspension of disbelief” as described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Jacobsen, 1982). When in such a state, the content within the game can have a great influence over the player. The implementation of the option to have a gay relationship in Mass Effect 3 promotes positive influence on accepting the homosexual identity. This game and Bioware have undergone a great deal of criticisms from the decision. It does however demonstrate the serious consideration the video games industry is given. Even though it is an industry primarily based on leisure time, it is a significant aspect of many peoples’ lives. Adding the option to play a homosexual protagonist provides great strides in the inclusion of homosexuality as being part of a “normal” identity.
I applaud Bioware for the content placed in Mass Effect 3. As the influence of the heteronormative discourse persists, creating the option for a gay protagonist provides relief for gay people who simply wish to be themselves. Neglecting to add the phrase “I love you” into the gay male’s storyline however was unfortunate. The manner in which it was added at a later time demonstrates the relation of power Bioware has. Power “produces most, if not all of our ideas about what we should do and order to locate, supervise and control individuals” (Jardine, 2005, p 51). It is important that the player is aware of this relationship in order to be able to think critically about what can be learned from the games he/she becomes so engulfed in. Video game developers can have a great deal of power when they create a successful game. Because so much work is put into the formation of a game, it is important that it makes as much profit as possible for the company. Creating the desire for more play time through downloadable content gives the developer more influence over the player by going back and correcting errors (like adding the phrase “I love you” for gay Shepard). It also enables the company more opportunities to increase profits. Leisure time is just another aspect in life in which it is important to think critical about. We can learn a great deal in our downtime. We need to remember to be aware of what we are learning when having fun.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Mass Effect Fan Fiction

            Isaiah woke up in his tiny bachelor apartment on the Citadel and looked at the small holographic clock on his end table.  It was already three in the afternoon, he had finally gotten to bed at around six in the morning having been out all night at the bar.  He and a group of people he would casually refer to as friends spent the night and most of the morning “dusting up” in Purgatory.
 Isaiah was already a fairly gifted biotic having spent some time in the Alliance Navy and at the Grissom Academy when he was younger.  He fell into a bad crowd while in the navy and never actually made it onto a space fairing ship.  His superiors described him as gifted but severely uninterested, this resulted in his discharge.  He moved from San Francisco back to parents’ home on the Lunar Colony.  Isaiah’s father was extremely disappointed in his discharge making it almost impossible to co-exist peacefully and it wasn’t long before he found himself on an Alliance freighter to the Citadel.  He had been given a decent sized severance allowing him to afford to get set up and live in limited comfort on the Citadel’s Bachjret Ward.  The neighborhood he lived in was kind of run down but the price was right and it served its purpose.  A place for him to rest his head in quiet after a night out with his friends. 
Isaiah sat up and as he did he regretted moving so quickly. The blood rushing from his head made him dizzy; he quickly laid back in his bed again and waited for the room to stop spinning.  He sat up again this time moving slowly to not trigger any of the side effects.  The biotic amps that had been installed while he was at the Grissom Academy didn’t react well to the red sand and he knew he would probably feel drained for the rest of the day.  Red sand wasn’t something he did every day, he only liked to do it on weekends for the most part and Friday nights were the nights things got heavy with his friends.  Most of them were biotics as well some more gifted than others but none of them had any official training or amplifiers.  Isaiah stood up slowly off the bed and walked over to the coffee maker that sat on his kitchenette counter.  He poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip realizing as it touched his tongue that it was probably sitting for a day or two.  He drank it anyway not really wanting to get another pot started and have to wait.  As he sat the cup down on the counter again his omni-tool activated.  He raised his arm and used the virtual keyboard to answer the call.  The holo-viewer opened and his Asari friend, Jedora appeared. 
“Hey we’re getting together up on the Presidium, at Apollo’s Café are you coming?” she asked.  Isaiah thought for a moment.  The presidium was expensive, and they had other options. 
“I don’t really feel like paying for that.  Can’t we go to that little place on Zakera Ward?” he asked.  He took another drink of his coffee and made a disgruntled face, it was starting to taste worse. 
“I don’t know how that guy stays in business down there.  He serves bottom of the barrel human food.  I mean isn’t that what ramen is?  Just meet us there, I’ll pay.”  Isaiah shrugged his shoulders and dumped his coffee down the drain. 
“Whatever you say.”  Jedora was one of his only close friends it wasn’t often that he said no to her.  Being immune to the effects of the Red Sand often made her his guard when they were out partying.  They had even exchanged memories from time to time something that was certainly a strange experience for Isaiah.  A common practise for the Asari, they would share with close friends or people they respected.  She could be a bit wild at times because she was fresh into her maiden age at the ripe age of one hundred years.  Sometimes they’d be a great pairing other times they were at one another’s throats. 
“Okay, see you soon.”  The holo-viewer closed and his omni-tool went back to standby mode as Isaiah walked over to his closet to get dressed.  He picked out a shirt with jeans and over vest to wear and stopped before he put it on.   Realizing how grimy he felt from the night before he decided on a shower before taking off for what he knew would be the rest of the day. 

Isaiah stepped out of the elevator and onto the Presidium Commons.  He started heading to the café knowing that they’d be waiting for him and Jedora would probably be wondering where he was.  He walked down the main hallway and down a flight of stairs and into the courtyard of the diverse shopping area.  Nos Astra sporting goods was on his left and he could see the café.  It looked like it was unusually crowded for the time of day.   He walked up the steps and into the café.  He looked around not seeing his friends anywhere but knowing they were probably sitting at the usual table over-looking the lakes of the presidium.  It didn’t take long for Isaiah to determine that the café was crowded because an alliance vessel was probably docked.  There were several men and women in alliance uniform ordering at the counter and sitting amongst the restaurant tables.  He walked down onto the over-look and Jedora waved at him from one of the tables.  Their Salarian friend, Reloke was sitting beside her and their Turian friend, Terrick had his back to him on approach.   “Hey guys, how’d you all sleep?  I’m guessing not as long as I did.”
“Fine,” said Reloke, quickly.  “Half a human hour, far too long.  Effects of alcohol not long lived on many Salarians.”  Isaiah shook his head, Reloke was a recent addition to their group and it was an adjustment getting used to having a Salarian around. 
“I wish I could only sleep a half hour and have that much energy,” laughed Terrick.  “I was awake around noon but I certainly wasn’t up.”  Isaiah knew that Terrick had taken home a guest from the bar the night before they all knew what he was like.  He looked at Terrick with a raised eyebrow expecting a little more of an explanation.  “What, she left an hour ago!” he cracked half a smile.
“Did you at least bother to shower before you came up here?” asked Jedora.
“If I didn’t shower I’m sure you’d be able to smell it,” he laughed.  For the most part the table went quiet at the general disgust before Isaiah broke the silence.
“Did you guys order your food yet?” he asked.  No sooner had the words left his mouth that the Asari waitress approached with their food hovering over her hands.  Isaiah looked at Jedora disappointed.
“What they were hungry and you were taking forever,” she said.  The waitress moved the plates in front of them and gave them a nod as to not disturb their conversation before walking away.  “It’s not like they take a long time to get anything ready here anyway.” 
“You could of ordered for me, just saying.”  Isaiah looked around at the crowd of people forming around them.  “What’s with all the Alliance bunch?” he asked.  Jedora finished chewing a bite of her meal and motioned with her fork instead of talking with her hands. 
“Um, an N7 ship the SSV,” she paused thinking, “SSV Norad I think it is, docked about an hour ago.  It’s a frigate I think.” 
“Yes a frigate,” said Reloke looking at his omni-tool, “Not unlike Commander Shepherds Normandy, not quite as advanced though.”  Isaiah looked around deciding it was time enough to stop watching his friends eat. 
“I’ll be right back.”  He stood up and walked over to the counter there was a group of N7 soldiers standing at the counter beside him.  Isaiah noticed one of them looking at him.  He was attractive stood around 6 feet tall with dark hair and hazel eyes.  He was of the average build to be expected from the finest selection of the Alliances soldiers.  Isaiah smiled at him and looked to the server as she approached him.  “Hey I’m gonna grab one of the all-day breakfast specials,” he said.  Something he ordered by default because it was the cheapest thing on the menu.  The server smiled as she put his order through the register.
“That’ll be six credits please.”  Isaiah passed her his credit chit and she passed it through the register before handing it back to him.  “You’re over there with Jedora right?” she asked.  A nod and a smile was his answer.  “I’ll bring it right over.”  The server stepped back from the counter and went to prepare the meal.  Isaiah took a step back and bumped into someone behind him.
“Oh I’m sorry,” he said turning to see who he had bumped into. 
“My fault.”  It was the N7 that had been staring at him.  “Are you okay?” he asked.  Isaiah looked at him confused wondering if he appeared to be so fragile that a small bump would falter him. 
“Yeah I’m fine, are you?”   Isaiah decided to reverse the question to see if he would realize how silly it sounded. 
“Ah, yeah,” he laughed awkwardly and quietly.  “So what’s your name?”  It quickly became evident that he bumped into Isaiah just to start up a conversation.  Isaiah paused briefly looking into his eyes for any sign of insincerity but didn’t see anything he didn’t like.  He decided he would play along and see how it went.  It had been a long time since anyone had really tried to get his attention. 
“I’m Isaiah, what’s yours?”  The soldier smiled at the question.
“Caleb, nice to meet you.”  Isaiah stayed silent waiting for Caleb to carry the conversation farther and was starting to guess that he probably didn’t do this very often.  Even though he was probably a killer on the battlefield he started to guess that he was pretty green socially. 
“Um, I really should be going, my friends are waiting for me.”  Although flattered Isaiah wasn’t looking to be a learning experience and decided to make a quick exit and forget what happened. 
“Oh, yeah, I have to get back to the Norad soon, but we’re here for the night to get some repairs and a little R&R.”  Isaiah sat wondering why he was telling him all this.  “I’m probably going to Purgatory tonight with some friends if you wanna talk later.”
“Sure,” said Isaiah, “Maybe.”  Isaiah watched as a look of disappointment and embarrassment flushed over the N7’s face and he started to feel bad.  “I’ll see you tonight.”  He turned and walked back over to his table leaving Caleb standing there.  He sat down at the table with the others and Jedora gave him a strange look. 
“What’s that guy all about?” she asked.
“Honestly not really sure, wants to go to Purgatory tonight though.”
“He’s still staring.  He’s cute at least.”  Isaiah turned back and as he did the N7 walked out of the restaurant area glancing back at him as he stepped out of view. “He’s really cute.”
“And really green, not sure if I’m into it or not.”  The server walked over and sat down a plate in front of him.

The rest of the day quickly past and Isaiah again found himself out at the bars.  His friends decided that they wanted to go to the Dark Star Lounge on Zakera.  It was almost one in the morning and not that the bars ever closed but he imagined that his N7 wouldn’t be around too much longer.  He debated leaving his friends behind and just going to see the guy.  He didn’t want him to think he didn’t like him, even if he hadn’t decided whether he was interested in him or not.  There was no reason a friendship couldn’t come of it.  Isaiah watched as Jedora danced with her alcohol in one hand with Reloke alongside her.  Terrick was off perusing the evening’s current conquest at the bar, laughing and chatting with the human female.  Normally Isaiah would be up dancing with Jedora but his mind was currently elsewhere.  His guilt was really starting to catch up to him as he sat there thinking about the N7 that had approached him.  He wanted to leave but he knew he would catch flack for ditching everyone the next day.  Jedora would get up in arms particularly, as she could at times be quite possessive of him.  He took a sip of his drink, a glass of Serrice Ice Brandy.  Not his usual drink, he didn’t want to get so drunk he would lose his senses in case he still ended up leaving and at this point it was starting to look like a good possibility.  As he sat his drink down on the table a group of guys approached him.  Isaiah looked each of them over already gauging if he’d be able to handle them in a fight.  They were in Alliance uniform and Isaiah certainly didn’t recognize any of them. 
“Can I help you?” he asked the confusion obvious in his voice.
“I don’t know maybe,” said the buff one in the lead.  “Our buddy Rodriguez approached you this afternoon in the Presidium.  He wants you to meet him over at Purgatory, right?” 
“You mean Caleb?  I guess yeah, why?  Everything okay with that?”
“Are you planning on going over there or what?”  Isaiah felt put off at the fact that Caleb’s squad mates were approaching him.  He wasn’t sure if he was about to get jumped or not.  “You know he’s waiting for you right?”  Isaiah cracked a smile at the thought of someone being that naïve that he’d put his life on hold for someone, even if it was only a night.  “He’s a good guy you know.  He doesn’t show interest in people often, you should at least go over there and let him down easy.”  Isaiah sat for a few drawn out seconds thinking if he was going to go down there or if it was worth his time.  Finally drawing a conclusion on the issue he stood up.
“I’ll go say hi,” said Isaiah as he stood up. 
“Good man.”  The soldier hit Isaiah on the shoulder in a friendly manner and smiled at him.  “Thought we were gonna have to rough you up a bit there for a second,” he laughed.  Isaiah smiled at him only semi-sure if he was joking or not as he walked over to Jedora.
“I’m gonna head over to Purgatory for a bit, I don’t wanna be a jerk and leave that guy hanging,” he explained.  Jedora stopped dancing and smiled at him. 
“That’s okay, we’ll see you tomorrow,” Jedora leaned in and kissed him, “Go have some fun.”  Isaiah nodded so he wouldn’t have to yell over the music before walking off.  He left the club and started on his way to the elevator that would take him to Purgatory. It really wasn’t that long of a trip.  Most of the bars on the wards were conveniently placed close to the lifts so people wouldn’t have to stagger too far to their next destination.  He walked past the two C-Sec guards and into the elevator hitting the buttons to take him where he wanted to be.    The lifts were efficient to say the least, it only took a couple of minutes to get to the Purgatory entrance.
As he stepped off the elevator he could see the entrance to the bar and several groups of people outside talking amongst themselves.  Typically he and his friends stayed away from Purgatory on Saturdays, for some reason it seemed to have a lot of Batarian’s floating around making everyone uncomfortable.  He walked up to the door and it opened automatically into a hallway.  There was a single Turian bouncer there who nodded him in and he kept walking.  He stepped through one more door and he was standing on the main floor of the bar.  He looked around, the bar wasn’t packed but there was still the usual Batarian crowd hanging about.  He didn’t see Caleb anywhere as he continued up the steps where the main dance floor and secondary bar would be.  He walked toward the bar looking for the alliance uniform still not seeing anything.  Isaiah came to the top of the stairs and looked up to the bar.  Sure enough Caleb was standing there, leaning on the bar with a drink in his hand.  He had a grim expression of defeat in his eyes as he looked down at his drink, before giving one last scan of the bar.  He shook his head and started away from the bar.  He would have to pass Isaiah if he was going to leave.  Isaiah started toward him, he was looking down at the floor as he walked he came within a foot of Isaiah. 
“Hey,” said Isaiah.  Caleb stopped in his tracks, looked up and smiled at the sight of him.  “Sorry I’m late, I got tied up over at the Dark Star Lounge with my friends.”  Isaiah decided on not telling him that his friends were ultimately the last straw in his showing up. 
“No it’s cool.  I’m glad you came,” said Caleb, “Wanna get a table?”  Caleb looked around trying to find a good spot that they’d be able to chat. 
“Yeah sure, over here,” Isaiah walked over to where he and his friends would normally sit.  It was on the second level on the opposite side of the dance floor away from the full blare of the music.  Caleb followed him and they sat down.  “We should be able to hear each other over here at least.”  Isaiah smiled at him and he returned it. 
“Sounds good to me.”  Caleb took a mouthful of his drink as if trying to get the courage to talk.  “So tell me a little about you?” he asked with an odd questioning inflection in his voice. 
“I’m a twenty-four year old, single, military dischargee, currently between jobs,” said Isaiah trying to push the N7 away. 
“Really?  What were you discharged for?” he asked.  Isaiah’s answer seemed to have the opposite effect.
“Lack of interest.”  As the two of them spoke Isaiah was keeping an eye on a group of batarians that seemed to be eyeing them as they chatted.  It was a group that Isaiah had never seen before telling him they must have been new to the station.  He figured they were probably eyeing Caleb because of the N7 dog tags that dangled from his neck. 
“Well military life isn’t for everyone I guess.  That’s okay.  What do you like to do with yourself?”  Caleb sat forward in his seat and rested his elbows on the table.  He smiled at him.  The more Isaiah looked at him the harder it was to not look at him, his strong features and boyish charm were getting the best of him. 
“Well honestly I haven’t really found that yet I guess,” Isaiah let his guard down a bit as he spoke.  “Still searching maybe?”  The group of batarians walked passed their table laughing and staring at them. 
“Worthless N7 vermin.  Human soldiers are such a joke,” they laughed.  Isaiah looked at Caleb who sat back in his chair as they approached and tried to ignore them.  Isaiah knew that he couldn’t say anything back to them on account of the Alliance code of conduct.  His guess was that the batarians knew that too.  Although there was nothing really stopping Isaiah from saying anything and unless they were all biotics he could probably take them.  Isaiah stood up from his seat.
“No don’t,” said Caleb putting a hand up to stop him.  The batarian in the lead had stopped in his tracks and was looking at Isaiah waiting for a reaction.  Isaiah looked back at Caleb and could see the plea in his face. 
“I thought so.  Come on gentleman, I think we’ve made our point.”  Isaiah stood staring at them as they walked away. 
“They’re not worth it,” said Caleb.  Isaiah sat back down in his chair and thought briefly about the situation.  “Thanks for not doing anything.  I didn’t wanna explain a bar fight to my XO tonight.”  Isaiah sat forward in his chair and closed his eyes for a second focusing his biotics.  “What are you doing?”  Caleb could see the ripples in the air around him as he focused.  Suddenly a chair from the other side of the room flew across the room and hit the batarian in the back of the head.  He then stood up and proceeded to look around.  The chair didn’t hit him hard, just enough to make a fool out of him in front of his peers.
“Don’t worry just a little pay back.  They’ll never know it was me,” explained Isaiah.
“You’re a biotic?  That’s awesome,” said Caleb.  Isaiah was surprised at Caleb’s reaction, human biotics weren’t typically well received among other humans.  “Is it all natural or did you get augmented?”
“It’s natural, but I’ve got the L4 implants in as well.  You’re not bothered by it?”
“No, my little sister is a biotic.  She’s been at Grissom Academy for a couple years now.”  Caleb seemed to trail off waiting for Isaiah to continue the conversation, but the truth was he didn’t really like to talk about his abilities in public. 
“I’m gonna grab a drink, you want another one?” asked Isaiah looking for a way to drop this portion of their conversation. 
“Sure I guess, I’ll pay though.”  Caleb took out his credit chit and gave it to Isaiah.  “Here.”
“Suit yourself,” Isaiah shrugged and headed toward the bar.  He stepped up to the Asari bartender.  “I want something strong and sweet. Surprise me and make it two.”  The bartender smiled and he passed her the credit chit.  She charged it, passed it back to him and went about making two mystery drinks. 
“If you like it, I’ll tell you what it is.”  She put the drink together quickly and passed them to him.  He took the two drinks in hand taking a sip off of one.  It was certainly what he asked for, it tasted good but he could tell it was strong and wouldn’t take many to get him drunk.  It wasn’t often that he felt like drinking, but the occasion called for it.
            An hour or so and a few mystery drinks later, Isaiah had found himself on the dance floor with Caleb.  They had only been dancing for a few minutes and Isaiah could clearly see that dancing wasn’t part of the N7 training program.  Caleb wasn’t that bad, he kept the beat, he just appeared to be awkward.  The song that was playing, like all the other music in Purgatory, was upbeat and energetic in motion.  The other people on the dance floor wave and flailed their arms about in various motions with the music.  The dancing aspect of the bar was something that Isaiah had become very fond of.  The energy that took over people on the dance floor made everyone seem at peace, like they had all but forgotten about the turmoil that took part of everyday life.  Caleb smiled at him and moved in a little closer extending a hand out to touch his side.   Isaiah let it happen, briefly then pulled away.  Both of them had had more than their fair share of alcohol but he didn’t know if he was ready to take the guy home yet.  It had been a very long time since he had taken someone home and the last time he did, it ended in disaster.  Caleb leaned in to speak over the music.
            “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”  Isaiah stopped him, the fact that he was apologising was enough for Isaiah to realize that getting to the bed together wasn’t his intention.  Isaiah leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, not really sure if it was his own doing or the alcohol making him act out.  Caleb smiled at him.  “Thanks.”  Isaiah leaned in to speak into his ear, feeling as though he wanted to lay everything out on the table now rather than beat around the bush. 
            “I need to tell you something,” he started, “You seem like a really good guy.  Your friends have a really high opinion of you.”  Caleb gave him a strange look at the mention of his friends and Isaiah figured he should explain in a little more detail.  “I met them over at the Dark Star Lounge, they said you were waiting for me, I had already made up my mind not to come.  They made you sound like a really great person.”  Caleb smiled and stopped dancing Isaiah did the same.
            “Then what’s the problem?”  Caleb asked sensing that there was about to be a “but” in the sentence. 
            “I just want you to know that I’m not in a really great place right now, I’m not looking for anything serious with anyone.”  Caleb’s smile faded from his boyish features.  “I just need you to know that because I don’t want you to end up getting hurt.”  Caleb put his hand on Isaiah’s forearm, his skin was cool and clammy, telling Isaiah he was nervous. 
            “When you’re not looking for anything is when it’s most likely to find you.  I don’t think I’m going to get hurt.  When I saw you on the presidium, I thought you just looked like an awesome person and from what I’ve found out about you.  You seem pretty cool.  I just wanna be your friend.  Whatever happens after that, I’m okay with.”  Again Isaiah wasn’t sure if his judgement was off because of the alcohol or if it was Caleb’s deep hazel eyes that were clouding him.  But he was okay with what Caleb was proposing.  Just because Isaiah wasn’t really ready for anything right now didn’t mean they couldn’t just be friends. 
            “That sounds like a really good idea.”  Caleb looked around briefly then back to Isaiah.
            “Do you wanna get outta here?  Go somewhere a little quieter?” he asked. 
            “Where did you have in mind?” asked Isaiah not really caring where. 
            “Have you ever been on an Alliance frigate before?” asked Caleb cracking a smile.  All Isaiah could think about was the trouble Caleb would get into if he were caught sneaking someone onto the ship. 
            “You could get into a lot of trouble if your XO finds out.” 
            “He won’t, he’s off the ship for the night visiting family.”  Everything in Isaiah’s body was telling him no, but he couldn’t help but be curious of what was going to unfold before him.  It had been a long time since he had done anything outside of the ordinary.
            “All right, if you say so.” 
            “Cool come on.”  Caleb grabbed Isaiah by the wrist and excitedly pulled him off the dance floor and out of the bar.  They stepped into the elevator and the doors closed behind them.
            “Welcome Lt. Rodriguez, please select your destination,” said the elevator VI.  Caleb released Isaiah’s hand and stepped up to the elevator control panel, he hit a few of the buttons and the elevator started moving.  He turned back to face him and smiled leaning against the wall. 
            “Lieutenant huh?” said Isaiah smiling.
            “Yeah.”  They went silent for a few moments and the only sound was the hum of the elevator.  Caleb took a step toward him and Isaiah knew what was coming already making the decision not to fight it.  Caleb leaned in and kissed him, at first timidly on the cheek waiting for rejection.  When Isaiah didn’t object to it, Caleb brought his hand up to touch his face and kissed him on the lips.  The two of them kissed passionately until the elevator stopped.  Caleb pulled back, his olive skin had a red hue to it.  “Sorry I know what I said but…”
            “No, it’s okay,” Isaiah paused thinking his words through carefully, “I wanted you to.”  Isaiah rubbed his hand through Caleb’s hair briefly before pulling away.  Caleb smiled and walked up to the elevator door, causing it to open automatically. 
            “Welcome to docking bay D25,” said the VI.  The two of them stepped off the elevator and out into a long hall way.  They passed through the security check point and headed down the hall which branched off into a passengers area and a customs office.  Isaiah hadn’t been to the military docking bays before.  At the end of the hall he could see out the main window and could see the Norad parked outside.  An eerie light shone from in behind the ship from the colorful Serpent Nebula that the Citadel resided in.  They continued on and into the main hall that attached to the air lock of the ship.  They walked up to the door and it opened.
            “Are you sure you’re not going to get into trouble for this?” said Isaiah.
            “Nah, it’ll be fine.”  They stepped into the airlock and a second door slid open from the top.  They kept moving and were on the bridge of the Norad.  There was only one person on the bridge whom Caleb nodded to and kept walking.  The person smiled at Isaiah he figured greeting him, Isaiah returned the smile and they got onto the elevator.  Isaiah watched as Caleb hit some buttons on the pad he was able to tell they were going to deck 3.  Isaiah leaned against the wall waiting as the elevator started.  Caleb took a step over and leaned next to him.  Isaiah caught him staring at him as their gazes met Caleb looked down trying to be less noticeable.  It was too late for that now he wanted to kiss him now that they had started.  Isaiah turned to face him and put his hands around Caleb’s waist.  Caleb looked up at him and smiled as Isaiah moved into a kiss.  Their lips barely touched at first giving him a few light pecks on the lips before moving into another passionate kiss.  He felt Caleb’s hands running down his back and resting at his hips before he pulled him into him.  It hadn’t been a minute when the door to the elevator slid open.
            “Hey Rodriguez, bout time you got back,” said a voice behind them.  Isaiah looked at Caleb briefly scared to turn around, fearing that the voice was his XO.  Caleb gave him a reassuring smile before standing forward.
            “Hey Monteith, didn’t realize we had a curfew, are we sixteen again or something?” said Caleb confidently.  Isaiah turned around to see a man that appeared to be of similar age as he and Caleb.  But with all of the available physical alterations through medical science it was hard to be sure of anybody’s age without asking.  Monteith was at least 6’3 and two hundred pounds, but aside from his height there was nothing threatening about the guy.  His wide green eyes, and seemingly happy features were welcoming.  “Are the others back already?” asked Caleb.
            “Yeah man, they got back probably twenty minutes ago,” explained Monteith, “I think everyone thought you’d be spending the night off ship.”  Isaiah raised his eyebrow at the comment, for a second, thinking back to his encounter with Caleb’s squad mates.  “They all just bedded down for the night.  I was just heading down to the armory to check the weaponry.” 
            “Planning on a fight?” Isaiah couldn’t help but think it was suspicious checking weaponry in the middle of the night out of uniform. 
            “Can never be too prepared right?”  Monteith smiled awkwardly and scratched the back of his head, clearly not having expected Isaiah to bring attention to it.
            “I guess not.”  Caleb glanced at Isaiah telling him that there was more to it that he didn’t know about.
            “How about I go check it out for you tonight, instead?  You should get some sleep.”  Monteith thought for a moment, it was clear to Isaiah Caleb was trying to find somewhere for them to be alone.  “I’ll send a report, it’ll be waiting before you even get out of bed in the morning.  You know you can trust me, dude.” 
            “Okay, Rodriguez, I’ll see you first thing in the morning then.”  With that the officer hit the button on the wall next to him closing the elevator on them. 
            “Seems like a decent guy.”
            “Yeah, he’s pretty much my best friend.  He wouldn’t have let anyone else check the armory for him.  His family was taken by the collectors months ago.  After that he developed an OCD for checking the weapons every couple of hours.  I guess it’s just his way to cope.”  It had been six months since the collectors had been stopped by Commander Shepard.  Isaiah had lost a couple of friends in different attacks on the colonies but not any family.  Caleb hit a couple of buttons on the pad and the elevator started again.
            “Poor guy.”  Isaiah paused and stared at the floor briefly remembering some of the people he lost. 
            “Who did you lose?” asked Caleb catching the thought. 
            “I,” Isaiah sighed and paused figuring it was too late not to tell him. “My best friend died on Ferris Fields.”  Isaiah wiped at his face hoping that the tears weren’t too evident.
            “I’m sorry.”  Caleb put his hand on Isaiah’s neck and pulled him into an embrace.  Isaiah stood there quietly trying to regain control of his emotions before he lost it completely.  He had managed to go without thinking of Robert for months.  It was easy because no one else really knew to ask him about it.  He felt the tears run down his face and soak into Caleb’s shirt before he managed to pull himself together again.
            “Thanks.”  The elevator jolted to a stop and Isaiah pulled back from the embrace, Caleb kissed him.  “Sorry I haven’t really had to think about him for a long time.” 
            “It’s okay.  You don’t have to explain yourself.”  The elevator door opened into a large open room.  Caleb stepped off the elevator and Isaiah followed, looking around.  He could see the weapon modifications table and what he assumed was the procurement interface as well as several other work stations.  Beyond that there were two shuttles some variety of the Kodiak drop shuttle.  The weapons hangar was off to the right Caleb headed over and stopped at the console just before it.  He entered some information on the computer and Isaiah heard several unlocking sounds. 
“Should you really do that now?” he asked, “After drinking like we did?”  Caleb turned to him apparently having not thought of it. 
“I’ll leave it until morning.”  He hit some buttons on the console and the sound of pressurized locks echoed through the open room.  Caleb smiled at him.  “Come on.”  Caleb walked toward the shuttle and Isaiah followed.  He approached it and entered a code on the shuttle door causing it to slide open.  “Figured this’ll be the best way for us to get some privacy, unless you wanna spend the night in crew quarters?”  Caleb stepped up inside the shuttle and signalled Isaiah to follow.
“No thank you,” said Isaiah stepping up inside.  Caleb used another panel to close the shuttle door and walked over to the overhead compartments. 
“There should be some blankets in here just in case of an emergency.”
“You sure this qualifies?” asked Isaiah smiling. 
“I think so.”  Caleb grabbed some blankets from the compartment and laid them out on the floor with a single pillow.  The blankets were a green military print as to be expected.  Caleb looked at Isaiah with a patient expression on his face.  He looked as though he was waiting for an invite.  Isaiah smiled and took a step toward him when Caleb grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into him.  Caleb started kissing Isaiah on the neck as he ran his hands up and down his body before putting his hands up his shirt.  Isaiah decided not to hold back anymore as he let his body do what it wanted, grabbing and rubbing at Caleb’s muscular body.  He slid his hands under Caleb’s shirt and lifted it over his head.  Caleb smiled at him and leaned into a kiss before lifting Isaiah’s shirt quickly over his head and threw it on the floor.  “Are you sure you wanna do this?” asked Caleb breathing heavily.
“Are you kidding?  Of course I want to.” 
“Okay.”  Caleb pushed Isaiah aggressively into the wall and started kissing him passionately holding him close to him with one hand on his neck and the other on his waist.  Isaiah never expected Caleb to get so aggressive as he let his carnal instincts take over.  Isaiah cupped his hands around Caleb’s face as they kissed.  He felt as Caleb’s hand moved from his pants to his belt buckle, undoing it with ease.  The belt buckle came undone quickly and his pants fell to the ground.  Caleb pulled back briefly and looked up and down at Isaiah.  “You’re so hot.”  Isaiah felt himself blush at the comment, at the same time feeling silly for blushing given the situation they found themselves in. 
“You’re not too bad yourself soldier.”  Isaiah smiled and leaned in for a soft peck on the lips.  Caleb undid his pants and stripped down to his boxers. 
“Let’s lay down,” Caleb whispered.  Caleb backed up slowly and the two of them laid down on the floor.  It was cold at first but Isaiah’s blood was running hot enough to keep him warm.  Isaiah laid back with his head on the pillow and Caleb crawled on top of him.  He kissed him on the cheek then they gazed into each other’s eyes briefly.  Caleb smiled and continued kissing him on the cheek and neck before starting to kiss his chest.  As Caleb gazed down at him from through the low light of the shuttle, Isaiah couldn’t help but feel like everything was right and that what was happening was exactly like it should be.  What followed was a night unlike any other Isaiah had ever shared with anyone before.  It ended with them both falling asleep wrapped up in each other on the floor of the shuttle.  Both of them fulfilled and exhausted.

Isaiah slowly opened his eyes, he was still lying on the floor of the shuttle and he was naked.  He panicked briefly not remembering where he was at first.  He sat up quickly only to be met with a head rush as his settled blood rushed from his head.  The hangover didn’t help matters either.  He looked around for his clothes not seeing them anywhere.  He started to feel a bit of panic as he started running different scenarios through his head.  What if Caleb really wasn’t as sincere as he seemed and he was just another notch on his belt, or what if Caleb had gotten into trouble.
“Or what if you’re just overreacting and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything,” he said to himself.  Isaiah felt a strange yet familiar feeling of motion telling him that the ship he was on had entered FTL speed.  “Shit.”  Isaiah looked behind him and noticed there was a neatly folded Alliance uniform sitting beside the pillow he had slept on.  “He must be kidding.”  He picked it up hesitantly thinking that it was probably better than the alternative and quickly got dressed.  Isaiah stepped over to the shuttle door and looked at the door console next to it.  He couldn’t remember the combination Caleb used to open it the night before.  His head was pounding from a head ache and the FTL movement didn’t help his situation any.  He hit a button on the panel and nothing happened at first then the door slid open and Caleb was standing in the door way.
            “Hey, something’s come up.”
            “What’s going on, why is the ship at FTL speed?” asked Isaiah.  Caleb had a worried look on his face.
            “I don’t know the details but, Earth was just attacked.  Arcturus station sent out a distress call but no one can make heads or tails of it.  The fleets were recalled,” he explained.  “Are you feeling okay?”
            “Not really.  I’m hung over.  Does anyone else know I’m on the ship?” asked Isaiah. 
            “Yes I already told Commander Rawlings you were on the ship, but we didn’t have time to let you off the ship.  I told him you’re a biotic and you had some military background, so you’ve been unofficially drafted.  I can get you something for the hangover and something to eat is probably a good idea.  Let’s go.”  Isaiah stepped out of the shuttle and followed Caleb to the elevator.  They took the elevator to the third deck and Caleb took him to the Med-Bay.  There was an older man there who Isaiah assumed was the ships medical officer.  “Hey doc, this is my friend Isaiah, he needs a shot to neutralize the alcohol in his blood stream.”  The doctor looked Isaiah up and down and raised an eyebrow.
            “So this is our stowaway is it?  If you were any other person Caleb you may not have had a career left.”  The doctor walked over to Isaiah and started to scan him quickly with his omni-tool most likely just to find out the dosage he’d require.  “How much did you guys drink last night?  Young people these days,” he sighed.  The doctor walked over to a sealed cabinet and punched in a code.  A clicking sound signalled the lock opening and he pulled it open, grabbing a small bottle and syringe.  He walked back over to Isaiah and quickly drew up the amount of medicine and pushed the needle into Isaiah’s forearm. 
            “What is that?” he asked.
            “Butemeral, it’ll neutralize the alcohol in your system.”  He withdrew the syringe and it was done.  “There you are young man.” 
            “Thanks doc.  Let’s go.”  Caleb headed for the exit of the med bay and stepped out into the mess hall.  Isaiah nodded to the doctor and stepped out behind him. 
            “Now what?” asked Isaiah. 
            “Well you might as well eat something.  Other than that all there is to do is wait for orders.”  Caleb walked over to the cabinets next to the food prep area and grabbed some wrapped food from up above.  Isaiah immediately recognized the wrappers of the typical military protein supplements and cringed at the thought of them.  “These’ll have to do we left before we could pick up any real supplies,” said Caleb tossing one of the packages at him.  Isaiah caught it and looked it over.  “I have a briefing to get to on the mission.  I’ll be back in an hour.”  Isaiah nodded to Caleb as he walked away.
            Isaiah looked around at the empty mess hall, the entire crew must have gone to the meeting.  He walked over to the table in the middle and sat in one of the chairs.  He opened the ration and took a bite of it, the texture was that of a dried meat product of some kind.  They hadn’t improved on the recipe any since he left the Alliance.  It wasn’t completely unbearable to eat but it wasn’t great to eat either.  As Isaiah ate he started to realize just how hungry he was and how long it had been since he ate.  He finished the ration and looked around the room again.  He figured he try to find an active extranet connection and see if he could get a message out to Jedora to let her know he was okay.  He noticed a console in the corner that looked like a public access terminal.  He stepped up to the console and tapped a few buttons opening the extranet.  He logged onto the server and placed a call to Jedora.  Luckily the extranet traffic was currently low and he was able to send a real time call.  Her tired face appeared on the screen.
            “Hello?” she said quietly and clearly hung over.  She looked unaware of who was calling her for all of a few seconds before realizing it was Isaiah.  “Where the hell are you?  I tried to call you this morning on your omni-tool before I went to bed!” 
            “I’m on that ship with Caleb, er the N7.  They’ve been recalled to Earth for some kind of emergency. I woke up and we were already going at FTL speed.”
            “I was worried about you.  When will you be able to get back?”
            “I have no idea.  We don’t even know what happened.”  Jedora looked at him strangely for a second.
            “Are you wearing an Alliance uniform?”
            “Yeah, they drafted me.  Again no choice.”  Isaiah heard someone coming from the elevator.  “I better go.  I’ll be in touch.”  Jedora nodded as Isaiah turned off the connection.  Isaiah looked up from the console just in time to see a young human women come around the corner from the elevator.  She was as tall as he was, pale skin and black hair, physically it was evident that she took care of herself.  Isaiah smiled at her, she made little effort to return it when she noticed him.  “Hi,” said Isaiah simply trying to be polite.  He figured if he was going to have to coexist with these people he should get along with them. 
            “Where did you get that uniform, I don’t recognize you.”  The accusation was heavy in her voice although, Isaiah wasn’t sure what she was accusing him of. 
            “I was drafted, I was with Caleb when the ship left the Citadel.”
            “Caleb?  You mean Lieutenant Rodriguez?”  Isaiah was surprised.  Caleb didn’t seem like he was old enough to be a lieutenant.  He also thought he may have heard a hint of jealousy in her voice.
            “You better be good to him,” she said before turning and heading back the way she came.  Isaiah sat and waited in the mess hall for what seemed like hours.  Other crewmen started to show in the mess hall after some time had passed but Caleb was nowhere to be found.  He was starting to worry that Caleb had gotten into more trouble than he had let on.  Montieth walked into the mess hall and seemed to be heading toward him.  Isaiah stood up to greet him.
            “Rodriguez wanted me to bring you to the CIC to meet Commander Rawlings,” he said as he approached.  Isaiah thrown off not expecting to ever be in direct contact with the Commander.  He nodded acknowledging the statement.
            “Lead the way.” 

            Several quiet minutes passed before Isaiah stepped off to see Caleb standing next to a man beside the galaxy map.   Both of them were looking intently at it until he stepped of the elevator.  The crew was at their stations and the CIC seemed to be staffed at a full compliment.  Caleb noticed him out of the corner of his eye and gave him a reassuring glance as the Commander turned to face him.  Isaiah wasn’t sure if he should step up and offer a hand to shake or he should just stay put.  Instead he recalled his Alliance training and saluted him.  Caleb smiled at him as Commander Rawlings took a few steps toward him.
            “At ease soldier,” said Rawlings stopping a few feet from him.  “Rodriguez is telling me that you’re a biotic.”
            “Yes sir.  I spent some time at the Grissom Academy before I joined the Alliance,” explained Isaiah. 
            “Commander, we’re within range of the fleet.  You have a private communication from Admiral Hackett in your quarters.  It’s priority one, sir.”  Isaiah assumed the person talking was someone from the bridge.  The voice was coming in over the comm system. 
            “Patch it through Private, I’ll go there now.  You’ll have to excuse me Mr….”
            “I have to attend to this.”  Isaiah didn’t expect the XO to be so pleasant or accepting of the fact that a stranger was on his ship without permission.  He figured it was a sign of his respect for Caleb and not a sign that Caleb had taken quite a bit of flak for it already, but it didn’t seem that way.  The commander walked passed him and into the elevator.  “Rodriguez you have the bridge.”  Montieth walked to his presumed station and Isaiah walked up to Caleb.
            “You didn’t tell me you were second officer,” said Isaiah.  He knew that only the second in command would be put in charge like this.
            “Didn’t seem important,” said Caleb.  He seemed to have taken on a whole aura of responsibility that Isaiah didn’t see before.  There was a soft jolt as the ship dropped out of FTL speeds and the pilot called over the comm. system.
            “We have visual contact with the fleet, Lieutenant.”
            “Open communication with the fleet leaders and see where they want us.”  There was a brief pause as the pilot communicated with the fleet.  “Report Private.” 
            “They want us as part of the evac team, Lieutenant.”  The quiet hum of chatter on the bridge went silent as the Private spoke.  No one could imagine what would be going on if they were being ordered to evacuate Earth. 
            “What does that even mean?” asked Isaiah not bothering to stay quiet anymore.
            “Can you get anything for the viewer?” asked Caleb.  The galaxy map stopped projecting their destination and went black.
            “The feed is coming in from Earth now Lieutenant.”  The imagery system began projecting an image in front of Caleb of Vancouver.  A young women was reporting in though there was no sound.  The camera showed several large ships off in the distance over the city skyline, each projecting a red laser in random directions.  The destruction was unimaginable, the crew on the bridge were stunned at the images.  Suddenly one of the lasers overtook the reporter and her camera and the viewer changed to another city.  New York, the skyline already in flames with the same machines towering over.  The image changed again to the view of a random ground team, they were fighting something similar to the husks that had appeared on the Citadel two years ago with the Geth.  Another creature became visible, it was roughly six feet tall with fours eyes like the Batarians, but it appeared warped and twisted.  Instead of visible eyeballs a strange blue light was projecting from the holes in its head and every other visible orifice, one of its arms had been joined with a gun of sorts.   The feed ended as it shot the soldier and another feed started. 
            “That’s enough,” said Caleb, cutting the feed before more images of destruction fed the growing fear of everyone on the bridge.  As the image closed Commander Rawlings stepped off the elevator back onto the bridge and the crew turned to him still wearing a stunned look on their faces.  “Commander I…” Caleb trailed off.
            “Private, send a message to the rest of the Evac teams and position us over Toronto.  We’ll be sending out two Evac shuttles.  Alpha team will be headed by Lieutenant Rodriguez and I will be taking Beta team.”  The young women standing across from a terminal next to the captains spoke up.
            “Commander, what are those things?” she asked the question that was plaguing everyone on the ship at this point. 
            “Officially they’re a hostile force that has completely over run us and surpassed our entire defence line at Arcturus.  Unofficially I’m pretty god damn sure it’s what Commander Shepard has been trying to warn us about.”
            “Reapers…” Isaiah whispered and Rawlings glanced at him briefly. 
            “We have lives depending on us people let’s move!” said Caleb trying to instill some form of confidence on a group of seemingly lost people.  Caleb started walking toward the elevator and Isaiah grabbed him by the arm.
            “If you’re going down there, I’m going with you.”
            “No you’re not,” said Caleb quickly, “What if something happens to you?”
            “That’s irrelevant, you could use a biotic and I’m pretty sure I’m the best on this ship.”  Isaiah looked Caleb in the eye with a desperate look on his face as he pleaded with him.
            “Take him with you Rodriguez.  He’s got training and if he’s as good as you say he is,” Rawlings trailed off.  “Isaacs, Montieth, Pelletier, you’re with me.”  Rawlings team stepped into the elevator, Caleb and Isaiah followed.  The elevator ride was long and quiet, the look on Caleb’s face told Isaiah he was not pleased with him going along.  He discretely reached out and touched his hand, Caleb smiled lightly at him and the door opened.  The young women Isaiah met in the mess hall greeted Caleb as he stepped off the elevator.
            “Paisley suit up, you’re in Alpha team.” 
            “Aye, Lieutenant.”  Everyone walked up to their respective lockers and started to slide on their armor.  Caleb put his hand to his ear activating his short range communicator. 
            “This is Rodriguez, Thompson get your ass down here I need an engineer.”  The two shuttles began showing signs of activation as their Eezo cores powered up.  “Argent we have some Serrice Council gear in hangar six that should fit you.  It’s designed for biotic enhancement.”  Caleb pointed to one of the hangars next to where the others were getting ready, Isaiah walked over and opened it.  He had only ever used the body armor once.  “Should be a mnemonic visor in there as well.”  Isaiah looked up inside and nodded before starting to suit up.  The ship suddenly shook violently. 
            “What the hell was that?” said Rawlings into his short range communicator. 
            “We’re under attack Commander.  I think I can shake them but everyone should hold onto something.”
            “What’s attacking us?”  Rawlings activated his omni-tool and opened a viewer to the outside of the ship. 
            “Just a couple small fighters, I don’t know how they saw through the stealth tech.” 
            “Deal with it.  We’ve got a mission to get to.”  Everyone finished gearing up quickly and the last teammate came down in the elevator and joined them in the Alpha team shuttle.  The pilot had managed to fend off the attackers and get to their designated drop point.  Each of the shuttles had departed and Isaiah now sat beside Caleb and across from Thompson and Pelletier.  The shuttle pilot was in the cockpit and communicating with the others.  Isaiah’s own communicator had been tuned to the rest of the team and he was able to listen in on the chatter between them. 
            “We’re entering Earth’s atmosphere now Lieutenant.”  Caleb stood up and walked over to a viewer on the wall.
            “Can you give me a visual of the LZ?”
            “Yes sir.  But it’s pretty ugly down there.”  The viewer turned on to the area below.  They had already done a considerable amount of damage to the structures and there didn’t appear to be any population in the streets. 
            “Sure is.”  Caleb stared for a moment before they heard Rawlings start speaking into their communicators.
            “Alright teams listen up.  Alpha team there is a group of Alliance Officials held up in an arena approximately two kilometers from the LZ.  Your job is to clear the way there so we can bring in the shuttles and hopefully get them out of there.  If that proves to be impossible then we will have to escort them back to the shuttles on foot,” explained Rawlings. 
            “We’re taking fire hold onto something!” yelled the pilot from the front.  Isaiah could feel the shift in motion as the shuttle pilot took evasive manoeuvres.  Isaiah gripped the handles on the wall and the whole shuttle shook.  “Captain Rawlings shuttle just went down.” 
            “Beta team this is alpha leader, do you copy!  Rawlings this is Rodriguez! Do you copy!”  Caleb yelled into his communicator sounding more desperate as he pleaded for someone to answer him.  Isaiah realized that Montieth was on the other shuttle. 
            “Lieutenant, I can’t keep ahead of them much longer!”  No sooner had the pilot spoke the word than the shuttle shook violently and something sounded like an explosion outside.  “We’ve gotta set down or we won’t have a shuttle to get home in!”  It wasn’t long before the shuttle took another hit and they were hurling toward the ground.  Isaiah was sure they were going to die on impact.  “Dammit we’re outta control.  Impact in 20 seconds!”  Isaiah braced himself for impact and started concentrating his biotic power to try and at least stop the shuttle from hitting at full speed.  His implants activated at full tilt as he tried to envelop the whole shuttle in a mass effect field.  The time quickly passed and the shuttle hit sooner than estimated.  Isaiah bashed his head on the fixture behind him and he lost consciousness. 
            Isaiah opened his eyes to a splitting head ache, he was still strapped in to the seat.  He looked at his surroundings, his vision still a bit fuzzy from the knock to the head.  He could see that the others were still strapped in but he couldn’t see Caleb anywhere.  He tried to move but the straps were locked in place, the safeties hadn’t disengaged yet, telling him that the shuttle was completely shut down.  He grasped at the strap but they wouldn’t let loose, he tried so hard that he grunted in frustration.  He focused as hard as he could creating a mass effect field around the buckle breaking it in two pieces and freeing himself. 
            “Dammit,” Isaiah hit the floor his head ache agitated with the use of his biotics.  His vision was starting to clear up as he looked to the front of the shuttle cabin.  Caleb was laid out on the floor and the pilot was clearly dead.  Isaiah crawled over to Caleb to see if he was alive.  “Caleb wake up,” he said quietly.  He knew that if Caleb didn’t open his eyes there was a very good chance he wouldn’t survive.  Isaiah held up his arm and activated his omni-tool, quickly doing a scan of Caleb’s life signs.  He was still alive and appeared to be in overall good condition, most likely thanks to his helmet that Isaiah now noticed was cracked.  “Caleb!”  He shook him lightly and then harder and harder.  Startled, Caleb opened his eyes and quickly drew his gun on Isaiah.  “It’s me Isaiah, calm down.”  Caleb holstered his gun and rolled to his knee.
            “How long was I out?” he asked looking at their surroundings.
            “I don’t know, I just woke up.”  Caleb looked at his omni-tool, and hit a few keys on the interface.
            “Dammit, how could we really be out for two days?”  Caleb took a step back into the cabin to check on the others, removing his helmet.  “Are the others okay?”  He used his omni-tool to scan Thompson and Pelletier.  “Dammit,” Caleb sighed, “They’re both…”  Just then there was a sound from outside the shuttle.  A thump then the sound of gunfire hitting the shuttles hull. 
            “Dammit, what was that?”
            “Are you able to fight?” asked Caleb.  “Because I think we’re going to have to.”  Isaiah shook off his fear and collected himself quickly before nodding.  They were in a combat situation and there were people depending on him, he couldn’t afford to get emotional.  “Okay.”  Caleb grabbed the M-8 Avenger from the magnetic clamp on his back and walked up to the door.  Isaiah armed himself with the Phalanx heavy pistol and got ready to focus his biotics into a barrier.  Caleb shot him a glance one more time before hitting the door release.  The door opened and slid across, revealing the war zone outside.  There was rubble scattered everywhere around them and the sun was on its way down.  Isaiah could see several creatures closing in from in front of them.  They looked like warped batarians.  Caleb immediately took into action opening fire on them and heading to cover, an upturned piece of pavement only ten feet from the shuttle.  Isaiah followed close behind opening fire as well, but lacking Caleb’s precision.  He fired several shots, sure that he connected with at least one of them.  The creatures returned fire at them, Isaiah could hear the small bullets chipping into the wall of concrete between them.  He had hoped that they weren’t smart enough to have modified their weapons for piercing.  There was a brief pause and Caleb jumped up spraying an entire heat sink worth of rounds into the oncoming forces.  Caleb jumped back down and popped the heat sink out of his weapon and quickly reloaded.  Isaiah peeked up over the concrete trying to get an idea of where the reapers were positioned, he knew that he didn’t have to really see his target to be able to hit them with biotics.  He could set a singularity trap for them if he could just see where they were within three meters.  “Are you alright?” asked Caleb.
            “I’m fine.  I’m gonna hit them with a singularity, be ready!”  An eerie blue energy began emanating from Isaiah as he focused.  He stood up and released a ball of dark energy that hurled down and around enemy cover turning into a ball of black energy trapping three of the creatures.  The singularity lifted the three creatures into the air and Caleb opened fire killing one of them, just as several shots came flying at him.  Isaiah could see the shields in Caleb’s suit blocking the weapons fire before he ducked back into cover.  He knew it would only be seconds before the singularity gave out so he focused again preparing a warp attack.  Isaiah stood up let loose a missile of dark energy.  He hit one of the suspended targets and it exploded disintegrating and knocking the other one into the air.  Caleb looked over at him with a surprised look on his face, clearly he had never seen a biotic detonation before. 
            “Nice job.”  Isaiah nodded at him and looked over their cover trying to gage how many they had left before they were alone again.  “It looks like there’s just one left.  I’ll take care of the last one.”  Caleb smiled as he raised his omni-tool and hit a command on it.  He vanished from sight all but a slight distortion of the visual in front of Isaiah.  He decided to distract the enemy just in case they could see through Caleb’s cloak.   He fired several random shots out from behind his cover and he could hear the sound once again of rounds hitting his cover from the other side.  Isaiah looked discretely around the corner and he saw the last reaper creature get knocked out from behind its cover and Caleb appeared standing over it.  His omni-tool was active and a blade extended from it.  Caleb let out a grunt as he thrust the blade into the creatures warped skull.  He pulled the blade back and kicked the body once to check that it was dead as his blade disappeared.  “We’re all clear for now.  Good work,” said Caleb as he started walking toward Isaiah. 
            “So what do we do now?  Should we proceed to our original objective?” asked Isaiah walking out to meet him.
            “No the mission parameters have changed, we have to try and re-establish contact with the Norad.  I think we have to assume that Beta team is dead.” 
            “Caleb we can at least try reaching them.  There must be some emergency communication equipment in the shuttle that we can use.”  Isaiah walked back over to the shuttle with Caleb close behind him.
            “There is, but any long range communication might give away our position.”  Isaiah walked over to the communications console for the shuttle and activated his omni-tool, using it to scan the system.
            “It’s a no go anyway.  But we have to put out at least a short range communication, see what’s happening out there.”  Caleb nodded at him and Isaiah put his hand to his ear, activating his communicator.  “This is Isaiah Argent of the Norad, I’m here with Lieutenant Rodriguez, our drop team was killed in a shuttle crash.  Is anyone out there?”  They both waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity before a sound started coming from their communicators.  At first too much static made it impossible to read.  Caleb used his omni-tool to try and clear up the signal.
            “Rodriguez, this is Montieth can you hear me?” said the voice cutting through the static and getting clearer.  A look of relief came over Caleb’s face at the sound of Montieth’s voice.
            “Yes Montieth we hear you.  What is your location?  Is Rawlings alive?” he said speaking into his communicator.
            “No, we took a hit from a reaper unit and everyone died in the shuttle crash.  My omni-tool is malfunctioning so I can’t get of here without being spotted.  From what I can tell I’m right in the center of an enemy stronghold.  I’ve got a working communicator with the shuttles emergency equipment, but I can’t reach the Norad.  She might not be up there anymore lieutenant,” Montieth explained clearly trying not to panic.
            “Hang on we’re coming for you.  We can triangulate your position from here.  Limit communication from here on we don’t want them finding you before we can,” said Caleb. 
            “Aye sir.”  Isaiah had activated his omni-tool and narrowed in on Montieth’s position.
            “He’s four miles from our location.” 
            “Better get going.”  Caleb and Isaiah headed out into the ruins of the city.  As they travelled they could hear the rattle of assault rifles off in the distance and the screams of people in the street.  They could see the skyscraper sized machines from every angle moving through the entire GTA.  Isaiah couldn’t imagine how they were going to fight something so massive as they tore the city apart with their deadly red lasers.  It was horrifying, a huge loss of life that could have been prevented if they had only listened to the warnings that were right in front of them for the last two years.  “Get down,” said Caleb pulling him down into cover.  Isaiah peaked up over the rubble they hid behind and could see a pack of husks huddled over a body.  “There’s six of ‘em.  You stay here I’ll move around to the other side and flank them.  Maybe we can catch them in a crossfire.” 
            “Don’t bother I can catch them all in a singularity field, then we can just take them out one at a time,” explained Isaiah already focusing his biotics.  Caleb nodded giving him the go ahead and Isaiah stood up thrusting his free hand forward.  A ball of dark matter released from his hand and hit just above the group of husks.  The dark energy expanded and pulled in the husks causing them to float in an orbital motion around it.  Each of them stood up and began firing into the mass of husks killing them one by one Caleb using his assault rifle and Isaiah, his heavy pistol.  One by one the singularity field dropped the dead bodies and dissipated.   “Simple enough.”
            “Too bad they all won’t be that simple,” said Caleb as he walked over to the body the husks had been hovering around.  Caleb knelt down and Isaiah walked over behind him scanning their surroundings for anymore movement.  “Poor guy didn’t stand a chance.”  Isaiah knelt down and looked at the body.   A middle aged man, it almost looked as though he’d been eaten, or chewed on.  Isaiah had to look away almost feeling sick to his stomach at the sight.  “Let’s go.”  Caleb stood up and they took to moving again. 
            They had been on the move for about forty minutes and Isaiah pulled out his omni-tool to check how far they were from their destination.  He scanned the area and was picking up Montieth’s signal within less than five hundred meters. 
            “Caleb, stop.  We’re five hundred meters west of his location.”  Caleb stopped and looked at him with a strain in his features Isaiah had never seen before.  “Should I get him on communicator?”  Caleb nodded and Isaiah put his hand to his ear.  “Montieth its Isaiah, can you hear me?  We’re close we need you to open communications so we can narrow in on your position.”  There was nothing for several long seconds before a static started in with Montieth’s voice. 
            “I think they’re going to find me.  You guys need to hurry.  With my omni-tool malfunctioning I’m stuck with just a gun to defend myself,” said Montieth cutting in and out.
            “Hang on, we’ve got you,” said Caleb as he patched himself in.
            “Lieutenant, be careful, they’ve got some strange looking monsters running around in here.  Some are huge, and some look like warped Asari, with powerful biotics. You’ll…”  There was a static overload and they lost communication.  Caleb looked at Isaiah with a sense of urgency in his eyes.
            “Let’s go.”  Caleb started running heading west using his omni-tool to guide him. They headed down an alley way when a Reaper troop stepped around the corner ahead of them.  Instinctively Isaiah launched a singularity at him but it didn’t lift him off the ground instead all it did was stifle him a bit.  This told Isaiah he was protected either by a barrier or kinetic shields.  The singularity dissipated and the reaper troop threw a grenade at them.  Caleb rolled and scooped up the grenade throwing it back toward the reaper when it exploded ten feet from him.  There was a sound similar to glass shattering as Caleb’s shields dropped as the emitter in his suit overloaded to compensate for the shrapnel.  Caleb staggered back and the reaper opened fire on him.  Three shots hit him before Isaiah jumped in front of him and used a barrier to encompass them both.  The barrier stayed active as Isaiah focused his biotics as hard as he could releasing a shockwave toward it.  The shockwave staggered it long enough for him to use his SMG to take out its shields at close range.  Caleb finished it off with his pistol and a quick shot to the head before falling to his knees from the pain of the shots, all in different parts of his abdomen.
            "Are you alright?"  Isaiah verified that the creature was dead before dropping to the ground beside him. 
            "I'll be fine, the medi-gel just hasn't kicked in yet.  I didn't realize my shields would drop that quick.  That's some weapon he was using."  Caleb stood up and brushed his hand over the bullet hole in his armor.  "Good as new.  Better be careful though we only have three more of those applications."  There was a quiet buzzing sound and a small flicker of light as Caleb's shield generator recharged and re-established the barrier.  "Come on we must be getting closer."  Caleb stood up and started heading to their destination.  Isaiah had all but forgotten the cooling slimy feeling of the medi-gel applicators present in any and all battle armor.  Most people found the feeling uncomfortable at first but would eventually get used to it.  Isaiah followed Caleb around the corner the reaper had come from.  As they turned the corner the destruction seemed heavier, opening up into what looked like it had been a warehouse loading area for several businesses in the area.  There was a transport truck and large loading trailer over turned behind a large crater, most likely an impact point for one of the destroyer's weapons.  "Keep quiet."  Caleb made several hand signals, pointing toward the overturned rig and some of the other rubble that could easily be hiding spots.  Isaiah nodded acknowledging the hand signals.  The two of them took several steps forward when they started hearing a loud groaning noise, followed by a loud clanging noise that had the consistency of footsteps.  Isaiah looked around and couldn't see anything in the immediate visual area but the loading trailer shook slightly.  "God dammit," said Caleb.  "Take cover."  The two of them slid behind a dumpster not sure what to expect as they watched in wait for whatever it was to show itself. 
            "Whatever it is, it definitely big," said Isaiah already trying to get his focus for a biotic attack.  There was a loud growl followed by a smashing sound.  Isaiah peered out of cover to see a huge armored creature with the skull of a turian and the warped body of a krogan.  That unfortunately wasn't the only threat they were going to have to deal with.  It had burst out of the trailer and several husks were funneling out.  "What the hell do we do?  Look at the size of that thing."  Caleb peered around their cover then put his back to the wall.
            "I can keep the small ones busy but I think our best bet against that big bastard is your biotics.  Doesn't look like anything out there has a gun so as long as they don't get close to you, you should be fine."  Caleb spoke quickly as he checked his assault rifle over.  "Think you can do it?  I'll distract them for a minute my cloak can get me around them.  Give you enough time to unleash some hell on them."  Isaiah took a breath not sure if anything he could do would stop something so big.  At the same time he knew he didn't really have a choice, there was only two of them and Caleb couldn't do everything himself. 
            "Go." Isaiah nodded to Caleb and he activated his cloak.  Isaiah moved into his place and peaked around to get an idea of where the brute of a creature was.  He watched as Caleb's almost invisible shape moved across the battlefield right through the enemy and completely un-noticed.  Caleb took up a defensive position before opening fire with his Avenger assault rifle.  He managed to kill several of the husks before they even had enough time to turn around.  All of them turned toward Caleb and Isaiah jumped out of his cover just as the large one took to running at Caleb.  He grabbed it with a biotic pull stopping it in its tracks.  The giant turned to face him as Caleb continued to deal with the smaller husks.  It started walking toward Isaiah and he hit it with a warp attack hoping to dissolve some of its armored covering.  He knew that his SMG wouldn't deal much damage to it until the armor was stripped.  The warp collided with it and it stumbled slightly.  He couldn't tell if he was even doing any damage to the creature.  It appeared that all he was doing was irritating it.  He hit it again this time the creature took to charging at him, he rolled back out of the way when the creature swiped its massive armored claw at him.  It missed him but was close enough to hit and collapse his barrier.  He could feel the stress on his mind as the biotic barrier collapsed.  Isaiah figured all he could do was to turn and run there was no way a close up fight would do him any good.  He quickly got to his feet ignoring the pain in his head and took off to the left.  He heard the creature let out another roar and he felt the ground shake as it moved slowly toward him likely getting ready for another charge.  Isaiah felt comfortable with the distance he had put between them and turned just as the creature bounded toward him again, he mustered everything he could into a powerful shockwave, it hit the creature and combined with the warp effect causing a biotic explosion.  All it did was knock the creature back and stop it from charging right away.  "Dammit!" yelled Isaiah in frustration sure that the biotic explosion would have finished it off.  "Caleb I don't think this is working."  There was no answer and Isaiah quickly searched the area hoping that Caleb hadn't fallen to the husks.  Caleb appeared behind one of the creatures and jabbed his omni-blade through its torso.  Isaiah let out a sigh of relief and as he did felt something wrap its arms around his neck.  A husk had come up behind him while he was distracted and grabbed him shaking him violently about.  He felt it clawing at his armor, his barrier wouldn't protect him for long against physical attacks.  He focused as fast as he could throwing the creature away from him and into a wall.  Isaiah turned his attention back to the brute creature.  He turned to face it just as it brought its massive clawed arm down on him.  Isaiah put everything he could into his barrier and hoped for the best.  It hit him and he could hear his barrier shatter as it hit him.  Amazed that he was still alive and sure that if he hadn't of turned to face it the creature would have cut him in two pieces, he fell backwards and hit the creature with another warp attack.  He was sure it was over for him as the creature took several more steps toward him as he laid there, when he could hear a clinking sound and sparks flew from the creatures head.   Caleb had opened fire with the mantis sniper rifle he carried with him.   The creature started toward Caleb taking long drawn out steps that got quicker with its approach.  Caleb fired and the high velocity round impacted the creatures face, the armor had been weakened and they both could tell. 
            "You're going down you ugly son of a bitch."  Caleb quickly reloaded the heavy weapon and took aim then fired again.  This time hitting the creature in one of its tiny eyes, Caleb thought for sure it would falter but it just kept coming.  It took to running at him and Caleb fired loosely hitting the creature in the chest before rolling to dodge the oncoming onslaught.  The brute crashed into the rubble and Caleb opened fire again with the rifle, still managing a head shot from the awkward angle.  Even from the distance he was, Isaiah could see a definite crack in the armor protecting its head.  Caleb attempted to take one last shot thinking it would finish it off as it turned to face him again.  There was a loud beeping noise telling him that the gun had over heated.  "Dammit."  Caleb didn't have time to load another thermal clip as the creature took to charging.  Isaiah watched as Caleb through the gun to the ground and took to running at the creature.  He ran up an overturned shuttle car and bounded into the air.  His omni-tool activated and the blade extended from it, Isaiah knew that if Caleb missed he would most like be killed by the brute creature.  The creature looked up as Caleb came within range of it and he thrust his blade down into its skull.  The creature let out a hideous roar as the life left it's body.  Caleb landed a foot on its shoulder as it took to rolling and bounded off hitting the ground and rolling to his feet with his pistol pointed at the brute as it flopped to the ground lifelessly.
            He waited for what seemed like hours for the creature to get back up.  When it didn't he holstered his pistol and ran to where Isaiah was laying.  Isaiah felt his suit working to repair the damage on his body, the cool wet touch of the gel touching his body gave him chills as the pain numbed itself. 
            "Are you alright?" he asked.  Isaiah staggered to his feet as Caleb walked over to him.
            "I'll be okay.  I think."  Caleb watched Isaiah for a second as he got his balance.
            "Man I saw him hit you, I thought he was gonna cut you in two."
            "Yeah I managed to support my barrier enough to take most of the hit but I'm sure there's still a gash in my abdomen."  Isaiah rubbed his stomach a bit over his armor.  Caleb took couple steps ahead and looked at their surroundings. 
            "We must be close to him by now but he could be anywhere in these buildings."  Isaiah looked up and around following Caleb's gaze. 
            "I don't think so, he didn't say anything about being inside."
            "But he is in hiding.  Let's head up see if we can see anything from up top."  Caleb pointed to a fire escape that led all the way to the top of the tallest of the apartment buildings that surrounded them.  "There, we can take it all the way to the top." 
            "Okay let's go," Isaiah agreed.  Isaiah followed Caleb over to the fire escape and the two of them went up the ladder.  It was apparent that they were in a poor part of town.  The apartment buildings were older and the fire escapes were damaged, in places barely holding onto the building. 
            The two of them climbed up the steps of the fire escape at a steady pace when they started hearing the familiar groaning noises of the husks from below them.  Isaiah looked down and could see several starting to climb up the building after them.  Some were right on the fire escape and others climbing up the wall.  Isaiah opened his mouth to signal Caleb just as he opened fire with his heavy pistol leaving a ringing in his ears.  The shots found their targets blowing off body parts and knocking them off the building.  Isaiah un-holstered his SMG and opened fire on the husks coming up the escape behind them.  The small rounds ricocheted off the grated metal floor but for the most part found their targets stopping their pursuers in their tracks. 
            "Come on, let's move!" yelled Caleb.  The two of them took to running to make it to the top of the building before more husks came.  As Isaiah ran it felt like the whole fire escape was about to fall off the building.  Caleb jumped from the fire escape to the rooftop just ahead of Isaiah.  "Shit!"  Isaiah heard followed by several gunshots from Caleb's heavy pistol.  Isaiah hurried up the last ladder and looked over the edge of the building before making the move to the rooftop.  He saw Caleb standing there over a dead reaper trooper.  "God damn thing scared the shit out of me."  Caleb turned toward him and walked over.  "Must have been a look out or something.  It's safe for now though."  Isaiah climbed up over the edge and landed his feet on the ground.  Isaiah looked out over the skyline of the city.  There were several of the reaper machines moving through the city in the distance.  Looking at them it was hard to imagine how it would be possible to stop them, he knew it was going to take a miracle.  "If that guy was a look out then I wonder what he was watching."  Caleb holstered his pistol and removed his sniper rifle from his back piece.  He used the zoom on the sniper rifle to zoom in on the surrounding rooftops.  "They're definitely watching for something.  Use your visor take a look at the other three buildings."  Isaiah brought himself back from the bleakness of the horizon and looked in the direction Caleb's sniper rifle was following.  He tapped the side of his headpiece and the zoom function activated.  He could see a reaper troop pacing back and forth on the buildings across from them on either side. 
            "Definitely look outs of some kind.  But what are they..."  Isaiah trailed off as he took to walking along the side of the building following the line of sight of the watchers.  "What the hell?"  Isaiah looked over the edge of the building where the corners met the other three buildings to see what must have been hundreds of people all huddled into a mass.  Caleb came over and looked down beside him. 
            "What the hell are they doing down there?" asked Caleb, clearly not expecting an answer.
            "I don't know, they're massing people together for some reason.  I wonder if that's where Montieth is."
            "We've gotta save those people." 
            "How even with Montieth there's only three of us against all those troops." 
            "I... don't know."  Caleb trailed off and looked away with a saddened expression on his face.  "The reaper forces don't seem to be that organized, their numbers are their advantage.  We'll figure it out."  A few seconds passed long and drawn out, when Caleb's omni-tool communicator began to activate. 
            "Rodriguez do you read me come in!"  Caleb lifted his arm and opened the communicator.  "I'm down in that encampment you’re looking at.  They know you’re there, they're coming to..."  The transmission was cut off and Isaiah heard a gun-shot go off. 
            "Shit."  Isaiah got low to the ground instinctually and un-holstered his heavy pistol.  Caleb activated his cloak and moved over to where Isaiah was crouched down.  "Caleb I..."
            "Stay down, I'm going to see if I can take a look around."  Caleb quickly moved around the rooftop looking to see if he could see any sign of what was coming.  Isaiah could hear the steady moans of husks coming from all around them.  The noise grew steadily louder as the creatures got closer to the top of the building.  Isaiah knew that they wouldn't be able to last against a hoard of reaper forces as they approached. 
            "This is Isaiah Argent of the Norad, does anyone read me?  We need extraction we were on a rescue mission that has since failed.  Our target is presumed dead and we have reaper forces closing from all ends.  I'm emitting a low band signal to help you locate us.  We'll hold out as long as we can," said Isaiah into his head piece as he programmed his omni-tool.  "Please if you're out there..."  Isaiah heard a horrid shriek that seemed to be all around him, it felt like it was going right through him.  Caleb came back from his circle.  "I put out a distress call.  Hopefully they will get here before it's too late."  The first of the husks started to pour over the edges of the rooftop.  There was a flash of light and a creature appeared, it was clearly female and Isaiah got a better look it was a warped Asari.  The creature was covered in reaper technology and armor, Isaiah could only imagine the biotic potential such a creature would have. 
            "That thing is our biggest threat.  Don't hold back."  Caleb cocked his assault rifle and unleashed sweeping fire on the husks.  Isaiah stood up and immediately unleashed a biotic attack on the asari creature.  His attack was absorbed by a biotic barrier not surprised Isaiah knew this thing would be a problem.  The creature let out another shriek and wave its clawed hand sending a slow moving ball of biotic dark matter.  Isaiah rolled backwards and to the left to attempt to dodge and the projectile followed him, colliding with his barrier.  He could feel a resonating biotic effect lingering on his body armor, leaving it almost vibrating.  Isaiah opened fire with his SMG, hoping it would affect the creatures barrier like it would a normal barrier.  The rounds seemed to do the damage he hoped.  There was another flash of light and the creature jumped to only a few feet away from him.  Isaiah hit it with a shockwave and there was a biotic explosion, stopping the creature in its tracks.  The creature let out another horrid shriek.  A light began to surround the creature and it let out another shriek sending out a radial blast wave.  The shockwave hit Isaiah and sent him over the edge.  Isaiah managed to grab the edge of the building with one hand.  He looked down and there was nothing close enough below him even with biotics that would make the landing possible.  "Caleb, help!"  There was no response but Isaiah heard an angry grunt. 
            Caleb grabbed the husk by the face and slammed it to the ground, before trampling its head.  He quickly powered up his omni-tool and fired an incineration blast at several approaching husks, burning them alive.  He looked around urgently trying to see where Isaiah was, after losing Montieth and the rest of his crew he didn't want to lose anyone else he cared about.  He saw the creature walking toward one side of the building and opened fire with both his heavy pistol and his omni-tool attempting to overload it's barrier.  The creature turned it's attention toward him and biotically jumped at him.  Caleb quickly used his tactical cloak and jumped behind the creature, running toward where it had originally been focused.  As he got closer he could see Isaiah's hand gripping the edge of the building.  He jumped at it just as his cloak dropped and grabbed his hand.
            "Gotcha," said Caleb as he grabbed Isaiah's hand and pulled him up.  "Are you alright?"  Caleb asked quickly and Isaiah nodded.
            "I don't know if I can take that bitch alone, her biotics are too much."  The creature let out another shriek and jumped back over to them.  "Look out!"  Isaiah hit the creature with another warp attack this time he was sure it's barrier was at least weakened substantially.  It staggered a bit but otherwise seemed unaffected, it came within arm’s reach of them and swiped at Caleb with long clawed fingers.  Caleb instinctually rolled to the side opening fire on several husks that had climbed the wall behind them.  Suddenly the maintenance door opened to the left of them and several of the warped Batarian creatures came piling out.  Isaiah threw up a singularity to field to hold them in place.  Caleb un-holstered his sniper rifle and started firing everything he had at the biotic terror that was still almost within arm’s reach of them.
            "Isaiah Argent, we see you hang in there."  They both heard over their communicator.  "We're heading to you from a southern trajectory."  Isaiah looked south and could see a shuttle flying toward them at high speed.  With renewed hope Isaiah erected a biotic barrier around the two of them and fired a shockwave at the levitating creatures all of them exploded from the biotic combo.
            "They're almost here, keep fighting!" yelled Caleb.  Another wave of husks jumped up from over the edge of the building.  And more reaper troops appeared in the door way.  Isaiah kept a strong singularity field up and blocked the most of the creatures but several were protected by shields.  Caleb used his omni-tool to hit them with a jumping electrical charge, shocking and stunning several of them.  The shrieking banshee of a creature let out another shrill call before letting loose another shockwave.  This time Isaiah recognized the motion of the attack and strengthened the barrier around them to absorb the hit.  The creature jumped at them again and reached through the barrier quickly grabbing Isaiah by the neck before he could get away.  Caleb turned his attention to the creature and fired on it.  Isaiah could feel the creatures breath on his face as it held him kicking with one hand and pulled him closer.  The creature raised it's free hand claws pointed when there was an explosion behind it.  Distracted it looked to the side.  The shuttle had pulled around to the side and fired on the banshee.  It dropped Isaiah and started to slowly move toward them powering up for a jump.  The shuttle opened fire with it's main gun, making short work of the creature.  Isaiah fell to the ground almost in a daze with what had happened.  The shuttle aligned itself with the edge of the building and the door opened two soldiers appeared yelling to them and firing on the surrounding reaper forces.  Caleb grabbed Isaiah by the hand and pulled him to his feet running toward the shuttle.  They made a final bound into the shuttle and the door slid shut behind them, they were for the most part safe for now. 
            "Rodriguez is that you?" asked one of the soldiers.  Caleb looked up at him as Isaiah took to standing on his own.  The man took his helmet off and Isaiah recognized the face as one of the men from Caleb's group of friends at the bar.
            "Grenier?  Is the Norad..." Caleb started.
            "Alive and well, man it's good to see you, we thought everyone was lost."  Caleb smiled and grasped his shoulder.
            "It's good to see you too," said Caleb, "Montieth died signaling us about the reaper ambush.  Everyone else died in the attack on the shuttles."  The other soldier walked up to Grenier and passed him a pad. 
            "Lieutenant this is from Admiral Hackett."  Grenier passed the pad to Caleb and he looked it over.  "Get us back to the Norad private."
            "Aye sir," said the same pilot who flew the Norad originally.
            "This says that I've been given command of the Norad and we're to join the Fifth Fleet in the Horsehead Nebula to assist in keeping the reapers at bay."
            "I don't think Commander Rawlings would have had it any other way," said Grenier.  Caleb smiled at the recognition and sat on the shuttle bench.  Isaiah sat down next to him and they both leaned back.  Grenier left the shuttle cabin and went to the front with the other soldier. 
            "We made it," said Isaiah quietly.  "I just wish we could of saved Montieth."
            "I've never been part of a mission with so much loss before," said Caleb keeping the tone of the conversation.  "I just ..."
            "Caleb people are going to die, the reapers are every bit as bad as Commander Shepard warned us it would be.  We just have to make it so they're sacrifices are worth it and they're not forgotten."  Isaiah leaned in and kissed Caleb on the cheek placing a hand over his.  He looked at him and smiled.
            "With people like you behind me that seems possible."  Caleb wiped a smudge from Isaiah's face and he smiled at him.  "Thank you for not giving up."
            "You're welcome." 
            "I guess it's a good thing your superior officers were wrong about you," Caleb laughed.
            "Good for you."

War Asset Acquired: Norad and Crew
            The Norad and her crew were part of the initial assault on the reapers, directly after they attacked earth.  The new commanding officer, Lieutenant Caleb Rodriguez, lead a rescue mission to the city of Toronto, in an attempt to rescue several Alliance officials.  The mission was technically a failure, on descent into Earth’s atmosphere both Norad shuttles were shot down by reapers forces.  In which the Norads original commanding officer was KIA .  They were unable to rescue their targets.  Although Caleb Rodriguez and a young biotic, Isaiah Argent, spent two days on the surface and the tactical intel they gathered will be a major help in dealing with the reapers on other fronts.