Steve Cortez (Mass Effect) saluting

Lieutenant Steve Cortez


Lt. Cortez appears in the third Mass Effect video game, which concluded this landmark trilogy in 2012. If you don’t know about the setting, we’ve got you covered and you can first read this stuff :

  1. Mass Effect setting article.
  2. Commander Shepard character profiles (explain the story and events).
  3. SSV Normandy ship profile (optional, if you want to know more about spaceships).
  4. Mass Effect plot summary (optional).


  • This one has S P O I L E R S
  • This profile assumes a specific video game playthrough. See our video games writeups FAQ for more.
  • This profile features tabletop RPG mechanics about the video game’s gameplay. See our video games writeups FAQ for more.
  • This profile features non-canon hypotheses about in-game events and mechanics. See our video games writeups FAQ for more.


  • Real Name: Lieutenant Steve Cortez.
  • Other Aliases: “Esteban” (nickname from James Vega).
  • Marital Status: Widowed.
  • Known Relatives: Robert (husband, deceased), unnamed parents (deceased).
  • Note: Robert’s last name wasn’t mentioned, and it isn’t specified whether Steve’s last name is his original last name or his married last name.
  • Group Affiliation: Systems Alliance.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile.
  • Height: 6’ Weight: 180 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Black


Powers & Abilities

Steve Cortez is a superior pilot of small aerospace vehicles. For instance, he’s a fully qualified combat pilot originally trained for the F-61 Trident fighter.

He’s also trained to fly Kodiak shuttles and, oddly enough, M-44 Hammerhead light hovertanks. He once kept four hostile crafts busy despite flying a clumsy Kodiak shuttle.

Steve seems to have the usual military genetic enhancements, making him a fast healer and facilitating the acquisition and retention of muscle mass.

Off-the-record improvements

He also has a hodgepodge of engineering skills. These have to do with small aerospace vehicles and their support structures, such as high-readiness fighter docking bays. He can confidently tinker with aerospace fighters to improve their performance.

Cortez is good at “alternate procurement”. This means wheeling and dealing to obtain weapons, armour and other military supplies on the grey market. This is a widely — but unofficially — appreciated skills set among the Systems Alliance military. The official requisition procedures can be an incredible pain in the neck.

Since the main goal of “parallel requisitions” is to get gear quickly to handle emerging situations, Cortez works by setting up deals in advance. In this way, orders can be quickly placed when the time to buy comes. During Mass Effect 3 he thus develops a network of contacts across the Citadel.

Like Tali, Cortez is a walking encyclopaedia about starships. He can identify models or even a specific ship with a glance. Steve sees every little detail about how the drive core is working, the piloting, modifications, etc.

Other skills

He’s also knowledgeable about piloted mechas . Lt. Cortez could immediately recognise a Triton ADS (a mech-like one-person vehicle used for deep underwater exploration) even though Cdr. Shepard and Lt. Vega had never seen one.

Albeit he’s a zoomie, Lt. Cortez has basic infantry training and seriously maintains this qualification. Unlike many pilots, he has no problem pulling an Avenger from the weapons rack and shooting it out as necessary. He also knows the basic grunts’ immediate action drills.

He’s good under pressure, even when on foot.

Kodiak-class shuttles

One of Steve’s main jobs under Commander Shepard is to pilot and manage the pair of Kodiak shuttles aboard the Normandy. These are UT-47A Kodiaks, an evolution of an Human shuttle design that proved popular across the galaxy.

Most Kodiak variants are just workhorses – a rugged light aerospace transport to go from point A to point B. But they are hardened against corrosives, common EM fields, temperature extremes and the like. Thus, they can function on most planets.

Flies like a brick

The basic Kodiak model was deployed by the Normandy SR2 to deliver shore parties while she was operating as a Cerberus vessel. On the Citadel, C-Sec uses a cheaper variant as a police cruiser. Even the Batarian Hegemony has Kodiaks.

Fire team insertion fast variants, armed with powerful beam weaponry but light on armour plating, are also employed by the Systems Alliance Navy. James Vega was in such a dropship during the botched attack on Fehl-Prime.

Kodiaks are Mass Effect vehicles, with four orientable thrusters that evoke legs under their body. Though they’re not terribly manoeuvrable, a skilled pilot can make them dance for evasive manoeuvres. This is done by rapidly changing the individual vector of each “leg”.

Kodiaks have some sort of limited FTL  flight capacity. Howbeit, it is impossible to tell from the games how it works. Perhaps they have enough fuel to jump from one system to the next and come back, but not more. For longer travel they have to be carried by a real starship.

Kinda like a Blackhawk

The Kodiak 47A variant is apparently intended from the get-go as a Special Operations insertion vehicle.

Its stealth system is essentially a scaled-down version of the one tested in 2183 on the Normandy. Thus, the heat and EM emissions are soaked up by sinks. This and other stealth measure mean that a 47A is very hard to pick on normal sensors.

The 47A is also equipped with burst-capable particle accelerator cannons. It is well-armoured – man-portable weaponry isn’t going to take a 47A down, unless a M-920 Cain or some such is involved. The 47A is also resistant to pressure (up to 1,000 atmospheres) so it can work underwater or in the outer layers of a gas giant.


Lt. Cortez modified the two 47As in the Normandy’s shuttle bay. Most of the modifications are preventive maintenance and parts upgrades to avoid known problems. No Kodiak ain’t gonna conk out on Steve’s watch.

His Kodiaks have proven quite adept at flying again after a crash or collision. This hints at a considerably hardened chassis and redundant systems that may not be factory standard.

Steve also added more visible modifications. The documented ones are :

  • Virtual windows (cameras on the hull relay images to thin flat screens in the cockpit).
  • A filter to turn off Mass Effect inertial dampers inside the shuttle (mostly intended to feel the Gs when flying, but it might be useful to neutralise an unwanted passenger).
  • A lateral door machinegun with a gun shield.

The machinegun, which was added after the combat drop on Menæ, is usually kept folded on the side. But it can be deployed quickly and has considerable firepower.


Cortez enlisted with the Systems Alliance Navy during the mid-2170s, and became a fighter pilot. His original positioning was as a F-61 Trident pilot aboard the SSV Stephen Hawking. The Hawking was a carrier of the First Fleet guarding Arcturus Station.

Given his technical skills, it is possible that he studied as an engineer before he enlisted in the military. An alternative is that he joined the Alliance to receive a scholarship in engineering.

Cortez developed a reputation as a talented tinkerer by making technical adjustments to Tridents and other fighters. Since he needed non-regulation parts to tweak avionics, engines, etc. he also developed grey market procurement skills.

Steve was being groomed for CAG (Carrier Aerospace Group) duty. A CAG is the cadre of officers overseeing the operations of the smaller vehicles launched from a carrier. However that wouldn’t make use of his technical skills. Thus, his speciality after making Lieutenant actually became commanding flight decks.

Cortez’s thing was to improve these through gradual modifications – or by planning and managing their construction from scratch.

Steve Cortez met Lt. James Vega on Fehl-Prime, a Human colony in the Terminus Systems. Given his later work, Cortez may have been on Fehl to set up infrastructures for fast shuttle traffic. Steve and James became close friends.


Lt. Cortez’s life took a turn for the worse in 2185. He was on Ferris Fields when it was hit by the Collectors.

Ferris is in the Terminus systems, and thus not an official Alliance colony. Steve may have been there on a leave to visit his husband. Or perhaps, like Horizon or Fehl-Prime, Ferris Fields received off-the-records planetary defense systems from the Alliance. Steve was apparently familiar with Ferris, as he had a number of friends there.

In either case, Cortez was working construction some kilometers away from the colony habitat. Then he received a radio communication from his husband Robert, telling him that the colony was under attack.

Seeing the unstoppable Collector swarms sweep through the colony, Robert chose to call Steve rather than try to run. He warned his husband that coming in would be suicide. The couple stayed in communication until the line went dark.

Like all Humans kidnapped by the Collectors, Robert was liquefied and his DNA used to build a Reaper capital ship. Steve was presumably found and evacuated once rescuers came to investigate the silent Ferris Fields colony.


The death of his hubby sundered Lt. Cortez. Though he maintained a generally jovial and pleasant outward demeanour, he essentially stopped living for months. He was unable to get over his loss and its traumatic circumstances.

Steve returned to Earth, and was assigned to the Vancouver naval installations. Given his exceptional skills and work ethic, it seems likely that having Steve work on the Normandy was a request of Admiral Anderson. If so, it was done much in the same way as Anderson had Dr. Chakwas and Flight Lieutenant Moreau transferred to his ship.

Several weeks later, Cortez heard that the legendary Commander Shepard had somehow annihilated the entire Collectors force. She thus avenged Robert and innumerable others.

A few months later, Steve’s buddy James Vega was also recruited by Admiral Anderson and detailed to Vancouver.

Return of the dragon

For six months, Cortez toiled on the retrofitting of the Normandy SR-2. He adapted it to Systems Alliance standards. In particular he had the shuttle bay in the Normandy’s belly overhauled. He also moved the small arms armoury, puzzlingly placed on the CIC deck, to the ventral bay as per Alliance practice so as to equip departing shore parties.

Cortez also prepared two UT-47A Kodiak assault shuttles assigned to the Normandy. All the while he worked very long days to try to forget Robert’s horrific death.

In 2186, Earth was hit by the Reapers. Lieutenant Cortez was working on the Normandy when Major Alenko, accompanied by Lieutenant Vega, ran in. Alenko scrambled the frigate to rescue Admiral Anderson and Commander Shepard.

Shepard then took command. The Alliance retrofitting engineers and technicians who happened to be on board became her de facto crew.

Flight of the Normandy

Cdr. Shepard assigned Lt. Vega to co-run the armoury with Lt. Cortez. Though Cortez was initially puzzled, the reason why became clear when Shepard transmitted the fabrications files of the ordnance she wanted. There was enough to arm the entire crew four times over, and with a very specific selection of high-powered firearms and accessories.

Then came in the list of what she wanted for her shuttles. And the body armours. And the shore equipment.

Steve welcomed this humongous workload as it took his mind away from his grief. Furthermore, James told him that the Commander would let them organise their work however they saw fit as long as they delivered.

Lastly, the Normandy was running on a fraction of the usual crew. The Commander explained that the ship’s “Virtual Intelligence” E.D.I. was actually an unshackled AI who could run most of the ship by herself. In essence, E.D.I. was the ship.

As the crew let E.D.I. handle the A.I.-friendly tasks, they redefined their roles to concentrate on the rest. Steve thus added “shuttle pilot” to his list of jobs – a decision made easy when Lt. Vega nearly wrecked one of the Kodiaks on Mars.


Having flown lots of shuttles and fighters, Lt. Cortez was eminently qualified for the type of piloting Shepard required. It usually involved white hot LZs and/or extremely bad conditions and/or heavy use of the Kodiak’s brand new stealth systems and/or hostile aircrafts and/or flak.

Beyond her demanding standards, the uniquely charismatic Shepard was also reputed for being highly supportive of her staff. She thus helped Cortez work through his grief, telling him how her own death had shattered her bondmate Dr. Liara T’Soni. The Commander also was in the unusual position of speaking from the vantage point of the mourned person.

With the Commander’s support Steve put the worst of his grief behind him. Thus, he started living again, further reinforcing his personal loyalty toward Shepard.

As the Commander’s shuttle pilot, Steve was a part of every mission. He even ended up on the ground with Shepard’s tactical group on two occasions. Along with his buddy Lt. Vega, Lt. Cortez thus became a part of the informal “Team Shepard”.


Lt. Cortez is a highly athletic soldier, almost always clad in an Alliance flight crew work uniform.

Like most Humans in the Mass Effect future he is of mixed ethnicities, with blue eyes and a dark skin. He has regular, square features and a close-cropped Van Dyke.


Steve is a dynamic, pleasant, smart, hard-working military man. He and Vega are close buddies, perpetually throwing friendly vocal barbs at each other and making fun of each other’s habits.

Steve often mocks James for being something of a bull in a china shop, while Vega makes fun of Cortez for not being loud and direct enough.

Being a soldier, Cortez uses innumerable and untranslated TLAs in his speech on top of the usual jargon.

Unlike Vega, Cortez doesn’t seem to be Hispanic – either culturally or linguistically. He does not employ Spanish terms or turns of phrase, though he has no difficulty understanding Vega’s simple Spanglish.

Cortez and Moreau have a slight rivalry about their piloting skills and reflexes, and Steve is concerned about Joker’s lack of infantry training. But overall they get along well.

The pro from Dover

Lt. Cortez works real hard and is highly professional. For instance he personally triple-checks the bewildering arsenal of Shepard’s shore parties before each mission. He also tests the ammunition blocks, thermal clips, shield generators and body armour, to ensure that everybody will be as safe as possible.

He’s extremely serious about getting the soldiers aboard his shuttle in and out the LZ in the safest possible conditions.

Aerospace ships, from shuttle to dreadnought, are Steve’s passion. He lives and breathes ships and could be an honorary Quarian. Sitting at the window of a major spaceport to watch numerous ships passing by, docking, departing, etc. has a soothing effect on him. He loves talking about shuttles, fighters, cruisers, carriers, etc. with anybody – from beginner to expert.

And I need you to recover

Lt. Cortez was badly hurt by his husband’s death. Robert made Steve swear that he wouldn’t use him as an emotional anchor. But despite several attempts that looked successful at first, Lt. Cortez just kept sliding back into the pit of his grief.

It took Cdr. Shepard’s powerful charisma and kindness to get him out. Steve eventually left his memento — a photo of his husband with a recording of their last conversation during the Collectors’ attack — behind him, on a memorial wall at the Citadel.

After the Commander helps him pull through, Lt. Cortez becomes a great buddy as well as a highly dedicated pilot and armourer. He’s always sincerely looking out for Shepard. lt. Cortez once took the Commander on a ride in one of his Kodiaks with the inertial dampeners off. This way, Steve could show her how it feels to fly without a Mass Effect field erasing acceleration.

When he has to retreat from an op zone he feels terrible, even if ordered to by the Commander herself. He clearly considers Shepard to be a greater-than-life heroine and woman of destiny.

Steve is still working way too hard to have a normal life. However, Commander Shepard’s help eventually allows him to take enjoyable shore leaves and genuine breaks. These range from hitting the clubs to chill out and ogle hot dudes, to coming to the Commander’s apartment with Lt. Vega and packs of cerveza to watch a biotiball match on the enormous TV there.


Cortez: “I’m quite familiar with the maintenance of a Kodiak [shuttle].” (beat, raises his voice) “Which is fortunate, given Mr. Vega’s love for mid-air collisions.”
Vega (from the other side of the bay): “That was to save the day, pendejo !”

(Commenting on one of the Kodiaks) “She flies like a brick.” (smiling and referring to himself) “So that’s why you need a good pilot.”

Commander Shepard: “You maintain the armoury ?”
Lieutenant Cortez: “I share that duty with our illustrious Mr. Vega, ma’am.” (nods toward Vega doing his pull-up routines, then in an exaggerated loud voice) “Though I believe that the only weapon he really cares for maintaining is himself.”

“Been awhile since I was in a dogfight like that. I miss my Trident. ACM ain’t the Kodiak’s strong suit.”

(Nods toward a warship flying by) “Hey, a Turian frigate. I think it’s the PFS Havincaw. She’s seen battle. Look at the waver in her core drive emissions.”

(To Commander Shepard) “When you’re on the ground, gun in hand, you’re invincible. But when you’re in a shuttle, approaching the LZ, you’re just a soldier. Vulnerable. There’s nothing you can do if we get shot down. So that’s my job. Getting you there alive.”

(Pointing at a specific spot on a long-since wrecked ship) “These old Ballard-class ships are equipped with exterior power sockets. They used ’em for emergency repairs.”

“Mr. Vega, your love for this Asari biotiball team has more to do with how they look than with how they play.”

Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG

Tell me more about the game stats

Lieutenant Cortez

Dex: 03 Str: 03 Bod: 03 Motivation: Serviceman
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 03 Occupation: Soldier, pilot
Inf: 03 Aur: 03 Spi: 02 Resources {or Wealth}: 003
Init: 010 HP: 020

Enhanced Initiative: 08, Regeneration: 01

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Enhanced Initiative is a Skilled Power, is Linked to Vehicles (Light aerospace vehicles such as fighters and shuttles) and is only active when flying such aircrafts. When piloting these, Steve has an Initiative of 018.
  • Regeneration is Form Function from genetic enhancements.

Gadgetry: 05, Military science (Camouflage, cartography): 04, Medicine (First aid): 02, Scientist (Drawing plans): 04, Vehicles: 05, Vehicles (Light aerospace vehicles such as fighters and shuttles): 07, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 03, Weaponry (Aerospace vehicular weapons): 06

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Lt. Cortez operates in an universe with realistic Gadgetry rules, with inventions requiring much more time, effort, money, etc. than in super-hero campaigns.
  • Gadgetry and Scientist are limited to light aerospace crafts and their support structures.

Expertise (Military protocols and equipment, Military mechs), Familiarity (Aerospace history, Biotiball championship), Scholar (Military aerospace vehicles), Rank (Systems Alliance Lieutenant).

James Vega (High), Paramilitary grey market (Low), Commander Shepard (High), Crew of the Normandy SR2 (Low).

Guilt (Grief) until he leaves his memento behind.


  • BASIC OMNI-TOOL [BODY 01, Data storage: 12, Radio communication: 13, Superspeed: 01, Limitation: Superspeed only for tasks involving processing information using the omni-tool, Misc.: Translation database].
  • When he ends up in a tactical situation, Steve has a basic M-8 Avenger assault rifle.

He’s a leaf on the wind

Cortez’s Vehicle Skills assumes the use of the dogfighting combat rules in Blood of Heroes : Special Edition p182, allowing him to deny more ordinary pilots from drawing a bead on his ship.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Mass Effect universe, voiced by Matthew Del Negro.

Writeup completed on the 19th of January, 2014.