Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 6 Part 1

Chapter 6: Team Trust Exercise Part 1

I get the distinct impression that the universe has a sick sense of humor. Within the span of a few hours of a therapy session where I found out that Shepard's crew has some flavor of distrust or disinterest of me, I am now in a fight for my life with that exact same crew being my only lifeline.

“Get these doors closed goddammit!” Shepard roared, his assault rifle blaring through the impregnable white out blizzard.

I was on his flank laying down cover fire on our monstrous assailants with my SMG, in focused semi-auto bursts of course, “Come on Tali, you got this!” I yelled over my shoulder. Turning back to see if she was fine was a bad idea. A horrific pale white tendril lashed through the cold towards me with lethal intent. Shepard managed to reduce it to gooey chunks before it took my head off.

We continued moving back through the threshold of the giant reinforced steel doors, Tali on the inside pounding away on her Omni-Tool frantically. Shepard and I stepped through and continued firing at the sight of tendrils or skittering insectoid legs. My SMG finally overheated and locked up, I swore under my breath. I switched to my pistol and continued blasting away while getting behind Shepard. With the way he handled his assault rifle and stayed so cool under pressure I found myself taking back how white bread he looked.

“Doors are closing now!” Tali announced! She slid to my side and let loose some blasts from her shotgun, shredding some more of the threatening hoard in the swirling white. The following twenty seconds was nothing but the drumming of military weapons, the shrieking and screams of our enemies, and some loud determined war cries. Mostly from me. I've only been doing this for like two years, leave me alone.

Then the doors finally closed and sweet sweet silence followed.

Shepard and I removed our helmets once the doors sealed and the building's atmospheric generator and heating system kicked on, breathing in sighs of relief. We looked at each other briefly, though I broke eye contact first. If I was better at reading faces I'd say he was glad to have me around.

“Key'lah,” Tali sighed, slumping down near the console as she put away her shotgun, “can someone tell me what we just got ourselves into?”

I took some breaths to help calm myself and spoke first.

“Rachni... Matriarch Benezia has been making a nest of rachni,” I wiped some sweat off my brow and checked my weapons, they had finally cooled down.

Shepard cocked an eyebrow at me but actually managed a flit of a smile towards me. “So that's why you insisted we brought the full team planetside. You knew Benezia was working on something major for Saren.”

“Beats going through days of red tape and bureaucracy at Binary Helix doesn't it?” I retort.

“If it wasn't for the fact that Noveria is out of Citadel jurisdiction, that would have gone by a lot faster.”

“That does beg the question, Variza. How did you know there was an investigator willing to help us track down Benezia if we found evidence of corruption on Administrator Anoleis?” Tali asked.

“She just...stuck out is all. Her cover wasn't that good,” I lied. Tali seemed to buy it.

“Alright ladies, chit-chat is over, we have to rendezvous with the rest of the team. Move out.” Shepard ordered. We put our helmets back on and got into formation.

It's amazing how quick a situation can go from normal to the absolute worst, even when you see it coming. It all started with a report from Alliance command about sighting the asari Matriarch Benezia at the Peak 15 research facility on Noveria. It was suspected for a while she was working for Saren, although the army of Geth we fought through to get here made that a confirmation. Of course before all of that we had to deal with corporate intrigue and espionage, the kind that you can't get rid of even with the lateral powers that be of a Spectre, and it was beyond tedious. Thank goodness for the power of spoilers.

Obviously, we had more to worry about at Peak 15 than just the Geth. That would have been relaxing by comparison.

We made our way towards the main lobby and began a tactical sweep. I shot out some of the ventilation ducts, despite odd looks from Shepard and Tali. I casually mentioned it was to prevent ambushes. They still looked at me weird.

“Garrus, how is your team handling repairing the communications array?” Shepard spoke into his communicator.

“Slowly making progress. Jack's biotics are great at keeping these things away while I work. Although I think something is wrong with Wrex. He's been laughing nonstop while fighting.” Garrus replied.

“What did you expect, Garrus? It's an old enemy of his people and blood rages tend to throw rationality out the window,” I respond.

“So they are rachni. Here I was hoping they were just bad science experiments gone wrong like out of one of those Blasto movies.”

“Sorry Garrus, this is real. Watch your backs and patch me in to the Normandy once it's taken care of,” Shepard replied.

“Alright, now we can just head into the labs where Benezia is and confront her,” I remarked as I casually walked to the door leading to the tram. The doors remained shut and a holographic message appeared telling me about the lockdown due to limited power.

“Oh...right, the reactor still needs repairs. How is Kaiden coming along on that?”

Shepard put a finger to his ear, listening to a private line.

“He and Ashley are almost done, they're making their way to us now,”

“Alright, let's get that ice off the emergency entrances then,”

It was after about two hours of scouring darkened hallways and abandoned living quarters punctuated by rachni attacks before we made our way to the alternative exit doors, all iced over. I would have built up more suspense here but rachni have no natural defense against biotics or fireballs created by quarian engineers with extensive knowledge of chemistry, so just imagine a scene from Aliens except the marines were also Jedi. Not exactly the same nail-biting experience, but appropriate for how badly we mopped them up.

Tali began thawing the ice as Shepard and I watched her six.

“Is this another situation like at Zhu's Hope, Variza?” Shepard asked, still maintaining his stance and posture.

“You mean did I already know about the rachni and elected not to tell you? Honestly, Shepard would you even believe me?” I responded.

Shepard remained silent for a while, his stance shifting a little.

“Considering what you have done already with stuff you just happened to know, it would have held some more water,”

“Not bad for someone with possible sociopathic tendencies right?” Shepard turned to look at me, his posture clearly giving away concern, “don't worry, Dr. Dren took select testimonials from the crew as part of our therapy sessions. It was...insightful.”

“How so?”

“Well that Wrex doesn't hate me for one. You'd think for a mercenary like him focusing on survival he'd see me as a big fat sack of cash that could also shoot his enemies.”

Almost as if on cue we heard rapturous laughter from behind the door, now free of at least five solid feet of ice. Wrex ran in, covered in rachni viscera with his helmet off and smiling from ear to ear. Or rather smiling from eye to eye. Garrus and Jack followed closely behind him. Without missing a beat, we helped them bottleneck the rachni attacks. Soon, Ashley and Kaiden followed.

After some creative barricading and applying some medi-gel to longstanding acid burns from rachni spit, we made our way to the tram leading to Peak 15's Rift Station; Matriarch Benezia's area of operations.

The tram ride itself was uneventful, although I did discover what became of the scientists under Benezia's employ. All dead. Not by a botched bio-weapon experiment but by the ravaging rachni. Guess that side mission isn't going to happen here.

We all went over protocol about how to handle Benezia and the bottom fell out of my stomach.

“What's there to talk about,” Ashley interjected, “we go in, take her out and wipe out the rachni. Do the galaxy two favors.”

“You're out of line, Williams,” Shepard retorted, “Benezia has to have some crucial information on Saren, an idea as to what his next move is, we have to take her alive so we can interrogate her,”

“But we're still killing the source of her rachni right?” Wrex inquired.

“That is going to be a problem, Wrex,” I respond, “don't you think it's a little weird that the rachni attacks have been uncoordinated? Chaotic even?”

“But that's how they work, Variza. Swarm tactics, they don't need to be tactical.” Garrus chimed in, playing devil's advocate.

“If that was true, the Council wouldn't have called in the krogan before.”

Wrex grunted in agreement, “You're right. Something seems off about them.”

“So what does this have to do with the source?” Kaiden asked. I jumped a little in my seat. I just realized he was sitting right next to me.

“It means that whatever created these rachni have actively messed with their ability to coordinate, which implies a grand intelligence. And what can you do with an intelligence?” I look to the crew. I got some blank faces. “Seriously, am I the only one who thinks about this stuff first? You can reason with an intelligence.”

Ashley rolled her eyes, “are you seriously implying we negotiate with these things? If you haven't noticed they have been trying to kill us!”

“Williams, that's enough. Variza, what you're suggesting can be read as a serious affront to the Council. The rachni posed such a massive threat to the galaxy, to let them live would mean big problems down the line.”

“And I'm telling you they fear the Reapers just as much as we do,”

I could feel a few members of the squad look away at the mention of the Reapers. Despite Shepard's visions, my insistence, and Saren's zealotry they still haven't witnessed what they're capable of first hand, it makes sense that they still haven't taken them so seriously.

“trust me, they'll be a grand help in our battles later.”

I saw Ashley and Kaiden about to ask follow-up questions when the tram slowed to a stop. When that happened it was back to business as usual. Shepard divided us into units and we made our way to Benezia's lab.

I won't front, my hands were shaking the entire time for multiple reasons. Asari Matriarchs are some of the most intimidating beings in the galaxy for the simple fact that they are asari in the last few decades of their life. Over nine-hundred years of wisdom, knowledge, and combat experience all combined together to make a blue woman you do not want to mess with. And that's before I remembered what other surprises she had waiting for us.

We were met by her own Asari Commando Unit. Elite warriors with centuries of experience and unfettered biotic might. Even with the eight of us, the commandos had us outnumbered by two. And Benezia by herself counted as at least three as far as I'm concerned. She turned her attention from the subject held in the containment pod at the lab's center: a rachni queen.

“So here you all are, like cattle to the slaughter,” she crooned, descending from the observatory platform with confident regality.

“Though I suppose it would be a mercy, considering the glorious age Saren will be ushering in with the aid of Sovereign.” She came down to meet us directly... then waved her hands in a demonstration of her biotic power. I couldn't move. My hands, my legs, my head, my weapons. I was frozen to the spot. So was Shepard and everyone else I could see through my field of vision.

“Tell me something, have you ever faced the fury of an Asari Commando Unit before? Well, consider it a grand honor. An act of mercy from the Reapers,”

The Commandos all organized themselves into a kill box, then with another wave of the hand, Benezia pulled us out of stasis.

Then all hell broke loose.

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