|Kick at the Darkness
Author: Medea Jade PM
A prequel to Red Sun at Night taking place aboard the Normandy during the events of Mass Effect 3. Written from the point of view of the crew as developed in RSaN, featuring Morgan, Catherine, and James And maybe a little bit of Shenko for all the Kaidan lovers out there . Recommend reading RSAN first for context. And see my profile for ETA and details on the next chapter.Rated: Fiction M - English - Sci-Fi/Drama - James V. - Chapters: 17 - Words: 79,822 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 06-24-12 - Published: 05-27-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8155792
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The only people aboard the Normandy who knew the location of the Alliance fleet were Shepard, EDI and Joker. Their whereabouts of the gathered ships were kept on a strictly need to know basis. They could not risk Cerberus or the Reapers discovering where they were hiding. If they lost the fleets, they lost everything.
They jumped into the unnamed system and joined the fleet but stayed back from the bulk of the ships. As always the Normandy would be in stealth mode and stay out of the main battle so that Shepard and her squad could get themselves onto the space station the Illusive Man called home.
Everyone was on high alert and the whole ship was a buzz of activity. This would be one of the largest battles the Normandy had taken part in yet. Joker would stay on the outskirts of the battle, but their guns would be firing the whole time taking out any and all Cerberus ships they could.
Once again, Shepard took Kaidan and EDI with her. The AI had insisted that her avatar take part in the mission. No one else in Shepard's squad would be able to hack Cerberus codes and firewalls likes she could.
As for why Kaidan was going again, Catherine suspected that Shepard simply wanted him by her side. True, his was a formidable biotic, but there was no question that Liara's abilities were greater.
Catherine's had a theory which she shared with James over the comm when he called to express his displeasure at being left behind again.
"If she's thinking what I think she is," Catherine said. "Then I totally get it."
"And what is it that you think she's thinking?" James questioned sourly.
"Shepard is a woman of the heart. Look at her friendships. Look the choices she's made. She's been entirely selfless. Risking herself and her alliances to do the right thing," Catherine paused, looking at her words caerfully before letting them out. "Every time she leaves this ship it could be for the last time. Every time she passes over you and Garrus and Liara, she's being just a little bit selfish. Bringing Kaidan with her is the one and only thing she does for herself. If he dies then she will be there at his side. If she dies, he'll be with her. And if they both die, at least they'll die together."
James didn't respond for a long time. Catherine could hear noise from down in the shuttle bay so she knew the comm was still open, but James said nothing.
"James?" she said finally.
"I'm here," he said quietly. "Just... I guess I didn't realize how much they mean to each other."
"It's hard not to see Shepard as a soldier," Catherine said. "But under that armour she's still a woman and she still has a heart."
"You know once we're done here we're heading straight for Earth, eh?" James sounded fearful for the first time in all the days she'd known him.
"I know." Her voice surprised her. She actually sounded calm.
"No. But we don't really have a choice, do we?"
"We've got plenty of escape pods," James said in dark humour. "You and me, we could just jump in one and float away. They'd never find us."
"What? And leave all this?" Catherine said with a smile that hurt her face as her jaw tightened as she attempted to hold back the tears.
"Keep it together, Catnip," he whispered. "Find your battle mask and put it on tight. Don't let them see your fear."
She signed off and tried to focus on her duties. Their first jump took them to system Catherine had never heard of. They did a short hop FTL jump to another relay and with a series of several more jumps and transits finally arrived in the Horsehead Nebula.
They spent another two hours in FTL flight headed for a backwater system that very few people bothered to list on star charts. Anadius, an Mla red supergiant, hung lonely and swollen in the cold reaches of the nebula. It had no planets and nothing resembling an Oort cloud or even anything approaching what might once have been a satellite. It was the perfect place to hide a space station.
The star was a wash of shifting colours, molten reds and electric blues, pulsing and swelling outward, hiding the stations in its radiation and EM pulses. It was a massive structure that must have taken years to build out here in the depths of vacant space.
EDI's best guess sized the ship at roughly one kilometer long thought it was impossible for her to take an accurate reading without revealing their position. She warned them that there could be potentially be a great many ships docked, but as they neared nothing came out to great them.
And then suddenly, just as they were coming into visual range, the station slithered to life. Fighters poured forth and swarmed toward the fleet. Every ship around them flared as they began to fire and Joker wove through them, executing agile flips and dives, gradually working them nearer to the station itself.
When he announced he could get them no closer he opened the hanger doors and the shuttle dropped towards the station, Cortez flying with as much skill as Joker flew the Normandy.
It was all hands on deck and Catherine remained in the CIC while the battle raged outside. They took several hits, glancing blows that shook and rattled the ship, but did little more than weaken their shields for a moment before they returned to full strength.
Hours went by in what felt likes minutes and suddenly Shepard was back on the ship and Catherine was lifting her weary body from her seat and staggering out of the CIC. Shepard had told them right away that the Citadel was gone, stolen by the Reapers and taken to Earth. The Illusive Man's worst betrayal yet had been revealing their plans to he Reapers.
She told them that all this time they'd had the final piece of the super weapon in the their hands and hadn't known it. But now the Reaper had done half their job for them. The synthetic monsters were gathered around Earth and now half of what the Crucible needed to destroy them was there waiting. They just had to get to it.
In a daze CAtherine found her way down to the shuttle bay and crumpled into a heap onto James' cot. She slept for only an hour before James shook her awake and told her to follow him up to the CIC. Her uniform was wrinkled and smelled rank with the cold sweat of fear. Her hair was plastered flat to one side of her head and her cheeks felt flushed and numb from being woken too soon.
Half the crew was lined up along the walls of the CIC and Shepard was waiting at the ramp to the Galaxy Map. She was wearing her dress blues and her dark hair was pulled back in a tight, professional bun.
There was a deep rumble in the ship that vibrated through Catherine's whole body. Another ship had pulled along side.
"What's going on?" She whispered to James.
"Admiral Hackett's coming aboard," he replied just as the air lock open and the Admiral came through flanked on either side by soldiers in matte black armour. They both had their side arms drawn which Catherine found strange.
The Admiral walked with purpose down the hall and through the CIC until he stood right before Shepard whose back was ramrod straight, arms tight to her sides. They saluted each other, looking grave and serious, though Catherine was sure there was a hint of smile on Hackett's face.
"Commander," he said.
"Admiral," she replied in her wonderfully velvet voice.
"Are you ready to bring to might of the galaxy to bear on the Reapers?"
Catherine had a moment of panic at the question. Were they ready? Had they done everything they possibly could? Everyone in the galaxy was on their side. Asari, salarian, turian, krogan, quarian, geth, drell, elcor, volus, hanar, batarian, vorcha, even the rachni were there ready to fight. Was it enough? Could they have done more?
"Yes sir," Shepard said with a finally that seemed to crush all the doubt in Catherine's heart.
"Then let's make sure the fleets are ready." Hackett turned as Shepard indicated for Samantha to hail the fleets.
The galaxy map flashed and flicked, green lights appearing in a multitude of systems as the fleets indicated their readiness.
"All fleets reporting in sir," Samantha said, handing him a datapad with the information. He glanced at it and handed back to her before mounting the stairs to stand looking out over the CIC at the assembled crew.
He waited for a moment to ensure that all channels were open and then he spoke.
"Never before have so many come together - from all quarters of the galaxy. But never before have we faced an enemy such as this. The Reapers will show us no mercy. We must give them no quarter. They will terrorize our populations. We must stand fast in the face of that terror. They will advance until our last city falls, but we will not fall. We will prevail. Each of us will be defined by our actions in the coming battle. Stand fast, stand strong, stand together. Hackett out."
Catherine's heart swelled with pride as the conviction in Hackett's voice washed over her. She drank it in letting it spark the adrenaline she would need soon.
Hackett stepped down from the platform and took Shepard aside. They talked to quiet tones too soft to hear and then Hackett gave her a paternal squeeze on the shoulder and left the ship.
"Historic moment, Catherine," James was bent low to whisper in her ear. "Thought you might like to see it."
"It helped James. Thanks."
Shepard came over to stand with them, unbuckling the clips at her collar as she did.
"You're up, James," she said putting her hands on her hips. "You and Kaidan meet me below before we hit the relay."
"'Bout time, Commander," James said, flexing and cracking his neck.
He gave Catherine a slap on the ass and jogged to the elevator. As she watched him go she realized that it might be the last time she saw him.
"Excuse me, Commander," she said, brusheing past Shepard and racing to get to the elevator in time.
She slipped through the door at the last second and threw herself at James, arms around his neck, cheek to cheek.
"Whoa, what's this for?" he said, his breath hot against her ear.
"Don't die down there, Jimmy," she told him hoarsely. "We've got a lot of dancing to do still."
His arms tightened around her and he leaned back, lifting her right off her feet. She thought he might have been trying to say something, but no words came out. The elevator door opened and he let her go. Taking her hand in his he lead her across the deck back to his hidey hole amid the cargo crates.
When they got there he let go and took another few steps, standing with his back to her. Looking closer she could see that his hands were shaking. She closed the spaces between them and took on of his giants paws in both of her hands.
"What is it, Jimmy?"
"I've never had to say goodbye before." His voice was husky and choked like he was speaking past a lump in his throat. "Every other time I've gone into battle it just been me and my squad. My friends were always going into the shit storm with me."
"You left me behind before, James," she said, trying to be calm for him though she wanted to break down and cry. "This is no different."
"It is and you know it," he spun to face her and she could see his the emotion wreaking havoc behind his eyes. "This is the big one. The war to end all wars. There's a really good chance I won't walk away from this and I'm going into it feeling guilty about leaving you behind."
Catherine took a step back. "Are you mad at me?"
"Yes," he shouted. He ran his hands through his hair and sat down heavily on his cot. "Fuck. I'm not angry at you, Cat. I'm just angry."
She sat down beside him and hugged his arm, leaning his head down on his shoulder.
"Why did you have to go and make me love you?" he asked.
"You don't love me, Jimmy," she said.
"Sure I do," he replied as if she had just said the stupidest thing possible. "You're my friend. I love my friends."
"You've got other friends on the Normandy. How am I different."
"Because friendship forged in battle isn't the same," he said. "Sometimes it's almost like you're friends because you save each other's asses. Then there's friendships of choice. Actively choosing to be close to someone. Soldiers like me... we don't do that very often."
"Well, in that case, I'm honoured," she said, warming inside and giving him a kiss that she let linger a little longer than was appropriate for just friends. "But I'm not sorry."
"Neither am I, Catnip," he said with a smile, his anger fading away to nothing. "You should try to sleep. You've got about an hour before we hit the relay."
"Wear your heavy armour, James, and come back or I'll tell everyone you're afraid of moths," she threatened.
"I'm not afraid of moths," he said in confusion.
"Exactly, but won't it be awful if you go down in history as the big bag soldier who was afraid of a bug?"
"Guess I'd better come back then."
"Yes, you'd better had."
Somehow Catherine did manage to get another hour of sleep. She took her place in the CIC and ran a diagnostic of their systems. Everything was at 100%. She reported in to Shepard and listened as all other Chiefs did the same. The ship could not have been more battle ready.
Joker lined them up with relay and counted down. For the benefit of the crew, EDI flashed an image up on every screen of the ship. It took Catherine a moment to realize just what she was seeing.
The AI had done a LaDAR sweep of the system and marked a green dot on a map for every ship she pinged. There were hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. And then he fleets began signing in and EDI painted the marks new colours; orange for the turians, blue for the asari, purple for the quarian and geth, and so on.
Joker took them to the relay and the ships poured through after them. Catherine wish she could look out a window and see them, the largest fleet ever assembled with the Normandy at the head of it all.
At sublight speeds it took them fifteen minutes to make their way in system and to the vicinity of Earth. The CIC was unnervingly quiet, like the calm before a storm. The hairs on Catherine's arms stood erect and shivers ran through her body, her heart beating faster and faster as they neared their home.
"Get ready everyone," Joker said over the comm and then the ship rolled.
Catherine barely had time to think as they wove their way through the battle trying to get as close to Earth as they could before dropping the shuttle. Finally, Shepard deemed them close enough and they were away.
Joker took them into a steep climb and they rejoined the battle. Explosions rocked the ship and anyone standing had to hang on for dear life as they pinballed their way through the mess and debris of active warfare.
"Cortez is down," Joker said suddenly. "Shepard's on the ground though. They all made it. She's taking down the Hades cannon on foot."
Joker continued to keep them up to speed on things planet side right up until Shepard took down the cannon. And then a new battle erupted in the bridge. The rest of the squad was going down to the surface and Joker was not pleased.
He shouted at EDI to stay where she was, but she calmly told him that Shepard needed her avatar body and that she wasn't really leaving. Catherine's heart ached for Joker. EDI was his first real love and he had no idea how to react to her suddenly going into battle.
But leave they did and the ship felt empty without them. Catherine could almost physically feel the holes they left. They become such permanent fixtures and Joker wasn't quite as daring without them.
The guns fired with slightly less accuracy without Garrus' learned touch. The engine performance decreased without Tali's skilled hands. And Liara's soothing voice wasn't there to ease the souls of the people left aboard the fight the colossal beasts tearing away at the fleets.
And then two hours later, EDI was back. Catherine turned in her chair and called to the AI as she ran past her to the bridge. She heard Joker's cry of joy and surprise before the door hissed shut.
"EDI, you're back?" Catherine said into her mic.
"Yes," she replied. "There is a destroyed on the surface guarding the Reaper beam. My avatar is of better service here manipulating the targeting of the missiles they will need to destroy it."
The beam was their only path to the Citadel. The Ward arms were shut tight and the only way to attach the Crucible to the station was to open them. And now there was a Reaper in the way. But they'd brought down two of them. They could take down another.
"Can we have an update?" someone else said over the comms.
EDI repeated what she hold just told Catherine and then continued, "Shepard has taken Kaidan and Garrus with her to assault the beam. The rest of their squad is holding the forward operation base so they have somewhere to fall back to. Anderson is leading in the troops behind her. The situation is... intense."
Joker pulled them out of the thick of the battle and brought them in closer to the planet. The noise and vibration decreased as they left the dog fights behind.
Half an hour later there was a loud whoop from the bridge and EDI came back on the comm.
"The destroyer is down," she said proudly. "They are beginning their final assault."
Time continued to tick by and then Joker's voice blared through the comms again.
"Harbinger is going after Shepard," he shouted. "Strap in everyone. We've got to slow it down."
He rolled the Normandy and dove after the Reapers heading for London. Shepard had to reach that beam. She had to get those arms open or everything would be lost.
Complaints rained down on Joker. They crew wanted to know what was going on but all radio chatter was routed through the bridge. Finally, EDI opened the channel to the whole ship and everyone held their breath, waiting to hear if Shepard had made it.
A static burst deafened them all and then a deep, accented voice could be heard through the interference.
"Fall back... ...failed... ... all dead..."
Catherine's heart sank and she realized she was crying.
"She's not dead," Joker shouted. "Shepard's alive. EDI get me Hackett. She's not dead. I've got a signal from her subdural comm. It's weak, but it's there. I can't hear anything, but she might be able to hear you, sir."
For a long time nothing happened. The battle raged in space and on the surface, but the Citadel remained closed. Joker contacted the squad and found they were all alive. Cortez had commandeered a shuttle and was on his way to the ship with them.
Battered and bruise and covered in ichor, blood and ash, Kaidan came tearing through the CIC and onto the bridge.
"Get us as close as you can, Joker," he yelled. "If she gets those arms open we're going to drop in the shuttle and get her out."
"Jeff, a Reaper has a fix on us," EDI said.
"Evasive manoeuvres!" Joker shouted and the Normandy did cartwheels for him as he tried to shake the Reaper.
Catherine was thrown out of her seat as the ship was hit with a powerful blast from the Reaper's main gun. Sparks spouted from the wall behind her and alarms shrieked throughout the CIC.
Warning lights flashed on Catherine's console and she ignored the pain in her arm where it had been crushed between her body and the seat as she tried to figure out what the problem was.
"EDI, the oxygen production plant is offline," she cried over the din. "Can you bring it back up."
"I cannot, Catherine," the AI replied.
"I'm going below." She unstrapped herself and ran as best she could to the elevator.
The ship tilted and careened and she struggled to keep her balance. In the elevator she braced herself against the wall and the propelled herself out with a great push and raced for life support.
The door opened to a cloud of smoke and Catherine pulled her shirt up over her mouth and nose and persevered into the black veil.
She managed to get the fans on and the smoke cleared and found the source of the problem. A strut had come lose and punctured one of the large canisters that housed their oxygen supply.
Until she could isolate that tank from the rest no more oxygen would be pumped into the ship and they were on borrowed time. She heaved with all her might on the valve between the damaged tank and the one next to it, but it wouldn't move.
"The arms are opening," Jokers voice echoed through the room. "She did it! They're open!"
"Hackett is bring the Crucible in," EDI added.
Catherine's arms strained as she tried desperately to turn the valve but it was locked open.
"EDI, I need help. I need James," Catherine cried, tears of frustration coursing down her face.
EDI didn't reply but a moment later the huge soldier was racing through the door. Without a word he grabbed the valve and began heaving on it. Slowly it began to turn. James' face went red and the tendons in his neck stretched taut.
"There's too much pressure," Catherine said, pushing him away from the valve. "We have to vent it. Get back below and find the main pipe. You can vent it from there and I should be able to turn it."
"Got it," James said and ran for the door.
"James," she called after him.
He turned, one hand on the door frame to steady himself.
"Good to see you," was all she said.
"Likewise," he replied and then was gone.
Catherine had all but been ignoring the radio chatter as she struggled with the ox plant. Now she listened to the desperate, confused cries overlapping each other as everyone scrambled to figure out how to make the Crucible work.
"EDI," she said, trying to make her voice heard over the rest. "What's going on?"
"Nothing is happening, Catherine," the AI said, fear lacing her normally calm voice. "We still have a weak signal on Shepard, but we don't know how to activate the weapon. And we can't get close enough to the station to land or drop the shuttle."
A loud sputtering hiss drew her attention and Catherine saw the pressure gauges drop and sprang to close off the valve. It turned easily and the alarms shut off as the oxygen began to flow through the ship once more.
"Something's happening," Joker said. "The arms are opening further. I didn't know they could do that."
"Jeff, I'm detecting a massive power build up in the Crucible," EDI said. "We should withdraw."
"I'm not leaving Shepard." His voice was pained, but Catherine felt the ship bank sharply all the same. "We're coming back."
Catherine got to the seat in the corner and strapped herself in just as the ship began to rocket away.
"There is an energy wave behind us," EDI declared, her voice was panicked. "Get us to the relay."
"I'm trying," Jeff shouted back. "Brace for transit everyone."
The whole ship shook violently. Catherine locked her jaw to stop her teeth from rattling together and taking a chunk out of her tongue. The lights flickered and a high pitch whine filled the air. Catherine clapped her hands over her ears as the sounds increased and the shaking reached the point where the harness was barely holding her in her seat.
"Shit," Jeff's voice could barely be heard over the scream of tortured metal and the shriek of the straining drive core. "No no no no no no no."
Catherine's head slammed back into the wall and a flash of green burst before her eyes. The spin spun out of control, rolling and twisting. She clung to her seat and opened her mouth to scream out her terror but no sound came. Fire burned through her body and she was vaguely aware of EDI's voice telling them all to brace for impact.
They were going down. The Normandy was going to crash. They were all about to die.