|Avatar of Victory
Author: James Golen PM
The Cycle of the Avatar has held for thousands of years. Other Cycles can stretch far, far longer. An A:tLA/Mass Effect Cross-OverRated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi - & Shepard (F) - Chapters: 27 - Words: 630,324 - Reviews: 173 - Favs: 147 - Follows: 138 - Updated: 06-17-13 - Published: 05-08-12 - id: 8099181
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Apparently I'm some sort of literary masochist, since I'm now working on two massive fic-projects at once.
Why am I doing this? Because like peanut butter and chocolate, I want to see what happens when instead of our world, Mass Effect happens in the future of the Earth of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Hilarious. Now, I don't have much to say but what will be said in the fic itself at this point. Any questions are better answered in the Spacebattles thread. One caveat: You should probably know if you've read my previous Avatar works, I'm using the world I've expanded for Three Families instead of just the canon Avatar'verse, however I don't use its history. If I had the creator's intense knowledge of the setting, I wouldn't need to. Ah, but if I could...
Now enjoy the insane ramblings of my deranged cross-over psyche!
It was a darkness as pristine as the edge of the galaxy, and as littered with stars.
It was many, and the many were one. Even as it watched the trillion stars which made up its mind moving steadily and slowly through the abyss which made up its mind, it was those stars, every single one of them. A trillion points of light. The many, ascended to oneness, to wholeness. It remembered the Nazara, the proud, bellicose conquerors of the galaxy. It was the Nazara, all of them. But the very center of that galaxy sat the center of its soul. And that soul was troubled.
The Resplendent Sovereign of Nazara turned its attention inward, to the tiny thing which moved through its veins. It was a god, turning attention to a bacterium upon its perfect form. But it was an important bacterium. The process continued apace. Soon, the tool would be perfected.
It turned its attention outward once more, to the center, as far from its ilk as one could be. He could hear their quiet drone, songs like oily shadows. They spoke now with one voice, but were not whole. They had not ascended. They could not. A part was missing. So they continued to use the one who remained. And Nazara turned its attention back to the stars which was its soul.
There came a song, stronger than any Nazara had ever sang. With it, it felt the trillion lights being pushed away, as something stronger entered its mind, speaking the way only the ascended, only the perfected could speak. It was great. It was powerful and ancient beyond all reckoning, even to something as intelligent as Nazara. But unlike any whom Nazara had ever encountered, in the great and innumerable host which even now slept in the blackness at the galaxy's edge, this one was not a single composed of the many. It was not a peoples turned into one Avatar.
The Divine Harbinger of Ascension was one. It had always been one. It would always be one.
It turned its attention to the sole being in the cosmos which was its greater.
"It has been long since you contacted us, Harbinger. Very long."
WHAT NEWS FROM THE THRALLS?
It looked upon the Core once again, to that den of exploding stars and black holes. "They labor still. The Avatar of Vengeance has not appeared. Our work cannot end. Breeding continues."
THE CYCLE MUST CONTINUE. EITHER THE AVATAR OF VENGEANCE WILL BE DISCOVERED, OR HIS DEATH WILL COME, AND ANOTHER WILL BE BORN. THE FAILURE OF LEVIATHAN MUST BE RECTIFIED. FIND THE AVATAR, AND END THE CYCLE, SO WE CAN FULFILL OUR DESTINY.
"There has been a complication," Nazara pointed out. The unthinkable greatness of Harbinger turned upon it, its eight eyes burning gold as it glared down at the cuttle-fish like form of Nazara, to a layman identical, but of a whole other form of life. "The cycle continues without our input."
"They have created synthetic life. The Cycle has ripened. My attempts to curtail biologically them have not been successful. Leviathan only has a token force, but he is undependable. Synthetic life will destroy organic life. The time has come."
There was a long silence.
YOU ARE TO ASSUME DIRECT CONTROL OF THIS PROCESS. THE ACTIVATION SIGNAL HAS NOT FIRED. OUR BRETHREN YET SLEEP.
"The organics have sabotaged the signal. I have taken steps to rectify this. I will awaken our brothers and sisters."
Another silence, as Nazara felt the impressive weight of Harbinger staring down upon it.
YOU ASSUME MUCH. IF THE CYCLE CONTINUES, THEN ANOTHER AVATAR HAS ARISEN. WE MUST FIND ANOTHER WAY. DO NOT FAIL, RESPLENDANT SOVEREIGN. OR I WILL BE FORCED TO ASSUME DIRECT CONTROL.
And with that, the greatness and power of Harbinger ascended away, returning the heavens to Nazara's mind. And Nazara turned its gaze inward, and listened to that bacterium inside its body.
And it listened to [DESIGNATION TURIAN] say: "...then it can only be on Eden Prime. Sovereign will be quite pleased, if it does truly lead us to the Conduit."
And it was.
The communication flickered for a moment, as the dark complected man stared down through the gaps in the deck which overlooked the hold. The hold was, at the moment, the training ground for one human in particular.
"Well, what about Shepard?" Udina asked on the other end of the line. Hundreds of light years of distance vanished into a communications delay of roughly a twentieth of a second, as a man on a ship speeding away from the Earth spoke to two others, at each of Arcturus Station and the Citadel. "She grew up in the colonies."
The only one physically present nodded. "She knows how tough things can be out there. Her family was killed when the Batarians attacked Mindoir."
The other who was not present gave a grunt. "She got most of her unit slaughtered on Torfan," he pointed out. "Only she and Nilsdottir got out alive."
He turned to their shadowy, transluscent projections and shook his head. "She gets the job done, no matter what the cost," he answered the charge. Udina, though, crossed his arms a quarter of a galaxy away.
"Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy, Anderson?" Udina asked.
Anderson sighed. "That's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy."
"And you're both forgetting the most important part of this," Hackett, the third member of this trans-galactic multi-call pointed out. And as he spoke, the woman below started to move.
First, one of the marines rushed at her, swinging an electrified prod at her. Anderson winced at that. He'd told her time and time again to stop with that sort of 'live-fire' training, but Shepard put her foot down, and despite the vertical difference in rank between them, there were more people willing to listen to her than to him. The marine swung with precision and verve, but Shepard flowed around the blows like a leaf on the wind, before heaving out and twisting the air in the hold into a knot, which she used to blast the marine away.
"Air," Hackett said stoically. Then, two more approached, and she tore water from the juice-bottle hanging from the N7 Sentinel's belt and hurled it behind her, snap-freezing it into a block of ice which caused the marine to stumble and claw at her face. The other was put onto the floor after a dodge and a boot to the center of the chest. "Water," Hackett continued. The next was Jenkins, a burly recruit fresh out of the burroughs of Omashu. He heaved mightily, training disks of concrete flashing forward to his command. But the woman rooted her feet, and thrust her fists forward. The concrete exploded away from her fists. She then slammed her hands together, compacting the dust into a smaller disk, and with a flick of her hands sent that to knock Jenkins against the far wall. "...Earth," Hackett narrated.
"And fire," Anderson finished, as the woman in question swept her foot around behind her, creating an arc of flame which caused all of the advancing marines to back off from her. "It's the worst kept secret in the galaxy that we've got the Avatar on board. I just wish there were a better way to do this."
"There is no other way," Nihlus said coldly from near the door, where he'd remained silently since the call had begun. Anderson grit his teeth at the turian's dismissal of what was without a doubt the most important human being alive today. "And I don't like what I see. She's reckless and destructive. I'm taking a risk vouching for her if this is the kind of behavior she'll be showing as a candidate for the Spectres."
"I've made my call," Anderson stressed. "If anybody is going to represent the human race to the galaxy, then it must be the Avatar. Too much is at stake for anybody less."
Nihlus shrugged. "You're historical fascination with your 'Avatars' borders on the sensational. You can't breed heroes. You can only craft them, one battle at a time. Until I see something I like, I'm going to assume that this human is just like any other. You won't get any of your nepotism here. Is that clear, Captain Anderson?"
"Crystal," Anderson said.
"I have duties that need my attention," Udina said sourly, but then again, there was much sour about that man. His image blipped off, leaving only Hackett remaining.
"Push her as hard as you dare," Hackett advised. "There's a lot more riding on this than Udina knows. Hackett, out."
"Acknowledged," Anderson said, and Hackett too vanished from sight, leaving only the captain, the turian, and a clear line-of-sight to the Avatar. Anderson shook his head and thumbed the intercom. "Shepard, report to the upper deck."
Shepard glanced toward the speaker which overlooked the hold, then gave what was likely a chuckle, before turning and leaving behind a pile of singed, groaning marines in her wake. Nihlus followed Anderson as they moved out of Anderson's quarters, and past the mess. "She's a loose cannon. We have enough problems with her like in the Spectres already."
"She knows how to do her job," Anderson stressed.
"She's a human. I don't know if you're aware of your reputation, Captain Anderson, but humans aren't exactly viewed well. I'm not at liberty to discuss in detail, but the salarians are about a twitch away from declaring war on your kind, and you've already been at war with both the batarians and the turians in the fraction of a century you've been out here. That's a bad track record; even the krogan weren't that... bellicose."
"This is about the krogan below decks, isn't it?" Anderson asked as they started up the stairs.
Nihlus shrugged. "Most Council races see you as too close to them. Which frankly boggles my mind how you even managed to become friendly with them at all. They're the krogan, after all."
"He is a valued member of this crew and a guest of my homeworld," Anderson said. "Remember that."
Nihlus shook his head, mandibles twitching. "I'm not picking at wounds, Captain, just pointing them out. I'm going see to the relay jump, Captain. You should prepare for the briefing."
"Then perhaps we should be talking about the wounds which bear noticing," Anderson finished, ignoring the slight he'd received. Officially, Spectres had no clout over him, as an Alliance captain. He had no place ordering Anderson to do anything. But then again, this was politics, and as far from Anderson's preferred battleground as one could be. He opened the door, made an immediate turn, and passed into the FTL comms room. To noone, he finished: "Wounds like Torfan."
In the year P.M. 3548, human explorers on the planet Big Demon discovered the remains of an ancient space-faring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the farthest stars. The technology represented the greatest leap in human advancement since the beginning of the Avatar Cycle.
It was heralded as one of the turning points of human history.
To the denizens of the galaxy, it was the Mass Effect.
Book One: Sovereign
Chapter 1: The Beacon
It was amazing how quickly cultural divides broke down, once people stopped trying for a century to kill each other. It was once considered a wholly Water Tribe trait to have blue eyes, doubly so since nobody else on Earth seemed to get them. Dark skin was the realm of Tribesmen and the Si Wongi desert dwellers. Pale skin, on the other hand, belonged to those descended from the Fire Nations of the West. There was a time, only a few centuries ago, that at first glance, you could tell where somebody was from, what language they probably spoke, what element they bent, and most importantly, whether they were going to try to kill you or not.
Those cultural divides were a long time dying. But it reached the point where racial traits could mix and match to startling degrees. Take, for example, the woman standing at the fore of the sweeping, avian ship which shot through the void of space at the outskirts of the solar system. Her hair was a rich, coppery red, a trait once confined to Great Whales, a minor nation remarkable for one of the more self-destructive religions and little else. Her skin was a Fire Nation pale, her eyes the bright green of any age-old citizen of Ba Sing Se. She was hardly the only human with such a melange of characteristics. She was just the only one standing in the cockpit at the moment. The other two humans were both Fire Nationals, dark haired and bright eyed. And there was one other, but nobody felt like talking about him at the moment.
"The board is green, beginning approach run," the pilot said plainly, his hands flashing along holographic controls with a precision few could match. As those assembled watched, the great, impressive bulk of the Mass Relay loomed closer. Its gate spun with that unpredictable rhythm – itself a contradiction in terms mostly because the person thinking it didn't know the insanely complicated math the Mass Relays ran on – its pace picking up just a touch as the ship moved parallel to the device. "Hitting the Relay in four, three, two..."
Blue light reached out from the Relay, bathing the hull of the ship, an negative electric current flowing through so much Element Zero that the ship's mass didn't simply reduce, but vanished entirely into some hypothetical negative value, and the relatively small amount of thrust already propelling the ship now catapulted it to many times the speed of light in a vacuum. And right about there, her knowledge of how the Mass Relay ended, so she looked at the 'pretty colors' that filled the cockpit as they bolted across the galaxy in a matter of seconds.
Shepard was tense, rolling her shoulders in her armor. Well, strictly speaking, this wasn't her armor. Her armor was in a box somewhere on Earth, locked away since Torfan. This was just training armor, the likes of which was rightly considered sub-standard by anybody with a working brain inside the Alliance Military. Finally, the colors came to a halt, and with a lurch almost under her ability to feel it, the ship dropped from hyper-FTL to what was still super-luminal speeds, if much, much slower.
"All green, no significant sheering," the pilot glanced aside. "Drift under fifteen hundred K'."
The turian in the room, his plates and mandibles darkly contrasted by the white paint applied over them, clucked his tongue. With a dismissive tone, he shrugged, and said "Fifteen hundred is good. Your captain would be pleased."
She gave a glance at him as he turned and returned down the body of the ship. The pilot shook his head, scratching at his beard for a moment. "I hate that guy," he said. Alenko, sitting in the co-pilot's seat, turned and gave his counterpart a querulous look.
"Nihlus gave you a compliment, and you hate him?" he asked.
The pilot rolled his eyes, though. "You remember to zip up your jumpsuit after taking a leak? That's good. I just jumped this ship halfway across the galaxy and landed on a target the size of a pin-head. That's incredible. 'Sides, having a Spectre on board is just asking for trouble. Call me paranoid."
"You're paranoid, Joker," Alenko said. "The Council helped fund the creation of this ship. They've got every right to have oversight."
"But a Council Spectre?" Shepard asked. "That isn't oversight; that's overkill."
"My thoughts exactly," Joker, as the pilot of the ship tended to be known, agreed. "It's never a good idea to believe the 'official story', especially when aliens are involved."
"And what about Adeks?" Alenko pressed.
"He's krogan. He doesn't count."
The intercom chirped to life again, causing all to look up to the speaker, which was more a matter that they were all trained from childhood to do something similar; since they all had subaudible transmitters installed for communication as part of Alliance Marine orientation, they would hear clear as day no matter where they were on the ship. "Joker, status report!" Anderson's voice came through clear and authoritative. Joker sighed, and flicked a few more controls, causing the light to become what most would consider 'normal'.
"We've cleared the Relay and transited in-system. Stealth systems are engaged and operational. Everything's green as the Earth King's pyjamas."
"Good. Hook us into the communications buoy and get a status report from Eden Prime. And send Shepard into the comms room; she's due a proper briefing."
"Aye aye, Captain," Joker said. He turned back to her. "You heard the man in charge. Best get walking."
"I'll go when I'm ready," Shepard said.
"'Ready' better come quickly, Commander," Alenko suggested. "Much as the Captain is known for his... sunny disposition... I'm pretty sure Nihlus wasn't named that by accident."
"Yeah, somebody with his people skills should have a name like Nihlus. Or Doommouth, the Insulter!" Joker offered. He shook his head. "We go out into space and they all have weird names. And they don't even want our women. I feel mildly insulted by that."
"Speak for yourself," Shepard said, turning back and walking down the long path which connected the helm to the CIC of the SSV Normandy. She hadn't made it far before that turian was at her side again. She shot him a glance. "Hiding in the airlock? Trying to ambush me before my briefing?"
"Do you always speak so brashly to honored guests of your military, or is it because I'm an alien?" Nihlus asked, and she did not appreciate his tone.
"I've got no problem with aliens. Just the ones who try to kill us all."
"Holding a grudge for a war which happened the year you were born? How human of you," Nihlus said.
"That war was the reason I was born," Shepard said bitingly. "What do you want?"
"I wanted to hear about this world we're going to. Eden Prime, right?"
She paused, standing near the great map which displayed the Milky Way, and the Relay Network which made traversing it feasible. "I hear it's something of a paradise," Shepard said. "I wouldn't know. I've never been there."
"I hear it's quite beautiful. Serene. Safe," Nihlus said, staring with those black-rimmed eyes at her. Say what you would about the krogan, but at least you could pretend that they were human when they looked at you the right way. No such luck with the turians. "It's become something of a symbol for your people. Proof that you can not only expand into the galaxy, but protect yourself as well. But how safe is it, Really?"
"Is that a threat?" Shepard asked.
"The war between our people is over, and our guns are cold. You're the one holding the grudge," Nihlus said with an almost condescending ease. "The galaxy is far older than you are, and it's more dangerous than you can imagine. Do you really think that your kind is ready to exist on this kind of playing field? To contend with these kinds of stakes?"
"We don't have much of a choice in the matter, now do we?" Shepard pointed out, before moving around him. She heard from all the vids that turians were physiologically different from just about every sapient species in the galaxy; what that meant for incidental physical contact was not something she wanted to deal with.
"So you say. There were more than a few in the Hierarchy who thought it might be a good idea to find some way to break the Arcturus Relay, leave you bottled up in your own little pressure cooker," Nihlus said. Almost taunted. "It would have been interesting to see what humanity confined would have done."
"Break free," she answered, pounding the control to the door with perhaps a bit more force than was necessary. "We always do."
"The batarians said that about themselves, too," Nilhus chuckled.
"We are nothing like them," Shepard said.
"Shepard, that's enough!" Anderson's voice cut off Shepard's tirade before it could get started. "You have no right and no place to argue with the Spectre. He is here on Council authority."
"I wasn't aware this was a Council ship, Captain," Shepard said, crossing her arms before her.
Anderson just gave her a warning look. The look which told her that he was running out of patience, and would soon move to more direct action. Avatar or no, Anderson was in command, and she'd best remember that. She grit her teeth, and remained silent. "I think it's time that the Avatar was made aware of this mission's true objective."
"This is not simply a shake-down run," Nihlus said, flicking on the screen, projecting an archeological site somewhere out in the lush hills of Eden Prime.
"We're making a stealth pick-up from the surface. That's why we needed the Normandy. It's the only ship which can move through systems undetected," Anderson said, standing beside the turian. Shepard scowled.
"That's a lot of tech and manpower for a milk-run," Shepard said.
"Perhaps the most important milk-run humanity has had in a century," Anderson corrected. "Five days ago, we received communications at the Citadel of a possible active Prothean artifact. It was quickly decided to bring that device in for study by experts in that technology."
Shepard frowned. "Why not just study it ourselves? It's on our planet, after all."
"Not good enough," Nihlus said. "Withholding Prothean technology is a High Crime in Council Space, even the backwater that you've staked out for yourself."
"Besides, the ruins on Big Demon are so different from Prothean ruins found elsewhere that people are beginning to doubt that they're even Prothean. Our experts can't make heads nor tails of their tech, and their experts can't make heads nor tails of ours. This is big, Shepard. The last time humanity found ruins not just intact, but active, it set us forward two hundred years. If we want to be a part of the next advance, we have to do it together with the Council, or else not at all."
"You're starting to sound like a politician," Nihlus took the words right out of Shepard's mouth. "Frankly, it's not the only reason I'm here. I'm also here to observe you."
"Say again?" Shepard asked.
"I've put forth your name as a prospective Spectre," Nihlus said, causing Shepard to lean away in confusion. "Much as you like to nurse a bruise, not all turians despise humanity. Many of them see the potential of your species. You are rash, arrogant, too independent and unpredictable to a fault, but the same was said about us, once. Besides, you have this 'bending' which you are so proud of. That alone makes you a valuable part of the galactic community."
"But if we want any say in galactic policy we have to earn it," Anderson stressed. "The first way to do that, is to have a human amongst the Spectres."
"Indeed," Nihlus agreed. "I believe that you, the soldier, not the Avatar, have a lot to offer the Spectres. We don't care that you're human. Some of our better agents are krogan, drell, and hanar. All that matters is whether you can get the job done. And I will be the final arbiter of that decision."
"So I'm getting a bone-head for a babysitter?" Shepard asked. Anderson looked increasingly annoyed.
"This will be the first of several missions together," Nihlus said, brushing off her barb. "You'll be part of the team which secures the Prothean Beacon and gets it onto the ship. I will be keeping an eye on you, on your skills and your tactics. From a safe distance, so as not to interfere."
"As long as you don't get in my–" Shepard began, but was cut off as the intercom snapped to life.
"Captain! We've got a problem," Joker's voice was tense and even, which was, as Shepard heard it described, the surest sign that 'shit had gotten real'. "We're picking up a transmission from Eden Prime. You're gonna want to see this."
"Patch it through," Anderson ordered, and the scenic vista of Eden Prime was replaced by... a marine shooting into the sky. The sounds of explosions and screaming assaulted the room, as the camera swung about without purpose or goal. Finally, a dark-skinned woman shoved the bearer of that camera to the dirt.
"Get down you great idiot!" the woman shouted, before turning and firing into the distance. To Shepard's ears, the sound of those impacts wasn't quite right. Like they were shooting squishy metal. Finally, the camera was turned to one in particular, a man wearing the same sort of second-rate armor which Shepard was, for the moment, saddled with.
"We're under heavy fire down here! We need Evac! They're coming from everywhere! We... Agni's blood..."
The man stared at something out of frame, and the camera turned. Something was descending from the clouds.
And it made a noise.
"There are too many of them! Their thralls have circumvented the north bulwark! Zha'Til Wraiths are advancing!"
"What shall we do, Avatar?"
"The only thing we can do. Kill them all. Ensure that someone survives until tomorrow."
"Shepard, are you alright?" Anderson asked. Shepard noted that she was now leaning against a wall, a hand pressed to her forehead. That was... strange. She shook it off, though. She looked at the screen again.
"Reverse and hold at thirty eight point five," Nihlus said. The feed backed away from the static it had dissolved into, showing something in the sky. Red lightning arcing from finger-like growths. Almost like an unspeakably vast hand was reaching down from the sky.
"What is that, Captain?" Shepard asked.
"We're about to find out, Avatar," Nihlus said. "Get your squad together. I'll head in on my own."
Anderson nodded. Good. Shepard hated when she was stuck riding the bench. At least this way, she could be out there fighting. In that, she and Nilsdottir were two peas in the same pod.
The squad, as it turned out, was Shepard, the earthbender Jenkins, the biotic Alenko, and of course Nilsdottir. Much as she'd preferred to keep her quota at one biotic, the Captain put his foot down, and thus, Alenko was on the squad. The ship barely slowed down to let them out, dropping to the hillside and rolling down before coming to a halt in a bog. She could see the reasoning; the less time they spent hovering about, the less likely something would shoot at them. Or the hand of an angry god would flick them to death.
"That wasn't my favorite kind of landing," Alenko said, as he flicked off the mud from where it lay over his omnitool, which was otherwise glowing orange against his wrist. He pointed ahead of them. "The dig-site is roughly a click that way."
"Man, it's great to be back," Jenkins said, rolling his shoulders. "I spent a tour in garrison here. This place is amazing."
"Hasn't anybody ever told you? That's how they rope people into this 'colony' bullshit," Nilsdottir opined, her full lips pulled into a smirk. "They sell you with the strange animals and then leave you to wallow in the weird diseases and scale itch, while they make money selling what you pull out of the ground for 'em."
"How remarkably cynical of you," Alenko said flatly.
"That's the way the galaxy works. Every now and then, somebody will be so kind as to not fuck you over. But you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for it," she answered the LT, in her usual, insubordinate manner.
Shepard shook her head, and started to slog through the mud. She'd made it about a hundred meters before something moved in her vision. Less than a hundred meters out. With a punch of her fist, a jet of flame seared forward, striking that target, and causing it to detonate outright upon contact. A second later, she'd pulled the rifle from her back. Then, she actually looked at it and let out a groan. Lancer? Really? Everything based on the Avenger frame was a Ostrich-horse-shit rifle, and anybody who said different was deluded. No range, no accuracy, and Nilsdottir's foul language had more stopping power. "Somebody mind telling me what that was?" Shepard asked.
Jenkins waved in front of her, causing her to lower her terrible rifle. He then walked up to another of the... bloated floating things... and began to scratch at it. It made a weirdly cute peeping sound.
"It's just a Gasbag, Commander," he said. "They're harmless."
"Gasbag? This planet has living farts?" Nilsdottir asked. "Yup. Sounds like a paradise to me."
"It takes all kinds," Alenko agreed.
"Can it and move out," Shepard said. "We're not here to play with the local fauna."
"Of course, Commander," Jenkins said, and then moved back into point.
Alenko gave her a glance. "Something on your mind, LT?" Shepard asked.
"This place. It smells like fires and death," he said.
"Ah, so we've got a poet. Don't mind if I let them shoot you first," Nilsdottir said.
"I was just pointing something out," Alenko said. He glanced at his omnitool and his eyes widened.
"Commander, we've got incoming!"
"What? Batarians? Vorcha? Elcor? What?" Shepard demanded.
"It's... The scans can't pin them. Just that there's something coming our way, and it's got a lot of power coming from it."
"Tank," Jenkins said, and quickly ran forward to the base of the hill. With a stomp, he twisted the landscape into a maze of barricades and tank-falls to stymy any armor which tried to deploy down at them. Alenko, though, shook his head. "This is... I don't think this is armor, Commander."
"Then what is it?" Shepard asked, before stomping the ground and giving herself a barricade to brace against. Alenko dropped beside her, still reading intensely, and tapping furiously.
"I'm getting five signals, but they're all outputting like a GARDIAN," he then looked up. "Wait... Could it be the..."
Her question of 'the what' was cut off when five figures moved out of the trees at the top of the hill. They looked humanoid... at first. But only an idiot would mistake their metal skin for armor. It moved with them too well. It was shot through with pipes and crackled with a reddish light. Their faces were... well, they looked like flashlights, one red eye glaring forward. Shepard hadn't the first clue.
"Geth," Alenko whispered.
"They die like any other," Jenkins said. And then, he popped out of cover, and his lancer sprayed fire at the 'geth', and more tellingly most of their surrounding area. While the bullets did manage to pock at one of them, there were tellingly two types of them. Most of them were sleek, like living shark-wolves. One, standing flashlight and shoulders above the others, was more like a platypus bear, and colored a dark red. It reached out one finger toward Jenkins. And when it did, there was a massive electric discharge.
Jenkins staggered back, and that same electricity bathed Nilsdottir, eliciting a loud and agonized 'FUCK!' from the latter and driving her onto her back. The smaller of the geth scattered, moving in perfect unison, a harsh and unpleasant buzzing hitting the air, as they quickly coopted Jenkins' bending to fire down from.
"Just tin toys," Shepard said. She popped back up, staring down the sights of her shitty rifle. "Toys break."
And with a squeeze, years of practice into motion, a stream of projectiles, each roughly the size of a grain of rice but traveling at many times the speed of sound, tore away from her gun and tore through the crackling kinetic barriers around the automaton, before finally tearing into the flesh, and causing something white and viscous to splatter onto the grass. The machine tipped back, as lifeless in death as it was previous.
She ducked back, and Alenko popped a few shots of his own. "Good shooting, Commander."
"Bending can't solve everything," she pointed out. Alenko just rolled his eyes.
She peeked out of cover, spotting Jenkins pulling Nilsdottir back behind the barricade he'd bent, and finally her swatting him away. "Hands off, I'm alright!"
"Doesn't look very alright to me," Jenkins pointed out, before raising and firing off a new stream of metal toward the big one. It just stood there, its single reddened eye watching as though mildly interested as its barriers effortlessly bounced the bullets away. It reached forward with a three-digited hand again, and there was another zorp sound, culminating in Jenkins' rifle immediately belching emergency coolant, its frame starting to glow orange. He dropped the gun to the ground. "Ow! Damn it! What the hell was that?"
"Jenkins, stay down until we can get to you!" Alenko shouted over the gunfire.
"We'll be fine," Jenkins said. "This wall is a meter thick. Nothing can get through that!"
And then, as though the big one heard him, understood him, and accepted the challenge, it raised its gun. Shepard ducked slightly, thinking it was going to take a pot-shot at her. But it wasn't. She could tell from its 'body language' that it was aiming well forward of her position. In fact, as her eyes widened in alarm, she realized it was aiming straight through the wall Jenkins was hiding behind.
"Jenkins! Bug out!" Shepard roared.
It didn't sound like a gunshot. It sounded more like a railgun. And there was a mist of red which splattered along the grasses at Jenkins' feet. He looked down, and saw what Shepard was already seeing.
Clear through him.
"Oh fuck!" Nilsdottir managed to sum everybody's reaction concisely enough. "We got problems, Shepard!"
"Then thin the herd, I'm getting chipped to death over here!" Shepard shouted back. Nilsdottir nodded, then peeked over the barrier which was now seeming woefully inadequate. Luckily, while that supposedly man-portable cannon packed enough punch for a Mako, it had about the same refire rate. A glance to her rifle told that it was mostly cooled down, but if she tried to get a burst off, she'd be cut to shreds.
Nilsdottir cleared that hurdle by just popping one arm and an eye above the earthbent stone, and flicking out a hand. A she did, a ripple in the air swerved in a broad arc across the hill, before slamming into the center of the small cluster of geth, before the chaotic gravity fields of her Singularity began to drag them into orbit around its heart. They didn't have faces to look surprised, but Shepard like to pretend that they were exclaiming 'oh shit' in binary. "Pop 'em!" Shepard shouted.
Nilsdottir didn't nod. She just reached back, and like lobbing a grenade, hurled something forward. This one was light blue and would have smelled of ozone, had Shepard not had her helmet on, its swift form crackling with ionized energy as the intense gravity fields wreaked havoc with local reality. She didn't know much of why certain biotic abilities did different things. All that really mattered to Shepard was that when the Warp hit the Singularity, both ceased to exist, and they did so with a catastrophic and delicious explosion, far in excess of what either alone could have done.
The floating geth were torn to bits, hurled across the surroundings. The big one, on the other hand, was hurled to one knee, its armor pocked and scarred, showing that its kinetic barriers were at last down. Shepard wasted no time. She got out of cover, and started advancing, her finger tight on the trigger, her rifle belching out a torrent of metal shards which she just-barely managed to keep on target. Whoever decided that the Normandy could 'get by' on such crap equipment was going to get an Avatar-level ass-beating. The slugs smashed at armor, but the big one was regaining its footing. And Shepard didn't want that.
"Flash!" Shepard shouted, and the other two made sure they were out of sight, because when Shepard pulled grenades from her pack, she didn't bother checking how many. She just activated a handful of them, hurled them, and hoped.
It brought that cannon up to its 'eye', and there could be no other target but Shepard.
And then the grenades went off, confusing blasts wreathing it like a halo. When the explosions and smoke cleared, there was roughly half a geth, still standing, but missing from what in a human would have been the diaphragm up. Shepard wasn't taking any chances. With a heave, empowered by her small but workable knowledge of airbending, she bounded to the foot of that behemoth, before planting a boot into it's groin, and pushing. The thing tipped onto its back. She answered by pulling her side-arm and firing into the most important looking parts of it until her gun overheated.
"Shepard! Get your ass down!" Nilsdottir shouted.
"Negative contacts, commander," Alenko countered, but calmly. "Shepard, are you alright?"
"What the hell was that thing?" she said, before moving to the ruins of the weapon in question. Not even enough for R&D to sink their teeth into, probably. Then she looked down, to the hole she could now see in the barricade. "Wait, Jenkins!"
She bolted back over the terrain, only remembering roughly half-way down that she could just get the stone out of her way. She hadn't been earthbending long, all things considered. She skidded to a stop at the private's side, her omnitool instantly in hand. "Don't bother," Nilsdottir said.
"It's too late, Commander," Alenko said.
"Just get his medigel flowing. I can fix this," she said.
"What, are you a bloodbender too?" Alenko asked.
"Of course, so..."
"...but I'm guessing not that much of a bloodbender, since that's the only thing which might have saved him, if you'd been at his side thirty seconds ago. I'm sorry, Commander, he's gone."
"...that sucks, Shepard," Nilsdottir said, before trying to stand, letting out another loud profanity, and sinking back to the rocks. Shepard turned her attention to the younger of the two biotics on this squad.
"You're bleeding," Shepard said. It was leaking out through tiny holes in Nilsdottir's armor. "Why didn't you stay down?"
"'Cause I'm not going to let you get all the glory," Nilsdottir said. "I'll be fine. Just give me a second to 'gel up."
"Can you fight?"
"Are you seriously asking me that question, Shepard?" Nilsdottir asked, as though Shepard had just made a bad joke. "That's what I thought. Now help me up or fuck off and let me do it myself."
Alenko glanced between the two women, slightly baffled, and reached past both to close Jenkin's eyes. He was still staring, as shocked and stupified in death as he had been in life. "We should call in somebody to pick him up. He deserves a proper burial."
"That's something we can deal with when there aren't machines trying to kill us," Shepard said, heaving her fellow soldier to her feet. "That armor looks like it's doing more harm than good. Are you good without?"
"Commander?" Alenko asked. "Are you seriously asking her to drop armor in the middle of a mission?"
She pulled her helmet off, letting the dark hair she kept bottled inside fall free. Her face was actually quite a bit more feminine than Shepard's which surprised most people who met her on the field. Some people even thought Nilsdottir was a man from a distance – doubly absurd from both the name and fact that Alliance armor had breasts. She also levied her counterpart with the most condescending look a human could give to another human. "They don't tell you in the briefs, but I fought in Torfan stark naked."
"Really?" Alenko asked.
"Stop teasing the LT," Shepard said, peeling the back of the armor off, showing the network of scars which seemed to paint the biotic's body liberally and indiscriminately under her men's undershirt. The grey paste of the medigel, already settled into her wounds, made her seem like some sort of half-human ghoul. But once she'd gotten the chestplate out of her way, she waved off further help from Shepard.
"Yeah, I've got the mobility now. And I ain't stinging so bad anymore. As long as you get Alenko to stop staring at my tits – since there ain't much to look at – we can get moving again."
Alenko just stared baffled at the two women. "What's happening right now?" he asked.
"She fights better unencumbered," Shepard said, hoisting her shitty rifle and moving up toward the treeline.
"Without armor, she's got no kinetic barriers," Alenko pointed out. Shepard paused, gave a glance to Nilsdottir, and then fired a burst at her. They spanged off of a field of bluish light which seemed to glow right through the biotic's skin.
"She is her barriers," Shepard said. "Any more questions? Would you like to hear about my horrible childhood on Mindoir, or can we get back on the mission?"
Alenko sighed, then shrugged. "Lead the way, ma'am."
"That's right," Shepard said, before moving forward again. "Any more of those things?"
"I'm getting signals of geth presence ahead, at the dig site," Alenko said. He was a professional, that one, it turned out. When confronted by the absurd, he did his job. That was the kind of mindset which was invaluable when the Avatar was around; the universe tended not only to play dice with the galaxy, but play with a loaded set more the closer one got to the Avatar itself.
She let the trees pass her by, moving ever closer to the dig site, sometimes pausing as something flew overhead. From the fact that Alenko kept so deadly silent, she had to assume he was reading them as geth drones. Thus she didn't draw attention. Nilsdottir, on the other hand, started to look more and more antsy. She likely wanted to punch something. She was hot headed at the best of times. In the worst, she was a damned berserker.
"Hear that?" Alenko asked.
"Gunshot. Good," Nilsdottir said. She limbered her shotgun, a distant, dangerous smirk coming to her lips, her eyes a thousand light-years away. "Means more geth to stomp."
"Whatever they're shooting at could probably use some assistance," Alenko said. Shepard scowled at him. "And from the readings they're bunkered down in the dig."
"Well, I guess that decides it," Shepard said. "Lock in and move out."
The advance had turned form a careful scrabble from tree to tree, to an outright sprint. Finally, as the rocks gave way to a bulldozed road, they took a knee, watching the edge of the off-white structure which poked up from the dirt. More of that grinding, clicking noise filled the air ahead of them, and Shepard gave a warning motion to Nilsdottir.
One delivered too late. With that smirk turning into a grin of sadistic glee, she started to charge ahead. Shepard's eyes went wide, and she motioned Alenko forward at full charge. There was no stopping the girl with the back of scars.
Shepard got a view of what was ahead just as she watched a man's head explode into chunks. Another of the big ones, with another hand-cannon. And there were more than a dozen of the little ones spread out and pinning the survivors down. Well, upon an instant's inspection, better refine that down to 'survivor'.
Alenko beckoned forward, and a bolt of force smashed into the big one, tipping him forward, but not sending him flying as the man's biotic Throws tended to. Even Alenko seemed a bit surprised at the thing's balance. But he didn't let it stop him. With his other hand, he reached out, his omnitool glowing, and there was a 'zorp' of electronic warfare taking its toll, specifically on the geth's shield generator. Shepard's concentrated fire wasn't concentrated enough, worrying away at the thing's plates, but most of the damage thus far seemed to be on the thing's fore.
There was a flash of movement, almost faster than a human being should have been able to go, as someone bolted from the crumbling pillar of cover and found a new spot to hide; even with that preternatural speed, she still got rocked by quite a few rounds. And still, with her shields doubtless on the verge of collapsing, she popped back out again, with the same shitty rifle in hand as Shepard was carrying. And landed every single slug from that burst into the flashlight head of the big one, causing it to tense up, before tipping straight back, and the rest of her slugs chased it down.
Now that was accuracy.
The others, though, sensing that there was a more pressing threat than one human with a terrible gun being used too well, faced Shepard and her reduced squad. Alenko dived to one side, and was chased the whole way by slugs, before he rolled behind the alabaster walls. Shepard did likewise but reverse, ending on the other side of the opening, waiting for her shields to chirp in that they'd returned to full strength. It was taking far too long.
Shepard growled, hurling caution, good sense, and a worthless weapon to the wind. She was close enough. Shitty rifle be damned.
With a snarl and a twisting of her arms, she tore the energy in her body wide apart, and as it crashed back together, it did so as unbounded electricity, a stream which would have kept a city block alight for a day. And all of that power, screaming in every cell of her body, demanded release. It erupted out of her extended fingers with a thunderclap, its arcing length bathing the nearest two geth, and chewed through their barriers and metal bodies with the same contemptuous ease that their cannon had cut through granite, armor and flesh.
It occurred to Shepard only then that she'd left herself dangerously out in the open. It was made clear as four of those geth bounded over the dead big one, their rifles at the ready to perforate Shepard and make her one of the least successful Avatars in human history.
She was saved by a hundred and twenty pounds of unspeakable wrath. To call Nilsdottir's scream wrathful was insulting. Wrath wishes it could be what came from the biotic. Her body blue-shifted, as the metal in the base of her neck sparked to life, and for a fraction of a second, she was in two places at once, her light-shadow remaining as her body, and a monumental amount of velocity appeared in the geth's midst. A sonic boom as the air forceably displaced itself to account for Nilsdottir's appearance staggered the synthetics, even as one of them was sent flying into a wall hard enough to embed it. She flicked a scar-laced armload of biotic energy at one of them, while bringing up her shotgun and clearing out a pair of flashlights in two point-blank and angry shots.
Then, even before Shepard had the time to twist her hands again, to call that lightning once more, Nilsdottir let out the most deranged shriek yet, her fist glowing with blue power, as she hurled herself directly into the geth she'd tagged before. When she did, her fist seemed to rupture something, and space itself howled as she intentionally created one biotic field which competed with another. Both ceased to be with a calamitous blast, blowing the remains of the big one to bits, and dashing the rest of the geth on that side against the walls. Nilsdottir remained standing through it all, looking insurmountably pissed.
Alenko finally made a showing, rounding the corner and heaving hard. The bolt of power slammed into the geth which were trying to recover from the shockwave, and sent the whole lot of them flying down into a gully. Shepard turned her gun on the others, but their weapons lowered. Their flashlights went out, one by one, and in turn, they crumpled to the ground. Then, with a hiss, smoke started to rise from their corpses. Shepard gave a glance to Alenko, whose omnitool was still glowing brightly.
"Turns out the little ones are a lot more vulnerable to shield-breakers than the big ones are," Alenko said with mild amusement. Then, he turned, and let out a mild groan. "We were too late."
"Not entirely," a voice came from the pillar. The woman rounded it, and Shepard stifled a chuckle. Pink armor? Really? And she thought her own was terrible. She flicked down the face-plate, so that Shepard could see that this soldier was probably descended from the Si Wongi peoples on Earth. Few others had that dusky skin tone. "Gunnery chief Asha al'Wahim of the 212th. I didn't think anybody was coming for us," she said, before turning her attention to those around her. She moved from human body to human body. She shook her head, bitterly. They were all dead. "Damn it all, I couldn't save any of them..."
"What happened here, chief?" Shepard asked. She turned back at the group, not looking at anybody in particular.
"We were patrolling the perimeter when the first of those things hit. I tried to get back to the space-port, but those things forced us back here," she let out a groan, and drooped her head against one soldier in particular. "We shouldn't have tried to secure the dig. It was already too late," she lamented.
Shepard glanced around. The site did appear, for all it was littered with bodies, to be picked clean. A glance down at this big-one's cannon showed that it, too, was defunct. Which Shepard found mildly and distantly annoying. Damn it all, she wanted to have one of those. "They must have moved the Beacon. What's the chance that they moved it to the space-port?"
"I'd say pretty good," al'Wahim offered. "That's where those things are centered. Commander, permission to help secure the port!"
"Why?" she asked.
"Because... wait..." she finally was looking at Shepard herself. "Are... you the Avatar?"
"Not important," Shepard snapped. Al'Wahid flinched back from that. "Why?"
"I want some payback for my men," she said, her tones dripping with wrath, her fists clenched, as she glanced down at her fallen comrades. Shepard shot a glance to where Nilsdottir was grinning like a hungry wolf.
"As good a reason as any," Shepard said. "Double-time. We're not letting these get get off world with that Beacon."
"What about survivors?" Alenko asked.
"That's a secondary objective," Shepard said. "Our orders are to bring the Beacon in. So that's what we're going to do."
Alenko weighed her in his eyes. She could tell he was doing it. But whatever decision he came to, he kept it quiet. "Aye aye, ma'am," was all he said. Which proved he was useful to her.
"Well, are we gonna stand here, or are we gonna stomp some geth?" Nilsdottir asked. And she sounded disturbingly eager when she did so.
One forest turned into another. It could have scarcely been more disturbing. Nihlus had been a Spectre a long time, and had seen some frankly horrifying things. Batarian 'pleasure' pits. The remnants of an Alliance squad after Thresher Maws hit them on Akuze. Piracy, assassination attempts, and the galaxy's most deranged and debauched people. He'd seen a drunken krogan tear the face-plate off of a turian woman with a claw-hammer, and had to let it happen, since his job was too important.
So when a forest of trees gave way to a forest of impaled humans, he'd had only a moment's pause, but it was a significant moment.
Nihlus looked up at the humans with a detached curiosity, on top of his disgust. It was horrible, yes, but he didn't understand why. The geth – and what the geth were doing outside the Perseus Veil after all this time he had no idea – shouldn't have been capable of terror tactics. They were machines. They didn't feel, and shouldn't be able to comprehend feeling. So why impalement? Nihlus noted one of them, a human woman of no more than twenty years, dangling from one of those spikes in the ground. Her fists flexed, her lips quivered, her eyes were pressed shut. Still alive? Gruesome.
Nihlus sighed, and gave her the only mercy he had the time and capacity to offer. A bullet in the head solved a lot of problems.
Ahead, he could see... something. He'd have called it their ship, but he had no idea that geth could create a ship two kilometers long. Come to think of it, the Destiny Ascension was the biggest ship in Council space, and it was only half so massive. He continued forward, as that human girl hung limply, now. Yet another nightmare to be relived in his sleep. He had enough of those for ten turian lifetimes. There was a sound from that ship, almost like a horn, if a horn somehow were the size of an arcology and could sound from the entire structure at once.
He saw movement on the platform of the mag-lev station, and quickly sprinted forward. One could say many things about turian physiology, but when it came to running, they were about as ideal as a biped could be. Humans might have them beaten for endurance – even over krogan, who tended to get bored and angry after more than a day – but turians had speed. So he took the platform easily enough, rifle in hand. He leaned out from behind the containers which littered the port, and what he saw caused his mandibles to flap slightly. Not in disgust or awe, but simple confusion.
"...Saren?" Nihlus asked, as he beheld his fellow turian, his fellow Spectre, stalking around the platform, watching something. Saren cast a glance his way. Most people considered Saren severe, even for a turian. His mandibles pulled back into spikes which framed his fringe, his face bare. His eyes also seemed to glow, a faint blue. His armor looked to have seen better days, as well. "What are you doing here?"
Saren Arterius faced Nihlus more directly, his own mandibles pulling into what constituted a turian smirk. "The Council decided that you needed some backup in this one," he said, walking past Nihlus and patting him on the shoulder.
"How did you get here so fast?" Nihlus asked. Saren let out a laugh.
"I have my ways of getting access to information before most. It seemed that things might get out of hand here," Saren said, staring up the hill.
"You're right about that," Nihlus said, peering around. The mag-lev was still in the station, which was a hopeful sign. "I don't understand what the geth are doing here, though. They vanished from the galaxy centuries ago. What would they want with a Prothean Beacon? None of this makes sense!"
"Don't worry. It will all be taken care of," Saren said, with a patronizing tone. Nihlus turned, as he heard a gun arming itself. And because of that, he was able to duck the shot which Saren had tried to put into the back of Nihlus' skull. Nihlus tried to bring up his rifle, to back off, but Saren moved faster. A slap of the hand saw Nihlus' gun flying away, bent like it was hit by a pneumatic punch. A kick hurled Nihlus back into the container almost three meters away, hard enough to leave a dent in its side. Nihlus shook the stars from his eyes, trying to get his body to listen to his commands.
He'd gotten that capacity just in time to feel a barrel press against his brow. Nihlus' black eyes flicked, and they saw geth gathering around Saren, he heard that grinding sound of their speech. "Goodbye, my protege," Saren said.
The crack-thoom of the gun going off sounded across the hills, almost louder, as though the world had gone silent just to make it clearer. Saren leaned back from the comrade he had once vouched for, taught, mentored, and trusted. More the pity that he had to be on the other side of this divine task.
Voice of the Old Machine: the Beacon is ready.
Saren nodded to the geth who had spoken to him. "Very well. Set the explosives. There must be no evidence that we were here."
Five minutes can be all the difference in the world.
Five minutes had seen four humans cross half a kilometer, despite the flashlight-heads of the geth upon them, despite the hail of their gunfire. Five minutes between that crisp, clear gunshot, and four humans at the crest of the hill.
Nilsdottir was, of course, first. Not being bound by the traditional laws of physics tended to result in that. The newcomer, al'Wahim, was just behind her, staring down the scope of a Hammer. Just behind her was Shepard, and behind her, the sole man of the group, Alenko, furiously hacking and flicking biotic fields to keep the geth at bay, as they converged. And converging was the point, to his words. If they converged on the soldiers, they'd leave the survivors alone.
"Look at the sky! The size of that thing!" Alenko exclaimed. And he was right. It was rising from the ground, red lightning crackling around it. Despite the distance, it was still monumentally huge. If it wasn't two kilometers long, then Shepard was a vorcha.
Shepard raised a fist, and all of them came to a halt. The platform below was a forest of human dead. Well, human-like. Some of them still had hair, all still had clothes. Others, though, of those spikes were littered with pools of shed hair, the pale glint of abandoned finger and toenails. A pile of teeth to each.
"What. The. Fuck."
Nilsdottir's words were on everybody's mind, and her expression was actually a departure from her usual simmering wrath. She was aback, as were they all. Why? It was a question which would have to wait. Because out of the corner of her eye, Shepard could see one of the nearest spikes dropping. This one was pooled by long blonde hair, the figure slight. But when the spike retracted with an electric pop, there was no other sign of humanity. The eyes glowed with a horrid blue light, the mouth was a gaping hole from which came a howl. And when it began to sprint toward them, it was with no human gate.
"What the fuck is this thing?" Nilsdottir asked, backing away from it. It flailed and thrashed at her. When it had officially gotten 'too close' to the biotic, she snarled, and lit up with her shotgun, blasting its legs right out from under it. They exploded with a splatter of grey goop and blue sparks. It landed with a thud on the ground, still.
"Is this usual geth strategy?" Shepard asked.
"I haven't seen anything like this in the encounter briefs," Alenko said. He glanced back. "We've got incoming, about two minutes out. Nilsdottir walked up to the thing, giving it a nudge with a boot.
"I think it's down, Shepard," she said.
Of course she had to say that.
With another roar, it heaved itself onto Nilsdottir's back, despite the notable deficit of anything below the pelvis, trying to tear Nilsdottir's arms out with its long, clawed fingers. Alenko and al'Wahim both tried to get a clear line, to shoot it off. Neither could. It was telling that this thing was strong enough to overpower Nilsdottir, and was wearing her down.
Shepard didn't hesitate. With a twist and a flick, she sheared a blade out of the stones which flanked the approach to the mag-lev platform, and hurled that blade through the ghastly ghoul, shearing its arms off, leaving them wrapped 'round Nilsdottir's wrists. Nilsdottir backed off, taking a moment to tear those limbs off of her, and brought her shotgun up again, leveling it at the now prone... thing. It looked up, its skin finally shifting wholly to grey and blue. That blue began to glow stronger. Stronger.
Until Nilsdottir blasted its head off with her shotgun. She then turned to the others. "WHAT. THE. FUCK."
"I think you're saying it the best of all of us," Alenko said. And then, his eyes went wide, pointing ahead of him. Shepard looked up. All of the spikes were lowering, as though in a wave. Those pinned atop them began to descend, drop off. They rose. They wailed.
"God help us," al'Wahim said, "And forgive what I do."
With a collected roar, they began to advance, claws beckoning. Three of the humans moved forward, with streams of mass-effect propelled slugs filling the gap between human and... husk. One stayed back, her teeth gritting. Anger boiling. Until she finally beat out the confusion and fear, and with a bound, she was amongst those things, landing with a bow-wave.
There were no words. There didn't need to be. It was human against weapon. They had weaponised the dead. Those things pressed through the fire, ignoring as limbs were torn off, just to get closer to Shepard, or anybody. One of them got too close by a half, and slammed forward a claw, its only one left.
Fire bolted out at Shepard.
Her eyes went wide, and instantly, she was calling fire to her own fist, and smashing the bolt away, anticipating the heat and brutality of a focused firebending strike. It was too easy to deflect, though. It was fire, but it didn't feel... right. So Shepard rolled that fire back, and added a hefty dose of her own, blasting that husk to a burnt cinder.
The last of the husks to fall was the one which almost got its claws onto Nilsdottir again. This time, though, she only caught one claw. Her other hand, the one which abandoned a shotgun, glowed with blue power, as she upper-cutted directly into the husk's armpit with a biotic Throw, tearing its arm off and sending it directly into a chemical fire which burned on the pad.
"Are we all here? Sheilds?"
"Intact and unharmed," Alenko said. "al'Wahim?"
"They didn't touch me," she asked. "You, half-naked woman?"
"Mind your own business," Nilsdottir snapped. "Who the fuck said you could weaponize the dead? That's against the rules!"
"How about you tell them about it?" Alenko asked with a smirk. Nilsdottir's glare rolled right off of him. Shepard, though, turned her attention to the pad, and most notably, who was already dead upon it. No humans, obviously. But one dead turian.
A dead turian she had been fairly sure was going to be making her life hell right about now. "Nihlus," Shepard said. There was a bullet-hole in his head. His rifle lay defunct on the ground nearby. "I think its safe to say that this mission is about as pear shaped as it's going to get," she said without mirth.
"Humans?" a voice asked from nearby. Instantly, gun was in hand and leveled at the man who'd spoken. He recoiled with a shout of shock and terror, cowering back. "Please don't kill me! I'm not one of those things!"
"Obviously," Shepard said. "How are you not dead?"
"I hid, back here," he said. "I usually take a nap during the stretch of my shift, but when I woke up, there was all this shooting and..."
"You survived because you were lazy?" Nilsdottir asked unhappily. Then again, Nilsdottir was seldom happy when boots were on ground. Not that she complained. Just that she was not happy.
"It's not like that," he said.
"I know you," al'Wahim said. "You're that smuggler I've been trying to track down! You weren't sleeping! You were stealing!"
"You can't be serious," the man said.
"Do I need to give a shout to the geth, so they can sort this out?" Shepard asked.
He glanced between the three angry women and one uninterested looking man, and realized that his best possible position would be 'not on Shepard's shit list'. That was a wise move. "Alright, I make some money taking things that the Alliance wouldn't miss. But that doesn't matter now! Everybody's dead. My sources are dead, my buyers are dead! Even that turian is dead."
"Yeah, but I saw who killed him," the smuggler added.
"Speak with haste, Agdesh," al'Wahim warned.
"There was another turian here. He looked... scary. The dead turian, he called the guy 'Saren', and the geth seemed to talk to him. He said something about a Beacon at the spaceport, and that they're setting some kind of bomb. I've seen ordnance; that thing looked like a nuke!"
"Saren? Why do I know that name?" Shepard asked.
"He's a traitor and he brought the geth to Eden Prime. He needs to die," Nilsdottir simplified.
"Look, if you're going to kill those things, take some of the grenades I was smuggling; I don't know how to use them, and you might be able to..."
"You should be ashamed of your behavior, Agdesh," al'Wahim said. "Be thankful that more than your career is on the line, or I would hold you against the wall and put slugs into your knees."
"Damn, I'd just kill him," Nilsdottir muttered.
"Shepard, you can't do this to civilians," Alenko said, his voice gentle, even if it was insistent. "This isn't Torfan. People will know."
"Don't talk about Torfan," Shepard said sharply. "You weren't there."
"And this is something which should be discussed at some other time!" al'Wahim said with a dope-slap to the armorless biotic, perhaps not the wisest of ideas, from the growl which escaped the latter's lips. "They are going to destroy the colony! That is more important!"
Shepard finished out her glare, then nodded. "Start running, Agdesh. The rest of you, onto the train. The bomb is probably at the port!"
"Aye aye, ma'am," Alenko agreed. She gave one last glance behind them all, as she bounded the guard-rail, onto the train which started to move a few moments later. A forest of spikes, festooned with the dead. Dead, which came back to life. It was a perverse mockery of everything which she knew to be right. And realistically, she wasn't sure how to deal with it.
She might have, once. Back when she was still a normal girl. Back on Mindoir.
Before the batarians.
Oh, the anger burned still.
If there was one thing which defined the track of Serviceman Jacqueline Nilsdottir's life, career, and overall existence, it was a history of poor impulse control.
It started in middle-school, which was the earliest years she could remember. They made fun of her because she always had a hunted-animal look to her, and her body was festooned with scars she could neither explain nor hide. It ended with black-eyes, broken teeth, two skull fractures and an expulsion. Her next school fared little better. One mean-spirited prank against her put two prospective high-school pro-benders into the hospital in critical condition. They survived. She was expelled, arrested, but let free because 'twelve year olds aren't capable of that kind of violence'. It was lucky, then, that nobody – including Nilsdottir herself – was aware of her actual age.
The most frustrating part of it was the looks her parents would give her after every time something like that happened. They would just shake their heads, and she would hang her head. Cry. Because she had no idea why she'd done it. At first, they didn't believe her. After the third expulsion, and when they finally decided that Ba Sing Se might not be the city for her, they finally understood. It wasn't that she made a habit of flying off the handle at the tiniest of slights. It was that when something made Nilsdottir pissed, there was almost nothing in the world which could stop her.
It was like somebody had beaten a scared little kid until she turned into an all-powerful, heedlessly wrathful bitch. And she hated it.
If there was any ray of light in her life, it was that her parents loved and protected her, no matter what. That was her only life-line. The one thing which reeled in the rage. She wanted her Mom and Dad to be proud of her. That gave her some leeway. That gave her some space.
And it gave her freedom to go absolutely wolfbat-shit crazy on things like the geth.
As the battle surrounded her, there was a warmth in her, almost like that flush which hit you as your body was getting ready for a wicked orgasm, only it never crashed over. It was sweet, and edged like a buzz-saw. She wanted more. So she fought harder. From the instant the train slid into its station, they were under fire. But the geth were machines, and they didn't account for the only Alliance Marine to have seven commendations without a single promotion.
"Damn their lack-of-eyes!" the newcomer shouted. "Every time I try to take a shot, they hit me with an Overload!"
"I can't get to the bomb!" Shepard shouted. "Nilsdottir! Clear a hole!"
"She'll get popped like the rest of you!" Alenko warned. Shepard only laughed.
"Can't overload her shields when she's not using them," Shepard answered. "Clear a hole!"
"With pleasure," she said. She focused her will, her lips pulling into a grin, and the implant in the base of her neck sparked to life, the pea-sized capsules of eezo encapsulated in her brain thrumming to life. The light before her blue shifted, as her biotics twisted space in a funnel, shoving out all of that pesky distance between her and where she wanted to go. Then, a punt to her own back sent her flying through that rift, before she detonated both fields, sending geth flying around her when she instantly traversed more than a dozen meters of open killing ground.
She didn't know herself well enough to know why she fought the way she did. She had years of training, and years more of combat experience. She'd managed to get out of boot and be assigned into Commander Shepard's squad just in time for Torfan. The two of them learned a lot about each other down there. But even then, she couldn't say why she fought so viciously, so hatefully. In drills, she'd get annoyed, yeah, but there wasn't anywhere near the orgasmic thrill which came with open combat. Knowing that one wrong move and you're dead. Knowing that the other guy wanted to kill you.
It was intoxicating.
And that was a little bit creepy.
She moved through their ranks, hurling biotic assaults as often as her body would allow. In short order, she was blasting through those geth with the same sort of utter brutality she'd shown the batarians. Only these things bled white. She launched a full biotic kick into one of them, strong enough to sheer its body in half, before snapping the field back on itself, and causing that dismembered torso to heave back toward her. Nilsdottir ducked under it, and the torso slammed into a second Geth which was trying to bash her head in with its bulbous rifle. And Nilsdottir growled, that directionless wrath starting to swell.
She twisted, hooking her shotgun into the neck-gap of one of those machines, and with a trigger-pull, the flashlight and everything attached to it was blasted away. She turned her attention to the big one next to that one, flicking a Warp field at it, just as its portable cannon misfired, blasting its barrel away. She didn't need to glance back to know Alenko was responsible for her not having a Jenkins sized hole put through her. But in this moment? She couldn't bring herself to care. With a howl, she bounded over it's head, into a cluster of white-hulled geth carrying missile launchers, heedless of the danger, and slammed her fist into the ground, erupting a shockwave of pure gravitational power. One which sent those rocket-troopers flying into the air, and getting dropped into the mag-lev rails and getting fried, or else just being smashed against the walls of the spaceport, and causing the big one behind her to burst.
She was rising to her feet, grinning as she saw the biggest one yet before her. But the air shimmered in front of her, and suddenly, that grin faded just a little, as a shotgun barrel appeared out of thin air at eye level. She didn't even have a moment to contemplate mortality, since that rapidly appearing geth was then struck by lightning, and then, its upper torso was cleaved open explosively by a metal slug traveling at hypersonic speeds, striking in what would be later discovered as the perfect spot in a geth frame to cause the thing to essentially fall apart.
She knew her stuff, that desert-girl.
Now cleared of obstructions, Nilsdottir started to focus her attention on the one which she now properly reclassified as the big one. The big-ones before this one were just a warmup. This thing dwarfed those by a head easily, and they looked like they were built to withstand a tactical nuclear strike. But they were not, she guaranteed, built proof against Jackie Nilsdottir.
She flicked another Warp at it, the easiest one-two punch she had, and by a wide margin the most satisfying. Then, she howled once again, and that implant in her brain whirred back into overtime, and the world blue-shifted around her once again. She launched herself across that distance, landing with a thunk, fist first against its chest. The detonation of the competing fields was every bit as devastating as ever it had been...
But the big one, the Prime, it was still standing. She'd not even brought down its kinetic barriers.
Her eyes went wide, and she tried to hurl a biotic kick at it, to give herself some room, but the hulking synthetic was faster than that. It lashed forward with its fist into her stomach, driving her back against a crate a short distance away. Her subconscious biotics cushioned the blow to keep her from having a liquified spine, but she was running out of juice very fast. Already, her limbs were starting to weaken, and a ravenous hunger was tearing through her. She didn't have enough time to shake the stars from her eyes before a three-digited hand closed around her throat, hoisting her up from where she'd fallen.
It started to squeeze, that rattling, grinding noise filling the rumbling in her ears. It would probably take about a second more to snap her neck.
But she had a shotgun. She pressed it as close to the thing's flashlight eye as she could, and pulled the trigger. The shells didn't even make it out of the barrel, but caused the blue energy of the barrier to flicker. Another shot, slamming into the first still in place, doubtless did more damage to the gun than its target, but it was enough. The flickering reached a head, before there was a burst of electricity, care of her commanding officer the Avatar, which shocked Nilsdottir back into being able to feel her limbs. Then with those unbelievably thick barriers finally dropped, there came a loud crack, the flashlight flicked aside, a scar etching along its side where a sniper-rifle round had bounced off.
Oh, that wasn't good.
With a flick of its arm, Nilsdottir was flying through the air, and she barely had the time to be surprised before she collided with al'Wahim, sending both of them sprawling in a pile, near where Alenko was working on the nuke.
"I need another thirty seconds!" Alenko shouted.
"You've got five!" Shepard warned him. "Wait, what..."
Nilsdottir looked up, and the thing was pulling some sort of weapon off of its back. It made the cannon of the 'medium-sized one' look like a pea-shooter. Its bore was not large, but the weapon itself seemed to feed back on the superstructure of the geth, its pipes vanishing into the thing's chestplate, likely sinking right into its power core.
"BUG OUT!" Shepard ordered, and al'Wahim, being more of sound mind in that moment, saved Nilsdottir's ass. She dragged her aside, behind one of the thick supporting pillars of the launch-wall, just as that thing began to belch out what looked like a beam of solid death. It scoured the path toward them, melting and obliterating a line which would have neatly bisected both women, before continuing until something stopped it. Nilsdottir pulled her side arm, and fired a few fairly pointless shots at it. It turned its attention toward Shepard, and fired at the barricade she was ducked behind. That barricade quickly began to melt.
"Oh, hell you say," al'Wahim swore, timing her dive for the sniper-rifle which she'd had to abandon in her wild flight. The barricade was getting thinner. Thinner. The face of it which Shepard was leaning against began to glow.
Then, the hellish wail of it dropped away. It sank into its footing for a moment, and a blast of steam vented out of it. Al'Wahim took that opportunity to bound, and roll. As she did so, she pulled up her rifle, staring down its scopes. And wide open out of cover.
"Ten seconds!" Alenko warned.
The Prime turned its attention toward al'Wahim, and leveled its death-ray at her. The thing hummed its way to life. Nilsdottir prepared to watch another Alliance soldier die at geth hands in this mission.
Only she didn't. With a smile from the woman at the trigger, there came another crack. And almost instantly after that, as a bullet managed to travel up the barrel of the offending gun, rupturing the capacitor array within the cannon, the entire weapon detonated. That detonation begat others, reaching up into the very body of the Prime, and then, there was no body of the Prime.
Just a chest-rending thud, and then metal and plastic and white mist raining down.
"How much is on the clock?" Shepard demanded, moving away from her degraded cover.
She scowled at him. "Then what was all that 'ten seconds' garbage."
"That was how much longer I needed," Alenko said. And then, he cracked a grin, as he pulled the chassis of the bomb apart, and carefully pulled part of it out, before dropping it to the base of the mag-lev tunnel. That would be the actual detonator. Without it, a nuke was just a lot of plutonium in a fancy box.
"Is that all of them?" Shepard asked.
"No applause for the woman who killed it with its own gun?" al'Wahim asked with a swagger.
"That was reckless and you had no way of knowing that that'd work," Shepard pointed out. "A thousand times out of a thousand, it would have just greased you with its death-ray. Which now we won't be able to salvage and research!"
"I was just trying to..." al'Wahim said, her bravado fading.
"Well, that's what you accomplished," she said. She offered a hand to Nilsdottir, who gladly took it. She'd spent enough time on the ground this mission. "Alenko, any more geth?"
"I'm not getting any readings, Commander," Alenko said. "But I am getting a ping on my reads which is labeled 'prothean'."
"They left the Beacon?" Shepard asked.
"Maybe they didn't have a chance to collect it. We must have kicked their asses out before they had the chance," Nilsdottir offered.
"I'll believe that when I see it," Shepard said. The four humans picked their way through the silence which marked the end of the battle, and down to the lowest platform of the launch area. As they walked, Nilsdottir chugged what was essentially salty sugar-water, trying to get some energy back for what she'd expended against that Prime. Biotics were a harsh mistress. The only upshot is that she could be an outright slob and never gain weight.
The Beacon itself wasn't exactly what Nilsdottir expected. She'd seen the repository on Big Demon. This was nothing like it. This was a sort of monolith of black and green, energy lazily thrumming up its length. It stood, abandoned and undisturbed, right in the center of a broad nothing. Her mind instantly went to ambush, but there was nothing around. Not even a good snipers-pit.
"Is this it?" Nilsdottir asked. "Shit, I think we've been had."
"No, this is Prothean," Alenko said. "All the readings agree."
Shepard nodded. "Good. Captain Anderson, do you read?"
"Static is breaking up, Shepard. We have a read," Anderson's commanding baritone answered. "What's your status?"
"We've recovered the Beacon. Arrange a pick-up," she said. Nilsdottir nodded to herself, glancing around. Jenkins was right, the poor dead bastard. This place was pretty nice. Once you got past the impaling robots and the floating fart-bags. Alenko, though, was moving closer, taking readings with his omnitool. She didn't know how he did half what he did with that widget; she just used hers to read mail and download pirated vids.
Then, there was a whump.
Nilsdottir's eyes widened. "Shepard..." she said, warning. Shepard turned, and saw as she did.
There was a field of energy growing around the beacon, a gossamer field of pale-green light which was trying to touch Alenko. Shepard bolted past al'Wahim, and tackled Alenko, which caused both of them to touch that energy. But with a final heave, Shepard hurled Alenko free of it. The energy thrummed once more, and she was jerked up, floating off of the ground, her body stretched as though on a torture rack.
Then, a final thrum, and a bang, as the Beacon blew itself to bits. Shepard collapsed in a pile on to the ground, her eyes staring at nothing.
"Shepard?" Nilsdottir asked. "Shepard!"
Shepard didn't answer her.
Codex Entry (Technology): BENDING
First discovered during the lowest point of the Rachni wars, brought to the fore by the newly uplifted krogan race, bending has been part of the galactic community for almost two and a half thousand years. Oddly, it has never been referred to properly in that time, until very recently. Bending was initially misclassified as a highly specialized form of biotics, until it was discovered that bending required no eezo in a subject's brain in order to occur. Its existence baffled salarian and asari scientists for generations, but it was considered a uniquely krogan abberation, so no further thought went into it.
The discovery of the batarians upended that thinking. They could not only control earth, but also fire, once again without any need for eezo or biotic potential. Unlike the krogan, who were initially quite willing to submit to experimentation, the batarians guarded the secrets of their bending jealously, to the point where even attempting to train a non-batarian in the elemental martial arts is considered the Hegemony's highest crime, on par with treason. The salarian STG sent teams to discover their secrets, unsucessfully, for the entire period between the batarian's rise until they broke off contact with the Citadel in the wake of the Alliance-Hegemony War fifteen years ago.
Humanity appear to be the only group who can use bending, in all of its forms, without extreme difficulty. They can trace their manipulation of the 'elements' of air, fire, water, and earth back thousands of years, and it was so ubiquitous throughout their history, that they based vast swaths of their technological development upon it. Due to advances in bending and bending technique, many technological pitfalls and dragging points were circumvented, allowing for a very rapid technological development from the time when Earth's Fire Nation developed its first steam engines. Humanity is also the only species known to be able to manipulate all elements, albeit - with one exception - only one element per practioner. Turians seem utterly incapable of airbending, for example, while salarians cannot earthbend, while krogan and asari seem equally stymied regarding waterbending. Some species, such as the hanar, seem unable to bend at all.
Bending is considered by some martial philosophers as the 'technology of the soul'. While there have been brutal dictatorships based around both the possession and eradication of bending as it exists, the benefits to medicine (as waterbenders can heal wounds without any surgical aparatus), energy (as firebenders can project coherent streams of electrical energy from the atmosphere), and construction (as earthbenders can move both stone and most metals with ease usually reserved for construction equipment) make it an invaluable part of a society, one which was gratefully accepted by the Citadel Council as a 'restitution' for humanity's introduction via the First Contact War.
It is estimated that one out of every hundred humans is a 'bender'. Of those benders, most are earth and firebenders, in roughly equal number, with a slightly smaller percentage being waterbenders. Only half of one percent of all benders are airbenders.
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