Monday, April 30, 2018

Multiverse Desperado A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 26

Chapter 26: The Reaper War Begins

“Feron what's the location of the Council!?” I exclaimed, slipping on my armor and priming my pistol.

“The Salarian dalatrass is on the Citadel with Councilor Udina. I tried reaching the asari leader but she's gone completely dark. Her last known location was Illium. The Turian Primarch is currently on Palaven leading the Turian Navy against the Reaper assault on their system.”

“How are the Hellfire Cannons holding up?” I asked, adjusting my SMG and double checking my pouch of thermal clips.

“They're taking care of most of the ground troops but the artillery bombardments are keeping the turians pinned.” Feron dashed past me, clipping a shotgun and an assault rifle to his person and joining me to my shuttle.

I knew I should have sent them some anti-personnel turrets to deal with the smaller threats.

“I'll call in Aria, see if we can't get some of her men to help support them. We have to get those Councilors together for the war meeting.” Liara brushed shoulders with me, checking her pistol and picking up her pace.

“Do we know where Shepard is? The crew? The status of the Normandy?” Jack chimed in, cracking her knuckles and stretching her neck as she joined our trek through the corridors. Quickly crushing some painkillers and walking confidently; albeit with a limp.

“According to Hackett they went their separate ways. Garrus went to Palaven and went all Doomsday Preppers despite protests by his family. Joker stayed with the Normandy while it got repaired, though honestly at his level of hospitalization he didn't have too much of a say in the matter. Grunt joined Wrex on Tuchanka and started opening negotiations with the salarians.”

“Does that have anything to do with all the Genophage research you guys were forwarding?” Jack started.

“Yes,” Liara and I declared in unison.

“Good god, you're turning into twins.”

I was surprised a hole didn't burn into Jack's skull from the looks Liara and I gave her at that statement. The fact we didn't bump into any of asari commandos dashing around prepping for lift off doubly so.

“Speaking of salarians, it looks like Mordin Solus has been working extensively with the Salarian Special Tasks Unit at one of their bases. If that is to be believed they're holding on to a bargaining chip for the negotiations at the Citadel.” Liara rattled off.

“Twist some arms and get him and the asset to the Citadel. By the time they arrive negotiations will have evened out. Time is precious and we can't have the Reapers separating them from us.” I rattled off in a rehearsed tone.

“How exactly am I going to convince one of the best espionage organizations in the galaxy that negotiations went well?”

“Tell them that negotiations went well and the exchange was scheduled for ASAP and delivered to Tuchanka.”

“Wouldn't that classify as lying? One of the worst things you can do to your comrades in a war scenario?” Feron remarked while doing a shell count of his own.

“By the time they get the message through the Extranet, it won't be a lie. It's a hail mary, but it'll shave precious hours off the commute.” I responded.

“Alright, that's the Variza I know.” Jack quipped.

“Clever and forward-thinking?”

“Batshit insane and quick to conclusions.”

The four of us finally stepped out of Hagalaz base and stared at the barely held together Kodiak shuttle that brought us here to begin with, my five asari commandos piling in and going over final flight preparations. Even with all the repairs and touch-ups done on it, it still looked like it was past its prime.

“We're gonna fly headlong into a war for the entire galaxy in that piece of shit...” Jack cringed.

“Trust me, it's a smarter idea than holing up in there. Out there we have a fighting chance. Otherwise they just have to drop an indoctrination device nearby and watch us kill ourselves.” I said casually.

“It still seems like a needless risk. Besides, we could better coordinate from the base rather than what I can forward to our office at the Citadel.” Liara remarked. “Are you sure this is a good idea? There's a good chance they'll miss the base.”

“With the Reapers it's a matter of when, not if. Besides, we aren't heading straight for the Citadel. We're heading back to my R&D wing on Illium. Consider it a detour.” I hopped into the shuttle. “Come on ladies! Hell's a waitin' and I want first crack at the devil himself!”

With that, we left Hagalaz behind.

Things were decidedly different during this particular trip through the stars. First, since the entire shuttle was carrying six asari armed to the teeth and a drell info broker, I had to awkwardly stand in the cockpit with Jack. If that volus I got this ship from survives this culling I'll throttle him. This newfound position gave me a front row seat of the chaos that was starting to erupt across the Milky Way as my foul-mouthed pilot charted a course to the asari republics. Ships were practically crashing into each other trying to get through the mass relays. Damaged or disabled vessels were peppered about, either blasting out desperate SOS signals or remaining dark due to paranoia over who would hear it. Or worse. I shivered at the thought.

Jack managed to keep her flying smooth until we entered Illium's atmosphere. And compared to the messy space ways, it was acting like business as usual. Giant holo displays of the system's top 10 most attractive and powerful CEOs, fluff videos about the grand benefits of signing three-century contracts with various companies for peanuts playing in obnoxious traveling ads, and absolutely nobody hunkering down in bunkers. It has almost been an entire day since Earth has been hit by the Reapers. I started grinding my teeth at the ignorance of it all. I wanted to turn the ship around and leave....

Instead, I turned around and gave my team a sit rep.

“Alright everyone, here's the plan. Once we are cleared on the helipad we must all proceed to the Maintenance Wing. Basically the final step of our product getting stress tested before it goes out to our employers. Our task is twofold. First is to get as much of the supply as secured as possible. Weapons, thermal clips, power cells, whatever. Pack as much as you can, stack it as high as you can go like it's the end of the world and you're looting the place for everything that isn't bolted to the floor.”

“So basically what is actually happening?” Tana commented with a smirk, fiddling with her Omni-Tool and maintaining a collection of glowing light shields around her person.

“Just be glad you're one of the best sentinels in the squad and that I'm not a formal CO Tana, otherwise I'd be slamming you into the hull right now with my mind.” I snapped back. She broke her gaze with me first, her violet face possibly getting a little more violet in embarrassment.

“So we came all the way here just to get some bigger boomsticks? I don't exactly see the urgency when half the Systems Alliance already has stuff like this.” Jessia inquired, casually calling biotic power in her free hand while lazily holding her shotgun on her lap.

“This isn't arming ourselves, this is cleaning house. Removing as many possible points of leverage that can be turned against us as possible. When this company and its supplies get blown to kingdom come I want to be sure the bones are picked clean already.”

“How exactly are you certain that those will even be Reaper targets?” Xun commented, her features obscured by her helmet as she tweaked the scope of her sniper rifle.

My mind jumped to the cyberized vorcha that ambushed me on Omega. I shook my head, “just a feeling,” I breathed. Then I cleared my throat and continued.

“The second major goal is dealing with the files. Tana, that's where you and your tech skills come in. Salvage as much as you can from the archives. Failed projects, successful projects. Stuff that didn't get off the ground. Once you have that and we can confirm the data is secure, delete the archive. Once that is done I'll need you to upload a program to the local holo display network. A prerecorded message.”

“But that would require codes and admin privileges only granted to the media board.” Tana remarked.

“I got you covered.” Feron spoke up, tapping several icons on his Tool. Tana checked her tool a moment later, her expression brightened. “Oh.”

“Seems standard so far, Variza, any VIPs we need to prep for extraction?” Lexa spoke up as she readjusted the armor plating on her suit.

“Got a bit ahead of me there,” I replied with a smile, I saw the edges of a smile on her face through her more translucent helmet, “that is actually major goal number three: Project Revenant. A highly valuable target of great importance that I have kept at a secure location in the R&D wing. For the sake of the greatest secrecy his sole interaction has been with preprogrammed LOKI and our recently minted LAUFEY mechs. They go in, bring needed supplies and food, then leave on a regular basis. The only other one that can enter his room is me via a DNA lock. Objective is simple: extract the VIP of Project Revenant from his isolated wing and get him out of here.”

Liara gave me a skeptical look, “How exactly are we going to go about extraction? The Kodiak shuttle here is already full to capacity, we can't exactly bring on more equipment, let alone more people.”

“And I am not gonna fly this giant metal gnat any longer than I have to!” Jack exclaimed from the cockpit.

“Don't worry, objective number two and some forethought have handled our extraction plan. It's just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Like I said. Batshit insane and quick to conclusions. We're making our descent now.” Jack remarked. A few moments later we felt the shuttle land on stable ground.

From there, everything proceeded like clockwork with Lexa taking over as leader. I might pay the bills but she's got over a century and a half of field work experience, so naturally I always defer command to her. Tana, Jessia, and Lexa took off with Feron and Liara to Manufacturing, Xun was dropped off on an adjacent building for her to set up her sniper nest, and Lexa along with her Tiamnes (I never could remember her name, only that she is the asari equivalent to a second in command) with me to R&D.

During the trip up, I mused on the fact that the penthouse up top was most likely fully prepared and waiting for me, complete with an oiled pillow and sheets with a generous thread count, and I'd probably never rest in it again. Once the elevator doors opened we were greeted by several armed soldiers in armor wandering through the wing on patrol.

“Ahh Miss T'Som, What a lovely visit. We thought you were taking an extended leave of absence.” One of the soldiers replied with a light wave, his voice a low baritone.

I traded looks with Lexa's squad, gesturing to her to arm their weapons and spread out before turning back to the guard.

“Yes, I wanted to be sure that everything was being taken care of. Delicate secrets and company assets, you understand if I enjoy a personal touch.” I gave him a cold smile as my hand slowly dropped to my hand cannon.

“Well...yes of course. I mean I've only been part of the staff for about six months so this is quite the first time.” The guard stammered as one of his hands shook. Several guards in the background began to move quickly and more deliberately.

“Ah...” Alright enough of this charade, “Then you should know that I gave everyone the day off and told security to lock everything down as of yesterday? Complete with payment for the day in question with overtime included?”

The fake guard gulped. Probably because he realized he got caught, and that he was staring down four armed asari.

“Secure the asset!” he screamed as he readied his SMG. “Eat lead space slut!” he assumed the firing position, ready to fire.

I moved my other free hand and with a thought grabbed his right leg in glowing blue power. With a second thought I slung him into the armored work bench nearby. Lexa finished him off with a quick double tap from her rifle.

The rest of the patrol reacted to the gunfire by readying their weapons and opening fire. My old training with Shepard kicked in as I dropped near a workbench for cover. “Goddammit I don't have time for this!” I yelled out loud as I fiddled with my pistol, activating its phasic mode. Screw your shields, I'm in a hurry.

In several fluid rote acts of muscle memory I called up a barrier to complement my shield, popped out of cover and took fire at the three other men I could see. The recoil on the gun shaking my body with each impact as the rounds tore chunks out of the improvised cover, blasting through the guards' armor.

“Variza, handle the stragglers, I'll take point!” Lexa declared as she ran down the corridor taking a hard right into the next room, her arms thrown in front summoning a wall of telekinetic power. Her squadmate with her at the ready. Out of sight, I heard more voices call for reinforcement.

A beat later Tana was in my ear via comms.

“Variza, we're not alone here! Who are these assholes!?” Her voice barely audible under gunfire.
“If I was a betting woman, I'd say Cerberus trying to rob me blind.”
“Do you know any other human organization that would be quick to call us 'space sluts?'”
“Good point. The message is broadcasting now, but these guys aren't exactly standing around and letting me work on the copy and purge.”
My gaze turned to my two bodyguards, just in time to see them walking into an impromptu kill box. Flanked on both sides by relentless gunfire. A pincer to catch their spear position.

“Hang in there! I can call in back-up but it'll shut off all consoles in the building. Get the others to cover you and keep me posted!”

“Roger that!”

With a bark of effort and a confident thrust of my hands I unleashed a wealth of biotic power straight above the team, generating a singularity. All of Cerberus' precious cover started floating off the ground, swirling violently into the epicenter. The soldiers shortly followed them. By my count about a dozen of them were caught in my black hole like fish in a zero-g barrel. I sprinted towards my teammates, my pistol barking death at my targets.

By the time I closed the gap, the air was full of nothing but half-baked weapons, floating tables, and armored corpses. With another surge of will I dispelled the gravity well, letting the debris float to the ground.

After a beat to catch my breath I rushed past Lexa, “We're officially on a time limit ladies. Cerberus is giving the others trouble and I can't call in the security mechs without doing an emergency shut down. We have to buy Tana some time to finish up.”

“My Tiamnes will buy you some time, Variza.” Lexa replied, gesturing to her number two. They quickly formed a defensive line as I continued towards the ominous door at the back of the room.

It looked like any other door in the facility. Except instead of the usual holographic display in the middle used to open and close, there was a handprint scanner, hardwired into the door. And above it, a camera. One was for my personal access, the other was to make sure my guest could double check the mechs dropping off supplies weren't sabotaged or whatever. It was primitive and analog as hell compared to everything else, but it worked.

I placed my hand on the scanner and the doors opened, revealing a modestly sized room. On the right was a bedroom nook, draped in exotic sheets of some sort of velvet fabric; a small bowl filled with some clear solution next to it. Adorning the walls were more banners in the same faux velvet material, etched with banners to an empire long since dead. On the left was a workbench, covered haphazardly with tools, globs of omni-gel, and the discarded parts of other guns.

And hunched over it was the revenant of Project Revenant.

Prince Javik, the last of the Prothean Empire.

“Javik, we have to go now. We have guests and they're not exactly looking for prisoners.” I declared, looking over my shoulder to see my squadmates laying down suppressing fire on Cerberus' latest arrival.

He turned sharply to address me with a harsh glare, his yellow eyes piercing. “Give me five minutes. My latest design is close to a breakthrough.” his tone was cold and ruthless, his accent approximating African.

I blinked in disbelief. “Really? We're close to being shot to ribbons with the Reapers knocking on our front door, and the first words out of your mouth is to-”

“I said give me time!” Javik barked, throwing out a hand in a show of force. An instant later my body burst into green flames. I grasped at my throat, unable to breathe as unseen pressure began to weigh down on me, burning pain seeping into me. The pain and pressure stopped once I fell to my knees, scrambling desperately for a release.

“I know all too well what we are up against, Variza T'Som. Which is why you will give me the time I need.” He flexed his hand casually to dispel the green traces of biotic power and returned to his work.

Then Tana came back on the comms. “Variza, it's Tana. Feron, Jack, and Liara have set up a defense and I'm starting the purge now. It'll take me about five minutes if we're lucky. Think you can hold out?”

After taking in a sharp breath of air, clutching my chest and punching the floor in a stubborn fit, I responded. “Yeah I guess.” My eyes flickered back to Javik before I turned back to join Lexa's defensive line, reloading my pistol. “Be thorough, we can't let Cerberus get any of these secrets.”

“Big talk from someone who has done nothing but plunder secrets.” A third voice in my ear chimed. A voice I haven't heard since Donovan Hock's party.

“Alright, I'll skip the questions you'll relish answering like how you got this frequency and how you hacked in, Illusive Man and just get right to asking what do you want?” I sniped while swapping out my pistol for my SMG.

“I think my associates have made that perfectly clear.” He smarmed. A stray shot punching a hole near my left ear seemed to punctuate the statement.

“You are nothing more than a thief and a wretch,” his tone turned venomous and strained, “you stole secrets and skills from humanity and used it for your own gains. Robbing us of what is rightfully ours. Experimental nuclear launchers, anti-aircraft artillery, black hole guns. All projects by my scientists at Cerberus. All mysteriously in your possession already patented and iterated upon. Typical of an asari, for all of your talk of unity and care, you treat every other race like children. Being able to dictate who is allowed to have what like you're all-knowing.”

“Oh yeah, real man of priorities. Your home planet is getting wrecked by genocidal machines and your first thought is coming after us. Doesn't yell crazy at all!” I popped out of cover and struck the air with a shockwave. Concussive blasts rattled past the guards disrupting what little blindspots they had, a beat later they were shredded by gunfire.

“The Reapers will be dealt with in time. You see, while you have been looking to destroy, I have been aiming towards a greater goal. If we could control the Reapers, there would be no force in the entire Milky Way that could oppose us. Humanity will truly blossom and we could secure peace for all.”

“First of all, you sound like a cartoon villain. The Reapers killed their own creators and countless others before us, do you really think you will fare much better?”

“Variza, something's wrong.” Lexa spoke up.

“Keep firing Lexa,” I snapped back. “Second, this make humanity great again shit makes me want to vomit. You are literally advocating for ambition far beyond your reach.”

“I guess you have to be human to understand, Miss T'Som.” Illusive Man stated, his voice steady and brimming with contempt.

“But yes. We haven't been able to stop them before. But then again...that's why you built the Crucible.” I swear I could hear him well up into an ecstatic smile on that last statement.

“You wouldn't.” I growled

“Variza, they've stopped firing.” Lexa replied urgently.

Wait what?

“Funny thing about using penal labor on such a project, a lot of those prisoners were human. Humans who quite fervently share my views Miss T'Som.” there was a beat almost approaching self-awareness on his part. “You work with what you have.” So close. “And what I have is the best chance in the galaxy to getting those robotic bastards to kneel to us.” I could hear him take a break to take a drag on his cigarette before continuing. “It's just a matter of securing the Council and the war effort on the Citadel. Which is where your weaponry comes in.”

I then felt a powerful blast ripple towards us, like a gust of wind tinted with the smell of burnt ozone. A few moments later, Lexa's partner flew behind us into Javik's workshop, her body crumpled on the floor.

Lexa and I popped out of cover and saw two figures walking towards us. The first was helmeted and covered in a skintight tactical catsuit. Female build. Packing an SMG and pistol like me. Her body utterly drenched in biotic power making her glow an ethereal violet.

The second was The Illusive Man's deadliest hitman: Kai Leng. Armored head to toe in light plating, his Asian features obscured by painful-looking cybernetic implants across his eyes and lower jaw. But that wasn't the worst of it, his kinetic shield continued to flicker with red energy discharge, almost in time with the twitches coming from a device on his left hand. It reminded me of the gauntlets Iron Man wore. But I knew better; it was an improvement of the energy absorbing technology I saw painfully grafted on to Benezia so long ago. His right hand casually twirled a deadly ninjato.

“As for your condescension to what we are capable of, we've already made strides in bending the Reaper technology to our command. A mere stepping stone to our future. Allow my loyal associates to demonstrate.” The Illusive Man then clicked off of the comms.

Tana spoke up once more, “Variza we're almost done here but there are these fast-looking assholes with swords now coming at us.”

“Let me know the instant you're done.” I replied quietly.

The catsuited biotic spoke up first, her accent carrying British intonation. “Alright, you get one chance to surrender and we'll consider letting you live,” she honestly sounded like she was displeased with the color of her nail polish. On balance it made the threat more intimidating.

Alright, time to Tarentino my way to a run out clock.

“That depends on the rules of the surrender, naturally,” I smirked, maintaining my firing position and keeping my pistol steady. “I mean is this technically a surrender under war time as per Earth's Geneva Conventions, or an unspoken contract between both parties with shaky to no placed regulations overseen by a third party with no intention of emulating an impartial committee? You see those circumstances factor greatly into my-”

“You're stalling.” Kai Lang replied as deadpan as a ninja assassin can given the circumstances, “You have until the count of three to throw down your weapons.”

He didn't even have time to reach one before the workbench full of power cells came flying at him with the force of a freight train.

“Dammit Tarentino!!” I bellowed. The battle cry fizzled faster than Leng's confusion when he cut the table in half with his energized blade. Cutting through the table – and the power cells – in one clean cut.

I dashed behind cover as the deafening concussive blast erupted from the destroyed cells, belching fiery energy.

“What's the plan?!” Lexa replied.

“Hold them off for five minutes!” I yelled.

“That is not a plan!”

“It's a work in progress! Start working!”

I heard static discharge mere feet away. On reflex, I rolled from my cover and turned around at the ready, just in time to see the remains of the table turned into scrap metal by Kai Leng's sword, the power cell explosion looking like it irritated more than hurt him. I fired several shots his way, which were inevitably deflected by the red crackling shield he called up with his gauntlet hand, creating a partial dome of energy around him.

Lexa took advantage of my cover fire and charged at him with the force of a krogan, her biotic-enhanced bull rush knocking him into a nearby wall. Lexa had her rifle aimed straight at his gut, but before she could pull the trigger, Leng changed the grip on his sword and and sliced through the weapon, cutting it in two, a follow-up slash going for her throat. I swear I saw a thin flicker of purple fill the air as she widened the gap with another dash, reaching for her sidearm.

Then I remembered that Leng wasn't the only problem in the room as a warped piece of metal flew right at me. I ducked, then took a beat to look behind me to Javik's workshop – they were fine, and called up a small biotic wall to meet the Cerberus agent's gunfire. The wall was perfect, redirecting the rounds back at the shooter, causing her to break off her assault to dive behind a pillar. Yet I felt the kinetic force of several haymaker punches on my torso and head, the force punching through my suit and causing me to lose balance. At a glance I saw that one of the tables appeared to be missing a pistol.

“Of course... never have a gun battle in a weapon factory,” I wheezed to myself as I maintained my focus, keeping my pistol trained on the agent's location. With a flick of my wrist, I launched a biotic throw, bent like a curveball pitch to hit the agent behind the pillar from the left side, my pistol ready to fire on the right. Right on queue, the agent rolled to the right. I started firing, aiming for her legs and thighs, hoping to cripple her. To my surprise, instead coming out of her roll she zipped to another piece of cover, her body a blue blur. I hastily fired too many shots to catch her, my pistol clicking impotently.

Then I felt my feet leave the floor. In an instant, I was twenty feet in the air, suspended helplessly. The next, I felt like someone had pushed me out of a plane with an ACME twenty-ton weight glued to my head. My vision was full of bright flashes, followed by searing red as the pain hit me in waves. My arms and legs felt numb, I could hear the light cracking of concrete underneath me, followed by the sound of armored fiberglass shards from my helmet hitting the ground.

I slowly tested my limbs and started pushing myself off the ground, but before I could reach for my pistol, I saw it fly away from me, into the hand of the agent as she towered over me.

Before she could even start with a one liner, I threw out my power at the ground, knocking me back to my feet. If her face wasn't masked, I would wager it would be of surprise. With rote familiarity, I lunged forward into a slow stance with both fists at the ready and struck her with an uppercut to the solar plexis and a punch to her face. She doubled back at my enhanced strikes, thank you motorized limbs, her helmet starting to crack. Before she could regain her firing stance, I looked over the table and saw the Hel assault rifle, heavily modified from the N7 Valkyrie assault rifle courtesy of Jump's weapon box. Any port in a storm. I called it to my hands and without checking for a clip, I started firing on the agent.

The rifle spewed rounds in a constant stream of flaming orange. The kickback dug into my shoulder, exacerbating my pain, but I tried to maintain stability as best as I could. The agent zigzagging further and further away with her own sliding ability.

As the rifle clicked empty, I unhooked a grenade from one of the tables and chucked it behind her.

“Never start a gun battle in a weapon factory!” I bellowed.

Before she could react, the device exploded in her proximity, expelling a thick white viscous substance all over her. It quickly hardened, pinning her to the floor and leaving her helpless.

“Especially when your enemy owns it!” and I slammed the rifle's butt into her face. I checked her pulse, she was still alive.

Holy crap that glue grenade actually worked. We've been having serious issues in testing with that. Doesn't matter now. I have to help Lexa.

I followed the signs of battle, drops of blood, blasted bits of wall, scorch marks etc., to find the two of them still engaged in a close quarters slug out. From what I could tell, it was a stalemate. Kai Leng's ninjato gave him a large advantage in terms of reach and lethality, but Lexa's quick bursts of speed kept her just far enough from a killing blow. I could tell from her stance that the strain was starting to take its toll, Leng's assault not letting up. She needed help.

“Variza, the purge is complete, but these Cerberus guys have locked down the exits. We won't be able to get anything out of here with this much firepower. The entire building is a killbox.” Tana chimed in my ear.

I couldn't help but break out into a smile, feeling my Warehouse key in my belt pouch.

“Yeah...for them. Activating security protocol Honeytrap.” I replied, quickly running my hand over my Omni-Tool, “Xun, pack up your stuff and get to the roof of the building. Set up a nest near the door and wait for further instructions. Tana, once your group sees an opportunity, rendezvous with us. 'Cause things are about to get loud.”

Protocol Honeytrap had three different levels to it. First, a fundamental lockdown of all doors, windows and elevators, reinforced with several foot-thick armored plating and coated in shields, all durable enough to withstand artillery fire. The second was a high-end dampening field built on the principle of a Faraday Cage, scrambling all communications and catching any would-be intruders off guard. Finally, it would activate all available LOKI and LAUFEY model sentries to activate and immediately open fire on anyone not registered on the company's registry via an internal database shared among each unit on an individual basis that was strictly analog. If you wanted to hack these things, you'd have to physically get to one and start crossing some wires.

It was originally meant to hold off an assault by the Reapers or the Collectors in case things went FUBAR, but as a cockroach motel for Cerberus, it'll work just fine.

The mechs activated immediately, deployed from chambers hidden in various compartments on the walls and in the floor. Small humanoid sized sentries with pistols and tall gorilla sized enforcers – based on the YMIR power suits – utilizing shotguns. My comms filled with static as the dampeners took effect. Since I couldn't get a clear shot on Kai Leng, both him and Lexa were moving far too fast for a clean shot, I caused a shockwave between the two, pushing them apart for two crucial seconds.

“Back off Lexa, the cavalry's here!” I declared, shortly before the LOKIs and LAUFEYs started opening fire on Kai Leng, filling the small room he was in with high-speed energized particulate.

But in a blur of red, Kai Leng slashed through the first wave mechs, his ninjato cutting through them like butter.

“Oh come on!” I yelled in exasperation as Leng cut through three LOKIs in the blink of an eye.
“Shut up and start shooting him! Break his mobility!” Lexa yelled, firing several deliberate semi-auto bursts. The blasts hampered Leng's movement as the LAUFEYs own barrage caught up to him, pinning him to the wall with his shield gauntlet being his only defense.

I had to think fast. That shield doesn't just absorb kinetic energy, it can redirect it. And if I didn't have something to put him down when the rebound happened, we'd all be screwed. I turned around and looked back at the weapons on the table, looking for something that could overwhelm Leng's shield. If one trip to the well worked, I had to hope there was enough water for a second go.

And I found one: A Spindle Thrower. It was based off of krogan tech, which was naturally a straightforward brute gun: a full on giant spike thrower. But the whole weapon was so bulky and hard to wield, it was meant to be used only by krogan after all, we kept having trouble converting it for general use. The first change was an arm brace meant to be worn while the weapon was in use, generating mass effect fields to disperse the immense blowback by the weapon. The second was to switch from thermal clips to power cells for ammunition, all to enhance the initial stopping force of the weapon. I won't get as many shots as the krogan model, but the ones that connect are sure to put the target down for good.

I dashed to the table and quickly strapped the brace on to my right arm and loaded the thrower with a power cell, maintaining my focus while the gunfight raged behind me. No time to test this stuff, just one good shot should do it.

I turned to meet Kai Leng again. But before I could brace myself for a shot, his gauntlet arm erupted in a horrendous wave of energy, a deafening boom followed. Glass shattered, the mechs were all shredded to scrap, and Lexa and I were launched into a wall. I could feel my helmet warped by the blast, my visor more like an open window through all the broken pieces. Exhaustion was finally starting to settle in. And Kai Leng was making his approach, barely even a scratch on him, his ninjato raised for intimidation.

I readied the Spindle Thrower and began to pull the trigger. Leng began surging with red energy again, his pace quickening into a lethal dash.

Then he vanished from my sight in an instant. Replaced by a stream of green energy arcing to the right. I looked to my left to see Javik and Lexa's Tiamnes, all holding smoking rifles.

“My calibrations are done,” Javik replied in a steady tone, “also thank goodness you didn't fire that thrower. That brace was defective, it would have ripped your arm off.”

I took a moment to look at the bracer, the haunting image of having to fight a war without an arm floated in my head. I pulled it off as quickly as I could.

“We need to get to the roof. Xun should be on the other side so I can talk her through the manual override.” I responded, getting up to my feet while discarding the brace and helping Lexa to her feet.

“What about the others? And the remaining weapons? How are we going to get them out?” Lexa asked.
I turned to look at the remains of the wing. Holes shot out of the floor, an entire section on fire from the Hel rifle's inferno rounds, tables chopped to pieces, and the entire place was littered with broken glass and destroyed sentry bots.

“We'll use the elevator door.” I replied, fumbling in my belt for my Warehouse key. “We just have to hold on until the others get here via the stairs so we can regroup on the trip down.”

Before I could continue my explanation, a hole in the wall erupted in powdered plaster, Kai Leng coming toward us in a mad charge, his face singed by Javik's laser rifle.

Javik opened fire once again, overwhelming Leng's red dome with green energy, spewing sparks of discharge everywhere.

“Surround him! That shield only covers part of his body!” I called while running to flank Leng, Lexa taking the right.

And with one great thrust of coordinated movement, Lexa and I unleashed our own kinetic slam on Kai Leng, with Javik maintaining concentrated fire on his front. I threw everything I had left into this slam, and Lexa wasn't holding back either. One moment he was struggling against a seemingly endless beam of particle energy, the next there was a hole in the floor...and the one below it.

I then unhooked all my remaining frag grenades and dropped them into the hole. Their explosions sounding like music to me.

The stairwell filled with movement. At Lexa's call, we all stood at the ready... then relaxed when we saw it was Tana. Shortly behind her was Jessia, helping Liara carry Feron. Jack's back was to them as she walked backwards up the steps, taking several shots at an unseen pursuer.

“Variza,” Tana panted, “I think I love robots now,” she flashed a smile. She then took a beat to look at the chaotic remains of the battle with Kai Leng, “what the hell happened here?”

“Kai Leng happened,” I replied, “come on, we have to get back down and start packing up.”
“Wait, the Kai Leng?” Tana asked in bewilderment. “The infamous hitman who was discharged from Alliance service for killing a krogan using just a service blade?”


“The one who screamed anti-alien rhetoric while he was being discharged? Claiming the asari unfairly had all the galaxy's wealth and that the quarians are hoarding thieves?”


“The one who has fought Commander Shepard and his crew multiple times and lived to tell the tale!?”

“Goddammit Tana you can jerk yourself off later, we got weapons to get out of here!” Jack interrupted.

“Is that...a prothean?” Liara spoke up, finally addressing Javik.
Then an ominous teeth-chattering buzz filled the building. A low pulsing bass vibrating across everything, and made everyone freeze like deer in headlights. The sound that followed it would haunt me forever. Screaming. Countless voices screaming in terror as some unseen entity swiftly ends their lives. Explosions thrummed in the distance.

The Reapers were here.

“Scav now, escape later, talk then, 'kay?” I pattered.

“Right,” Everyone agreed in unison.

The following minutes went by in a blur. All of us running down the stairs back to Maintenance, seeing the aftermath of Cerberus' defense against the security drones. The mechs won, but only just. Weapons put into crates. Crates loaded up. Crates moved into the Warehouse. When we ran out of crates, weapons were removed of all clips and tossed in. Clips were thrown into bags. It was quick and sloppy, but it all fit in just fine. Then in the mad dash back up to the R&D section going up to the roof, I remembered the Cerberus agent still stuck to the floor with the glue grenade.

“Cut her free and bring her with us.” I replied. Javik complied to everyone's surprise. A few swipes of a heated blade later and we had a hostage.

The trek up the rest of the stairs to the roof meanwhile was another story.

“Why the hell didn't you put in an emergency elevator?” Jack breathed.

“One. Never skip leg day,” I replied. Everyone else groaned. “Second, too easy for it to be exploited.”

“Is no one going to mention that our boss has a portable storage warehouse?” Jessia commented.

“It also makes it easier for your enemy to trap you. Much like what you have done to us right now.” Javik interjected, ignoring Jessia's non-sequitor.

The whole building shook, rattling some loose foundation above us in a sprinkle of powdered stone. The rest of the trip up happened in a manic silence.

We reached the door to the roof feeling like we all ran a marathon...with a wild boar duck taped to our backs. I banged on the reinforced door, calling out for Xun, praying that none of the Reaper's forces got her.

“Xun, come on! There should be a keypad near the door.” I yelled, pulling a small lever on my side to reveal the keypad on hers.

“The code is two-one-eight-one! Hurry and punch it in!”

There was sounds of a struggle outside, greatly muffled by the reinforced metal. I pounded on the door in a vain hope that someone will hear me.

“Did anyone else expect our boss to be threading so many needles on this mission?” Tana asked.

“Yes.” Liara and Jack replied deadpan.

“So this is how she is all the time?” Javik asked. “No wonder you primitives are desperate.”

“Not helping!” I snarled back at Javik, returning to pounding on the door.

On the third slam of my fist, the blast shielding opened up, revealing Xun in the threshold. Her armor torn to shreds, her helmet in a crushed heap on the ground, and her cyan face covered in cuts as well as a deep scar from her left eye to the right side of her chin. Behind her was a pile of twitching husks, human bodies converted into cybernetic thralls as shock troops for the Reapers.

 “Get out here! More are coming!” Xun seethed in pain, clutching her pistol while leaning on the door's frame.

The instant Lexa gave the order we were already moving. Setting up our weapons and keeping our backs to one another as we sent out an SOS signal through our Omni-Tools. The cloudy sky slowly giving way to a legion of horrific machines.

“Who the hell is going to hear this, blue?” Jack looked around, her expression turning slowly to horror. “You said it yourself, asari media, everyone's a sitting duck.”

“Wait for it...” I replied through gritted teeth as I finished my message on my tool.

I then had a chance to see my prerecorded message repeat on the holo displays throughout the city, my face taking up entire buildings peppered throughout the city.

Attention people of Illium. This is Variza T'Som of T'Som manufacturing. As you all may not be aware, The Reapers have begun attacking the Milky Way galaxy. The Council have assembled a war summit, and countless colonies have already gone silent.

I was then shaken from seeing my ultra HD mug by Xun calling out more enemy contacts. Husks. Hundreds of them. I stood alongside my fellow warriors, took aim, and unleashed bullet hell. Dozens of the horrific bodies collapsed, only for scores more to crawl over the corpses like ravenous fire ants.

You may have made up your minds a long time ago about me. How I conduct myself. You are still free to have those thoughts. But right now, I am addressing this asari public for one simple declaration: we must leave now.

We had finally run out of thermal clips, the last of it used up by Jessia's Zealot shotgun reducing three husks to frozen shrapnel carried by a throw into another wave of husks.

“Cover our flank!” Javik declared while stepping forward, firing his laser rifle in quick bursts, slicing through the horde like butter. The skies above began to fill with beams of red, followed by an aerial bombardment by the Reaper flagships. Deafening booms followed as buildings collapsed and warped, briefly interrupting the broadcast.

But this is not a declaration of retreat. This is a call to arms. We always believed that the universe is united by love. That our very existence is proof of this. Well to all of us, this is a sign by the goddess Athame: put up or shut up. Because that is what this war is about. It it is about what we are fighting for, not what we are fighting against.

The last of our grenades left our belt as the commandos unleashed their biotic fury. Singularities came into existence only to violently explode into energy. Husks crushed into lumps of nothing by warping fields. Scores more thrown violently off the roof to splatter horrifically on the ground below. But the blasts were starting to slow down, I could feel the exhaustion from everyone. Even Tana's flamethrower was starting to run out of power. And the husks just kept coming.

“We can't stay here!” Feron bellowed.

“Hang on! Have a little faith!” I called back. “Come on...have a little faith,” I muttered again under a labored breath.

For those of you who have lost your ships or have no way of escaping, do not worry. Before this broadcast began, an SOS signal has been sent to humanity's United Systems Alliance, the Turian Navy, The Quarian Flotilla fleet, and to several other organizations that owe me a personal favor. It has been broadcasting the instant news reached me about the attack on Earth. When reinforcements arrive. You know what you have to do. Take the essentials, hold your loved ones dear, and get ready to fight. Heal the sick, donate what you have to those who can use it, be the angels of compassion I know you all can be. So that when the dust settles, we will have no regrets with what we did on these crucial days.

This message will now repeat.

Then the building in front of us shattered in a cacophony of smoke, flame, sound and glass. A Reaper warship breaking through it like a crude battering ram. The crustacean-like machine glowing with an ominous red light, focusing on the ground below us. The husks still advancing and limiting our space. Pushing us back to the door. The Reaper started making large imposing strides towards us.

I took a grave look back at the rooftop door, then steeled myself. They're gunning for me, and if I didn't do something, we were all going to die. I turned my back on the fighting and pulled out my Warehouse key. With effortless action I jammed it into where the keypad was and opened the door to my Warehouse and leapt inside.

I was on the clock. I had maybe two minutes at best.

With what little biotic strength I had left, I pried open the service crates and began searching as quickly as I could, despite my legs feeling like jelly, my heart pounding harder than a Death Metal band and my head full of so much pain there was red in my peripheral vision.

Then I found it. The old Cain nuke launcher. Except it was now known as the Cain Z1. It went under the name of Project Gungnir for the longest time, but I didn't want to dress up the fact of what I was wielding in my hands.

I started loading power cells into it. Filling it up full. Twenty or so cells for one shot. I then tweaked the sights and the homing reticle. The Reapers have armor that can handle anything short of a concentrated assault by the deadliest starships in the galaxy, but the lenses they use for those devastating laser blasts can be seen as a weak spot. A window of about ten seconds for a projectile, or an orbital tactical strike to get through. If I was threading the needle any harder I'd have to also be driving a runaway car while cramming for a Master's thesis.

I held the trigger on the launcher to charge it up and dashed through the Warehouse back into the chaos.

Everyone looked surprised to see me running forward with a weapon of mass destruction. If there were protests, I didn't hear them. I ran forward and dropped into a firing stance, lining up my shot with the incoming Reaper, anticipating it about to reveal its lens and warm up to blast us to kingdom come. Javik cut through a swath of husks to give me breathing room. I finally grounded myself, just in time for the charge to come up over ninety-five percent. The Reaper readying its deadly payload across the massive highway of Illum's metropolis.

“Smile you sonofabitch.” I snarled. The launcher erupted as a shell of swirling energy flew with blinding speed at the Reaper. Just in time for its lens to open crackling with red power. All I saw next was a mushroom cloud completely engulf the leviathan. I turned on my heel and ran back to the group.

“Brace for the aftershock!” I yelled in vain over the sonic boom cascading from the blast, shattering glass in a thunderous maelstrom. The team thankfully were already moving. Grouping together and erecting massive walls of biotic power to buffer and redistribute the shockwave. Barriers designed ti resist and deflect while all of us ducked and grounded ourselves to the ground with bolts and mag charges.

The wave hit and the husks were scattered like leaves in a hurricane. The explosion expanded, melting nearby buildings to slag. A large electromagnetic pulse echoed from the epicenter, delivering a potent shock to countless troops below.

It all happened so fast. The aftermath an eternity of torment.

Then the dust finally cleared, the blast dissipating. The Reaper had lost several of its legs, crashing into the building on its left, large chunks of its upper interior were shredded. Its lens completely destroyed. The slagged buildings on both its sides began collapsing on the monstrosity, burying it. I didn't want to see if it was dead, I was just glad I bought us a few more precious minutes.

I collapsed to the ground, throwing away the Cain, feeling dirty using something like that.

“ down...a couple hundred-thousand more to go.” I heard Tana quip before dropping down next to me.

“We cannot stay here. When the Reapers notice one of their number is down, they will retaliate.” Javik remarked.

“Yeah, and comm interference kind of goes to crap when a nuke goes off, blue.” Jack mentioned.

“Not to mention these suits can only block so much radiation before we all cook from the inside out.” Jessia remarked with a bit of venom in her voice.

“Well we won't have to worry about that,” I breathed in relief, looking up at the sky, noticing some familiar silhouettes through the heat and swirling chaos, “'cause the cavalry just arrived.”

“And the Normandy is in front.” Liara gasped in relief.

My next immediate memory was waking up in the med bay with the rest of the team being treated for radiation as well as bullet wounds and internal bleeding. Doctor Chakwas made a comment about how it could have been far worse, and Tana not wanting to know how. Then she commented how not two minutes after the evac, the Reapers bombarded T'Som Manufacturing down to the foundation. I allowed myself to smile at the comment. It was practically a guarantee that Kai Leng was out of the picture.

I got out of med bay and made my way towards the cockpit, moving carefully to not disrupt any of my wrappings. I had to thank Joker in person for saving our butts.

I got into the threshold, the words already on my lips.

“Joker, I don't know how you got out of hospital so fast but holy crap, that was a save for the...record...books.”

Except it wasn't the small humble frame of Jeff Moreau I was addressing, complete with short beard and Alliance cap. It was the build of a six foot four musclebound beefcake with hot Latino features.

He turned his head and flashed a toothy grin and a flirtatious wink, “Hey, no problem, lola. It's all part of the job. James Vega, at your service.”

“I'm dreaming.” I replied.

“I'm flattered.” He smiled, looking me up. “But maybe save the romance for when you're not holding your guts from falling out. I mean, Reapers and a nuke that close together? Surprised you're not glowing and grew a third arm.”

Before I could come up with another comment, he looked away, as if receiving a call from nowhere. A moment later his face immediately lit up in an epiphany.

“Oh that makes plenty of sense. Sorry about that Miss T'Som. Joker is still recovering, but SAM managed to keep his pilot profile on record. Turns out I'm actually compatible for it.”

“Yeah. Makes sense, there's barely anything in that head to begin with.” I muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” I looked away. “Actually it's funny you bring up SAM. Can you contact Shepard? I need to talk to him about adding some new recruits.”

The Normandy made its way to the Citadel shortly afterwards, my team and I rested the entire time. I learned to cherish the respite in all of its calm and tranquility.

Because the nightmare has only just begun.

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