Rex flinched as bullets grazed his cover, breaking apart the chitin that coated the metal support beam. The hardened pieces bounced off of his armor. At least there were enough places to hide behind, instead of being out in the open with little to no protection from the enemy assault.
The Collectors were attacking en masse by air and ground. Similarly to the Geonosians, this bug race tended to shoot from above, their wings keeping them in the air. Nothing that they couldn't handle though. Still, it made killing the annoying pests a lot more difficult – especially when forced into cover.
How he wished they were just clankers; with a Jedi on his side, it would be easier to blast them while supporting his commanding officer. This tactic was used by many clone commanders and their Jedi, and Rex was no exception. He trusted Ahsoka and Skywalker to keep him safe; he'd do the same for them. Unfortunately, neither Jedi were anywhere near, and the Collectors were no droids. At least not the ones he was familiar with.
"Fives, take care of the bugs in the air!" He instructed through their shared comm channel; the whole group was connected to each other, and luckily the short range communicators were still operational. The Collectors seemed incapable of blocking those.
"On it, sir."
Further down below, crouched behind a barricade, Fives raised his carbine before taking aim at the Collectors. The ARC trooper quickly fired several shots, managing to take down two hostiles; their carapaces blackened by blaster burns. One of the dead bodies dropped down right next to him. Rex took one look at it and then put another plasma bolt in its bulky head; just to be certain.
They'd been fending off the enemy's ambush for five minutes now, and his opinion of the Collectors was already as low as it could get. Horrifying practices aside, they fought with reckless abandon at times, as if they didn't care about their own lives. This made it easier to kill them, but also placed more pressure on the team. Not that the Collectors were actually winning. With Cody on their side, they were always one step ahead.
"Samara, deploy a shield while Hardcase lays down covering fire. Rex with me. We'll advance using the biotic shield." The trooper in orange and white ordered, DC-15A at the ready.
They moved in perfect synchrony. Funny how well they adapted to their new allies' abilities. Rex was still baffled by biotics, but he couldn't deny their usefulness – especially with Samara's expertise.
Hardcase was already making the drones scramble, Z-6 rotary blaster spitting out bolt after bolt at the enemy. Two Collectors were too slow and were cut down in seconds. Still, the main purpose was to keep them occupied, which seemed to be working by the looks of it; the Collectors didn't pay enough attention to their Asari.
A bright blue dome of energy expanded from Samara's body. It kept doing that until at least ten people could safely find shelter inside. Rex rolled away from his cover, into the shield and ended up in a crouching position. He was faintly aware of Cody dashing into the biotic dome, but his focus was on the drones advancing rapidly instead.
"I'll take the ones on the ground." He spoke up, addressing his brother while Samara kept them shielded, "You take care of the airborne buggers."
Cody agreed, "Got it."
Raising his rifle first, the 212th commander began shooting at the flying Collectors with precise shots. Despite often being used as a heavy blaster, the DC-15A worked better as a marksman rifle in this particular situation, picking off the enemies that were buzzing overhead. Cody proved his skill; the drones in the air were fast – he'd give them that – but not any faster than a Geonosian. And Cody had killed his own fair share of bugs.
As for himself, Rex used a somewhat similar approach. Wielding two pistols at the same time could be tricky, but in the right hands they could be utilized in various ways. For example, when surrounded by droids in a small space, his pistols were a good choice to fire rapidly at multiple enemies and were less bothersome than a rifle.
This scenario was a tad different. He spotted a Collector drone charging them while being covered by its allies, but that only worked on the rest of the squad. Rex didn't need to dive for cover when said cover was a shield he could perfectly shoot through. Because of the distance between himself and the enemy soldier, he aimed with a single pistol and fired a shot that was more accurate than others.
As for the results, a dead Collector spoke enough of his efficiency.
"Where did Kasumi run off to?" Cody asked.
"No clue. Didn't she cloak herself?"
It was Samara who answered, though her voice was a bit more strained due to maintaining the barrier, "She is currently attacking the enemy from behind. I saw her stab one of the Collector assassins."
She did? Rex was impressed by Samara's eyesight. He also approved of the thief's initiative; confusing the enemy by attacking from behind, especially when said infiltrator could cloak at will, would make it much easier for them to win this fight.
The crack of a sniper rifle announced the presence of their resident ARC trooper, who had switched to his secondary weapon, accompanied by the head of a Collector captain exploding into a gory mess. The officer dropped dead next to its underlings. Fives was keeping himself occupied; every dangerous or important looking Collector was terminated whenever they appeared. Out of all the clones present, only Fives was decent enough to make a shot like that with a sniper rifle.
"Mordin, how is the radio?"
The Salarian doctor – crouched next to Hardcase – didn't have any good news for them. "Collectors are still interfering with signal. Trying to bypass their attempts at blocking us. Should have comms up and running soon."
"Alright, keep trying. We need to get in touch with the others." Rex responded.
There was no telling what had happened to the second squad. It was bad enough that they were separated, but if the Collectors were really after Shepard, then this ambush compared to what the others were experiencing. His generals were in trouble. Rex wanted nothing else than to hop onto another platform and rush over. However, considering the Collectors were in control of said devices, that was an ill-advised decision.
He'd settle with killing these bastards for now.
Moans and cries announced the arrival of several husks. Rex grimaced at the sight; featureless humans whose skin was decayed and filled with cybernetics, giving off a faint dark blue hue from all the implants that the Reapers had installed. Soulless eyes were trained on them.
"We've got incoming husks!" He called out, pistols switching over to new targets.
The cybernetic zombies were fast. They were sprinting through the gunfire, uncaring of whether they were hit or not. Rex counted at least a dozen of them. Even worse; an even larger husk approached from the back, resembling a bloated version made out of three individual husks. Its back was bulging and glowing blue, but he knew it wasn't because of cybernetics this time.
Shepard had made sure to tell them about what kind of enemies they would face. Thanks to the commander's insight, Rex knew this particular husk was a Scion. Practically a walking tank with that kriffing cannons it had for an arm. Its power source was a whole supply of eezo stored in the back. The Scion lumbered forward on its two legs, already powering up its weapon.
Having no choice but to trust in Samara's ability to keep the shield up, Rex began firing at the approaching husk horde. His twin pistols spat out blaster bolts as fast as they could. Each shot whizzed through the air and struck the zombies in multiple spots. Unfortunately it took quite the effort to kill them. Headshots worked the best, while hitting the legs only slowed them down, whereas firing at a husk's torso did little damage.
Probably because husks were technically dead to begin with. Living humans would have collapsed without their organs functioning, but these things were part machine; relentless and durable. Rex narrowed his eyes as he aimed for the head, killing the resurrected humans before they could even reach the biotic bubble and dig their claws into it.
A biotic shockwave impacted against the barrier without any kind of warning. Rex stumbled and almost fell on his back. His brother had no such luck; the biotic attack sent Cody tumbling over the ground, eliciting several colorful words from him.
"Kriff! What was that?"
Rex looked past the scattered corpses of husks and Collectors alike, noticing the Scion advancing slowly with its cannon glowing. The thing was going to fire again! His eyes darted to their justicar ally, who was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Her blue skin was glistening with sweat, and he could hear her labored breathing.
"We need to move." He finally decided; not without urgency. Shortly after, the Scion let out a terrifying roar as its cannon discharged another biotic shockwave, which was coming their way faster than he'd have liked. Rex grabbed Samara and Cody by the elbows as he pulled them away, "Now!"
They escaped in the nick of time. The blast passed them by without leaving any permanent damage, except for maybe a few bruises as they landed roughly behind a pipeline. Rex clenched his teeth, armored back smashing into the ground. The air in his lungs fled in a matter of seconds. Still, he couldn't afford to stay still.
Come on, soldier! Get up!
Rex got back up with the assistance of Samara. He grasped at the pistol in his right holster, but felt nothing. Luckily, the asari companion at his side had found it, presenting the blaster to him like a present. She received a grateful nod in return.
"We must take care of that foe before it can destroy our cover." Samara stated calmly. As if she hadn't almost been thrown around like a ragdoll just now. "How we will do that, without being gunned down by the Collector drones though, is the question."
He tried to recall what the commander had told them about the Scion, "If I'm not mistaken, its weak spot is the container of eezo on its back. Shoot that and the husk dies."
Samara smiled slightly, "Let us see if Fives is as precise as he boasts to be."
Oh, he didn't doubt his brother. As cocky as he could be at times, you couldn't argue about Fives' performance on the battlefield. That Scion was as good as dead; it just didn't realize yet.
The fight was turning into their favor, despite the presence of the powerful husk. Obviously the Collectors didn't expect them to survive this long. The amount of drones that were attempting to neutralize them was simply not enough. Their supposedly superior technology served them little in a gunfight against veteran clone troopers.
More husks came from one of the many tunnel-like corridors that mapped the entirety of the ship, but they never made it close thanks to Hardcase. The heavy gunner mowed them mercilessly. It didn't matter if they could soak up more than one blaster bolt if said shooter used a gatling gun. In the end, the husk were quickly eliminated, leaving only the Scion and leftover Collectors to worry about.
"Grenade out." Cody warned, throwing the explosive at a duo of drones.
One of the Collectors was smart enough to try and get away, using its wing to fly to a better position. Its companion was less fortunate, however, and was caught in the blast. The drone's charred body was sent flying over the edge of the platform and into the abyss down below. Not that the other Collector made it. Cody's rifle barked three times before the target dropped out of the air.
Right behind the enemy lines, another assassin was silenced as Kasumi uncloaked and stabbed the long-range fighter in the throat. The combat knife cut through its carapace with ease. Blood spilled out of the wound, and the sniper died in a matter of seconds as the master thief retreated before its allies could spot her. The lack of support made charging the clones' defensive lines much harder for the regular Collector soldiers.
Slowly but steadily, the attackers were pushed on the defensive by the squad. The Collectors had lost the element of surprise from earlier, and the lack of husks to overwhelm them spelled certain doom for the bug-like race. Coordination and synchrony as a team was an important factor. These were qualities that the Collectors lacked, seeing as they often attacked on their own, lacking tactical minds due to being drones.
But what really turned the tide was the sudden explosion coming from the center of the Collector formation. Bright blue light almost blinded them, and a dying roar announced the death of the Scion. Constantly barraging the eezo container on its back with sniper fire had weathered down its armor, before igniting the dangerous substance within. Numerous drones and leftover husks were blown away or incinerated by the azure fire.
"This is it! Push forward!" Rex shouted, feeling confident with their odds.
He and his teammates abandoned their cover, rushing forward with guns blazing and overwhelming the remaining Collectors. Left in a daze by the Scion's explosive demise, they were unable to defend themselves, falling to the combination of blasters and projectile rifles. The most basic foot soldiers were easy to deal with. The more armored ones less so, and the lone captain commanding said forces was quicker to retaliate, but all were eventually eliminated.
Rex didn't dare put away his guns though. He scanned the battlefield, swooping the area with the rangefinder to spot any heat signatures. It was only when he found none that he allowed himself to relax marginally.
"That's the last of 'em. But I doubt they'll leave it at this." He said knowingly.
Cody nodded, approaching from his left and similarly looking for threats, "Agreed. Whoever is in charge of these bugs, they'll know their ambush failed and that we're still alive. We need to move. Staying in one place makes us an easy target."
"Shouldn't we wait for the others?" Hardcase asked uncertainly.
Not necessarily a bad question. Still, there were too many unknowns, and Rex didn't like the risks that they would have to face if they remained in a single spot.
"We don't know if Shepard and the generals can make it back here, Hardcase." He explained carefully. From the corner of his eye, he saw Samara eject a spent thermal clip and insert a new one, "For all we know, they were brought to the other side of this ravine. Not that any of us could keep an eye on them; not with that ambush. It's better to try and clear a way back to the shuttles. If the others manage to contact us, we'll go and help them out. Does that sound agreeable?"
"It's as good as any plan we can come up with in this scenario." Cody shrugged.
Samara added her own opinion, "As long as we stay on the move, we should be fine. Have faith in the abilities of our allies."
He walked back to where Fives was; the ARC trooper still guarding their Salarian doctor, who continued to fiddle with this omni-tool. Mordin seemed to be completely focused on trying to get the radios working again. Judging by the slight frown on his creased face, the news couldn't be good.
"Have you had any luck contacting the commander or the others?"
"Collectors are still jamming signal. Interference is problematic and more of an issue than earlier expectations. Shouldn't take too long anymore however." Mordin quickly responded. The ex-infiltrator paused for a single second, looking up to address him properly, "Agree with plan. Collectors have shown remarkable interest in capturing us. Should probably try to move and evade patrols, if possible."
Well, he'd take all he could get at this moment, "Alright, keep trying. We'll go back through where we came from. With any luck, the others might contact us before we can contact them."
The husk screamed as it charged; mouth filled with cybernetics, cables running across its cheeks, and unnaturally pale light coming from its soulless eyes. Miranda didn't hesitate to put it down. A single bark from her pistol later, and the undead pawn dropped with a large hole in its forehead.
"Put some pressure on the left corridor." She instructed her team, remaining calm even in the face of overwhelming enemy numbers. The Collectors were not going to get to the shuttles on her watch, "Don't allow the husks to flank us. IG-102, deal with those that get through."
Lacking the proper voice box, the droid acknowledged her with a series of beeps, already moving from the center to the left. Its electrostaff cackled with bright and violent electricity, though not a single bolt managed to jump away from the melee weapon. Times like these were when she was glad for Grievous' presence on the Normandy. A magnaguard was a bloody good CQC expert, and you couldn't have enough of those when fending off the sci-fi zombies that the Reapers loved to use.
And said supply of husks seemed limitless at the moment. Miranda had lost count after the twentieth or so husk. To make matters worse, they were coming from three different sides, while Collector drones were content with staying behind, firing nonstop from their positions.
"You know, we will run out of ammo at one point." Jacob commented offhandedly.
The African-American man had exchanged his shotgun for a vindicator assault rifle, shooting bursts at the Collectors down the middle corridor. It didn't stop them from retaliating – the suicidal bastards – but at least when a Collector tried peeking its head past its cover, Jacob would hit the target. The same could be said for Thane, who was doing the same from his higher spot; perfect for sniping.
"Is that supposed to be helpful?" She snapped back, not in the mood for sarcastic remarks.
Jacob snorted, "Just stating the obvious over here. Do you think I could borrow one of those swords?"
No doubt he was referring to the weapons wielded by Grievous' other subordinates. The commando droids were busy putting a halt to the husks coming from the right. Their aim was precise, which was a stark contrast to the typical LOKI mech employed by the Eclipse or various companies, who in return were much less effective. Red blaster bolts almost always found their targets; the husks' heads.
But even so, the amount of enemies was too much. It was inevitable that a husk would manage to get close and attempt to tear or bite them apart. However, the commando droids weren't so easy. Miranda had seen a husk get cleaved in half, courtesy of a commando droid and its large sword. The way the blade had torn the zombie apart so smoothly reminded her of an Asari huntress. Clean, precise, efficient. Not a single movement was wasted.
Well, perhaps less graceful, but the droid compensated with its mechanical efficiency.
"If they get destroyed? Sure. But don't try it when the droid is still functional. You'll be the one explaining your actions to Grievous."
That seemed to make the ex-Alliance soldier pause, "Ah, I think I'll pass then. No offense, but he scares me way more than you do."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Miranda fired back, only slightly miffed by his response.
She wasn't truly angry, of course. Spending more than a year with a person allowed you to get to know them. And if there was anyone she knew the most about aboard the Normandy, then it was Jacob. They'd been through a lot together. It was almost scary now that she thought about it. Miranda couldn't say many people knew a lot about her.
Anyway, she also knew that banter was a favorite method of his to alleviate stress. Not a bad excuse to be joking when they were being besieged by countless husks and Collectors. Shepard and his old team did this a lot, as a matter of fact. Hearing him and Garrus trade barbs got on her nerves from time to time, but as long as they remained focused on the matters at hand, she would ignore any annoyance.
Miranda hissed as a trio of drones charged forward, while being covered by husk meat shields. She called upon her biotic powers, allowing the azure light to envelop her arms and fill them with a cool sensation. The biotic shockwave she sent careening their way was enough to flatten the husks, who took the brunt of the attack, and throw the Collectors on their backs like a bunch of bowling pins.
The prone hostiles were easy targets for Thane, who put a bullet in each of their heads. Green blood splattered on the dirty floor like paint. Still, three Collectors and a few husks less wasn't enough to improve their situation by a large margin. It was like chipping away three tiny stones from an entire boulder. If there were enough cracks, they could demolish it entirely.
And more importantly, three less enemies increased their chances of survival.
"Ma'am, we have two red husks approaching, but my line of sight is being blocked by the blue ones. Could you assist?" Hawk drew her attention, and Miranda looked down the clones' corridor.
Sure enough, behind the wall of groaning husks, were two of the explosive variant; Abominations. The nickname was the best they could come up with. After all, how do you make a cybernetic zombie worse?
By turning them into suicide bombers, if the Reapers' logic was any indication.
Miranda accessed her biotic powers once more, and focused them on the two Abominations. The foul creatures moaned and groaned their protests as they were lifted off of the ground, hovering over their brethren. No matter how much they tossed and turned, the husks were unable to break free. That was all she needed to do for Hawk to take advantage.
The clone pilot blasted a single Abomination, which caused the suicide bomber to explode, taking the other one with it. A chain reaction ensured, and the combined explosions took care of multiple hostiles. At least five husks were burned to a crisp, as well as a Collector drone. The others were thrown against the walls and dazed. Hawk looked back, his gratitude showing.
"Thanks for the assist, ma'am."
Miranda smirked. "Anytime. Have you had any luck contacting Shepard?"
"I'm afraid not. Bugs are jamming our comms; can't seem to get a hold of anyone. Not even the ship." Hawk paused thoughtfully. "Maybe… maybe I could use one of the shuttles to boost the signal."
"Are you certain that it'll work?" Even if he wasn't, she wasn't about to be picky when it came to options.
The clone pilot shrugged. "Tali and Joker helped me study the Kodiak's design. It's a long shot, but it might just be enough to break through whatever the Collectors are using to keep us disorganized and in the dark."
"Then get started. Shepard and the others need us."
A sudden chorus of roars announced the arrival of more husks, this time barreling through one corridor, hoping to overwhelm the defenders. Miranda swore like a spacefarer; these bloody bastards just wouldn't relent. There were dozens upon dozens of them, and she wondered how many kidnapped colonists had been turned into mindless monsters.
The threat was swiftly acknowledged by the separatist battle droids, however, who began to concentrate their attention on the husks. All three commando droids, plus the sole magnaguard of their party, opened up the on the horde. The first few husks at the front were immediately felled, plasma burns on their vital areas. A commando droid's precision was frightening.
But the three of them could not stop the huge amount of enemies. Not with their blaster rifles, which were designed to function as DMR's and thus could not keep up with the growing number of husks. Nightmarish screeches echoed through the tunnel as they advanced. Two husks were brought down by a single sniper rifle round though, and Thane quickly shifted his aim to his next target; the Drell would not remain on the sidelines.
But despite their best efforts, the husks began to split up once they exited the narrow corridor, running individually towards the first prey they could find. Still, the technological terrors were intercepted by the magnaguard. It swung its staff to gain momentum, and then smacked a husk away with mechanical strength, shattering the foe's body. If that did not do the trick, then the high voltage of the staff would. Not a single husk could break through the droid's defenses. Whenever one would lunge forward with its claws poised to strike, the magnaguard swiftly twisted its body with the reflexes designed to counter Jedi, before counterattacking with enough force to kill the offending husk.
Even one of the commando droids entered the fray, putting away its blaster in exchange for the heavy vibroblades on its back. The machine literally jumped into the middle of a husk group. Yet unlike organics, the creatures did not hesitate; they screamed and attacked. With equally frightening reflexes, the commando kicked one's shin ducked to avoid another's swipe, causing it to crash into another husk in an act of friendly fire.
No time was wasted. The droid slashed upwards, cutting through the body of a husk and exposing the reaper cybernetics inside, which began to spill out like guts. The move was brutal yet effective. Using the momentum it had built, the commando spun around to cut in a wide arc. Two more husks were taken out of commission. However, it stumbled as a husk jumped onto its back, and was forced to slam its back into a wall. But the reaper drone would not relent.
"Requiring immediate assistance." It called out; voice monotone, yet audible enough.
The magnaguard hurried over to its ally, and grabbed the husk by the neck. Once more the impressive strength of the IG-series was put on display, as it easily tore the foe away, before slamming the husk's face into the ground with a loud crack. Blue lights dimmed as the corrupted body broke down.
None of the husks would manage to get past the droid army.
"When I get my hands on that illusive prick, I'll wring his fucking neck!"
It was tempting to agree with Jack. Internally, he was of the same opinion; the Illusive Man could go throw himself into a black hole for all he cared. However, he could not show this to the others. Cooler heads would prevail, and that's exactly what they needed at this moment.
"Save it! What matters now is to get back to the shuttles." The commander grimaced as they sprinted through a corridor, heading downwards. Nothing about this ship was right. Not the layout, not its purpose, not its supposedly damage, and most certainly the fact that it killed him once. "Keep moving!"
Pipelines carrying fuel hung from the ceiling, linking up with a much larger tube once they entered some sort of engineering room. At least, he assumed it was. There were tons of active machinery lined up alongside the walls. None of that was of interest to him, however, as two squads of collector drones moved to intercept the team.
"Let's bash some heads!" Grunt charged ahead, roaring like a madman.
Or in this case, a krogan on a warpath. He was joined by Anakin, who hid behind Grunt's massive frame for protection. A wise decision all things considered. The Jedi had some measure of protection because of their gifted kinetic barriers, but it wasn't smart to tempt fate. Besides, Grunt would survive. He always did.
"We've got husks on our tail!"
Garrus' warning reached his ears, and he swiftly spun around to help his brother-in-arms. He was thoroughly annoyed by the mindless zombies. Ever since getting off that damn platform that had trapped them in the air, the collectors had sent a group of husks after them that never seemed to tire out. As if he didn't have enough on his plate already.
The two of them were joined by Zaeed, who tossed a grenade in an attempt to slow them down. Shepard had long since understood that a wall of gunfire was needed to fend of waves of husks. It was impossible to do that on your own, seeing as the reaper drones had more than sufficient numbers, whereas a single person did not nearly have enough ammo on his own. Luckily, any husk that did get through was immediately put down by Kenobi; his blue blade cutting through anything.
Speaking of which, it seemed that Anakin and Grunt were doing a fine job on their own.
The latter had absorbed all of the enemy damage, as expected. But Grunt's shields and armor were strong, and a krogan was sturdy enough even without those; especially a super soldier like him. He tore through the first line of defense, tossing collectors around like ragdolls. The claymore in his hands barked loudly as it totally eviscerated the bug-like creatures. This was truly what Grunt excelled at; killing small fry.
Grunt easily grabbed a collector by its neck, lifting the drone in the air; its feet trashed wildly. Quicker than the Prothean abomination could realize, he snapped its neck and effectively ended its miserable existence. He tossed the corpse carelessly away. Grunt kept attacking from close range like the bruiser he was.
But where the krogan was a bulldozer, Anakin was as precise as a surgeon. The jedi knight jumped and dashed from one spot to the other with unnatural speed. Too fast for the Collectors to keep track of. Any drones that were left aside by Grunt were quickly dispatched; his lightsaber cutting through them. It was almost beautiful to watch.
A captain tried to intervene, its appearance visibly standing out from its underlings, and lunged at Anakin with its claws. However, a jedi's reflexes were not to be underestimated. Anakin dodged at the last moment and spun around, his blade quickly burning its way into the captain's side. The collector made a gurgled sound, before the life left its body, which promptly went limp.
"Try to keep up, Ahsoka! You're making me do all the hard work." Anakin joked at the expense of his padawan.
Ahsoka wasn't far behind, though. The Togruta easily navigated her way through a small group of husks, twin blades slashing faster than one would expect. The way she jumped around made her look like a whirlwind. She definitely favored speed over defense like Obi-Wan, and seemed to be more aggressive, like her teacher. Still, they worked in perfect sync with Grunt as they demolished any resistance that the Collectors formed.
"That's a lie and you know it, master. Grunt is doing all the heavy lifting." She shot back cheekily.
They would be fine. And with both the back and the front being properly covered, it was time to focus on something else.
"EDI, are you there?" Shepard tried to call the AI again, but all he heard was static. He swallowed a curse as he kept trying. "Normandy, do you read me? Dammit! Is there anyone–"
He almost cheered when he finally heard Miranda's voice. At least someone they could get in touch with, even if it wasn't the Normandy itself. Still, he would take whatever he could.
"Finally! Miranda, give me a status update on your situation."
"The shuttles are safe – for now. Husks began attacking a while ago, followed by a few collector squads." As if to accentuate her point, gunfire sounded over the comms. "So far so good. We got the comms up and running again, using the shuttles' radios."
"Smart thinking. We got split up when we reached a terminal. Did the others find their way back to the shuttle yet?"
Miranda answered in the negative. "Not yet. But we did contact them too, and they're coming back. Mordin said they were ambushed right after you got separated, but both Rex and Cody quickly took command; the Collectors failed."
"Considering our current situation, I'd say that's excellent news. Can you get me in touch with the Normandy?" Shepard fired a burst at the enemy; another drone bit the dust.
"Miss Lawson has already patched me through, Shepard." EDI announced her presence. Funny how he distrusted that voice at first, yet now he felt immensely happy as she spoke to him. "I am currently tracking your presence. There is a door up ahead on your right; it will lead you through a maintenance corridor, bypassing the previous rooms you explored, and will bring you back to the shuttles. I have already disengaged the door's locks."
"A job well done, EDI. Keep those shuttles safe. We'll be there before you know it. Shepard out."
He made his way past dozens of corpses, following his team closely from behind, making up the rear alongside Kenobi and Garrus. The latter had switched over to his assault rifle, seeing as it was difficult to snipe in such a close quarters environment. Besides, there were too many allies in the way.
"I am beginning to understand why these Collectors are so feared." Obi-Wan commented. The jedi's robes were untouched, and not a single hair on his head seemed to be out of place; quite impressive. "They remind me too much of the Geonosians. Ambush tactics and overwhelming numbers included."
"Just wait until you meet their masters. Sovereign was literally as big as his ego – no, wait. The latter was much, much bigger." Garrus joked.
"Well, now that's quite the description."
Shepard chuckled, shaking his head slightly. "Ever the jokesters…"
They were making good progress, despite the setbacks. None of the Collector drones that tried to stop them actually succeeded. Wave after wave they came, but his team knocked them down each and every single time. Not even the tougher units; like captains. Granted, those bastards were tough to beat, and Shepard had to fight for each meter of ground.
At one point the squad found themselves in what had to be an intersection of sorts. No longer any narrow corridors that forced their occupants to walk in a single file. At the end of the room there were two doors, just as EDI had warned him; the one on the right was the exit.
Unfortunately, the other door was wide open as well, allowing a fresh wave of enemies to launch an assault. He rolled his eyes in annoyance.
"You know the drill. Light them up as soon as they get in your line of fire."
None of them needed to be told twice. Almost as soon as the first drone stepped out in the open, a barrage of bullets and blaster bolts tore it to mincemeat, and its buddies soon followed. Shepard moved forward to gain more ground; followed by his CQC experts. Shotguns, lightsabers and submachineguns killed both Collectors and husks alike in droves.
"Assuming direct control."
Shepard grimaced. "Ah, crap. Should have known he would show up sooner or later."
Anakin finished cutting through a drone, before cocking an eyebrow. "What are you–"
Amidst the squad of Collectors, a single assassin suddenly began to glow a bright yellow; cracks appearing all over its body. They spread out rapidly, cackling with some sort of biotic energy, or perhaps something else altogether. You could never know when it came to Harbinger's tricks. Its four eyes burned like flashlights. A bullet struck its carapace, yet failed to bypass the barrier that now protected its body.
"Meet Harbinger; the mastermind behind the Collectors, as well as the leader of the Reapers." He scowled knowingly.
Dealing with a possessed Collector wasn't easy. Manageable, yes. He quickly pulled out a grenade and tossed it far away, aiming it at Harbinger's feet. The explosive went off shortly after. However, all it did was take down the puppet's outer defenses, allowing Harbinger to launch a wave of biotic energy.
"Watch out!" Anakin drew on the Force, and pulled him out of the way. The yellow shockwave sailed past harmlessly. "Are you alright?"
Shepard quickly checked himself for injuries, but couldn't feel any pain. "All good. Thanks."
They were out in the open though, and the Collectors took notice of this. Shepard gritted his teeth as he activated his omni-tool; a solid barrier flickering into existence. The omni-shield was big enough to protect them both. Bullets bounced off like pebbles, but he knew that it could not withstand a prolonged series of attacks, so he ushered his jedi ally away. Multiple drones concentrated their fire on the shield though. A warning flashed on his HUD.
Jack came to their rescue, however, as she used her biotics to tear, toss and eviscerate the offending Collectors. Many of them were sucked into a singularity which swiftly ended their pitiful lives – if one could even say they were alive anymore. He gave her a look full of gratitude. In a typical fashion, she shrugged his thanks off. Not that she didn't appreciate his thanks. It was simply the way she was.
"The human male used unknown telekinetic abilities. Further study is required."
"Looks like you made yourself popular, Anakin." Shepard could not help but grin wryly; too many times had he been the target of Harbinger's stalkerish behavior himself.
The man made a disgusted face. "Great. Just what I needed… And of course Obi-Wan will have heard."
"I most certainly did." Speak of the devil, and he shall appear. The older jedi sounded way too amused, even to Shepard. Obi-Wan jumped over to their position while effortlessly avoiding being hit by the enemy. "Pleasantries aside, we are running out of time. And this Harbinger foe is aware of that."
"And things just got worse! Incoming praetorian!"
Garrus' warning rang true; the large, intimidating form of the husk tank hovered slowly towards them. Its body glowed with eezo, and as it opened its long maw, dozens of fused husks were revealed. This thing truly was an abomination. Sadly, the nightmarish creation possessed enough firepower to be a big threat.
"By the Force!"
"Grunt, grenade launcher now!"
He could always depend on the trusty Krogan, and this was no exception. Grunt swapped his claymore shotgun for the large M-100 on his back with an eager grin. Fully armed with enough explosives to reduce a Mako to smoldering scrap, he began harassing the Praetorian, grenades flying wild.
A Praetorian was a walking/floating tank, as the team had experiences back on the colony of Horizon. Its armor was thick enough to withstand small arms fire, and as if that wasn't enough, its shields were some of the sturdiest for a creature of that size. However, Shepard had anticipated this. No doubt the Collectors would try everything they could to neutralize his team; that was his reasoning.
While Grunt lashed out at the Praetorian, he channeled his biotic potential to act as biotic artillery. Truth be told, his own biotics were nowhere as strong as Miranda's or Jack's. He tended to form a barrier around himself for close combat or short but precise attacks. This move would require him to remain immobile and focus. Luckily, Obi-Wan activated his recently acquired omni-shield, using the tool while wielding his lightsaber; like a medieval knight. None of the drones succeeded in hurting them.
Once the biotic energy was ready, he hurled the azure orb at the Praetorian with enough effort to make him sweat. Were it not for his armor's subsystems, he'd experiencing serious discomfort. Shepard panted as he slouched slightly.
It was the worth the effort though.
The biotic shell impacted against the Praetorian's tough exterior without any resistance – its shields were long gone by now – and tore away chunks of armor. It screeched and stumbled, unable to keep hovering. Grunt finished the beast off by firing several grenades directly into its open maw. Whatever he hit, it was important, because moments later it exploded in a fiery fashion. Blue fire licked away at its broken body, and a few Collector drones were swept away by the explosion.
Things were going well for once. Not only was the most worrisome threat dealt with, but the blast had cleared out lots of resistance. Any other husks or Collector forces were already killed off by the others. Jack and Grievous had focused their efforts on one of the corridors. Through the combination of biotic shockwaves and a whirlwind of blades, they'd literally shredded enemy reinforcements.
"Everyone form up!" Shepard jogged forward. An opportunity like this couldn't be wasted. "Our main priority is getting back to the shuttles. Don't bother fighting battles we can't win."
"You don't have to tell me twice." Ahsoka finished decapitating a husk, eagerly walking away from the techno-zombie. She and her master were quick to join up.
The entire squad got back together, running through the carnage they had created. He could hear the Collector react; the sound of wings weren't far off, nor were the guttural groans. Harbinger was mobilizing everything he had left.
Jack was of a similar mind. "Fuck! Just how many of these fucking creeps are there?!"
"No point complaining now. Only running!" Garrus sounded equally frustrated.
The hive-like hallways became a blur as they sprinted through all of them. Some drones got in the way. Granted, they were barely a distraction. With Grunt and Grievous leading the formation, they were the battering rams that could break through any opposition. Even a Scion was forced to admit defeat after the general cuts its cannon off, and Grunt stomped its head flat.
But Shepard wasn't going to relax until they were back on the Normandy. The hairs on his neck stood up like a sixth sense, warning him of imminent danger.
At this rate, the Collector ship will be powered up before we can get off. Hurry!
Turning around yet another corner, Shepard noticed a familiar room down below; the experimentation chamber. That meant they were close. The shuttles shouldn't be too far away anymore. Of course, he wasn't going to celebrate the smallest sign of positivity, but he was definitely encouraged.
"You have almost reached the shuttles." EDI reaffirmed his thoughts. Glad to hear the Collectors were no longer able to jam their communications. "The other team has already arrived, but I detect a large swarm of husks trying to intercept you. Caution is warranted."
Shepard hissed. "Crap. Grunt and Grievous, be careful. Don't be reckless."
Warning them was as useless as one could expect; the former openly laughed, whereas the cyborg with the anger issues dismissed him entirely. Then again, he shouldn't have expected anything else. At least Grunt respected his Battlemaster enough to listen to advice.
But then he saw what they were up against, and Shepard decided EDI's description was apt. An entire horde of husks, each one baring its teeth and ready to claw a person's eyes out, stood between them and escape from this damn vessel. He aimed his assault rifle, firing a few precise shots down the slope as the enemy attacked. The others joined in quickly.
"Out of my way!" Grievous all but shouted, eager to leave as well.
In a familiar yet unique move, the general split his arms and grabbed his other lightsabers, before spinning them. Two circles of blue and green easily tore through the rampaging husks. Limbs were separated, and a few even lost their heads in their attempts to stop Grievous' unrelenting advance. The warlord excelled in close quarters combat such as this. Not to be outdone, Grunt joined in by crushing and blasting the mindless drones.
"Come on! We're almost there!" He could already see Miranda's team next to the shuttles; valiantly defending the transports.
Jack rushed past him, swatting a duo of husks aside using her biotics. On his other side, Obi-Wan did the same but with the Force, choosing to launch several away in one move. Together they dealt with the foes that somehow managed to survive the initial assault. Still, they needed to be faster. The Collector ship would soon be fully operational. Oh, and the drones were catching up from behind too. Wonderful.
The Illusive Man deserved a boot up his ass for this shit.
"Cover their approach!" Rex shouted as he and his boys in blue widened the perimeter around the shuttles.
When they finally made it, he almost collapsed in relief. He wanted to, really, but not until everyone was off this accursed ship and back on the Normandy, where they were safe. Shepard exchanged looks with Miranda; silently conveying their intent.
"Everyone, into the shuttles!"
One by one they entered the transports, while he and a select few kept the Collectors at bay. It was a bit of a staggered retreat, now that he though about it, but they could hardly enter all at once. Shepard fired several bursts into a formation of Collectors to make them stagger. At this point it was less about killing enemies and more about suppressing them.
Miranda reported back to him. "Almost everyone's in, Shepard. It's time to–"
The pained cry made his heart skip a beat. He turned around and reacted immediately, swiping the offending husk off Grievous, who collapsed next to the shuttle's door. Luckily, Garrus and Zaeed pulled the general inside, though with effort seeing as Grievous' body was made of metal. Carrying that weight was all but impossible for them, so they simply dragged him over the ground. This produced a terrible screeching noise that didn't get completely muffled by the gunfire all around.
With their wounded ally safely secured, Shepard and the last ones remaining quickly entered the shuttles as well.
"Get us out of here now!"
"Hang on back there!" Hawk responded, already taking off.
For a moment there was this paralyzing fear that they'd be blow into bits before they could exit the Collector ship, but it passed as soon the shuttle sped up. Shepard didn't need to see the distance between them and that vessel growing; his eyes were on Grievous.
Several claw marks now decorated the metal plate over his head; right where the warlord's brain would be. He knew from experience how deep a husk could penetrate with its weaponized hands, having seen how a husk had torn through a marine's chest plate back during the attack on the Citadel, all those years ago.
"What's his condition, Mordin?"
The Salarian doctor shook his head morosely. "Suffered terrible head trauma. Husk claws very dangerous. General will need immediate surgery, or risk dying. Already alerted Chakwas to prepare medical bay and tools to open up armor."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Shepard grimaced as he imagined what kind of procedure that would be.
"Absolutely. Would be much safer if in possession of blueprints of his cybernetics."
"I think… I can help with that." To everyone's surprise, Tali stepped forward. She looked worn out, and her hood was filthy with dirt and blood; he tried to resist the urge to fuss over her. Instead, he reminded herself that she was safe and sound. "After the trial on Tuchanka, Grievous allowed me to carry out repairs on his body. So he gave me the blueprints you need."
"Excellent! Best to have you with us during operation. More experienced with engineering and have already worked on cybernetics."
Shepard let out a deep breath, feeling a weight get lifted off his shoulders. They were going to be alright. Moments later the shuttle touched down inside the Normandy's hangar, and EDI announced that they'd gone to FTL flight. Somehow they'd survived the whole Collector ship ordeal, albeit barely.
But as he saw his crew exit the shuttles looking injured and exhausted, while Grievous was rushed to the medical bay, he swore to make the Illusive Man regret this had ever happened.