So...this chapter had me through some doubts. First of all, I was uncertain as to how well I conveyed the emotional shitstorm, as well as how the characters reacted to certain situations. I'm only human, and an amateur at that, so I know being in doubt is to be expected. Still, I'm glad that my work is still appreciated by some people.
I can't really say too much about this without spoiling, but I was really nervous - am, actually - about the encounter halfway through the chapter. I'm not that good with surprise-turn of events, so this chapter is actually kind of an experiment for me.
Do let me know whether or not I botched it, will you?
Tau Volantis, Coral system
Unitologist base, prisoner-containment
Time unknown, approximately 0.5hr past Danik's departure.
His life was going to end here.
Terrifying, and tragic as the thought was, it was one that refused to leave him. For however long it had been since Danik left, Thomas had come to the horrible realization that there was nothing he could do.
There was nothing he, Hilary or Boss could do to escape, and their lieutenant was growing paler with each time Thomas looked at him. Boss' once powerful complexion was now as pale as any Caucasian, and his expression had lost the stoicism it always seemed to hold. Meanwhile, his right leg was stained thoroughly dark, leaving not a spot above his thigh clean.
He had lost a lot of blood already.
Hillary's tears hadn't stilled, but her sobbing had. The corporal had stopped crying aloud some time ago, and was now merely hanging in her suspension, tears floating in the air around her head. Her bruises seemed to glow in the dimmed lightning, each still as dark and bloody as before.
Was this really how it was going to end for them?
Thomas felt physically sick with the realization that Ashley would give birth without him there next to her, and that their child, his daughter, would grow up without her father. That knowledge made him feel like throwing up.
He wanted to scream, to cry, weep and swear until his voice was spent and his throat torn open. Yet, his body refused to comply, as if the drugs had dulled more than just his powers, but his will too. Devastated as he felt, he couldn't make a single tear fall, and his voice refused to rise above a whisper.
"She asked me, you know…" Hillary muttered after what felt like an eternity of silence. Thomas slowly turned his head to look at her, trying to see if she was talking to him or Boss. Or maybe to herself. Hillary's eyes still faced the ground, as if she hadn't even spoken at all; "Ashley. She asked me to be her bridesmaid…"
Thomas couldn't find his voice. He had nothing to say, no way of finding words to answer with. When he didn't reply, Hillary chuckled, her voice raw and pained.
"Fucking imagine that, huh? Me, in a dress like…like one of those pansies?" at the last word, a fresh glob of blood was spat out, smaller than before; "Shit, I'd end up falli-falling on my face in those high heels…"
Again, he couldn't reply. He just couldn't process how to, in this situation. Hillary didn't seem to let that stop her, though.
"I mean, don't get me w-wrong, I like loo-" a bloody cough interrupted her, resulting in more blood and spittle. Her face contorted in pain for several seconds before she managed to resume speaking; "-king good, but…I can't walk in heels. Just- just can't."
"…really?" he managed to rasp the word out, and it felt like he was revolting against his own brain for doing so. The drugs, whatever they were, rewarded him with a wave of nausea and intense migraine, searing his skull like fire. It just hammered home the fact that Danik knew exactly what to use on him, that he'd known exactly how to suppress his powers.
Someone had told the Church.
Someone had betrayed them, betrayed the trust of the Alliance, his friends, family and colleagues. Someone they'd let in, or maybe someone who'd always been a part of the Chi-projects. It had to have been someone who knew about how his powers really worked, but Thomas himself knew next to nothing about the people who'd worked on studying his abilities.
And just trying to figure it out made bile rise in his throat, pressing outwards and upwards with a force that left him struggling to breathe. He wanted to vomit, to just get everything out, but nothing came but more pain. More pain, and a searing, nauseating migraine that caused the room itself to spin. Blood started gathering on his tongue, and sweat ran in droves down his forehead.
"…I guess…I mean, I always k-kinda hoped it wo-" violent fits of coughing interrupted her, spattering more blood over her lips. The blood from when he'd woken up the first time had already dried on her face, cracking and crumbling whenever she changed her expression or just tried to speak; "-would be someone…a good guy."
"…Me…too." he whispered, feeling too weak to do otherwise. He could barely comprehend everything she said, much less form longer sentences on his own. The drugs were too potent for him to do anything more.
"A-and, I think you deserve her, Thom." She chuckled with clear pain, as if her throat was lacerated; "You sti-still do. I've…g-given you a lot o-of shit, over time, but… b-but I think…"
As she trailed off, Thomas expected her to carry on. Listening to her talk reminded him of what he still had, what he lived for. But now that she had stopped, and her head slumped against her chest, he grew frightened. From talking and coughing to this, there was now not a flinch of movement from her, and only the steady trickle of tiny, red pearls from her mouth betrayed her breathing.
"She's just…unconscious, I think…" Boss rasped from where he hung, floating in his personal prison. Thomas didn't dare look at the man, fearing his face had degraded as much as his voice had; "…she's not critically injured. I think…they might have beaten her, or maybe it's from her capture…we can only hope he other teams fared better…"
"…I never got to say goodbye." Thomas choked out, feeling nausea mix with grief. When he'd left their apartment that day, he hadn't said anything or done anything out of the ordinary. Nothing he had done would serve as a 'goodbye', and yet he knew nothing ever really could; "I didn't even say anything."
"…very few people get to say goodbye." Boss sighed; "It's not part of human nature to know when we die, and then be able to accept it…Once, what feels like a lifetime ago, I knew I was born to die. I…accepted it, learned to live with it…but…I got…this. New brothers and sisters, a better life…My humanity. If I have one regret, it is that I never…that Scorch will think he betrayed us. Williams is a good woman, a good soldier…even if- if we perish here, she won't."
"I don't want to die here Boss."
"N-neither do I, Chief, but…" when the lieutenant paused, Thomas finally glanced at him, and then wished he hadn't. Boss had gone from a healthy complexion to being paler than a sheet of paper. All the blood seemed to have left his face, and perspiration coated his skin in a shimmering film; "Fek, I really wish I had some bacta right about now…"
"….Mhh?" the clone hummed, nodding slower than before. Too slowly. He was tiring, and Thomas knew what that meant.
"P-please don't close your eyes." He stammered when he tried speaking with authority; "I'm serious, don't-"
"…close my eyes…yeah, I know." The lieutenant grunted, almost as if he found it funny; "I'm twelve, Chief, not a damn youngling…I know I'm losing blood faster than my body can replenish it, even for a clone…But I refuse to let a single bullet send me off. It'd…just be…insulting, you know?"
"I'm sorry, I just didn't-"
"I know…at this point, you and I are probably even in knowing what it…feels like to…lose people we…care…about. Sev, Fixer, Vakarian, Shepard, Kaidan…we've…lost a lot of good people…over the year." Boss heaved, coughing far too weakly for Thomas' liking. Then again, right now, not much was; "I always wanted…to know…why Aquila…resented us so much…when we met…Figured though that…it wasn't something we needed to…to know."
"You…" the thoughts introduced a fresh wave of agony into his brain, feeling like it was being cooked while still in his skull. If he could just get a stim, something to clear up his system. But even then he doubted it would really solve their problems. Boss' words made him remember their first meeting, how everyone had pulled guns at each other back then; "…did point your guns at us, you know."
"…That we did." Boss nodded weakly "But…I don't think that's it. I had a feeling Scorch knew, somehow, but…"
"…do you want to know?" it was as short a question as he could ask. Any longer and the migraine would have sent him spinning again. The very act of breathing was hard enough, and feeling as if he couldn't get enough air was sending shivers of dread through his body. It was drug-induced torture, and he couldn't stop it.
"Mmhh…I don't think I'll live through this as…as we are now, so…" Boss paused, nodding his head much like he was about to fall asleep. He seemed to shake it off, if only for now, and looked ahead, staring at the wall across the room; "…I don't want to join the Force with…uncertainty in my heart…And I know you know."
"…it's…because of Order Sixty-six." Thomas breathed, trying to use what limited capacity he still had to put the words out; "You…know what it is?"
"…No." there was no lie, only confusion and exhaustion in his voice.
"It's the…reason you were all made. The war with the CIS, the Separatists…lies, all…lies." A wave of nausea punished him for speaking, curling his stomach into painful knots. Thomas lost his breath for what felt like hours, gasping for air while Boss remained silent. When it finally came to pass, the pain still lingered and the taste of acid was in his nostrils; "I'm sorry I don't…I don't know how to…"
"I understand, you…don't have to speak anymore." Boss rasped, and Thomas, despite the agony in his body and the desperation in his mind, couldn't stop himself from chuckling. It came out as weak and desperate as he felt, and sounded wrong even to his own ears; "…Fisher?"
"Us talking, it sounds…fucking retarded." He wheezed, trying hard to suppress the feeling of rising bile that he knew wouldn't actually make him vomit. He wasn't to be given that mercy; "We sound like…retards, and…I don't want to die sounding like a retard."
Boss didn't reply to that.
"But…but still, I think…want to…You should know what…happened. Happens….Why Teresa…hated you, back then…" there was nothing against it, really. Even if somehow he himself and Hillary escaped, he wasn't naïve enough to hope Boss would too. He'd lost too much blood already, and unless he was put in a regular stasis, the lieutenant was going to die here. And Thomas hated himself for not being able to cry at that realization; "You were all…made, with a secret command in your minds. It was… all a lie, and when…Palpatine ordered it…ordered Order Sixty-six…executed, you'd all…betray the Jedi's and kill them…even the younglings and…and the Padawans…You'd have killed them all, no matter how good friends you used to…be…People who'd saved your lives, people you might have looked upon like…like family, you just…shoot them in the back."
Boss didn't speak. For a long time, it sounded like he wasn't even breathing, and Thomas started to grow cold, fearing the clone had died of his wounds. Boss was a good man, he didn't deserve to die like this. He was a better soldier than Thomas, and even with the Order in his mind, he was also a better human being.
Boss had never been cruel, or enjoyed killing people. Thomas had been cruel, more than once, and had enjoyed doing what he'd done. When he'd mercilessly beaten the assassins to death on the Citadel, he'd enjoyed doing it. When he'd killed the guard on Pragia, he'd burned her eyes out and enjoyed doing it. He always felt sick with the realization that he didn't regret it.
"I…see." Two words that Thomas had not expected. Looking up in surprise, he saw the lieutenant's eyes closed, with only the lump on his throat moving. It looked as if Boss started trembling, while tiny beads of water rolled down his cheeks; "We…did that? Us too, I mean?"
"…I don't know."
"Perhaps…it's better this way, then…" Boss wheezed out, his voice raw, low and weak; "We…never really…were human to begin with…I think I…understand her now…"
"Y-you are!" Thomas argued, recoiling from the nausea and pain raising his voice caused him. Boss didn't react to his words, causing cold fingers of fear to grab his chest; "Boss?"
This time as well, there was no reaction. Boss simply hung in his stasis restraints, unmoving safe for the weak, almost unnoticeable dangling of his legs. His skin had turned paper-white, and his chest had stopped moving. Thomas stared, eyes wide and dilated with fear and disbelief, unwilling to believe what he saw.
"B-boss?" he could hardly breathe for fear. Once more, there was no reaction from the lieutenant, and the bile rose in his throat; "Boss? BOSS! BOSS! BOSS! BOSS! BO-!"
When he screamed again, the bile finally won, and a wave of nausea propelled his body into a retch, spewing vomit into the air. His yells cut into gurgles as the acid splashed through his throat and out, denying him air and causing his vision to nearly blacken out. Shimmers of light appeared before his eyes, blocking what little he could still see.
"Holy shit, look, they're still here…"
He only dimly realized that the lights before his eyes was actually the room's lamps being turned back on. Before, all they'd had to see was the light generated by the pylons, and only his bionic eye had seen anything. His right had just seen darkness.
"They look like hell…you think they're still alive?"
Thomas squinted against the two silhouettes emerging from the largest source of light – the door – and tried seeing what was going on. He could hear two voices, a man and a woman.
"…dunno." The woman said, accompanied by the sound of approaching boots on metal; "You three, any of you alive yet?"
Focusing his eyes was torture, and felt as if they were about to leave their sockets. Pressure built behind them as he tried looking at the arrivals, trying to see if they were Church, or could maybe be Alliance rescue.
The hope was squashed when he finally managed to focus, and saw the two newcomers, one male and one female, in sharper details. Gods no…anything but them.
Decorating the shoulders of both soldiers, the gold and black symbol of Cerberus was adorned, greeting him like the final laugh in a cruel joke. He'd expected from the start to find Cerberus somehow involved with the Reapers, or the Church, but still…to find them actually here was devastating in ways he hadn't expected it to be.
The Church had called them. They'd called them, because Cerberus still wanted his body. He didn't doubt for a second that that was how it was. Cerberus always just took what they wanted, shitting on anyone they had to trample to get their way. And now he couldn't even fight back, Hillary was unconscious and Boss…
Boss was probably already dead.
The clone had stopped breathing, at least as far as he could see. Only the fact that he wasn't sure whether or not blood still bled from wounds of dead people gave him a small flicker of hope. It was a shitty flicker, but it was all he had. Or, it had been until now, when Cerberus was probably just going to kill his teammates and take him away. Just like on the Citadel.
"Hey, I think this guy's alive…or at least conscious." The man said, stepping closer. His voice almost sounded familiar, but with the helmets masking voices, everyone sounded the same somehow. Everything about how he looked screamed 'Cerberus', from the modified helmet, to how his hands still gripped a Phaeston, clearly stolen from the Turians; "Hey, have I… seen you before somewhere?"
If Cerberus was going to take him, he wanted to at least interest them in his comrades. That way maybe they would get out of here alive, if captured.
"P-please help h-him…" the voice was not his, but instead came as a low, hoarse groan from his side. Hillary had woken up, and sounded as dead as she looked. Thomas wasn't capable of saying a word, stunned beyond them as he was; "C-Cerbe…help him…B-Boss's…"
"Holy shit, she's…" the man whispered, turning away from Thomas; "Val, we have to get them down."
"Go find the switch, then." The woman hissed; "It's an industrial stasis-pylon, I can't break through something like that."
"Got it." the man nodded, taking off. He stopped but a few steps later, looking around; "Ah…where do you think it is?"
"Fuck if I know, just look for a lever or something." The obviously higher-ranked repeated, turning angled, red slits back on Hillary; "Who are you people?"
"Help…Boss, you…b-bi…he's fucking…d-d-dyi…" she spat out, accompanied with the crust of blood breaking over her face. She looked horrifying, smeared in her own dried blood, even as she kept weakly tossing her head towards the lieutenant; "P-please!"
"Val! Found it!" the other soldier called from somewhere out of Thomas' field of vision. It sounded like somewhere behind him.
"Alright, pull 'em, I'll catch these guys." The woman 'Val' called back, flexing her arms as her form glowed blue. A biotic, then. Not that it came as a surprise, considering everything else that had already happened. Thomas just hated the idea of a Cerberus biotic, because not only did it combine the people most effective against him with the people most upset with him, it also reminded him of what Jennifer could have ended up as.
As a brainwashed soldier, a sick experiment.
When the stasis suddenly vanished around them, Thomas braced himself for impact as best he could. He could barely move his arms at this point, and doubted he could brace at all with his legs. He wasn't sure how long they'd really spent hanging like meat.
Instead of hitting the ground, a tingling sense wrapped around him, feeling like his entire body had fallen asleep, then suddenly been woken up. Slowly looking around, he saw Boss and Hillary likewise enveloped, all of them being slowly lowered towards the floor.
"Alright, I'm going to leave the big guy in a stasis." Val said, pointing at Boss; "Because he looks like he's lost a fuck-ton of blood. I'm guessing that's 'Boss', right?"
Hillary just nodded, her eyes shifting between 'Val' and the other Cerberus soldier, who was making his way back towards them. His gait suggested he didn't like being close, which suited Thomas just fine. If they were going to take him, he wanted them as separated as he could get.
"Alright, Tyr, you get those two on their feet. Was probably their armor we saw back there too. I'll see if I can stabilize the big guy."
"Right…" 'Tyr' replied, slowly approaching him and Hillary. Thomas watched him, ready to…he didn't know what. He could barely move his arms, couldn't move his legs and couldn't activate his flames. There was literally nothing he could do if the approaching operative just decided to kick him in the face; "So, you the hell are you guys anyway?"
Thomas didn't answer him, preferring to have spat the man in the face if he could. Cerberus had done too much to him at this point, that acting civil wasn't going to make him loathe them any less. Instead there was a helmet, so that was where the glob of bloody saliva landed.
"Son of a fuck!"
"What's wrong now?" 'Val' called, from where she was kneeling next to Boss. Thomas couldn't see what she was doing to him.
"Bastard spat on me!" the soldier hissed, wiping the spittle from his visor with the back of his P-steel greave; "I swear, this is the fucking reward for bailing these guys out, I'm all for fucking leaving 'em here."
"You're an adult, Tyr, deal with it." Val retorted, not moving from Boss; "We're wearing insignias inside a Church base, did you really think we'd be getting a 'thank you' for this?"
"Wasn't expecting to get fucking spat on…"
"Y-you're…not with the…" Hillary began, slowly looking between the operatives.
"- the Church?" Val cut her off; "Hardly."
"…Thank God." It was the first time in a long while Thomas had heard his teammate sigh with such intense relief, "But…then, why…are you…"
"Here?" the woman interrupted her again; "That's classified. What's important is that the Church doesn't like you three, meaning we do. Probably…Anyway, who the heck are you people?"
"…That's…classified." Hillary grinned, showing where more than one tooth had been knocked out, blood caking most of her mouth. It was a sickening look, and Thomas felt like retching again. He had only narrowly not landed in the puddle he'd made before; "Boss…"
"He's lost a lot of blood." Val muttered, somehow managing to draw every eye in the room; "Pray for him, if that's your thing, but we don't have enough Medigel to fix this…"
"Armor." Thomas gasped, feeling the very word burn its way through his lungs. The drugs hadn't finished with him, that much was clear, and relentlessly punished him for every outspoken word. He didn't care, couldn't. Not now; "Bacta-dispensers in the…suits, somewhere."
"Bacta?" Val said, not a hint of recognition in her voice. Thomas hoped that was just the helmet; "You mean bacteria?"
"Wait…Bacta…" 'Tyr' muttered, kneeling next to Thomas; "…You mean like, that green stuff used in tanks?"
"Got it…in the armor. He's right…" Hillary croaked, nodding the best she probably could; "Find his armor, 's gotta have…it somewhere."
"What the fuck's bacta, if you don't mind me…never mind. Yeah we found three sets of armor not matching what the Church's using. One Bulwark and a pair of modified Phase-II's. Those yours?" Val stood, moving to roll Boss onto his back; "Tyr, get the Bulwark back here, and make it quick."
"On it." Tyr said, standing before making a beeline for the exit, swearing as he went; "Fucking hell, shouldn't have gone down here, shouldn't have gone down here…Altruism and fucking…"
"So, you I have seen before." Val muttered, turning to glance down at Hillary who was propped against the pylons. Most of her bruising looked less serious now, in a normal light instead of the blue stasis, but they still looked pretty nasty. Thomas, for himself, was still just trying to process that Cerberus wasn't here to kill them, or even apparently abduct them.
They were helping.
And because of that, he could allow himself to hope that he might see Ashley again. To him, that was worth whatever Cerberus would demand from him. He didn't care what, just that he got back home.
"Heh…b-bet you have…" Hillary wheezed, her eyes not on the other woman but on Boss. He remained pale as a sheet, but somehow, his chest had started moving again. Thomas didn't dare believe his own eyes before someone said so out loud.
"Last time I saw you…you were hanging out the side of a crashing skycar…" Val mused, her hands never leaving Boss's chest and leg. Her Omnitool was alight, but he couldn't see what she was doing; "I shot you down, on the Presidium!"
"Well…nice to see you again…bitch." Hillary chuckled without a shred of mirth; "I had to pay for the damages to that café out of…my own salary."
"Which means, you three are part of the Alliance!" Val exclaimed, as if she had only just realized what her own words meant; "Njord's nut-sack, you're Alliance Black Ops, that group trying to kill Ty- Stevens. Which means…"
Thomas didn't like the way she trailed off. The woman's helmet seemed to slide from looking at Hillary to instead stare straight at him. The red angles of her visor gave her an eerie appearance, like a demon or a classic villain.
"Fuck me sideways, front and backwards, he was right, you do look familiar." She gasped with what almost sounded like awe, and maybe a little glee; "Thomas fucking Fisher, Demon of the Citadel…Holy shit, you actually survived the fall?"
"Sorry to…disappoint." He glared at her, shoving himself up against the same pylon used by Hillary; "So…now you're gonna exploit this shit and kill me off."
The sentence was a question, but he said it like a statement. He didn't doubt Cerberus wanted him killed on sight, not after the damage he'd caused them back for everything. He'd more or less singlehandedly demolished Teltin, killed their assassins and gone after a suspected host for the next dark Aspect.
How moronic that apparently they should have been looking at the Church instead, all this time.
"Would love to, but the Man would skin me if I fucked with Alliance operatives on your level." She shrugged, apparently no longer interested in looking at him; "Believe it or not, Cerberus doesn't actually want to fuck over the Alliance, or the galactic community on that note either."
"Yeah." He didn't buy it; "not buying it."
"Hey, we're here for you guys, aren't we?" she said; "Kinda doubt you people would come bust out Cerberus personnel, even if you were already there."
"Didn't know we were Alliance."
"True, but we could have left when we found out." She gestured at Boss, who still hadn't moved; "I could just leave this guy to die on the floor, don't doubt you'd have done that to one of us. So, could you stuff that moral bullshit up your ass? Kindly, thank you."
Thomas wanted to retort, but didn't know how. Maybe it was because he knew she was right: had he found Cerberus operatives hanging around, had the situation been switched, he wouldn't have even considered saving them. At most, he would have stopped in to mock them, and then left. That doesn't matter. They're terrorists, they already killed me once, and unleashed the shitstorm on Noveria. They abducted Jennifer from her family and used children as lab-rats!
So instead, he just sat there, trying to figure out how to move his fingers. His left arm was still utterly useless, and his legs could barely support him as it was. If he could just get a hand on a stim, he could maybe start planning ahead, start trying to figure out what to do next.
"Boss, is he…" he tried when the silence became too oppressive. Val, or whatever her name was, hadn't even stopped working on Boss when they'd been arguing, and the realization caused his insides to twist around.
"Depends on how good that 'bacta' you're talking about really is." She grunted, while a smell like fried meat wafted through the room; "As it is, Medigel alone won't do it…the bullet was still inside, and the bone was splintered. I need an IV-drop for him, as well as a thousand other things I just don't have here…So…"
"Do you… have a stim?" Hillary groaned, rubbing flakes of dried blood from her face; "My head's killing me, and I think I have a concussion."
"A stim won't really fix that, you know…" the Cerberus medic argued, even as she rolled one of the small tubes across the floor. Small, made of duraplast and fitting within regular bandoliers, the standard stim could be the difference between life and death for a soldier. It was also a very effective painkiller.
"I know…" Hillary grabbed the stim as it ended up at her legs, groaning with relief as the needle penetrated the skin of her neck; "But God, if it doesn't do the trick anyway."
"I don't have anything for the concussion though, so I'd advice not moving too much…" Val muttered, turning back to Boss; "Tyr and I took out a good number of Church members on our way here. They were a lot better equipped than I'd thought."
"Probably…Templars, then…" Thomas groaned, not even bothering to act surprised when a stim rolled to a stop next to him as well. He fumbled at it, fingers refusing to properly function before managing to grab it like a child with a crayon, and jabbed it into his thigh; "Intelligence suggested the Church was starting to upgrade their military capacity…wanted to find out for sure, so…"
"So you came here." Val finished for him, waiting for him to merely nod; "Cerberus suspected the Church of secretly working with affiliates of the Reapers. That's…why we came here."
"Ain't that just…fucking A?" Hillary croaked, even though she started seeming more awake, now that the stim was kicking in; "Because that's more or less what's happening…fuck, and here we were shitting our pants because the top dogs thought you guys were plying…planning…plying around…playing around with the Reapers…"
"Yeah, that'd be a concussion right there." Val muttered, then jerked as if she'd been stung; "Wait, what'd you say?"
"Danik's working with Rho." Thomas spat out, remembering how the man had bragged about just that before shooting Boss in the leg; "Rho's the Reaper responsible for the Collectors, the attack on the Normandy, the massacre on the Ishimura…he's leading the Church now, so…that's why we have to find Danik. And kill him. And then likely kill him again because nothing just stays dead."
"That's…" Val paused, looking as if she was shifting her eyes between the two of them; "not exactly comforting. But, why did you think we were…?"
"Oh, no one figured out why we came for that Seven…sevens…Stevens dude?" the blood-caked blonde chuckled; "Intelligence figured there was another dark aspect runnin' around or somethin', and somehow they tracked down that Steve guy."
"Stevens." Val corrected her, but sounded like she hardly cared. When she spoke again, there was far more suspicion in her voice; "what do you mean 'dark aspect'?"
"Yeah, what do you mean by that?" Thomas turned his head towards the sound, and realized that the other Cerberus operative, Tyr, had returned without anyone realizing it. Or, at least he hadn't heard anything. Tyr didn't wait in the entrance however, as he was hauling the massive set of Bulwark armor on his back.
"Took you fucking long enough." Val hissed at him; "I'm literally burning this guy's leg just to stop the bleeding."
"Have you tried…" he grunted, setting the armor down next to her with a massive clank; "…carrying one of these things lately? They're fucking heavy."
"Stop complaining, will you?" Val muttered, rummaging through the armor's back-systems; "What'd you say bacta was?"
"Some sort of healing solution, better than Medigel sometimes…I think." Tyr shrugged, then changed his stance as he looked from her to Thomas. Unprotected by armor or barriers, Thomas did his best not to flinch when the operative upholstered his sidearm and leveled it at him.
"Put the gun down, cockskull." Hillary growled, though not making a move. She was as unarmed as Thomas, and couldn't do anything regardless of whether she tried; "Bitch, tell him to put the gun down."
"Tyr, why did you decide we should save these people if you're just gonna shoot him in the face?" Val muttered without even looking up. It was almost as if she hadn't heard Hillary sling insults around.
"This guy strangled me half to death, chased me across the Presidium and tried to set me on fire, Anna!" Tyr growled. Thomas, however, felt as if he had been slapped. The man in front of him, the one currently pointing a gun at him, was Tyler Stevens, the same bastard who'd shot Ashley with an Assault Rifle; "If I'd known he was here, I'd have said we should've just bombed the place."
"You're not being very constructive here, Tyr." Val grumbled, drawing out on the word; "Fucking face that we're here for the same thing, then you can murder each other after we're done…Fucking Surt's ballsack, I knew something like this was bound to happen."
"You people are-"
"Saving your asses." The woman cut him off, ignoring Thomas' outburst. With all the adrenaline rushing through his systems, he was only dimly aware of the aching from his muscles. Just because his mind was clearing, didn't mean his body was recovering; "Now help me with the bacta, Tyr, since you seem to actually know what it is."
Thomas wanted to say more, to somehow say something about Cerberus he hadn't already said. When he opened his mouth however, Hillary's hand clamped over it, cutting him off.
"Just shut it, Thomas, you're not helping." She muttered, not even looking at him. Instead, her eyes were on Boss as the two operatives scrambled around the workings of the Bulwark, prying open systems and compartments to get the green bio-gel out. Somehow, that was what it took for him to actually process the scene in front of him, and everything that was going on.
Cerberus had saved them.
The realization should have struck him so much sooner, and he blamed the drugs for that. His mind, clearing though it might be, was still hazed and dull, and thoughts took longer than he'd like to actually form. But now that they had, he felt shame, anger and confusion burn through him, heating his neck while sweat started rolling from his face.
"…sorry." He whispered, not yet willing to allow the Cerberus operatives to hear it. Resigning to the fact that there was nothing he could do to help Boss now, Thomas instead closed his eyes and slumped his head back against the cool metal of the pylon. One of his feet had ended up in the puddle of vomit, but he found he hardly cared.
"Good, then we should try to p-plan on how to get out of here." She whispered back, leaning her head on his shoulder as if to simply rest; "I don't trust them anymore than you do, but if Boss is going to make it, we need them. Nicolai's not here, so that bimbo's going to be the only apparent medic we have…try not to piss her off."
"..biotic, I know." He sighed, not moving his head, nor opening his eyes; "I just…I want to get off this planet."
"Let's take this one step at a time, okay?"
"…Your speech's getting better." He noted, somehow finding that little thing a source of encouragement.
"Yeah well…I just needed a stim." She muttered back, flicking him on the leg; "If Danik's still around, this could be the Alliance's first real chance of taking him out. I say we find him, and murder the son of a bitch with extreme prejudice."
"Hey, you two ready to go?" it was Tyr – Tyler Stevens, the asshole who'd shot at Ashley – , snapping Thomas' eyes open. Thomas looked up, seeing the operative waiting for them, a very familiar rifle held at rest in his arms; "Val's going to stay here with your teammate, but we should get going, try to find out where the hell their leader is. You mentioned Jacob Danik, right? Means he's here on the base?"
"He is…yeah." Thomas nodded, still wanting to put his fist through the other man's skull. He bit down on the deep resentment and instead got to his feet, ignoring the screaming protests from his arms and legs; "He's the one who shot Boss."
"You found his armor."
"And yours too, I guess…" Tyr nodded, shifting his grip on the gun in his hands; "Which I guess means this one belongs to one of you too?"
It was the CAR Thomas had been issued before they started the mission. He recognized the weapon now, and felt a stinging irritation at seeing it in Cerberus' hands. Taking a step forward, he put his hand on the rifle, still in the grip of Stevens;
"Yes. It's mine." He stated flatly, then bit down and felt like kicking himself; "Could I have it back, Stevens?"
Wordlessly, the operative handed it over, pulling the Phaeston from his back again. The Turian rifle looked equally wrong in the hands of a Cerberus operative, but Thomas had no argument beyond that, and didn't comment. Nodding while glaring at the space above Stevens' visor, he motioned for the man to lead them.
Thomas hadn't actually seen anything of the base outside the containment room, and was surprised to see it resembling any regular industrial complex. He'd expected Unitologist symbols decorating every inch of the walls, all somehow made in the shape of a Marker. Instead, the walls were plain, gun-metal grey while the floor shifted between grates and concrete.
"Listen, I don't work well if I have to worry about someone putting a bullet in my spine…" Stevens muttered awkwardly as they walked, Thomas finding himself unconsciously aiming his rifle at the other man's leg, finger on the trigger. He didn't point the gun away, but he did remove the finger from the trigger-guard. Did the man have eyes on the back of his head? "So…if we could just declare a truce or something until we're done here…?"
"You broke my superior's nose, shot my fiancé with an Assault rifle, then kicked me in the head, shot me multiple times and threw me out of a speeding car."
"Oh…fuck, she's your…" Stevens groaned, slapping a hand to his visor; "Look, I was panicking and you all came at me with guns. I just wanted to buy some stuff and all of a sudden you all just…She…she survived, right? Williams?"
For almost two seconds, Thomas wondered why he found that question odder than frustrating. When he finally realized the reason, it struck him hard enough that he couldn't voice his question before Hillary did the same.
"How'd you know her name?" she demanded sharply, striding past Thomas to stare Stevens in the visor; "No one here's told you her name."
"I…I…recognized her from a magazine." Stevens muttered, doing nothing but increasing Thomas' distrust of him; "Look, does it matter how I know-"
"Yes, yes it does matter." Hillary scowled; "But for now it can wait. We get our guns, find Danik and then we kill him till he dies. How does that sound for a plan?"
"…I'm fine with it." Stevens nodded, then seemed to stop himself from looking at Thomas; "Are…ehm…are you good with-"
"Let's just get it done." He growled, glaring at the back of Steven's helmet; "but don't try anything, or I'll fucking murder you."
"…I swear, there's just no pleasing some people…" Stevens muttered under his breath. Thomas ignored him, determined to see through the mission, and then go home. If Stevens escaped this place alive, he should consider it all the gratitude he was going to get.
Because there was no way in Helheim's icy plains Thomas was going to thank him. Ever. No matter how good a reason he'd had for doing it, Stevens had shot Ashley. That she had survived was the only reason Stevens wasn't dead already, and the only reason Thomas wasn't shooting him in the spine.
And there was still the question of how Stevens knew her name.
There were a lot of possibilities and scenarios going through his head as for that, and Thomas liked absolutely none of them.
Because different through they all were, there was one thing they all shared. One nasty implication they all had in common.
Somehow, at some point, Stevens had gotten close enough to her to learn her name. Ashley had never been on magazines – he'd checked, once – and aside from Jilani's one coverage of their night out, her face had never even been publically broadcasted.
Had Stevens been on Eden Prime?
It was either that, or Cerberus spies in Aurora. And Thomas didn't believe Jane careless enough for something like that to be leaked. She was far too paranoid for that after Kaidan's death, and even if she hadn't been, Anna was in control of the Taskforces. Jormungand would have sniffed out any spies and reported them to her.
And since Anna would never betray them to Cerberus, and nothing could get past her and Price – he hoped and prayed this was the case – only the first option remained.
And yet, it left him exactly where he started.
And he hated being unable to do shit about it.
So...I wasn't actually sure where to end the chapter, so I decided to cut it at Thomas trying to figure out where Stevens actually knows Ashley from. If you've read 'Into the Terminus' you already know, but if not...well, we'll probably get to that sometime in the future.
If you're wondering why the updates have suddenly slowed down, it's because I started attending VUC recently - Adult Education Course...roughly - and the workload is slightly larger than I had expected.
Also, after this chapter I'll be doing another of either Talia or Helheim, as well as finishing the next chapter-rewrite from the first book. So, it might be a while before the next update.