And so here we are: Virmire. One of the most important and dramatic events of the first Mass Effect game. Ooohh boy this will be interesting to write out on my end.

So first and foremost, I'm sorry for the extreme lateness of this chapter. I started it up in September and got some good progress on it, but then got bogged down by real life stuff. Then October rolled around and Halloween got in the way. Not to mention a re-write of some parts after getting some advice about tight and broad-beam transmissions from a friend. And then November rolled around and both my dad and I were sick, both being utterly miserable. Left little to no room for me to write between taking care of him and huddling miserably in bed. Plus his job had him working a hell of a lot going into December so I was running around trying to handle things around the house so he can just relax. And of course, Christmas came, so…yeah. As for January…well I'll be honest, I went through a bit of laziness and depression, so found it hard to do anything. And February was my birthday month, so got lost in my birthday gift of Age of Empires 2.

Diehard FemShepLiara LeafRanger: Great and all, but can we focus on this?! *is cowering with me and other personalities behind an overturned table*

Ripfang: Eat plasma, you relic! *laughs as he fires his heavy cannon at Wrex*

Wrex: *sidesteps while laughing* You'll have to do better than that, pyjak! *fires his shotgun, sending Ripfang sprawling*

LeafRanger: What do you expect me to do about it?!

Diehard ShepTali LeafRanger: Stop them or something? *Blinks at the deadpan stares from everyone*

LR: Yeah, I'm not suicidal, thanks. Look, just toss Wrex some varren roast and Sasuke at Ripfang. That should appease them for now.

Alicia: *grabs some snacks for Wrex*

Arashen: Awwww, but then we'll have to clean up Sasuke's remains afterwards.

LR: Just do it! *grimaces as an explosion rocks the table* In the mean time, got some reviews to address. First off, to anonymous reviewer Shadow? Thanks, glad you enjoyed the chapter! And to the anonymous guest? Glad you enjoyed it, and hope you enjoy this chapter!

DSTLR: Wait, that's it?

LR: Yeah, that's it! Everyone else signed in this time!*stops at the lack of explosions and roars, and peeks out*

Wrex: *is sitting on the floor, contently munching on roasted varren leg with a keg of ryncol*

Ripfang: *grinning at the terrified Sasuke now pushed out in front of him* Hello there, prey.

LR: …see, told you it'd work. *gets up and dusts off while Sasuke shrieks and runs off with Ripfang in pursuit* Now, on with the chapter!

Disclaimer: I do not own Mass Effect or Naruto. They are the respective properties of Bioware and Masashi Kishimoto. This is a non-profit work of fan-made fiction. Please support the official releases.

Chapter 26

"We have a lead on Saren's location," Alicia said, standing in front of the ground team currently seated in the Normandy's communications room. Behind her the holographic display was showing a map of the Sentry Omega Nebula Cluster. "The Council received a garbled transmission that they've been able to identify as coming from an STG unit that they had previously lost contact with. They were one of a number of recon teams deployed in an attempt to find Saren or any of his facilities. This particular platoon was assigned to scout the Sentry Omega cluster, but was reported missing after failing to check in four days ago."

She tapped a few keys, causing the map to zoom in on one of the systems. "Approximately thirty-six hours ago, a transmission with their carrier frequency was relayed to the Citadel. The message was badly scrambled, but they were able to piece enough of it together to at least establish the transmission was related to Saren. A trace of the transmission narrows it down to the Hoc System, but they were unable to narrow it down beyond that."

Shutting down the holographic display, she turned back to them. She could see that most of them were on the edge of their seats now. They hadn't had another encounter with Saren's forces since Feros, so to finally have an actual lead was both exciting and disconcerting. Alicia could understand that feeling, since it was the same for her. "According to travel records connected to this particular mass relay, there has been unusually high traffic through this area. A cross reference of various ships' registered flight plans indicate the majority were transport ships run by private contractors. This was not flagged as urgent originally because it was thought to simply be a private venture, but further research has connected the contractors for those vessels to either be Saren or contacts associated with him."

"So is this his main base?" Kaidan asked, drawing Alicia's attention. The red haired vanguard shook her head.

"Unknown at this time. It could be his main base, or it could just be an outpost. Hell, it could be his summer home and we're going to see some things we wish we could forget," she said, attempting to lighten the tense mood with some humor. There was a chuckle or two, but everyone still was a bit on edge, causing her to grow serious. "We're going to do this carefully. We'll run silent when we enter the Hoc system, use the passive sensors to try and find anything, and assess the situation from there. Our first priority will be trying to find the salarians and gather what intel we can from them. I want everyone prepped for ground combat, just in case, Understood?"

At their various nods and a growl from Wrex, she nodded. "Alright then. Dismissed," she said, before her eyes moved to Naruto. "Captain, a moment please?" She asked.

Naruto, who had just been rising, stopped before slowly sitting back down. The others paused for a moment at that before heading off, sensing that it was a very good idea to get out of there as quickly as possible. Though both Liara and Tali paused long enough to look at Alicia and Naruto respectively, a look of worry evident on Liara's face.

Once they were both alone, Alicia took a deep breath, looking at her brother. She could see how tense his whole posture was, as he seemed to be doing his best to look anywhere except at her. It took her a few moments before she finally spoke. "…thank you…for being willing to stay."

"It was an order," Naruto said stiffly. "There's already enough tension and worry in the ground team because of us, I thought it best not to cause anymore, ma'am."

Alicia flinched slightly but kept her gaze on him. "I actually meant...staying on the ship. I thought I'd have received a request for a transfer from you by now," she said softly.

Naruto finally looked at her, his eyes slightly hard. "…I honestly haven't decided on that yet," he stated.

Alicia felt a sudden pang of hurt, guilt, and fear hit her heart like an ice cold dagger plunged into it at his words. But she just gave him a nod of understanding. "…I can't ever say I'm sorry enough for what I said and did, Naruto. I honestly can't," she finally managed to get out, her voice hitching slightly. "There's no excuse for what I said. All I can do…is try my best to prove worthy of you considering forgiving me. Even if I can honestly understand if you choose not to do so. But I…I want you to know I didn't mean what I said. I don't truly believe that."

"Even though there must be a part of you that has thought it before?" Naruto asked her, his voice quiet but harsh, before he stood suddenly. "What am I to think Alicia, hmmm? What am I supposed to think when the woman who claims to be my sister tells me to my face something that I've been scared of ever since I actually understood that Hannah and Malcolm aren't my real parents? That you're not my real sister?! What am I supposed to feel?!"

His voice had become raised, filled with heat born of both anger and pain as he glared at her while she just stood there, not shying away but instead taking the full brunt of his fury. He just stared at her before growling and turning away. "…I'll stay on this mission, if for no other reason than to make sure Hannah doesn't lose you as well. After might be the last time we see each other for a while," he said before leaving the room.

Now alone, Alicia couldn't help but slump as she felt the weight of Naruto's words impact her. Not just his statement of them not likely seeing each other again, but the fact that he had referred to Hannah by her name, instead of as mother. The fact that her words had affected him enough for him to even question the bond their mom had with him shook her to her core.

His anger at her was justified, but she couldn't let his bond with their mom be broken because of her words. She'd have to send a message as soon as possible, to make sure Hannah knew what was coming, and that she'd need to be ready to help Naruto. Even if it left her estranged from both her mother and brother, she wouldn't let the family be torn apart. Not like this. Doing her best to get her emotions back under control, she headed to the CIC, to await their arrival in the Sentry Omega Cluster.


To any other person the view out the windows, overlooking a vast ocean with a hint of tropical beaches on the periphery, would have been a very distracting and lovely sight. Not so for Saren Arterius, currently seated at the desk while going over reports from various sources. Before him was updates on the skirmishes between the Alliance and the geth, the number of krogan and geth units under his command, and the progress made by the researchers he employed here. The report currently holding his interest, however, was an update sent by Benezia two days ago. The incident at their research facility on Noveria was worse than expected, and it was taking her time to clear things up. She expected to have the information they needed within the next forty-eight hours at the minimum.

To Saren, that was too long. The research being done for him was essential to his plans. The cipher given to him by the Tholian, mixed with information taken from an intact Prothean Beacon he had managed to secure and hide here on Virmire, meant he now had a clear understanding of the vision left by the Protheans. All that was left now was the final piece of information, potentially lost at Peak 15 unless Benezia could come through for him.

He pushed the report aside with a soft growl, turning to a new report from the geth patrols here on Virmire. The salarian forces present had continued to skirt his patrols, harassing and attacking his forces whenever they could. They were proving to be an annoyance, but thankfully one that would likely not last much longer. Judging by the remains of their ship and the number of their operatives captured or killed so far, they likely were down to a handful of soldiers at best now. He was sure they would slip up soon. And he had to admit, it was nice of them to so readily supply his researchers with new test subjects.

At that moment, his desk computer chimed. A quick glance alerted him to an audio call from the geth command cruiser currently leading the skirmishes against the humans. Activating his computer, he turned back to his work. "Report," he ordered.

"Prophet, losses against the Alliance-organics are mounting. Projections indicate at current attrition rate, geth forces will be too depleted to enact final operations if a withdrawal is not ordered," a robotic voice responded over the call.

Saren cursed at that, focusing on the computer now. The battle with the Alliance ships along the borders of their space had been turning against the geth ever since the Alliance began deploying those defensive ordinances of theirs. On top of that, it was becoming evident that they were adapting to fighting the geth, understanding how their opponents thought and acted. The geth were excellent at adapting to new strategies and surprises, provided they could analyze them and apply appropriate countermeasures. And they were far more coordinated then any organic force could be, reacting and moving with a unity that made them deadly on the battlefield. But a weakness was that they were predictable, and it was readily apparent that the Alliance strategists were now seeing the patterns in his forces movements and strategies, and working around them. Their ability to adapt and modify their strategies was perhaps one of the Alliance's greatest strengths, though Saren would never admit it. Most of the other races stuck to what they thought worked for them, never changing or adapting. Humans seemed to thrive on being unpredictable, their tactics shifting and evolving with each encounter.

He knew that he had to order a withdrawal. As much as he would love to continue to weaken the Alliance forces and kill hundreds, if not thousands more of them, he couldn't waste those ships. "Begin an immediate withdrawal. All ships are to begin repair and refit operations for the final operation."

There was an acknowledging beep and the communication cut off, leaving him to return to his thoughts. Ultimately, it didn't matter at this point. The Alliance would keep their ships on the borders for a time, and the Council would be looking outwards to their own borders. They would never see the attack coming when it finally did.

Hoc System, Three Hours Later

On the edge of the Hoc system, a ship suddenly appeared as if by magic. Though in truth, the ship had merely dropped out of FTL, having been traveling here from the relay system within the Sentry Omega Cluster.

In the CIC of the SSV Normandy, Alicia quickly began calling out orders. "Helm, re-engage stealth systems! Sensors, passive sweep of the system. Navigation, plot us a course away from flash point," she quickly barked out.

The need for speed and information was essential. The stealth systems were incapable of trapping the heat expelled from the ship during FTL travel, meaning they couldn't run them while travelling between systems in a nebula cluster. This meant that any time the Normandy entered a system from FTL, they would send up a momentary heat plume from their FTL travel, just like any other ship. The main difference between their stealth frigate and most other ships though was the Normandy could then activate its stealth systems and quickly move away, while any other ship trying to be stealthy would be forced to power down most of its systems, 'go cold', and hope any ships or satellites in the systems didn't use active sensors to find them.

Even now, Alicia felt the soft vibration as the sub-light engines cut in and the ship began moving. The sensors soon were transmitting data on the system when an urgent cry went up over the intercom from the sensor officer. "Conn, sensors! Unknown tango detected! Dreadnaught class, moving towards the flash point from third planet in the system!"

Alicia cursed as she began to run towards the sensor station. "All hands, general quarters! Power down all non-essential systems!" She shouted, her orders being repeated as klaxons blared and the crew began running to their combat stations, or to power down non-critical systems. Alicia quickly reached the sensor station in the cockpit, where the female ensign was quickly working to analyze the target.

"Ma'am, it's the same ship from Eden Prime," the ensign said quickly, her eyes locked on the screen. "Dimensions and energy signature match those from data recovered from the colony. It's definitely a dreadnaught, two kilometers long, traveling at high speed. Beginning analysis of energy output."

"Is it heading for us or our arrival point?" Alicia asked, looking over the officer's shoulder at the screen. Said officer was quickly plotting the likely trajectory of the ship, which soon showed a flight path that would take the massive unknown dreadnaught past them.

"It's heading for the flash point ma'am," the officer replied, a hint of relief in her voice.

"Alright then...keep using the passive scanners to get what data you can on that ship," Alicia said before looking over her shoulder. "Joker, take us past that thing as quietly as possible, then make for the planet it came from. I think we've just confirmed Saren's presence in the system."

"No kidding ma'am," Joker said, his own eyes locked on one of his data screens displaying an image of the ship and its trajectory relative to the Normandy. "Here's hoping nobody on that ship decides to do some stargazing, or this'll be one really short trip."

Alicia just nodded, only to look up as the intercom went off again. "Commander, can you come to communications? We're getting a tight-beam transmission here."

"On my way," Alicia said, quickly heading back to the communications station, one of the consoles mounted along the exterior of the holographic galaxy map. "What have you got?"

"A tight-beam signal that we've traced back to the third planet, Virmire. We think whoever sent it detected our arrival and directed the signal there, in hopes of hitting us. It was coded with Council encryptions, which we're in the process of decrypting," the communications officer reported, looking up from his work momentarily.

Almost as soon as he finished speaking, his screen blinked and the transmission was soon being displayed. Alicia leaned over, reading the message quickly. "It's a verification code, followed by coordinates," she said, punching in the verification code. A few seconds later an affirmative beep responded. "It's the STG unit that was lost out here. Relay those coordinates to navigation," she ordered before turning to Pressly. "Plot us a course that takes us in orbit above those coordinates. Have sensors run scans of the area, then report back to me. I'll be getting the ground team prepped," she ordered. "You have the conn."

"Aye-aye ma'am!" The navigator responded as Alicia activated the intercom.

"This is Commander Shepard. Ground team; begin final checks for ground insertion. I want the marine detachment suited up and ready for ground deployment as well!" She ordered, cutting off the intercom and quickly heading toward the hanger deck.

The Normandy continued on course towards the planet Virmire, slipping right past the massive dreadnaught. As it made no course corrections or charged its weapons, it soon became apparent that it hadn't detected them, though the sensor officer did detect the emissions of active sensors from it. The main difference between passive and active sensors though was passive sensors were more general 'area' sensors, simply scanning for heat and energy emissions within an area. Active sensors, however, had to be directed at a specific target to paint them, though they had much more detail on their return then passive sensors did. This was what let the stealth frigate slip by undetected.

It took close to a half hour for the ship to reach the planet and establish orbit, a very tense thirty minutes where the crew had prayed the massive dreadnaught didn't come back. Their ship would never have been able to handle a direct hit from a normal dreadnaught and that…thing they had passed was twice that in length, with at least three times the power of even the mightiest Alliance vessel. It would be no contest if they were forced into a fight with it.

As they entered orbit, the sensor officer began running scans before switching on the intercom. "Commander, preliminary information coming in. Location is an island chain with some unknown facility on the largest island, bordering the shoreline. Also detecting at least five smaller outposts further away from the facility, possibly some type of defensive screen. Scanning the exact coordinates now."

In the hanger deck, Alicia looked up from where she was running final checks on the Mako. "Copy that. Report in when you have more details," she said, before turning to look back at the rest of the ground team.

They currently were going through final preparations. Kaidan was running a final system's check on the hard-light emitters for his 'tech armor', while Ashley was currently sighting her Mantis sniper rifle, making sure the computer assisted sight was properly calibrated. Wrex was murmuring to himself as he slotted a fresh thermal clip into his Revenant LMG while Tali stood beside him, her omni-tool active. The quarian nodded at whatever was being displayed before signaling Wrex, letting him know his armor was functioning properly. Liara was sitting nearby, taking deep breaths as she fumbled a bit with her Tempest SMG, while Garrus sat near her, sniper rifle on his lap while he zoned out to music playing over his visor's headset. Lastly was Naruto who stood there, watching the blades of his gauntlets slide out and then in, checking them to make sure they were functioning properly. Obviously satisfied he grabbed his helmet, pausing long enough to look up and see Alicia watching him. He stared back for a moment before sliding his helmet on, securing it.

Alicia shook her head before returning to the Mako, finishing the final systems check. "Everything's in the green, Mako is ready for a drop," she called out, grabbing her own helmet off the console and sliding it into place. She watched as her HUD lit up, showing all systems running smoothly as the motion tracker came on, as well as the various bars and icons to track her weapons, shields, armor integrity, and squad-mates.

Soon enough a second report came in from the sensor officer. "Ma'am, detailed report ready. Confirmed five AA outposts defending the landward side of unknown facility. Low level atmospheric flyover impossible at this point. Coordinates appear to be some kind of camp."

"Copy that. Pressly, is there any place to drop the Mako that will let us reach that camp-site?" Alicia asked, switching over to the XO.

"There is a large enough drop-area far enough away from the AA guns, but you'll have to pass at least two of the AA outposts to reach the camp. If you disable those guns, we can move in with the ship for a fully detailed scan.," Pressly reported.

"Then that's our play. Plot out a drop run and relay it to Joker. We're mounting up," she said, signaling the ground team as she moved to the driver seat. The ground team quickly headed over and began boarding the vehicle. All of them did so quietly and efficiently, but all of them could feel the tension in the air. This wasn't like the other times. There was none of the usual banter, and Alicia wasn't even queuing up one of her old Earth rock songs. Whether this mission was simply too important, or the unspoken problem between her and her brother was the cause, none of them could say. All they knew was that they all were on edge.

Alicia finished powering up the vehicle as Ashley checked the turret and gun controls. "Cannon ready skipper," the gunnery sergeant reported.

"Communications systems are green. Defensive systems green. Navigation systems green," Naruto reported.

"Roger that. Maneuvering systems green," Alicia said, before opening a channel to the bridge. "This is Normandy 1-1 to Normandy Actual; Mako is green and ready for drop."

"Copy that, we're preparing our run now. Standby," Pressly reported. Soon klaxons sounded throughout the hanger deck, warning everyone of the upcoming deployment. The crew and marines inside quickly secured any loose materials before exiting the hanger deck, either into the engineering compartments or the elevator as the Normandy began its descent.

Even with the ship's stealth systems, a re-entry burn was impossible to hide from sensors. That is, provided the sensors were in range or line of sight to detect the heat build-up around the ship. To avoid this, the Alliance frigate was instead approaching the planet from about a quarter of the way around the planet from the intended drop site and the supposed STG beacon. Within minutes the ship was in atmosphere and leveling out, the engines lighting up as Joker poured on the speed and they began to quickly head towards the drop coordinates.

"Eta two mikes to drop!" The pilot called out over the comms, causing everyone in the Mako to tense up as the ship began to angle itself for the approach vector, the hanger bay doors opening. Alicia gripped the steering wheel as she saw the blue skies and water through the open doors, waiting for the signal as the ship angled in.

"In 5...4…3…2…1…now!"

The Mako quickly lurched forward, hurling itself out into the void, one moment flying through the air as momentum carried it before gravity took over and it began to plummet towards the ground. The vehicle was just starting to tip forward when the forward maneuvering thrusters fired and stabilized it. All while the Normandy pulled up and away, the hanger bay closing as the ship gained altitude in order to remain hidden from visual scans.

It only took a few moments for the Mako to hit the ground and soon roll to a stop, sending water and sand spraying everywhere as it landed within a clearing partially flooded by ocean water. As soon as the Mako came to a halt, Alicia quickly brought up the navigation map. "Alright…we're going to disable these two AA outposts. But we can't do it one at a time, it'll alert the others. So here's the plan," she quickly stated. "We'll move up to this point here, where one team will take out outpost alpha. Captain, you'll take Vakarian, Tali'Zorah, and Wrex with you. I'll take the other team with the Mako and move in on outpost Beta. On my signal we'll attack both outposts at once. Disable or destroy the AA guns and any resistance you find. After that we'll rendezvous at this point here to pick up your squad and head towards the salarian base. Understood?"

"Yes ma'am. Second Squad, ready up," Naruto ordered, as the now designated Second Squad members quickly prepared themselves to deploy when the time came.

Alicia quickly put the pedal to the metal, and after a few moments of the tires trying to grip both sand and water they were rolling out.

"Williams, keep an eye out for any enemy patrols. If they've been hunting those salarians this whole time, they'll probably be recon squads out here," Alicia ordered over her shoulder.

"Aye ma'am," Ashley responded as she slowly rotated the turret, constantly swiveling and searching for any sign of contact. The standard motion sensor would most likely detect something long before she could see it, but only if it was moving. More than a few Alliance soldiers had been lost because they assumed they were safe when they were actually surrounded by enemies or dangerous wildlife.

It seemed, however, that the team had caught a break. Outside of some strange four legged crab like fauna they encountered no movement or enemies, soon reaching the drop off point. Second squad, under Naruto's command, quickly piled out of the Mako and moved into the cover of tropical vegetation and rocky formations surrounding them, while the Mako began to speed away.

It did not take the second squad long to reach their target, crouching among the vegetation as Naruto scouted the outpost with his Viper sniper rifle. It was essentially almost like a short wall built into the space between two tall rock formations. The AA cannon, a large artillery piece that could likely pierce the Normandy's armored hull after only a couple shots, was perched on top of one of those formations. Below it, they could see geth that were patrolling the top of the wall entering or exiting a room carved into the rock below the cannon.

"I'm seeing at least five geth troopers...two rocket troopers. No other tangos in sight so far, but there could be more in that room," Naruto reported, lowering the rifle. Turning to the others, he quickly outlined the plan. "As soon as we receive the signal to attack, Vakarian and I will take out the rocket troopers. Wrex, you and Tali will advance. Keep her covered while we keep picking off the troopers. As soon as it's clear, head for that room. I'll move up to join you while Vakarian keeps us covered from here. Once the AA tower is down we'll move to the rendezvous point. Understood?"

The trio nodded at him before Wrex and Tali began to slowly make their way closer towards the outpost, moving as quietly as the giant krogan could. Garrus and Naruto both brought up their sniper rifles, sighting in their chosen rocket troopers as they waited for the signal from first squad.

Some distance away, Ashley was finishing her own report to Alicia, having left the Mako long enough to find a good spot and scout their target outpost with her own sniper rifle. It took the N7 Spectre a few moments to come up with her own plan. "Okay…we'll hit them hard and fast. Ashley, stay on the gun. Put a few cannon rounds into them as we approach. Kaidan, I want you to drive us in. I'll switch to the back with T'Soni. As soon as we're close enough, you'll stop and Williams will lay down cover fire while the three of us disembark. I'll move in to engage anyone Williams hasn't destroyed, while Alenko and T'Soni follow up behind. We'll take the control room while Williams provides cover with the Mako, then get to the rendezvous point. Everyone clear?"

As they all nodded, Alicia quickly climbed out of the driver's seat, moving into the back while Kaidan slipped in behind the wheel. Alicia quickly joined Liara, making sure her Crusader shotgun was ready before giving a signal to Kaidan. The Sentinel lieutenant quickly sent a coded transmission to second squad before immediately gunning the engine.

At Naruto's location, the beep from his suit quickly alerted him and he immediately moved into action. "Go," he ordered, before making final adjustments with his sniper rifle. Slowly letting out his breath, he squeezed the trigger.

In the geth outpost, one of the rocket troopers staggered as a round suddenly impacted it. Before it could recover, a second round had dropped its barriers completely. Reacting quickly it attempted to side hop out of the line of fire, a sudden movement meant to throw off the aim of whoever was shooting at it. Unfortunately the shooter didn't fall for it, and had hesitated shooting long enough to track the rocket trooper and put a third round right through the optical port. The rocket trooper dropped to the ground in a sparking mess.

Its fellow rocket trooper did not fare much better. The first round had dropped its shields completely, followed by a second round that ripped through the neck tubing and circuitry. The drone dropped to the ground, all motor functions and command pathways cut by that well placed shot.

The remaining geth troopers immediately moved to find what cover they could, only to be peppered by a stream of rounds as Wrex immediately began rushing forward, roaring while firing his Revenant LMG. He wasn't necessarily aiming, instead simply unleashing a hail of bullets in order to suppress as many of the geth as he could. Right behind the charging krogan was Tali's small form as she gripped her shotgun, doing her best to keep up.

One of the geth troopers began to rise up, not being under immediate threat from Wrex's suppressing fire, only for a sniper round to slam into it and stagger it, its shields barely holding. The geth ducked back into cover, another round slamming into the wall it was using. Both Naruto and Garrus kept the geth pinned who weren't being suppressed by Wrex as the krogan soon was getting within range.

And then suddenly the krogan became wreathed in biotic energy as, with a roar, he tossed aside his LMG, yanked out his Eviscerator, and unleashed a biotic charge. The massive krogan bulk slammed into one of the geth who had risen up to engage him and Tali now that the suppressing fire had stopped. Instead, said geth trooper was broken in half from the force of a biotically charging krogan, as Wrex let out a mad laugh and whirled, pumping dozens of serrated shrapnel rounds into another geth.

Tali was forced to scramble up a set of stairs to the upper area, keeping her helmeted and hooded head down as the almost molten rounds from a geth pulse rifle flew past. She could feel her heart racing; hear it pumping in her ears. It was a deafening sound that almost drowned out anything else. She dove into cover, scrambling to get her back to the wall and adjusting her grip on her shotgun before leaning out, rapidly fire the semi-auto Scimitar shotgun. A geth trooper that had been advancing on her was knocked back by the rapid discharges of buckshot, its chest-plate soon becoming pitted as its shields fell. It was staggered forward when one of its other surviving compatriots had been used as a flail by Wrex, smacking into its backside before bludgeoning a third geth trooper.

Tali capitalized, standing up and rushing forward as she blasted the geth drone, dropping it as the armored chest-plate failed and the internal circuitry within its torso was shredded. She quickly grabbed the knife from her boot sheathe and plunged it into the downed geth's neck, slicing through the tubing and severing the command pathways from the main processor to the rest of the frame.

The last trooper was attempting to retreat back towards what seemed to be the outpost control room, only for it to drop to the ground as both its knee joints were blown out by sniper rounds from Naruto and Garrus. Left on the floor, it attempted to crawl away, only for Wrex to stomp up and smash one massive reptile foot into its chest, destroying it completely. The massive krogan looked back at Tali, giving her an approving nod as he saw her sheathing her knife. "You're pretty good with that toothpick," he said, dropping what was left of the geth drone he had been using as a cudgel.

"And you're…quite good at ripping geth drones in half," Tali said awkwardly. Wrex just grinned as he grabbed his shotgun and led her into the small control room carved into the rock underneath the AA gun.

Naruto, having seen them clear out the geth, quickly moved out while leaving Garrus on over-watch. Switching to his Valkyrie, he paused only long enough to retrieve Wrex's Revenant LMG before moving to the upper part of the outpost (1). There he quickly swept the area, ensuring there were no more geth present, before setting himself up to watch for any incoming reinforcements. "Tali, status," he ordered.

"Hacking into the systems now. AA gun should be powered down in two minutes, tops," she responded quickly.

"Copy that. Wrex, set a couple of grenades for EMP burst and rig them to the console. The instant the geth try to reactivate the guns, I want those to go off and fry the whole thing," Naruto ordered.

"Consider it done," Wrex growled out, as Naruto waited patiently for them to finish.

Tali and Wrex were joining him a couple minutes later. "Alright team, let's get out of here. Vakarian, you've got rear guard. I've got point," Naruto ordered, leading his small squad away.

Alicia's team also had little trouble on their end. As the Mako had roared up to the outpost, Ashley's first shot with the cannon had managed to down one of the rocket troopers, as the shell had exploded close to it and ripped the geth to pieces with shrapnel and blunt concussive force. The second round had direct impacted a geth trooper, reducing it to only a few component pieces and so much smoldering twisted metal. The remaining geth had quickly moved to cover, seeking anything that might protect them from the six inch cannon rounds being fired at them.

Kaidan quickly parked the vehicle near the outpost as Ashley continued to scan the upper area for signs of enemies. Alicia and Liara piled out of the rear, weapons drawn as they came around from behind the Mako. The red haired Vanguard had quickly moved forward, and much like her krogan teammate, biotically charged the remaining geth rocket trooper as it had popped up to shoot the stationary Mako. Instead, it was knocked back by the force of Alicia's charge, finding itself pierced by her wrist blade before the Crusader shotgun blasted a fist sized hole in its chestplate. Alicia pulled her blade out before turning and blasting another geth trooper with her shotgun, sending it staggering as the solid slug hit its shields. It righted itself and prepared to fire on Alicia as she leapt into cover, only to suddenly be yanked off its feet by Liara using a biotic pull as said asari rushed to join the Commander. Ashley quickly gunned the floating geth down with the co-axial gun as Kaidan clambered out of the vehicle as well, covered by Ashley, Alicia, and Liara.

The remaining three geth troopers had clustered up, making Alicia shake her head. "T'Soni, singularity!" She called out. "Kaidan, ready a warp!"

The two biotic users quickly got into action, Liara throwing out a hand shrouded in dark matter manipulating energy. The bolt of biotic energy from her hand erupted into a singularity near the geth, yanking all three into the air as Kaidan followed up with a warp. The trio ducked into cover as the singularity was detonated, the matter disrupting energy partially disintegrating one of the geth while sending the other two flying. One of them crashed to the ground near the trio, who quickly gunned it down with SMG's and assault rifle fire, while the last one smashed into a rock wall, its body shattering under the force of the blow and falling to the ground as a sparking, twisted wreck. It feebly twitched and made the strange mechanical stuttering noises they had heard some of the geth drones make, before a burst of fire from Kaidan's Locust put it down for good.

Alicia quickly stood, signaling to the other two. "Let's get to that command area. Williams, keep us covered," she ordered as she took point, her Lancer now raised and ready to fire. Kaidan and Liara quickly followed her, scanning for any new enemies as they entered the control room.

It did not take long for Kaidan to shut down the controls. The amount of time spent dealing with geth technology, combined with advice and information from Tali, meant that Kaidan soon had broken the command codes and had shut down the massive AA gun. Alicia quickly set up a few grenades to go off if the AA tower was reactivated and the trio ex-filtrated as quickly as possible, returning to the Mako. "Good work team," Alicia said, slipping back into the driver's seat before setting the communications scrambler. "Normandy 1-1 to 2-1, report."

There was a pause, then a slightly static-filled response. "Objective completed. Second squad is moving to rendezvous point."

"Copy that, first squad in route," she replied before switching channels. "Normandy 1-1 to Normandy Actual, towers are down. Begin your run."

"Copy 1-1, we're on our way. Expect report in two mikes," Pressly responded as the Normandy flew overhead, slipping through the gap in the AA field. On the ground, Alicia put the pedal to the metal and the Mako drove off, heading to meet up with Naruto's squad.

It didn't take them long, and as Naruto's squad boarded the Mako, the radio crackled t life. "Normandy 1-1, Normandy Actual. We've conducted our scan of the coordinates. Confirm a salarian camp, maybe half-dozen or so occupants."

"Copy that. Contact them with a narrow-beam transmission, let them know we're coming. Then return to altitude and stay hidden. You're our only ticket off this planet so keep the ship safe," Alicia ordered.

"Confirmed 1-1. Normandy Actual out."

Alicia, once noting everyone was onboard, quickly gunned the engine and got underway. "Alright team. We've confirmed we're dealing with a salarian camp, so it's likely what's left of the STG team that went missing. We'll make contact with them and assess the situation. Keep it cool, these boys probably have some itchy trigger fingers and frayed nerves."

"So long as they don't start anything with me," Wrex grumbled, staring at the rear door of the Mako as they sped along.

"They must have suffered some heavy casualties," Garrus commented. "At minimum an STG recon vessel has an overall crew of twenty five operatives. If they're down to six or so…"

"Not surprising," Ashley said from the gunner's seat. "Salarians will surprise you with how tough they can be, but…they're been stuck on this rock with possibly hundreds of geth searching for them. Whoever's left is lucky to still be kicking."

"Camp is in sight Commander," Naruto reported, as Alicia nodded and slowed the vehicle down somewhat. Through the small, reinforced windows they could see a couple of the armored salarians waving them over, indicating a spot for them to stop. The few remainder seemed to be on watch as the Mako rolled into the camp and parked where they had been indicated.

As the team began to disembark a salarian quickly moved over to them. He wore similar armor to the others; off-white colored plating with red trim over a charcoal body suit, but currently had discarded his helmet to reveal a greenish-yellow skinned salarian. As he drew nearer his eyes scanned the motley array of humanoids, lingering a bit longer on Wrex before he spoke. "Commander Shepard?"

Alicia quickly stepped forward. "Here. Commander Alicia Shepard of the SSV Normandy, Alliance Navy and Council Spectre," she reported.

"Captain Kirrahe, STG First Platoon of Delta Company, 3rd Infiltration Regiment," the salarian said. "It's good to see some friendly faces. The Council got our message?" He asked, his voice weary but tinged with hope.

"The Council received your transmission, but it was badly corrupted. They were unable to make anything substantial out, so they sent us to investigate," Alicia responded, mentally wincing as she saw the hope flicker and die in Kirrahe's eyes.

"That is…unfortunate. Would I be right in assuming there is no one else aside from you?" He asked, his voice even more tired and tainted with frustration.

"As I said, we were sent to investigation the situation, and then either handle it or report back. What's going on here?" Alicia asked.

"Follow me please." Kirrahe turned and headed back to the tent he had been in, one they quickly realized was the command tent given the portable holographic system set up on a table in the center, as well as a few other odds and ends. It was obvious these salarians were traveling very light.

Kirrahe activated the projector, causing a rotating holographic map to appear. It showed a coastal area with a rather large complex. "We have discovered what we believe to be Saren's main headquarters. At minimum, it is a facility of significant importance to him. We've been scouting it out for days now, and it has cost my men dearly. I started with twenty-five operatives; I am now down to seven, counting myself. The rest are either dead or captured by the geth and krogan patrolling the facility. Thankfully, their sacrifices have not yet been in vain. The last two recon groups netted the most valuable information for us, which is what led to us attempting to contact the Council and request a full combat fleet."

The holographic map zoomed in on a portion of the facility. "This here is a series of labs with a focus on researching two subjects. Our teams were not able to gain much information on one of the research projects, as it is considered so top secret that very few outside of Saren himself apparently have access to it. The other research project, however, was far more accessible and far more troubling. We were surprised at the number of krogan Saren has at his command, until he learned the truth: he's breeding an army of krogan."

Wrex grunted as he crossed his arms. "Impossible. You pyjaks did a pretty damn good job of making sure that couldn't happen," he sneered at Kirrahe, who closed his eyes for a moment while taking a deep breath.

"Unfortunately, Saren has found some type of cure for the genophage. We do not have all the details, but we do know that the research project is focused on increasing the number of krogan he has. That is why we need to destroy this facility and his research, to prevent him from gaining an army of krogan."

Alicia was about to respond, only to be interrupted by a growl from Wrex. "Destroy? Not steal? Not research to maybe give my people a chance so we stop dying to your fucking virus?" He snapped, leaning forward and all but slamming his hands on the table.

"Wrex, please calm down," Alicia said, only for the krogan to growl angrily as his helmeted head swung towards Alicia.

"This bastard just revealed the first bit of what could be hope for the krogan in over a millennia and you want me to calm down over him demanding we destroy it?" Wrex demanded, sounding the most agitated and emotional any of them could remember hearing him. "Guess I should have known where your loyalties would lie when push comes to shove."

The large krogan stormed off, with Alicia sighing and closing her eyes, trying to refocus herself. "…Please, continue Captain," she said, opening her eyes.

"Given the fact that you are here, it is safe to assume you have a ship. One that could probably get us out of here. Unfortunately, we cannot leave just yet. The facility presents too much of a danger to simply be ignored. Therefore, I have begun work on a plan to assault and destroy this facility. I will need to know what assets you can bring to the mission to help ensure its success." Kirrahe stated.

"Besides my ground team, I also have the Mako IFV parked outside, as well as ten marines and a frigate armed with minimal air to ground ordinance. We can offer medical supplies and some extra small arms, but that's about it," Alicia reported to him, as Kirrahe nodded while absorbing the information.

"I see...I'll begin working out a plan of action with that information. I suggest you see to the disposition of your ground team while I'm busy. It is likely we'll need all of them on hand," he said, turning to the holographic display.

Alicia simply nodded and left, the rest of the ground team trailing after her. As soon as they stepped outside, their eyes were drawn to the distant figure of Wrex, standing further away from the camp and seemingly glaring out towards the sea some distance away, his helmet at his feet.

Alicia took a deep breath as she looked to the others. "Stay here and get yourselves squared away. I'll go talk to him," she said quietly, starting to head off. As her focus was on Wrex and the conversation she was likely going to have with him, she didn't notice Naruto quietly talking to both Ashley and Garrus.

As she started to draw closer towards the hulking, brooding krogan, she changed direction to make sure she entered his peripheral vision first before approaching him, so he knew she wasn't trying to surprise him. He didn't react until she got closer, when he finally spoke. "Here to try and talk me down? Stop me from going over to Saren's side?" He growled out.

Alicia frowned as she stood there, facing him. "I didn't think you were going to change sides on us. I came out here to try and talk things out," she said.

He snorted at that. "Nice to see you've got some trust in me. Just not enough to stick up for my people," he said. "There's a cure for the genophage in there, and instead of wanting to try and save it, to help my people, you're instantly jumping onboard with plans to destroy it. Do you see what my dilemma here is Shepard?"

"I do Wrex, but you need to understand-," she started to say, only to be cut off by him.

"No, you need to understand. You need to understand of what it is exactly the turians and salarians did to my people. I know what the galaxy thinks, what all their governments want them to think about the genophage. Everyone just thinks it's a damn sterility virus that makes it so our female's eggs don't get fertilized, right?" Wrex snapped, now turning to face her.

Alicia slowly nodded, blinking at the scoff he made in response. "That would almost be a gift compared to what it actually does. It doesn't affect the fertility of the males or females…it affects the fetus. It stops the nervous system from developing. So a krogan female still gets pregnant...she just gives birth to a stillborn, if the fetus even makes it that far and she doesn't simply have a miscarriage. And that happens nine-hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand possible births a krogan female can have per year. THAT is what the genophage does, Shepard." (2)

Alicia stood there in horrified silence, trying to comprehend that as Wrex stared her down. "I get why the Council used the genophage against us. I've had a thousand or so years to reflect on it. My people needed to be stopped…but that…that plague doesn't just stop us from being a threat. It robs my people of any hope for the future. How can any krogan think of making things better, of trying to overcome what we are, when they're forced to bury or burn their dead children over and over and over again? My people have nothing Shepard. What we didn't destroy ourselves, the Council took from us. And now I hear of something that can give my people hope, give my people a future…and if I stick with you, I'm going to have to destroy that hope. So I ask you Shepard…do you understand now?"

She stood there in silence for several moments before giving an unsteady nod. "I do Wrex…I understand."

"Then tell me Shepard…if you're going to help them destroy that cure…why shouldn't I kill you right now?" He asked, drawing his shotgun and aiming it at her.

Alicia didn't respond in kind. She didn't reach for a weapon, she didn't power up her biotics. She stood there in silence for several moments as she fully took in what he had said. Finally, she looked up to meet his gaze. "Because Saren isn't giving out this cure out of the goodness of his own heart. He's doing it to use your people…just like the Council did. He doesn't care about the krogan Wrex. What do you think he'll do when he no longer needs you or your people?"

Wrex's eyes narrowed and he growled softly. "I'm not sure what more he could do to us then the Council did…but I'm betting it wouldn't be good…," he roughly admitted.

"Then let me tell you what I'm going to do Wrex. When we attack that facility…we're going to find out what this cure actually is. And we're going to copy it or steal it, or whatever. You'll take it, and if you can use it...then do so," Alicia told him.

This did earn a surprised reaction from Wrex, who lowered his shotgun slightly, eyes widening. "…you're serious," he said to her, his words heavy with disbelief.

Alicia removed her helmet, so she could look him directly in the eye. "Dead serious Wrex. Your race isn't blameless for the Krogan Rebellions…but no one should suffer like that. No one should be forced through that kind of hell. If this gives your people hope, a chance at making a better future…then I'll do what I can to help."

Wrex just looked at her, before lowering his shotgun completely. "You're one crazy human, you know that Shepard?" He asked, holstering his shotgun. "Alright, I'm in. But if I see Saren…you might not have much left to drag back to the Council," he said, turning and grabbing his helmet. "Now go tell those pyjak's to hurry up…I'm itching to kill something," he growled out.

Alicia just nodded before putting her helmet back on, turning and walking back towards the camp. Her eyes immediately locked onto the sight of Naruto with his Valkyrie drawn, as well as the two semi-hidden figures of Garrus and Ashley sliding their sniper rifles back onto their armors. "I'm glad you waited," she said as she joined him.

"I'm glad it wasn't necessary," Naruto said, holstering his rifle. "Your orders?"

"Have the rest of the squad stand down and rest for now. Detail Alenko and T'Soni to check if they have any injuries that need treatment. I'll speak to the captain about his plan," she ordered, moving past Naruto as he simply turned and headed off to fulfill her orders.

Alicia arrived back at the command tent, where Kirrahe was speaking to another salarian while going over a holographic display of the facility. "Ah, Commander. This is my second in command, 1st Lieutenant Rentola," Kirrahe said, as the other salarian nodded in her direction. "I was going to contact you here shortly, so this expedites things. I already had a rough plan and have been able to refine it now thanks to the new variables you and your team bring to the table. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the plan." (3)

"What have you got so far?" Alicia asked, stepping up to the table and looking over the holographic representation of their target.

"As I said earlier, this appears to be a major facility for Saren, and given what my men have discovered, it needs to be destroyed. When our ship was shot down, my men and I managed to salvage the main drive core and have since converted it into a twenty-kiloton explosive ordinance. With it, we should be able to easily level the entire complex. Unfortunately, in order to ensure this happens, the bomb must be placed in a specific location," he said, zooming in the map to highlight an area. "The facility is being powered by geothermal taps, and it is where they are most vulnerable. We will plant the bomb in this location. The problem will be reaching it."

"We can put the bomb on the Normandy, but those AA towers will prevent us from bringing it in," Alicia said, pulling the map back ut enough to reveal two massive AA guns placed on the upper levels of the facility, both considerably larger than the ones they had disabled on their way in.

"Precisely my thoughts as well. We'll need to disable both AA guns in order to bring the bomb in. Which brings me to how we accomplish that," Kirrahe said as he pulled the map back to showcase the area around the facility. "Saren constructed his base within this cove, with only two ways to reach it on foot. The first was between these two rocky bluffs, which he has barred with a sizeable wall. The other is the main entrance, coming in along this beach here. The beach approach is defended by a few bunkers, light artillery pieces, and a number of geth patrols. We are not sure exactly what defenses are beyond the wall on the other approach, though there are indications that a number of support facilities for the geth troops are kept there. My plan will consist of a two prong attack. My men and I will draw their attention to the main gate, engaging the enemy there. Once we've made contact, you'll take your team and cross over the wall, then infiltrate the facility from the rear. Once inside, you'll disrupt their defenses as best you can, giving us a chance to break through on our end. You'll be passing through their main lab area, including what we believe to be Saren's main office and his computer server room. If you can, destroy or corrupt all his data, before then heading for the AA gun."

"While you are doing that, my team will secure the main hanger and landing platforms here," Kirrahe said, highlighting the area on the map. "We'll secure a transport for our own escape, then move to the second AA tower and take it out as soon as we reach it. Once both towers are down, your ship can bring in the bomb and deploy it. It is heavily armored and shielded against hacking and electronic based attacks, so once the timer on it is set, nothing will be able to stop it. Once the bomb is set, everyone will evacuate immediately."

Alicia frowned as she took control of the map and spun it around to look at the beach entrance. "Your men will get slaughtered, even if we disrupt their defenses," she said. "I can deploy my marines and the Mako to assist you."

Kirrahe shook his head. "A sound idea under normal circumstances, but not in this case. We'd never be able to recover your vehicle in time before escaping. And your marines would be better served helping guard the bomb during its deployment. Besides, there wouldn't be a ship in the hanger big enough to take all your men and my own out when we escape. While there are geth transports large enough, we'd never be able to commandeer one of them due to their security systems. However, there are a few cargo haulers used to ferry supplies from larger cargo vessels located at the hanger. They would be big enough for my team and perhaps one or two others. Which...brings me to a request I am…hesitant on making. While we can't take your marines...we do need the extra support. If you could spare one or two of your ground team members, preferably one of your Alliance teammates, that would be more than enough support for us."

Alicia frowned at that, understanding why he was being hesitant. The salarians would be at the most risk in this operation, as they would be engaging the enemy in active combat. Anyone she sent with them would be put at a higher risk. But at the same time, they needed to do what they could to ensure both teams succeeded in this operation. Taking a deep breath, she nodded. "I'll talk to my people, see who volunteers. But why do you want one of my Alliance squad members?"

"They'll be able to most easily keep in contact with your team, to let you know of our progress. Your team will need to be running silent the whole time, and we can't use our frequencies. The geth will almost certainly be monitoring them after capturing several of my men and having time to analyze our communications. They won't, however, have the same knowledge concerning your team's frequencies. That will allow us to remain in contact with you without you having to transmit to us" Kirrahe explain.

"I see your point. I'll talk to my people and see who's willing to volunteer," she said, looking back to the map. "Anything else I should know?"

"There is the matter of prisoners. While I have lost some men in firefights with the enemy, the majority were captured during recon missions around the facility, and infiltration attempts into it. If you can find my men and free them, that would be appreciated. However, the mission must come first. Otherwise, everything else has already been covered. Brief your team on the mission while I do the same with my men, then let me know who has volunteered," Kirrahe stated.

"Then let's get moving," Alicia stated, turning to leave while activated her radio. "All ground team members, reconvene on my position," she said, pinging her location on their suits HUD maps.

As soon as they all had gathered around her, she began to brief them on the plan. "We're going after the facility from two angles. Captain Kirrahe is planning to take his team through the front, where the enemy's defenses are heaviest. His team will cause a distraction long enough for our own team to enter the facility from the other side. We'll be taking out anything the geth might be using to coordinate their defense along the way. Once we're inside, our objectives are to hit the labs and Saren's main server room, where we're to corrupt or destroy any and all information we find. There is some information, however, that we are interested in, so we'll do so upon confirmation that information is either a dud, or securable. We're also to target one of two AA towers and disable or destroy it. Kirrahe's team will secure the main hanger before pushing on to the second AA gun. Once both AA guns are down, the Normandy will arrive to deliver an explosive device at a geothermal tap site used to power the facility. We will place and arm the device, then leave with the ship, while the salarians secure a transport from the hanger and evacuate from there. Any questions?"

"Will the salarians be able to hold out on the front? They're going to be taking the heaviest fire there, and they've been pretty battered already," Garrus said, glancing around. He had been moving among the salarians, checking their equipment, and he could see the toll the time on this planet had taken on the STG operatives.

"Kirrahe has faith in his men, but he did request that I send two of the ground team with him for support," Alicia said, looking over the team. "He requested that at least one of the ground team be Alliance. So…any volunteers?" She asked quietly, even as she felt a pit of dread well up in her stomach, as if she knew what was coming.

Almost immediately, Ashley stepped forward. "I'll go Skipper. Those salarians need some extra firepower, and I'm the one to bring it," she said confidently.

She nodded, before looking to the others. She knew Wrex wouldn't volunteer, not with the bad blood between krogan and salarians. And after what she heard, she didn't blame him. And while they might be willing to volunteer, she doubted Liara or Tali would be as much help in that kind of open warfare. Not without heavier and more experienced combat operators like Garrus, Wrex, herself, or Naruto to support them. Which left Kaidan, Garrus, and Naruto.

And as she thought that, the next volunteer stepped forward. "I'll go…I can provide both mid to long-range firepower an biotic support," Naruto said, as he stood next to Ashley, before Garrus or Kaidan could respond.

The dread turned into a cold chill through her body as Alicia looked at her brother. She wanted to argue against it. Even if things were bad between them, she wanted her brother nearby, to keep an eye on him and to have him watching her back. The attack on the facilities main entrance would be a dangerous one under normal circumstances, but here it would be even worse.

But she also knew that's why Naruto was the best choice to go. Outside of herself and Wrex, he had the most combat power out of the team, combined with deadly precision. She took a deep breath before slowly nodding. "Alright then…we'll speak with Kirrahe for the final briefing, and then get ready to move out," she said, turning to move back to the command tent.

Kirrahe now stood outside, the remains of his unit lined up before him. Looking to Alicia and her approaching team, he nodded. "Everything ready, Commander?" He asked.

Alicia nodded as she indicated Naruto and Ashley. "Captain Shepard and Sergeant Williams have volunteered to join your team," she said, as the two stepped forward. All while she did her best to not let her voice hitch slightly from the fear and disquiet she felt.

Kirahe nodded to them both, reaching out to shake their hands. "Thank you. I appreciate the help," he told them, before turning back to his men. "We're dividing up into four squads. Commander Shepard, your team will be Shadow Squad. I'll be commanding squad Aegohr. Commander Rentola, you'll command squad Jaeto, with Sergeant Williams joining you. Captain Shepard, you'll command squad Mannovai. Understood?"

As the two Alliance soldiers nodded and saluted, Kirrahe took a deep breath before standing straighter. "You all know the mission, and what is at stake," he said, moving closer to his men. "In our time together, I have come to trust each of you with my life. But I've heard your murmurs of discontent, and I share your concerns. What we are about to embark on is not what we were trained for. We are trained for espionage. We would be legends for our actions, but the records are sealed. As it should be, for glory in battle is not our way. Think of our heroes, such as The Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot. Or The Ever Alert, who kept armies and navies at bay with hidden facts!"

He moved along the line of his men, taking time to stop in front of them, to look each in the face. "These giants may not seem to give us solace here, but know that they are not all we are! Before there was the network, there was the fleet that stood every ready at our borders! Before diplomacy, there were the soldiers ready to lay down their lives! Our influence stopped the rachni, but before that, we held the line! Our influence stopped the krogan, but before that, we held the line! Our influence will stop Saren! For in the battle today…WE WILL HOLD THE LINE!"

As he shouted this while raising up one fist, the salarian soldiers all raised a fist as well, crying out with their commander as they did so. Kirrahe nodded to each of them before turning to Alicia. "We should get the bomb loaded onto your ship, and get ready to move out."

Alicia nodded and soon the Normandy was landing, the hanger ramp already lowered as the marines poured out. Alicia briefed them on their part in the mission as the bomb was loaded onto the ship along with the Mako. Once that was done, the stealth frigate quickly took off as the salarians finished packing their equipment and prepared to move out.

Ashley took a deep breath as she looked to the rest of the ground team/ "Try not to get into too much trouble. I won't be there to watch your backs," she said, only to receive a friendly 'pat' on the shoulder from Wrex that staggered her.

"Give em hell out there Williams. I want to compare kill counts later," Wrex said, moving off as Garrus moved up next.

"And hey, maybe this will be the practice you need to beat me in our next snipe off," the turian said, getting a smirk and a shove from Ashley.

"Fuck off Vakarian, you know you're jealous of my skill," she said, before looking to Tali.

"Please be careful out there," the young quarian said, with Ashley smiling and nodding to the young alien girl.

The quarian then turned to Naruto, who was standing a bit apart. "And you as well, Naruto. You won't have me to hack any geth for you," she said, trying to sound snarky but not entirely succeeding.

Naruto just gave her a nod. "You too. I won't be there to be the shining knight in armor if you get in trouble," he said with a small grin, causing her to shove him while muttering 'bosh'tet' as she moved off. He shook hands with Kaidan and Garrus, while returning the nod Wrex sent him as Liara, who had finished giving her own goodbye to Ashley, did the same to him. Which just left Alicia.

"Keep your head down out there Ashley. Last thing I want to do is tell your family how your good looks got ruined," Alicia said as Ashley smirked.

"Awww, don't worry about it Skipper. Maybe a nice scar will add a bit more character," she said, before taking a deep breath and stepping back, leaving Alicia to face Naruto.

The two stood there, awkward and tense, before Alicia finally spoke up to him. "Naruto…just...please be careful out there...come back…for mom's sake at least," Alicia quietly begged.

Naruto stood silent, before slowly nodding. "I will," he said finally, before turning away. "…and you do the same…for...for mom's sake," he said quietly, before quickly moving away, sealing his helmet back into place. Ashley followed him quickly as she did the same, the two soon joining their assigned salarian squads and quickly disappearing into the foliage as the salarians moved out.

Alicia stood there, her body numb as she watched Naruto's retreating back the entire time until he finally disappeared amongst the trees. After a few moments she pulled her helmet back on. "Let's go people, weapons free. We've got a job to do," she snapped out, drawing out her Lancer and heading off in opposite direction, towards the wall. The rest of the team fell in behind, all of them trying not to notice the absence of their two comrades or the weight of worry and dread that had settled over them as they moved out.

So yeah…finally…finally got this out…fuck me…

I'm not going to lie. I did have a lot of crap going on, but part of it as well was I just was having a hard time finding motivation to actually write. And this isn't a plea for more reviews or anything, I just literally...I couldn't really get myself going here. I just...I don't know. *sighs*

The chapter was planned to be a lot longer, but as time went on and I kept having such a tough time writing, I decided to cut the chapter down. The rest of Virmire will come out in the next chapter, which I have a massive head start on thanks to copying and pasting everything I had done beyond this point into the next document. Hopefully, when I get to it, it won't take me nearly as long to get out, thanks to that head start and hopefully finding my mojo again.

I hope what I did give you here was…well probably not worth the wait, but hopefully at least is good enough to be enjoyed, and I am again…just really sorry for taking so damn long to post the chapter.

1. This is something I realized that I fubar'd. In earlier chapters, I said Naruto had a Valkyrie, and then mistakenly gave him just a regular M7 Lancer afterwards. And I only now realized my mistake. Sorry for that everyone.

2. This is canon. In the first game we're told it affects fertility. The second game changes it however. The genophage doesn't affect fertility; it instead alters the development of the fetus within the womb. Out of the 1000 babies a krogan female can potentially have over a year, 999 will either be stillborn or never develop past a certain point because their nervous system never develops. There are anomalies here and there where there might be one or two more extra births than normal, but otherwise, this is what the genophage actually does. Which…well let's just say it makes me far less sympathetic to the salarians and turians.

3. Like with the Alliance, I'm altering the ranks to be more realistic. We know Kirrahe becomes a major down the line, so the salarians are using army/marine ranks, at least for the STG operatives. This would mean then that Rentola would not be a commander, but a 1st lieutenant instead.