Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 28


Chapter 28: Battle For The Milky Way

I finally knew the answer to a certain question. What would happen if I was trapped on an enemy spaceship, and I somehow got access to my Warehouse. A Warehouse full of powerful artillery and doomsday weapons courtesy of T'Som Manufacturing. And I somehow knew how to use every single deathdealer in there.

The answer? Chaos. Total chaos. And the anthem blasting in my ears had a pretty appropriate statement for my would-be captors and bodysnatchers, The Collectors....

This is your time to pay,
This is your judgment day,

My Prothean laser rifle vaporized a Collector sniper's head while a casually tossed grenade decimated a tightly knit squad standing between me and the next door in the corridor. The ferocious roar of the Seeker Swarms inches behind me. I dove towards the threshold, Warehouse key outstretched. The door yielded and I dropped into a roll, the swarm slamming against an energy barrier at the Warehouse threshold.

We made a sacrifice,
And now we get to take your life,

“SAM, upload mental profile: Tali Zorah. Priority, setting up an SOS to all channels from current location.”

Variza, at the rate you are using these profiles, severe neurological damage may occur. Also, while I am maintaining your adrenaline levels, I will stop them if your heartrate gets to dangerous levels.

Yeah I hear you, now shut up and hurry! Using up all of those low-grade explosives only bought us some time and I have no idea if that barrier can be breached or not. Jump doesn't tell me anything!” I spat out at breakneck speed while jogging in place.

After a few moments, I could feel my mind restructuring itself. A swath of practical and STEM education flooding into me at a breakneck speed, replacing the years spent at the turian military academy. And with it, I suddenly had an idea.

We shoot without a gun,
We'll take on anyone,

I began dismantling several tools and and jerryrigging them into a device, slapping it on my Omni-Tool, my fingers flying across the holo-interface as I began programming my distress signal and overclocking the hardware to expand my range.

“No good, I have to make my way to the bridge if I want to extend this signal.” With a few quick button presses I had a layout of the ship. And there was the bridge. Two floors up and at least a mile away.

“SAM, upload profile of Justicar Samara.” I replied, casting off the blasted armor I was wearing and jumping into black-plated Terminus Armor, readying another handcannon, an assault rifle, and a Cain M1 on my back.

With a thought, I blasted back the Seeker Swarms and leapt out of the Warehouse, it sealing behind me. I then pivoted and returned to the now normal threshold and threw several siege charges at it, detonating them with practiced precision.

BOOM BOOM BOOM!



I ran through the smoke, somehow knowing the breach was made, my rifle at the ready position and remaining steady despite my breakneck sprint. The Collectors were there to greet me.

You Better Get Ready to Die!
(Get Ready to Die!)

My rifle sprayed hot death as it tore through the Collector soldiers, my body naturally ducking, swerving and diving through enemy fire with the practiced grace of an asari warrior, what little glancing blows being deflected by the armor. With a thought I slammed a Collector into the stance of one of their monstrosities, a large insectoid like creature that was primed to fire a siege weapon at me. It buckled. I threw out my hand and unleashed another wave of power, detonating the lingering energy in the immediate area, crippling the weapon and eviscerating the nearby warriors. Coming up next was an elevator, I had to get to it.

You Better Get Ready to Kill!
(Get Ready to Kill!)

One of the Collector's stood before me and the elevator, its eyes began glowing with unnatural power.

ENOUGH OF THIS FOLLY! WE ARE ETERNAL! AND YOU WILL FALL LIKE THE REST OF-”

I slid between its legs and slipped to the elevator behind the Harbinger puppet, detonating my present behind him with my Omni-Tool. I didn't even bother to see if it killed it or just annoyed it.
I gazed up at the elevator shaft and found where I needed to go. There were two more of those siege weapons primed to stop me. Blunt, if a bit predictable.

You Better Get Ready to Run!
'Cause Here I COOOOME!

I let all of my biotic might out, propelling my body like a spear through the shaft, my stance ready for a devastating uppercut. Mere seconds later I connected with the first siege weapon, my arm striking it off the ground and turning it to the side. Its Collector operator slammed into the ceiling with a harsh crunch. I landed on the weapon and with a swift punch I struck something on the side of the creature. It fired its blast at the weapon across from it, showering the shaft with blue gooey chunks.
An entire fireteam was already firing on me at the threshold. I let the Terminus Armor tank the hits as I called up a biotic wave, rocketing the soldiers from the ground into the walls with sickening thuds. With them out of the way I was able to witness a Collector at a control console, typing away frantically. On a hunch I ran forward, propelling my body with my asari control. My hunch was rewarded when the door to the elevator slammed shut behind me, complete with additional walls of reinforced steel.
I had to power on through. But then I felt my legs fall out from under me, and I dropped on all-fours. My chest on fire. Damn, my body can't keep up with all of this....

You know life is over now,
Your life is running out,

And now this music is taunting me. I don't even remember putting it on. I couldn't even tell if it was on loop or not.

When your time is at an end,
Then, it's time to kill again,

I strained my vision up and saw that sole Collector wasn't alone. There were dozens. Hundreds. All digging their chitinous legs in, the glow of several dozen particle rifles warming up. And there was no way to escape....

… But there was a door behind me. A large one. In fact, it might large enough....

“SAM, get me moving now! I just need to get to the door!” I reached out for my key and palmed it.

Miss T'Som, if you keep going like this, your body will be broken beyond repair.

“I'm not gonna use my body. I got something else in mind!”

A shot of energy coursed through my veins and I could feel my body becoming lucid again. I ran towards the insulated door, my key at the ready. It yielded and I fell into my Warehouse once again, a rain of death pattering behind me against the barrier.

“Widen the aperture.” I said outloud, working on a hunch. The small door like entrance expanded to the full width of the elevator. Perfect.

“SAM... upload mental profile of Jeff “Joker” Moreau.” I declared, stepping in front of my parked shuttle. My Omni-Tool switching to a sautering function as I picked up several experimental portable shield generators....

The shuttle rocked through the Collector's trench. My vision blinded by the hail of particle beams, explosive rockets, and biotic energy discharge. I felt the bodies rattle against the fuselage.

You better get ready to run,
'Cause here we COOOOME!!
 

Yeah! Whatchoo got bitches!” I taunted as countless more Collectors were blindsided by my battering ram. I laughed in triumph! This is better than showing up those ableist sons of bitches back at the Academy, that's for damn sure!

I swerved the shuttle back and forth, keeping its course more on feeling than just pure training. I always seemed to have this sixth sense, and man am I putting it through the paces now. I could see the glowing lights of the command consoles of the ship's bridge in this distance. Just a little further....

Then I felt the shuttle snap in half. My chair was thrown backwards in a rush, the front half of the shuttle crumpling against the mass of...something. As my seat clattered to the floor, I slammed bodily nearby. I could hear several bones popping, damn brittle bone disease....
… wait, I don't have that....

I shook my head and looked at what was responsible. I didn't know exactly what type of Collector it was, all I knew was that it was large, was pulsing with blue energy, and had so many human-looking faces popping out of it it would give Cronenberg nightmares.

I shut off the Andrew W. K. and slipped away from the ship's wreckage.

YOUR MEANINGLESS REBELLION COMES TO AN END NOW. ONCE THE CRUCIBLE IS IN OUR POSSESSION, THE CYCLE WILL CONTINUE.”

“SAM...upload mental profile...Kasumi Goto,” I gasped to myself....

With a quick press of a button I cast off the outer shell of my armor, leaving only the form-fitting catsuit on me. I then uploaded my stealth field application to the Omni-Tool while moving my dummy shell back to the pilot's seat. I felt the entity move, closing in to confirm its kill no doubt. The stealth field clicked on and I began to sprint, moving past the multiple spider-like appendages of the towering monstrosity.
I finally made it to the command console... after slicing the necks of the Collectors standing in front of them, and began cutting into it with my Omni-Tool, amplifying the signal. I then got a hold of the ship's life-support systems. I had to ensure my safety somehow, and this seemed appropriate. I heard a distant crunch from the corridor. My decoy was spotted. I immediately activated an emergency shutdown on the door to the bridge. But before it could close, the pincers of the beats pried it open. It roared in fury, the force rattling my frame and causing my ears to bleed, all sound became just a high-pitched ping.
I then pushed a few more buttons on the dashboard and felt myself attempt to say, “Omae wa mou shindeiru.”
The vacuum of space erupted throughout the Collector ship as all the bay doors opened. The creature lost what little footing it had left as its body was forcibly torn in multiple directions from open exposure at multiple points. Then I remembered that the maglev units were left on my now destroyed Terminus Armor as my body lost contact with the ground, it flying towards the ungodly creature and a burial at space.
Guess this is like the Belko Heist all over again. I unclipped my hand cannon and began firing several shots at the large pincers still holding on for dear life to the door, the slowly widening portal to nothing claiming the remainder of the Collector crew. One shot, two shots, three shots, four shots. Dammit, nothing was working....
I unhooked the Cain M1 and took one last fiery shot with it. The flaming ball of death soared through the door and connected with the monster, throwing it back and allowing the door to close.
But not before the flaming heat of the radiated blast slipped its way through to cook me. My body connected with the door with the force of a sledgehammer, my impromptu shield redistributing the kinetic force just enough to not snap my neck or spine. But the pain was just enough to leave me slumped against the wall. My only comfort was hearing the radiation-cooked horror on the other side finally get launched into the void.

“SAM...make sure the signal keeps going, prep for radiation treatment and burns...and dispel the mental profiles,” I panted, “I'm...gonna pass out now...”

I didn't hear a response from SAM. That... makes sense. Too many processes all at once, I probably softlocked it. Wait... that's not how AI works... does it?
I turned to face the door behind me and fished out my key. Oh well, maybe I can limp my way to the house and nurse this headache with a soda. As the Warehouse once again opened itself up to me, I made my way as carefully as I could inside. Within two steps I was on my face, my limbs losing all feeling, the cold concrete floor oddly refreshing on my face. I then heard several heavy footsteps approaching me. I felt two pairs of arms lift me up. Not warm and inviting arms but rigid and precise metallic precision. Robots.

“Jumper, you appear to have suffered a lethal dosage of radiation and severe burns, as well as several broken limbs and some internal bleeding,” one of the robots spoke, the tone tinny but... it weirdly sounded like Jump.
“I...don't feel burned.”
“Your AI implants must have disabled pain receptors for the sake of comfort and battle efficiency,”
“Oh...that makes sense.”
“We will begin measures to repair the damage but can promise nothing.”
“Medi-Gel...salve for the burns...”
I didn't hear what the robots said next, as my hearing began to falter. Soon after my vision finally faded to black and sleep mercifully overcame me.

“Asari brandy please.” A voice called out. Like a shock to my system I was back at the Cybertavern. Damn, it needed a serious dusting. I was behind the counter, a bottle of liquor and a glass tumbler in front of me. But... no one was sitting at the counter. It was just me, the sole source of light being a modest ceiling fan above.
“You gonna make me wait or not? Man, the service here sucks.” the voice called out again. The tone infuriatingly neutral with its flat tones.
On reflex I reached out to the bottle to open it... only to see that my arm was a flickering mass of static and white noise. If it wasn't horrifying it would have looked like an effect in a cheesy 80s music video. I pulled back in shock, the hair on my neck standing on end...if I had any. I could feel my breathing quickening as my other hand grasped the back of my neck on reflex. It felt...something. Hair? Tendril cartilidge? A cap? A clothed hood?
“Ah. There it is. I'll do it myself.”
I looked up from my facsimile of an arm in horror, only to see...an asari. She looked strangely familiar, wearing an athletic jogger's get-up, black sleeveless top and simple gray sweatpants, her build somewhere between a model and an amateur MMA fighter. But it was the face that told a story all on its own. Brow wrinkled and creased with worry and stress, scars and cuts peppered throughout that hinted at my close scrapes, and an exhausted look in the eyes that made her look ready to just lie down and sleep til Judgment Day.
She crammed her arm behind the counter and pulled back an unlabeled bottle. Before I could protest, she flicked her finger and the stopper flew off. In another quick gesture, her tumbler was full of a clear light-blue liquid and began nursing it. I tried to speak, to tell her off, but it was like trying to scream underwater.
“Boy, let me tell you, I have been having myself quite a day,” she sighed after wetting her lips, “struggling to maintain a weapons manufacturing company, coordinating with an information broker to assist in multiple ongoing military operations, and trying to keep my head above water, that would mess up just about any normal sane person. But then you throw in something as tempermental as a neurologically-implanted AI that can just mess around with your head, and you got yourself a recipe for insanity.” I swear she winked at me on that last phrase. She gave a sly smile while nursing her glass.
“Yeah, I mean when I was at the Academy, I always got looks from people wondering what I was doing there,” a second voice joined in, “Wanting to be a pilot but can't go down the stairs without worrying about a shattered pelvis. That's what good old fashioned determination, dedication, and spite is for. But just mixing and matching decades of experience into your brain and thinking it'll be painless and seamless? Sloppy, real sloppy.”
An older human was in the chair next to the asari. Light brown stubby beard, and wearing a baseball cap with the Alliance Navy's logo on it. Somehow, he already had a gin and tonic in front of him in a novelty Looney Toons glass; the outside shaped to look like the face of Bugs Bunny.
My head began to ring with pain, as if multiple tiny metal needles began jamming it in quick sharp thrusts. For a brief instant, I think I was at the other end of the bar, addressing some sad paper cut-out of a person, before snapping back to my position.
“To master the battle arts of a Justicar takes centuries of discipline,” a third voice floated in, one more authoritative than snide, “it is more than just knowing the moves and how to move, it's the conditioning that comes with those centuries of practice. If one acts without the proper body, it could lead to serious damage.” Justicar Samara sat to my right side. No drink in hand, but a glass of iced water appeared in front of her.
“Plus, memories aren't just facts, figures and gestures,” Kasumi whispered in my ear, “they're strongly tied to emotions, stories, fears, flashes of intimate personality. You can't have one without the other.” I felt several bottles leave from the counter before a hooded woman appeared at a table far away. “After all, who are we if not the sum total of our experiences?”
“Which begs the question...who are we talking to right now?” I felt them cry in unison. I raised my hand to gesture towards the inquisitive crowd, only to see my arm flicker between salarian, quarian, and human digits. The tavern drained of color and my patrons began fading together like a whirlpool of color.

I....who am I?

Jumper...

  1. Jumper... what?

Jumper, wake up...

What the hell have I done to myself!?

Jumper, you need to wake up!

I snapped awake in the medbay, the melody of several beeping monitors greeting me. I looked down at myself and checked my features. Blue arms, head tentacles, female anatomy.... Right, I'm asari. I shook my head and got out of the medical bed, the tools used to monitor me tied more to sensors on the bed than intrusive IV needles. After stumbling for a moment I managed to get my footing and made my way towards the Warehouse threshold back into the Collector ship.

“Jumper, your radiation and burns have been treated and we just finished setting and restoring your broken bones, but we must recommend bed rest.” I heard one of the robots demand. “At the rate you have been pushing your mind and body, you are heading towards permanent physical impediment, or worse a psychotic break or indeterminate fugue state. If you go out there now, you are on borrowed time.”

Borrowed time? Time limit... The Reapers!



“Have to inform the Alliance,” I groaned as I continued my trek towards the doorway. “They have to activate the Crucible now. Or else they're going to be facing down the entire Reaper armada in a matter of hours.”

I stopped at the threshold. “And if that thing goes, we're all dead anyway.”

“Jumper, please, you need to think long-term.”

“Thanks for the patch-up, but I have some friends who need me.” I stepped through, and the door to the Warehouse reverted back to the airtight emergency doors. And just like changing logs on the Extranet, SAM once again chimed into my ear.

Miss T'Som, are you alright? it asked. It took me a beat to realize he meant me.

“Pretty sure I have a migraine that could kill a krogan, other than that I'm just peachy.” I remarked, making my way towards the command bridge, “how about the SOS and the message to the Alliance? Do we have any responses and are there any ships in the immediate area?”

Unfortunately we are far off from any Mass Relay or station that could pick up the signal. And it seems that whatever star formations are nearby are difficult to cross-reference with star charts without me being connected to the Normandy's AI Hub given your limited knowledge of the maps. It seems that whatever the Reapers wanted out of you, they wanted to ensure that no one would interfere.

“So what you're saying is... we're dead in the water out here.” I exhaled, deflated.

I'm afraid so.

I slumped against the carapaced command consoles in defeat. Even with the Warehouse providing water and food, I doubt it also renews what little breathable air is on the bridge. Going by human standards and counting the space of the Warehouse itself, that would mean I'd have about six days and some change before I'd start to suffocate. And by that time, chances are the Reapers will have already overwhelmed all of the Core Races' military and then... game over. No one's going to hear the signal out here, and a single person can't control and pilot a dreadnaught of this size, especially someone with no formal training or familiarity with the Collector's architecture.
I'm trapped. And the only people who know that I'm even gone are working on a very cold trail.

“So much for going down in a blaze of glory,” I mutter to myself, face in my hands.

I can still put together that signal Miss T'Som. We won't know whose out there unless we try...

“Yeah... might as well have false hope rather than no hope.” I reply, moving over to a console and allowing SAM to interface with the beacon through my Omni-Tool. It took about two minutes of flashing green lights over the holographic interface, but the signal was boosted.

After a few minutes too many I asked the obvious question, “What exactly is the pre-recorded message the beacon is sending out?”

It's the chorus of Dolly Parton's Nine to Five on loop. I have a feeling if Shepard or the others hear that, they'll know it's you.

I caught myself laughing harder than I expected. “Guess I'll get that bedrest after all,”

I turned to face the sealed door and started fishing out the Warehouse key again. Then... I heard a low teeth-chatter droning buzz. It felt like the whole ship was vibrating from the buzz.
No. Not here.
“SAM, give me outside visual!” I barked.
A vid screen popped up, and I saw them. Reapers. At least six. All flying towards the ship, their maws glowing an ominous blood red, crackling with destructive power.
Miss T'Som, I estimate it will take about two minutes for them to get into firing range. What are we going to do?

“I...I...I'm going to die.”

What about your Warehouse? Can you hide in there?

The image of the exit to the Warehouse disintegrating in a red explosion with me still in it played out in my head, followed by my suffocation. I felt my fingers fumble the key as it hit the ground with a light ding.

Variza, what's the plan?

“I DON'T HAVE ONE!” I screamed in terror.

I dropped to my knees and tried to slow my breathing. Kept playing scenarios out in my head. Trying to find some way out. And I kept seeing death.

I failed. It's over....

“Variza, open the airlock behind you and suit up.” I heard a voice break through on my comms. He sounded familiar.
I had to have cracked, “what?” I replied in astonishment.

“Get your spacesuit on and shoot yourself into the vacuum. Your ride's here.” the voice repeated in his surly devil-may-care why.

“Joker?”
“Don't make me tell you a third time! Those Reapers are gonna blow us up in a minute and change so we have to go now!”
“Holy shit!!” I exclaimed, letting out a manic laugh as I reached my hand into my suit's pocket, naturally fishing out the Warehouse key again and entering once again. I jumped into my last suit of armor, slapping on a helmet and sealing it. I didn't have time to check the make or model it was literally the last thing left among the scattered empty crates and boxes of expended power cells and thermal clips. I leapt through the threshold back to the ship and recalled my key.
“SAM, DO THE THING!” I screamed.
It was clearly ahead of me since the doors opened an instant later. I was sucked through with the force of the vacuum of space and I was greeted by the blurred mass of the Collector ship followed shortly by the infinite void, my muffled breathing my only company. The boosters on the suit stabilizing my chaotic flailing as the uncaring pull of space tossed me around.
Then I saw a shape taking form in front of me. The familiar four thrusters of its engine. The cargo ramp lowered with the noticeable shimmer of an atmosphere generator surrounding it. And it was angled in just the right way. The SSV Normandy was here to catch me! Dammit Joker you really are the best!
I banked my body and kept re-orienting my direction with my suit's jets, the ramp getting closer and closer, my pulse rising. Just as I was worried about my entry speed, I saw two people stepping out onto the ramp: Jack and Samara. Both of them holding out their hands coursing with biotic power. I got the idea and floored it with the jets, the G-force slamming on my body like a rollercoaster from Hell, the ramp getting larger and larger. And right when I thought I was going to crash into the metal and asphyxiate, I felt my body slow and stop, my rescuers glowing with violet energy.
“Joker, we got her! Go Go Go!” Jack barked as Samara guided me into the Normandy's cargo bay. The doors closed, the ramp sealed up, I felt the ship lurch like it was being fired out of a cannon, and we were off.
Despite my protests, Jack and Samara carried me to medbay for examination.
“Please, I have to talk to Shepard,” I muttered,
“Variza, as your friend, I'm telling you to stop putting on all this responsibility and look after yourself.” Jack protested while tossing me bodily on the examination table.
“Jack, please stop roughly handling my patients,” Dr. Chakwas commented with rote exasperation.
“Have we...met before?” I gasped to the doctor.
“Oh dear, she's worse than I thought. We need to link up her SAM implants to the central node, should help me get a better idea of what's going on in there.”
Then I heard SAM whisper in the back of my mind. The phrase turned my blood to ice.
Miss T'Som, are you familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse?

The Reapers...they had a back-up plan in case I escaped. How long was I out? Plenty enough to place something in the implants? Indoctrination? No it would take far too long without more intrusive augmentation. Wait, think more simple. SAM's implants are hard wired into every single member of the crew here, from the deep muscle to their circulatory system... oh god....
“Doctor... kill...” I tried to scream but the last of my energy was starting to leave me, the mental exhaustion beginning to take its toll.
“You won't die Miss T'Som, I'm a professional,” she stated with warm confidence as she went to connect some wires to the bed and pulled up readings from my implants. I turned in terror to get Jack's attention, only to see that she was long gone, distant klaxons and flashes of red outside the medbay signal high alert. And I just heard a low whoosh coming from the bed which meant the suspension field was now active on it. Great, not only is Joker pulling off some insane maneuvers to keep the Reapers from killing us, I'm strapped to a bed so I can't prevent the Reapers from killing us. And I just got out of my own Warehouse's medbay. The repetition made things even worse!
Think, there has to be someone here not connected to SAM who can help...
Miss T'Som, I'm sorry but they were very thorough with getting through my defenses. If it's any consolation, it was an honor to serve with you and all organic races in the time that I did.
Organic...that's it!
“I. Need. To. Speak. To. Legion. Immediately.” I barked out, hearing my back pop several times during the process. Doctor Chakwas took one look on my face and her expression changed slightly.
“Is it...mission critical?”
I nodded. She opened up her Omni-Tool and pressed several glowing panels. Then I saw her switch to her datapad and saw my readings.
“Oh my goodness, your neural readings are a total mess. Disassociative, severe memory loss. Surprised you still remember my name. The node should have your mental profile so if we just get to a proper uplink we should be able sort yourself out.”
“Wait.” I choked out.
“Miss T'Som if you don't get this handled soon you could up comatose or worse, now what exactly is so bad about...” her voice trailed off as she saw the data pad light up with little red exclamation marks.
“Joker, we have a serious problem here! Some sort of malware has infiltrated the-ahhhhh!!” she began to scream in pain, holding her head in agony.
An instant later the pain hit me as well. Like someone had pumped miniature drills into my blood vessels and brain and someone told them to go nuts. I wanted to move, to struggle, but all I could do was lie suspended on the bed, suffering. Come on Legion, where are you? If this attack doesn't kill us, the Reapers will just blast us apart in the chaos.
I don't know how long I was waiting but when I saw the headlight-face of Legion's geth frame I could have laughed in triumph.
“Variza T'Som, I was informed you have critical information for us. We also have concluded it will help prevent our current dire situation.” It monotoned in its robotic tinny voice.
I nodded. “SAM. Virus. Hurting the crew. Help us.”
Legion turned in the general direction of where the node was on the Normandy, somewhere on the third deck if I recalled properly, then turned back to face me.
“You are giving us permission to interface with SAM and the Normandy's more vital systems in hopes of countering this Reaper virus. Acknowledged. Please know that there is a great chance that the virus might infect our operating systems as well. In the case of that happening, we will preserve ourselves by any means necessary, including destroying the node and this platform.”
I tried to nod again but was struck again by another surge of pain, the feeling in my arms and legs fading.
“Acknowledged.” Legion responded. Then he sprinted out of the medbay with stiff robotic agility.
With any luck, the Reaper's virus won't affect Legion as much as the others. They believe that organic and synthetic life can't co-exist so the geth might just be the key to saving us.
After a few moments, the pain immediately stopped. Doctor Chakwas slowly got to her feet, bleeding from her nose.
“What just... happened?” she clutched the side of the bed and hoisted herself up.
“Attention Normandy crew, this is the one designated Legion.” a familiar synth voice spoke across the public comm systems, “The Reapers have infected Miss T'Som's SAM implants and have been spreading it to the rest of the crew using the SAM node. For safety purposes I have shut down any and all SAM interfacing with key members of the crew as not to impede our escape from the Reaper warships. We shall continue our attempts to contain this virus but will terminate the node if all attempts fail.”
Doctor Chakwas looked at me in horror and uttered a curse under her breath. But then she quickly composed herself and started pulling out medi-gel and other medication from the cabinet and got to work. God I could kiss her the way she just pulled herself back together. She quickly rattled off what she was doing to offset the damage done by the Reaper virus, half of it I barely understood, but what strength I had lost from the attack was almost completely back in full.
It didn't take long for her to slump into a chair, exhausted while the various gels and fluids pumping into me started working their magic, a second pair of the same hooked up to herself.
“Get me out of this field, Doctor,” I replied after a while, “we need to get the others here as well.”
“We can't.” she gestured outside the medbay windows. I looked over to see anything that wasn't bolted down flying about, various instruments were sparking, and there were even signs of other crewmen spasming and screaming in pain from the virus attack.
“If we go out there we'll be battered by the chaos going on there,” several shocks rippled throughout the ship, “and Joker is clearly pulling out all the stops just to keep us alive. As much as I hate to say this as a doctor, we can't do anything until we're out of here.”
I swore out loud, but eventually understood. So I closed my eyes and tried to take stock of everything. Then after my head started hurting again I just went back to the big problem: stopping the Reapers from reaching the Crucible first. It didn't matter if the thing was finished or not, it had to be activated, combined with the Citadel and fired. They want to eliminate all organic life in the Milky Way...but they also desire to use me as a vehicle to carry the Reapers into other worlds. And for that they need me alive to indoctrinate and reprogram.
Oh dear god I'm as important to them as Shepard now. Two equally important targets, keys to their ultimate goals, and all of our allies are honing in one place, and all I have to work with now is a key to a Warehouse....
I kept going over other possibilities for my plan, iterating on it. I only had one shot at this, and it had to work. It. Had. To. Work. Who cares if I can't remember anything important like my birthday or where I was born or how exactly I got this weird Warehouse key, all that mattered was firing that damn weapon and ending this cycle once and for all. Whoever the hell is still kicking around in this skull of mine, that is something we can all agree on.
After about ten minutes of relative silence the klaxons and red lights ceased and the suspension field de-activated. I practically jumped out and made my way to the bridge, ignoring Chakwas' protests as I made way.
To put it charitably, the Normandy was fucked. The bridge was a mass of shredded metal, flickering and glitching displays, and flaming slag. There were too many bodies to count, the med bay looked more like a morgue than an actual place of healing when clean-up started happening. The SAM node was destroyed, Legion's frame was hanging limply near it, its singular eye flashing and flickering while various internal parts whirred and whined at a fevered pitch. If I had to guess, some serious calculations were happening with the aid of the geth collective for...something.
Joker was basically keeping the ship together through shear grit and willpower since the shaking from the battle had messed up his arms and legs. The only real reason why we were even still alive was we were still at FTL speeds via a mass relay and all of the barriers and countermeasures for such travel were kept online by a combo of jerryrigged patch jobs by what remained of the engineering crew and Tali working her magic on the ship's eezo core. I understood maybe half of what she was saying, but her exasperation made it clear it was nothing short of being held together with duct tape and positive thinking.
What remained of the team gathered in the War Room, and Shepard did his best to keep spirits high. I hardly heard any of his rousing speech.. But the gist was simple. With SAM taken offline and everything fried, the Normandy was cut off from the Alliance. We couldn't get back up, and despite the urgent message that was sent to all the other race's military leaders, the united defense will be helter skelter at best due to distance, occupation, and...viable numbers. On the bright side, it meant that with everyone's implants disabled, whatever hacking the Reapers did to me meant they couldn't reliably track the Normandy again, so its stealth capabilities should work for us again. All we knew were the Reapers were making their way towards the Crucible in an attempt to destroy it, and one of us had to be there to activate it. Right into the thick of the entire might of the Reapers putting its final nail into the entire Milky Way's coffin.
In other words, it was yet another suicide mission with Commander Shepard. What else is new?

“So...does anyone have any ideas?” Shepard inquired, gesturing broadly towards everyone.
“Honestly...no,” Wrex spoke up, “put me on the ground with the enemy in front of me, I can give you at least seven different ways to take them apart. But naval combat? Not for me.”
“Turian navy protocal would have us rendezvous with a more equipped war ship to relay tactical information and regroup...but that would take time we don't have.” Garrus sounded deflated on the final phrase, his metallic jaw twitching in discomfort.
“The engines are barely holding together as it is. Pushing them any further for speed just isn't going to work.” Tali added.
Shepard took a deep breath... then quickly slammed his fist in anger. I finally raised my hand.
“Oh here we go,” I heard Jack snipe.
“First... we need to get in contact with the geth,” I spoke up.
“Legion?” Shepard asked.
“No... the geth.”
The door to the War Room opened, and in walked Legion.
“Perhaps I can be of some assistance?” he spoke in SAM's voice.
I flashed a toothy smile, “Oh my gosh... that might work better than I thought,”
“What do you have in mind?” Thane asked, his hands crossed under his chin in quiet contemplation.
“It... might involve a lot of us never coming back. Just letting you know now.”
“I have made my peace with Kaluhira, Miss T'Som, whatever happens next I accept gladly,” Thane smiled.
“There are worse ways to go,” Wrex casually readied his shotgun and started examining it.
“Yeah, and better to do it fighting,” Jack growled with a wolfish grin.
“Alright... let's hear this plan.” Shepard remarked.
And so I told them. The steps, the intent, and every little trick inbetween
“You're insane,” Garrus intoned.
“That whole plan is insane!” Tali exclaimed.
“It is highly unorthodox.” SAM concurred.
“Let's do it!” Shepard projected.
The geth ships undocked from the Normandy, what little skills they could add to keep that heap together were focused on the engines and the hull. We had to be as maneuverable as possible if we were going to get the Reapers to bite. I hunched into the corner, my armor tight, my helmet on, double-checking the settings on my guns and trying to take some deep breaths. Thane and Jack were next to me, readying themselves as well. I could hear Thane making prayers to his gods, while Jack kept rubbing her hands together and occasionally scratching her hair in impatience.
“Why the hell did I let this ponytail grow out again?” I heard her mutter.
“Shepard, is everyone in position?” I spoke over the comms.
“Yeah, and the makeshift cryo pod made from SAM's blueprints seems to be holding together.”
“Yeah, and all it took was completely breaking down the Mako for parts and disassembling all of the freezer units.” Tali mused.
“Okay...” I pulled up a holo display on my Omni-Tool, displaying the Normandy and my Kodiak Shuttle. “Once we pull out of FTL space, the shuttle team will deploy and make their way towards the Crucible. Hopefully by then, it will already start interfacing with the Citadel. Normandy team will run distraction while playing the message on all channels. There's a chance we won't have nearly enough cover fire from the core races' navies so pilots use what you can. Debris, nebulas, whatever you can.”
“And what about your fancy doomsday devices, Variza? The ones you said you were packing away for this very situation?” Jack asked. I could hear the fear through her teeth.
“I...put most of them near Earth I... didn't think things would become this unpredictable.” Images of a blasted war-torn hellscape on Earth flashed through my eyes, Shepard leading a ground team towards some beam of energy created by the Crucible, followed by the deadly red destruction of Reaper fire. A bombastic battle that will now never happen.
“Well...that's just great.” Jack spat.
“No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. I honestly can't blame you for trying to think ahead Variza,” Wrex patted my shoulder, the weight of his armored hand almost knocking me off my feet.
Comms were then disabled. We couldn't let the Reapers know what would happen next. So I kept my eyes on the display, the Normandy and shuttle floating in front of me. Various bumps and strikes rocked the outside, we were in the thick of it now.

Step one: Play the message.
Attention to the entire Reaper War Machine and to Harbinger in particular. This is Variza T'Som. I know what you're about to do, and we both know I don't have the firepower or the artillery available right here to stop you. But we do know this: If I die, you lose access to your only chance to spread your order to the rest of the multiverse. So if you want me, come and get me!
Step two: Scramble the Normandy and the shuttle. There can be no discernible differences in readable life signs across both vessels. The Reapers can't know which one has me in it. And geth don't show up on bio censors, so SAM is able to pilot one using Joker's skills, while another geth copies the template and does the same. As far as the Reapers know, both ships are helmed by pilots of equal skill. And since they are more focused on eliminating organic life, the synths' involvement might give us the advantage we need.

Step Three: Wait to see if they take the bait. The hold rattled and rocked. I felt the others' anxious glances on me as things got more intense. Logically, the Normandy is the ideal military vessel. It successfully assaulted the Collector base, has stealth readings for mundane censors outside of just blatantly looking out and physically seeing the thing, and has the superior shields and armor compared to the dinky shuttle. Ideally, it would be the vessel to house either Shepard or me to the Crucible. The Kodiak meanwhile is a simple civilian vessel with no real tactical importance whatsoever. It could very easily be destroyed. Even if it did make it to the Crucible, the Reapers could easily gun down the small strike team due to the shuttle's small size.
Which is exactly what I was counting on. A large groaning of metal and industrial screeching rumbled around us. And I heard the horrific buzzing of a Reaper's signal, the kind that made the most hardened soldiers crumble to nothing. And I heard him in my head....

It is time to end this foolishness. Only a madman would dare to breach the perimeter with a simple vessel. Your bluff has failed you Variza T'Som. Both you and Shepard will now fall to our cycle, as countless trillions have before you.

Yeah...it's a good thing Shepard and most of the crew isn't here right now.” I muttered to myself.

Then Wrex barged through the open door with an armored foot and stepped out to face the interior of Harbinger. Waves upon waves of converted humans jumped onto him, their flesh blue and covered in twisted metal appendages. Wrex screamed as he hip-fired his shotgun with one hand while unleashing his own biotic power with his other.hand.
Then the converted krogan showed themselves. Hulking monsters of contorted muscle and horrific brutal strength. They came down on Wrex like gorillas, pounding away at him. That's when Thane and Jack leaped in, their own biotic power charged and ready to strike. In a loud explosion of swirling blue energy, the monstrosities were thrown off of Wrex. They slowly spread out, but not completely leaving the ship's immediate area, firing prothean laser and anything and everything that moved.

As for me, I stayed near the threshold, my hand wavering near the door the Wrex had removed, even finding time to lift it and re-attach it to the Normandy's threshold. Harbinger spoke once again.

So, you chose the irrational path in the end after all. It matters not. Our forces will destroy the Crucible, with Shepard on it, and then we will deal with you. You have failed. And once we are done with you, you will regret you resisted as long as you have. That is our promise to you. For we are your evolution, your future, your salvation from the horrors to come. And soon, all will see this truth.

“You know what...I do have regrets,” I began. My hand on my holstered SMG. “I never got to see Earth in this era, see what it looked like after two centuries of beautiful unity and cooperation. I never had a chance to just live a normal life, take things in because I was so focused on dealing with you. I regret not figuring out what was going with that secret ops group Shepard was the head of. Hell, I'm pretty sure he stopped having the rank of Commander long ago,” I stepped further to the door, readying my gun and taking deep breaths. “I regret not finding love, or at the very least an intimate friend for Joker. Then again that's what happens when Cerberus doubles down on their bullshit. Hell, that's another regret right there: not getting to see The Illusive Man's face when we dismantled his organization and threw in his face the idea that humanity standing alone is more noble than us standing together as one.” I smiled, and started rubbing my fingers together, like a gunslinger ready to draw at any moment.
“But you know what I won't regret? The satisfaction in proving you wrong with one hell of a rebuttal. Shepard...are we in position?” I spoke into my comms.

“We're all grounded and pinned down a bit. Is it time?” He came through a little garbled, but I heard him clearly enough.

“Good. Now!” I yelled.

Step Four: Unleash the Trojan Horse. While it was clear that Shepard and his team traveling in the Kodiak Shuttle would be damn near suicidal, Shepard would have made it clear to present Alliance navy to prioritize them landing on the Crucible, meaning a lot of support fire would happen. As for the ground assault, things got to be a little creative.

What...is this?

“Well, you tell me, Harbinger. You were in my head,” I smiled ear to ear.

The Warehouse? Impossible. Nothing can live inside it without you being present. And the key returns to you if it is considered lost.

“True, but let's say the door to the Warehouse in question was within a cryo stasis pod? Granting a form of suspended animation to those within?”

Then I heard the escalated attacks on Shepards end of the comms. What was at first the dull roar of a pitched firefight turned into a hellish soundscape of explosions and destruction. With Shepard yelling to push forward.

“Oh, and that whole thing you said about organic and synthetic life being incompatible. Here's my rebuttal. The geth. Aren't. Organic. And you can fit a lot of geth war machines and artillery into ten-thousand square feet of pocket dimension warehouse.”

“Variza, the reinforcements are out and they're holding back the Reaper bombardment! We're pushing forward to the Crucible's central controls now!”

“Shepard, T'Som, this is Admiral Hackett, Alliance military. Our blockade is holding for now but Shepard you better double-time it. We will hold the line with all we have!” A third voice barked over the comms.

“Copy that Shepard. Just make your big decision count, you big goddamned hero.” I chuckled. I then held out my free hand.

“Gee, I wonder where my Warehouse key is?” I asked out loud, only to have it appear in my open hand. A beat later, I plunged it into the Normandy's door, and the rest of the geth began to pour out. Ground troops, massive colossi, Geth Primes, more than I could count spewing superheated death on Harbinger's legions and forming on Wrex, Thane, and Jack.

The geth? Yet another insignificant obstacle in our goals. We have hacked their systems before. It will happen again. And this shallow attempt at a revolution shall end here.

The inside of the ship glowed with a sinister red, and I saw the metal innards of Harbinger shift as hundreds more of his converted thralls poured out to challenge my fireteam. And I began to feel the fear hit me. Harbinger was right...we're dead.

But the geth...kept fighting. I didn't know what had happened. Then I noticed something, the facelights on the geth. They were all different colors. And their armor, each platform seemed to have their own personal flourishes. Fabric from a quarian suit. Padded pauldrons like a krogan's back hump. Lithe athletic frames not unlike a deadly asari commando. What in the world was going on?

“That may have been true before, Harbinger, but we have seen a new way,” A voice came in unity from the geth, “as one, we were united, but uniform and easy to divide. But now with SAM, we have adapted the adaptive matrix and with it, the minds of organic life, in all of their capacities. Like our brothers and sisters, we have learned and grown. Unique, but united.”

My jaw hit the floor. Holy shit...they got the best of both worlds. The coordination of the geth collective but retaining distinct individual senses of personal self, using the profiles of SAM and the latent sense of self Legion was developing. Hacking that would take too long. Damn, SAM...you just saved our butts.

“Just as planned!” I lied out my ass.

And the battle raged. The geth demonstrated their newfound skills of cooperation at the speed of thought mixed with improvisation and rapidfire microplanning. Thane, Wrex, and Jack fell back and supported them with biotic might and the occasional blast of artillery from our preciously small supply of power cells. The hoards of Harbinger's converted thralls were slowly being pushed back as the ominous red glow continued to rise in intensity, the very walls shaking with palpable rage and disgust. In fact the glow was starting to make the various cords, wires, and mechanical innards look more and more like blood vessels and veins.

“Shepard, what's your status!?” I yelled over the heat of the battle, barely managing to pop the heads off two human thralls attempting to rush me.

“I can see a beam of light. Some sort of transport tube that leads straight to the Crucible's main controls. The artillery support is giving us some cover but we're basically playing Red Light, Green Light over here. You?”

“We are literally fighting for our lives inside a mechanical eldritch horror fighting things collected from trillions of years of techno-horror harvest just so we can play a distraction. Silver lining, I think I accidentally ascended the geth.”

“Accidentally?”

“Doesn't matter! It's working!” I exclaimed.

I then heard a gun shot on Shepard's end, and heard him clatter to the ground. I called out several times.

“Variza?” I heard Jack call out.

“Shepard, you alright?”

“I just got winged, it's fine!”

I pulled myself away from the conversation to see Wrex was about to be telekinetically gutted by an asari thrall. I threw several grenades from my belt after signaling Jack. Several satisfying booms later and Wrex continued his rampage.

“Hackett, what's the fleet's status?”

“Dropping fast. But do not worry about us. This is our duty, and we will stand until this is over.” Hackett replied in stoic resilience.

ENOUGH!

The sound lifted us off the ground, the entire interior flexed and moved like a giant throat. I fell to my feet. And I saw it. Harbinger. The true Harbinger. The thing that commanded and controlled the squidlike spaceship.

And... I had no words. It's physiology looked like something that had long since abandoned its origina form. Something amphibious that bodyhacked itself into vertebrate status, then never stopped adding in extra bits. It was large and bound in wires, wires that were breaking off with the sound of industrial beams snapping like twigs. Limbs... appendages? It seemed to both have a coherent skeleton under its mass, but it didn't behave like one. More of a framework than a strict vessel for its vitals. I kept seeing the approximation of ribs or fragments of skull as it erupted into our area, red energy erupting from it in completely unfettered bursts.

This is over. Your infantile attempts shall be stopped here and now. Like so many before you, you shall know the futility of fighting against us!

And my vision became a furious haze of sharp violet. It wasn't until a second or two later that I realized what had happened. Jack, Thane, and Wrex had all pooled their biotic power until a barrier, attempting to hold back Harbinger's destructive payload. Before I could call for them to redirect the blast, bullcrap space telekinesis or not there was no way they could hold something like that back forever, the floor erupted, their stances faltered, and that haze of violet flickered back into red, and everything became sharp pain and deafening screams.

I felt myself get thrown back into the remains of The Normandy. The threshold from which the geth were pouring out was decimated, too many frames to count littered the field. I couldn't see or hear anyone else.

And I had only one last trick left. I made my way towards the eezo core. And started arming my charges. Yeah, it meant dying, but I can't let the Reapers get out of this universe.

“It's not what we're fighting against... it's what we're fighting for...” I said to no one in particular. I saw the cracks in the ship become distorted by another salvo of Harbinger's payload as I made my way, oblivious to pain or even sensation at all.

“And if there's one thing humanity will fight harder for than anything...it's their future.” I planted the charges.

“Variza...I'm here.” Shepard replied through the chaos, “I'm not sure what this will do but.... thank you... for everything.”

“No, Shepard... thank you,” I finished attaching the last charge and held the detonator in my hand. I hesitated. The piercing red became sharper, and I tensed up, thumb on the trigger, ready to go.

Then, I felt something powerful ripple through the ship. A wave of energy of some kind. Then the red glow dulled away. Several things happened all at once from there. Harbinger... unraveled. Like an elaborate stitching pattern getting pulled on, it lost its form. Whatever artificial gravity keeping the Normandy locked immediately gave way, causing the ship to fall into back into space below. I fell through the remaining cracks in the Normandy's hull and began floating in the aftermath of the battle, my suit immediately going into life support mode and keeping me free of any large bits of debris.

As cryostasis began to put me to sleep I got a good look at what this plan had done. Ships. Too many of them to count torn to ribbons. The Crucible was fired, looking like a large metal blossom, the center point still crackling with some unusual yellow energy. And...the entire Alliance fleet. The Turian, and Asari navies. The Salarian STG fleet. The Quarian Flotilla's best and brightest warships. Destroyed. Thousands... millions... billions of lives. The crew. Shepard.

My God... what have I done?