The man took a calm sip of his drink, probably savoring the taste before continuing, "I take it your trip to the Citadel worked out in your favor? Surely the Council was not as uncooperative as they usually are, faced with such evidence."
"They listened to us, and they've promised to help out." Shepard admitted. It was strange to say such a thing, but as he stood on the QEC aboard the Normandy and spoke to the leader of Cerberus over the long-range transmitter, the words were true, "The Council has agreed to look into the matter of the artifact and other portals. If possible, they want to forge new bonds with both the Republic and Confederacy."
TIM sounded pleased, "Good. Our new friends are very powerful, and they could be useful allies for when the Reapers arrive. There are many benefits that can come out of formal contact between all sides; even when not at war."
Benefits that could advance humanity, he meant. Shepard wasn't naïve enough to believe that the Illusive Man wanted better relationships with an advanced society just because of how historical first contact with another galaxy was. What the man really looked forward to was the technological benefits, as was to be expected of someone who wanted more power for humanity.
Both factions – republic and separatist – were more advanced in multiple ways, such as the ability to make large warships and have them be the standard model of their fleets. The largest ship in the Alliance's navy was the Tereshkova-class fleet carrier, of which the first of its kind was completed back in 2180. It was slightly bigger than the Kilimanjaro-class dreadnought at a length of 1,118 meters, though less powerful when it came to armaments due to the treaty of Farixen.
Still, the Republic's mainstream warship was the Venator-class, which managed to just jump ahead of the Tereshkova at 1,137 meters. And if everything he'd been told was correct, then the Republic owned hundreds of these vessels.
There was a saying about size not being everything, but Shepard would be more at ease if they could also produce ships of such size; without them being sparse fleet command ships.
While the Alliance and the other Council races had the capability of building more dreadnoughts and carriers, the fact was that the treaty of Farixen prevented that. The Alliance's focus on carriers had been an initiative to bypass it. In addition, the construction of dreadnoughts was incredibly expensive, and even the Turians – who had the financial backing of the Volus – would need to dedicate a large portion of their military budget to the building process.
The Republic and Confederacy on the other hand didn't have such limitations. Both sides were fighting a bloody war; treaties that prevented the construction of large and powerful ships were a hindrance, and thus they built new ships ever day, of which many were as big as the Council races' dreadnoughts.
Shepard didn't know much about the economy in the other galaxy though. Perhaps they could afford the massive construction effort, though he figured it had to be a massive drain on the Republic and Confederacy's resources.
"True. All of us would definitely prosper." Shepard agreed, but put emphasis on the word 'all' to show that not only humanity should benefit of such an alliance. If the Illusive Man had any problems with that, he hid it quite well, "However, I don't think that's why you wanted to talk to me. What's wrong?"
TIM nodded, "An accurate observation. You are correct, of course. I have important news about our foes; the Collectors."
Shepard's eyes widened before narrowing. It had been a while since he'd heard about them. Probably since Horizon, and that encounter hadn't been a very enjoyable one. He'd been following the news about the abductions, keeping an eye out for more of them, and sadly enough multiple colonies had been hit by the Collectors. Unfortunately the Normandy couldn't do anything about it, since those damned kidnappers struck hard and fast, running away with their captives before anyone could intervene.
"What about them?" He asked coldly.
The Illusive man stood up from his seat and lit a cigarette, before speaking urgently, "I intercepted a distress call from a Turian patrol. They stumbled on to a Collector ship beyond the Korlus system. The Turians were wiped out, but not before they managed to cripple the Collector vessel. I need you to get aboard that ship, and get some hard data on the Collectors. Find us a way to their homeworld."
This was… big. Honestly, Shepard couldn't believe what he was hearing. They had an opportunity to board the enemy ship, and retrieve valuable intel that could possibly win them this fight? For once, he agreed with TIM; this was something that they had to do fast.
But still, a Collector vessel – one that was seemingly invincible – had been disabled by a Turian patrol. This looked too sketchy to be true.
"Hard to imagine how a Turian patrol could take out a Collector ship." Shepard crossed his arms over his chest.
"Reports indicate the hull's intact, but all systems seem to be offline. The ship is by no means severely damaged." TIM pointed out. As if that inspired confidence in him, "They could be making repairs as we speak. I'm not saying it won't be dangerous, but we can't let an opportunity like this slip by."
Shepard was still not convinced, "If they had a patrol out there, why aren't the Turians sending in a recon team?
"They will. Eventually. But I intercepted the transmissions, and in the meantime, we're feeding them false reports. You're close enough that you can be in and out before the Turians learn the truth."
Damn it, if that was the case… Shepard preferred to be certain about the information, since everything that the Illusive Man preached had to be taken with a grain of salt, but that was next to impossible if time was of the essence. The Collectors wouldn't just sit around on their asses for days. Shepard could see why TIM was so urgent about this; the intel was too valuable.
Besides, as much as he would like to personally put a bullet in the man's head for all the terrorist acts that Cerberus had done, he knew that the Illusive Man cared about humanity – even in his twisted own way. A lot of resources had been invested in the Normandy and his team, so it didn't make sense for TIM to waste all of that effort.
Which meant he had no other choice.
"Send me the coordinates, and I'll take care of it." Shepard spoke up after a moment of silence.
The Illusive Man nodded impassively, "Already sent. Once you're aboard the ship, establish an uplink with EDI. She'll mine their data for information regarding the Omega 4 relay. Good luck, Shepard."
With nothing left to be said between the two men, the transmission ended. The surroundings shifted back to those of the Normandy, and Shepard remained standing on the QEC platform; his mind whirling with numerous thoughts and speculations, trying to form a decision. He didn't trust that man. In fact, he never would, but he couldn't ignore his information either.
"So, are we going after that ship?"
He turned around to face his Turian friend, who had been standing at the door of the conference room, arms crossed and back leaning against the wall. There was no emotion on Garrus' face. Even he knew how important and serious this was, considering this could give them their ticket to the Collector homeworld.
"Set course for the Collector ship. We need to get there fast." He then looked to Garrus, "Get everyone suited up. We're going in with a full squad."
His old friend's grin was nothing short of predatory, "Somehow I knew you would say that. Sure thing; I owe the Collectors some payback of my own."
"Move it troopers! We need to be combat ready in less than half an hour!" Cody barked at his men, whipping them into shape as they all dashed into the armory.
Commander Shepard had called all hands on deck for this one, and that included the clone troopers, who would be joining the ground squad. Of course, the shuttle inside the hangar bay was not big enough to accommodate everyone. A solution had been given to them as another Kodiak shuttle that was now going through its last checkups; courtesy of a Cerberus outpost.
There was a practiced urgency to how his men stormed inside, sprinting over to the large weapons locker that had their weapons stored within. Rex was the first to arrive, and immediately punched in their access code, granting them access to two kinds of weaponry; projectile and plasma.
Most of their blaster rifles were stored in this particular weapons locker. Shepard was honorable enough to grant them a storage space for their personal weapons and giving them the only code, so that no one would tamper with the guns while they weren't looking. Just to be sure, he had Waxer and Boil keep an eye on it. He could freely say that commander Shepard had gained his trust, but the organization that he was working with was dubious at best.
Honestly, the concern of their technology falling into Cerberus' hands was most Shepard's. Cody himself didn't really mind as much as the fellow commander; their blaster rifles were nothing special back home, though he could understand why it would be a problem, seeing as Cerberus was made up primarily of terrorists – despite Miranda's claims.
His conversations with the raven-haired woman had shown Cody that perhaps not all members were bent on breaking rules and laws, but being misguided wasn't exactly a good excuse. Regardless, at least he didn't have the urge to stay away from her anymore. He'd talked to some of the Cerberus-affiliated personnel aboard the ship, and all of them had only good intentions
That was a good thing; the upcoming mission would have stressed him a lot more if he hadn't cleared up his doubts about his allies.
"Why hello there, beautiful." Hardcase cooed as he cradled his Z-6 rotary blaster to his chest. His cheek was nuzzling the barrels at the end of the heavy weapon, "Did you miss me? I certainly missed you…"
His brothers desperately tried not to stare.
The generals had decided to allow the use of their personal weapons for this mission. Shepard's warnings about the Collectors were taken into account, and if they really were as dangerous as they were made out to be, then it would be for the best for his men if they went in with guns that they were comfortable with.
Of course, this galaxy's weaponry had grown on some of the men, which didn't surprise Cody. Fives had become a fan of his sniper rifle, Waxer found his grenade launcher efficient, Boil wouldn't part with his flamethrower, and he knew for a fact that Kix was fond of the vindicator-type assault rifle. Even general Skywalker walked around with a pistol strapped to his belt.
As for Cody and Rex, they preferred the classics over what the Normandy had aboard. He could see Rex put away his two trustworthy blaster pistols with care. The clone officer in charge of the 501st was an expert when it came to duel-wielding; even among their fellow commanders. Cody reached out for a different weapon. His gloved fingers curled around a DC-15A blaster rifle, which according to Jacob who had seen the weapon during an inspection, was similar to the old human musket; a primitive weapon.
Cody resisted the urge to snort in amusement. The DC-15A was a very customizable weapon, which could be converted for long-range targets in case it was wielded by a rifleman, or to a rapid-fire blaster used by heavy troopers. The latter either used this version of the DC-15A or the Z-6.
"You know the drill, boys. Stock up on enough ammunition and make sure that you've checked your weapon at least three times." Cody instructed the clones as they readied themselves in the armory.
"What do we know about our enemy?" Jesse asked in return, inspecting his carbine with a diligent eye.
It was Jacob who answered the inquiry, "Collectors are tough bastards to kill. They're insectoid, meaning that they have wings that they can use to fly around, firing from higher altitudes or getting to a better location. Creepy as hell too."
"Great, so it's the Geonosians all over again." Waxer groaned audibly.
The sentiment was shared by all clones in the room – Cody included. There was no love lost between a Geonosian and a clone trooper; the former hated them for occupying their planet not once, but twice, and the latter felt the same because of how the bugs had been such a pain in the ass. Despite not being there at the time, Cody knew all too well how the Geonosians' planet had been the starting point of the Clone War.
That had been a particularly bloody battle for them. Any brother of his who survived the ordeal felt an immense hatred towards the Geonosians, and after what he had seen and encountered during the second invasion of Geonosis, he was inclined to agree; those bugs were a pain.
"This time, I'm going in with the right equipment." Boil grinned sinisterly as he patted his flamethrower, "Nothing better than charred bugs for breakfast."
"Gross." Jesse's look of disgust was mirrored by a few others.
Rex quickly brought the conversation back to the original topic, "What about their weapons? Can you tell us anything about that?"
"Collectors use assault rifles that are similar to ours for the most part. Of course, just like anything that has to do with them, the weapons look biological in appearance." Jacob grimaced as he retrieved a thermal clip and inserted it into his shotgun, "What you really need to look out for are the assassins. They're specialized Collector drones that use particle beam rifles; those things burn right through shields, armor and skin with ease."
That sounded… disturbing to say the least. Cody immediately filed the particle beam wielders away as high value targets. If they came across any, he would make sure that the assassins became priorities. Come to think of it, the Geonosians had a similar kind of weapon, though he'd only heard so from a commando team that he knew personally.
The similarities between the Collectors and Geonosians was bringing up bad memories, and Cody suppressed the urge to scowl.
"Then there's the husks. They're…" The dark-skinned man trailed off as a haunted look appeared in his eyes, causing concern among the room. Cody raised an eyebrow as Jacob seemed to be trying to get the words out, "The Reapers have these machines called Dragon's Teeth. They use those to impale dead humans, and pump them full with all kinds of cybernetics. Those damn bastards reanimate our people, turning them into techno zombies that they use as foot soldiers."
And here he thought that he had heard it all. Cody visibly flinched as he listened to Jacob's explanation of what a husk was, feeling nauseous at the thought of seeing a dead person revived, only to become a horrifying enemy. Once again he was reminded of the Geonosians and their own version of zombies. That day in those catacombs still gave him nightmares.
"Kriffing sickos…" Waxer murmured quietly.
Conversation in the armory suddenly died out as they focused on their preparations. No one was in the mood for talking; not after what they had just heard about the Reapers and husks. Not even Hardcase made a joke or comment, which was abnormal for the normally hyperactive clone.
Cody glanced at the door as it swished open, revealing a disgruntled Zaeed Massani. The human merc had bags under his eyes, and it looked as if he had woken up only a few seconds ago, which was probably the explanation for his grumpy behavior as the man barely acknowledged them. Just a small grunt as he moved to retrieve his own weapon.
"Commander, could you pass me that spare gas cartridge?"
"Sure thing, Jesse." The 212th officer nodded. He quickly picked up said item, and passed it on to the 501st clone. However, he noticed that the omni-tool of his brother in blue was active, "What's the deal with your omni-tool?"
"Oh, Tali gave me a new combat program for my omni-tool, and we've been practicing together." Jesse proudly showed the device on his arm, which casted an orange glow over his forearm, "It's an energy drain program, which restores shields by sapping electromagnetic energy around a target. With this, I should be able to neutralize an enemy's shields more effectively, and do some serious damage to droids."
A small smirk managed to worm its way to his face, "Well, that would be very useful against clankers, now wouldn't it?"
"Too bad we can't test it on the seppies." Jesse grinned in response.
"That would be breaking the truce. Unfortunately…" Rex muttered under his breath.
There was certainly no love lost between the droids and the clones. Cody was glad that the droids kept to themselves down below in the cargo hold, because even he found it hard to tolerate their presence at times. Yet so far, there had luckily been no incidents worth mentioning; just the way he liked it.
But as for now, he would focus on his own preparations; the Collectors were the bigger threat at the moment, and he doubted a truce would work this time around.
"We have a visual on the Collector ship, commander." Joker announced.
And with it, a lot of bad memories returned in a heartbeat. Shepard grimaced at the sight of the very insect-like vessel, which seemed to be lazily drifting off in the cold vacuum of space. The large ship still looked intimidating despite it being supposedly inactive. Were it up to him, he'd have ordered Joker to take advantage of its current state and shove disruptor torpedoes up its engine, but unfortunately they still needed to board it.
He could wait until after the mission.
"Very low emissions. Passive infrared temperatures suggest most systems are offline. Thrusters are cold."
Joker whistled once EDI finished her summary, "That things is massive. How the hell did the Turians take it out?"
That was a very good question, and one that Shepard still did not know the answer to. Indeed, how the hell could a Turian patrol take down a monstrous vessel such as this? Something about the situation smelled rather fishy to him. Regardless, they had a job to do.
"Bring us in quietly, Joker." He said, placing a hand on the pilot's seat and leaning in a bit.
"Aye, commander." The cripple quickly followed orders, steering the Normandy next to the large ship's hull.
The size difference between the two spaceships was staggering, but not that absurd considering not only was the Normandy designed as a fast frigate – and a corvette if you counted the original Normandy – but the Collectors were pawns of the Reapers after all. Sovereign itself had been bigger than any ship in the Alliance navy, so he shouldn't be surprised that they would give the Collectors something of similar size.
EDI continued her scans, "Ladar scans do not detect any hull breaches on the side facing us. I detect no mass effect field distortions. It appears the drive core is offline."
From up close, the Collector vessel was even uglier; a hull that resembled chitin or rock of sorts, while giving off the image of a giant hive, but one that was capable of spaceflight and immense destruction. The sheer size was enough to make his skin crawl. The damn thing was bigger than an Alliance dreadnought! Shepard dreaded to think of what kind of monstrosities lurked inside, created by the Reapers.
"Rendezvous in thirty seconds, commander." Joker glanced at him, and for once there was no mirth or humor in the man's eyes. Even he knew how tense this mission would be, "Good luck down there."
"Appreciated, Joker. Just make sure the Normandy is ready for whatever happens." Shepard responded, already turning around to head towards the elevator.
He could faintly hear his pilot mutter, "Yeah, because that's definitely not fucking ominous…"
Shepard couldn't help but agree, but in his defense, one could never know when Reapers were involved. Seeing as the Collectors were agents of said genocidal machines, he felt his caution was more than warranted when dealing with their kind; especially with this uncertain situation. Besides, at least Joker didn't have to set foot on the large scary bug-ship himself.
"EDI, is everyone ready?" He asked as soon as he got into the elevator, hitting the button of the lower deck.
"The ground team is accounted for, Shepard. Aside from the Normandy squad, both republic and separatist forces are fully geared for battle. General Grievous has agreed to bring along his droids, and the shuttles are prepped and ready for liftoff." The AI summarized for him.
He grunted his appreciation. Convincing the cyborg to commit his soldiers to this mission had been an… interesting challenge. It involved lots of glaring, sneering and insulting coming from the general's side, but surprisingly enough it had been Tali's participation in the conversation that had made Grievous reluctantly agree. That woman certainly had a way with words. Judging by the surprised looks from both the republic side and the general's own droids – how they managed to give off the impression of being shocked was still a mystery to him – no one had expected the Quarian to get away with it.
Shepard rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck to ease the tension in his body. There were audible pops that came from his neck. By moving his shoulders, so did the Valkyrie assault rifle and Crusader shotgun strapped to back; both kept in place by magnetic locks. Well, at least those two and his Terminus armor would serve him well aboard the Collector ship. He definitely felt safer having those instead of a standard Avenger model.
The lift shook slightly as it came to a halt. Shepard stepped into the cargo bay; a place that was usually empty save for Grievous and his droids, but was now bustling with life. His team chattered quietly among each other, standing in small groups of either keeping to themselves like Jack, Grunt and Grievous did.
Though the latter did hover near his droids, which were in the process of being evaluated by his favorite engineer. He shook his head in amusement. As mature as she was now, Tali was still the same curious tech geek.
"Everyone, listen up!" He barked loudly, and allowed the noise to die out for a few seconds. Satisfied that their eyes were on him, Shepard continued, "We're about to board the Collector ship. By all accounts, the ship has been completely disabled. However, I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you that the Collectors aboard the vessel will not take kindly to our presence, so keep your eyes open and your fingers on the trigger – or lightsabers. Let's move out, people!"
There were some words of acknowledgement as the large group split in two, before entering the two shuttles. Shepard was the last to enter as his shuttle's door closed, sealing in those inside and making sure that they would be protected from the harsh darkness of space. That was an encounter he preferred not to repeat.
"This is the first time anyone has brought the fight to the Collectors themselves." Miranda spoke up from her seat, just as the shuttle departed. The woman was not wearing her usual suit, but rather black armor with a visor that extended over her eyes, offering full protection, "It's not their base of operations, but it's still closer than anyone else has gotten in a long time."
"Then we'll make sure to leave a lasting impression. A well-placed explosive on their drive core should do the trick." Zaeed grinned wickedly.
Shepard unfortunately had to dash his hopes, "No, we're not going to try anything like that. As I've said, there a lot of Collectors and who knows what on that ship. Our main objective is a terminal so that EDI can infiltrate their database, and retrieve info on how to traverse the Omega 4 relay."
"It would be unwise to actively seek out trouble. The Collectors would surely have the drive core heavily guarded." Samara added calmly.
"Spoilsport." The grizzled mercenary grunted, but relented nevertheless.
"Can't we split the team up?" Ahsoka asked curiously. The lithe orange-skinned padawan tiled her head to the side, "One team goes after the data, and one goes after the drive core."
He had contemplated on that, if he had to be perfectly honest. Shepard didn't mind seeing the Collector ship burn, but had ultimately decided against performing sabotage. The risk was just too high. Besides, he doubted they'd be able to achieve both objectives if the Collectors became aware of their presence.
"Not in this case, Snips." Anakin commented as he crossed his arms over his chest. The Jedi were seated on the other side, meaning that the Jedi knight had to look down at his student, "Don't get me wrong; it's not a bad idea, since it worked out for us in the past. However, remember that we're basically entering unknown territory, and have no clue how many enemies we'll have to face. The situation would turn sourly if the Collectors put up an ambush."
Obi-Wan was in agreement, "When we boarded the Malevolence, Anakin and I split up with me going after the hyperdrive. As you recall, Grievous was waiting for me and had the place guarded by his battle droids. It took some creative thinking to escape. While I'm confident in the team's abilities, I'd rather not go through the same ordeal again."
The Malevolence? Shepard recalled the Jedi mentioning that name before. Another tale of theirs; a dreadnought of separatist design, which had caused massive destruction and chaos to the republic navy. One that had a superweapon that could disable an entire fleet of ships with a single shot. Good thing the Reapers didn't seem to have something like that.
Come to think of it, did Grievous have a spare lying around? It would definitely be a useful asset against the Reapers.
"That's exactly why we're not splitting up to accomplish more than our main task." Shepard affirmed once more. He gave the two older Jedi an appreciative nod, "Our last encounter with the Collectors resulted in Jack being confined to the medbay for a day because of a Collector captain."
"Then there's also the ones that Harbinger likes to possess. Those are a pain in the ass." Garrus grimaced, mandibles creasing as he held his helmet in his lap.
Jacob chuckled, patting the Turian's shoulder, "That's rich, coming from the guy who stays back and shoots them from afar. In the meantime, we get to taste Harbinger's biotics firsthand."
"Well, that only proves once again that sniper rifles are clearly superior to shotguns."
"You want to say that again when Tali is here?"
"Ah… no, I'm fine."
There were subdued murmurs of amusement as Garrus shifted uncomfortably in his seat. No wonder; the Turian and their resident Quarian had a bit of a rivalry ever since the old Normandy, and many arguments between the two had ended with the latter threatening the former with her shotgun. Then again, a shotgun was a very good argument in itself. Quick to the point and extremely painful too.
Shepard was glad to see that despite facing such dangerous odds on this mission, his team was still high in spirits and willing to put up a fight. The camaraderie hadn't been present during their mission to Horizon, since they hadn't known each other very well back then, but that had changed – they had changed. If the Collectors believed that his team was going to cave in and give up, then they were sorely mistaken.
"We're about to land!" Hawk called from the pilot's seat all of a sudden. The clone pilot was flying the shuttle with an expert's touch, using the controls like a seasoned Alliance pilot. Having mastered the craft like this so quickly spoke of the man's skills, "Looks like a hull breach up ahead. There's some sort of forcefield keeping the area pressurized, but it's going to be a tight fit."
"That's alright, Hawk. Just get us inside." Shepard responded, standing up from his seat.
"Understood, commander. Good luck out there!"
The shuttle trembled slightly as it was steered gently into the gap, followed by the other shuttle that was carrying the rest of the squad. Its occupants all got up as soon as the craft landed; weapons were unfolded and they waited for the door to open. What faced them was a sight that Shepard pretty much expected.
Just like the outside of the ship, the inner corridors resembled some kind of insect hive. Metal and chitin were mixed together to form the walls, ceiling and even the floor. It was dark with only the bare minimum of lights, making him wonder if the Collectors had night vision, and up ahead there were two doors; both made of metal. All in all, it was as equally unsettling as compared to the outside. The Collectors certainly didn't have much interest in making their giant ship of doom presentable.
"I love what they've done with the place." Garrus piped up, helmet concealing the grimace that the Turian probably made, "Makes you wonder if they're trying to win the best house decorations contest. Shame for the cold welcome though. They lose points for that."
Miranda shook her head, "Ever the jokester..."
"Spread out and secure the area." Shepard instructed them as soon as everyone got out. The second shuttle had only just landed, so the others still had to get exit first before they could move on, "It's possible that the Collectors know of our arrival, so we need to be prepared."
"On it, commander."
To say that he felt at ease would be a gross understatement, even as his squad took care of the perimeter. He felt like something was watching every move he made, observing him at any given moment. There was a terrible feeling of dread that the eerie ship inspired in him. Still, Shepard had little choice but to ignore his personal feelings, and focused on the task ahead.
The distraction provided by Hardcase, who almost jumped out of the second transport, was more than welcome, "I am not getting on that shuttle with those droids again. I'd rather be stuck doing guard duty on Kamino, instead of sharing my personal space with those tincans."
Said mechs didn't react to the insult. Come to think of it, Shepard hadn't seen these in action before. While there was one magnaguard present, which he had fought alongside with back on Illum, the three others were very different. Similar to the standard battle droid that he'd seen before, but with a bulkier appearance and colored a dark grey that bordered on being black; commando droids. The machines stood silently next to Grievous and the magnaguard, awaiting further orders.
"Easy there, trooper." Rex patted the heavy gunner's shoulder, probably in a calming gesture. The clone's temper could run high at times, but Rex was well-versed in dealing with it, "Save that frustration and anger for the enemy."
"If it's any consolation, I think the clankers were scared of you." Fives added with a teasing undertone.
The rivalry between separatist and republic was painfully clear; Grievous and his droids on one side, and the Jedi with their clones on the other. Even now they were shooting each other glares and showcasing distrust. Normally he would deal with things like these by pulling rank or making a speech about cooperation, but the former only worked on Alliance soldiers under his command while the latter wouldn't be very effective on two sides that were actively trying to kill each other. Technically, he was the leader here, but he could hardly ask them to make up with each other; only that they'd put their difference aside for now.
Luckily for him, Shepard had thought ahead of how to prevent accidents from happening.
EDI took that moment as her cue to step in over the comms, "Penetrating scans have detected an access node to uplink with the Collector databanks. Marking location to your hardsuit computer."
"Thanks for the hint, EDI. Miranda, you know what to do. Keep those shuttles safe, and guard the area while we're gone. They're our only tickets off this dump." He pointed at Miranda, earning a confident nod from the woman. Her leadership skills made her the perfect choice for this job, "The rest of you, move out. Staggered formation like we discussed earlier."
Numbers were important in any fight, but their squad size would only impair their fighting if they stuck too close in such an enclosed space. It could lead to people bumping into each other, or worse, suffer casualties because of a grenade that went off while they were standing too close to each other. Therefore the squad would do things a little bit differently.
There would be a group in the front and one in the back. By keeping enough people in the back, the squad would be able to cover its rear and flanks properly, while also avoiding falling victim to the tight corridors of the spaceship. The Collectors had a habit of ambushing their enemies by air, but Shepard figured some might pop out of holes in the wall if this really was some kind of hive.
"Good luck out there." Jacob called out as they left, "Try not to die, will you?"
"No promises!" Kasumi waved back enthusiastically.
The dark-skinned man chuckled and rejoined the group that would be staying behind. Jacob and Miranda had more than enough people to keep the shuttles safe; the three commando droids, the magnaguard, Jesse, Hawk, Waxer, Boil and Thane. There's was no way the Collectors would have it easy if they tried to go after the shuttles. Shepard had faith in their abilities.
Walking through the Collector ship was a nerve-racking experience, though no one would admit it. Each and every corner seemed to be bathed in pure darkness. The dim lighting often flickered too, creating living shadows that had them tensing their muscles and fingers itching towards triggers. Even Shepard found himself slightly struggling not to aim at every spot that appeared suspicious. Years of experience and iron discipline stopped him from doing so.
At least they would be prepared for a Collector ambush. Speaking of which, how come they hadn't come across a single drone so far? They'd been moving through the empty corridors for about three minutes already, yet no one had come to greet them; no husks, soldiers or even Harbinger himself.
This felt like a trap… and they were walking right into it.
Jack let out a disgusted noise as she almost bumped into a wall, which was disturbingly squishy with what appeared to be organic matter, "Alright, seriously; fuck this shit. What kind of nasty crap did those damn insects apply to this place? Looks like some ugly bug paradise."
"Not like how I would put it, but I feel the same way." Anakin remarked. The Jedi winced as he stepped into some sort of mucus. The sticky material clung to his boot, and he had to tug hard to free himself, "Watch out for the slime. It'll be bad if you get stuck during a fight."
Well, the advice was as solid as it could be, though Shepard figured no one wanted to touch the mucus regardless whether or not they were fighting. Not only was it colored an ugly shade of brown, but the stench was so bad that he switched off his helmet's olfactory systems. There was no way in hell he was going to be stuck smelling that awful stench during his stay here.
"Am I the only one who is spooked by this ship? It feels so… wrong." Ahsoka said out loud, trying to keep the conversation going.
Not everyone of the team responded, though there were a few murmurs of agreement. He knew the padawan was talking to ease their nerves – hers included. The Collector architecture had a way of playing into one's anxiety, and the small talk was more than appreciated by some. Only the tough ones like Grunt and Grievous refused to acknowledge their fears. Then again, he doubted they even feared anything.
Kasumi shuddered visibly, "Tell me about it. Personally, I like the shadows; they're comfy, friendly and an excellent place to hide from bad guys. But here? Pardon my French, but they're seriously creeping the hell out of me."
"Don't let them bite you then." Hardcase was more than eager to tease. Honestly, Shepard was no longer surprised that the tattooed clone would make fun even in such a tense situation, though Shepard figured that was just part of the heavy gunner's charm – as minimal as it was.
"Lay off with the jokes, Hardcase. Don't think I haven't noticed how you flinch each time we turn around a corner." Ahsoka interjected swiftly, getting an embarrassed cough from the trooper. Her blue eyes glanced at their surroundings with uncertainty, "Though to be fair, I can't blame you."
John was sure that no one blamed her; most of them felt the same.
"Shepard. I have compared the ship's EM signature to known Collector profiles." EDI announced through the communications channel that they all shared. The AI paused for what seemed like a second, which already rang alarm bells inside his head. EDI never paused unless the news was something he didn't want to hear, "It is the same vessel you encountered on Horizon."
His eyes widened, now suddenly seeing his surroundings and the ship itself in a whole new light. This was the very same vessel that had launched the attack on Horizon? He still remembered the bitter sensation of failure as he had watched the ship take off, carrying what had to be hundreds of abducted colonists on board.
Judging by the curses some of the more vocal members of his team gave, they hadn't forgotten either.
"And the Turians were able to disable it?" Jack hissed uncertainly. One did not need to think hard about the reason for skepticism. Their last encounter with this beast of a ship had left a foul taste in their mouths, "Am I the only one who thinks this sounds fucking weird?"
"Maybe the defense towers softened up the ship for the Turians?" Tali proposed, though she sounded uncertain herself.
"Nah, Tattoos here is right." Zaeed shook his head in denial, while simultaneously ignoring Jack's indignant objection to the nickname. The hardened mercenary's eyes were focused, "We all saw how those guns failed to even put a dent in it. I know Turian patrols; they're made out of a few frigates and cruisers, which wouldn't have enough weaponry to do break through this thing's defenses. Hell, I crashed one of the damn ships on my own, so take it from me that the Turians wouldn't have been able to disable this dump."
Shepard remained quiet, though he already knew what they meant. Deep down within himself, he also knew that they were right; the Illusive Man's story didn't add up. What was even worse, was that they hadn't come aboard so easily because the ship was disabled by the Turians, but rather the Collectors had allowed them to come aboard.
It was Anakin who put the nail in the coffin, "So, this is a trap then."
"Probably. But even if it is, we can't turn back now." He turned around to look them in the eye. Despite the doubt and skepticism, he knew they were all willing to continue forward, "That data is invaluable to us to stop the Collectors. If we give up, this ship will just continue invading colonies and kidnapping innocent people. We need to stop the Collectors and the only way to do that is to take out their base, which we can't get to unless we find out how to pass through their relay."
"Well, if you put it like that, what are we waiting for?" Fives shrugged his shoulders as if it wasn't that much of an issue, "Lead the way, commander."
Obi-Wan nodded in agreement, smiling pleasantly, "Indeed. We're already here, so I don't see why we can't move on."
The group consensus was clear; there were no objections at all. It didn't mean his people were happy with this – he wasn't either – but that was to be expected. The Collectors were a dangerous threat, and not just because Reapers were involved in this whole debacle. If they were planning on ambushing his squad, it wouldn't be a small ambush at all.
They walked further into the bowels of the enormous ship, following the dark path at a calm pace. The dimly lit corridors took on a new level of dread after the previous discussion. For Shepard, the hairs on his neck stood up because the unease that formed inside his stomach, like a dark pit.
As he turned around a corner and was greeted by a horrible sight, the commander felt the blood inside his veins turn to ice and the pit deepened considerably. He knew he had suddenly stopped walking. He also knew his friends were concerned and alarmed, but they quickly understood once they joined him around the corner.
"By the Spirits…"
He could hear members of the squad choke up, and Tali's voice came through clear enough, "Keelah! This is horrible!"
"Those sick bastards." Anakin growled audibly.
Dead bodies. So many dead bodies – all of them human.
Shepard gritted his teeth, looking at the pile of corpses with contempt. The bodies had been lying around for such a long time that many of them were starting to rot. Their skin was a sickly grey as if someone had sucked the life out of them, and then dumped them unceremoniously in a corner. It didn't matter who they were; man or woman, young or old, and so on.
He felt bile rise up his throat when he noticed a small hand sticking out from underneath the pile. Those little fingers were cold and stiff, with not a shred of life left within. Shepard averted his sight. He just couldn't bear to keep looking any longer.
It was Garrus who broke him out of his thoughts by placing a hand on his armored shoulder, "We're going to make them pay for this. Every single one of them."
He didn't respond verbally, put patted the hand in a gesture of gratitude. The others watched the mountain of corpses with various expressions. Disgust and anger was the most prominent emotion, with only a few calm gazes. Shepard didn't need to ask; there was no denying the pure hatred for the Collectors that had taken root in their minds.
"Why would the Collectors just leave a pile of bodies lying around like this?" Obi-Wan pondered, staring at the pile with curiosity. The Jedi master quickly gained a few looks and explained himself, "From what I've been told, the Collectors are most likely abducting the colonists at the command of the Reapers. This begs the question why they would simply kill the people once the pods are brought aboard the vessel. It would be easier to kill them inside the colonies."
Mordin hummed in agreement, "Possibility of testing humans like Maelon did. Looking for something in particular perhaps? Humans in front of us might have died during procedure."
"There are worse things than death." Grievous said, surprisingly since the general barely spoke. His normally fierce eyes were glazed over as if remembering a distant unpleasant memory, "Being an experiment is but one of many. The humans are better off dead than a test subject."
Grievous' comment did not gain him any favor among the rest of the squad, but Shepard agreed silently. He would rather take a bullet than be the lab rat of a Reaper pawn. Bad enough that he'd already gone through the experience because of Cerberus, even if it did bring him back to life.
"Sir, we've got unknown machines ahead." Cody called out.
The clone commander was pointing a gloved finger at wider room a short distance away, which indeed seemed to be filled with various devices and machinery. It was also a bit different from the rest of the ship. For starters, there was a lack of chitin-like material covering the floor, but solid metal instead. There was also proper lighting instead of the dimly lit corridors that they had been walking through for the past few minutes.
Shepard came closer as he scanned the room for anything that stood out. Aside from the strange apparatus at the end, however, there was nothing of significance. A lot of pipelines and humming machines, but those seemed to be more in function of the ship itself. The large ones in the back were different. They didn't seem to be linked to the vessel, but were more akin to lab equipment. Multiple pods were lying around, and one of them was placed on a gurney next to a terminal.
"This looks like something out of a horror movie." Kasumi remarked dryly, eying the devices suspiciously.
Anakin grimaced, "I'm fairly certain this whole place is nothing but a horror."
The dead colonists immediately came to mind; their faces frozen in pain, soulless eyes staring at nothing as they slowly decayed.
He kept moving until he stood next to the gurney so he could inspect it. Surprisingly enough, the pod wasn't empty, but it didn't contain a human colonist either. Instead, a Collector drone lied within. Shepard frowned in confusion; it made no sense that the Collectors would put one of their own inside the pods, which meant something strange was going on here.
The only source of information that could give a possible explanation, however, was the terminal installed next to the dead Collector. Shepard turned on his omni-tool and established a connection, sighing in relief as it turned out that the device had no firewall. Perhaps it was arrogance that had motivated the Collectors to leave their terminals unprotected, or maybe they simply didn't it was possible for someone to get aboard their ship – which wasn't a ludicrous thought.
It didn't matter; he had access to the terminal and could look around a bit. He was tired of having no answers anyway.
"That's a Collector?" Ahsoka asked, receiving affirmative responses from those who had faced the enigmatic race before, "Yeesh, they're even creepier than I thought. Were they experimenting on one of their own?"
Zaeed poked the corpse with the barrel of his rifle, revealing a large incision in the thing's side, "Certainly looks that way. Fucking freaks."
The mercenary made way for Mordin, who immediately began inspecting the body. His fingers roamed the insectoid, searching for other places where the Collectors had cut their compatriot. Mordin activated his own omni-tool, silently writing notes while further observing the Collector.
"EDI, I'm uploading data from this terminal. See if you can figure out what they were up to." Shepard said.
"Data received. Analyzing." EDI responded, pausing as she went through the data. He waited patiently for the results, "The Collectors were running baseline genetic comparisons between their species and humanity."
"Are they looking for similarities?"
"I have no hypothesis on their motivations. All I have are the preliminary results. They reveal something remarkable." Coming from EDI, that had to be an important find. Shepard listened with his curiosity piqued, "A quad-strand genetic structure, identical to traces collected from ancient ruins. Only one race is known to have this structure; the Protheans."
He stepped back from the table, pure shock barraged his senses. Inside his chest, his heart almost skipped a beat despite it seemingly thundering inside his head. The news was so absurd that he wanted nothing else but to argue against it, but he couldn't. EDI wouldn't make false assumptions, and the data came from the Collectors themselves, who had no reason to lie about their origins; those didn't matter to them or their masters.
"Keelah, the Protheans didn't vanish…" Tali let out a choked sound, glowing eyes unable to look anywhere but the Collector corpse.
"They're working for the Reapers now." Rex grimaced.
"These are no longer Protheans. Their genes show distinctive signs of extensive genetic rewrite. The Reapers have repurposed them to suit their needs."
Garrus crossed his arms, "You would think someone would have picked up on this. Collectors are shrouded in mystery, but they've done a lot of deals for centuries."
"No one has had the opportunity to study a Collector genetic code in this detail." EDI explained thoroughly, "I have already matched two thousand alleles to recorded fragments. This Collector likely descends from a Prothean colony in the Styx Theta cluster. But there are signs of extreme alteration; three fewer chromosomes, reduced heterochromatin structure and the elimination of superfluous 'junk' sequences."
To think that the Protheans had suffered all of that at the hands of the Reapers… Suddenly, Shepard was glad that they'd managed to stop Sovereign from springing the citadel trap. He dreaded to imagine what those synthetic monsters would have done to humanity or any other species.
"The Reapers didn't wipe out the Protheans. They turned them into monsters and enslaved them." He almost growled; angry at the Reapers for having committed such an act. As if wiping out the galaxy every 50.000 years wasn't good enough for them. He shook his head, trying to not stare at the corpse that had once been a Prothean, "Still, the Collectors are working for the Reapers now. And we have to stop them."
"The least we can do for them is to take down the Reapers, and end their suffering." Obi-Wan said in agreement.
"Let's find what we need before the Collectors come to salvage this vessel. Move out."
Fives wished he hadn't set foot aboard this dump of a ship. As if the horrors from earlier weren't enough, there were hundreds of pods hanging on the ceiling or stored away in narrow holes; the same kind that was used to abduct colonists. Even worse, there were no life signs coming from said containers. An optimistic person would say this meant there were no humans inside. However, after learning more about the Collectors and their twisted masters, the pessimistic approach seemed more likely.
He and his brother stayed close, watching each other's backs as they delved deeper into the ship. Samara was with them, walking with the grace and concentration of a Jedi; ready to provide biotic support. Normally he'd be confident that they could handle a few bugs on their own. But the tales and evidence threw away that foolish notion. Instead, he was grateful that if they would encounter the Collectors, Samara would be there to cover them with a shield.
They had come across more bodies earlier on. Fives felt incredibly uncomfortable looking at them, not to mention disgusted by the disrespect of the Collectors, but soldiered on. He was designed to cope with horrors like these by the Kaminoans.
Still, he tried to keep away the bile that threatened to spill out whenever he saw another child among the corpses.
His boots were dirty from the floors that they stepped on, courtesy of all the weird mucus that the Collectors left lying around. Finding a path that wasn't in need of a major scrubbing seemed impossible. For a supposedly advanced race, the Collectors certainly didn't know a lot about cleaning. Fives was already planning on giving his boots some extra care when he got back on the Normandy.
"Still can't believe the Collectors attacked the first Normandy with this ship. Am I the only one who is having serious doubts about all of this?" Kix piped up.
Fives scoffed, "This has all the signs of being a trap. I mean, the proof keeps stacking up. The questionable claim that the ship was disabled by less advanced warships, no guards coming to meet us despite being aboard for over fifteen minutes, and now this? This is going to end badly." He shook his head.
"I know we're all on edge, but we need to remain calm." Their captain spoke up encouragingly, looking over his shoulder to address them. Rex had a habit of trying to ease their concerns, "The commander knows what he's doing, and the generals wouldn't agree to anything that would put our lives at serious risk. Besides, we've survived worse."
"Yeah! General Skywalker always finds us the biggest, nastiest fights. Risking our lives has become the 501st's motto!" Hardcase joked heartily, no doubt grinning madly beneath his helmet.
"I heard that!" Came their Jedi general's mock irate voice from up ahead.
The clones laughed at the casual response. Fives smiled confidently; they were in good hands with general Skywalker looking out for them. The man's plans were… unorthodox to say the least, but that didn't mean he stayed in the back and let his troops do all the work. No, Skywalker was usually the first one in, using himself as a shield for Fives and his brothers.
Fives respected that sense of duty, which was a sentiment shared among all members of the 501st legion. They followed the general gladly and went along with the Jedi's crazy plans, knowing that they would bring results, and in case they didn't, Skywalker would try his hardest to get them out safely. He knew this to be certain.
"Your leader seems to be very dedicated, even if a bit immature at times." He heard the asari justicar at his side speak, drawing his attention. Samara's eyes were still looking straight ahead, but her focus was partially on him, "However, from what I can tell, he likes to take bold decisions that may or may not work out. Are you not worried about this?"
Fives was quick to defend his commanding officer, "General Skywalker is admittedly brash on multiple occasions. And I'd be lying if none of us worries from time to time, but we trust him explicitly. He's saved my life, as well as those of my brothers, more times than I can count. The general has earned our respect."
"I apologize if I came across as critical. It is good to see the bond between him and his subordinates is in such good condition." Samara said as a small, polite smile graced her dark lips.
Admittedly, he felt some embarrassment at how sensitive he sounded, but accepted the compliment nevertheless. He didn't know much about Samara since the Asari tended to remain in the background, and isolate herself aboard the Normandy. What he did know, was that she wasn't the type to openly insult people.
Soon enough, they came across a much larger room; so much so that even Fives couldn't help but be overwhelmed by pure shock. However, it transitioned to a state of terror as soon as they saw the other pods. The amount of containers – each one meant to hold a single human prisoner – was mindboggling. Entire colonies could be stored aboard this vessel! He felt his throat go dry as he watched those rows upon rows of pods, wondering how many of them were full.
It didn't matter. There was still the mission that needed completing.
By now, everyone had gotten used to the terrible practices of the Collectors, only shaking their heads and muttering swear words as they moved forward. There was little else that they could do for the poor souls that had perished inside the pods.
"There! On that platform; some sort of console." Tali called out, pointing a finger at the green light ahead.
True enough, there was a lone terminal standing atop a platform. It was surrounded by chitin-like walls and large tubes, of which the substance was unclear. No visible security either. Fives looked around, scanning the place for Collectors in case this was supposed to be the trap. No fruitful results unfortunately.
Shepard gave them their instructions, "Forward squad with me. The others will stay here and guard our exit."
The group split into two, leaving Fives and the others behind while the second squad stepped onto the abandoned platform. Hopefully they would find what they were looking for. He didn't want to spend a second longer here than he necessarily had to. It was like being called into a Kaminoan doctor's office; lots of waiting, suffocating walls, eerie silence and a burning desire to get the hell out of there.
"I don't like the looks of this." Rex commented quietly after a while.
"Come on captain. Everything's gone smoothly so far." Kix joked. The medic shrugged his shoulders in a carefree manner, "What could possibly go wrong?"
As if tempting fate, the ground suddenly began to tremble as if the ship had come to life. Fives turned around just in time to see the platform rise up, carrying the rest of the ground team. It kept rising into the air until they could hardly see it anymore.
Then the clapping of wings and mandibles filled the air.
"Dammit, Kix." Fives tensed as the first wave of bugs approached.
"Look alive, brothers! We've got incoming!"
Omake: bathroom troubles
Shepard yawned loudly, jaw widening as his eyes teared up a little. He was so bloody tired today, having had a mere four hours of sleep because of the paperwork he had been filling out all night. Being the commanding officer of a ship always meant you had to do bureaucratic tasks. He'd hoped he would have been spared, but Cerberus was no better than the Alliance; he had no choice.
And he couldn't just push his workload on Miranda, considering she was already running half of the ship on her own. After all, Miranda was a valued member of the crew, who deserved their respect for keeping track of supplies such as food and ammunition, while also delegating daily tasks to the crew members so they would work more efficiently.
Oh, she also had thrown him out of her office the last time he visited with a pile of paperwork taller than him. Through the use of biotics, if it wasn't clear enough.
But he was sure that a nice shower would wake him up a little. Sure, it was annoying that his own shower was currently broken and in need of repairs, but who cares? The communal showers were still available. Shepard wasn't shy either – though the glowing cybernetics might be uncomfortable for others, considering some were sticking out where he did not want them to look. Best to leave that can of worms sealed.
"Good morning, commander." Jacob greeted him along the way.
The dark-skinned operative was carrying his own washing supplies; a brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and a towel. He was carrying his own stuff in a little pouch, while the towel was slung around his neck. Shepard nodded politely in return.
"Morning, Jacob. Ready for today's work?"
"Can't wait to get back to the armory and continue maintenance." Jacob said, looking laidback and content. Probably because the bastard didn't need to do any goddamn paperwork… "But first a quick shower, some grub and my morning exercises. Got to keep these beauties intact."
Shepard rolled his eyes as the man patted his belly, obviously referring to his abs. Bad enough that Kasumi had hidden cameras around the ship to get what she called 'documentary material on military operatives'. No matter what happened, he was not going to explain to the rest of the men how pictures of them kept popping up on the extranet.
Turns out the clones were very popular among the ladies. They'd unknowingly gathered a lot of fans, who went crazy when Kasumi uploaded that pic of Hardcase and Fives wrestling. With no shirts. All sweaty.
Dear god, his ship was turning into a strip club…
John shook his head to get rid of the very unpleasant thoughts. Instead, he focused on his imminent shower, smiling as he turned around the corner and–
"Help meeeeee!" Was the last thing he heard from Rex, before the captain was forcibly dragged into the men's bathroom.
The entire room was so dark he could barely see anything, save for the multiple green-tinted tentacles wrapped around the poor clone as they pulled him inside, despite his desperate attempts of crawling to safety. Rex's wails of despair were audible even as the doors closed, sealing him inside with whatever creature had taken its residence in the bathroom.
Shepard and Jacob stared wordlessly.
Garrus, Hardcase and Zaeed stared back with horrified expressions, equally silent as the three had their backs pressed against the wall. They were all naked with only a towel covering their modesty.
"Did… did that just really happen?" Jacob eventually asked, not quite believing his eyes.
Suddenly, his dreams of having a quiet shower slipped away.
No! Come back! Please! We could make this work!
Keeping his inner turmoil private, Shepard sighed, "Alright, what was that? What is going on? And how are we going to fix it?"
The first answer came from Hardcase, "Grunt and I might have smuggled an animal aboard from when we departed Tuchanka. We locked it inside the cargo hold, putting it inside a box, but looks like it escaped. To be fair, at the time, it didn't sound like a bad idea. Also, be careful around Grunt. He has these really cute puppy eyes. Kriffing lethal. So anyway, um, oops?"
Shepard gave the gunner the flattest stare in existence. No. He was not going to comment on that. Just… no.
Zaeed spoke up, "Goddamn thing fell out of the ventilation shaft, scaring the crap out of us. Nasty fucker has way too many tentacles, and I've seen enough hentai to know where this is going. Bolted the first chance we got. Blondie didn't make it though. Rest his soul…"
Alright, that explained whatever just happened. Not that he wanted to know now that he knew, but pretty useful information nonetheless. Really, he was absolutely loving his morning so far. Why not go even further than that? A surprise visit from Harbinger to ask if they could go bowling would be fan-fucking-tastic.
"I'm not dead!" The door swished open, revealing a frantic Rex who managed to crawl forward even if it took a great effort. Shepard tried to ignore the slimy tentacles around the man's naked body in order to preserve his own sanity, "Just kriffing get in here, and help me!"
Get in there? In the same room with that beast? With all those nasty tentacles – which were still touching Rex in inappropriate places!
Shepard exchanged glances with the others; an understanding was made.
"Your sacrifice will not be forgotten, captain." Garrus said solemnly; his fist clenched over his chest.
Hardcase saluted, a lone tear travelling down his cheek, "The 501st will always remember you, sir. I'll let the others know you went down fighting."
Zaeed simply nodded.
"Sonuva–" Rex was once more dragged inside, screaming and trashing wildly all the while.
"What is going on here?!"
As if the situation couldn't get any worse, fate had decided to screw him over royally by throwing Grievous his way. The cyborg looked at them with a mix of annoyance and curiosity. Now, Shepard was used to this. In fact, you could say that seeing the general glare at him was actually made him happy, considering this was the only normal thing to happen to him this morning.
What was not normal by any means, however, was the fact that Grievous wore a towel around his metal waist.
Is it too late to ask the Collectors to kill me? Again?
Shepard took a deep breath, exhaled softly and then repeated the process. Happy thoughts. No thinking about crazy tentacle beasts, Kasumi starting a strip club, Grunt and Hardcase smuggling animals aboard, Miranda throwing him around with biotics, paperwork, and definitely no separatist general–
"Come at me, beast!" Grievous howled, having been informed by the others in the meantime, and palmed the door's interface before rushing inside; three lightsabers activated while his remaining hand held his towel tight around his waist.
He didn't even spare a glance as he walked away, "Yeah, I think I'm just going to go back to sleep…"
"IT'S TAKING OFF MY TOWEL! WHY IS IT TAKING MY TOWEL?!"
Zaeed shook his head as Rex screamed for mercy, grumbling disgruntledly, "Goddamn Japanese…"