Jump to content


Member Since 27 Apr 2005
Offline Last Active Apr 04 2012 11:08 PM

Posts I've Made

In Topic: Dancing through Tears

29 March 2012 - 04:34 AM

Dancing through Tears, Chapter 5

No-one likes us humans, we don’t care

Normandy doesn’t have a full crew. In fact, it’s got a rather random selection of people on board. I make note of this as I carry Ashley into medical, where we’re lacking a doctor. That’s a problem I can do nothing about, as I carefully lay Ashley down on a diagnostic bed and remove the shatter remnants of her helmet.

And then, all I can do is stand there looking helplessly at her. I might be able to apply field dressings and medigel, but that isn’t enough for brain trauma. In fact, it’s exactly what The Book says not to do. There’s a crash as James drops the Cerberus machine on another bunk,  but I don’t think he’s got any more medical training than me.

Liara leans over the bed and glares at me. “Ashley needs medical attention.” I know, but I can’t do something about that. “We need to leave the Sol system. Have Joker take us to the Citadel. They will be able to treat her there.”

That makes sense. “Joker!” I address the air, knowing he can monitor the ship. “Get us to the Citadel.”

“Yes, Commander.” At least he’s a familiar voice, if not face.

“Commander.” EDI is another one. “Admiral Hackett is attempting to contact you on the secondary QEC.”

“I’ll take it.” I turn round to leave, and notice the Cerberus mech. “See what you can get from that thing.” I look at Liara, and set off.

“Commander. Can yo... me? Ar.... ving this?”

Interference is making Hackett nearly impossible to understand. “EDI, can you clear this up?”

“I will try, Shepard.”

It doesn’t take EDI more than a few moments before she resolves the problems. Hackett comes through much more clearly. “Shepard, have you been to Mars? What happened there?”

“We got to the archives, Admiral. The Illusive Man had troops there too. Including a synthetic, that managed to download part of the data into it’s memory. Liara and EDI are trying to recover it.”

“I’m not surprised to hear Cerberus was there. Do you have any idea what they wanted the data for?”

“We speculated that anything that could destroy, or perhaps control, the Reapers was something the Illusive Man would be interested in, Sir.”

“That’s a sound theory. Cerberus are a wild card in all this. They may not want the Reapers to win, but they also want to come out ahead themselves.”

“I suggested that to the Illusive Man, that we needed to co-operate to survive. He dismissed the idea.” Behind me, the door swishes open, and Liara comes forward.

“Ah, Dcotor T’soni.” I shouldn’t be surprised Hackett knows her. “Do you have any idea what the data shows.”

“A ‘device’, designed by the Protheans.” She taps her omni-tool, displaying an unfamiliar object, an arrangement of spheres, antennae and gantries. “I cannot say yet what it does, but given the power output it would be capable of unimaginable levels of destruction.”

“Enough to destroy the Reapers?”

“I... cannot say. Not without more time to study the plans.”

“Send them to me. I’ll get the best experts I can find to look at them. If they concur, we’ll start gathering materials to construct this ‘device’.” He looks back at me. “What are you planning now, Commander?”

“We’re on our way to the Citadel, Admiral.”

“Good. We’ll need the Council’s if we’re to fight the Reapers.”

“And if they won’t support us, sir?”

“Then find a way.”

“Understood, sir. Also, Commander Williams was critically injured in the confrontation with the Cerberus mech. We’ll be seeking medical attention for her.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Commander. But we both know she’s just one of many. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Send me that data. Fifth Fleet out.”

I stare at the blank space where Hackett’s image was standing long enough for Liara to get worried. “Shepard?” I blink, and look at her. “I managed to get Ashley stabilised, but she needs proper medical treatment. The Citadel is the best place for that.”

“I suppose.”

"The admiral's right, isn't he. It's going to get worse."

"Unless we stop the REapers, yes."  I head out towards the CiC.

She hurries after me. “At least Hackett is supporting mor research into the prothean data. I think it’s our best chance to defeat the Reapers.”


“I get the feeling you don’t entirely believe it, though.” Liara sounds sad, as I lean on the rail looking away from her.

“It’s hard to believe, yes.”

“Isn’t it worth a try, though? There’s no way we’ll defeat the Reapers conventionally.”

I pause for a moment. “I’m going to go and check what we have for a crew.” I start towards the cockpit.

“At least the Council can’t deny the existence of the Reapers any more. They have to support us now. Haven’t they?”

I stop and give her what’s half a grin and half a grimace. “It’s going to be a hell of a short war if they don’t.”

“Barely getting a pulse.” The medical team is rushing Ashley out on a stretcher.

“More IV. Move it along, there.” The turian seems to be in charge.

Rather than crowd them in the elevators, I step aside and halt Liara and James. “Where are you taking her?” I look at the turian.

“Huerta Memorial. Best care on the Citadel.” I nod at him in thanks.

“We aren’t going with?” James seems astonished by it, when I shake my head at him.

“We need to get ready for our meeting with the Council.” Liara may not sound happy, but she understands the main priority.

“Or perhaps they’re coming to us.” James points down the corridor leading to our docking bay. A C-Sec officer is coming towards us.

He holds his hand out when he gets close, and I shake it. “Commander.”

“Captain Bailey. Good to see you again.” For a moment, he grimaces.

“Likewise. Though, it’s ‘Commander’ Bailey now.”

“Congratulations?” He doesn’t sound happy about it.

“Meh.” He makes a disgruntled sounds. “I preferred it down in the wards. Now I spend most of my time playing gatekeeper for the Council and showing visitng dignitaries around. Ah, no offence.”

“None taken.”

“Anyway, I’ve been sent down to tell you that the Council are expecting, and are willing to see you, but they might be delayed owing to the Reaper invasion and all, and they’re sorry, blah blah, etc, etc. You might have time to go by the hospital if you want to see how your friend is doing.”

“Thank you. I might do that.”

“And I will go to Councillor Udina’s office and prepare our presentation.” Liara sounds decided, and I shrug. I don’t need her with me to visit Ashley, and she’s right that we need to know what we’re going to tell them.

“And you?” Bailey looks at James.

“I’m just a tourist here. I’ll try to stay out of trouble.”

Before we can discuss anything else, Bailey’s communicator beeps. “Chief, we need you up in the diplomatic offices. Some sort of trouble outside the Elcor embassy could use your presence.”

“I’ll be there.” He shuts down his comm., and looks at me. “It’s like this all the time. I’ll see you later, Shepard.”

We disperse. Liara heads to Councillor Udina’s office, and I feel a little sympathy that she’ll have to deal with him, tempered by the knowledge that she volunteered for it. James heads down to the Wards after mumbling something about getting a drink, and I’m fairly sure he’ll be in a bar frequented by Alliance soldiers within the hour.

Meanwhile I head up to the hospital. Huerta Memorial is named after the president of the UNAS, and it’s fair to say it’s a controversial name. President Huerta had a serious stroke a year or so ago, and spent several weeks in a coma. There are claims that he suffered serious brain damage, and that his cybernetic implants include a VI that is now operating his body without his brain’s input. The “cyborg zombie president” is a touchy subject, with mass protests and riots against him. That the anonymous donor who funded this insisted it be a ‘Memorial’ hospital implies they want to emphasise that the President is dead.

Not that the politics of the situation matter to me. I’m not even from UNAS. I’m here to check up on Ashley. In the lobby, I meet two doctors talking to each other. I assume Doctor Michel works here, but I do wonder about Doctor Chakwas. As I approach, Michel sees me coming. “Here she is.” She steps away, giving me privacy to talk to Chakwas.

Chakwas turns towards me. “Hello, Commander. It’s good to see you again.”

“You too, Doctor.” I hesitate a moment. “Ah, what are you doing on the Citadel?”

“Oh, I’m working at an Alliance R&D lab down in the Wards. When I heard about Ashley, I came up to see if I could be any help.”

“So the Alliance kept you in work after our little escapade?” That makes me feel a little resentful. I was a prisoner for six months.

“They didn’t seem to know what to do with me.” She sounds slightly amused. “I was officially on leave for the period, I was never involved in any Cerberus activity that the Alliance considered illegal, so I think they just decided to ignore everything.” Slightly less amused, she continues. “I suppose if they had decided to charge you with treason, I’d have had to insist on being tried as an accessory.”

“And they’ve got you doing R&D?”

“Yes. Useful work, but not really something I enjoy.”

“I remember you saying how you liked being on starships. You know, the Normandy doesn’t have a chief medic. Or any medic, come to think of it.”

“Is that an offer, Commander?” Now she definitely sounds amused.

“Get your gear, and take yourself down to the Normandy. Docking Bay D24. It’s good to have you back.”

“It’s good to be back, Commander.”

After we shake hands and Chakwas heads off, I go over to Doctor Michel. “Hello, Doctor. You’re looking well.”

“I am. Chief Physician at the most prestigious hospital on the Citadel. It’s a long way from my little clinic down in the Wards, and I owe it to you. If you hadn’t helped me out with Fist’s thugs and then with Banes, I’d never have got here.” She sighs. “But I suppose you want to hear about Commander Williams rather than reminisce.”

“How is she, Doc?”

“It could go either way. We’ve operated to reduce the swelling in her brain and that went well, but until she wakes up we’ve no way to tell what the damage might be. Scans show there is some, but brain injuries are hard to predict. She’s in excellent physical condition, which should help.”

“Can I see her?”

“There’s no reason why not. Of course, she is still in a coma, induced this time. I’ll get a nurse to take you.”

Williams’ room is a side one, with a large window overlooking the Presidium Ring that will give her an excellent view when she recovers. That she will is not in question. I sit down, and look at her for a moment. Her face is bruised and swollen, and some of her hair is gone, but she doesn’t look that different. “Hey, Ash.” She can’t hear me, but I’m still going to talk to her. “You know, I was pretty angry with you on Mars. When you expressed your doubts about me loyalty, well... But the thing is, right now you’re hurt and all I can think is that I want you to get better. We were friends once, and you still matter to me. You’re a fighter, Ash, and this war is going to need fighters. I don’t care whether you wake up hating me, but we’re going to need you. So get well, Ash.”

On the way to Udina’s office, I pass Bailey’s. When I hear a raised voice inside, I poke my head around the door. He’s got Khalisah in there! Not sadly, under arrest. She appears to be trying to get an interview with the Council, and it’s his job to say no. From what I overhear, she may be pushing a line about the Council being against humanity because they won’t let her interview them. Bailey sounds thoroughly weary as he tells her that the Council is just a little busy, what with the war, and isn’t giving interviews to anyone. When she threatens to camp out until she gets it, his rejoinder amuses me. “I hope you brought a sleeping bag.”

She spots me as she leaves. “Commander Shepard! Commander, humanity has questions. I insist...” With the door closing in her face, I don’t hear what she insists.

I talk to Bailey for a while, commiserating with him over having to play gatekeeper for the Council. He has n interesting insight into conditions on the Citadel. Even though refugees from worlds the Reapers have attacked are arriving, even they seem to want to act as if everything will get back to normal. The Citadel residents want to ignore that a war is happening, and manage to do so a lot of the time. That could make my job, getting support for Earth, hard. I also find out how he got to be Commander of C-Sec, and that it was mostly down to Udina pushing for it. When I suggest he could have refused, he points out that while I might be able to get away with refusing Udina, he has to live on the Citadel. We part, rather gloomily, after he mentions how his ex-wife and children are somewhere on Earth.

Udina isn’t actually present, but his asari secretary is waiting for me. She sends me up to the Council Chambers, where the Council is in session. Udina is, as seems to be his style, trying to browbeat them. “Earth is under attack! The Council must respond.”

Tevos doesn’t sound happy. “We are all facing difficulties, Councillor. The Reapers threaten all of us.”

“But Earth is the first Council homeworld to be attacked. We are facing the brunt of the attack!”

“According to your reports, perhaps.” Trust Valern to express the opinion of salarian intelligence.

Udina looks as if he’s about to burst a blood-vessel, till Liara shakes her head slightly at him. I decide to intervene. “The rports are true. I was on Earth when the Reapers attacked.”

“Commander Shepard.” Tevos doesn’t sound too happy to see me, either. “It may be so. Even so, what would you have us do? The Reapers press on our borders as well.”

“We aren’t going to get anywhere if we spend all our time looking after our own problems. The Reapers are too powerful for any of us to deal with alone.”

“So we should just send our forces to Earth and leave our worlds unprotected?” Tevos is definitely hostile to that idea.

“That’s not what we’re asking for.” I almost sigh, but that would be likely to offend someone we need on our side.

“You have a plan?” It’s the first time Sparatus has spoken, which is unusual considering his normal hostility to humans.

“We do.” I look at Liara. “Something we discovered in the Prothean archive on Mars.”

Liara takes up the tale, activating her omni-tool and displaying the device we came across. “This is a device the Protheans were trying to build during their war with the Reapers. Something they hoped would change the course of the war. According to Admiral Hackett’s experts, it is within our capabilities, but it would require your help.”

“The Protheans were defeated by the Reapers. What good did this device do them?” I think Tevos would like to disregard this.

“It wasn’t finished. There was a component missing. This, here.” Liara highlights a section of the display. “The Protheans simply ran out of time.”

Valern has been studying his omni-tool. “It would be a mammoth undertaking.”

“Yes.” I’m aware of that. “That’s why we would need the Council to support it.”

They look at each other, and then the Valern shakes his head slightly. Tevos gives a small nod in reply, and turns back to me. “The sad truth is that we have too many problems of our own to provide assistance at this time. Perhaps, when we have secured our borders, we may be able to give further consideration to helping with this device.”

Well, that’s extremely stupid. Not entirely unpredictable, though. As I’m about to go, Udina calls over to me. “Shepard.  Meet me in my office.  I’ll catch up with you.”

When Udina storms in, I’m seat on a corner of his desk. He certainly wants to vent. “They’re blind, stupid fools, Shepard.” He stomps over to the window and leans on the sill. “Humanity may have a place on the Council, but we’ll always be seen as second-rate. You saw how they dismissed me in there. Well, I may not be able to do much now, but rest assured I will not be counted out forever.”

“This whole ‘Council races stand on their own’ is going to be a problem with the Reapers here. None of us have the resources to stand them off alone. What are they thinking?”

“They’re thinking about their own people and how to protect them best.” Both of us whirl round at the unexpected, Turian, voice. Councillor Sparatus is standing there, and gives me the expression that on a human would be called a wintry smile. “Commander.”

“Councillor.” If he’s being polite, so will I. “Can we help you?”

“Yes. And I can help you. I know how to get the support you need for Earth.”

“What do we need to do?” Udina’s voice is sharp, but hopeful.

“The Reapers are attacking Palaven.” For a moment, Sparatus looks less stoic. “The Primarch is trapped there. The Normandy is one of the few vessels that might be capable of getting him out.”

“So far, I’m hearing how we can help you.” My tone comes out sharper than I’d like. “Not the other way around.”

“If you rescue the Primarch, the Hierarchy will be grateful. Not to mention the Primarch himself will owe you a debt, Commander. He had already proposed a meeting of government leader to decide a strategy for this war. If you make it possible, it’s quite likely that he’ll decide supporting Earth is in everyone’s interest. And swing Turian support behind this project your asari proposed as well.”

“Makes sense.” Although it’s interesting that what he proposes basically sidelines him, and if others agree the rest of the Council too. “All right, what information have you got? Where can we find the Primarch?”

“The last communication I had said Fedorian has been evacuated to Menae.” When I blink, he adds, “Palaven’s largest moon. That report is several hours old, and we know that Reaper forces are landing on Menae too. You’ll need to contact the Admiral in charge of the space forces still fighting in the system. He may have more information. I’ll make sure he knows to expect you and to co-operate. The rest is up to you, Commander.” He starts towards the door, and then pauses. “Incidentally, I’ve been asked to inform you that the Council has agreed to sustain your Spectre status. Do what needs doing, Shepard.”

That was strange. Udina remarks on it too. “It’s a strange day when the turians are the least hostile race to humanity. Still, they need you. Use that.”

“How about the other Councillors? What’s your read on them?”

“Tevos is dedicated to the asari. She’s like a mother tiger trying to protect her cubs. Valern is out of his depth. The salarians like there wars won before they start.”

“I suppose the other races aren’t so important.”

“No. But they can still help. Humanity has won a few friends over the years. Now I politic, call in favours, make promises, offer bribes, and do everything I can to get assets for your project and Hackett’s fleet.”

“You must have a lot of power.”

“Arcturus was one of the first places the Reapers attacked in human space. Parliament, the government, are gone. I have more power than any human being in history. I can literally move mountains.” He looks sharply at me. “Don’t forget that, Commander, because the task before us is literally moving worlds.”

“You must have known a lot of people on Arcturus. I’m sorry.” Damn, I’m starting to feel sympathy for Udina now.

“A huge number, on a first name basis. I had a second VI just to keep track of their anniversaries. Monstrous to think they’re all gone. And of course there are all the people on Earth as well, though that’s less... personal.”

“It’s not going to get better soon.” I sigh. “I better get started. The turians are going to want their primarch back.”

“Do that. I’ll be here if you need to see me.”

On the way back to the Normandy, I tell Joker to make sure the crew is aboard. So it’s a bit of a surprise when I reach the waiting area on the dock to find an ensign with a Normandy ship badge being interrogated by a news reporter. “But you’re from the Normandy, aren’t you. Is it true that Commander Shepard is on board? That she escaped from Earth after the Reaper attack. Why would she be here if she wasn’t meeting the Council?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” At least he’s keeping his head. “I can’t confirm or deny any rumours you might have heard.”

The reported has good peripheral vision. “You don’t need to. Here she is.” She steps over to me. “Commander Shepard.” She holds her hand out. “I’m Diana Allers, Alliance News Network. I’m a reporter on a show called Battlespace, showing conflicts and talking to military heroes from all around the galaxy.”

“I suppose you want an interview.”

“Better than that. My chief has ordered us to find an Alliance warship we can do embedded reporting from, and I want my ship to be the Normandy.”

She sounds enthusiastic. “Why would I want to allow that?”

“Wars can be won on the cutting room floor, Commander, and this is a war that needs to be one. I won’t take up much space, my gear is entirely portable. You’ll have full editorial control over anything I broadcast.” She hesitates. “I know you’ve had some bad experiences with reporters in the past, but I won’t give you any problems. I just want to get people to support the Alliance.”

I think for a moment. “All right. We can give it a try. Get your gear on board. We’re moving out within an hour.”

“How much can I bring?”

“Whatever you need for your broadcasts, and one footlocker. If you need help, I’ll have a deckhand assist you.”

“Understood, Commander.” Her salute, well meant, is nevertheless something she shouldn’t do.

Overheard on the Citadel:

Turian: “They’re shipping us out later today. To the battle zones on Palaven.”

Asari: “I’ll send you a holo-message every day.”

Turian: “I don’t know if you’ll be able to do that. There are strict limits on how much we can communicate. They want to keep channels free for military material.”

Asari: “But… how am I supposed to keep in touch with you?”

Turian: “We’re supposed to be allowed one personal communication a week.”

Asari: “All right. I’ll make sure to include the children when I speak to you.”

Turian: “Good. I’ll try to reply when I can.”

Asari: “Well, that shouldn’t be hard. It’s not as if you’re going to be on the front line. Yours is an engineering unit. You’ll be building fortifications in the rear.”

Turian: “Yes, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be in combat. Sometimes the front will come to us, and there’s also the fact that they will sometimes want us to assault enemy fortifications. That’s what they’ve trained us for.”

Asari: “But… You’ve done your service. Surely they wouldn’t put you at risk like that.”

Turian: “Serving the Hierarchy is what we do. Listen, I’ve been thinking. If you don’t hear from me, try to take the children and get away from here. This “Sanctuary Project” that’s being advertised. A place to hide from the Reapers. Try to get on that.”

Asari: “All right. I’ll look into it.”

Turian: “Good.”

In Topic: Dancing through Tears

23 March 2012 - 09:43 AM

Dancing through tears, Chapter 4

One last show

“So why are Cerberus here anyway?” Williams seems to enjoy interrupting any moment of calm I have with Liara.

“Yeah, they seemed pretty intent on catching you.” James looks intently at Liara.

“I assume they’re here for the same thing the rest of us are. The Prothean data.”

“That makes sense. Because anything that could destroy the Reapers...”

“Is something Cerberus might be interested in.” Liara finishes Williams’ sentence.

“Then we better get moving.” I start towards the elevator, until something bangs on the door into the facility. After a few moments, someone outside starts using a cutting torch down the seam.

“More Cerberus people.” Liara sounds rather annoyed.

“Bring them on.” By contrast, James sounds happy to have a fight coming.

I think for a moment. “Not right now, James.”

“What? But...”

“I want you outside with the shuttle. If Cerberus beat us to the data, you’ll be able to stop their evac attempt.”

“I... Yeah, all right.”

I can sympathise with his feelings, assuming they’re like mine. Earth made me feel helpless and frustrated, and an outlet in the form of Cerberus troops would be good. But there’s a larger picture I have to keep in mind. So I wave him onto the elevator, and send it off

It doesn’t take the Cerberus troops long to cut through the door. When they do, some of their troopers come through. “There she is!” They point at Liara, who is standing in the open as bait. She ducks for cover, as we planned. As the Cerberus troops move out to flank her, two grenades fly out from where Williams and I are concealed, and then we open fire with assault rifles, pushing them into a tight group. Ideal for Liara’s singularity to finish them off.

“We need to get up there.” Liara points at the door the Cerberus troops came in by.

That should be easy enough. There’s a personnel elevator just there.

Which turns out to be sabotaged. I look around. The landing around the room has an overhang, so there’s no way we can climb up. The vehicles are too far from it to climb off their roof, or too low. Although...

One of the rovers is on a maintenance lift in the corner. I activate that, and raise the vehicle to the maximum height. Then we climb up some cargo pallets, jump across to the top of the vehicle, and get onto the landing that way.

Meanwhile, Ashley and Liara are talking as they follow me.

“So, what happened here?”

“Well, first we got the news from Earth, which started a bit of a panic. The next thing we knew, Cerberus troops had infiltrated the base. Security simply wasn’t ready for them.”

“Sounds like they had help from the inside.”

“Yes, it does.” For a moment, Liara’s biotics flare. I think if she finds that ‘help’, they might be meeting with a fatal singularity.

We set out into the base, moving through the corridors. Liara knows the layout, and tells me which way to turn while she stays behind me, with Williams at the rear. As we’re moving, she murmurs to me. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to visit you on Earth. I... wasn’t sure it would be appropriate.”

I glance at her. “Well, in the circumstances, I think I forgive you. I missed you, though.”

“I missed you too.”

Before all the happy feelings can lead to anything, we run into a small patrol of Cerberus idiots. There are several of the ordinary troopers, and one of the commanders. Centurions, to use the pretentious name Cerberus gives them. They’ve an annoying habit of throwing smoke grenades, allowing the others to find better cover. They don’t seem terribly able to take advantage of this to outflank us, but that probably reflects the nature of the terrain as much as tactical stupidity. Biotics, and the occasional grenade, work as effectively as you’d expect.

At the first security office, I check the console. It’s locked down. Liara frowns. “We aren’t going to be able to use the pedway to get to the archive. We’ll have to get out on the roof and use the tram system.” She points at one of the exits. Before we can go there, Ashley interrupts.

“Who’s that?” She points at one of the monitors, which is still showing a feed from a security camera. A dark haired woman is purposefully hacking the terminal on a desk, before heading off.

“Doctor Eva Core.” Liara recognises her. “She joined the project a couple of weeks ago.”

“I think I’d like to have a word with her.” Even if it’s only to find she isn’t the Cerberus mole.

Through the door we get another corridor of Cerberus mooks. Some of these are carrying ballistic shield, large enough to cover almost their whole body and resistant to gunfire and biotics. The most obvious weakness is the vision slit, carefully positioned at head height so the troopers can look through it. Thus, they’re perfect for a decent sniper to split a few heads. The other significant problem is that they’re one-directional, and that direction is not ‘up’. Once Liara sends a singularity above their heads they make excellent target practice. The other Cerberus troops end up dead as well, which isn’t the worst disappointment I’ve had, especially since they drop a few thermal clips to replenish our supply.

On the roof, the wind is noticeably strong. The storm is closer, perhaps twenty minutes away. We head along the section of roof, and down a ladder to another. “Look, over there.” Williams points to where a tram is moving towards the archive proper. Fire is being exchanged between Cerberus troops on board it, and some unknown enemy inside the archive.

“The Alliance must still be holding out.” Liara sounds optimistic. “Hurry, that way.”

She points me along another section of roof, and up some stairs. Climbing them, my communicator crackles. “Commander.”

“That you, James?” It certainly sounds like him.

“I’m ... the shuttle. Storm’s playing.... reception. I can ... reach... Normandy. What is .....”

“What was that, James? I couldn’t hear you,”

“What .... –tion?”

“James?” Static is the response. Well, at least it sounds like he’s reached the shuttle. If Cerberus try to evacuate, he can interfere. I trot across a roof, leap the small gapto another and look around. There’s an entrance to the building here.

Liara frowns at it. “That airlock should not be open.”

Sounds like sabotage, and as we move inside it becomes apparent, firstly that this was a canteen, and secondly that a lot of people were gathered here when the atmosphere was evacuated. Williams sounds horrified. “It looks like some of them died trying to claw their way out.”

“This is brutal, even for Cerberus.”

Liara sounds distressed. I suppose these are people she knew.  With a flashlight on, I move across the canteen.

Williams has had the same thought. “Did you know many of these people, Liara?”

“Not really. I encountered them, but I was the only asari here. They seemed to regard me with a degree of suspicion. I spent most of my time translating on my own.”

Hmm, well, that’s bad. Liara must have been lonely and perhaps a bit miserable. But it’s good, because no-one was trying to flirt with my asari. That sounds really pathetic even in my mind.

Fortunately, I don’t have to dwell on my inadequacies. There are some Cerberus troops, perhaps a rearguard, at the bottom of the room. If they are a rearguard they’re a very bad one, not paying attention to what’s happening around them. Perhaps they were under the impression that the glass between us and them was armoured, but it wasn’t. A few seconds of fire, and all bar the last are down. He lasts moments longer, caught in a singularity.

“We’ll need to repressurise the room.” Liara points. “Environmental controls are over there.”

In addition to environmental controls, there are two dead Alliance security personnel. While Liara works on the controls and Willilams watches for hostiles, I check the bodies.  They were shot in the head at close range. That isn’t something likely to happen if they were alert.

As the lights come on, and air starts pumping back onto the room, Liara checks the console for more. “I have a recording showing what happened here.”

She puts it on the monitor. One of the, now dead, guards is talking to the screen. “Control, we’ve got some sort of problem down here. Security alarms just tripped.” The second guard moves into shot behind him. “I’m locked out from the system for some reason.” Doctor Core walks into the picture, and he glances at her.. “Doctor, we’ll let you know what’s happening when we know more.” As he turns to the screen, she draws a pistol and shoots the second guard in the back of the head, and follows up on him. As his body slumps forward across the terminal, she reaches in and starts accessing controls. The hiss of sudden atmospheric loss is audible in seconds, and in the background one of the scientists is visible collapsing.

Liara watches it in shock. “I should have... I was so busy concentrating on finding a way to defeat the Reapers that I didn’t even think to check up on her.”

“Hey.” I step towards her. “The only thing that matters to anyone should be defeating the Reapers. Don’t blame anyone but Cerberus for this.”

“But what if we’re wrong.” She turns away. “What if there’s no way to win, and we spend our last days scurrying around hopelessly.”

“We will beat the Reapers.” I take her by the shoulders, and turn her around to look in her eyes. “You and me, together. I promise.”

She wipes at an eye. “I believe you. Or I believe that you believe it, anyway.” And she sniffs. “I don’t know how you do it. You’re always so strong, so confident.”

That’s easy. “I think about the people I care about. Those I love.” I run my thumb along her jaw, and she leans into it.

“Then, I will do the same. Thank you, Shepard.”

A few more corridors, and we’re close to the tram station. There’s a problem, however. Cerberus have left an automated weapon turret behind. It isn’t going to break under small-arms fire or biotics., and it’s mingun can shred our shields in seconds. We have to dash between bits of cover, sheltering behind them until it hits a reloading cycle. And keep that up long enough to get behind it, where we aren’t within its arc of fire.

If the Cerberus troops in the next room had been paying attention, they’d have engaged us while we were doing this. They didn’t. On the other hand, while their equipment is pretty good I’ve not been impressed by their training so far. This group die rather easily too.

Looking around, Liara heads for a terminal. After a couple of seconds, she accesses a recording. Doctor Core is walking through the room we’re in, talking to a Cerberus centurion. “Set up the turret. And hold the trams at the archive. No-one gets through here.”

“Some of my men are still inside the facility.”

“No-one!” Well it’s clear who is in charge here. We got the turret, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, getting to the archive without using the tram could be difficult. Especially if the weather outside is still deteriorating.

Fortunately, Williams has a brain. “Don’t these Cerberus troops have communicators in their helmets?”

“The suits I saw did.”

“So, we need to get one of those and call for evacuation. Persuade them that we’ve dealt with the hostiles.”

“Good idea. See to it.” Williams moves into the next room.

Liara stares after her, then looks at me. “The Lieutenant Commander has become very competent.”

“I agree.” Ashley is. Perhaps satisfied, Liara turns back to the console.

I wander after Ashley. She’s working on one of the casualties, trying to get his helmet open. When she does, she steps back. “Oh God.”

I take a look. The man’s eyes have been replaced by some oddly organic looking cybernetics. They remind me of husks. When I glance at Ashley, she’s looking at me with a strange expression, a mixture of horror and pity. “Is that what Cerberus did to you, Shepard? Made you into a monster?”

“Do I look like that?”

“Well, no, but...”

“Doesn’t seem likely, then.”

“They rebuilt you. How am I supposed to trust that you’re, well, you?”

“Liara believes it. Doctor Chakwas believes it. Alliance Medical believes it. No offence, but they’re better qualified than you are to judge this.” I take the microphone from inside the Cerberus helmet. “Now, let’s see whether we can do this.” I lower my voice, and speak into the microphone. “Ah, Command, this is Delta Team.” They had Charlie and Foxtrot teams, from what I overheard. Delta seems likely.

“Where the hell have you been?” Whoever I’m speaking to sounds annoyed.

I try to sound aggrieved. “We’ve been engaging the intruders. They’re dealt with. And we have that asari we were hunting down captive. Need extraction.” Liara, who just walked through, wrinkles her nose hearing this.

“Well done. I’ll send Echo Team across to secure the base.”

“Down there.” Williams points to an area with a good line of fire on the tram terminal. We can ambush them from there.”

“Do that.” I move round to the other side of the room, where once Williams and Liara open fire I’ll be able to catch Cerberus troops engaging them in crossfire.

After the engagement, I look around. Fifteen dead Cerberus troops, no injuries on our side. I’m almost starting to feel like a bully, but their willingness to execute prisoners and murder civilians means my sympathy is limited.

We move onto the tram, and I set it going. “Wonder what we’ll find over there.” Williams sounds doubtful.”

“Lot of pissed off Cerberus troops, I expect.” Maybe this time, they’ll actually be ready for trouble.

The explosion by the side of the track, when it comes, is rather a surprise. All I can think as I pick myself up and look around at our wrecked tram-car, is that perhaps Cerberus aren’t so stupid after all. And with another car full of Cerberus troops heading our way, they look as if they want to keep their advantage.

They fail to do so. Grenades into both ends of the car bunch them together, Liara throws a singularity into the middle of them, and the two that try to leap across get a stock strike to the face while they’re still in the air. Over a hundred metre drop this is rather fatal. We shoot the ones caught in the singularity, then leap across. The controls are still functioning, so I reverse direction and take the car into the archive station.

More Cerberus troops are there, this time with the advantage of position. We still defeat them, taking advantage of the way their Centurions like to throw smoke grenades while they reposition. Two can do that, and on several occasions when the smoke clears we are left outflanking people who had moved to outflank us. I do get some amusement from moving past a shield-equipped trooper under cover of smoke, and shotgunning in the back. And the Centurion, who has been directing his men from behind a computer console, is rather surprised when I reach over it and pull him forward, before putting a pistol against his helmet and pulling the trigger.

With his death, the gunfire dies down and the smoke starts to settle. Liara points ahead. “There. That’s the archive.”

We get into position outside the door, and then activate it. Guns point inside, but no fire comes out way. In fact, as we move in, there doesn’t seem to be anyone present. I gesture to Williams to check around the room, and cover Liara as she makes for a terminal. When she reaches it, she starts tapping in commands.

A hologram lights up behind us. “Shepard.” Turning, a familiar face looks at us, cigarette in hand.

“Illusive Man.” Liara has a pistol drawn and aimed at him. That’s not likely to be too effective, since he’s only present in hologram form, but he can be shot through one I’m all for it.

“I see you survived the invasion of Earth.” He puffs on his cigarette. “This isn’t your problem any more, Shepard.”

“What do you want?” I let my annoyance show in my voice.

He looks at the prothean data stream for a moment. “The same thing I’ve always wanted.”

I remember the phrase. The survival and preservation of humanity.

“A fascinating race, the Protheans. The Alliance has known about this archive for years, and squandered that knowledge entirely. This archive might hold the key to controlling the Reapers. Perhaps the only place that exists, since you destroyed the Collector Base.”

“I destroyed that base because I didn’t trust what you’d do with it.”

“Short sighted as always. Stay out of this fight, Shepard. It’s not for you.”

“You’re playing games while Earth is under siege. Defeating the Reapers will take all our strengths, including yours. Give me control of your forces, for everyone’s good.”

“You’d do better with them than most, but your chances still aren’t good. Stay out of my way, Shepard. I won’t hesitate to remove you.”

“Good luck with that.” I turn away, “Liara.”

“On it.” She moves back to the terminal, then pauses. “Shepard, the data is being downloaded. I can’t access it.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the Illusive Man smirk, before his holo winks out. “Where from?” If he’s doing it, we need to destroy a communication array.

“It’s local.” Liara looks around, as I do. “Someone here.”

Williams has been round most of the room. I’m about to call to her, when she calls out. “Hey! Get away from there.” After a second, she steps into an alcove. “I’m warning you.”

It’s a bit of a surprise when she’s thrown out a moment later. There’s a sharp flash of electronics exploding, and then Doctor Core comes out and dashes for the door. “After her! She has the data.” Well, yes, Liara, I’d guessed that.

She’s certainly fast, and dangerous with a pistol and her omni-tool.  I pursue, hardly able to shoot because she’s moving so fast. Out of the room, through doors she slams shut, up ladders and across sections of roof, having to dodge blasts of flame and take pistol shots all the way. And then she’s running across the roof, and a Cerberus shuttle is descending with its doors open. I activate my commlink. “Normandy. James. Anyone. Intercept that shuttle.”

As Doctor Core leaps aboard, I think she’s got away. Then our shuttle appears. “Not getting away this time.” James is on his comm.. He steers our shuttle directly for the Cerberus one, and I realise what he plans.

Kamikaze is not a normal tactic. But when the shuttles collide, the Cerberus one comes off worst, spinning round and crashing onto the roof before bursting into flames. Ours is also damaged, and I move to flag it in to a safe landing spot.

Williams moves over to where Liara is lying, and I’m relieved to see both of them standing. Although Liara looks upset, before James lands the shuttle between us. I hear her call out. “The data is on that shuttle.” Then there’s some banging, and a loud crash.

As I come round our shuttle, I see Williams confronting a synthetic. Presumably Doctor Core, with her human skin burnt off.  Williams shoots her once, then is grabbed by the helmet and lifted up. Between me and the synthetic, so I can’t help her. Doctor Core touches her ear for a moment. “Orders?” I don’t hear the reply, but Doctor Core spins round and smashes Ashley’s helmet, head and all, against the frame of her shuttle. Not once, but twice, even as I start shooting her. Then she turns, and starts towards us. Shot, shot, shot, another shot, and it falls.

I look around. The shuttle is wrecked, Ashley is down, and we’ve a synthetic full of data we need. Then, I hear the whine of turbines. Joker speaks over the communicator. “Shepard. I’ve got Reaper signatures in orbit. We have to get out of here.”

Fair enough, Joker, if you say so. “Grab that thing.” I point James towards the synthetic, and move over to Ashley. She’s still breathing, though I can’t tell how much damage there is. But her helmet is crushed, I pick her up as gently as I can, and move up the loading ramp where Joker has brought the Normandy down. James has the synthetic, and Liara is moving aboard too.

The first Reaper is landing even as we flee from Mars.

In Topic: Dancing through Tears

22 March 2012 - 07:28 AM

Dancing through Tears, Chapter 3

What do you expect to happen on a planet named after a god of War?

“Commander, we’re in orbit. Can’t raise the surface, though. No one is responding to our hails.” We’re armoured and ready, waiting in the shuttle to drop, when Joker calls us.

“What do the sensors show? Any sign of Reaper activity?”

“The facility appears to be intact, Shepard.” EDI’s voice is calm as usual. “I detect no obviously unusual activity, however there are a significant number of vehicles outside the main entrance. It is possible that an evacuation is in progress.”

“That’d make sense, if they heard about the attack on Earth.” James moves into the pilot seat as he speaks. “Launching.”

Rather than wait in the back, where I’d end up staring at Commander Williams, I stand behind the co-pilots seat to observe. James is a competent enough pilot, so the descent goes well, till he points out the side. “We may have a problem, Commander. There’s a dust storm building up.”

He’s speaking loudly enough to be heard by Williams, so she’s able to respond. “How long till it hits?”

“An hour, tops.”

“Better get on with this, then.” We can’t afford to be stuck here for the weeks one might last.

James lands the shuttle on the bluff overlooking the facility set up to study the Prothean data archives without incident. There are a large number of vehicles parked outside it, but no visible movement when we debark from the shuttle. What we can see is the dust storm, 15 kilometres high and covering most of the eastern horizon.

“We need to get this done before that comes in, or we’ll have trouble getting out or communicating with the Normandy.” Of course, Williams has to make her comment. It’s not as if we aren’t familiar with the reputation of Martian dust storms.

I start down the path, and halt next to a rover. There’s a body, an Alliance soldier, shot in the head at close range. “We’ve got company. Weapons out.” While that might not have been necessary before, I’m sure it is now. I pull my sniper rifle, while James and Ashley get out assault rifles.

A little down the path, there’s a group of armoured people standing around another on his knees. They’re not paying proper attention to their surroundings, being more interested in the impending execution. We can’t interrupt it, but they don’t even start looking around after the man is shot in the head. This lets us get into an excellent ambush position. I squeeze off the first shot while they’re still gloating, and a head explodes. Then a second, as they start to look around. Assault rifle fire bursts around them as the duck for cover. I wave to Ashley to pin one group down, and to James to use a grenade on the others. Even if it doesn’t kill them, they’ll be forced to move, and that leaves them in the open for me to snipe. Repeating with the other group, this leaves us a score of eight dead idiots without breaking sweat.

Then I get a closer look at the bodies, and recognise their armour. It’s something I’m familiar with, and have even worn.

James recognises it too. “That looks like Cerberus gear.”

“It is.” I keep my eyes down the path, not wanting to be as dumb as these people.

“What would Cerberus troops be doing here?” I notice Williams is staring at me.

“How should I know?”

“You worked for them, didn’t you?”

“And I don’t any more.” There’s no movement visible, so I start up the path. We haven’t reached the area immediately in front of the building, where most of the vehicles were. I expect more resistance.

I’m not disappointed. This group at least is paying some attention to the world around them, rather than executing prisoners. We have a short, intense fire fight with them, before they’re all dead. When they are, Williams looks around. “A lot of vehicles for the number we’ve seen.”

So presumably there are more inside. This is hardly unexpected. I move into the entrance, and head for the elevator controls. Before I can activate them, Williams interrupts me. “Shepard, I need a straight answer. Do you know anything about what Cerberus is doing here?”

So she still thinks I’m associated with Cerberus. I try to keep my temper in check. “I worked for Cerberus for one reason only; to deal with the Collector threat when no-one else would help. Nothing else.”

“But they rebuilt you. Gave you resources, a ship…”She trails off suggestively.

“Let me be very clear. After I refused to hand the Collector base over to the Illusive Man, I have had no contact with Cerberus. I have no idea what Cerberus troops are doing here.”

“Since she handed herself in to Alliance custody,” James unexpectedly speaks up in support of me, “Commander Shepard has been under constant surveillance. At no time has she contacted or attempted to contact anyone associated with Cerberus”

So get over yourself. I want to say it, but don’t. Instead, I shove the lever on the elevator. “Williams, you don’t have to trust me. But Anderson is aware of everything I’ve done, and didn’t hesitate to reinstate me.”

She stops to think about it as the elevator descends. At least when we reach the net floor, a vehicle hanger, she’s reached a conclusion. “I know that, but I still…”

Banging in the air circulation vents interrupts us. There’s someone, or more probably several someones, moving over our head. And at least one has a gun, because I hear a shot being fired. As the noise gets louder, I realise where it seems to be coming out, and move into position where I can see the air filter. Vega and Williams follow.

There are several bangs, and then the filter comes away and an asari pushes herself out, dropping to the floor. Two Cerberus troopers follow her out of the vent. Before they can do anything, she turns and releases a singularity. The troopers are left floating in the air. She draws her pistol, takes careful aim, and shoots the pair of them, before letting her singularity dissipate and drop them to the floor. Two more shots are enough to ensure they’re dead.

I step out, a dumb grin on my face. When James follows, rifle levelled, I push it down. “It’s all right, Vega. She’s with us.” [i[Or me, at least.[/i]

Liara turns round. “Shepard!” Her face, momentarily happy, falls, even as I step forward ant take her hands.. “I heard about Earth. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. It was bad.” Williams has stepped up next to me, perhaps because she wants an elbow in the face for interrupting a reunion.

It certainly makes Liara hesitate. She lets go of my hands and steps back. “Ashley. I’m… sorry.”

For a moment, there’s an awkward silence, till Liara breaks it again. “What are you doing here, Shepard? The last I heard, you were still on Earth.”

“We got away from the Reaper attack. Anderson told me to go to the Citadel. Only, Hackett got in touch. He asked me to go to the archives on Mars. I think he thought there was something here which might help.” He also said you were here, so I’d have come by anyway. “Do you know what he was on about?”

“I think I do.” She steps towards a window.

“Finally, some answers.” James sounds as if he was holding in a lot of frustration.

“Perhaps.” Liara looks thoughtful. “After what happened at Bahak, Admiral Hackett knew we were running out of time. He got in touch with me, and arranged for me to come to the Prothean archive on Mars. I think he hoped I’d be able to find something, anything, that other researchers had missed.”

“And have you?”

“Yes. At least, I think so. I have uncovered the plans for a ‘device’ that the Protheans were building in their last days. Something that they hoped would be powerful enough to destroy the Reapers.”

“Finally some good news.” Williams sounds pleased.

“Maybe.” Liara is less so. “But it is just a blueprint. Building it would be a colossal undertaking.”

I shrug inside my armour. “It’s still more than we had a minute ago. Where do we find this plan?”

“In the archive.” Liara gestures out the window, towards a vehicle line on the far side of the building. “We’ll have to make our way across the building, and then take the tram line to the archive itself. Researchers aren’t normally allowed to download material directly, but with Cerberus troops running around the facility I don’t think that will be a problem. We just have to get there before them.”

“All right. Let’s move out.” I smile at Liara, and she smiles back.

In Topic: Dancing through Tears

21 March 2012 - 06:02 AM

Dancing Through Tears, Chapter 2

Can’t save them all

“Shepard.” Now why is Anderson yelling at me when I‘m having a nice rest admiring the swirly ceiling? Slowly, I focus my eyes on him. I think he wants me to get up, so I let him pull me to my feet. Hey, this room is quite a mess.

I may have a mild concussion. I’ll get over it. Instinctively, I check the nearest body for signs of life, which aren’t there. I’d move on to looting, but Anderson hands me a pistol and a thermal sink. “Take these.” I grimace, since it’s a Phalanx, but if that’s what he has I’ll do the best I can. “Come on.” He heads for the windows, or rather the space in the wall where there used to be windows, and in some cases wall. Outside, a ledge runs along the edge of the building.

We move out onto it, and start making our way around the building. The Reaper in the harbour has at least one friend downtown, and there’s more objects dropping from orbit as we go. Anderson appears to have a goal in mind, and it’s not reaching the ground because he passes a ladder which would take us that way.  I’m not familiar enough with the layout to say what it is, but we move across the roof of a walkway towards another building. Anderson starts talking into his communicator. “Commander Williams. Lieutenant Vega. Normandy, can you hear me? We need pickup, Vancouver harbour.”

Well, at least I know where we’re going. And then I notice movement on the wall of that building.

“Husks.” Anderson does too. “Take them out.”

I wouldn’t personally have picked a Phalanx pistol for this, but it does the job. Hitting them while they climb sends several dropping several stories to the ground. It’s a good job there weren’t more, though, because Anderson announces he’s out of thermal clips a few moments before mine clicks dry.

Anderson drops down a ladder here, onto the veranda of an apartment. I think he’s planning to take us through, but there’s a problem. A couple of husks are trying to break through the armoured glass, and we’re out of ammunition. I wave him to take cover, and close up behind them. The Phalanx may not be a good pistol, but it’s a decent enough club for smashing husk skulls in. I do that, and take a look at the door. Locked.

“Look out.”  My head jerks around at Anderson’s shout. A husk has come up the wall and onto the balcony. It lunges at me, and gets a pistol smashed into its face for its trouble. And then gets kicked off the edge, for good measure. And then I look round. The Reaper is swinging its gun this way. I dive behind a section of wall, and the building shudders as the stream of projectiles hits. And then it loses interest, and starts firing at something else across the harbour.

At least it blew open the apartment Anderson wanted us to enter. It must, at some point, have been quite fancy. Given the military equipment and decor, possibly senior officer quarters for people working at headquarters. There are even I few heat sinks I can scavenge, and I reload before passing one to Anderson. He takes us through, to an internal door. A husk is trying to break in through it, so I let it have  a whack in the face and then force the door open enough for Anderson to squeeze through. I’m about to follow, when I hear a noise.

Hiding in a crawl-space on the other side of the room is a small boy, I think the one I’ve seen playing with a frigate model. I hold out a hand to him. “Come out of there. I’ll get you somewhere safe.”

He shakes his head. “Everybody’s dying. You can’t help me.”

I’m about to try another argument, when the building shudders. I look round, and one of the Reapers is walking past the window. The damn things walk! At least, some can. The one that landed in the harbour wasn’t anywhere close to the size of Sovereign, so there’s more than one type.

“Shepard. Come on!” Anderson sounds impatient. I turn back to the crawl-space but the child has gone. Well, I can’t do anything for him now. I head out the door.

The fire from the Reaper has brought down significant amounts of internal fittings. Anderson and I have to pick our way through them. As we move, he starts talking. “Ah, this is a god-damn mess. Every hour these monsters are here, thousands of innocent civilians are going to die.”

I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about that at this point. “I’m not bothered by the risk to me, but I’ve chosen this life. There are a lot of people going to die for no more reason than being human.”

“Yeah. Ah, I don’t want to think about it. We were so sure we had more time. And they came sooner than we expected, and cut through our defences as if they didn’t exist.” We edge along the remaining floor overlooking a stairwell, most of which has been destroyed in the Reaper fire. “We need to get to the Normandy. You have to go to the Citadel, get help from the Council.”

“You think they’ll help us?”

“Well, I don’t know. They have to have their own fears. But you’re one of their Spectres, that has to be good for something.”

I think he might be a little optimistic. Before I can point this out, the building rocks to another blast and I find myself wobbling over the stair well. Anderson grabs me, and pulls me back. “Thanks. I owe you one.”

“More than one.”

Back on a more solid section of floor, Anderson takes us across and out the window. We’re on a ledge overlooking the harbour, where the Reaper is idly blowing up any resistance it identifies. The shuttle pads are still intact for now, hidden as they are from its position. Anderson heads towards them, when his omni-tool lights up. “Anderson, we’re on the Normandy.” Commander Williams must have moved quite quickly. “We’re... Oh hell. What are they doing?”

I look up. Someone has brought a dreadnought into the atmosphere, and is exchanging fire with the Reaper in the harbour. That’s not a clever idea. “That dreadnought. It’s going to blow.”

It does.That is good news for downtown Vancouver, in terms of future urban renewal schemes and lots of deformed children as toxic eezo spreads around the area. It’s bad if you’re standing on a ledge overlooking the harbour, and get to see the explosion close-up. Anderson and I drop to ground level rather faster than I hope he planned.

I still get to my feet faster than him, which I attribute to being younger and in better shape. Maybe he’s wrong about what soft living has done to me after all. Some of the boats in the harbour are burning, and there’s a couple of Alliance soldiers in cover at the end of one wharf. We head over to them, and the one who is patching the others wounds doesn’t seem happy. “Get down. You’ll draw their attention.” He points onto the wharf.

Some nicely original creatures are on there, bent over something that might be a body. Eating. They almost look like some warped version of a batarian, with four eyes and that particular proportion of limbs. They have spotted us, and unlike husks they have assault rifles. For a few seconds, we exchange fire, but even when I have a pistol and lack armour they aren’t the most formidable enemies. Anderson is also a pretty decent shot, and we finish them quickly. He slides over closer to the soldiers, while I keep an eye for other interruptions.

“What happened to you two?” Anderson is doing his best ‘officer calming the troops’ voice.

“Shot down over the harbour. I got us here.” The soldier hesitates. “Sir, do you have some medi-gel?”

“Here.” Anderson hands over his supply. “Have you got a radio?”

“Not with us.”

“There’s one on the gunship.” The wounded soldier sounds a little dazed.

“You can’t get at that.” The other sounds worried. “There’re more of those things over there.”

I’ve no insignia on my uniform, and Anderson is dressed like an Admiral. So he may not realise who we are. Two special forces N7 people, armed and ready to fight. Anderson seems to feel the same way. “Son, you let us worry about that. Stay here while we get help.” He waves me forward, and I don’t mind taking point. Onto the wharf, I grab a medpac in passing. As we pass the dead creatures, I notice what they were eating. Another of their own kind. I guess they have to be called Cannibals.

The soldiers were right about more cannibals being on the wharf, in the area by the wrecked gunship. I counted eight of them, which we shoot, stab, and beat with pistol butts until they’re all dead. I duck under the gunship wing, and grab the rifle, some heat sinks and another medpac from it’s survival gear.

Anderson makes for the radio. “Normandy, can you hear me? This is Anderson.”

“Admiral?” The signal is poor, but just understandable. “Where are you?”

“We’re near a crashed gunship in the harbour. I’m setting off the distress beacon.”

Our only response is static. “Hope she got that.”

I have been keeping watch. For a while, I’ve been seeing objects falling from orbit and crashing into the city. Now, one comes down near us and I realise what they are. When they hit the ground, they split open and a mix of Husks and Cannibals spill out. “We have other problems.” I draw Anderson’s attention to them, and we duck into what cover we can find.

There’re a lot of these drop-pods coming down. Even when we dispose of one lot, more keep coming at us. Heat sinks run low, and then I have to toss Anderson my last one as he runs out. I switch to single shots on the rifle, going for head shots on the husks and shots between the eyes on the cannibals. Taking longer to aim for such precision means I’m taking more fire in return, and they start to close in. So I’m relieved when I hear the whine of engines, and Anderson’s omni-tool broadcasts a welcome voice. “Have no fear. The cavalry is here.”

Normandy swoops in and fires a short burst from its Gardian battery, clearing the area in front of us of hostiles – and probably anything else alive. The pilot brings her round, and the landing ramp descends as she hovers over the harbour.

I dash for it, and jump. “Welcme aboard, Commander.” Ashley and James are standing on the ramp, armed and ready to shoot.

Anderson jogs towards us. “Shepard.”

“Come on, jump for it.” It’s not too far.

“I’m not coming.”


“You’ve seen those soldiers. They need leadership. I’m staying here to co-ordinate Earth’s defences.”

“We’re in this fight together, Anderson.” If he can stay, I can stay.

“It’s a fight we can’t win. Not without help. Get to the Citadel, and get that help. That’s an order.”

He might have forgotten something. “I don’t take orders from you any more.” No military rank, no need to obey the military chain-of-command.

He’s thought about that. “Consider yourself re-instated. Commander.” He pulls a chain with a set of dog-tags on it, and throws it across to me. “You know what you have to do.” He steps back, and glares at me.

“I’ll be back.” Williams and Vega start into the ship. “And I’ll bring every ship from every fleet I can find to help!” Anderson nods at me as I make the promise. I half turn away, and then back for a moment. “Good luck.”

“You too.” Seeming satisfied, he heads back towards land.

As the Normandy starts to lift off, I see shuttles landing on the pads. Civlians are being evacuated, including the boy I saw playing earlier and couldn’t get out of his crawl-space. He looks scared as he gets aboard one. A Reaper is walking towards the pads.

As the shuttles lift off, the Reaper turns towards them, destroying first one, then the other. There’s one I didn’t save.

In the hold of the Normandy, equipment is laid out. It looks like there have been some modifications, to make this into the primary armoury as well as the vehicle bay. I move over towards a locker, which has my name on it, when James comes across. “What’s going on? Why are we leaving?”

“Admiral Anderson ordered us to the Citadel, so that’s where we’re going.”

“What? No way we’re running from the fight. Take us back.”

“Don’t you think I’d rather stay and fight too? We have our orders.”

“This is bullshit. You can’t…”

I don’t know what it is I can’t do, as I turn and jab him in the chest with my finger. “This is not a democracy, Lieutenant. We are going to the Citadel. If you want to come back, you can get desert and get transport from there.” He gestures angrily at me, before walking off.

“What’s on the Citadel?” Ashley seems rather calmer.

“Anderson told me to go to the Council, try and get their help.”

“And if they won’t?”

“Then we find a way to get help anyway.” My temper starts to flare at her doubts, fortunately, we get interrupted on the intercomm.

“Commander?” A familiar voice speaks over it.

“Joker. Is that you?” Although it almost has to be.

“In the flesh, Commander. Ah, you know what I mean. I’ve got Admiral Hackett on a secure line wanting to speak to you.”

I look round, and find a comms terminal nearby. “Put him through.”

“Commander.” Hackett’s picture is terrible, the signal badly distorted. “What’s the situation?”

“Reaper forces have landed on Earth, Admiral. We’re making for the Citadel to try to get support.”

“Good. Reapers hit… at Arcturus. Parl.. … gone. ….. fleet retreating. No way … ….. conventionally. Before.. del I need you to go…. Prothean arc… Mars. Researchers… able… Doctor T’soni can fill… in.”

“Head for the Prothean archive on Mars. Understood, Admiral.”

He nods. “Hack... out.” The communicator closes down.

“Mars. What’s there? Having we explored those archives.” Williams sounds doubtful.

“You heard Hackett.  Mars, then the Citadel. Joker, make it happen.”

“Ah, aye aye, Commander.”

“Gear up.” I raise my voice. “Armour and weapons, ready for heavy combat.” Hoepfully, my locker holds my own combat gear. Otherwise, I’ll find something.

In Topic: Dancing through Tears

20 March 2012 - 10:54 AM

Dancing through Tears, Chapter 1

Prepare to be ascended

The Alliance frigate swoops low over the countryside, banking sharply over the forest below. Sensors should be scanning for targets, weapons officers watching their boards, the pilot looking seconds ahead to ensure there aren’t any mountains about to tear the belly out of the ship while he showboats. No one wants a repeat of the Nordlingen incident, especially not people in downtown Vancouver when the eezo spreads from the wreck. Another sweeping turn, and then the ship shows a slight flutter. Fortunately the hand holding it regains control, and the child’s toy doesn’t go dropping into the harbour.

I sigh. Watching the boy play with his toy is as a close as I get to any sort of excitement these days. This set of officer’s quarters is starting to become dull. Especially since I’m not allowed to interact with anyone who isn’t cleared, and very few are, and my meals get delivered here. I don’t even have a terminal, though I can see where one used to be fitted, and they confiscated my omni-tool, so I can’t even check the news. I’m starting to think the Alliance doesn’t know quite what to do with me, and have stuck me in a room in their headquarters until they can think of something.

The door chimes, and I turn around to see Lieutenant Vega come in. He’s an enthusiastic body-builder, young James. He salutes me. “Commander.”

“You know, you shouldn’t call me commander, James.”

“Shouldn’t salute you either, sir.” He pauses to let me process that, and then continues. “You need to come with me.”

Well,, that’s a surprise. “Is something happening?” I’m not normally allowed out of this room.

“Defence committee wants to speak to you.” And he’s in enough of a hurry to step out without waiting for me.

I hurry to catch up. “What’s going on?”

“Couldn’t say. Just told me they needed you. Now.” He looks briefly at me before moving towards the conference rooms.

Headquarters corridors are full of busy, purposeful officers in their dress uniforms and guards in working uniforms. James in exercise gear and I in undress uniform without any insignia look definitely out of place as we move past people. Traffic is light enough, and James is large enough, that people don’t get in our way much.

“Shepard!” Although as we turn down one corridor, I hear a voice I recognise. I turn round to see him.

“Anderson.” Back in his uniform, with an Admiral’s rank insignia as well. “How have you been?”

“Not so bad.” He reaches out, and pats my stomach. “You look good, Shepard. Maybe a little soft around the edges. How are you holding up since being relieved from duty?”

“Yeah, six months of hot food and soft beds does that.” He starts down the corridor next to me, with James following behind us. “What’s going on, Admiral?”

“The defence committee wants our input.” Anderson looks grim. “Several of our deep-space stations have gone dark. We’ve lost contact with our extra-solar systems. And long-range scanners are picking up a mass moving in from out-system. A large one.”

“The Reapers?” I stop, and stare at him.


“What else could it be? The Reapers are here. And we’re not ready for them.”

“That’s what the committee wants to speak to us about.”

“Unless we’re planning to talk the Reapers to death, the committee is a waste of time.” My tone is venomous.

“They’re just scared. None of them have seen what you’ve seen. We’ve all reviewed your reports, seen the data you’ve collected, but it’s all just theory to us. You’ve been there, in the trenches. You know what they’re capable of. Hell, you’ve spoken to Reapers. And then blown them up!”

“That why they grounded me? Took away my ship?” Kept me from Liara.

“You know that’s not true. The shit you’ve done, they could have court-martialled you and thrown away the key. It’s your knowledge of the Reapers that kept you from being tried, court-martialled, and discharged.”
“That, and your good word.”

“Yes, I spoke to the committee. They trust you, Shepard. And so do I.”

I think I might have hurt Anderson’s feelings. I’m angry myself. A vague hand-wave is the best I can manage as an apology, but it seems to be enough. He turns and heads towards the committee room.

“Anderson.” Up a short flight of stairs, we meet Ashley Williams, who is out of uniform and is wearing her hair longer than regulations allow. Her greeting for the admiral is oddly informal too.

“Lieutenant Commander.” I wonder when that happened. Technically that’s my old rank, and the last I knew she was an Operations Chief. “How did it go in there?” Anderson seems interested in her opinion.

“I don’t know. I never can tell with them. I’m just waiting for orders now.” Her eyes flicker towards me as I move up alongside. “Shepard.”

“Williams.” If she expects a friendly greeting, she should extend one. It’s not as if I don’t remember how she reacted on Horizon.

For long enough for it to become uncomfortable, we stand staring at each other. It doesn’t seem like Anderson wants to interrupt. For a moment I smirk, wondering if he wants to see a cat-fight. When Ashley sees me smirking, her fists clench.

Fortunately we’re interrupted. A female yeoman walks obliviously over to us. “Amdiral Anderson? The committee is expecting you.”

“Understood. Come along, Shepard.”

I step after him. Behind, James asks Ashley, “Do you know the Commander?” He sounds surprised.

“I used to.” Yeah, and I’ve changed so much, have I.

The Defence Committee is a bunch of Admirals and Generals, with a few Captains around to carry the coffee. They don’t often meet in full session, but here they are. With all the data feeds on, the room is noisy. They quiet down as Admiral Anderson advances.

The chairwoman takes charge. “Admiral Anderson. Shepard.”  Anderson salutes her. I, of course, not being in the military any more, don’t bother to. “We’ve called you here to see if you have any insight into what is going on. The reports coming in are unlike anything we’ve seen. Whole colonies have gone dark. We’ve lost contact with everything beyond the Charon Relay.”
“Whatever this is, it’s incomprehensibly powerful.” Another Admiral interjects.
Anderson looks at me. Well, he has to deal with these people every day, so probably doesn’t want to annoy them too much. I have less to lose, or to gain.

“You called me because you want me to tell you what you already know. The Reapers are here.”

“Then, how do we stop them?” An Admiral I don’t know asks me the question as if I’ve got a magic answer.

“Stop them? This isn’t about strategy or tactics. This is about survival.”

“That’s it?” It doesn’t sound like a popular option.

“The Reapers are more powerful that we are. They’re more advanced than we are. They don’t fear us, and they’ll never take pity on us.”

“But there must be some way...”

“We need to seek out our allies. We need to get every fleet in the galaxy together if we’re to have a chance.”

“Sirs.” There’s a communication jockey at one of the stations. “We’ve lost contact with the moon.” A murmur goes round the room.

“So soon.” Anderson sounds shocked. “They couldn’t be that close already.”

“How could they have got past our defences so soon?”

“Why haven’t we heard from Hackett?”

That’s a slightly puzzling question. Hackett’s Fifth Fleet should be at Arcturus, rather than Earth . Before I can ask, another comms tech pipes up. “UK headquarters has a visual.”

He puts it up on the screen, but at first all we get is a soldier yelling onto the camera at close range in a building that’s already showing signs of damage. Then we get an outside shot. A reaper, the size of Sovereign, had landed in the centre of the city. More are descending in the background. Combat has already started. On other screens, pictures from around the world show the same thing. Reapers landing in earth’s cities.

The room starts to buzz with conversation. “What do we do?” The senior admiral is looking at me.

I look at the screen. “The only thing we can. We fight, or we die.” I glare at everyone.

“We should get to the Normandy.” Anderson is at my elbow.

I’d have replied, but a noise outside draws attention to the window. Through the cloud layer a Reaper is descending into Vancouver’s harbour. “Oh my god.” I’m not sure which of the admirals said it, but it’s appropriate. As it lands, it starts firing into the city. As the beam swings round, I realise it’s going to hit this building.

“Get down!” As I hit the floor and start rolling for shelter, I realise most of the people in the room are too far removed from their combat days to react instantly. Although Anderson and a Captain are on the floor with me when the beam hits, most of Earth’s Defence Committee is standing in the open when the end of the room explodes.

The good thing about being frequently in combat is that you react quickly to danger. The bad thing about being young and frequently in combat is that you can be back on your feet quickly. So when the secondary explosion sends another shock wave through the room, I’m the only person standing. My head smashes against something, and the ceiling looks very nice from down here.