Chapter 12

They recognized that in man they had an enemy who might prove formidable. There were all these marvels, like the distance pictures, there were the great cities at the height of their glory and power. And there were other things, too. Men had already begun to build ships that would take them across the emptiness. They had nothing like the ships of the Masters, but they had started and were learning fast. And they had weapons. One of these, from what he said, was of the nature of the iron eggs Beanpole had found in the Tunnel below the great-city; but as much more powerful as a bull compared to an ant. With one of these giant eggs, the Master told me, an area of land many miles in circumference could be scorched and blasted—one of the great-cities themselves completely obliterated.

The City of Gold and Lead

April 3rd, 2216

Sergeant Bill Sampson had, of course, been given training on nuclear weapons. Orbital Dropping Death Dealers were generally considered to be the only troops that would actually run into a post-nuclear battlefield - and, though few actually knew this, they would be correct in assuming so - and as such, they got training on the effects of the world's best, most silent killer: Radiation. Nuclear radiation killed as horribly as it did slowly, and nothing could help someone, once they began dying from it, all that could be done was to make them comfortable.

Temporarily, Sampson saw, as he raised himself to his side, and looked around the hospital the Alliance had erected, the War around them had been all but forgotten, things had calmed down, no one was trying to kill each other, not here, at least. He knew, of course, that the Armed Forces was twice as busy, conquering the rest of the planet and shepherding the slaves to safety, but here, in the outer perimeter of the nuclear detonation, there were no battles being fought, however temporarily that would last. Sampson saw, all around him, Humans, Quarians, and Batarians - both soldier and slave - all being treated as best they could for radiation poisoning.

All around him were beds, hastily thrown together mattresses and cushions, all crowding the tent they were in, with only enough room between them for the necessary technology, and so the doctors and medics could maneuver in between the beds. Sampson himself - suffering from minor poisoning, which, according to the doctors, was completely treatable, given a month's bed rest and a regular dosage of a medicine he hadn't caught the name of - was seated on a slightly more comfortable hospital bed, but that was comparing them to the beds in the Navy, which felt about as comfortable as squishy boulders. Next to him he saw a Quarian Marine, who had an even more minor case of poisoning than Sampson did; Quarian enviro-suits weren't lead-lined like the Radiation Suits Humans used, but they certainly helped keep the Quarian soldiers from being outright killed by the fallout. Luckily for Quarians, it was mandatory to get a dose of QIS 612 if they planned on joining the armed forces, so the EMP-Hardened nanomachines were constantly hard at work keeping their naturally weak immune systems, up and running, and combating the radiation sickness. Had they not had these artificial immune systems, the surviving Quarian Marines may very well have all died within hours of the attack.

Sampson looked past the sleeping Quarian, and saw, way on the other end of the lengthy tent, the dividing flaps that separated the Humans, Quarians, and Former-Slaves, and the Hegemony Forces themselves. They were the ones resisting Human treatment, and they were the reason why Alliance Marines - their armor environmentally sealed, and their helmets replaced with gas masks - were guarding the doctors and medics, ready to subdue anyone at a moment's notice.

Seeing the Hegemony Soldiers resisting the Alliance Medics so fervently triggered something in the veteran OD3's mind, simply put, Sampson had no idea how the Alliance would respond to this attack. His race's 'eye for an eye' mantra only really worked because it applied to Alliance Territory, this was a Batarian world, the main casualties that had resulted from the bomb were Batarian forces, slaves, and civilians, so Sampson had no honest idea what they would do because of this. Responding Nukes for Nukes would only lose the Alliance a lot of credibility, seeing as how they would be slaughtering the slaves they were coming to save, but not responding would show the Galaxy that the Alliance had a weakness, when it came to its word: If they were put into a position where an eye for an eye would go against their word, they would go for their word first, and vengeance second. In other words, failing everything else, the Alliance would simply throw bodies at this problem, seeing as how responding with a Nuclear Weapon would destroy some of their credibility; Sampson could almost feel the bullets flying through the air already, and wondered how long it would be before he leaped onto Khar'Shan.

Sampson's thoughts were interrupted by a quick brush of wind, and a loud gasp. The voice - while muffled and slightly synthesized by the radiation suit its owner wore - was one that filled Sampson with feelings of warmth, glee, sadness, and fear all at the same time.

"Dad!" Sampson heard his daughter shout.

With some effort, Sampson flopped back onto his back, and looked to his left, he saw his first - and only - born waddle up to him, obviously annoyed at the thick suit she had to wear to keep her safe from any sort of residual radiation, or some sort of sickness the contaminated may have gotten. He couldn't see his daughter's auburn hair, but assumed that it had been pulled back into some kind of bun, or perhaps a hair-net. Her dark brown eyes - that and her dark skin color, both traits of her mother - were filled to the brim with concern, and more so with tears ready to spill, all directed at her father. Jillian Sampson fell to her knees next to her Father, she took his hand in hers as another figure in a bio-hazard suit entered, this one Asari in species, and from what he could see of her covered face, absolutely befuddled in appearance. The Asari held the appearance of someone who hadn't seen color their entire life, and had suddenly had the entire rainbow injected into their eyes, the simple confusion in her eyes told Sampson all he needed to know about her, she was a slave, and if he had to guess, had been a slave for a very long time. The only questions he wanted to ask – where Jillian had picked her up and why in the name of everything that spawned from Earth she hadn't left the planet – were stolen from him when his daughter spoke, squeezing his stiff hand tightly as she did.

"Jesus, Dad!" Said Jillian, as she looked at Bill's sorry state. He couldn't blame her, the shockwave had fractured many of his ribs, he'd gotten several gunshots he hadn't even remembered, and his right arm had a hairline fracture that had no doubt come from the several direct punches to the Batarian's thick skull. It was a common misconception that OD3's got light bio-chemical augmentations to help survive their falls, more to the truth, it was their power armor that let them do many of the feats they had become legendary for, though skill did factor into it, at the end of the day they were still Humans, with all the weaknesses and frailties that came with the genes. "I know you're protective… But did you have to nuke the poor bastards?" She and he couldn't help a smile, being raised around the military her entire life, Jillian had quickly picked up on the satanic sense of Humor the Human Armies were infamously known for.

"Oh, you know me…" Said the smiling, wounded veteran, as he lost himself in his daughter's beautiful eyes. "Gonna return anything they do to my daughter… A million fold oughta do it." He cracked a wide grin, the skin and muscles on his face straining a bit to make it work.

"Well, it's appreciated… But did you have to try and survive it? You're tough and all… But still…" She looked at him, her face smiling but her eyes frowning in concern.

Bill shrugged as well as he could, given he was still in the hospital bed and many parts of him were restrained by body-casts, "I'll have you know, girly, that nuke wasn't ours." He said, going serious, "I've no clue where it came from, but the damn thing nearly killed me. Heat wave fried a bunch of my armor's more fine motors, I'll be out of the action for a few weeks at least, as they ship in new Suits." As his daughter nodded, Bill couldn't help but notice the Asari who was still watching him intently. "So... Who's the friend?" He asked, nodding his head to the blue-skinned alien neuter, "and why the hell aren't you two offworld yet?!"

"Oh, oh!" Jillian seemed a little flustered, as she got to her feet, and made a gesture to the Asari. "Dad, this is Saira Nel. She's a Clanless Asari, who's been here for…" She paused, and after a reassuring nod from the Asari, "well, a real long time." She paused, "and... Well, we were going to make it out of the transports a few hours ago but then the nukes fell, the Alliance froze all air and space traffic for twenty four hours, so we got shipped here for the better conditions."

Bill chuckled, "my ass, better conditions." He grunted, before he looked to the Asari, "you kept my little girl safe, did you?" He asked her, "showed her the ropes, made sure the Bastards didn't hurt her?" He spoke firmly, unwittingly snapping the Asari back into her submissive attitude and sapping her of the curiosity that had slowly been bubbling to the surface ever since it had sunk in that they were on the run for freedom.

Saira nodded quickly, "yes, master." She stammered quickly, lowering her head and bringing her arms behind her, surprising the Suicide Leaper. "I instructed the newcomer on the ways of the house and made sure she didn't make too many grievances against the family." She gulped, though through the suit Sampson didn't see it. "I hope I haven't offended."

Sampson stared at the Asari, eyes wide and unblinking and his characteristic scowl slackened a bit out of shock. He wrenched his hand from his daughter's grip and rubbed his stubble, feeling the hairs on his chin rub up against his hand as he worked out how to properly respond to this. Truth be told, the Dealer had seen many things during his career in the military, he'd seen dead people, blown apart bodies, eviscerated organs, he'd even seen Rebels torching schools filled with children, but he had more or less been prepared to respond to all of this, he'd known how to react to all of it, mind-and-body broken slaves, however, was something he'd never expected to encounter or prepare for. In hindsight, given the immensity of the galaxy, he knew he should have at least considered the possibility, but he never had, and thus, he had to actually think before he responded to this.

Eventually, he made the decision that he had to approach this woman as he would a young child. "Little lady, I don't know what the Hegemony has put you through, or for how long, but right now, you are not a slave, so please don't talk to me like that." He said bluntly, "I'm just a Spec-Ops grunt, not even an Officer." He said, sinking a bit deeper into his bed, though still seated somewhat upright.

Saira blinked, still not keeping eye contact with the Dealer as she tried to wrap her head around his words, eventually responding automatically, "yes, master."

Holy Christ, these guys did a number on her. Thought Sampson, as he kept his gaze with the former slave, before looking back to his daughter, silently asking if he should do something else, to which she shook her head.

"Alrighty then, Girly, you might want to head out, now." Said the Sergeant, "much as I like talkin' to you, the Officers are going to be coming through here and I don't want you to miss the next transport." He said, determinedly. " 'sides, there's still a war going on, however the hell long it's still going on."

"Can you see them?"

"I can count eighty nine hostiles within my line of sight."

"Hunter Zero Two confirms eighty nine hostiles."

"Did they leave our satellites alone? Can we use those?"

"No. They were very thorough in their pre-invasion tactics. EMP Spires, Anti-satellite strikes… I heard they even took out the public Hunter bases."

"Obviously Intelligence is doing something right if they hit the public bases and not the real ones."

"Quiet." The deep, baritone voices were silenced by the deepest of them all. "Spire."

Looking through the scope of his sniper rifle, Hunter Zero-Two looked at the camp the Humans had made. The nuclear weapon they had dropped upon the city had only been a few dozen kilometers from their nearest EMP Spire, which was the primary reason Siler's Civilian Corps was being so ineffective, because they had to rely upon deactivated, fried weaponry to fight the Humans and their damned chemical-reaction weapons, which weren't even mildly annoyed by EMP waves. The spire was an enormous object, extending at least seventy meters into the sky. The Siler Protection Forces - the Hegemony's Military Arm of the colony - had attempted to drop missiles down upon it, but it had protection.

Humans and their affinity for energy shields. The Human-Turian War had shown the Galaxy that the Humans were very creative with their war-tech, the Energy Shields revolutionized the way the Council had thought of protective shielding, but the Council had not the energy sources the Humans had at their disposal. The result of Council experimentations into Human Shielding tech was what Humans called 'Onion Shields', essentially the Council had energy shields for their warships, that were layered on top of their kinetic barriers, resulting in a shield that nullified the Humans' pesky Antimatter Weaponry, and helped to slightly reinforce the ships' main barriers. But the Humans still knew the technology, they had energy shields in all shapes and sizes, shields small enough for their infantry, and big enough for their starships, and everything in between. They were strong, too. Whereas the Council Energy Shields were more like shooting into paper, Human Energy Shields were like shooting into a six and a half inch thick stone wall.

In order to counteract the 'all protecting' Human shields, the Council - and all species utilizing Kinetic Barriers - had to severely up the sensitivity to their Kinetic Barriers. Whereas, during the Human-Turian war, they were only sensitive to objects moving at certain speeds, only obtainable by Element Zero Charging, now they were far more sensitive, to much slower objects. During the Human-Turian war, the Kinetic Barriers had been completely circumvented by Human Bullets, the bullets had simply moved too slow for the barriers to detect them. Now though, with the far more sensitive barriers, Human bullets were like any other slug, they were deflected. The only advantage Human bullets had now was their surface area, and their stopping power, both of which, were in abundance.

Right now, the Batarian Hunters were staring at the Human-made EMP Spire, which was being protected by Human shielding tech. The Human Shields were so powerful, that the Hunters had to assume the Humans were using 'Hardened Shields', essentially meaning that the Humans had layered dozens of shields on top of each other, 'thickening' them, and making the barriers practically indestructible. This was technology that, aside from their command posts and important battlefield locations, only their SIGMA Operatives had access to. The Hunters knew that they could have a sustained assault on the Spire for hours, and they would only take out half of the shields that were wrapped around it, so they had to infiltrate the base and destroy the generators powering the shields, then take out the spire itself with a combination missile/shaped explosives strike. Others would call it simply suicidal, but that was where the Batarian Hunters came into play.

Whereas other Hegemony Forces - the Planetary and Void Forces - simply relied upon numbers and brutal weaponry, the Batarian Hunters relied upon stealth, skill, and brutal weaponry. The Hunters were, essentially, the only Special Forces the Hegemony had to offer, and all of their colonies had a detachment of Hunters. Hunters were an all-around special forces group, they could destroy enemy encampments without being seen, and rush straight through enemy offensive/defensive lines to make breaks in their cover. Hunters were legendary amongst the Hegemony Forces, not just for their skill, but for their reputation. Humans had their SIGMAs, their 'unbeatable warriors', and the Batarians had their Hunters; they weren't augmented like the Human forces, but they were trained in hellish ways to make them nigh-unbeatable.

This operation here, would prove to be the Hunters' most largest operation since they had worked alongside the Turian BSF, or Beyond Special Forces, during the Vorcha wars. All around the planet, Hunters were positioning themselves around the EMP Spires, the Planetary Leader had decided that the way to win his colony back would be to bring the power back under Batarian hands, and the way to do that was to destroy all the Human Electro Magnetic Pulse Spires, so he'd called in the Hunters, every one the colony had to offer. It had taken them days - all but one of the days the war had been going on - but now they were all ready, and the mission was underway.

"The spire is in the center of their camp." Reported a Hunter, "I see at least ten guards patrolling it."

"The power station is near the western side of their camp, six guards, in N7 armor."

"Most likely they've got a carrier waiting in atmosphere, ready to drop their Death Dealers."

"Power sources indicate gunships are not a kilometer away, waiting to be called in. Assume fighter-craft and bombers are ready too."

"Be ready to move in on my mark. Three… Two… O -" Hunter Zero-Zero was interrupted by the voice of Zero-Four.

"All freeze. Reference point Herly Capitol Tower." Zero-Four said quickly.

"What do you see?"

"Hold…" A pause for several seconds, "there it is again."

"I saw it too." Said Zero-two, as he stared down the scope of his suppressed rifle. Far behind the Human camp was the city, and the city's tallest standing building was its Capitol Tower, which had had its uppermost quarter torn off by a Human air-strike; the Hunters knew not what weapons the Humans had used to do so, but the words 'Hyper-implosive' did make the radio several times. What the Hunters had seen were the telltale glints of Sniper Rifle scopes, obviously their wielders were long-range reconnaissance troops. Zero-Two shook his head, it wasn't enough that the Humans had literally cleared out his home city in a matter of hours, but now they were using the city's corpse to make sniper's nests and further attacks on any retaliatory Hegemony strikes.

"Sniper's glint." Reported Zero-Three, as Zero-Two switched off the safety on his rifle.

"What do we do?" Asked Zero-Five.

"Zero-Two, do you have a shot?"

"Sun's behind us." Said Zero Two, as he put his scope to its maximum, 20-times zoom. He could just see the Human soldiers, they too had N7 armor, and behind them he could see what looked like a small camp, there were two tents, a cooler, and other such Human necessities, it wasn't just a Sniper's Nest, it was a Sniper's home. This suggested to the Hunter that the two he saw, the spotter and the shooter, weren't the only two there. "No glint on our end." He said, "switching to Thermal."

"Zero two, you seeing what I'm seeing?" Asked Zero Three, as he too switched to thermal view.

"Four thermal signatures. Two outside, sniper/spotter, two inside… Replacements?" Zero-Two reported.

"Can you kill them?" Asked Zero-Zero.

"My Sniper has to cool down after three shots. It'd damage the heat sink if I fired four, but it's doable, if I remove the heat-safety."

"Do it."

"Removing Heat-safety." Zero-Two looked away from his scope and looked at the side of his rifle. It was a long weapon, about two and a half times the length of his arm. It fired anti-material rounds, capable of punching through infantry armor with ease, and light vehicle armor; another advantage Human armor had was that it was designed around their weapons, meaning they were designed to take a lot of punishment. Council armor was designed around Mass Accelerated Rounds, they deflected kinetic energy, dispersed it outwards, and then protected against the round itself, whereas Human armor was designed to deflect it all, and take the hit. Human armor was thick, thick enough that the only way to get a sure-fired hit on a Human, first shot, would be to load armor piercing mods, the problem with that was that he couldn't load the disruptor rounds that would kill their shields faster.

To counter this, Zero-Two loaded explosive mods onto his rifle. The shields would deflect the explosion, but the slug would overwhelm them and pass through their armor. Zero Two looked at the blue button in his rifle, 'blue for cool', was the rule amongst MA Weapon holders, 'red for hot', and then there was 'black for emergencies', which essentially turned off the safeties that forced the weapon to stop firing so it could cool down. He knew he ran the risk of turning the heat sink into slag, and destroying the weapon, but emergency ejectors and spare sinks were what helped circumvent this.

Zero-Two looked through his scope, after making the necessary changes to his weapon. The Two Humans were still there, scanning their sector. He inhaled deeply, held it for a second, and exhaled, at the bottom of his exhale, he pulled the trigger twice. Two slugs silently soared through the air, and just as they slammed into the two Humans and exploded, Zero-Two pulled the trigger twice more, his HUD blaring at him that his weapon was dangerously overheated. The first two rounds slammed into their targets and exploded, the Humans' heads now piles of evisor meat. The second two soared past the deceased Humans and ripped into the tents behind them, they too exploded, and killed their targets.

Quick as a flash, Zero-Two, Zero-Three, and the other five Hunters got to their feet. Zero-Two switched his white-hot Heat Sink and slammed the cool silver one into place, as he moved down the steep hill, towards the Human encampment. His cloak bent the light around him, keeping him invisible as he fiddled with the weapon's machinery, and got the magazine charged and ready for use. His HUD Reported that it would take thirty Hegemony Standard seconds for the weapon to be fully cooled, so he collapsed the weapon and pulled out his pistol, a bulky, albeit suppressed weapon of lethal power. It was held tightly, professionally in his hands as he and his squad-mate snuck through the waist-high grass surrounding the city, and subsequently the Human encampment. The sun was low in the sky behind them, quickly descending into the night the Hunters preferred to operate in.

Zero-Two's HUD showed him the location of his similarly cloaked seven squad mates. The Hunter couldn't understand exactly why the Humans had gone for an actual cloak, for their stealth-cloaks, it seemed very wasteful to him, but in the end it didn't really matter, he stalked through the grass.

"It doesn't look like they heard the explosions." Came Zero-Six.

"Of course they didn't, the city is far behind them, and I myself can hear the sounds of distant battle... Likely they'll think it was either that, or undetonated ordinance." Zero-Four brashly remarked. "Hell, some shells from the Krogan Rebellion still -"

"That is irrelevant, Zero-Four." Came Zero-One.

"Searchlights, get down below the grass." Said Zero-Zero, as he and the other seven crouched low below the gray-brown grass. Their movements did disturb the grass around them, but the searchlights seemed not to notice.

Zero-Two couldn't help but think something was wrong, tactically, surrounding your base camp - and the object that is securing your dominance on the planet - with waist-high grass, that could be easily crept through, made absolutely no sense. The Humans had to be up to something, but their mini-drone reconnaissance had brought up no motion sensors, minefields, or any sort of defenses aside from the perimeter of the camp.

Perhaps they simply overlooked it? Thought Zero-Two, as they continued to silently creep through the grass.

After two minutes passed, they reached the threshold of the Human camp. They had to wait five minutes before a break in the patrol allowed them all to enter. They gave a quick update with the other few dozen other Hunter Squads, who were all around the planet executing the same mission. Everything was good, so Hunter Squad Zero broke up, three of them moving for the Spire's generators, the final five moving for the Spire itself.

Zero-Two didn't like his surroundings. The planet around them was silent, save for the distant sounds of the raging war, however this camp sounded like the city it rested outside of, should have sounded, it almost drowned out the distant reports of gunfire and explosions. Zero-Two heard the light-hearted chatter of the Human and Quarian soldiers in their respective tents, he heard laughter and banter, he heard rumors being tossed about, and stories being told. Zero-Two didn't like Humans, not at all, they fought savagely, and yet outside of battle they totally betrayed the image of the all-defeating warriors they portrayed themselves as, it was so inconsistent it made his stomach hurt. At least the Quarians were a bit more predictable, Zero-Two himself had tortured a few of them before, all he had to do was bring in a little mud and put his knife to their suit and they would start spilling all of their secrets.

"Freeze." Zero-Zero ordered, halting himself and his squad mates.

An instant later a large group of Humans in their 'Military Casual' fatigues passed by them, Zero-Two could hear what they were talking about.

"I swear, man, you seen those SIGMA Guys?" Asked one of the Humans, as the group - much to the invisible Hunters' annoyance - paused to hear his story, "I swear I saw one or two of 'em without their helmets... Jesus, the looks on their faces, they look like demons man, I swear."

"Demons? Seriously? They're Human like the rest of us, Jack."

"Yeah, but what about those ones following that guy in the suit? I saw one of those guys doing maintenance on his helmet, his skin was pulled tight against his skull and he looked like he hadn't eaten in weeks... and hell, his buddies looked like they'd just as soon kill me as they would kill a Batarian! They look damn scary! Especially the ones who've seen combat, those torched and scratched armor plates, shredded skin suits, with the holes and the tears on 'em? God damn, I nearly pissed myself."

"You actually saw that guy in the suit?"

"This is getting boring." Zero-Zero whispered, still immobile.

"Yeah, man. His skin was so pale he looked sickly, and his dark green eyes made me think he knew what I was thinking!"

"No way."

"But he had SIGMA bodyguards! He's got to be in AI, how the hell else would he be here?"

"Why would he be here, though? What reason would there possibly be to -" An explosion, close and loud, silenced the Humans and startled the Batarians.

"Zero-Four, what the hell are you thinking?" Demanded Zero-Zero.

"Gas attack!" Shouted Zero-Four, over the sound of Human and Quarian shouts of fear. "Gods, it's everywhere!" He shouted, as the base's alarm began blaring loudly, and the Humans began tearing out of their tents, only to be stopped cold by a sight the second Hunter team noticed a moment later.

Thick, dark green smoke was pouring through the base in columns, as an Alliance Shuttle soared overhead, its bay-door opened, which revealed a sight Zero-Two would never forget. There was one Human, standing in between five SIGMA Operatives, the Human was wearing a gas-mask, but it didn't mask his dark green, almost evil eyes. His skin was a pale white, and his hair was jet black, he wore a dark grey suit, and he looked at his dying brethren with an air of disinterest.

Chaos quickly followed the chemicals, as the Hunters sprinted through the Base, determined to complete their mission, using the attack to their advantage. The Humans were sprinting about, some running from the smoke, some - with masks - running into it to grab their friends. It only took seconds for those exposed to the Cloud to die in agony, as it looked like the blood from their bodies was leaking from every available orifice, and when there were none left, it seeped through their very skin. Even the Quarians seemed to be affected by the cloud, though in a different way. They quickly fell to the ground, violently vomiting in their masks, forcing them to rip the protective face pieces off, or risk choking on their own vomit. The result was exposing them to the cloud, which seemed to simply cut off their air supply, as they began choking on some unseen substance. The Hunters - fighting off panic - knew that the only way to get out of here, and to put the Humans out of their misery, would be to complete their mission.

"All Hunter teams, this is Hunter Squad Zero, we need an update now!" Zero-Zero roared.

"Hunter Squad Zero, all squads report ready, on your go we will launch the strike." Came the voice of the Planetary Leader.

"I need a change of munitions, you need to firebomb this whole area! Nuke it if you can, someone unleashed a chemical attack and its spreading alarmingly fast!" It was true, the cloud had already spread halfway through the camp, the Hunters found themselves within the cloud, but thankfully their suits protected them.

"Repeat yourself Hunter… Chemical attack?"

"Yes!" Roared Zero-Zero, as they made it to the Spire, to find it thankfully void of protectors.

"Contact!" Zero-Two heard, before he felt bullets slam into his barriers. "SIGMA!" He heard too, Zero-Two dived for cover, just shy of the spire.

He looked around the vehicle he was using for cover, but the smoke was so thick he couldn't see a few inches in front of his face, the only indication he had that he was being attacks was the trails the Human Bullets were leaving in the smoke. He and the other Hunters began firing blindly in the direction the bullets were coming from. They had to take extra care not to allow their shields to fail and their armor be breeched, otherwise they would be exposed to the ever-expanding cloud.

"Zero-Zero, the generators have been destroyed!" Zero-Two heard over the radio. An instant later, a loud explosion could be heard, and the piercing light behind them faded out of existence.

"Hammer down!" Shouted Zero-Zero, before a wall of bullets - deafeningly piercing the air and tearing through the cloud - broke through his barriers and shredded his armor, exposing him to the unforgiving cloud.

Zero-Two screamed in fear and got back into cover. His motion tracker must have been malfunctioning, because it showed him no enemies, when there were obviously thousands shooting at him. He looked to the sky, his last vision was of the shuttle's bay-door closing and then the shuttle rocketing away, before the cloud choked out the sky itself.

"Sir, permission to activate?" Asked the Operative standing next to the gray-suited man.

There was utter silence, as the Man stared at the expanding cloud. The Shuttle had rocketed away towards the nearest city's outer limits, he could clearly see the cloud from here, as it expanded to its pre-programmed shape, an armed-spiral much like the Milky Way. It was still expanding, in all directions.

"Batarian Fire Bombs are on their way, sir… They'll destroy the machine if we do not act."

More silence, the Man removed his gas mask and continued to look at the Cloud's progress, his expressionless face showed an extreme lack of interest. His armored companions stayed silent for a moment longer, and were about to speak again before he spoke clearly, his deep voice cutting through the silence.

"Do it." And with his order, the Operative next to him pressed the button on his detonator.

At the Human camp, an orb of blue-gray, bright light expanded from its center. The orb absorbed everything in its path, expanding to a spherical shape twice the size of the Cloud. For two seconds it expanded, for another second it waited, before it disappeared anticlimactically. Nothing was there, in its wake. The ground, the air, the people, everything that had been enveloped by the orb had simply disappeared.

"Reports coming in from Destination Alpha, they're all there, perfectly preserved." Said the operative, as, in the distance, the bright flares of enormous rockets could be seen, getting larger as they approached.

"Project Everett has begun." Said The Man, as he stared at the aftermath of his experiment. "Detonate the Bomb. I don't want Destination Siler to be there if McGraw ever finishes his Traveler Program." A pause, "take us to Destination Omni, I have to wait for the High Chancellor to contact me, before I can begin Test Two… Have the data on the Ancients' satellite grid waiting for me when I get there." He ordered, a quick recognition phrase from his guardians, and then an Entry Point opened in front of the shuttle; the shuttle shot forth like a bullet, into the dark green portal, before the Entry Point disappeared, leaving no trace of them having ever been there.

A/N: Hey folks!

Sorry for the delay, work has slowed down between me and my Beta, and when coupled with school and other IRL issues, TSW's production has slowed down considerably.

Not much to say here, though I do have a poll I'd like you all to vote in! You can find more details on my profile.

'Till next time!