Story Title: Invictus Unconquered
Game: Mass Effect
Disclaimer: Mass Effect universe © BioWare
Any character you haven't heard of © me
You might have noticed that this chapter has a new title.
Seeing as how I’m going to re-tell ME3, I thought these chaps deserved a branch out from the original spin-off, so that those who only want to read the short stories can continue to do so and those who want to read this can do that.
I also plan to release this on its own (and in fact, have now done so seeing as you’re currently reading it)
Also thanks to my new Betas; Unit Omicron and dIvInE SeReNiTy for answering my call of aid. I’m looking forward to a long and prosperous partnership with you both!
For those that are curious, X’s background is Spacer/War Hero/Soldier class.
He’s a Paragon for the most part (including all major decisions in the games) but doesn’t hesitate to go Renegade on your ass if you piss him off/threaten him or his friends and family or betray him and such.
His LI in ME was Ashley, but after Ash’s rejection of him on Horizon in ME2, he unexpectedly fell in love with Miranda.
And finally he’s ranked as a Staff Commander in my stories, having received a promotion after the Battle of the Citadel.
Now let us begin our journey!
A Timely Escape
Location: Milky Way / Local Cluster / Sol System
The atmosphere around the third planet of the Sol system was abuzz with a hive of activity.
Alliance ships of every size, from massive dreadnoughts to tiny fighter crafts, were gathering together in large numbers as aboard each and every one them, their crews busily preparing for what was to come.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Location: Milky Way / Local Cluster / Sol System / in Orbit around Earth / SSV Orizaba
From the holographic display in the CIC of his ship, a grey-haired man monitored the fleets as they came together. The man, bearing a neatly trimmed goatee and a prominent scar on his right cheek, was in his early fifties. But his aging didn't detract from his image of nobility. He stood tall and straight, still maintaining discipline despite his waning years. His uniform was immaculate, adorned with various medals and ribbons that he’d earned throughout his distinguished career.
“Admiral?” his XO, Captain Maxwell Knight, approached him.
“Yes, Captain?” Admiral Steven Hackett, one of the Alliance Navy’s top ranking officers and commanding officer of the Fifth Fleet, turned to face the younger man.
“Admiral Anderson’s just contacted us, sir. He’s asking to speak with you.”
“Thank you, Captain. I’ll be in the Comm. room if anyone needs me.”
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
“Steven,” a holographic David Anderson, the once human representative of the Citadel Council turned Alliance Admiral, greeted Hackett from the dreadnaught’s Quantum Entanglement Communicator.
“David,” Hackett returned the salute.
“How bad is it?” Anderson queried his colleague, getting straight down to business.
“Bad. We’ve just lost contact with two of our deep space outposts. There’s something massive on long-range scanners.”
“Is this what Shepard warned us about?”
“I’d stake my life on it.”
“How long do we have?”
“Not long. I’ve sent word. The Fleets are mobilizing as we speak.”
Anderson shook his head. “God help us all.”
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Location: Sol System / Local Cluster / Earth / North America / Canada / Vancouver / Alliance HQ
The midday sun shone down over the city of Vancouver. Much like the ships in orbit around humanity’s birth planet, the city was busy. People bustled about in the streets, sky-cars zipped in and around the many skyscrapers that were a predominate feature in the majority of Earth’s cities in this day and age. On the rooftop garden of one such building, a blonde-headed, six year old young boy - clad in a grey hoodie and black tracksuit pants - was playing. An SX3 Alliance Fighter model was clasped firmly in his right hand as he zipped and zoomed around the small space in his game of simulated flight.
High above him, an ebony-haired and cerulean-eyed man clad in Alliance BDU watched the youngster from his room in one of the nearby towers.
‘Oh, to be young and carefree,’ Xavier Shepard thought to himself wistfully as he continued to observe the child for a few moments more before pushing away from the window and making his way over to the double bed. ‘No weight of the galaxy on your shoulders. No race of seemly unstoppable sentient machines intent on harvesting us to stop.’
Six months had passed since he’d handed himself - and the Normandy - into Alliance custody after destroying the Alpha Relay and wiping out the Bahak system. He’d done so with a good reason; to delay the Reapers arrival into the galaxy, and give the races more time to prepare for the coming war with sentient machines.
But the Batarian Hegemony hadn’t seen it that way.
They’d seen in as an act of terrorism. A heinous war crime.
And they were right. At the back end of the day, regardless of Shepard’s intentions, thousands of innocents - and an entire star system – had perished because of his actions.
And once the batarians had learned just who had committed the act of genocide against their people, they’d started coming after him. Called for his execution.
Fearing that his friends and crew might get caught in the crossfire, Shepard had had no choice but to hand himself in to keep the four-eyed aliens at bay. He’d been transported back to Earth, where he’d assumed that he’d face a lengthy trial for his actions, not only for the Bahak system, but for working with Cerberus - a clandestine insurgency and terrorist organization that had unofficially tasked itself with the protection and ascension of humankind, to rise or dominate above all other species in the galaxy… at any cost. Because of that mandate, the shadowy group was considered an avowed enemy of the not only the Alliance but the Citadel Council as well.
But to his surprise, that hadn’t happened.
True to his stated word when he’d visited the Normandy after the events of Aratoht, Hackett – and Anderson too, Shepard suspected - had kept the Alliance brass from getting their claws into him. The Spectre had been stripped of his Navy rank, put under house-arrest and a young marine; Lieutenant Commander James Vega, assigned to watch him – and once again Shepard suspected it was more a case of ‘watch over’ than ‘guard’ as Vega always seemed to have his attention on the outside world whenever Shepard went anywhere - but other than that he’d faced no other repercussions for what had happened.
To give the appearance that he was under investigation, though, he rarely left the secure compound. And although his freedom of movement in the outside world had been hampered, he’d been able to do as he pleased within the building.
The first few days of freedom had, admittedly, had him reeling as he’d been unsure of what he was going to do with himself, but he’d soon established a routine to keep himself busy. Mornings were spent in the gym with James, sparing and training to keep himself in peek physical condition. Afternoons were spent confined in his ‘cell,’ - a small but comfortable apartment, derive of any personalization beyond a few items, that consisted of four rooms: living area, kitchen, study, and a bedroom that were kept immaculate by its single occupant - either listening to the radio, browsing the extranet with the limited access he was allowed on it or doing Sudoku or crossword puzzles to keep him mind sharp.
Hackett had also made sure that Shepard’s former Cerberus crew had been given amnesty, and those who did not want to join the Alliance – or re-join in some cases – were allowed to walk away with no repercussions. Now nearly all of them were busily working on the Normandy’s new retrofits.
His mother, Hannah Shepard, had also made a point of making regular visits to check in on him, to see and insure that he wasn’t being mistreated by the “Brass vultures” as she had termed them on her first visit.
Shepard was broken from his thoughts when the console behind him beeped, announcing that the daily episode of radio serial that he’d started listening to during his incarceration, Castlereagh Line, was just about to start.
‘Can’t be long before Bowman catches up to Seager. Then there’ll be fireworks,’ Shepard thought to himself as he turned on the radio.
As the radio sprang to life the last vestiges of a song was heard playing. A song that Shepard instantly recognised. Inescapable by Jessica Mauboy.
He and Miranda had slow-danced to the song during their first real date since becoming a couple on the eve of him handing himself in.
He hadn’t heard from her while he’d been grounded, but that had been expected. She’d been one of the Illusive Man’s best agents prior to leaving Cerberus. To be contacted by her now, with everything that had happened, regardless of her resignation, would only make him appear worse scrutiny wise. She had had to know that, and thus she stayed away.
But that didn’t stop him from missing her.
There wasn’t a day that went past that he didn’t think about her, wondering where she was, if the Illusive Man had conducted any reprisals on her for walking away, if her twin sister, Oriana, was still safe from their egotistical bastard of a father.
A knock on the door broke Shepard from his thoughts once as Vega entered.
“James?” the Spectre turned to face his friend, querying his sudden appearance.
“Commander,” Vega snapped to attention and Shepard just shook his head wearily.
The young mohawked marine had continued to salute him and address him by his former rank, despite Shepard’s protests and dissuasions not to do so, ever since his house-arrest had begun. Though the N7 marine was glad that the younger man believed in his innocence, Vega’s actions hadn’t won him any points with their superiors. Especially Major Antella - the head of the Alliance’s Department of Internal Naval Affairs - who seemed to have a vendetta against both of them.
“We gotta go,” the lieutenant informed his charge. “The Defence Committee wants to see you.”
Shepard’s brow furrowed at that, responding with a “Sounds important,” as Vega left the room, the ebony haired marine hot on his heels. But the Spectre then had to stop short upon leaving the apartment to avoid colliding with an Alliance officer who brushed past the pair and continued on up through the hallway, clearly in a hurry. Shepard noted that the rest of the passage was filled with fellow marines all bustling about in a similar fashion.
“What’s going on?” Shepard questioned his escort as he jogged to catch up with him.
“Couldn’t say,” Vega responded as they weaved their way through the oncoming traffic. “Just told me that they needed you. Now.”
There was a sudden break in the crowd around them and Shepard slowed as he saw someone walking towards them. Someone that the Spectre hadn’t seen since he’d arrived on Earth. His friend and mentor; Admiral David Anderson.
“Admiral,” Vega snapped to attention as he greeted his superior.
“Anderson,” Shepard greeted the dark-skinned man as he offered his hand for a handshake.
Anderson shook hands with his protégée as the started moving again, Vega a few steps behind them.
“You look good, Shepard. Maybe a little soft around the edges,” the admiral commented as the group rounded a corner. “How’ve you held up since being relieved of duty?”
“It wasn’t so bad once I got used to everything.”
“We’ll get it sorted out,” Anderson assured the younger man.
“What’s going on?” Shepard questioned as he observed the activity going on around him. “Why is everyone in such a hurry?”
“Admiral Hackett’s mobilizing the fleets. Word’s made it to Alliance command that something big is headed our way.”
Shepard stopped at that. “The Reapers?”
Anderson turned to face him. “We don’t know. Not for certain, anyway.”
“What else could it be?”
“If I knew that…” Anderson responded wryly.
“You know we’re not ready if it is them,” Shepard warned. “Not by a long shot.”
“Tell that to the Defence Committee.”
Shepard shook his head as the pair started moving again. “Unless we’re planning to talk the Reapers to death, the committee is waste of time.”
“They’re just scared,” Anderson soothed. “None of them have seen what you’ve seen. You’ve faced down a Reaper. Hell, you spoke to one, then blew the damn thing up! You’ve seen how they harvest us, what they plan to do to us. You know more about this enemy that anyone.”
“Is that why they grounded me? Took away my ship?” Shepard asked bitterly.
Anderson stopped and turned to face his former XO. “You know that’s not true. When you blew up the Bahak system’s Relay, hundreds of thousands of batarians died!”
“It was either that or let the Reapers walk through our back door. I know what I did was a war crime, but I had to give the galaxy a chance to prepare for the Reapers arrival.”
“I know that, Shepard. And so does the committee. If it wasn’t for that, you’d have been court martialled and left to rot in the brig.”
Shepard scoffed, “That, and your and Hackett’s good word?”
“Yeah, we both trust you Shepard.”
“I’m just a soldier, Anderson. I’m no politician.”
“I don’t need you to be either. I just need you to do whatever it takes to help us stop the Reapers.”
The two men and their shadow continued on towards a door at the far end of the hallway
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
A young red-haired officer was waiting for them when they entered the room. “They’re expecting you two, Admiral,” she informed Anderson and led them through to the courtroom.
“Good luck in there, Shepard,” Vega offered.
“Thanks, James,” Shepard turned back to look at the younger marine. “Appreciate the support.”
With his back to Anderson, Shepard didn’t see the arrival of his former team-mate and old flame, Ashley Williams.
But she saw him, and after greeting Anderson, she called out to him, “Xavier.”
Shepard turned away from Vega to look at her. “Ashley?” he queried as he moved to re-join Anderson.
“Lieutenant Commander,” Anderson returned the brunette’s greeting. “How’d it go in there?”
“I can never tell with them,” Ashley earnestly replied. “I’m just waiting for orders now.”
“Lieutenant Commander?” Shepard questioned as he joined the conversation. She’d been promoted?
“You hadn’t heard?” Anderson queried.
“No, I hadn’t. I’m a bit out of the loop these days.”
“Sorry, Skipper. It’s been… well…” she trailed off.
“It’s fine, Ash. I’m just glad to have bumped into you. Sounds like the old Williams curse has finally been broken.”
“Yeah,” Ashley smiled half-heartedly. A lot of her good fortune had come about because of the man standing before her. “I guess it has.”
Their conversation was halted by the return of the red-headed officer. “Admiral?”
“Come on, Shepard. We’d better not keep them waiting.”
“Right behind you, sir.”
With a final nod of his head at Ashley – which she returned – Shepard followed Anderson into the courtroom.
“You know the Commander?” Vega questioned Ashley as the two watched the men disappear.
“I used to,” came her reply as the doors closed behind Shepard, blocking him from view.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
“Admiral Anderson and Shepard have arrived, sir,” the red-headed officer announced to the three members of the Defence Committee - a bald headed man in his forties, a grey haired woman in her fifties and a ebony haired and dark skinned man in his late thirties - and they turned away from the panoramic window that overlooked the courtroom, moving to take their seats behind the bench as Anderson and Shepard approached. Along the sides of the room were a plethora of officers, some watching the proceeding’s, other watching the various console monitors in front of them.
“Admiral Anderson. Shepard,” the bald headed councillor greeted them.
“What’s the situation?” Shepard questioned.
“We were hoping you could tell us,” came the reply.
A nearby officer gave Shepard a datapad. Thanking the officer, the Spectre began to read its contents.
The Reapers arrived first in the Vular system of the Kite’s Nest cluster and immediately destroyed its communications network. The Batarian Hegemony's Department of Information Control blamed the loss of signal on space weather, but scrambled ships to the system nonetheless. Within a day, Reaper capital ships appeared in the Harsa system and descended on the Batarian homeworld, Khar'shan.
For all the rhetoric about the Hegemony's military prowess, their response to the Reapers was uncoordinated. Moments after the Information Minister took to the extranet and announced that unknown ships were destroying all traffic near Khar'shan, the Defence Minister declared there was no reason to panic. The planet's comm buoys were destroyed next, creating an ominous silence that has persisted ever since.
Fearing they were next, Batarian colonies across Hegemony space began evacuations. So many refugees poured into the human-occupied Exodus Cluster that Systems Alliance officials at first thought the Batarians were invading.
More systems have gone dark as their comm buoys were destroyed, and millions more Batarians, trapped on their planets, sit waiting for the Reapers.
“The reports coming in are unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” the female councillor continued, though Shepard only half heard her as he continued reading. “Whole colonies have gone dark. We’ve lost contact with everything beyond the Sol Relay.
“Whatever this is, it’s incomprehensively powerful.”
‘So it begins,’ Shepard thought grimly as he looked back up at the committee. “You brought me here to confirm what you already know; the Reapers are here.”
The committee looked at each other for a moment, as did the rest of the inhabitants of the court, before focusing back on Shepard.
“Then, how do we stop them?”
“Stop them?” Shepard scoffed as he strode forwards. “This isn’t about strategy or tactics. This is about survival. The Reapers are more advanced than we are. More powerful. More intelligent. They don’t fear us, and they’ll never take pity on us.”
“But, there must be some way!”
“If we’re going to have any chance of surviving this, we have to stand together. Every organic race in the galaxy has to unite or we’re dead where we stand.”
“Admiral, we’ve lost contact with Luna base,” another officer cut into the conversation.
“The moon?” Anderson parroted. “They can’t be that close already!”
“How’d they get past our defences?” the female councillor was heard asking.
“Sir,” the same officer addressed Anderson again. “UK headquarters has a visual.”
One of the many screens that lined the walls flickered to life as Shepard and Anderson turned to look at it and the rest of the room, including the Defence Committee followed suit. At first there was only static, but then an image sprung to life. In it was a young marine, who was shouting franticly into the camera, but his pleas were drowned out by the noise in the background, a sound Shepard instantly recognised, before an explosion rocked the screen and the signal cut out.
After that, more images sprang to life on the screen. Reaper capital ships arriving in various major cities all over the Earth. News reporters frantically reporting what was happening and advising populations to evacuate. Evacuees desperately trying to flag down passing Alliance dropships. Alliance fighters engaging the Reapers, to little or no avail. Smoke billowing up from ruined buildings.
The screen eventually stopped on an image of a Reaper wreaking havoc before Anderson tore his eyes away to look at his companion. “Why haven’t we heard from Admiral Hackett?”
“They probably hit the comm buoys first, like they did with the Batarians. Stop us communicating with each other.”
“What do we do?” the bald councillor questioned.
Taking one last look at the destruction on screen, Shepard turned to face the committee again. “The only thing we can,” the Spectre advised. “We fight. Or we die trying.”
“We should get to the Normandy,” Anderson informed his protégé.
“Agreed. The sooner the better,” Shepard responded.
But just as they made a move to leave, a rumble for outside the building caught their attention. But the rumble soon gave away to another, more ominous sound; a mechanical sounding trumpet.
‘Oh, shit!’ Was all Shepard could think as the behemoth of a machine descended through the clouds over the city. Time seemed to slow down then, and as the committee turned to look at the landing Reaper. He distantly heard the female councillor whisper “Oh my God!” as the machine unleashed a fiery red blast from its magnetohydrodynamic cannon.
A blast that was headed straight towards them.
“Move!” Shepard barked, turning to run as the glass windows exploded, instantly killing the committee, and sending the bench they’d been sitting on flying towards the fleeing duo.
“Hit the deck!” Anderson called out as the bench half flew, half rolled over the top of the two men. Shepard had barely got back on his feet when a second explosion detonated, sending him flying backwards. His momentum was halted – violently - when he slammed into the back wall a few seconds later, the air in his lungs escaping in a rush, before he crumpled lifelessly forwards onto the floor.
He remained that way, dazed and breathless, for a few moments before Anderson’s insistent chorus of his name broke through the haze.
“Over here!” Shepard called out as loud as he could, before slowly beginning to rise to his feet. His arms and face were covered in scratches from the glass shards and splinters, but thanks to his Cerberus implants, the blood had already started to clot.
“You alright?” Anderson asked as he stuck out a hand, which Shepard accepted and gingerly pulled himself to his feet.
“Yeah, for now. But I’m likely to be sore come tomorrow morning, though.”
“I’m sure you’ll shake it off. Here, take this,” Anderson offered him an M-3 Predator Heavy Pistol that he’d taken off one of the deceased marines. “We need to get moving. See if you can raise the Normandy while I check if there are any survivors.”
Nodding his head, Shepard raised a hand to his ear to block out any external noise, “Shepard to Normandy, do you copy?” No response came. “Shepard to Normandy,” Shepard tried again. “Joker, do you read me?” Again, there was no answer.
Shepard shook his head as he lowered his hand as Anderson re-joined him. “Nothing. You?”
“All dead. Let me try,” Anderson repeated Shepard’s actions, raising a hand to his ear. “This is Admiral Anderson, report in anyone.”
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
“This is Admiral Anderson, report in anyone.”
In one of the partially collapsed hallways that she and Vega were trying to get through, Ashley heard Anderson’s radio call.
Signalling for Vega to pause, Ashley responded, “I read you, Admiral.”
“Lieutenant Commander Williams? Is that you?”
“What’s your status?”
“I’m just trying to leave the building, Lieutenant Vega is with me. You?>”
“The same. Shepard can’t raise the Normandy. I need you to get to the ship and alert Joker to be prepped and ready to fly once we get there.”
“Understood, sir. On my way.”
“Good. Anderson out.”
“Vega, on me!” Ashley called to her fellow marine, who fell into step with her as she started to move again.
“What are our orders?”
“We’ve got to get to the Normandy.”
“Madre…” The Spanish marine murmured as they stepped out into the streets and took in the destruction first hand.
“You got that right,” Ashley agreed before raising her pilfered M-8 Avenger Assault Rifle. “Come on, the spaceport’s this way.”
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
“Watch out!” Anderson warned Shepard as a Husk lunged at him from the doorway, catching his left arm in a tight grip before the Spectre could get clear.
Upon leaving the ruined courtroom, Shepard and Anderson had made their way from building to building as around them more Reapers arrived into the fray of battle. But eventually their peaceful run had come to a screeching halt. After getting an update from Ashley about her and Vega’s progress, Husks had started pouring out of the building they’d been about to enter.
Dealing with them in such close quarters was hard enough, but with a limited ammo supply, Shepard had been forced to resort to melee attacks to take them out. Which meant getting up close and personal with the zombie-like creatures.
‘What I wouldn’t give for a shotgun right about now…’
With a growl, Shepard activated his Omni-tool, bringing his arm back as his Omni-blade - a disposable silicon-carbide weapon flash-forged by the tool's mini-fabricator – formed and rotated into its attack position before he slashed downwards. The attack severed the Husk’s arm from its body, and a follow up kick to the creatures’ chest sent it flying backwards. Shepard was also glad to note that it didn’t get back up.
“Yeah, no damage done.”
“Good. Come on, through here.” After prying the doors apart, the two men entered the apartment.
As Anderson continued on through the ruined building to find an exit, a sound caught Shepard’s attention. Surveying the room, he spotted an open air-conditioning vent. As he moved in for a closer inspection, the sound, a thumping as if someone was backpedalling, was heard again. Crouching down, Shepard peered into the vent. And there, trembling in fear, was the little boy that the Spectre had been observing from his room little over an hour ago.
“Hey,” Shepard greeted the child softly, trying not to scare him anymore that he already was. “It’s okay.”
“Everyone’s dying!” the boy cried out fearfully.
“It’s okay,” Shepard repeated, but as he made a move to offer his hand to the boy, the ground shook violently. The child gasped in alarm, frantically back-pedaling into the vent as far as he could go. As he back-tracked, Shepard turned to see what had caused the tremor and found it easily; the massive leg of a Reaper that was moving past the building they were in. Turning back to the cowering child, Shepard offered the boy his hand. “Come here. Take my hand,” he coaxed. “We need to get you some place safe.”
The six year old shook his head, not moving an inch. “You can’t help me,” he plainly stated to Shepard.
“Shepard?” Anderson’s voice sounded from the exit, and the aforementioned marine turned to look at him. “This way,” the admiral gestured back behind him. He’d found a way out.
“Be with you in a minute,” Shepard responded as he turned back to the vent, determined to get the child out. But all he found was an empty space where youngster had been mere seconds ago. ‘Hope he gets out safely,’ Shepard prayed to whatever gods were listening to allow the child a safe passage to the evac shuttles as he got to his feet and trudged towards the door he’d seen Anderson disappear through.
He found Anderson trying to clear them a path to the other side of the partially collapsed room. “This is a God-damn mess!” the admiral growled as Shepard stepped up to help. “Every minute these machines are here, thousands of innocent people die!”
“It’s hard enough fighting a war,” Shepard sympathized. “But it’s even worse knowing that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t save them all.”
Their path mostly clear, the two men kept moving, bobbing and weaving through the struts of metal that they couldn’t move, stopping to help one another when it was needed.
“They hit so fast,” Anderson lamented. “I thought we’d have more time than this.”
“We knew that they were coming. Destroying the Alpha Relay only delayed them.”
“And they still just cut through our defences like they were nothing!” Anderson shook his head. “We have to get to the Citadel and talk to the Council.”
“The Citadel?” Shepard repeated. “Why? The fight’s here!”
“It’ll be everywhere soon enough. You said it yourself; the Reapers will destroy everything if we don’t find a way to stop them. The Council has to help us.”
“You sure about that?” Shepard queried as they stepped out onto a narrow metal support beam that was their only way across to the other side, a long drop waiting for them if they slipped up, and carefully began to sidle across it. “They don’t exactly have the best track-record when it comes to helping our race.”
“No disagreement from me there. But you’re still a Council Spectre. That has to count for something.”
“You really be-” Shepard started to respond before an explosion rocked the building and the Spectre lost his balance and started to topple forwards, his breath catching in his throat. But before he could get too far, Anderson’s hand snaked out, catching him by the belt and stopping his fall before he could get up any momentum. Yanking hard, the admiral pulled his protégé back upright.
His equilibrium and stability restored, Shepard breathed a sigh of relief before pressing on with mildly trembling legs. “Thanks,” he offered shakily after a moment as he got his heart under control. “I owe you one.”
“More than one, actually,” came the wry response.
Shepard smirked, “Keeping track?”
The Spectre just laughed in response.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
“There it is!” Vega called out over gunfire as he spotted the Normandy.
“Cover me while I move up!”
Vega began to lay down suppression fire on the husks that were shooting at them while Ashley moved forward.
“Lieutenant Commander Williams,” Anderson’s voice came over the radio. “We’re in sight of the Spaceport. ETA: three minutes.”
“Roger that, sir. We’ve made it to the Normandy, but we’re taking heavy fire.”
‘Can things get any worse?’ Ashley thought to herself moments before yet another Reaper touched down close to the spaceport. And immediately focused its fire on a nearby dreadnought. ‘I just had to ask, didn’t I?’
“Dios!” James called out in alarm. “It’s going to take out the dreadnought!”
“Move! Get to the Normandy!”
Abandoning their cover, the pair sprinted to the dry-docked frigate as above them the dreadnought exploded. Seconds later, the sounds of two men in a tumble came over the radio. “Admiral? Xavier?”
“God damnit!” Shepard cursed. “This day just keeps getting better and better!”
“You alright, Skipper?”
“Yeah, but I’m definitely going to be sore in the morning.”
“The dreadnought’s explosion caused a shockwave that collapsed the platform we were on. We’re going to have to find another way to ge-” the transmission was suddenly filled with static.
“Shepard?! Shepard, do you copy?”
‘Reapers must be jamming our communications.’
“Get us out if here, Joker,” Ashley ordered the moment she and Vega were on the ship. “Anderson and Shepard may need a pick up.”
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Location: Location: Sol System / Local Cluster / Earth / North America / Canada / Vancouver / Spaceport / SSV Normandy SR-2 / Deck 2: CIC – Cockpit
“Get us out if here, Joker. Anderson and Shepard may need a pick up.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am,” came Alliance Flight Lieutenant Jeff "Joker" Moreau’s reply as he closed the Cargo Bay door. “EDI, you want to do the honours?”
“With pleasure, Jeff,” the AI responded as she began to hack into the docking clamps.
Joker swivelled his seat to face the two women – his guards - behind him. “So, are you two in or out?”
Privates Bethany Westmoreland and Sarah Campbell looked at each other for a moment, before looking back at the helmsman and simultaneously responding, “In.”
“The clamps are retracting, Jeff,” the AI informed the pilot. “We are now free to go.”
“Atta girl, EDI,” Joker praised, swivelling back to the ship’s holographic controls before he began to safely jettison the frigate out of the Alliance dry dock that she’d called home for the last six months and into the open air.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Location: Sol System / Local Cluster / Earth / North America / Canada / Vancouver / Harbour
“Normandy, do you copy?” Shepard repeated. “Normandy, come in!” The only response was more static. “Damnit!”
“Lost the signal?”
“Yeah. Ash knows that we’re re-routing, but nothing else.”
“We’ll have to find another way to contact them. For now, let’s keep moving.”
The two men continued along a collapsed walkway, leaping over the pieces that were gone or submerged by the harbour’s murky waters as the battle still raged on around them, until the sound of a man in pain reached their ears. Signalling for Shepard to wait, Anderson crept up to the edge of the walk way and peered over for a few moments before softly announcing, “Friendlies.”
Shepard re-joined his mentor before dropping down to the lower level. There were three of them, all Alliance marines, but one man’s leg was trapped by the support struts of the walkway.
“You three okay?” Shepard questioned as Anderson landed behind him.
“Get down,” one of the marines hissed. “They’ll see you!”
Shepard was just about to ask who ‘they’ were when a shot ricocheted off of the metal plating next to him. Cursing his inattention, the Spectre quickly dove for cover, Anderson followed suit, as their attackers made themselves know with a roar. Risking a quick glance, Shepard saw that their assailants were a new type of Husk. The newest Reaper-made abominations seemed to be mutated batarians, judging by the four eyes they had in their heads. They also bore a large gun that was held in place by a human corpse. But the thought that the weapon served in place of an arm was quickly dispelled when one of them lobbed a grenade into the human’s cover.
“Shit!” one of the marines cussed as Shepard left his cover briefly to grab the explosive and lob it back the way it had come from. The grenade exploded seconds later, catching at least six of the abominations in the blast. After that, Anderson and Shepard were able to pick off the rest with little trouble.
When the last foe went down, Anderson left his cover and looked to the marines. “What happened here?” he asked as Shepard took in what appeared to be a crash site, the tail of a gunship poking out of a pile of rubble.
“Our gunship was shot down, and we barely made it out when those things appeared.”
“How long has he been trapped?” Shepard asked.
“About thirteen minutes.”
Shepard made a face, fifteen minutes was the limit before Crush syndrome began to set in.
“We better get him out, stat.” Shepard stated as he moved to one side of the metal, signalling Anderson to the opposite side. “On three,” the Spectre advised and the admiral nodded as they both got a good grip of the strut. “One,” Shepard bent his knees, “two,” they took up the strain, “three!” Between them, they were able to lift the metal high enough for the trapped marine’s comrades to drag him clear of the danger zone, his crushed leg dragging lifelessly, before they dropped it. As one man tended to their comrade the second rose to talk to their saviours.
“Thanks for the assist,” he offered his gratitude. “Don’t know how we can repay you, though.”
“Do you have a radio?” Anderson asked. “We’re trying to contact our ship.”
“Not on us,” the man replied with a shake of his head. “We did have one in the gunship, but it’s going to be infested with those monsters.”
“We’ll be alright. Come on, Shepard. Let’s get to that gunship.”
”Wait a moment,” the second uninjured marine called out, rising from his place at the wounded marine’s side, retrieving his discarded M-8 Avenger Assault Rifle and a few more thermal clips, and giving them to Shepard. “You’ll need them more than I do.”
Nodding his head in thanks, Shepard collapsed his pistol and holstered it before accepting the new firearm, pocketing the clips as he and Anderson turned to leave. The walkway that they’d extracted the injured marine from sunk partially into the water of the harbour, giving them a way forwards. Crossing the makeshift bridge and rounding some of the crash debris, it wasn’t long before they encountered more of the new Husk creatures.
“What the hell are those things?” Anderson questioned as Shepard poked out of cover to fire at one.
“If I had to hazard a guess,” Shepard replied as he ducked back down and reloaded. “I’d say a batarian/human hybrid.”
“Makes sense, I suppose.” Anderson popped out of cover to finish off the beast. “The Reapers did hit Khar’shan first before coming here. Must’ve known they’d need something tougher than regular Husks to start their assault on the galaxy. All clear!”
The two men rose from cover and trekked forwards, the crashed gunship now in their sights.
“Cover me,” Anderson commanded once they’d reached it and Shepard moved to do, remaining tense and alert, his head constantly swivelling to suss out any movement, any potential threat as the admiral entered the ship to find its radio.
“Found it!” Anderson’s voice rang out, but Shepard didn’t budge from his vigil as the admiral activated the radio. “Normandy, this is Anderson. Do you read me?”
“Loud and clear, sir,” came Ashley’s swift response. “What’s your location?”
“By a downed gunship in the harbour. Tell Joker that I’m activating its distress beacon. We’ve also got wounded at our location, so we need some evac shuttles here ASAP.”
“Understood, sir. W-” Ashley’s response was suddenly overtaken by static, which drowned out the rest of her response.
“Lieutenant?” More static. “Damnit!”
“Lost the signal?” Shepard turned to look at the admiral as he scrambled out of the gunship’s cockpit.
“Yet again. Seems to be today’s standard fare.”
“We’ll just have to hope that the beacon does its job.”
“And fast, looks like we’ve got company!” Anderson replied, pointing to something behind the Spectre.
Shepard turned just as a fireball collided with the platform above them, and from it emerged a dozen of the batarian husks that opened fire on the two humans the moment they spotted them.
“Hope they get here soon,” Anderson commented as they took cover.
“You and me both!” Shepard hollered back over the gunfire from his cover on the other side.
Working in tandem, the two marines did their best to keep the creatures at bay - one of them exposed and firing, either ammo or a concussive shot to knock husks to close to the edge clean off, while the other reloaded. But the beasts were relentless, wave upon wave constantly hitting the partially destroyed platform so that when one bit the dust there was three more to replace it.
‘They’re like a dammed Hydra!’ Shepard thought in frustration. ‘Pity I don’t have any fire on me. Or an incendiary grenade.’ Worse still, their ammo supply soon began to drop, and Shepard was forced to switch back to his Predator once his M-8 ran out of clips, and the Batarian husks began to gain ground, crawling over the mounds of dead that had been slain before them and closer to the two marines’ cover, forcing them to retreat.
It was during their withdrawal they discovered something.
Anderson had brought one down with a concussive shot to cover Shepard as he moved to the next cover, and as the corpse hit the floor, three more of the beasts that were harassing the Spectre suddenly turned away and converged on their fallen brethren, devouring it on the spot.
“They’re cannibals!” Anderson exclaimed as he watched with morbid curiosity.
“We can use that to our advantage. Kill one and the rest will flock to it. We can pick them off while their preoccupied. Use concussive shots where you can to further conserve our remaining ammo.”
But even with those tactics, their dwindling thermal clip supply soon dried up and Shepard heard Anderson’s own pistol hiss when the admiral tried to fire it a second after his own pistol drew blanks. With no further opposition, the husks began to close in on the two men as they started once again to retreat onto the very edge of the platform. With nowhere else to go but a long drop down, the marines turned to face their gathering foes.
‘Some great savior of the galaxy I am,’ Shepard though grimly as he teetered on the edge, the husks only meters away now. ‘I won’t even get off of Earth. Which will probably please Harbinger, the Reaper’s greatest annoyance finally squashed. And Miri,’ he prayed as an image of Miranda’s smiling face appeared in his mind’s eye. ‘Forgive me for breaking my promise…’
Then the most heavenly voice sounded over the com as a salvo of missiles directed at the batarian horde trumpeted the Normandy’s entrance. “The cavalry has arrived, gentlemen!” Joker announced.
“About time!” Anderson exclaimed.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes, Joker. You and the Normandy both. Though you could have arrived before the whole ‘life-flashing-before-my-very-eyes’ moment, y’know!” Shepard responded into the radio as the frigate shot over their heads before banking back around, showing off her new paint job to her CO as she came in for a pick up. ‘It’s good to see her back in Alliance colours.’
“We’ve missed you too, Comm- I mean, Shepard. And we got here as soon as we could!”
“Let’s go!” Shepard called to Anderson.
The Javelin Disruptor Torpedoes had cleared all the Cannibals, both alive and slain, from the platform, leaving a clear path for the two men and Shepard sprinted towards the opening Cargo Bay door, smoothly sliding over any raised cover when necessary, which revealed Ashley, Hawthorne, Patel and Goldstein – as well as several of the Normandy’s marine contingent - all wielding Avengers to keep any hostiles at bay. When he was close enough, Shepard took a flying leap into the ship, and Ashley reached out to him as he touched down, guiding him safely inside.
“Welcome back, Commander,” Goldstein greeted him.
“Thanks,” Shepard responded before he turned to look at Anderson, who was still on the platform. “Come on!” the Spectre gestured for his mentor to come aboard.
Anderson just shook his head; not moving as several Kodiak shuttles arrived, buzzing past them on their way to touch down at the nearby evacuation point. “I’m not coming with you.”
“You saw those men back there,” Anderson pointed in the direction of the three marines they’d helped. “There’s a million more like them, and they need a leader.”
“We’re in this fight together, Anderson!”
“It’s a fight we can’t win, not without help. Like you said, we need every species and all their ships working together before we’ll even have a chance at defeating the Reapers. Go to the Citadel, talk to the Council. Convince them to help us.”
“What if they won’t listen?”
“Then you have to make them listen! Now go! That’s an order!”
Shepard shook his head. “I don’t take orders from you anymore. Stripped of rank, remember?”
Anderson reached into his pockets and pulled out a set of dog tags and Shepard wondered just how long his mentor had been holding onto them, if Anderson had been planning on getting him released today regardless of the Reaper’s arrival. “Then consider yourself reinstated, Commander,” the admiral stated before tossing the tags to Shepard, who nimbly caught them with his free hand. “You know what you have to do.”
Shepard passed his thumb over the words that were engraved in the metal tabs before clenching his fist around them.
He didn’t want to leave, but he knew that he had no choice. Like Anderson had said, he was the only one who had the most experience dealing with the Reapers. The only one capable of uniting the races of the galaxy and leading them to victory against their mechanical oppressors.
“I’ll be back for you,” he promised as he finally looked back up at his mentor. “And I’ll bring every fleet that I can.”
“Good luck, Shepard.”
“You too. And stay alive, you hear?”
Anderson chuckled at that before snapping off a playful salute. “Yes, sir!”
The Normandy began to slowly depart then and Shepard watched as Anderson turned and started back the way they’d come, heading towards the waiting shuttles.
At the evacuation point, marines were busily helping civilians onto the shuttles. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, Shepard spotted a familiar grey hoodie of the boy he’d tried to help. ‘He’s still alive!’ The Spectre watched with vested interest as the youngster, unassisted, struggled into one of the Kodiak’s before their doors shut and they began to take off. But as just as they got airborne, a Reaper - different in both shape and size than the rest of its ilk, Shepard noted - emerged from behind a cluster of buildings to the east of the landing zone and targeted the escaping shuttles. Time seemed to slow down as the Reaper’s beam sliced through one shuttle after another, destroying them and killing all those aboard instantly.
Distraught, Shepard tore his gaze from the fiery wrecks of the downed shuttles as they fell into water below, and he stepped away from the closing Shuttle Bay doors as the Normandy lifted off, safely weaving her way through the landing Reapers and the wreckages of Alliance ships destroyed in the initial assault as she escaped into Earth’s atmosphere.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Location: Milky Way / Local Cluster / Sol System / in Orbit around Earth / SSV Normandy SR-2 / Deck 5: Shuttle Bay
Slipping his dog tags back around his neck, Shepard trudged towards the elevator at the front of the hanger, intent on heading up to the CIC, Vega trailing after him, rapidly firing questions at him.
“What the hell’s going on? Where’s Anderson? Where are we going?” Shepard didn’t answer, he just kept moving. “Hey, I’m talking to you!” Vega demanded.
“We’re leaving,” Shepard finally informed him.
“Leaving? !” Vega repeated incredulously.
“What’s going on?” Ashley entered the conversation and Shepard stopped to face her.
“Anderson has ordered us to go to the Citadel and get help from the Council.”
“Bullshit!” Vega cut in. “He wouldn’t order us to leave!”
Shepard turned his head to look at the younger man. “We don’t have much of a choice here, James. Without help, the war with them is over before it’s even begun.”
“Then drop me off somewhere, ‘cause I ain’t leaving Earth-”
“Enough!!!” Shepard growled, fully rounding on the lieutenant and cutting into his rant, his patience snapping. “Don’t you think that I’d rather stay and fight as well?! We’re going to the Citadel! You want out; you can catch a ride back from there,” the Spectre ground out before walking away.
Vega made a gesture at Shepard’s retreating back before stalking away to the portside of the hanger where the ship’s gym was set-up.
“Commander?” Joker’s voice sounded over the comm.
“What’s up, Joker?”
“Got an emergency transmission from Admiral Hackett for you.”
“Patch it through to the Shuttle Bay.”
The picture on one of the terminals next to Shepard changed to show the flickering image of the admiral. “Shepard… s-s-sustained heavy loses… force was overwhelming… There’s no way we can defeat them conventionally.”
“Anderson’s already ordered me to the Citadel to talk to the Council,” Shepard informed Hackett.
“First, I need you to… g-go t… -iance outpost on Mars… -for we… lose control of the system.”
Shepard nodded his head. “Understood, sir.”
“…been researching the Prothean Archives with Dr. T’Soni…” Shepard’s eyebrows shot up at that little tidbit. ‘She must be trying to see if the Protheans left anything that we might be able to use against the Reapers,’ he summarised in his mind before focusing back on Hackett. “…found a way to stop the Reapers… only way to stop them… b-b-be in contact soon. Hackett out.”
With that the picture flickered out.
“Set a course for the Mars Archives, Joker.” Shepard alerted the helmsmen in the wake of the message.
“Mars?” Joker question, perplexed, before, “Roger that.”
Shepard turned away from the console to a nearby table where a set of newest-gen N7 armour was waiting for him. Setting his Avenger and Predator down he picked up the chest piece to inspect it.
“This is loco!” Vega exclaimed, having backtracked to the console when Hackett’s call had come through.
“Why Mars? What does he think we’ll find there?” Ashley queried from behind Shepard.
“I don’t know. Yet,” the Spectre replied. “But if Liara’s there, then it’s worth checking out. Gear up. I want to get going as soon as we’re in orbit.”
Ashley nodded her head and then left to do so.
Shepard turned to the burly marine, “You coming, James?”
Vega shrugged. “May as well. I still think this is loco, though.”
“Most things that I’m involved in usually are, James,” the Spectre quipped as he began to strip off. “So I suggest that you get used to it.”
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
For those of you who don’t know, BDU stands for Battle Dress Uniform.
Ideas and a few exerts taken from Sharrukin’s Memoirs series. Used with permission.