**Disclaimer**

The author acknowledges lack of ownership of Mass Effect and any associated intellectual property.

Tela Vasir: Hard Point

I

The obsidian expanse of space outlined the hulking expanse of a human made Valdez class space freighter, stars faintly lighting up the ugly gray metal exterior as the craft gently spun on it's horizontal axis. The running lights were blacked out and the port holes and exterior viewing panels were shuttered closed. Large pock marks and destroyed GARDIAN laser modules gave evidence to a recent violence committed and a battle lost. The tell tale slight spatial distortion that would usually signify the presence of powerful shields was absent.

The three hundred meter craft was effectively dead in the water, menaced by a much more predatory looking ship situated off of the transport vessels bow. Sleek and graceful are words most would use to describe it; at least compared to the ugly, block-like modular design of the scarred freighter.

The Asari frigate Maidens Voyage rotated in sync with the listing vessel, keeping its primary dorsal mounted gun aligned in an obvious show of force. A threat that seemed to be producing results, the sub-light drives at the rear of the transport had powered down and the front docking bay doors had ground open in silent acquiescence to the implied statement.

Prepare to be boarded.

*()*

"Fuck."

The curse rolls easily off my tongue in a silent prayer as I blow air through clenched teeth directly into my armor's built in respirator. As always the hand me down smells like feet and burnt popcorn, a fact that I'm reminded of as I breathe through my nose to replace the air I just forced out.

I flinch visibly as something suddenly jumps at the corner of my field of vision but relax with a shudder as I realize it's only my H.U.D., counting down the time until my internal oxygen supply runs dry. Twenty two minutes and forty five seconds. Not the most reassuring. I briefly toy with the idea of shutting the timer off, but honestly I'm too scared to let go of my death grip. My omnitool seems miles away from my left hand and I expect the moment I let go it'll be too late.

My hands shake as I pull my arms tighter to my torso, reducing the distance between my shoulder and the polymer foam coated butt-stock of my M-8 Avenger pattern assault rifle. In response the aiming reticule projected on the inside of my helmets twin eyepieces tightens and floats upward, almost to the ceiling of the bulkhead door I was facing. I shift my whole body in agitation and force myself to relax and bring it back on target.

"Easy now FNG. Wait until we at least see tha bastards till ya break down!" Employee Level 3 Rodriguez admonishes over the open comm link, taking note of my tense stance. This of course produces a bout of laughter from a few of the other member of the four man fire team that has been stationed for security at this access junction.

"Stow it Rodriguez!" A no-nonsense female voice cuts through the chatter. That would my Team Leader, Senior Employee Level 1, Ana Ranston. Rodriguez grunts in acknowledgment and shoulders his rifle from behind a pair of transport containers muttering about "Fucking rookies." under his breath.

Slightly embarrassed I jump when I feel a slight pressure on my shoulder and look back to see Ranston resting her hand on my armor's shoulder pad. Like me her rigs painted a light sandy brown with the letters PSG, short for Privaron Security Group, stenciled in bold black letters across the left side of the chest-plate. On the right side is her last name above which sits SEL1 denoting her position in the Corporation's hierarchy.

"It's all going to be fine." her voice is reassuring if a bit forced and I feel a tad bit more steady than I did a second ago "This plan is going to work, it's a good one. Jacobs knows what he's doing, all we have to do is keep up momentum and fight through it." She squeezes my shoulder one more time and let's go before walking back to where Rodriguez is hunkered down.

As far as plans go, I guess it is pretty good.

Shut down the engines and drop shields to allow the boarders entry, meanwhile vent the ship's atmosphere and spread the three teams out along the different access hallways leading to the docking bay. When the enemy realizes there is no atmosphere ship-side, they should assume the ship suffered a catastrophic hit to life support; which would mean substantial casualties due to emergency depressurization. Wait for the pirates to commit to ransacking the cargo bay, then hit them simultaneously from three sides and in the resulting confusion use the chance to escape or at least try to obtain a few hostages for trade for out life. The last one isn't really part of the plan, but to me it sounds good.

Now that I think about it, it's a hell of a great plan, but I still feel like my stomachs about to burst out of my stomach. This was terrible, after four years working for PSG, living an easy life guarding celebrities and diplomats, bad luck had finally come to collect.

My squad has been contracted to guard and secure the Moonside Glory and it's cargoas it moves between some shit hole planet in the Attican Traverse and Bucklestien or something; I don't know I really don't ever pay very much attention to the mission briefings.

All I know is as usual it's good credits, forty five thousand credits, especially for only a weeks worth of work. It would take two or three years working in the agro-farms back on Eden Prime to pull that much. It's not the first time I've congratulated myself on dropping out of Vocational Specialization school to pursue a "career" as a private security contractor working for the eighth largest contracting company this side of the galactic center.

Well at least I would be congratulating myself if I hadn't all of a sudden found myself preparing to repel an indeterminate number of blood thirty pirate scum in the oxygen-less confines of a paper thin over-glorified tug boat.

"All team leaders, this is Jacobs" Our Squad leader, Sean Jacobs announces over the communications net "The enemy has entered the docking bay. Camera's show a single shuttle so expect a team to squad sized element. All teams report when in position."

The radio goes silent and the sweat that has been accumulating on my palms feels like it's overwhelming my insulating under-suits powers of absorbency. This is it! Just a few more seconds and I'll be entering into the next room and possibly end up dead.

'Don't think about it, think about something else! Something else...' My eyes drift to the right and I find myself looking to my Team Leader for guidance. As if hearing my question she holds up her left hand with the last three fingers extended and I takes a moment for me to kick myself out of my stupor and for four years of training to kick in.

I had learned the "Rolling T" along with many other movement formations and techniques in my initial training workshop I had attended when I first joined the company. Trained by veterans of the Systems Alliance Marines and even a few battered Blue Sun alumni, I know I have what I need to survive. Well at least not die right away. Maybe.

Moving into formation I take the left side of the hallway and cover the right, Rodriguez moves into position the right and orients his avenger to the left. EL2 Tien, the final member of our team comes from the rear where he was pulling rear guard and steps in between the two of us and about a meter behind. Ana stays in the middle as well but increases the distance to five meters behind Tien, facing forward with her weapon held casually in one hand, the other held to the side of her helmet.

"Bravo Team in position." the radio beeps as her message comes across the net, followed shortly by Alpha and Charlie.

I can't believe this is about to happen! I'm about to be put in a life or death situation where it's kill or be killed! I'm a twenty six year old college drop out playing at being a wannabe security guard! I don't know what to do, I shouldn't be here, I can't be here! I don't want to di...!

"Move!" The command snaps me out of the mental torture I was putting myself through as my mind blanks out and I start to move down the corridor, my weapon pointing down towards the closed bulkhead door, the targeting reticule moving from side to side as I move.

I've always been good at following orders, I don't know, it's like it gives me a goal to achieve, something for me to concentrate on. No initiative on my own though. Probably why I succeeded so well in high school but was destined to failure in the self regulated realms of higher education. Hmm, yeah that sounds about right.

I make sure to keep pace with Rodriguez as the shorter man is setting the pace. In a couple of strides we reach the door, Rodriguez places his hand over the doors holographic interface, hovering over the activation button.

"Go." Ana whispers, though it's quite necessary, our helmets are air tight and in a vacuum but it fits the desperate feel of the situation so I don't waste a second thought on it.

The door slides open and we rush in. I go to the left, Rodriguez to the right and Tien right down the center.

We see them before they see us, as Jacobs predicted four of them are busy trying to open one of the cargo containers while another six stand guard. I let out a mental sigh of relief as discount one of the terrible possibilities I had been contemplating. No Krogans. I'm terrified and I've only read about these vicious alien animals on the Extra-net. Nope. As soon as the enemies come into sight my H.U.D. adjusts and begins marking targets with red triangles. Distances begin to pop up next to them and I'm glad I paid a little extra to have this advanced software upgrade installed. Better than spending it on chems and booze I guess.

We rush to the first row of containers and take cover behind the sturdy steel boxes. I peek over the top of the container just in time to see Charlie and Alpha squads emerge from the other side of the room.

I guess they didn't have very much luck on their side, as soon as they entered the room one of the women, yes women, raised her rifle and released a long burst of fire towards the encroaching PSG employees. Immediately the other nine armored invaders snapped to, directing a sudden and overwhelming mass of fire at Alpha and Charlie before they had a chance to make it to cover behind the cargo containers. Two of the eight squaddies were knocked down, killed instantly as their shields failed and their armor was ripped to shreds as the pirates concentrated their fire. Upon depressurization the rapid change in pressure caused their wounds to expand and pop, turning them into little blood fountains as the liquid was sucked out of the rounds exit point and sprayed all over their comrades all before their armors Auto-Aid and repair systems had a chance to react. Not exactly heartening.

Neither was seeing the tell tale glow of biotics surround one of the attackers, followed moments later with an explosive distortion as she launched a ball of glittering, something, that seemed to track the movement of it's victim. When it hit it jerked the poor bastard back before ripping him to shreds with a powerful explosion. Literally to shreds, not limbs, shreds.

"Fire!" The command roared over the net as Ana opened up on the pirate bastards, soon joined by the rest of the team. Even I found myself joining in, sending an ill aimed volley careening into the shields of one of the women, this one dressed in a streamlined blue and white armor set. As the rounds bounced of her kinetic barriers, she whipped around and in good time about half of the attackers managed to get behind cover and start returning fire.

However the distraction worked well enough and allowed the two wounded teams to reach cover on the other side of the cargo hold. In addition one of the boarders was down, dispatched with a well placed burst by Ana and Tien. Purplish blue blood spurted out from the stump of a severed arm as the woman, no alien, attempted to staunch of life fluids from both her arm and credit chip sized hole on its abdomen.

'Asari' I mused, 'Probably Eclipse or Sirens' More than likely Eclipse with their light yellowish light armor plating.

One of the other creatures grabbed it's compatriot and started to pull it to safety only to fall flat on its face as a burst fired by one of the other teams punched right through its barriers and blew out through its chest plate, killing the thing instantly.

Any jubilation however was discarded almost immediately as Tien's head simply exploded. I guess that's what happens when a grain of sand propelled to the speed of light passes right through a man's cranium and figuratively pops his cork. His limp body dropped to the ground and I stared at it with a strange detachment.

I don't know why but I don't really care. I know it seems horrible but I didn't. Instead I just wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. My back aches from this damn armor and my rifles getting heavy. We gotta get moving.

"Sir! I'm gonna bound!" I yell and in a few seconds a marker appears on my H.U.D. with a blue arrow.

"Roger we'll cover you!" SLE1 Ranston shouts back, she and Rodriguez both leap out of cover and begin to fire, causing several of the aliens to duck behind cover to avoid the slugs.

Vaulting over one of the lower cargo containers, I rush for a few seconds before sliding into position behind a large red container. After a brief pause to cause to catch my breath, I take a knee and start firing around the side of the storage unit. Hey I'll admit my shots are wild, but that's okay because it's doing a damn fine job at suppressing the enemy.

"Set!" I shout over the net, probably a little louder than I need to but it gets the message across none the less, as I continue to fire. Pushing my weapon almost to overheating I manage to continue firing long enough for Rodriguez and Ana to move up on line with me.

At this time I had lost track of the other two teams as they had moved behind a couple of the large red containers. I guess they were alive though, as the majority of the alien invaders had oriented themselves facing away from us. Which made it pretty easy for our side to take advantage of their unprotected backs.

Not to say that the aliens were making it too easy. They bobbed and weaved with an almost unnatural grace. Well it would be unnatural, or at least un-earthly. Funny coming from a guy who's never been there, but hypocrites come from all walks of life.

The tall one in the white and blue armor was especially difficult to pin down. Cartwheeling with an excessively flamboyant flourish it avoided a hastily launched concussive shot and shot a volley of Inferno laced armored piercing rounds from her SMG. The rate of fire coming across the room slackened slightly and I just knew that had been a kill.

I tried to track it as it bounded back after fired but the two rounds that impacted merely dissipated off some shiny glowy blue tinged biotic barrier of some sort.

'Never seen that before.' I wondered pumping more rounds into the loading dolly that the alien had dived behind. I was starting to feel useless, my frustration growing as I became seemingly impotent to end this. Unable to even do damage to these foreign attackers.

'Calm down, breathe in, breathe out, at the height of your exhalation, pull the trigger.' I inhaled and POOF! had to duck as a round blew a chunk out of the shipping container and slammed into my helmet.

Blind-firing, I held my weapon around the corner and squeezed off a burst, then retracted and waited until Rodriguez and Ana began to fire. My weapon sufficiently cooled, I popped out again and scanned for a target, slowing my breath in preparation. The reticule comes to a stop over one of the barriers where I can just make out the edge of one of the aliens helmets below the lip. I pause and wait as a fragmentation grenade explodes inside the aliens hasty defensive perimeter. As the grenade detonated without a medium to transfer the shock wave the effects are lessened.

However shrapnel moving faster than the speed of sound is no joke itself, the alien who was just out of my sights learns.

Knocked off balanced by the grenade the squid head falls back and right into my reticule, landing on it's rear end. Its shoulders and head form a perfect triangle and my finger squeezes.

Now I swear time slowed down and I pictured a surprised female alien face before just after a moments hesitation I applied 5.6 pounds of pressure to the trigger and sent the rounds on their way.

The aliens brain matter was evacuated onto the ground as it gently fell; splaying on the ground as if laying down to sleep. I felt bad, if I was being honest with myself, maybe a little bit. Would of felt worse if I currently wasn't in a life or death situation. It was the first time I killed something and I couldn't help but think that was important in some way. But anyways that could wait until later. It was time to fight.

This whole time my heart had been pounding like an Expel 10 track and I have no way of knowing how much time has passed. It could have been 10 seconds or 10 minutes for all I knew.

A beeping alarm sounded in my ear as my omni-tool linked weapon informed me that it had overheated. It's the year 2170 and we still don't have a reliable way to keep a weapon from overheating every five minutes. With a tangible physical click the heat diffusing paddles retracted back into the Avengers side panels and I took this moment to move to the other side of the storage container. As I laid in the prone to mix up my silhouette I noticed with some despair that the Asari had continued to throw Warps and small arms fire into Alpha and Charlie squads. While I was waiting for my rifle to cool, the invaders had lost one. Meanwhile I could count at least 4 dead PSG squaddies splayed out in front of where they were pinned down.

I checked my life-support counter, seventeen minutes and twenty two seconds. Only five minutes? Maybe time had slowed.

I ducked back as the only blue armored alien threw a warp followed by a shot by its pistol, its SMG missing in action. The shot missed by a scant few centimeters, I could swear I saw it pass as it flew by; the heat of the Incendiary round on my face.

Seeing that it had forced me back behind cover for the moment, the alien spun about and gracefully threw a pulsing ball of light towards Alpha and Charlie, which upon reaching the container imploded into a singularity f some kind. My jaw dropped and hit the bottom of my face plate.

To wield that much destructive power...it was crazy. I watched in fear as six bodies were ripped out from behind their cover and literally crushed into powder as their body's were sucked into a miniature black hole.

'Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!' I'm gonna die I think. I start firing, trying to bring white plated Asari down. Like before though his rounds simply bounced off of powerful biotic barriers, reinforcing the idea that this creature was invincible.

The fire from the other side of the cargo bay had stopped, the PSG employees located there either dead or too wounded to resist any more. Either way the remaining a boarders were now free to focus fire on Bravo.

"Sir, what're we going to to do!" I shout over the radio. Panic had begun to take hold, there was

still six alien's remained and only three PSG squaddies left. There's no way we could beat them by ourselves, that blue banshee alone could of more than likely wiped us out. Game over man, game over.

I had been able to forget about my fear for a while but now it was creeping back in. I had to lean against the container to steady my trembling hands. No longer could I aim, the pressure was too great. So I contented myself to merely blind fire, ducking back further behind the cover as an especially large warp whizzed past.

"Sir! What are we going to do!" I ask again; hoping for a "fall back" or maybe even a "surrender", but when no answer came in a few seconds I glanced over. I guess I shouldn't of expected anything else. Ana laid slumped over the low barrier she had been taking refuge behind, obviously dead if the large pool of red liquid slowly growing under her limp form. Once again the sub par medical intervention system of the PSG armor failing to do an adequate job.

Rodriguez was a little farther past, clutching something on his helmet and slowly rocking back and forth. A tiny rivulet of blood poured from under his hand and I could guess that he wasn't long for the world.

Seeing no help was coming from there, the panic really began to set in. Really the only thing keeping me going was the fear of dying. I guess I just wasn't as good at it as the others.

Chuckling at my own morose sense of humor I was somewhat surprised when the top of the container next to me exploded in a shower of twisted metal and broken tubing and out poured a horde of chattering, clacking, insecticide, monstrosities.

Actually I was very surprised, so surprised to the point where I nearly did stain the inside of my armor.

'What the hell are these things?' I hate it's bugs and these things were huge! Coming up to my chest, with four legs and two arms; they were like ugly lobster monsters. 'That's what we were transporting? What the hell!?'

The things continued to stream from the wrecked container, first one and two, then a dozen and even more. A particularly ugly brute, all mottled blood red, turned it's mufti-faceted eye's towards me.

I wasn't having any of that, so I backed away, scurrying to the bulkhead. The big monster, though was more concerned with the wounded Rodriguez, who upon seeing the monstrosity attempted to stand on wobbling legs but was rendered prone as his appendages betrayed him.

"No, no! Get it away!" the man cried and fell on his hands and knees, frantically attempting to crawl away from the encroaching death. He wasn't nearly fast enough and I was forced to watch in horror and some fascination as the crazed monster pounced on the unfortunate man; proceeding to tear it him from limb to limb.

Not stopping at merely mutilating the corpse the crazed creature began to feed immediately, a large proboscis like appendage protruding from between a pair of four limber sharp tipped mandibles. With a shivering contracting movement tubes opened up on either side of this straw like aperture.

Soon enough thick mucous like streams of yellowish bile began to stream forth and pour on the tattered remains of Rodriguez's bisected torso. The bubbling, steaming concoction of unknown filth hit the cadaver and immediately ate through the ceramic plating of the armor and reached the soft flesh below, liquifying the entire thing in a matter of seconds.

What remained was a stinking pile of vomit colored liquid, where chunks of still melting organs and equipment slowing simmered. Not that I could smell it, but for some reason I doubted it smelled like potpourri and sunshine. The bug didn't seem to mind the smell or the taste as it attacked the sludge with a zest like I'd never seen, the crude straw like appendage sucking up the liquid in an almost comical fashion; the worlds most terrifying vacuum cleaner.

All this time I hadn't moved, as my terror meter had reached new heights. More and more of the freaky bugs streamed forth from the cracked container. Most heading towards the Asari, but a few small green variations streaming off to help big, dumb and ugly lap up the stewing remains of Rodriguez.

Realizing that I had better move away from the crazed feeding frenzy, I began to crawl away, intent on reaching the door from which we had entered just minutes ago. Going is slow and my life-support timer has moved to fifteen minutes and thirty seconds.

My heart pounding, I chance a quick glance back. So far so good, none of the little bastards has noticed me. I speed up, but a hustle in my step as I start to move faster, breaking into a crouched run as I approach the door.

Another glance back; I guess my luck has finally run out. Two of the small green variations have spotted me and are moving swiftly in pursuit. Seeing that it was hopeless to try for stealth anymore I start sprinting reaching the door in no time at all. Scrabbling for control I slam my hand into the open button and beat feat as the door opens.

Except it doesn't open and my head and chest slam into the orange "locked" holographic symbol.

'What the hell?' We had been locked in? But why? The room was already depressurized so there was no way for them to vent the hanger even if they wanted to. Spinning around I face the oncoming threat, my gut telling me that I had been left to die!

"Die you six legged pieces of shit!" I scream into an empty comm net and fire a wild burst at the aliens. I hit the lead one dead on and it unexpectedly explodes into chunks of chitinous flesh and fine green mist.

Green mist that begins to eat through the reinforced steel floor at an alarming rate. Ignoring the death of its buddy the second alien charges on through the mist and with a burst of unbelievable speed manages to latch onto my forearm, the armor sizzling and popping as the creatures mandibles dripped the same, albeit let concentrated venom as it's larger brother. The force it was applying was incredible and I could actually feel my bones grinding as the armor plating cracked and bent.

I couldn't shoot it, doing so would probably mean instant death. So I did the next best thing and punted the beastie as hard as I could. Hard enough that the smaller creatures head actually separated from it's abdomen. Not that the jaws itself let go, no that would be too easy. Stubbornly refusing to quit even in death the mandibles continued to leak caustic fluids all over my arm and before I knew it my flesh was burning with the pain of a thousand paper cuts. Using my considerable muscles I finally managed to pry the dis-attached head off.

Taking a moment I inspected the wound, thankful that my suits compartmentalization had worked as advertised, sealing the affected area with a slurry of medi-gel and sealing agents. However I had lost quite a bit of oxygen due to the breach, the timer down to ten minutes.

When I looked up I found I had much bigger problems than Asari pirates, being locked or good old asphyxiation. Two of the huge red-brown monstrosities were currently lunging for my face, sharp fiercely hooked claws spearing towards my inadequately armored chest.

I looked down at the letters on my right pectoral, MILLER, that is Joseph Miller, college drop-out and underpaid mercenary. I think I"m going to die.

Yeah definitely.

Or I would of; if the whole world hadn't turned upside down and everything sent flying uncontrollably. I figured it was the artificial gravity that had wonked out; probably something to do with the ceiling of the cargo bay suddenly exploding outward and peeling outwards like a skinned orange in an explosion of metal shards and rending sparks.

Beyond lay the open void of space, dark and foreboding. I found myself falling towards this abyss with no recourse, halfway through entered zero gravity as I left the sphere of influence of the gravity field. Somewhere along the way the power had failed and in addition the lights had quit working. Sensing this my armor switched to night vision, taking ambient light from the stars outside with thermal imaging and converting the world into a sickly shade of green and white.

I flailed for anything to grab as I was propelled up! Luckily I managed to kick off a floating container and change my trajectory to instead land on the jagged edge of destroyed ceiling. However with no way to stop I merely smashed head first. Stars blossomed all over my vision and I didn't even notice as the gravity shut off completely. Floating like a lost plain lands gasbag, surrounded by monsters and enemies, all alone, in the dark.

*()*

Twelve thousand meters away a sinister cruiser sized vessel opened its heat sinks and dissipated the heat built up from firing it's main spinal gun. Off in the distance, well beyond the view of the naked eye, the Maidens Run's bisected hull slowly drifted apart.

It was a shame that the freighter had been damaged in the blast, some of the cargo would be unrecoverable; which was an unforgivable loss of capital in an otherwise very sensitive venture.

'It was fortunate however that we managed to catch it this early.' Deep within the confines of the vessels CIC, a tall, craggy man leaned against a pedestal projecting a holographic representation of the wounded transport and the now neutralized pirate vessel. "Launch the recovery teams and move within visual distance to the target."

"Aye, aye, sir!" the helmsman acknowledged, working the controls to nudge the six hundred meter cruiser into

It was unfortunate that those pirates had managed to pick this particular transport out could be put down to just plain bad luck. However he had never been one to look blindly away from coincidence, there was a very real possibility that this was orchestrated by another outside factor. There was no need to take any chances. They had fired immediately from exiting FTL, the coordinates preplanned with help from their operative on the Transports crew, but still better to not take chances. He would have the marines sanitize the entire ship, crew and all. His men and women had been hand picked for this mission, fanatically loyal to the cause, so he couldn't predict any sort of disobedience.

'After all, we will not fail.' the gaunt man wiped some dandruff off of his pristine white dress uniform, hand absentmindedly brushing across a golden pin tacked to his lapel.

The letters T.F. emblazoned over a golden earth.

'We have so much more work to do.'

FIN

06JUN14 - Fixed formatting issues