Hell, it's about time.
I have always wanted to say that. And it's quite fitting after such a lengthy silence. Sorry about that, really. I'm not dead, just busy with real life like I said. Now that's done, but the holiday madness is in full bloom. Still, my story continues as promised. I'm also delighted to note that this is the last action sequence of my first fanfic. I hope you like it because I busted ass making it just right for all of you guys. You all got me this far with your support, and for that, I'm always grateful. Enjoy!
Also, I'd like to point out that my use of pronouns in the last chapter implied that Shepard was a male. This was a mistake and it has been corrected. To my knowledge, Bioware has not given truly Commander Shepard a canonical gender, thus no truly canonical physical appearance exists. I know that the male incarnation of Shepard appears in more promotional artwork and trailers, but the female Shepard is more popular with most fans. The ambiguity is fantastic in a role playing game, but it makes my job infinitely harder. Thus, the only thing I have for you is that this Shepard leans heavy on the paragon. It's a Unique thing.
After this we've got maybe a chapter or two at most of epilogue. Just putting that out there. I'm taking a break between this and the sequel though. I know that's not what you want to hear, but I've been spending 90% of my spare time on this story for the past year. It's time I took a small vacation and played some video games for fun instead of research.
Summary: As the Battle of the Citadel enters its final moments, Sovereign assumes direct control…
Disclaimer: Despite the fact that this story is now longer than some books, I own none of the content within. I haven't made a cent from this endeavor. Because copyright's a bitch like that.
Deus vs. Machina
Master Control Unit
"It worked!" Cortana announced. "Vigil's data file has given me full access. I've got total control of this installation, and I've even temporarily halted Sovereign's efforts towards opening the Citadel relay." Everyone was too excited she'd succeeded to notice that the AI had called the Citadel an installation, as if it were part of the Forerunner's Halo array.
"Then open the station's arms!" Wrex yelled. "Time to end this."
Cortana's blue figure materialized over the screens. She looked nervous. "You all need to hear this."
The comm. sputtered to life, and as static turned into coherent speech, everyone's blood went cold.
"-is the Destiny Ascension! Main drive is offline. Kinetic barriers down forty percent."
They were all beyond shocked to hear that the mighty "flagship of the Citadel" was getting the crap kicked out of it, but the next words rooted even the Supernovas to the spot.
"The Council is onboard! I repeat: the Council is onboard! Dammit, can anyone even hear this?!"
The silence that immediately followed was unbearable, and Alex broke it in his typical fashion. "Well shit."
"Pretty much," Cole replied. "From the sound of it, we don't even have enough of a fleet left out there to even tickle Sovereign.
Suddenly, Cortana twitched, indicating that she'd received new information. Then she began to smile. "We do now. The cavalry's finally here." She snapped her holographic fingers for the added drama, and once again the comm. buzzed to life.
"Normandy to the Citadel. Normandy to the Citadel! C'mon boss, don't leave me hanging here."
Everyone slightly smiled as Joker's voice reached their ears. If he was within transmission range, then it meant the Splicer King had likely succeeded.
Cole finished giving Tali a pulse heal before tapping his dataphone. "Don't tell me you were actually worried about us Joker?"
"Only because I need your signature on my paycheck." Despite his trademark sarcasm, they could clearly hear the relief in Joker's tone. "I'm patching you through to the other boss. He's been anxious to hear from anyone groundside since we hit the Andura Sector."
"Put him through," the Chief said instantly.
The mixed hope and apprehension was almost tangible in Ryan's voice. "Saren's dead?"
Garrus looked over the balcony and flared his mandibles. "Tough bastard's still choking on his own blood, but he's finished. My guess, those implants are all that's keeping him alive." Nobody noticed Alex perk up at those last words. Garrus continued. "We've got wounded though. Tali, Ash, and Liara."
They heard Ryan swear. "Then we pay Sovereign back tenfold. I convinced Hackett to 'loan' us the Fifth Fleet. Unlock the relay, and we can end this nightmare."
"Hold on!" Cole instantly shouted, postponing Cortana. He had to know for sure. "We're saving the Destiny Ascension first, right?"
"Why?" Alex asked, scorn evident in his tone. "The Council would leave us for dead without a second thought. They've hindered our efforts every step of the way." He shrugged. "There's a Reaper on the tower because they chose stagnation, and I've been shot to shit on their orders. You'll forgive me if I'm not feeling very… merciful."
Tali nodded, though the action made her dizzy. "The Council never came to our aid against the geth. Now they see what it feels like."
"Damn straight," Wrex grunted. They all knew he was referring to the Genophage.
Cole rolled his eyes. "Really guys? We can all agree that the Council is a crapshoot, but that ship is filled with countless of innocent lives. Are you gonna watch them all burn just for your bullshit revenge?"
Garrus' mandibles flared again. "Those 'innocent lives' are soldiers, Cole. They knew the danger when they signed up. If abandoning the Ascension means we have enough ships to actually destroy Sovereign, then the sacrifice will be worth it." The turian shook his head. "Even Sparatus would agree, and he's the one about to die."
Liara hissed in pain as she rose, leaning on the wall for support. It was agonizing to move, but she had to try. Cole needed her support in this debate. "They're far from ideal, but the Council still has tremendous authority. We need that support if we wish to unite the galaxy against the Reapers."
Ryan sighed. "A nice sentiment Liara, but Council support isn't worth much if we're all dead. Hell, it's barely worth anything right now."
Cole laughed in disbelief. "That ship has a crew of ten thousand! How's that for worth?!"
"You're all wrong."
Everyone paused at the sound of Master Chief's powerful baritone. They were pretty sure that even Sovereign went still for a brief moment. The Spartan was slowly walking away from the master control unit. He'd had enough of this argument, especially when he was the only one that knew anything about this particular type of warfare. Hell, the Chief was the only one of them that had even seen the battle. They had no right to make this particular call. He turned to the group and spoke his piece.
"This is war, and people are going to die. Get used to it." Before the squad's resident paragons could argue, he continued. "Those bureaucrats are a pain in the ass, but they keep society from tearing itself apart." They could all feel the Master Chief glaring behind his golden visor. "There's a difference between lives spent and lives wasted. Saving the Council is the former. Abandoning them is the latter."
"And I suppose you have a different plan that magically solves everything?" Ryan countered.
The Chief looked over to his smart AI companion. "Cortana?"
Cortana brought up simulations using data she'd gathered from the Citadel's external sensor array. "The bomb we detonated above Ilos left the geth at a disadvantage," she explained. "The Citadel fleet can already win alone. What they can't do is win before the Destiny Ascension is destroyed by its attackers." Cortana showed the current battle layout, projecting it to the War Room on the Normandy as well. "The bulk of the geth forces are engaging what's left of the fleet. A couple dozen fighters and a handful of frigates – designated as Rearguard on comm. frequencies – are basically harassing the Ascension to death. If we send the entire fleet and take on all geth forces at once, there will be heavy casualties." She ran the simulation and projected the losses. The numbers were nauseatingly high. "But that's not the plan. If a small Alliance force blitzed this lovely man's land," she isolated the space between the geth's bulk forces and Rearguard, "then we can lift the pressure enough for the Council forces to save their own flagship." The image changed to show a small squad of frigates and cruisers attacking the geth surrounding the Ascension. The holographic squadron was joined by over sixty of single-occupant fighters for combat screening. Cortana shrugged. "Of course, we're dealing with geth, and as they get taken out they become more aggressive." The majority of the flotilla was explosively erased from the hologram. "Losses are inevitable, but because of the bomb, we can pull this off and get away with less than half the casualties of a full frontal assault. That should leave us with enough to take down Sovereign. Our odds get even better if we join up with the remnants of the Citadel fleet." She folded her arms and put her "weight" on her right leg, signifying minor impatience. "Speaking of which, Vigil's file won't last me much longer. Can we hurry up and make a choice?"
Beyond Widow Relay
Ryan shook his head. If they did this, then a lot of good men would die. If they didn't do it, then everyone might die. Leave it to the Chief to show them all up when it really counted. Finally, he chuckled ruefully and teleported out of the war room, rematerializing in the helm. Joker sat there awaiting orders. "When a Spartan wants to save aliens," the Ryan commented, "you know what the right decision is. Forward the plan to Hackett, and let's finish this war!"
"Already done." Cortana replied.
"Correction," the Splicer King muttered as the line went dead. "Let's get the real war started."
These words had barely left his mouth when the Fifth Fleet began pouring through the Widow relay en masse. A voice stronger than some Uniques began to rumble over the intercom.
"All ships, this is Admiral Hackett. The monster waiting inside that station wants to kill all sentient life in the galaxy. The enemy of that particular enemy is everyone's friend. Squadrons One and Four, break off and engage! Save our 'friends' on the Destiny Ascension at any cost. The rest of you, hold back and wait for the Citadel's arms to reopen. When they do, we're going to move in and shut down Armageddon!"
Warning: Systems Critical
Amidst the chaos and despair of countless screams and explosions, a lone asari lieutenant's voice almost went unnoticed. "Matriarch Lidanya! We're picking up reinforcements!"
But Lidanya heard it. Whipping around, the CO of the Destiny Ascension biotically charged straight to the source of hope. As she read the display, her eyes widened. Turning to look at the Council, the Matriarch's eyes were now full of hope. "It's the Alliance! Thank the goddess!"
Sparatus glanced up at the same display from where he was standing. He didn't fully like what he saw. "Why aren't they attacking yet?"
Looking closer, Lidanya blue complexion instantly paled to a teal color. "They aren't all engaging. Only two squadrons have been sent to our aid."
A credit to his species, Valern ran the numbers in seconds before shaking his head. "They're sacrificing countless lives for our sake."
Tevos gasped in realization. "Any losses at all would jeopardize their chances to destroy Sovereign."
Sparatus' mandibles flared as he strode over to an empty comm. post beside Lidanya. "Help me Matriarch. We need to coordinate with the remnants of our own fleet now, or these humans will have died for nothing."
Priority: Save the Destiny Ascension
Six cruisers, ten frigates, and dozens of fighters followed Hackett's orders without hesitation. It helped that the infamous SSV Normandy had voluntarily flown in with Squadron Four. To fight alongside the soldiers rather than order them to death from a distance was a far better method of inspiration. To further increase the numbers, each cruiser launched all the fighters carried within their hangars as well. They flew in perfect screening formation, clearing a path into the "no-man's zone" for the larger Alliance vessels. The losses were inevitable though. Unable to truly surprise the geth for more than a few seconds, retaliation had already cost the Fleet twenty fighters and the frigate Hong Kong.
From his position at the CIC, Ryan despaired at the sight. Riley, a fellow N7, was on that ship the last he'd heard. Wallcroft was still the CO for sure. He didn't know Riley's current posting, what with being a mutineer and all, but he could only hope that she'd been recently reassigned. "Dammit!" he yelled. How many friends was that damn Reaper going to take from him?
Despite the losses, the plan had worked. Squadrons One and Four were directly in between the two geth forces. The Destiny Ascension was under attack by the geth Rearguard while the main geth fleet kept Citadel ships at bay. Splitting up, the two Alliance squadrons hit the geth on both flanks.
And that was all it took. The tide began to turn almost instantly. As HSA frigates – Normandy included – darted in and out of both enemy lines, the cruisers used the support to align spinal-mounted mass accelerator cannons at high value targets. Naturally, coordinated fire was necessary to remove the dreadnaught from play. Luckily, said dreadnaught was already damaged thanks to the Chief, and it could only sustain a single volley before lighting up the entire nebula with its explosion. After that, only a single shot from a cruiser to two frigates could pulverize any geth ship left in the fight. It wasn't long before the synthetics' numbers had thinned enough that the Citadel fleet could break through and help save their own leaders.
The battle wasn't entirely one sided though. Because geth were impossible to intimidate, confuse, or demoralize, order was quickly restored among all functional ships. They were a race that never tired, and they had no concept of financial gain. As such, everything they did, they did for maximum output. After the second volley from Alliance cruisers, the remaining synthetics encircled their new adversaries, temporarily ignoring both the Ascension and the Citadel fleet. The geth opened up with ultraviolet GARDIAN point defense lasers and dozens of side-slung disruptor torpedoes. Interceptors and frigates did what they could, but in the end, "victory without casualties" was a myth and everyone knew it.
Snapped in half along the bow, the cruiser Seoul was taken by the void first. Breached full of holes from countless GARDIAN strikes, the Madrid just began to drift without so much as an explosion. The one that struck the Master Chief hardest was the Cairo. Weapons offline and life support beginning to fail, the heavy cruiser used what borrowed time she had left to ram a hole through one of the last remaining geth cruisers. He'd served on the UNSC Cairo Station during the First Battle of Earth against the Covenant. To see a ship with the same name go down was… unsettling, to say the least.
That retaliation was the geth's last victory in the battle. For the three cruisers lost, three still remained in near-pristine condition. Pinned between the vengeful Citadel forces and the righteously pissed off Alliance Squadrons, the geth fleet was systematically wiped out until not a single platform remained.
Joker flew the Normandy in close to the Council's flagship. "Destiny Ascension, you are all clear. Repeat: you are all clear."
The helmsman's unmatched skill wasn't nearly enough job security to say "I told you so" to the Council. Still, that announcement had been his personal revenge, regardless of how formal it sounded. Less than a day ago, those aristocratic assholes had taken away the most important thing in Joker's life. They clipped his wings for their political bullshit. Now they had to sit there and squirm, knowing that a bunch of "puny humans" had saved their asses.
And damn if Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau wasn't enjoying every second of the squirming.
With the Destiny Ascension secure, the "mutineer" ground team opened the arms for them to unleash hell on Sovereign. As the vessels that rescued the Council regrouped with the Fifth Fleet, the remaining ships of the Citadel fleet joined in too. They weren't in the best of shape, but this had been their home long before humanity knew their planet was round. They would fight and die if it meant keeping the station safe from that thing.
"All ships move in!" Hackett bellowed. "Concentrate on Sovereign!"
Concentrate they did. Moving through the wreckage left behind by the fights with the geth, most ships were opening fire on Sovereign before they'd even made it within the station's arms.
Many, if not all, felt more than a little worried when Sovereign's only response to the assault was raising a few of his massive limbs off the tower. It almost looked as if the giant ship was… annoyed?
As the battle raged outside the tower, the heroes watched in a mixture of hope and fear. Nobody was going to miss out on the culmination of all their hard work. After a liberal application of pulse heal, Ashley returned to the waking world, albeit with a concussion. Tali was slightly worse for wear, but her suit had clamped down on the infected area well enough. She'd have symptoms akin to a nasty cold for the next few days, but it was better than dying at the hands of Saren's Reaper masters. The poison had taken its toll on Liara, but when the feverish delirium stopped, they all took it as a good sign. The asari was still too weak to stand, but Alex was good enough to carry her over to join the others.
The virus put her down, but he didn't stay. Confused, Liara turned to see that he was heading straight for the edge of the walkway. "Alex?"
Alex looked down at their nemesis. The augmented turian was practically drowning in a pool of his own blood. "Cole, give me a reading."
The conduit fired off a radar pulse. "Saren's beyond comatose at this point, but he's alive thanks to the implants. Lost way too much blood to stay that way though. If you're… hungry, you've got maybe a minute."
This took everyone by complete surprise. Even Wrex looked uncomfortable. "Call me a hypocrite, but you actually plan to eat that thing?"
Alex shrugged. "He's been in a Reaper. Even now, he knows more about them than any of us. The interior layout, exploitable weaknesses in design, hell I'll settle for where he discovered Sovereign's existence. We need every scrap of information possible." With that, the predator dropped into the garden below.
He strode up to Saren and ripped the improvised metal spear out of his gut. "This won't hurt a bit," the sociopath chuckled sadistically. Preparing to consume him, Alex brought his foot down on the dying turian's chest.
The sound of flesh striking metal reverberated throughout the room, but said metal remained undamaged. The resilience threw Alex off balance momentarily, and the virus stumbled. Strangely, everyone else was stumbling too. More accurately, the room was shaking. For a moment, they thought one of the ships outside had missed Sovereign and hit the tower directly, but that was proven wrong by surges of red electricity.
"Cole…?" Garrus asked nervously. "Something you want to tell us?"
"Yeah!" the conduit screamed. "Those aren't my sparks!" He leaned over the edge and shouted to Alex. "They're Sovereign's!"
Alex's eyes widened in realization. "Oh shi-"
His swearing was cut short as the glowing red corpse of Saren Arterius smashed the virus off the ground and into the far wall. The force of the impact broke flesh, metal, and ceramic alike, and the floor beneath the rest of the squad became unstable as a result. Cole and the Chief were quick to respond. As the Spartan "yanked" Cortana from the crumbling Master Control Unit, the conduit levitated the rest of the platform with a kinetic pulse. Made of the poorly conductive material and far too heavy to suspend, Cole only managed to slow their fall. Separated from the others but with Cortana in tow, the Chief simultaneously dove into the garden below and slipped her chip back inside his helmet. The hyper-lethal vector flipped in midair, made a three-point landing, and drew his rifle on their newest headache.
Around this time, Alex fell out of the ruined wall and crashed into the artificial garden with none of his usual inhuman grace. Forcing away the dizzying blow, the virus shifted to claws and glared at his assailant. He immediately wished he hadn't.
Saren's body writhed in agony and heat. The source of that heat was still unknown, but it was enough to fully color the turian a bright, sadistic red. Stumbling about, nobody dared move – let alone breathe – as the "dead" man howled from the pain. Then it actually got unpleasant. As if in response to its adversary's claws, Saren's own talons began to elongate. At least, they thought that's what was happening, until armor, skin, muscle, and blood started melting away. The heat turned flesh into ash, organs into liquid, and fluid into vapor. Heart, gut, and mind were boiled into soup and dripping away. Armor and epidermis sloughed off as his writhing became more violent, and bit by bit, Saren's body ceased to glow.
Because there was no "Saren's body" left at all. The only clue that their nemesis had ever been alive was his implants. And those implants were still standing, eyes and chest still blazing with red energy. Cole almost retched. Sovereign hadn't given that bastard a few cybernetic upgrades. It had installed Saren with a full blown endoskeleton! Reading the electromagnetic frequencies clear as day, it was obvious to the conduit that Sovereign had brought its most faithful servant back from the dead for one last task. This remote controlled husk was the Reaper's personal Supernova-class avatar. For all intents and purposes, they were fighting Sovereign directly. And the vanguard of their destruction was royally pissed off.
With scanning assistance from Cortana, the Master Chief observed silently as the last of Saren's burnt viscera fell away, leaving a skeletal turian husk in the dead Spectre's place. The thing was powered by a red eezo core of some kind housed in its ribcage, likely the source of the heat. That heat and the core's mass effect fields had reshaped an already powerful metal endoskeleton into the ultimate killing machine. Sharp claws, highly durable frame, and if those joints were any indication, this thing could match the best of them in terms of strength and agility. The Chief didn't know what else that monstrosity was capable of, but he knew damn well that it needed to die, and fast.
For the first time since New York, Alex Mercer was truly afraid. He was actually scared. This made the human husks look like toys. If Sovereign could do this to one turian, the gruesome possibilities of this war were endless. Each battle would contain some new nightmare, and each day would be a new horror story. "What the fuck are you?!" he screamed. Despite the blatant hypocrisy of the question, Alex wasn't in the mood for humor, nor was he really expecting an answer. If it were physically possible, the sociopath would have vomited when an answer actually came.
The Saren-husk coiled low, placing one arm on the ground. Then, much like a geth hopper or spider splicer, it leapt high into the air and latched onto the wall. It's "head" jerked towards Alex, and the red, eyeless sockets were all but staring the virus down. Then words echoed through the air. It was Saren's voice, but distorted, wrong. Wrong and very angry.
"I AM SOVEREIGN! AND THIS STATION IS MINE!"
"I'm getting wounded out of here!" Cole yelled. Not waiting for an answer, the conduit ice launched out of the garden and used three lightning hooks to bring Tali, Liara, and Ashley with him. They landed at a – relatively – safe distance, back in the main lobby of the Council Chambers. When the three were already trying to get back into the fight, Cole placed a wall of ice in the way. "Don't make me use arc restraints. You're all hurt and outclassed, so just sit down and stay safe." The raw emotion in his eyes told them that this was his past talking. Cole didn't want to lose them to Sovereign like he'd lost Nix to the Beast. "Nobody else on this squad is dying because of that bastard, you got it?!" Now he was talking about Kaidan.
Nobody said anything, but Ashley did toss the Electro-Spectre her sidearm just in case. Cole secured the weapon at his hip and nodded appreciatively. He unsheathed his amp and tore off for the final battle. "Let's dance, you son of a bitch!" he screamed at the turian abomination below.
Back in the garden, Wrex and Garrus stood their ground. They were the strongest "normal" members of the crew, and damn if they weren't going to prove it. "Think you can handle that thing, krogan? It doesn't look too friendly." Even against certain doom, the turian agent was all wit and sarcasm.
Wrex pulled out his Claymore one last time for the day. "You think that's scary? I have to finish it all by myself." Normally the joke was meant for salarians, but the battlemaster rolled with it since the Reapers just might be worse than the Rachni.
"You want 'your' station?" Alex challenged as the Supernova-class combatants prepared for anything.
The Master Chief calmly leveled his assault rifle at the Saren husk. "Then come take it."
Fifth Fleet engaging Sovereign
Ryan suddenly tensed. Aside from Joker's strange ability to maneuver the Normandy like an old-school fighter jet, something was very wrong. Call it a crazy-ass sixth sense that all Supernovas eventually developed. Call it a gut instinct from living in Rapture and expecting the worst. Hell, call it indigestion. The point was that the Splicer King knew there was a problem. And since Sovereign hadn't really done anything yet…
"Ryan!" Cortana's voice shrieked over his comm. He hadn't heard the smart AI that worried in a long time. "Ryan we need you groundside yesterday!"
"What's going on?"
"Engage audio/video mode on your omni-tool and see for yourself."
When the Splicer King did as asked, and he found himself looking down on the team from one of the Council Chambers' many security cameras. Ryan's eyes widened. Only two words seemed remotely sufficient.
Priority: Kill Sovereign
"Eat this!" Alex shouted, targeting the Saren husk mid-jump like an average geth hopper. The avatar rolled seamlessly around the tentacle in midair, snatching it with its own vicious arm and landing on the ground without incident. Still holding onto the ended of Alex's whipfist, the Saren husk yanked hard, and the virus was ripped off the ground.
Cole was halfway into a thunder drop when the avatar used the helpless Alex like a flail. It slammed the sociopath into his conduit friend and let go of the whipfist. Alex was electrified by the energy Cole had built up, and they both collided hard with yet another wall.
This whole time, the Chief had been firing almost nonstop, but he hadn't even dented the monstrosity's shields. Its sheer speed and constant movement prevented Garrus from lining up a decent shot. Wrex managed to close the gap for a Claymore shot, but the Saren husk just swiveled its "head" a full one-eighty degrees and hit the krogan with a sabotage beam and damping beam in rapid succession, downing the krogan for the moment. It was charging an assassination beam to finish the krogan when a high impact shot blew the avatar off its feet.
"Never saw me coming!" Garrus screamed in delight at scoring a hit. The damage was miniscule, but he'd probably saved Wrex's life.
The victory was short lived when the Saren husk rolled into a crawling position and leapt away no worse for wear. It happened too fast for anyone but the Chief to see it. His reaction time far outclassed the others, even if Alex had better speed. In full-on "Spartan time" now, he watched for the perfect moment to strike. The nanosecond that the avatar made its next jump, possibly a few nanoseconds in advance, the Chief hit the thrusters. Aiming for where the husk was going to be with Cortana's help, he tackled the thing in midair, using the full weight of MJOLNIR armor to his advantage.
The skeletal avatar was stronger but smaller and lighter than the Mk VI and its owner. The sheer size, weight, and forward momentum behind the Chief's powered armor had been enough to render that strength completely irrelevant. Keeping a firm hold on the writhing abomination, he grabbed his sidearm, brought the gun inside the safe range "bubble" of the husk's kinetic barriers, and put the barrel under the thing's glowing skull. As they fell through the air, the Chief pulled down on the trigger and hoped for the best.
He only got four shots in, but the high-velocity rounds worked fairly well against the former turian's metallic head. Whether they injured the avatar or just irritated it, the Spartan had no clue. Probably both, though celebration had to wait. The avatar worked one of its flexible legs between them and kicked the Chief in the right wrist, knocking away the gun. Just before they hit the ground, the husk contorted itself behind the Master Chief at the last second. The Spartan landed on his back, and the avatar landed on the Spartan. Shields were low after the impact, and the thing seemed to know it. Light began shining brightly through its eyes, as well as the newly made holes in its head, but whatever attack it was charging got cut short.
With perfect aim, Alex hit the avatar with a critical pain devastator, blowing it straight off of the Chief and pinning it to the wall. He kept up the stream of compressed air and biomass for as long as possible before letting go and ducking low. An assassination shot, a carnage blast, and two alpha rockets all missed the predator's head by inches.
For a moment, there was only silence and smoke. As unlikely as it was, the Supernovas were actually beginning to think that they'd won.
A red glow illuminated the smoke and doused their hopes immediately. Before anyone could react, a carnage-like projectile flew out of the haze towards the Chief. He dove out of the way with microseconds to spare, thinking that had probably been the attack the avatar was charging earlier.
It didn't end there though. Another energy blast came out, followed by another. And another. And then an entire barrage. They tore apart Alex's shield, and his armored skin began to come off in chunks. The Chief was lucky enough to lock down his own armor in time, but he didn't know if even the overcharged energy shield could hold out. Wrex intentionally succumbed to blood rage, intending to shrug off any wounds until he could force the monster back on the defensive. He made it six steps before an explosion at his feet sent him careening into a downed pillar. Cole was a very durable creature, but he saw what those blasts were doing to Alex. Rather than waste energy on dodging or countering with his own projectiles, the conduit ice launched straight up, making for the scaffolding again. That plan was brought to a halt when the avatar's blasts tore into his destination and brought said scaffolding down on Cole's head.
As a sniper, Garrus had already been behind cover, but as his fire-forged friends were taken down one at a time, he realized that the barrage had to stop. C-Sec had taught Garrus plenty of hacking tricks, but this wasn't one of them. He needed some backup. "Tali! The advanced sabotage program you were working on after Virmire? Can you send it to me?"
Over the comm. Tali's voice weakly responded. "I can, but your omni-tool doesn't have the processing power for it."
"Cortana, can you help with that?"
"I can, but what-"
"Then both of you give me a hand before that thing blows us all to hell!"
The moment his – now blue – omni-tool had downloaded Tali's program, Garrus activated the flash-fabricators and primed a tech grenade. He only had one shot at this, even with Cortana's help, so he needed to hit the Saren husk on the first try. Diving out of cover, he used his visor's IR to locate the exact position of Sovereign's avatar. In that brief moment, a projectile came straight at the ex-cop, but not before Garrus launched his attack.
Both turian and turian husk dropped to the ground. The avatar was stunned, but everyone knew it was temporary. Garrus on the other hand just took the incoming particle blast to the right side of his head, injuring his face, neck, and mandible. Gasping for air, the one-time Spectre candidate made an attempt to laugh. "I still look better than you did with skin." Having gotten the last word as usual, Garrus passed out.
The avatar recovered fairly quickly, and it was about to seek revenge. It was halfway into a jump for Garrus when a massive green fist connected with its "jaw" and sent it flipping backwards.
The Chief pulled out his shotgun and loaded a fresh thermal clip. "Forget about me?"
The satanic machine crouched low to the ground, but both Cortana and her Spartan swore they heard chuckling.
"Dammit!" Ryan yelled as the recording turned to static, putting his fist into the wall. Joker let it slide this once, but only because the entire ship would be getting fixed up if they won.
The Splicer King knew he had to do something, but what? He was weaker than that thing, and of the four Supernovas, his odds of surviving that carnage barrage were the lowest. He saw how it moved, and the similarity to a spider splicer was terrifying. That said, fighting back with similar motions was possibly the only way to level the playing field. At the very least, he could tell the others where to jump. More importantly, he could bring them some more medi-gel. Ryan's mind was made up.
"Joker, I'm headed for the garage. Get me as close to the Council Chambers as possible."
The pilot blanched. "You're batshit insane! We've lost four cruisers just tickling that giant metal squid, and you want me to go towards it?!"
Ryan shot his pilot a look that left no room for doubt. "I am not leaving them to die! You wouldn't know this because you were busy keeping this ship alive, but that footage showed Cole using his real powers. Powers had before I fucked up his life! His amp, a melee weapon with a lot of sentimental value, was strapped to his back." There was a tinge of green in the Splicer King's eyes. "His life is whole again! I'm not sitting here while some piece of shit turian robot takes that all away!"
Pressly tried to be the voice of reason. "Sir, even if you could make a difference in that fight, why do you need our help getting there?"
"Excellent point," Joker added. "Why are we flying you directly up to the monster machine launching out killer death rays when you could just, I don't know, teleport or something?"
The Torfan Tactician took a breath, and his eyes returned to their regular brown color. "I could, but from this distance, and with no line of sight, I'm at a severe disadvantage. I'll rematerialize in a vulnerable state and with minor tunnel vision. If we got closer to the Council Chambers, then I have a better chance of helping instead of dying outright."
Joker deliberated for another few seconds. Even for him, the "Commander" was asking for the ridiculous. Finally, the helmsman sighed. I'll get us as close as possible, but you have a two second window at most. Sovereign will recognize the Normandy pretty damn quick, and since we're already on its shit list…"
"I'm insane, I get it," Ryan replied. "Just do what you can, and I'll take care of the rest." Without another word, the Splicer King made for the armory and garage. He was still in his combat gear from Ilos, but unlike then, he was bringing some additional firepower he'd grabbed while on Arcturus.
Battle of the Citadel
When the Normandy broke off from formation and made a suicidal charge at the monster that was cutting ships down with one shot each, Hackett put the pieces together fairly quickly. Cortana had sent him what she could on the… thing that Saren had become, and it was beyond disturbing. Organic civilization wasn't prepared for naval combat or a ground war against the Reapers. If they didn't succeed today, then they wouldn't get a second chance.
The fact remained that Sovereign was hammering his Fleet. It had no need to destroy the Supernovas when it could simply destroy the naval forces and activate the Citadel Relay uninterrupted. If it even bothered reviving Saren to destroy the ground team inside the Council Chambers, then they posed a great enough threat to actually scare this monster. As such, the Admiral wanted to press that advantage with everything he had. If that meant ensuring the Normandy dropped off her teleporting CO before getting reduced to debris, then so be it.
"Hackett to all ships. Is anyone in a position to protect the Normandy? Repeat: can anyone assist with the Normandy's approach?"
"This is Captain Grace O'Malley of the SSV Boston, sir. We'll try to keep that thing occupied and buy the Normandy some time."
Ryan smiled sadly. He recognized the inevitable, but he knew that O'Malley wouldn't back down. She'd been stubborn even as the XO of the Boston all those years ago at Elysium, Urmola, and Torfan. He had to put on a brave face for her now. "Much obliged, O'Malley. Give the metal bastard hell for me."
"You do the same on your end, Commander. That's an order!"
That was all she said before the comm. was inundated with frenzied chatter.
"Are we even scratching it?"
"Doesn't matter! Just keep firing!"
"Try GARDIAN lasers! They seem to get through the shields a little!"
"They get through, but they don't do shit against the armor!"
"We have its attention now, that's for damn sure."
"Oh God, it's charging up that laser again!"
"Do your worst, you son of a-"
As the Normandy closed in on the Council Chambers, the line went utterly dead. Ryan donned his helmet and opened the hangar bay just in time to see the SSV Boston get torn asunder by Sovereign's giant red beam. "O'MALLEY!" He'd worked a lot on with her in his first few years on this territory. He'd spent most of his N7 career on that ship. To see it go down like that was…
It the final insult. Sovereign was going to pay in blood. "Get out of here Joker! I'm close enough!" With that, he jumped out of the Normandy as her skilled pilot already started turning around. In the void of space, he shattered out of existence without making a sound.
Priority: Kill Sovereign
The reentry wasn't nearly as quiet, and Ryan paid for it the hard way. So far, the Chief and the avatar had been at a stalemate, neither one capable of hurting the other. When the Splicer King rematerialized just above the husk, he lit both hooks on fire and went to scissor its "head" from its neck.
It didn't work. The avatar reacted instantly, ducking low while kicking backwards. The mechanical foot slammed into Ryan's solar plexus, but the Son of Rapture had already grabbed his shotgun. He didn't aim or pull the trigger though. He estimated that the Chief would be running low on thermal clips by now – a heavy price to pay for the High Five's greater stopping power – and so the shotgun was for the Spartan to use, not the Spectre. Tossing the gun to his ONI compatriot as he went flying backwards, Ryan spun midair and landed on all fours.
The Splicer King had just enough time to look up before the avatar landed on top of him. It knocked both hooks away, and a damping beam to the face prevented any kind of telekinesis from recovering them. Not to be outdone, Ryan practically slithered out of the avatar's grasp and rolled onto its back. Jumping off, he grinned as the fiery cyclone trap he'd set up ahead of time exploded in the husk's face. Reclaiming his hooks manually, the temporarily depowered Splicer King relied on physical strength and stamina alone to pick up an unconscious Garrus and climb out of the garden-turned-battle arena. He carried the turian with him to the rest of the wounded and began distributing the medi-gel he'd brought.
They were about to bring Ryan up to speed, but he interrupted. "Cole has his powers back, that thing's trying to kill us, and you guys are all still alive. I know everything I need to for now." He took off the combat helmet and dropped it next to Garrus. "Watch over him, use the medi-gel, and keep your heads down."
"Took long enough for you to get here, bosh'tet!" Tali exclaimed.
Looking at her injured leg, Ryan smirked. "Is that the fever talking, or did you actually miss me?"
"It's absolutely the fever, Ryan," the quarian retorted. "Now go help your friends."
The Splicer King looked at the three of them and smiled. "I am helping my friends."
Saren's husk screeched as it leapt out of the garden with full intent to kill. Demoralization was its goal. If the anomalies sought to protect their wounded, then it would drive them to despair by terminating all four injured organics. In that despair, they would make mistakes, and then they would die.
Ryan knew all of this though. He took a risk bringing them medi-gel and making them targets, but Cole's tricks only did so much, and Garrus was in a world of hurt. Crouching low, he sprung backwards and met the skeletal turian in midair. They grappled, contorting around each other before the avatar wrapped its talons around the Splicer King's neck. It slammed him into a ground, and through the pain, Ryan was pretty sure he heard something snap. Without his plasmids, this thing was going to outright murder him.
The avatar was about to finish the job when rifle rounds and drone rockets began to slam into its back. Even with a dizzying headache, Ashley's aim held true, and Tali had unleashed Chiktikka once more. The husk acknowledged these attacks as petty distractions, but that was the point. The medi-gel had a supplement of restorative properties to help Liara use stable biotics again. Ryan wasn't stupid. He knew cabals used poison, and Saren was likely no exception. Just as the avatar was concluding that the distractions were nothing to worry about, the resident asari caught it in a stasis field. They weren't foolish enough to think it would last long, but it was enough for Ryan to squirm free. A few more seconds, and his plasmids would be functional again.
The stasis was already wearing off thanks to the Reaper pet's advanced eezo core, and it was making a straight line for Liara. It got two steps before a mostly-healed Alex soared out of the garden while carrying Wrex. The latter had a few scorch marks on his brow plate and armor, but not much more. Dropping the krogan, he shifted to tendrils and hit Sovereign's avatar with everything he had. The first several dozen tentacles anchored the husk to the walls, floor, and a few to the ceiling. The rest of the biomass filaments threaded straight through what used to be Saren's ribcage. Overwhelming the burning heat of the eezo core with sheer numbers, the tendrils shot back out, latched onto the largest of the debris littering the room, and brought it all back to slam into the metal skeleton's chest.
"Thing's like a damn Terminator!" Alex yelled as he witnessed the avatar begin to work its way out of the debris. "It just won't fucking die!" To their credit, it was pretty banged up at this point. Almost as an afterthought, the virus looked over his shoulder. "Glad you could make it for the party Ryan."
"You're one to talk about 'not dying' Alex," the Splicer King retorted, snapping his fingers to burn away the residual Blacklight biomass. "And I wouldn't miss it." As the Chief came flying out of the garden last with aid of his thrusters, Ryan turned to Wrex. "Guard the wounded while the four of us end this for good."
The battlemaster cocked his head. "I count three of you right now."
By now the avatar was charging up another carnage barrage, but again it was cut short. It howled in what seemed like pain as red sparks began to fly out of the walls again, just like when Sovereign had first brought back Saren's corpse. This time, however, they began coalescing within the pile of rubble that had collapsed on top of Cole.
Ryan chuckled. "Like I said. The four of us."
Restoring himself by stealing from Sovereign's nearly endless supply of energy, Cole MacGrath blasted the rubble away with shockwaves and engaged a karmic overload. He looked very happy to be back in the fight, but very angry that the ceiling had been dropped on his head by a machine.
"Was that even safe?" Alex asked, referring to indoctrination.
"No idea!" Cole responded as energy crackled violently around him. "Right now we've got bigger problems." He gestured to the avatar which had now finished charging its attack.
Leaping onto a wall, it prepared to rain hell, but this time Cole had everything he needed. Between his resupply via Reaper, his karmic overload, his implant, and frequent shocks from Tali's drone, the conduit was brimming with energy. Cole reached out with both hands and took aim. When the avatar opened fire, so did he. Almost particle blast Sovereign's avatar launched was detonated prematurely by the twin bolt streams flying from his palms. The few projectiles that Cole missed were intercepted with fireballs tossed by Ryan.
As the three spammed energy back and forth, that left Alex and the Chief unoccupied. The virus ran up to the wall supporting the avatar and punched it hard. Pumping biomass inside, it was only a few seconds before the inevitable occurred. The husk might have noticed, but Cortana was waging cyberwarfare against the abomination, keeping its mind overly busy and spreading Sovereign's awareness too thin. It didn't realize that the imminent threat until a groundspike tree punched it off the wall. The metal was strong enough to resist a gaping hole, but several dents and warps in the metal were becoming more and more obvious. This thing was beginning to fail.
As it descended, the Chief moved underneath. The shotgun Ryan had given him was a Lieberschaft 2180 shotgun nicknamed the "Eviscerator" by legal and illegal arms dealers alike. A civilian model in violation of countless weapons treaties, there was still nothing that could prevent a Spectre from acquiring one on a whim. As the avatar fell helplessly, the Chief also recalled it had excellent armor-piercing properties for "one-shot kills" in close quarters. Raising the gun so that the husk was directly above the barrel, he waited until the last moment before pulling the trigger.
The blast caught it square in the sternum at point blank, actually knocking it back into the air a ways. Ryan teleported behind the avatar and slammed both hooks into its back, looping them through the ribs and holding on for dear life. Rearing back to try and reach the Splicer King, it accidentally gave Cole an opening and the conduit jammed his sparking amp into the turian husk's metal spine. The prongs caught it on either side, and the electricity began to screw with its eezo core in all kinds of nasty ways.
Yanking his fist out of the wall, Alex spun it to the left and right as it shifted into a blade. At the same time, the Chief took two more shots at their struggling victim's elbow joints, once again from inside the "bubble" of its kinetic barriers. Wedges of metal struck the vulnerable mechanisms with enough precision and power to contort crucial components. It had one weapon left.
Sure enough, the avatar's "head" started glowing brighter than ever before. Then it saw Alex running full pelt with his blade, and it practically screamed with incomprehensible fury. It focused all fire on the virus, but by then it was too late. Alex disregarded armor and shield alike, relying solely on his adrenaline surge. With that final boost of energy, he endured the barrage and targeted the avatar's thin neck with a sadistic horizontal slash.
His blade met where the resistance had been thinnest along the entire endoskeleton. Unable to crouch and protect that weakness with Cole, Ryan, and the Chief holding it in place, the avatar's head was separated from its glowing body. Alex turned around and deftly caught the skull out of thin air before jumping far away from the headless husk.
The eezo core lost control. As Sovereign's headless avatar slumped to the floor, its burning red energy became a pyre. The now-defunct endoskeleton of Saren Arterius disintegrated rapidly, signaling the end of a very long nightmare.
For a moment, nobody knew what to do. They'd been on this mission for so long that the end hadn't sunk in yet.
Alex broke the silence. Walking back to Wrex and the rest of the "normal" team members, he held out the skull. After striking an "Alas, poor Yorick" pose that earned a few chuckles from all humans in the room, he looked at Wrex. "I believe I made you a deal back on Virmire." The virus tossed the skull to the battlemaster. "Saren's head, as promised."
That shattered the tension. They all began laughing like hell. Everyone but the Chief collapsed from pure exhaustion and joy. For a while, they just stayed that way, savoring victory and life as the massive figure of a helpless Sovereign slowly descended into view of the Council Chambers' window.
Battle for the Citadel
Nazara's arrogance was its downfall, literally. Relying on a stronger, more specialized and immersive form of direct intervention, it intended to obliterate the anomalies with the possessed turian husk. It never believed in the concept of failure for a moment. When it did lose, the sheer loss of consciousness feedback generated a corrupted signal. Combined with the massive quantities of energy ripped away by the electric anomaly, Nazara was quickly turned into two kilometers worth of target practice. It lost its grip on the Citadel Tower. It lost its shields. It lost its weapons systems. It lost.
When Sovereign's sparks began to go nuts and the Reaper toppled right off the Tower, Joker had a pretty good idea what was going on. Taking a scan for good measure, the Normandy's helmsman grinned. "Its shields are down!" he announced on all frequencies. "Now's our chance!" He quickly moved to regroup with a squadron of fighters that hadn't unleashed their payloads yet. Seeing the larger frigate approach, they repositioned quickly to accommodate the Alliance's finest pilot.
"Hit it with everything we've got," Hackett ordered. That was all he said, and it was all they needed to hear. Every ship still remotely functional opened fire with spinal mounted mass accelerator cannons, GARDIAN lasers, disruptor torpedoes, and - from the Fifth Fleet's dreadnaughts – multi-cannon broadsides.
Sovereign was getting pounded without mercy, squirming and writhing to no avail. The great Reaper was truly helpless. Joker flew away from the carnage briefly with the fighters close behind. "Hard on my flank! We're going in!" Now was a good time to show off the other experimental technology that his baby was outfitted with.
As the fighters launched their torpedoes, Joker unleashed something a bit bigger. The latest in Alliance naval combat, the Javelin missile was a brilliant weapon at "knife fight" range. Deploying the "rack" of dark energy warheads and breaking off, Joker watched in delight as the blue missile punched through Sovereign's armor, ripped a path across the Reaper's mechanical guts, and blew a massive hole out the other side.
That was all it took. Sovereign could sustain itself no longer. As massive fissures cracked and widened along its main carcass, the Reaper gave off one last sky-splitting wail before physics ran its course.
Joker gave a war whoop, but the grin quickly left his face. As stated, physics was running its course. Right now that included Sovereign's debris colliding with the Citadel Tower. "Oh shit!"
Cole was the first to notice it. As an astrakinetic powerhouse, giant hunks of metal tended to attract his attention. That and the entire window had gone dark, but the latter was when everyone else began to notice as well. The conduit knew they wouldn't make it away in time, so he opted for the second most insane idea (First was just sitting there and getting squished).
He sprang to his feet and ran towards the incoming Reaper fragments, each at least the size of a small house and closing fast.
"Dammit Cole!" Alex yelled, his sentiments echoed by almost everyone else on the squad. "Get the fuck out of there!"
Ignoring everyone and everything, Cole channeled all the electricity he had left between his hands. Spinning around as the window was completely shattered, the Patron Saint of New Marais unleashed an enormous ionic vortex straight into the rain of Reaper metal.
Thirty-Five Minutes Later
Captain Anderson had been locked up for aiding and abetting the "rogue" Spectres in their escape. Once C-Sec was losing the station to geth, husks, and who knew what else, they were quickly convinced that he was more useful leading the ground defense than rotting in a cell. They had been entirely right. Now, here he was, looking for the heroes of the galaxy and hoping that they were still alive. Damn if they hadn't earned a rest.
When the C-Sec agent finally cut open the door, Anderson entered and was immediately awestruck. He'd been told that some of Sovereign's wreckage had crashed up here, but this…
Cole was face down in front of a massive swathe of empty space. It was the only empty space in the entire room, and the good Captain had no doubt that the Storm of Elysium had carved it out himself. Cole's friends were all gathered around him. The poor boy looked like shit, but Ryan and the squad's techs were "feeding" him electricity to restore his health.
Anderson realized that he was gawking when he should be helping these damned impossible heroes in any way he could. He ordered the C-Sec team to secure the room, but more than a few were already rushing to a downed Garrus' side. No doubt they'd be calling in every medic from here to Shalta ward for their saviors. Striding forward, he looked down on Supernova and Normandy crew members alike. It was almost unreal that these nine individuals had saved the entire galaxy. "It's over," Anderson stated with no small amount of pride. "You've won." Most of them gave him a gentle smile, thought Tali could only nod and Cole settled for a thumb's up while remaining face-down.
The Master Chief sighed and actually dropped into a sitting position. He reached for his helmet, and a hissing noise indicated he'd released the airtight seals. "No," he said calmly. "It's not over." Removing the helmet, the Spartan took in a deep breath. "I think we're just getting started."
Oh hell yes! I just went there!
I really hope you guys liked the final battle of my first installment. After I finish this fic in the next chapter, I'll have plenty more action in the sequel.
But that's literally a story for another time. Happy Holidays people, and of course…
Read, Review, and Enjoy!