Kenn struggled to keep up with the ferocious pace of the Stormtroopers as they blitzed through the darkened hallways of the station, stepping over the scorched and shredded corpses of the geth that had been foolish enough to oppose them on their crusade deep into the belly of the beast. As he tried his best to jog in lockstep with his escort, he couldn't help but notice the stain of carmine blood having settled on the floor, smeared in long trails and mixing with the white conductive fluid of the geth. Yet despite the sound of furious combat echoing from all around, audible even over his wheezing breath, there weren't any Stormtrooper corpses. Lots of blood, but no corpses, and they didn't seem the sort to collect bodies in the middle of a fight.
Shaking the thoughts from his mind, he focuses on the hammering of feet on the deck, and on the dark corners and doorways that came into view as they put more and more distance between themselves and the relative safety of the ship. He'd been rattled ever since he watched a geth 'ambush' one of the Stormtroopers, firing a burst into his helmet before being vapourized in return. In response, the Stormtroopers had noticeably fanned out, while the ones closest to him had closed into a tight formation around him which had been what had forced him to keep up with their pace to begin with, and their presence wasn't quite as comforting as it would've been had it been anyone other than the borderline mute soldiers that make even the human's marines on the ship shudder.
Just as the sounds of battle behind them begin to fade, the din of battle ahead roars ever louder and more thunderous than any fight he'd heard earlier, and he began to feel some hesitation weighing down his feet. The Stormtroopers were unsympathetic to his hesitation, and seemed to only pick up the pace once within earshot of the battle raging ahead. In retrospect, he realized that he probably should've understood that he'd be in the thick of the fighting. They were supposed to be dropping off a bomb at the core of the station, right at the reactor's doorstep. It was weird that the geth hadn't thrown everything they had at them already, but, as the humans say, he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Their good fortune only went so far. They turned a corner and the fight ahead appeared in view, silver figures crouched behind black metal alcoves, bracing their weapons against extruding slabs of bulkhead or armour plating, trading shots with the geth across the reactor room. Only part of the reactor itself was visible, only visible through the large airlock that had funneled the fighting thus far. The reactor room presumably stretched through the whole length of the station, and was at least a hundred meters across, with the reactor itself taking up most of the room, although the gantries that surrounded it gave the housing a few meters room on either side, and would allow enough room for at least four or five men to stand shoulder to shoulder and still have some room to spare. Currently, the majority of the resisting geth resided on the walkway beyond the airlock, and the one about ten meters above it.
The reactor was plain black metal, save four thin strips running the length which pulsed with a cascading blue light every few seconds, keeping the room illuminated, though the shadows shifted and warped as the light moved. Looking at it too long made Kenn feel a little nauseous, which spurred him to find cover just a little bit faster than he otherwise would've, as though the geth shooting at the people in front of him wasn't enough of a motivating factor. The Stormtroopers escorting him seemed to have had a similar idea, and darted off to find an alcove to hide in, leaving him nestled behind an outcropping in the hull that seemed a little too battered for his liking.
This limited cover was enough for him to feel somewhat safe in poking out, rifle first, to take another look at the fight. Things seemed to have stalled. The mouth of the airlock was littered with wrecked geth platforms, no doubt having fallen victim to the killing field the Stormtroopers had set up. Or, at least that's Kenn assumed what they'd done. He wasn't a military man, but he could reasonably infer from the number of Stormtroopers shooting through that one gap that this was as close to a killing ground as you could get on an enemy space station. The Stormtroopers hadn't come out of this unscathed, though. A handful of them were slumped down in cover, unmoving, either having been dragged there or previously having crawled there under their own power, because they certainly didn't seem fit to fight any more. The worst off were those simply left in the middle of the hallway. Armour caved in, helmets crushed, and limbs missing, they would be beyond helping in a fight like this. Kenn offered a silent prayer, though he imagined that they probably wouldn't appreciate it.
Before he could make any other observations, a man-shaped silver missile landed right next to him, slamming into where he'd been only seconds earlier with an earsplitting metallic clang. The Stormtrooper now beside him towered over him, even when the both of them were in a half crouch, and beyond being generally ominous offered no comment nor explanation of his presence. He didn't seem all that interested in acknowledging Kenn's existence at all, and busied himself with fiddling with his strange rifle's stubby serrated jaw-like appendages. Trying to collect his thoughts, Kenn watched the goliath deftly repair his weapon, replacing one of the jaws with another fished from a case on his belt. The instant his work was done, he stood, leaning out from cover and over Kenn's head and fired a short burst in the geth's general direction, his weapon's report adding to the cacophonous whine of the battle. Kenn felt geth slugs hit their ragged cover and the corners of his vision blurred, but the Stormtrooper responded with mechanical precision, leaning back into cover and crouching down next to him once more.
"H-hey! What's going on?" Kenn stammers out, trying to be heard over the crackle of energy weapons and the report of geth pulse rifles. "Are we winning?"
The Stormtrooper beside him looks across in much the same way a parent might look at a child. Cocking his head and remaining silent, just as the first one he'd met had on that ship, Kenn at first assumed that the encounter would go down similarly, and prepared himself to take another look at the fight. Just as he was trying to figure out how likely it would be for one of the geth's stray shells to hit him in the head, the Stormtrooper spoke.
"Proceeding as planned. Resistance heavy - manageable. Expecting delivery of makeshift demolition charge within 34 seconds. Location secure." The human's voice sounded more like metal grinding together than it did a voice, and it had the same echoing effect that he'd heard previously, as though it was being parroted by some system inside his helmet.
"What do you need me to do? Do you want me to help set up the bomb?" Kenn offered, cradling his rifle. On one hand, he would feel much safer if he were back in the ship, but on the other hand these humans were out here fighting for his people, even if they sought to gain from it themselves. He couldn't just stand idly by while they died. "I can fight." He resolved.
The Stormtrooper thought for a second. "Hold position. Await demolition charge deployment. Identify valuable salvage."
"You just want me to wait?" Kenn shook his head. "No, I should be helping, I should be doing… something!" He clutched his rifle tighter in frustration. The chain in his pocket felt heavier than it ever had before. He didn't want to be useless again. He could confront his fear, this time.
The Stormtrooper just looked at him. He didn't need to speak to convey the obvious meaning.
"You can't help. Look at me, then look at you, and tell me what you can do, little man, to help me."
Through the din of battle, that little silence spoke volumes.
"Hold position." The Stormtrooper stated, firmly, before turning towards the hallway from which they'd come, drawing Kenn's eyes with his. Another squad of Stormtroopers approached, with the bomb carried in the center of the formation, and the rest of the squad laying down a fresh wave of suppressing fire as they strode into the battlefield, keeping their heads low and aim steady. Approaching the doorway, the group carrying the bomb pick up the pace as the geth's slugs start to clang off their armour. With almost enough momentum that Kenn felt that they would simply burst right through the bulkhead, the Stormtroopers came to a violent stop just outside of the geth's field of fire, dropping the bomb with a loud clang.
"We will provide covering fire. Await charge-" The Stormtrooper begins to explain the plan, but is cut off by a flash of light and accompanying thunder from the frontline. The pair cautiously peer around the lip of their cover. A billowing cloud of dirty black smoke obscured the mouth of the doorway, lights like will o' the wisps ominously swim through the smoke, leering as they circle down. The Stormtroopers nearest to the door had been thrown back, either dead or dying, from the force of the geth's counterattack. Kenn bit his lip. He should've seen this coming, he should've warned them.
"Unexpected resistance. Demolition team incapacitated." The Stormtrooper states clinically, with no hint in his voice that he felt any sorrow for the deaths of his comrades. Under any other circumstance, the Stormtrooper's indifference would make Kenn deeply concerned, but at the moment there was some comfort to be found in the human's absolute calm. "Preparing to repel enemy reinforcements. Must retake area. Charge must be armed." He explains, then shoulders his weapon again, and joins his comrades in opening fire on the geth in the doorway.
The smoke had begun to clear, and the geth's bodies emerged from the mist, dark metal exo-skeletons melding with the smokescreen as they moved forwards, only pausing to suppress any Stormtrooper who appeared in their sights. The fight was far from one-sided, however, as while the geth had thrown the Stormtroopers back from the door, those still standing fought ever harder, and they had the advantage of not having to advance, only sitting in cover and trading fire. Geth bodies fell, their kinetic barriers offering only limited resistance to the exotic weapons wielded by the Stormtroopers, and though the geth couldn't match the Stormtroopers kill for kill, they were slowly wearing down those that remained, and the geth were innumerable. The Stormtroopers were not. Each loss was irreplaceable, and they were taking losses.
Kenn wasn't sure they could keep this up. Then, an unmistakable whirring and clanking accompanied by the silhouette of an armature emerging from the smoke helped him make up his mind. The quadruped robot had killed countless Alliance marines during the attack on Eden Prime. They were closer to armoured vehicles than infantry, and carried weapons to match. Weapons that the armature had no compunction with turning on the Stormtroopers. Bolts of blue energy spat from the geth's head, speeding down the corridor just fast enough to keep track of with the naked eye, and crashing into the Stormtrooper's already limited cover. The force of the impact was enough to strip the first layers of their armour off from the heat alone, and it could keep this up forever. Standing high over the other geth, the armature could lock down this corridor indefinitely.
The Stormtroopers seemed to realize it too. Though they'd adamantly refused to retreat, and allowing the geth to claim the bomb, they had certainly changed tactics. At first willing to simply allow the geth to file themselves into the killzone, the mounting casualties had forced their hand. As one, the Stormtroopers dove out of cover, weapons spitting blue fire as they pushed deeper into the contested no-man's-land that the corridor had begun. Now bereft of their only advantage, the geth happily tore into them, cutting down any unlucky enough to get hit somewhere unarmoured. Continuing unfettered, the Stormtroopers push closer and closer to the geth's lines. The geth, reacting almost instinctively, begin to back away and into the reactor room, leaving only a handful of troopers as a rear guard, who are promptly cut down by the advancing humans, who scatter back into cover.
Though ground had been gained, the small victory was tenuous at best. Losses had been high. They might've counted about thirty or forty heads when Kenn had first arrived, but now they were down to single figures. He'd tried to track the Stormtrooper that he'd been talking to, but lost him in the commotion. He could well be dead too. The no-man's-land hadn't been pushed back to where it once was, and any Stormtrooper attempting to make their way to the bomb would be over-extending, and they knew it. No, this wasn't a victory, it had only delayed their defeat… at least, unless someone could get to that bomb.
It was then that Kenn had the worst idea that he would have all day. He knew that it was a terrible idea the instant he had it, but for some reason he couldn't let it go. Slumping back into cover, he considered his odds of survival. Looking back down the corridor towards the ship only confirmed what he already knew. He could run. The geth were too focused on the Stormtroopers to take shots at one quarian running away. That was the smart thing to do, but every time he thought about it, he couldn't help but see the faces of his friends, the people who had died so he could cower and live, as he ejected them out into space.
It was true, the geth were focused on the Stormtroopers, and they probably wouldn't try shooting at him until it was already too late… he just needed to run in the opposite direction. Peeking back out from cover, he took a quick estimate of the distance between him and the bomb while taking great pains to avoid looking at the mass of geth on the other side of the airlock. Thirty, maybe forty meters? He wasn't in the best condition, but the gravity wasn't very high here… he could make that in… well, probably less than ten seconds. All he'd need to do then is arm it and get away. The bomb was supposedly tamper proof, and he wasn't going to give his life holding it. This wasn't a suicide mission, just an extremely dangerous one.
Somehow, that thought didn't make him feel any better.
Breathing heavily, the plan continued to crystallize in his mind, pushing out rationality. Some part of him wondered whether or not his wanderlust was really just a suicidal impulse so well hidden that even he hadn't realized it. Another considered if this were really just some pathetic attempt soothe his wounded pride, masquerading as heroism. Throughout, his shaking legs brought him from a slump on the ground to a low, unsteady crouch and his thoughts were slowly buried by a haze of adrenaline.
He couldn't stand by and watch like this. Not again. He needed to do something. Rising fully to his feet, Kenn's lungs burn as they battle to draw more and more air as his body prepares for what he was about to do. Slinging his rifle along his flank, he lowers himself into a reasonable approximation of a runner's stance and lines himself up with the bomb. Just thirty, forty meters, right? Leaning out to take one last look at the geth, he confirms that they are still there before reorienting himself back to the bomb.
And then, after a moment of further consideration, he launches into a sprint.
Pushing off from the far wall, the lowered gravity acts as a double edged sword. Less effort to keep moving, but less grip, less friction with the ground. Fewer opportunities to build speed. Kenn started well, keeping as low as he could and building speed with each bounding leap across the steel deck. It takes only a few heartbeats before the geth turn their attention to the willing target, but Kenn pays them no mind. He hears the crack and whip of rounds deflecting from his barrier, and the warnings of his suits' VI as it calmly warns him of the rapidly plummeting kinetic barrier strength, which he ignores too.
His ignorance of what he faced was the only thing stopping him from changing his mind mid charge and diving into the nearest patch of cover, though the impulse to do so only strengthened as the barrier began to fail. His muscles screamed as he pushed them as hard as he could, forcibly squeezing the most out of each moment of contact with the ground. Barriers wailing, he puts all his remaining energy into one last leap, bending his knees before springing off elastically towards the bomb. The sudden jerk throws off the synthetic's aim, buying him another second's respite before the fire finds him again. Twisting and rolling in the air on a fixed trajectory, he was now an easier target, and he distantly knew that, but all he could think of now was how close he was to the bomb - so tantalizingly close.
That was until a round obliterated his kneecap.
His barriers are finally sundered under the geth's offensive, and the VI barely has time to report the failure before more urgent matters take precedence. White hot pain courses through his entire body, his eyes bulge out of their sockets, and his limbs tense involuntarily as his body slams into the bomb, having completed it's ballistic trajectory ignorant of the grievous wound that it had suffered.
Screaming in pain, Kenn thrashes on the ground, clutching at the deck hard enough that he feared that his nails might tear through his suit. The corners of his vision burnt with pain and every nerve in his body cried out in protest. As some sense other than excruciating pain returns to his leg, he feels the pressure of his suit's auto-torniquete clamping down on the damaged area, and hot blood drain out through the mangled limb, pooling in his suit and slowly dripping out onto the deck below. Huffing and puffing, relying entirely on the last dregs of adrenaline to remain conscious, Kenn slowly drags himself to a sitting position, slumped against the bomb.
Now able to see the wound, Kenn didn't like what he'd found. Though the puncture in the suit was small, he could see bulges in the suit where fragments of bone had broken through the surface of his skin, and the rent steadily wept blood. Suppressing a surge of bile forcing its way up his throat as he inspected the wound, Kenn came to the unpleasant realization that he was very likely going to die. Surrounded by geth, slumped against a bomb, and mortally wounded beside. If the geth didn't get him, blood loss would, and if blood loss didn't, infection would.
Steeling himself and clenching his fists just to keep from passing out, Kenn cranes his head towards the panel on the bomb. He might die here, and the only thing keeping him from a mental breakdown might've been shock and adrenaline, but he wasn't about to die for nothing. A fog descended over his mind as he tried to decipher the software's layout. He might've been able to read the text, but the thundering firefight happening only meters away had sapped his ability to process what it said. Muddling his way through, Kenn jabs buttons until the soft blue glow turns an angry red. With every action - every ragged breath sending lances of pain through his body, eroding his will to remain conscious, that seemed like enough.
His reserves of strength depleted and his body weak, Kenn falls to the cold floor, the sounds of the battle fading into an unending haze of percussion, still audible even as his senses begin to fail him and darkness creeps into the edges of his vision. He wondered if this was what death was like. How embarrassing, he thought, to die like this. Terus and Panak had died only after dozens of wounds, courtesy of a grenade, succumbing to their injuries only when their biology had failed them completely. They fought to the end, whereas he was giving in after only one shot.
For some reason, as he lay there, thinking about dead friends, he remembered an old human holo Eryx had shown him. She'd told him where she'd gotten it from, and it was an interesting story, but he couldn't remember it now. Not that it was important. Not that any of it was important. It was a story about some humans who'd survived an accident on some primitive transportation, but death, or the human personification of it, at least, decided that they should've died, and so the cast go on to die in unlikely ways.
He thought the whole idea was stupid, but he didn't tell her that. Now, though, he couldn't help but feel like he was living through some twisted version of that old human tale. Forced to watch his friends die, dragged from the brink of death by some intergalactic travellers, only to accompany them straight to his grave, only trudging on long enough to bury his friends. With a grumbling sigh, he wondered whether his last dying thoughts would be of some stupid old human holo.
His navel gazing was interrupted by a crack of thunder, and the distinctive sound of metal clattering against metal. Blinking open his eyes, lazily trying to refocus at whatever had suddenly changed the tempo of the battle, Kenn was greeted with the not entirely unwelcome sight of a battered, scarred, and yet miraculously still alive Stormtrooper, a small angular drone hovering behind his shoulder.
"H-hey." Kenn sputtered.
"Charge armed." The Stormtrooper replied.
The Stormtrooper cocked his head. "Resistance pacified. Salvage teams returning. We are within blast radius."
"I'd hope so." Kenn manages a weak chuckle as he looks over to the bomb. "Not much I can do about that though."
"You are injured." The Stormtrooper states. "We must retreat to minimum safe distance."
"Save yo-" Before Kenn could raise protest, the Stormtrooper had already slung his weapon to his side, and the injured quarian over his shoulder. Cold metal gauntlets clamp down on his leg and shoulder, and the Stormtrooper effortlessly hefts him up across his back, either unaware or indifferent to the slow trickle of blood from the ragged exit wound. The sudden motion was accompanied by the now familiar lance of burning hot pain as the bag of broken bone fragments and nerves that had once been his kneecap was jostled around. "I- ARRRRGH! FUCK! CAREFUL!" He barked hoarsely, his complaints overshadowed by the pain.
"Retreating at best speed provides highest chance of survival. Excessive care lowers survival chance." The Stormtrooper recites as he stomps off down the hallway at a light jog. Behind him, Kenn can see the remaining Stormtroopers sealing the door to the reactor, one hauling what looks like a very large cannon with unsettling ease. Looming behind them, the broken corpse of a wrecked armature lays crumpled, it's hide blackened and armour cracked.
"So that's what the noise was…" He thought to himself.
"Pain suppressants non-compatible with alien biology." It continued, almost apologetically, though that did nothing to make him any more comfortable as he bounced around on the Stormtrooper's shoulders.
"How long until we're back to the ship?" Kenn asked through gritted teeth. Though the sudden revelation that they'd actually won the fight had snapped him back to reality, he still felt rather weak, and if the answer was going to be more than a few minutes, he was fully ready to ask the human to finish him off here and now. He probably wouldn't survive the trip back to the fleet anyway, so the least he could do was spare him the journey.
"Thirty four seconds." The Stormtrooper replied, keeping his focus on navigating the labyrinthine corridors while Kenn watched from over his shoulder like a curious pyjak. They pass by others of his kind hauling various pieces of geth technology, sealing up the paths they'd taken with torches, or dragging the corpses of the fallen along behind them. They didn't exactly seem respectful, but they were very certainly dead. Some were missing half of their limbs, others good chunks of their torsos. Kenn imagined that they were probably just denying the geth technology, just in case some survives the blast. "The ship is under fire." He adds, almost as an afterthought.
"What?" Kenn's eyes widened. "The- The geth fleet?"
"Hostile forces in system were alerted to our presence. Our deception has failed. Boarding must be accelerated."
"They're still docked?" Kenn couldn't really believe what he was hearing. A stationary ship was a sitting duck.
"Manoeuvring thrusters were fired. The Epimetheus is occluded."
"Occlu- you mean we're hidden? But the ship's docked, and the geth wouldn't hide us, so-" Slowly, the pieces started to fall into place in Kenn's mind. "When you say manoeuvring thrusters, do you mean the station's?"
I had some burnout, so I had intended to give myself a month's break. It's more than a month now, and I've had this chapter sitting at 3,500 words since April. I've come back to it a few times and tinkered with it, but could never found that I was happy with it. I had some trouble writing it, but now I'm as happy with it as I'm going to be. Hopefully, it's not too bad, and we can get out the other side of this mess, and you shouldn't have to suffer me writing battles... for a while, at least.