Mass Effect Timeline Issues and Kaidan’s Doubts

The events of Mass Effect 2 rightfully make Kaidan distrust Commander Shepard, particularly in light of their ME1 anti-Cerberus missions. The timeline that BioWare gives us for the entire span of events in Mass Effect 1 through 3, however, squeezes character arcs and the acts that influence them into a too-narrow slot.

They timeline that BioWare gives for events in the Mass Effect games runs from 2183 through 2186. Even assuming that you being in January of the first year and end at the very end of the last that's only four years for the entire series and Commander Shepard spends half of that dead.

Here’s how it runs in my head canon:

  • 2183—all but the last of the big missions for Mass Effect 1 and all of the side missions (personally, I leave Liara for last so for me she spills over into the new year)
  • 2184-2185—whatever mission you left for last, then Ilos, battling Sovereign, some recuperation time after having the Council Chamber fall on their heads, a few months of happy family time chasing Geth around the far reaches of the galaxy, then Shep’s dead and everyone is moving on with their lives, except the Lazarus team who are busily putting her back together
  • 2186—the end of the Lazarus project and first half of the events of Mass Effect 2
  • 2187—the “dead” Reaper, the IFF, and the Collector base, with all of the relevant side missions like Lair of the Shadow Broker, then the destruction of the Bahak relay, and back to earth and jail
  • 2188—starts in jail, then the Reapers show up just as Shepard is finally getting heard, followed by the events of Mass Effect 3, including the battle for Earth
  • 2189—Somehow I imagine that it’s the holiday season when the team arrives on Earth and the fight across London takes a few days, putting the zip up to the Citadel on New Year’s Day. I don’t know why, I just do. Maybe it’s that last bit of angst that a holiday season filled with Reapers can bring. Whatever happens next, whatever comes in the extended cut on which BioWare is so feverishly working, happens in the early months of this year.

I don’t know the date of the Eden Prime mission. BioWare gives us a year, 2183, but not a month. Let’s say Mass Effect 1 begins in April, as everyone loves a beacon in the spring. The ever-so-hated end of the story occurs at the beginning of 2189. Thus the whole span is a bit over six and a half years.

Some of the explanations in the first installment make the sudden arrival of the Reapers a little confusing. We’re told that Saren has to activate something on the Citadel to bring the Reapers through from dark space, where they’re waiting. Commander Shepard and company kick his ass and stop them. Hooray!

Mass Effect 2 focuses on the Collectors and their attempt to make a human-based Reaper out of colonists. That makes sense, as far as it goes, and the Reapers still loom as a relatively-distant threat. In Mass Effect 1 they made it sound like dark space is a prison, of sorts, something that requires the Citadel machinery to open.

Yet here we are in Mass Effect 3 with the Reapers having closed untold distances to arrive on our doorsteps in the course of, in BioWare’s compressed timeline, all of three years since Sovereign’s defeat. One presumes that taking out the Citadel first was their aim rather than it being a required feature of their invading of the galaxy. Why else would they have bothered with Saren and Sovereign if they could just whoosh across intergalactic space at that speed?

Tactically that makes sense. In fact this isn’t meant to be a plothole post. You can find plenty of such debates, if you like. (Insert here pondering about “dark space” meaning “an overlapping dimension” so the travel time is actually pretty much nil.) I want to focus in this post on my reasoning for objecting to the BioWare timeline that has the events of each Mass Effect installment taking place in six months.

The problem is, as Douglas Adams so ably pointed out, that space is big. “You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.” Even granting mass relays the power to transport ships nigh-instantaneously between them, even allowing for faster-than-light travel, the distance between star systems in a cluster is gigantically enormous.

That tiny ship zizzing between planets on your screen isn’t doing so in “real” time. Travel between one planet and the next star over will take days, depending how much faster than light you’re willing to swallow. But even straining the utter limits of credulity, you measure the distances involved in light years. Consider how much hop-scotching you do back and forth across and around the galaxy. Can you really credit a six-month timeline for any of the Mass Effect games?

Regarding Mass Effect 3, specifically, it hurts my brain to try to believe the team could be assembled and build the Crucible in six months. I don’t care what kind of crisis they faced, have you seen the size of that thing? Add delicate engineering and deciphering the plans to begin with, not to mention waiting for Shepard to find and send over the experts from around the galaxy, and that unbelievably brief span makes even less sense. That leaves out consideration of finding and refining materials.

Put the Virmire Survivor and Commander Shepard into this timeline and consider that the too-brief relationship between two dedicated soldiers was followed by a two-year period of mourning on Kaidan’s or Ashley’s side. Let’s focus on Kaidan because it’s easier than trying to include both, grammatically.

Shepard shows up, working for the xenophobic terrorist organization she and Kaidan had been trying to destroy. She claims to have been dead for two years but she’s got a bunch of ex-Alliance and Cerberus lackeys in tow and their logo is all over everything. Kaidan’s been out on Horizon for months trying to get those guns working and I doubt Anderson’s been bending over backwards to keep him in the loop. It’s early in the course of events and her former Captain can’t really know what’s going on with Shepard, either.

So someone with whom Kaidan had an intense relationship—that lasted no more than weeks or months, depending on the timeline—two years earlier pops up with a fishy story and a new employer he knows for a fact routinely does horrific things. That’s bad enough to shake anyone’s faith.

Over the course of the next year he hears through Anderson and others that she’s cooperating with the Alliance and passing intelligence that is detrimental to Cerberus. He’s just starting to believe she might still be the same person, that maybe he’s misjudged her, and then she comes back through the Omega 4 relay. She’s a hero again!

Then, instead of contacting him, she blows up the Bahak relay and kills three hundred thousand Batarians. Now, most Batarians you encounter in the game are awful, horrible people but genocide is a long stretch from stopping slavers and mercenaries. Kaidan’s rocked again. He knows the Reaper threat is real but, damn, Shepard, a whole system? Maybe Cerberus brainwashed her after all.

Shepard goes off to jail and Kaidan can’t talk to her. As no one believes that the Reapers are about to pop out of the woodwork she’s got no hope of winning at trial. The galaxy is shocked and it’s only the word of whoever was on the mission with her against the denial of billions that she’s telling the truth. Considering the rogue’s gallery of companions who could have been with her how do you think they came across as witnesses, if they testified at all?

Kaidan hears horrible things about her, he hasn’t seen or talked to her for over a year and they haven’t been together for over three years by this point. Why would he leap right back into her arms the second she crooked a little finger? If anything, there should have been more conversations in the hospital like the one on Mars during which he tells her that he wants to trust her but circumstances make it incredibly difficult.

The Citadel Coup acts as a pivot for their relationship and I like to do as many side missions as I can, popping in to visit and chat as much as possible, before I trigger it. It helps me to believe that when the moment comes Shepard has given him as much reason to believe her as possible.

Kaidan’s trust of the Commander undergoes a trial by fire in the coup: Cerberus troops are all over the seat of galactic government and Shepard is pointing a gun at three-fourths of the Council. Don’t forget, the Asari and Turian Councilors stand right behind Udina in that scene.

I’m not altogether certain how long doctors would keep an L2 with possible brain damage in the hospital but I imagine it would be weeks, at least, even after he regains consciousness. When he makes the decision to trust Shepard and turn his gun on Udina it’s a major leap of faith, one that he can only predicate on their interactions before and during the Mars mission and while he’s in the hospital.

Thus the initial distrust and hesitation he shows, despite his declarations of love, make perfect sense to me. Shepard enjoys the luxury of knowing the truth because she experienced it. She also spent two of their three years apart dead so in her mind it’s been a whole lot less time since they were so close. That distance Kaidan keeps between them must hurt like hell, but at least she’s had time to accept that everyone else had two years of their lives from which she was utterly absent.

When you read my Mass Effect fanfics keep this timeline in mind. On the Cerberus Headquarters mission, for instance, Shepard says to Kaidan it’s been two years since she told him on Horizon that she really had been dead because it’s been at least that long in my mind. If you’ve got quibbles with my explanation or your own idea about how events came together I welcome input!

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