SSV Normandy SR-1, In orbit over Therum; February 28th, 2183 CE/AD, 1145 Hours
I sat down in my chair in the Briefing room as Shepard took the podium.
While Shepard and I were at the foreground, everyone else took their seats in what could be best described as an Amphitheatre or a college lecture room. Everyone was armored up, and pumped to get going; but we needed to Iron out how we were going to do things once we got groundside.
Shepard typed a few commands into the podium, and a holographic recreation of the digsite appeared on the floor of the briefing room. It reminded me of Tony Stark's hologram floor from Iron Man 3.
"Alright, we have confirmed the presence of at least three platoons of Batarian Pirates augmented by a platoon of Geth combat platforms." Shepard started, brushing her Poncho as she talked, "One platoon is currently patrolling our drop zone, one is patrolling our intended extraction zone, one is guarding the entrance to the dig site, and the fourth was last seen above the surface before disappearing underground."
Everyone looked at each other, before turning their attention back to Shepard as she said; "Normally I would make the call, but everyone here is a professional so I want to hear your takes on this."
Sergeant Reegar didn't waste any time and said; "I say we split into four groups. One group runs distraction with the mako, the second secures the entrance, the third secures the exit; and the fourth can slip inside and try to secure the good Doctor and any other personnel that managed to survive."
"I agree with the Sergeant," I added, "My team's main speciality is in stealth; we can slip in and extract the good Doctor, and no one would ever know we were there."
Garrus raised his hand, "How do you plan on sneaking inside when the Normandy would be seen dropping you off, and Eezo drop packs would be detected." He asked.
"We'll do a HALO jump; we got parachutes from the Marvin's care package." Archer noted.
The aliens looked at each other uncertainly, but Shepard nodded; "Sounds like a good plan, just make sure they don't spot you on your way down."
"We'll be fine Ell Cee; so long as you guys run a good distraction for us. Which begs the question, while my team's sneaking inside and extracting the Doctor; who's securing our exit, who's securing the entrance for the rest of us, and who's running distraction with the Mako?" I asked, leaning back in my chair and crossing my arms.
"If it's the Geth guarding the entrance; it would be best if my team deals with it." Kal spoke up, Tali, Nina, and Fon all nodding along eagerly. They really wanted to kill some Geth.
Shepard nodded, "Agreed, Major?"
"No objections, though I will admit none of my team are the best with Technology in general; so if we run into some kind of technological barrier we might have one of your team come down and help us Sergeant." I informed him.
"Understood." Was all he said.
"Alright, who wants to run distraction; and who wants to secure extraction?" Shepard asked next.
Aethyta, Shiala, Kirrahe, and Alenko raised their hands; "We'll deal with Extraction ma'am." Alenko said, "The four of us are more geared for Defensive fighting anyway."
"Yes, we can hold the line relatively well." Kirrahe added.
I had to fight back a smile at that statement; "That leaves Williams, Garrus, Wrex, and myself running distraction with the Mako. William's are you certified to drive the Mako." The question from Shepard made me smile.
"No ma'am, just the gun." Williams replied.
"Looks like I'll be driving then." Shepard said. Everyone looked at each other, and nodded; while Shepard grinned "Alright, lets kick some ass!"
Everyone performed final checks on their equipment; my team and I checked to make sure our parachutes were in perfect working order before our jump. I checked the Hi-Standard Silences that I had grabbed, working the slide and hammer to make sure it was working properly.
Last thing I wanted was for the damned thing to fall apart in my hands.
Archer grabbed a pair of Tomahawks from her locker, which raised a few eyebrows, especially when she hit a button which caused some kind of dull glow in the handles; but everyone shrugged it off when they saw a lack of any reaction from the rest of my team.
Shepard, Reegar, Williams, and Alenko walked over and took in the sight of Archer running a whetstone over the blades before she sheathed them on her back pouches. "I guess she really takes the Native American theme seriously." Shepard noted, giving me a lopsided smirk.
I just chuckled in reply, "Well that's how we get our callsigns Ell Cee; all of them have a touch of irony to them."
"Really? Would you mind explaining the meaning behind them?" Reegar asked, and I noticed Tali perk up slightly; probably eavesdropping to see if there was anything interesting about us she should know.
San had probably told her about the conversation he had heard Shepard and I having last night; and wanted to hear more about 'Pilgrim Lee'.
Well, I was sorry to disappoint her; "Well my name is kind of Obvious, Nomad means homeless traveller, a wanderer, things like that; and If North America had had a king instead of a president, I would be in the line of succession. You can't be more anchored to a place if you tried."
Williams just tilted her head and frowned, "Not really seeing the irony." She pointed out.
I just laughed, "Ah, most of the time they're inside jokes."
"What about the rest of you guys?" Alenko asked, noticeably leaning away from Archer with wide eyes as she grabbed her own Beowulf.
I pointed at Archer, "Hers is kind of obvious; she's a Cherokee national, and loved playing up the stereotypes to make everyone else in the chalk as uncomfortable as possible during training."
I turned to Phil next, "His full name is 'Voronov Konstantine Filippovich'; and none of us could be bothered to remember it, so we just called him Phil. Because it's easier, and it makes him sound like a teddy bear; his girlfriend calls him 'Philly Bear'." I explained, while Phil gave me a glare that could melt through solid steel.
Shepard actually laughed at that one, "Aww… is 'Philly Bear' angry with the Major?" She asked with a well meaning smile.
Phil just looked away and grumbled something under his breath in russian.
"And Colt… well he fired a Colt Python during training and smacked himself in the face with it because of the recoil." I finished as I reached into the supply crate and grabbed several spare mags for the Hi-Standard.
"I still have the picture of it if you want to see; my face was covered in blood and everything." Colt chimed in with his usual chipper attitude; already fiddling with his omnitool.
"Uh… we're fine, thanks." Alenko replied, while Kal and Ash both vigorously shook their heads no.
"You know, I just realized something, we haven't given all y'all your callsigns." Colt noted as he strapped his Beowulf to his chest.
"What do you mean by that?" Asked Shepard, giving us curious looks as she slapped a new ammo block into her Avenger.
"Well, from what we've gathered none of y'all have call signs like us; it's much easier and safer to go by one rather than by your last name or rank." I explained. I looked between the Mako and Shepard, and smirked as I thought of something.
"This an Army thing? Cause we never did that in the N7's, but if I had to pick… how about 'lioness'?" Shepard asked, while everyone else looked at each other.
I couldn't stop the grin working across my face behind my mask and bandanna. "You misunderstand Shep, your chalk gives you your name; I'm thinking 'Uber', what do you guys think?" I said as I looked directly at the Mako.
All the humans in the room immediately understood what I was thinking.
Shepard scowled and said, "No, I think 'Lioness' is good for me."
I just shook my head, "Naw, naw; don't work like that Ell Cee. Yeah I'm liking 'Uber', we'll upgrade you to 'Uber Select' if you do a good job ma'am." I replied.
Williams and Alenko were grinning now; "Yeah skipper, I like it; 'Uber' has a nice ring to it." Williams remarked.
"Uber fits you Ell Cee; the more you complain, the more likely they'll change it to something you hate even more." Alenko added.
"Oh that's wonderful…" Shepard grumbled sarcastically; shooting me a glare while everyone else chuckled.
"We're coming on the dropzone Major." Joker's voice echoed throughout the hanger bay.
"Alright Joker;" I looked at the rest of 1-4-1, while Kingslayer moved to the open ramp. We stood and waited for the light to turn from Red to Green. And once it did, I couldn't resist turning around and shouting; "Don't think you guys are safe by the way; we'll think of some for you while we're down groundside." before I turned and jumped off the ramp.
My Exo-Suit may have been heavy, but these were top of the line Parachutes; with two backup reserved chutes in case the first one didn't deploy right. The four of us fell for a good three minutes, waiting until the last possible moment to pull our chutes.
The familiar feeling of slowing down from terminal velocity to a safe glide downward in just a few seconds overcame me, and I grunted at the sudden slowdown.
I steered my chute to the drop zone, greasing the landing and quickly cutting the chute away while tossing the bag. Drawing my Beowulf, I searched the area for any potential hostiles; even as the rest of the team landed, flaring their chutes as they hit the ground before cutting the ripcords and throwing the bags onto the ground.
Normally we would have been more diligent about storing or hiding the things, but we were on a strict timetable.
All four of us had taken a Hi-Standard silenced along with our normal gear for stealth. The Beowulf was a great Battle Rifle; but it sucked when it came to stealth ops, although considering the fact that most stealth ops would inevitably end up going loud with how our luck tended to work no one really complained.
We followed a lava flow towards the dig site, using its heat to mask our own and the rippling of our camo-cloaks as we rushed. We arrived at the site to find several squads, a mixture of Battarians and Geth troopers, though thankfully no heavy support units, such as Armatures or Primes. The lack of Advanced units and experienced command was evident when Archer managed to draw off both squads guarding the site entrance with the classic, 'throw a rock and everybody goes to look at it' trick.
I could see in everyone's posture that all of us had the same thought going through our heads: are they just that complacent, or is this one of Saren's traps?
Either way, we had a mission to complete. We slipped past the sentries and headed into the tunnels. There were signs of a fighting retreat the entire way, with mass-driver impacts in the walls, blown out light fixtures, and smeared blood. There were no patrols in the halls, but we stuck to the shadows as best we could anyway. The assault teams had moved all the bodies out of the way and stacked them like cordwood just outside the chamber where I could just make out a blue glow and multiple voices.
Archer entered the room first, and I entered second, followed by Colt and lastly Phil.
We stopped behind a stack of crates, and I quickly plugged in the snake camera and peeked around the room. Liara was in the bubble, like in Canon; and there were four squads of Batarians in the area. One was guarding the main entrance to the room, with a LMG emplacement just to make sure no one got through.
One squad was patrolling the room, looting the crates, and checking the dead bodies of the research and security team that had not made it into the bubble or escaped.
The third was guarding the exit tunnel, another LMG setup just in case anyone got any funny ideas to try and flank them.
While the fourth along with the presumed Commander was attempting to get the Prothean device to release Liara; Good luck, I scoffed, only the Quarians would be able to get the thing to release her.
I really did not want to use that mining laser, because the idea of causing a volcano to erupt freaked me out somewhat; so that was the last resort.
The throat mic clicked in my ear and I turned my attention to my team.
"Number?" Archer signed in question.
"Sixteen B's. Sixteen G's." I signed back.
"Doc?" Colt asked.
"Field." I answered.
"Who take who?" Phil asked, drawing his Hi-Standard in one hand; and his K-Bar in the other.
I took another look through the cable, and watched as the three eyed Batarian Commander smashed his fist against the field in anger and started bellowing at Liara behind the field. I stewed it over for a moment, before deciding on my course of action.
"Split up. Archer take roamers. Colt take entrance. Phil take exit. I take Commander. Don't leave too big mess. But send message." I ordered.
Archer drew her Tomahawks and slid into the darkness with a shimmer as her active camo and her cloak blended seamlessly with the shadows.
Phil cracked his neck and moved along the wall, his K-Bar glinting for the briefest of moments before the invisibility caught up with the movement; and vanishing away from sight.
Colt just grinned behind his Mask, and I knew he was grinning because I could see his eyes crinkle behind the eyeholes of it. He drew his own K-Bar, along with a flashbang and a frag grenade. Once the alerts went out that the compound was under attack; stealth wouldn't matter, though I would rather Colt not alert the whole damned mine that we were here.
"Stealth Mission." I hissed into the mic.
The two clicks in my ear were the bog standard acknowledgement of my order, but I swore that I could hear the disappointment in his response.
Rolling my eyes as I, like the rest, slipped into the shadows; making sure my cloak and active Camo were still working as I stayed close to the wall. Making no noise, I crouch walked up the stairs and stopped behind the Batarian Commander; listening as he tried to convince Liara to leave her cell, as if she had any choice in the matter.
"-all go so much easier if you would simply drop the barrier and we could leave here like civilized beings." He was saying, which prompted another roll of my eyes; even as his three minions worked at the controls, their frustrated growls making them sound more like animals than sentients.
None of the Batarians noticed me, but Liara might have if the widening of her eyes was any indication.
I froze, while Liara blinked and squinted; before seemingly deciding that she must have imagined it, and refocused her defiant, if somewhat defeated stare back on the Batarian Commander.
"I'd be more inclined to believe you if you would take one step to your left." She practically spat in reply; looking like she wanted to cry, scream, and punch the Batarian all at the same time.
"Oh? And why would I do that?" He leaned forward slightly, looking like he was eying the Asari's body up; much to my disgust.
"Because then you wouldn't be standing in a puddle of my friend's blood!" She punctuated her statement with a surge of Biotic power.
The prison responded by absorbing her biotics and converting it into a flash of light.
I watched in surprise, thanking my lucky stars as my goggles automatically polarized at the light. A normal Biotic might have created a dull glow, while a more powerful Biotic could've created a bright flash. Liara apparently was neither of these, and the pulse caused the Batarian to reel backward and cover his eyes; all three being blinded by it.
The Geth actually seemed to be as unnerved as synthetics could get as they all stepped backward; warbling and trumpeting in distress from the display of Biotic power.
But the batarian Commander recovered quickly and snarled at Liara. "Grah! Stupid wench! If I wasn't under orders to-"
All the Batarians stepped back as a series of very distant explosions shook the room; even as I got into the kill position.
"Topside! Report!" The Commander snapped, as he drew his pistol and flicked his eye's up towards the main entrance where Colt's group seemed to be getting nervous. I saw in my HUD Colt's indicator hovering right behind them, his knife poised at the base of the neck of one of the Batarians, his pistol pointed at the head of another; the Batarian squad none the wiser.
"We're under attack! Need reinforcements now!" A voice screamed back over their comms, while I smiled at Tali's hacking doing their jobs and allowing us to hear everything they were saying.
The Geth units all warbled in their Machine language, and as one all sixteen Geth units turned and strode out of the cave; leaving the sixteen Batarians to defend the area.
To my surprise, the Commander didn't lose his temper over the Geth acting on their own initiative; instead he looked relieved that they were leaving. "Topside you got the Geth heading for you, hold out until then; out." The Commander took a breath as I creeped up to him.
"Thank the pillars those damned things left, creeped me out I'll tell you." He turned back to Liara with a smile. "Now, where were we."
I double checked that the commanders squad had no weapons besides their sidearms and their tools; and just as the Commander opened his mouth to speak, I stabbed my K-Bar into his spinal blood vessel.
For those that don't know, I stabbed him in the base of his neck where the spine meets the skull.
Liara yelped as I yanked the blade out and quickly shot the Batarian closest to me, using my knife arm to balance my shooting arm. The Batarian staggered as three rounds tore into his chest, and a fourth smacked into his head; the four eyed Alien dropped like a ton of bricks.
Unfortunately the last two were smarter and immediately activated their K-Barriers, making my Hi-Standard pretty much useless. But they weren't that much smarter, meaning that they charged me with wrenches while I emptied my pistol into the closest one.
The closer one's barriers flashed and failed as the last round left the chamber, and staggered as I pistol whipped him in the throat; the second tried to grapple with me, which I promptly shut down by kicking him in the stomach hard enough to send him flying into the barrier.
Holstering my pistol, I drew my revolver; which certainly wasn't quiet, but it was certainly more manageable in these kinds of engagements compared to my Beowulf. The Batarian I'd staggered with my pistol came at me again; I ducked under his wild swing and shot him in the stomach with a loud Crack!
The Batarian dropped his wrench and dropped to the ground, holding his stomach; even as I heard the whistling noise of the second Batarian taking a swing at me.
Ducking and rolling, I whipped around and fired again; nailing the bastard right in between his four eyes.
He fell as the Batarian on the ground seemed to remember that he had a pistol, and drew it to try and shoot me. I Immediately stomped down on his arm to put a stop to that kind of thinking; the Batarian yowling in pain as I crushed his forearm.
Deciding the time for stealth was past, I didn't waste time using my knife to try and kill him; it would be a waste of time and energy to struggle with the idiot, so I just pointed and shot him in the head with my revolver.
Turning my attention outward, I got a good look as Archer decapitated one Batarian with her left Tomahawk; and sliced one's gun in half with her other. The Batarian she'd decapitated fell to the ground, while the other tried to run; Archer just threw her tomahawk, which stuck into the Batarians head.
Archer rushed forward, sliding across the ground as a Third Batarian tried to shoot her; only to get a Tomahawk in the gut. Archer yanked the axe in the second batarians head out as she ran; ducking behind a stack of crates as the fourth Batarian tried to shoot her.
I just holstered my revolver, drew my Beowulf, and shot the guy in the head.
Archer didn't even stop to thank me as she sprinted over to the Batarian with her second axe in his gut, yanking the Tomahawk out in a blur of silver and red while the Batarian screamed. His screams were cut short as the blur made a full 360 degree revolution through the air from his gut, all the way through his head.
I could hear the screaming from the entrance, and most notably a lack of gunshots; which meant that Colt was fine, and probably having fun with explosives.
I swept my gun towards Phil, making sure to keep strict trigger and muzzle discipline so I wasn't pointing my gun at him; and saw that he was fine.
Two of the Batarians lay on the ground; one with a massive exit wound in his face, while the other's neck was broken.
Phil kicked one Batarian into the wall, the Aliens arm clearly dislocated; while Phil held the other in a chokehold, both men grunting loudly as Phil snapped the Batarians neck with a loud Crack!
The Batarian Phil had kicked into the wall began reaching for some kind of switch near him with his good arm.
Archer put a stop to that, throwing her Tomahawk at the Batarian; slicing his forearm clean off while the rest of the axehead buried itself into the wall.
I smirked at Archer as the Batarian screamed, before putting the poor Pirate out of his misery with a .50 Cal. shot to the head; "Those 'always land head first' modifiers really work, don't they?" I heard Colt ask over the radio.
"Yes." Was all Archer said in reply as she walked over and yanked the Tomahawk out of the rock wall; wiping the blood off the two axe heads on the dead Batarians' clothes as she did so.
Cracking my neck and flipping down the hood of my cloak, I keyed my mic; "Alright, Colt take the main entrance; Phil guard the exit, Archer up here and try to get this field down." I switched frequencies, "Uber this is Nomad, Batarian's guarding the Doctor have been dealt with; she seems to be stuck in this… biotic field. We'll try and get her out, but we may need the Sergeant or 'Pilgrim' to deal with this." I smiled at the callsign we had come up with for Tali.
Though my smile dropped when the reply came, "Nomad, this is Pilgrim; we're retreating to your position. We couldn't stay up there, Uber says that we'll have to hold the line in your area and free the Doctor while she makes her way to us."
I cursed under my breath at Tali's report, but knew there wasn't anything that could be done except hunkering down and waiting out the storm, "Understood Pilgrim, get down here fast; out."
I turned to Liara, who seemed to be cowering away from me in fear; even as Archer walked past me and started working at the Consol. I gave her a look, and she seemed to sense my silent question. "I can deactivate it Boss, but not quickly; It'll be much faster once Pilgrim gets down here."
"Just do what you can." I ordered, before turning my attention to Liara; who seemed even more frightened of Archer, for good reason considering the brutal manner with which she had disposed of the Batarians.
The two of us stared at each other for a moment, before Liara said something that honestly shocked me; "You… you're the 'Skulls' that the Matriarchs have been talking about… aren't you?"
I stared at her, while Archer flinched slightly, before she resumed her work.
As for me, I could think of only one thing; well… shit...
It had been a last ditch decision, activating a random Prothean device of which she only had the loosest understanding. But she'd really had no other choice; everyone else was dead. There was no reason for what had transpired; not even the most fanatical of Hanar Enkindler Cultists would attack a dig site and murder everyone, would they?
Now she was trapped in what seemed to be some manner of Biotic prison. Any doubts about whether it was better if the device hadn't worked were swept aside when the scarred, three-eyed Batarian had executed her chief of security and her research assistant. She was faintly relieved that the beastly slaver had brought synthetics with him, along with more of his kin; she dreaded to think what the poor maiden would have endured, and what she herself would have been forced to helplessly watch were it not for their dispassionate presence.
That didn't change her predicament; she was trapped in a Biotic Prothean prison, and this murderer would not shut up!
"Come on now Doctor, do you honestly believe we can't get you out of there?" His voice reverberating oddly against the barrier as he gave a mockery of a charming smile. "This will all go so much easier if you would simply drop the barrier and we could leave here like civilized beings."
She shivered at his insistence. He had known who she was when this attack began, which meant he knew who her mother was and still felt confident that he could get away with this attack. She wanted to cry, to scream, to spaghettify him and then give up. She saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she glanced over all she saw were shadows. There would be no help for her, so she resolved to comport herself as her mother's daughter and remind this scum why Asari should be respected.
"I'd be more inclined to believe you if you would take one step to your left."
"Oh? And why would I do that?" He leaned forward slightly.
"Because then you wouldn't be standing in a puddle of my friend's blood!" She punctuated her statement with a surge of Biotic power.
The prison responded by absorbing her biotics and converting it into a flash of light. A normal Biotic might create a dull glow, while a more powerful Biotic could create a bright flash. The daughter of Benezia T'Soni was neither of these, and the pulse caused her tormentor to reel and cover his eyes, while the synthetics blared and trumpeted in distress.
"Grah! Stupid wench! If I wasn't under orders to-"
The barrier isolated her from shocks, but she still heard the multiple muffled explosions. The commander sneered in frustration and half turned. "Topside! Report!"
There was a garbled response which motivated the synthetics to turn as one and leave. "Topside you got the Geth heading for you, hold out until then; out."
Three-eyes gave a satisfied sigh, as if he had been relieved of some irksome burden. "Thank the pillars those damned things left, creeped me out I'll tell you." He turned back to Liara with a truly unsettling smile. "Now, where were we."
Whatever had been going through his mind was the second to last thing, followed shortly by a blade which stabbed out through his open mouth. Liara yelped as a shadow shimmered behind the spasming Batarian. She could faintly see a bloody rictus grin and soulless black eyes as Death itself seemed to materialize from nothing. A grey arm extended from behind the corpse and pointed at one of the technicians trying to open her prison. His chest and head silently erupted in viscerra.
This finally alerted the other Batarians to the danger, though to no avail; three more grinning apparitions appeared, and the four of them soon began weaving between one another. She had thought that perhaps, just perhaps, the Enkindler Cultists were right and the wrathful spirits of the Protheans had arisen to curse the desecrators; then the first apparition drew a silver pistol and the chamber reverberated in a thunderous gunshot.
She now knew these were not spirits of the Protheans, though she had a terrible premonition about who they might be. In the span of seconds, these four Skull-faced killers dispatched sixteen Batarians who had managed to destroy her own security detail, and were largely doing so with simple knives, axes, and even bare hands.
Once the carnage stopped, she got a better look at her rescuers, if that was their intent. They seemed to be talking amongst themselves, and perhaps with more of their ilk in other parts of the site. It would certainly make sense, given the suddenness of the attack, and the need to deploy the Synthetics to try and stem the tide.
The stories making their way through the halls of power among the Asari were terrifying enough; and if it weren't for Matriarch Tevos' distress at the very idea of these 'Skull-Faced humans', she might have simply chalked them up to the sort of wild tales people made up during long duration space missions. Even her own mother was wary of rumors of this elusive group that seemed to simply appear, kill and destroy, then vanish again without a trace.
The first apparition focused on her as the axe wielder began working the console. She endured it's terrifying gaze for a moment before resigning herself to her new fate.
"You… you're the 'Skulls' that the Matriarchs have been talking about… aren't you?"
"We're Det kazuat out here!" Fon fired a short burst at a Batarian trying to make their way towards a fallen rocket launcher.
Sgt. Reegar threw a disruptor grenade at a new group of Geth advancing on their position. "Zorah; any luck?"
Tali growled in irritation. "Yes, all bad! This Bosh'tet's gear is so good I'm barely keeping him out of our systems; I haven't had the chance to try hacking theirs."
Kal grimaced and looked around. They'd managed to draw out some of the security forces, but now they were stuck between two squads of Geth and a squad and a half of Batarians. Quarian's excelled at maneuver warfare, but there was no room for that here; all they could do was hold this position so the infiltration team would have a clear route out.
"Sergeant this is...Uber. Nomad is requesting you or Pilgrim for technical support."
Kal choked slightly at that. "Uber, Sergeant; we're barely holding the mine entrance as it is! How copy?"
There was a short delay that Kal's team filled with sporadic fire and swearing.
"Sergeant, Uber; fall back to Nomad and provide support. ETA on Short-Bus is one mike; we'll keep the back door open. Out."
Kal wasn't certain what a 'Short-Bus' was, but he wasn't in the habit of questioning orders in the middle of a firefight. "Tali, standby to spam their system. Nina, prep frag charges. Fon, cover left."
Kal and Fon laid down suppressing fire without concern for overheating while Nina and Tali readied their parts. He received a double-chirp over his comm, letting him know his team was set and ready to move.
"Now! Go, go, go!"
Kal and Fon broke off and headed to the cave entrance while Nina and Tali assumed rear guard. Tali's 'spam' attack on the opponent's systems blinded their targeting sensors for a few seconds, as the team withdrew. The Geth fell back to consult and coordinate, while most of the Batarians cursed and fiddled with their equipment. One Batarian leapt from cover and charged-
Right into Tali's field of fire. His barriers took the worst of the blast, though what made it through picked him up and dumped him back behind cover.
The team made quick work down the tunnels, ignoring the sound of explosions from the entrance. They finally arrived at a large room. Tali and Nina were still bringing up the rear, so the only warning the Pilgrim had was when she nearly slipped on something covering the strange tiled floor.
"Watch your step little lady," Colt commented from the other side of the room, "we haven't had a chance to mop."
It took a few moments for her to accept what she was seeing; for a moment, she wondered why the snow was gone from the Presidium. Then she saw a pyjack duck out of a burrow, grab a severed Batarian arm and drag it back to it's nest. She remembered that she wasn't on the Citadel, though that somehow made the sheer brutality of what she was seeing feel worse.
Tali faintly heard Sgt. Reegar tell Nina and Fon to stay behind. She flinched when he gently took her elbow. "Come on Pilgrim, we have work to do."
They moved deeper into the room where a large prothean device was quietly humming; Tali could see an Asari was suspended inside. She thought for a moment that this was one of the weird devices that read or put thoughts into your mind, because the look on the Asari's face was a perfect mirror for Tali's own horror.
They stopped next to a control console where Archer and Nomad stood.
Tali hesitated to come any closer, since both created a surreal image; blood splattered on their camo-cloaks appeared to simply hover, while their traditional 'Skull' masks leered out of nothing. She was reminded of stories of the Kelek'miin from her childhood; of restless beasts that lurked in the shadowy places, devouring the souls of those who wandered where they weren't supposed to go.
Nomad had flipped his hood down and glanced over towards Tali and Kal.
He turned back to the trapped Asari and seemed to nod to himself before walking over to two Quarians. The Asari herself seemed surprised at their appearance, but kept her attention towards the two humans in front of her.
"Sarge, you guys all good?" Nomad asked, his voice muffled somewhat by his mask.
Tali gulped and looked back across the rest of the room; the sixteen dead Batarians wiped out by four humans, in CQC no less, with no injuries or deaths on their side. The Eight Batarians closer to the entrance being the ones that drew most of her horror, four having been killed by decapitation; while the other four had their limbs twisted and broken.
These four humans were some of the nicest, and un-military kinds of people when they were off duty; and to see them turn to silent, professional, stone-cold killers was unnerving.
"Pilgrim?!" Kal's voice jostled her out of her thoughts, and she looked back to see Nomad and the Sergeant staring at her.
Nomad looked between them, before saying; "Sergeant, help Archer with the hacking; I want to talk with Pilgrim before she joins you."
Kal gave him an uncertain look from behind his visor, Tali was sure, but a glance from the human was more than convincing for the Quarian Marine.
He turned to the Asari and gave a curt nod; "We'll have you out in a second Doctor."
"Please do… I'm rather sick of being stuck in this pose." the Asari replied, trying to sound more relieved than frightened.
The human turned his attention back to Tali, "Walk with me." And he turned and walked down the ramp towards the caves.
Tali had to fight the urge to shake her head and rush back to Sgt. Reegar's side, but he was standing next to Archer and a batarian corpse that looked as if a Krogan had been gnawing on it.
She squared her shoulders. She was Tali'Zorah, daughter of Admiral Rael'Zorah. She was a Pilgrim, not a child hiding from story-vid monsters. She followed after Lee... Nomad, and tried to ignore how unsettling it was to see his head bobbing along over a blood-spattered ripple of nothing.
He seemed to sense her discomfort and deactivated the cloak, leaving him wholly visible again.
"You alright Pilgrim?" He asked, startling her out of her thoughts.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Her voice squeaked involuntarily. "This is only the second blood-bath I've been front and center for in the last two weeks," her head dipped down, "or my life." She stopped in the hallway and hugged herself. "I'm supposed to be finding a gift to prove my ability to contribute to my people's well being, not fighting interstellar terrorists or storming pirate bases. What am I doing here?!" Her voxmitter dulled the sound of her voice, though not the stress brought on by the events she had endured.
But the human seemed to pick up on it anyway, and said; "Protecting others? Advancing your peoples status from vagrants to respected peoples? It can be anything Ms. Zorah, just so long as it gives you the motivation to keep going." He absently drew his giant pistol and loaded a few rounds into it, "And your skills and fighting abilities, while they could use some work, rival that of many Alliance Marines."
Tali wasn't sure how to react to that praise. On one hand, Lee was someone she felt, if not kinship to, at least a certain familiarity with; being a Pilgrim himself, he was familiar with the self-sacrifice that societies needed. As such, she valued his thoughts and his praise. But he was also a soldier; not merely an enlisted troop, but one of the elite of the Systems Alliance military. He was, ultimately, a killer, and it was disconcerting to be praised in her skill at arms, when her own interest was in self defense and enriching her people.
She felt very, very confused. And intimidated, not the least by August's signature weapon.
She eyed the handgun with slight trepidation. "I... thank you. I have been working with Sergeant Reegar in my down time." She looked absently down the tunnel. "I want to contribute for my people, not kill for them. Except for the Geth!" She pursed her lips and blew, her voxmitter issuing a discordant blaaat.
Lee just nodded in agreement, much to her surprise. "In a perfect universe, there would be no need for people like me; if this were a perfect universe, I would be back home at my estate spending as much time as possible with my girl and my daughter." He mused, closing the chamber and holstering his pistol; before pulling out a second one, ejecting its spent ammo block.
Tali huffed. "In a perfect universe, my people would still be living on Rannoch, not cast to the stars, fighting for our survival." She glanced at the still skull-mask clad human. "You said your 'girl' and your daughter; I thought 'girl' was one of the many human words for 'daughter'."
Lee glanced at Tali, and the Quarian had to suppress a shudder at the grim specter that was his mask; "I meant my 'girlfriend'." He stated, though there was a hint of amusement in his voice.
Tali ran the word through her suits onboard galactic thesaurus. She was very frustrated at how not up to date the system was; though to be fair, humans and their hundreds of languages had only been a part of the wider galaxy for 26 years. She was lucky to get one of their common translation programs on the off chance she'd needed to secure passage on a human ship.
"Is that another word for 'Bondmate'?"
August just chuckled, "You could say that I guess; what? Surprised that I have a life outside of being a killer?"
She flinched at his phrasing. Oh Ancestors, please don't let me have said that out loud. "Not at all! Many of our own Marines have Bondmates; though they usually wait for that part of their life when they aren't as likely to," she shivered as the scene from the Prothean chamber returned full force, "to die."
She fully expected the human to get angry or something like that, as many Quarians had reported similar encounters with military personnel of many species. Instead he looked away, and she could tell from his body language that he was contemplating what she said; "Don't I know it… It wasn't exactly planned…" The first part of his sentence didn't translate, though it sounded like the language those terrorist nutjobs spoke. The second part though, definitely caused even more confusion on her part.
"What do you-" She started to ask, when gunshots began echoing from the entrance chamber.
In a flash, the Major had spun around and reactivated his Sehni like cloak and drew up his rifle. "Report!" He barked.
"We got incoming Boss!" The one called Colt shouted back.
Nomad glanced at Tali and seemed to nod to himself. "Alright, playtimes over Pilgrim; get to working on freeing the Doctor."
"Geth!" Williams screamed, firing her gun even as Jane ran the Combat Platform over with the Mako.
"Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh SHIT! LAVA!" Garrus yowled, gripping his seat tight rough that Jane was surprised that he hadn't torn off the arm rests.
Wrex surprisingly hadn't said a word since the drop, though his eyes seemed glazed and hollow; Jane figured she should stop and check up on him at some point, but now probably wasn't the best time.
The Mako jumped slightly as Jane ran over another Geth Platform; but the Commander paid it no mind. She jerked the wheel left away from the lava river; much to the rest of the cabin's sigh of relief, which annoyed her to no end.
It wasn't like she was blind and had no clue what she was doing.
"You guys are horrible backseat drivers, you know that? I swear, if I didn't know better I'd assume you guys thought I was blind and doing donuts in a field." She complained, even as Williams sprayed down two more squads of Geth.
"LAVA!" Garrus screamed again.
Shepard just huffed in annoyance and activated the Mako's boosters and jumped over the stream of Lava; everyone except her cringing as the Mako bounced on the ground. Reaching over and hitting a button on her consol, she said; "Nomad this is... Uber, we're about two mikes out; SITREP." She winced at the unfortunate name, but she was getting used to it.
"Holding steady here Uber; Bat's and Geth are trying to advance but we've been keeping them back. Our Exit's been blocked off from the inside by more Geth, Alenko's team is holding the entrance; but don't have the numbers to push inside and drive them out. We've freed the doctor as well, she's fine by the way." The Major replied, sounding quite calm even as the sound of his odd chemical weapons fire made its way to her ear through their Comms.
She wondered about Lee and his troops sometimes; she didn't buy into any of the outlandish conspiracy stories about their founding, but so far everyone she'd met from this GST was more than a little odd. She absently steered towards a Geth trooper.
"Spirits! Jahenne, stop swerving; you don't get extra points for hitting them!" Garrus was almost constantly buzzing in agitation on missions, but today he seemed particularly wound up.
Nevermind the fact that he always seemed to freak out whenever she was behind the wheel.
"I can see that Garrus, Jesus you don't need to be such a backseat driver; I'm not driving with my eyes shut." She grumbled.
"Maybe it would be better if you were skipper!" Williams shouted, swinging the gun around to try and shoot another squad of Geth Troopers.
"You mean like this?" Both Garrus and Ashley squawked in distress until they saw her eyes were still open. Wrex gave a nondescript gurgle from his crash seat. "Eyes sharp people, we're here." Any semblance of informality was gone as Shepard came to a stop behind a small lavashelf, giving the vehicle good hull-down coverage while allowing Ashley clear lines of fire.
Wrex stumbled out and gasped for breath; "I don't care what Nomad says." He snapped, already walking towards the entrances of the caves while Jane, Ash, and Garrus piled out of the Mako, "You are not getting that upgrade to 'uber select'."
Shiala was bored.
For the past five years, rumors had swept through the highest halls of power on Thesia and beyond about a rogue group of 'Skull-Faced' mercenaries. The Matriarchs were all but apoplectic whenever any mention was made of the group and a mysterious series of raids against one of Councilor Tevos' closest political allies on Sur'kesh. The fact that the Miralano Clan had since all but died out in a 'tragic series of industrial accidents' spoke volumes about whatever the group had seized. There were even whispers of some manner of back-room deals between the elusive fighting force and the Holy Order of Justicars; to what extent no one could say, least of all the Justicars themselves.
Her own Matriarch Bennezia T'Soni had laid a veritable political funerary pyre to have her posted to this, 'Task Force 141', with strict orders to "watch everyone and report everything".
Now here she was, fighting alongside no less than one of the commanding officers of the 'Skulls', and she was bored. It boggled her mind; these people were supposed to be the terror of the spaceways! Batarian Hegemons were supposed to weep and recant their wicked ways at the mere mention of one of the GST, to say nothing about what happens if one shows up on your world; yet here she was, dutifully guarding an extraction point. It was just like any other military Op she'd ever served on, and the banality of it was driving her to distraction.
If it weren't for how strangely precinct they all seemed, she would simply chalk it up to the sort of hype all military special operations units spread about themselves. She'd heard them mention events and places that were so obscure, species so rare and isolated that there was no reasonable way they could have known about them; to say nothing about how effortlessly they navigated the differing social dynamics of the various species on the ship. Major Lee's team was more likely to be confused by their own human crewmates than they were by the intricacies of Salarian Clan structure.
At least she could try and pump the lone human of the group for some information; or even Matriarch Aethyta, since rumor had it that she had been dealing with the 'skulls' long before anyone had even known they had existed.
"No sign of any Geth, got a few Batarian stragglers though; but they aren't shooting." The Human Lieutenant Alenko said.
"Let them go if they're running; no sense in wasting the ammo blocks on them." Aethyta replied.
"Hm… will likely die from dehydration within a week; no real settlements for a long while." Kirrahe added.
Shiala decided to take the opportunity to shift the conversation while they were alone and had free time. Observing the Major's team was great and all, but she wanted the others' opinions first; "The 'Skulls' would shoot them I think." Shiala stated, starting the shift towards the Major's team.
An Asari would see the change in subject and her ploy almost instantly; and she had no doubts Aethyta did, Kirrahe too since the STG Captain would have dealt with these kinds of situations. But Alenko was too much of a soldier, not enough of a spy; and either he didn't see her shift in subjects, or he did see it and didn't care.
As it stood, the other three operators looked at each other; while Shiala kept her gaze out towards the three Batarians trekking away.
After a moment, Alenko cleared his throat; "I don't think they'd give their position away so casually without good cause. SOC isn't N-7; as I understand their mandate, they focus more on infiltration and asset seizure than assault and objective seizure."
Aethyta snorted, "You say that, as Archer packed a pair of Axe's for an infiltration Op; and used them in quite the bloody manner if what 'Pilgrim' and the Sergeant had to say is true." She remarked, sweeping her rifle across the wastes.
"Still display remarkable professionalism in the field; and remarkable unprofessionalism off the field." Kirrahe added.
Shiala smiled lightly, thanking both of her fellow operators; as they understood what she wanted, "Very unconventional Tech; this Hiram Grant destroyed Cerberus back about a decade ago, what's to say he didn't take their tech and some of their operators and repurposed them for his own uses." She mused.
Alenko seemed to balk slightly, "What, you're saying the Major and his team are ex-Cerberus?"
"Perhaps, would explain their experimental technology being somewhat ahead of ours." Kirrahe noted.
"What do you think, Staff Lieutenant?" Aethyta asked, a little too bluntly for Shiala's tastes; but then Aethyta was not a normal Matriarch.
Alenko's posture went rigid for a split second before he openly scoffed. "You didn't grow up with Cerberus propaganda cropping up everywhere, or live in fear of one of their cells torching a whole community for 'polluting humanity' simply because a shop owner sold something to a visiting alien." There was a harshness in his demeanor that was entirely new to the operators around him.
"General Grant did the galaxy a favor when he destroyed Cerberus, and if he did leave any of them alive, he wouldn't have accepted them under his command any more than they would have accepted his authority." He snapped angrily, turning his attention back outward. "That would be like you just repatriating one of those, 'Daughters of Selene' I hear Tevos is wound up about back into the Huntresses." He didn't hear or see Aethyta and Shiala nearly choke on their tongues at the mention of 'Tevos' Folly'.
Shiala paused to regain her composure, and reluctantly accepted his explanation; and Aethyta decided to try and soothe the human, "We meant no offense Lieutenant, but you can imagine how… unnerving it is to find out that a group of humans have been operating in Council space without us knowing about it for the past few years suddenly show up out of nowhere like this." She explained. "Especially considering the fact that many… 'troublesome' people previously considered untouchable have been turning up dead as of late. Many think these 'skulls' are literal spirits of vengeance."
Kaiden shifted uncomfortably. "I'll be honest, they sort of sprung out of the blue. And you're not the first people to suggest they're a Cerberus Penal Legion, though it's more likely they were formed when EA first started to form and we're only now seeing them because the fight's spilling out."
He chuckled softly. "I've heard some other pretty out there theories; that they're clones of soldiers from our pre-Mass Effect period and that's why they prefer anachronistic weapons. Someone else had suggested they're from a lost colony like the Mansfield Expedition and developed independently and that's why they have such weird tech. There's even one really out there rumor that they're time travelers from the future, and that's why they know so much." He scoffed and scoped in on a runner. "It's more likely they're just a Black Project some politician tripped over, and the Army had to come clean or there'd be hell to pay."
Shila just gave a non committed hum and looked back out over the vast rock fields and mountains; as enlightening as this conversation was, there were still things to do.
Unfortunately, that meant that she was bored again. Oh Well...hey, there's the Mako! Maybe things will finally get interesting!
I didn't even bother watching as the Batarians head exploded; quickly shifting focus to a nearby Geth platform.
The Platform jerked its head back and slumped over deactivated.
"Uber, we kind of need that back up now; we're running low on ammo here." I snapped angrily, ducking instinctively as another slug zipped over my head.
"We're almost there Nomad!" Shepard replied.
"To hell with this. Colt, use your Grenade launcher!" I shouted.
He grinned at me and quickly loaded in a fragmentation grenade, and aimed it down the tunnel; "Grenade out!" He shouted.
The distinctive ripping sound of the impact grenade exploding reached our ears; along with the screams of several Batarians that had not been killed by the detonation. I could hear more gunshots from farther down the hall, and I grinned; "Keep shooting, reinforcements are here!" I shouted, switching my Beowulf to burst fire and spraying the hall.
Unsurprisingly, the Batarians and Geth fought to the end; and my group had to stop shooting and take cover to avoid friendly fire.
Even as the last platform fell, Shepard was already rushing towards our position; rifle at the ready.
"Friendly, Blue! Blue!" I shouted, holding a hand up as I pointed my gun upwards.
"We see ya." Shepard replied, raising her gun up as well. "Everyone okay?"
"I'm good, the rest of you?" I replied, looking out over my team and Kal's; along with Dr. T'Soni.
"We're all okay Nomad." Kal said.
"Fuckin' A Uber; I guess you get that upgrade to 'Uber Select' now." I said, clapping her on the back.
Shepard grumbled something under her breath; while Ash, Wrex, and Garrus all groaned and rapidly shook their heads, "I'm leaving her a one star rating." Ash stated, leaning against the wall of the cave.
Liara blinked and screwed up her face in confusion; "I don't understand."
I just waved my hand, "Ah you'll get it eventually; how are things topside, and are we free to extract?"
Jane cracked her neck and nodded, "We've mostly cleared it, and Alenko's team reports that they're clear." She hit a few commands on her Omnitool, "I've sent the Mako back to the extraction teams location; but we should probably leave before enemy reinforcements arrive."
I nodded, "Agreed, let's get the hell out of here."
A/N: Link to the Discord is now: "Pv2bv88" Check my profile for an updated version if this does not work.
Sorry this took so long guys; but I got good news in that fan and fellow writer Ian the Mechanic is now Co-Writing this story, and will be uploading this story on Archive of Our Own while I will continue uploading to
Now then, the ME-HL crossover Half Life: Entanglement will be going up at the same time as this chapter; I wanted to start uploading with the last one, but Ian convinced me to hold off until we were almost done with Act 1. Two Chapters will be going up, and then one more every seven days until the end of Act 1.
At which point there will be a few interludes uploaded whenever we get around to them; and we'll start with Act 2 once we get a decent stockpile of chapters.
I hope you guys enjoyed.
Would love a TV Tropes page, if not for this fic then for HL: Entanglement.
Leave a review, tell Us what you guys think.
And I will see ya when I see ya.