It was the first thing Shepard lied about to Kaidan, long before adding “I’ll be fine” and “Don’t worry about me” to the list.
While service manuals and new policies for handling the needs of biotic soldiers were born from the Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training (BAaT) programme, a longitudinal review of attendees of the program can reveal both lasting success for some and painful failure for others. Our research team was brought in during the first and subsequent classes of students to review potential long-term data that could arise from this new experiment in biotic education and to track students through interviews, questionnaires, and data-mining.
Shepard knew that the fight was going to bite her in the ass the second she biotically smacked him across the face. Sitting in the small classroom on the Citadel, she fully understood why you don’t fight with a Turian drill instructor during your N4 training. You certainly don’t announce that you would be happy to demonstrate your hand-to-hand abilities if he didn’t trust them. And most importantly, don’t win after doing all of that.
You will be a legend amongst Interplanetary Combatives Training graduates, but you will also have the son of the Primarch with no sense of humor feel particularly motivated to teach you a lesson.
“WELCOME TO N5 CLASS - LEADERSHIP OF BIOTICS!” the holo-board announced cheerily from the front of the room as Shepard debated if she had misjudged how funny her former target had truly been.
By the end of the first class, she silently cursed Anderson on her walk back to the barracks for agreeing it was a good class for her and to not agreeing to send her to the live combat course with actual mechs on Titan.
By the end of her second, she was debating whether or not mercenary work would be more fun than learning about how hard she and other biotics were to manage.
Their third class was focused on a single paper, “A Longitudinal Study of Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training Students”.
The primary sourcing of attendees was from areas that experienced accidental exposures, which was heavily weighted towards mining colonies, areas near transport hubs, and those near factories working in engine construction. This also accounts for a higher number of Alliance military children in attendance in later years of the program due to an accident in Singapore dealing with a Transport craft landing at Marina Bay Base. Children under the age of 11 were stated unprepared for training, while all others were evaluated in-home by a Conatix representative before being transported to Gagarin Station within 3-7 days of biotic identification.
Shepard understood living as a biotic so the basic rules were easy: how often to stop for food breaks (as often as possible), how to placate the fears of non-biotic squadmates (realize that fear is a positive motivator), and how to address the side effects of the L2 implants (migraine medication and acupuncture).
She also understood that she was one of the lucky few, a mother in the Alliance who got her the best amp available, a personal tutor who walked her through all of the lessons with patience and caring, and only the healthiest of electrolyte replacing beverages. When she went into the military at 17, Shepard realized that she had never once been made to feel different.
But then one day she was seated alone in the mess, the other soldiers too scared to speak to her. The next she was saving their lives and they still couldn’t look her in the eye.
Students underwent a brief 1-day orientation period before starting biotic training through the tutelage of Contractors combined with the mandatory Alliance education curriculum. After that orientation they were placed immediately into mixed-age, mixed gender shared housing with a Conatix employee assigned to every ten students for behavioral observation as well as rule enforcement. A set of strict rules and ordinances were in place and corporal punishment was permitted. However, due to the circumstances of the base, expulsion from the program was not possible, nor was the revoking of communication privileges because they were not permitted on the extranet. In later years of the program, instructors began to use basic rights of the students such as food and water as punitive motivation.
“The ship will keep sailing, Asari will be blue, and I will always love you,” her mother would whisper in her ear as a little girl whenever she would cry. During the electrical storms that crackled purple over the ship’s windows and when the engine would lurch trying to discharge energy, she would crawl into Shepard’s bunk and hold her until the rocking stopped.
The feeling of her mother’s hand on her back, the memory of a kiss on the nose, and her childhood repeated mantra pushed her to pass to N6. The ship will keep sailing, Shepard would wait to cry until her face was pressed tight into her pillow, and she would run through the facts in the report on a loop only until morning.
A young girl begging the researcher to go home; 20% of all attendees expressed signs of depression attributed to distance from family .
A bloody nose from a teacher’s backhand at a request for a glass of water; injuries and abuse were reported by 85% of all students but not witnessed by researchers and attributed to adjustment to new amps .
The Turian mercenary still on the ground, as the students back away from the boy who put him there; the program was shuttered following the accidental death of one of the instructors .
When she returns back to the ship, Anderson hands her a glass of scotch and asks if she’s ready to finish her training.
Her head screams at her to say no as she realizes this is the first time Anderson had ever shared his private scotch.
She nods and gives him a smile, “You know me, I’m ready for anything.”
When revisiting past attendees, we see a 63% enrollment in the Alliance military or Citadel Security Force. This can be accounted for from both familial pressure for military legacies and due to the large benefits provided to biotic soldiers. 10% went into the private sector where biotic tools are rewarded such as corporate security, amp research, or biotic tutelage. This 10% has shown to also earn an average of 25% more a earth year than other graduates. 7% of past students were imprisoned or engaged in illegal activity at the time of the final interview. There was an 18% confirmed mortality rate. The mortality rate breaks down to 8% due to L2 implant issues, 5% suicide, 2% homicide, 2% killed in action, and 1% unknown causes. The additional 2% were unaccounted for or unavailable for survey.
She doesn’t read dossiers or files on anyone joining the Normandy’s crew, accustomed to the slow way a family grows on a ship. Her mother would do the same, choosing to learn about the secrets in late night conversations and long shared meals.
Shepard learns how Jeff fell in love with a flight simulator at the age of 7 during a quiet evening as Anderson briefed the rest of the staff. “Can’t take a spacer kid out of space,” Joker smiled, running his hands carefully over his console, “but I think you know that better than anyone.”
Pressly tells her one breakfast about the best cup of coffee he ever had, sitting in a cafe in Turkey. His hands moved silently through the story, gripping the imaginary spoon and tapping it against the side of his Alliance mug. She finds herself lingering by his station, waiting for another story of another mountain that Shepard never had the chance to see.
When Kaidan tells her about Brain Camp, she hides a hand behind her back where the blue energy coalesced on her finger tips, betraying the supportive smile that she tried to keep pasted on her face. Every meditation tool, every mantra, every skill that she had practiced and refined to not betray herself in front of strangers failed as she pictured the boy he once was, alone and lost on the edge of their galaxy.
The ship will keep sailing, she would never forget the facts she learned in that class, and he looks at her in a way that makes Shepard want to tell him all of her secrets.
It only seemed fair since she had already owned and replayed all of his.
For the purpose of our paper, we have divided our specific case studies into attendees who left the school prior to the engagement of outside biotic consultants and the group whose instructors were comprised of specialists recruited from Turian space. In year 6 of the facility, the company chose to engage outside contractors due to a low-level of success with initial instruction and a lack of knowledge on refinement of biotic abilities. This single decision changed the course of the facility, showing both massive increases in average biotic achievements (89% in duration of biotic fields, 75% in measured strength, 92% in distance measured) but also a marked increases in reports of depression (20% to 78%), delusional ideation (5% to 53%), and homicidal urges (7% to 42%).
Shepard tracks her happiness on a graph comprised of his fractured subtle expressions. A half-smile and she charts upwards, embarrassed by how excited the slight grin can make her. His eyes turn downward, avoiding her gaze, and she suppresses the urge to blame the change on herself.
It all plots out a pattern of a breathlessness in her chest when he says her name and a charge she can feel tingle in her hands when he passes by her out of the briefing room.
Kaidan tells her jokes about Elkoss arms and makes her tea before she stumbles down to the mess for her morning rations. Shepard puts through requisitions for his favorite MREs and looks for him the moment that she returns to the ship.
Her confessions told in late night huddles and his memories relayed through distant stares form data points, clustering and confirming in her head that the universe had snapped into place and sent her back the hope she lost on Elysium. The phantom limb sensation of knowing that some piece of her was lost and that she needed to find it.
Shepard tells him how she can’t sleep without the sounds of crew and that he would be her first real friend ever if she wasn’t his commanding officer.
Kaidan tells her about how small Rahna’s hands looked reaching for the glass of water and that Garrus is the first Turian he has trusted with his life in years.
She can’t form words to tell him about the report, but she can find the courage to kiss him.
And when he kisses back, she doesn’t regret a thing.
Our interviews with the students demonstrated quickly escalating interpersonal relationships, 89% described the bond as familial, 92% described feelings of protectiveness over fellow students. However, during our interview revisiting the attendees only 8% have kept any contact with fellow alumni. This may be due to how Conatix handled all relationships classified as unhealthy or detrimental to progress. First by separating the impacted students and then revoking their ability to communicate. Attendees that did not respect that decision were moved into a solitary housing unit where their meals and free time were spent independently. This was avoided due to the impact this solitude put on the mental state of the students who were also not allowed to communicate with other classmates during training. The biotic consultants that were later engaged did strengthen the punishments regarding relationships that feature qualities of resistance to the program such as an unwillingness to report fellow students’ behaviors during individual counseling sessions or physical threats on-behalf of another.
She had pictured her death in heroic broad sweeps, the triumphant warrior taken down in the heat of battle. A country to mourn her, but a family built on the sacrifices of military men to be proud of her martyrdom.
It was never a willingness to die but an acceptance that she couldn’t promise anyone that she wouldn’t.
Shepard had never planned on a partner that wouldn’t leave or a love not tempered by the fear of loss. Kaidan only leaves after she promises him that she’ll be on the next escape pod.
In her last breath, she can hear his name escape from her mouth.
The void takes her before she can finish her apology.
The most successful of former attendees was also the school’s most infamous, both collecting the highest number of demerits on the station and, as an adult, achieving the highest rank within Alliance Military. Arriving in the final class of students, the male teen achieved the highest entry scores for biotic capabilities of any former student while also scoring extremely high for leadership skills on our personality tests. As a result, the leads for instruction changed his general curriculum to reflect the challenges presented by those qualities. The instructor decided to focus his training outside of the group, incorrect use or failures of biotic skills were addressed through the use of enhanced motivational tools such as aggressive neural stimulation. Additionally, his residential group was placed under strict instruction that all basic tasks should be achieved through use of biotics and the student was placed in charge of ensuring this occurred.
When he stares through her on Horizon, Shepard plays through what giving up would look like.
Find an apartment on the Citadel, fetch things for the Council, and carve out a life that he will approve of. If she can’t gain his approval, maybe she could at least find a detente between two people that had never planned on finding each other.
Desperation creeps across her cheeks in a warm blush as he takes every memory that lingered in the corners of the Normandy and twists them into the failures she counts through before every battle.
She still tracked the passing of the day by his duty schedule, waiting for his arrival each evening. The right side of her bed still lay empty each night and her skin ached through her armor where his embrace had just fallen tight around her.
When Garrus asks her what death felt like, she didn’t have an answer until Kaidan turned his back to her on Horizon.
“It is loss,” she answers quietly, fingering the safety on her gun, “You just don’t realize until that moment what you are truly losing.”
She doesn’t realize that she’s crying until Garrus has wrapped an arm around her.
While past attendees responded well to the reinforcement provided by the Turian consultants, the aforementioned male student’s abilities began to devolve over his months in the facility. He reported suicidal and homicidal ideation directed towards instructors, while exhibiting usage of his abilities that could be qualified under self-harm. His incidence of migraines increased 40% and his visits to the medbay tripled in number. While the overall strength of his energy manifestation did increase, his control of said manifestations faltered as demonstrated through target training as performed with other attendees. In our interviews with the student, he appealed to researchers repeatedly to bring in assistance for his fellow attendees and presented us with alternative curriculum ideas for developing their abilities.
She spends her first month in custody waiting for Kaidan to visit and her second month pledging to ignore him if he did. The third month brings messages from her team, but he doesn’t come and she tries to tell herself that she doesn’t care.
He finally visits on a rainy Tuesday as she circles a punching bag in the gym. The canvas tremors before her hand connects, her biotics betraying the calm face she had promised herself he would get.
“I never told you that I knew about Brain Camp,” she finally says, her voice foreign and distant, “I’m sorry.”
He nods, “I know that you knew.”
Her fist connects again, the pain radiating down her arm peaceful and familiar, “How?”
“I read your file,” he smiled fondly, “It was the only thing I had left of you. We didn’t even have a picture together.”
She falters slightly, looking down at her bloodied wrapped fists and arms limp in surrender.
“I’m still sorry,” she says again, but he’s already gone when she looks up.
While the lasting legacy of BAaT can be seen in the continued use of biotic training principles developed during its existence, many still focus on the incident that occurred with our male student case study. Following a disagreement regarding teaching techniques, the lead instructor suffered from severe trauma caused by a biotic attack from the student. While program heads would later explain this as due to a malfunction of his L2 implant, the student on follow-up interview did confirm that he both didn’t understand the full strength of the attack but also intended to cause severe bodily harm. However, researchers attribute this to the same psychological profile for PTSD witnessed in 97% of all surviving students. Despite all of this, the male student involved had still proven the success of the techniques that both caused him trauma and allowed him to function normally with biotic capabilities.
They don’t fall back together, caught in the gravity of everything they once were with the world falling apart around them.
Kaidan starts to ask her the questions that he didn’t dare before.
“What was being dead like?”
“Why didn’t you ask me to help you get away from Cerberus?”
“When did you realize that you loved me?”
Shepard starts to answer him.
“I didn’t think that I needed to be rescued, but I wouldn’t have known how to ask if I did.”
“In a classroom on the Citadel.”
They fall into old habits, he saves her his dessert and she wears his shirt to sleep.
He grazes her collarbone with calloused fingers and she shivers into his touch.
Shepard kisses him for good luck and Kaidan makes her promise to come home safely.
She promises every time because it isn’t a lie when she means it.