Chapter Ten - Eden Prime Part Two
Constant, Eden Prime, Utopia System, Exodus Cluster
April 6, 2183
His rifle raised, Nihlus rushed down the hill towards the spaceport. Like most human colonies, it was a very piecemeal bit of construction. There were still pre-fabricated buildings everywhere, slowly being replaced by more permanent structures as the colonists worked to build their new homes. A large loading dock sat at the bottom of the hill, next to a small train station that looked like it led to the station proper. He kept his rifle raised, his breathing steady, careful as he listened for any sign of movement. He had yet to find anyone in the colony, and it was setting him on edge. Over three million colonists, and he had yet to see a single one.
That wasn't right.
Crouching low, he ducked behind the platform of the loading dock, seeing movement above him. Nihlus took a deep breath, steadying himself. Nothing was going right about this mission, and he was going to be having stern words with someone when he got back to the Citadel. Whether it was the Councilors, the head of the STG, or an unlucky bar patron would all be determined in the next few minutes.
His own little moment of contemplation complete, Nihlus lunged out from behind the cover, rushing up the short flight of stairs in nearly a single bound.
Reaching the top, Nihlus froze. His mandibles widened in surprise, and he couldn't help himself as he lowered his rifle ever so slightly at just who he saw standing there.
Saren Arterius, the man who had trained him from the moment he had found him with the 43rd Marine Division, stood with his back turned to him. His armor was unmistakable, but it looked like it had seen a lot of battle since they had last seen each other.
"Saren?" Did the Council not trust him? Saren was only ever sent for the worst of the worst situations, where survivors were not expected. For him to show up here… it didn't bode well for the human colony.
Saren turned, and Nihlus took a step back in shock. The older turian looked different. His right arm had been replaced at some point in the last year with a mechanical appendage, covered in pipes and wires. A product from one of Saren's many investments on Noveria, he was sure.
"Nihlus." Saren nodded his head in greeting, meeting his protege's eyes. He strode forward confidently, almost a foot taller than Nihlus himself.
"This isn't your mission, Saren." Nihlus couldn't keep his curiosity out of his voice as he stepped forward to greet his mentor, shaking his hand in welcome appreciation. If things were going south, having Saren around would greatly increase his own squad's chances of getting off the planet alive. He lowered his rifle. "What are you doing here?"
"The Council thought you could use some help on this one," Saren said, stepping forward to place a hand on Nihlus' shoulder. He could feel the younger turian relax ever so slightly at his touch, his breathing becoming a little easier. Perfect
"I wasn't expecting to find the geth here," Nihlus admitted. He looked past the space-port, at the towering ship beyond. From what little he knew of the machine race, they hadn't advanced much further than the rest of the galaxy. To have been able to create a ship like that implied a lot of things that Nihlus wasn't very comfortable with. He stepped past Saren to get a better look. "This situation's bad."
"Don't worry," Saren spoke, his voice reassuring. "I've got it under control."
A faint cry grew louder, but before Nihlus could react to it he found himself tackled to the ground.
A shot rang out.
A cry of pain.
Rainbow Dash lay still on Nihlus' chest, blood starting to bubble out from the hole in her armor. Saren stood a few feet away, his pistol raised, a snarl on his face. Grabbing her, Nihlus rolled into cover, even as he struggled to believe what had just happened.
He fired out from behind the crates he had rolled behind in Saren's general direction. "What in the name of the spirits are you doing, Saren?"
Everything fell silent, and Nihlus took the chance to let his rifle cool.
Leaning out from behind the shipping crates, Nihlus cursed to himself when he found that Saren was gone. He wouldn't be seeing him again, not if he didn't want him too. Instead of rushing after him, Nihlus turned his attention to Rainbow Dash.
"Shepard!" He barked into his radio as he pulled out his medical kit. The Pegasus had been shot, and she was unconscious, all because she had saved his life. "Flying Officer Dash has been shot."
"What?" Riley's confusion was evident in her voice over the radio, followed quickly by her anger. "Nihlus, what the hell happened?"
"A colleague of mine, Saren Arterius, showed up and tried to kill me." It had gone just as badly as he had imagined, but in a way he had never predicted. "He's a Spectre."
"What? Another Spectre? What happened Nihlus? You're not making any sense!"
"I don't know!" Saren had always seemed the most level headed of all the Spectres that Nihlus knew. He could be cruel, he could be vindictive, but he was always logical. He never did anything without a purpose. "All I know is that Saren is behind this."
"Are you still at the space port?" Riley asked.
"Yes." Nihlus injected medi-gel directly through the hole in Rainbow's armor. The Pegasus moaned at the feeling of the needle, but she didn't wake up.
"I'll be there in a minute." She growled, and Nihlus could sense her frustration through the radio. "Wait for me."
"I'll be here, Shepard." He cut the radio off, turning his full attention to Rainbow Dash. She was going to be fine, he'd make sure of that.
Archeologists Camp, Eden Prime, Utopia System
Riley stepped into the burned out building, following after the older woman. Ashley followed after her, while Kaidan stayed just outside, keeping a wary eye out for anyone or anything approaching them. Now that they were inside, Riley saw the man who must have been nervously hiding behind the older woman. He was just beginning to bald, his dark hair shaved close to his head. His eyes darted everywhere but Riley and Ashley.
"You're Dr. Warren!" Ashley said, recognizing the woman for the first time. The building didn't have any working lights, and the light that was leaking in came from the open door. Riley was surprised that Ashley was even able to make out who the woman was. "You were in charge of the excavation!"
"Do you know what happened to beacon?" Riley asked. If she knew, then maybe they could salvage this mission. Losing two marines was already too much.
"It was moved to the spaceport this morning." Holding her left arm, Dr. Warren sighed and sat down on an overturned crate. She gestured at the man beside her. "Manuel and I stayed behind to help pack up the camp. When the attack came, the marines held off those mechs long enough for us to hide." Guilt and sadness overtaking her, Dr. Warren took her head in her hands. When she spoke again, her voice was full of regret and shame. "They gave their lives to save us."
"No one is safe!" Manuel started to pace back and forth, wringing his hands together with his gaze firmly planted on the floor before him. His hands shook ever so slightly. "The age of humanity is ended. Soon, only ruin and corpses will remain."
"What's wrong with him?" Riley asked, looking to Dr. Warren for help. He paid no mind to her question, continuing on back and forth, back and forth.
"He's always been a little unstable," Dr. Warren said, watching her colleague with a sad frown. "Genius and madness are just two sides of the same coin, but ever since we unearthed the beacon…"
"The dreamer has awoken!" Manuel shouted, grabbing his head. "The stars are right. World to world will be plucked from the sky, and nothing you do will stop it!"
Staring at him for a moment, Riley raised an eyebrow. She had bigger things to deal with. Riley glanced over her shoulder at Ashley. "Williams, can you take us to the airport?"
"Yes, ma'am." With a quick nod, Ashley lifted her rifle.
"Good. Let's move." Riley and Ashley started to leave the burned out building, but Manuel darted forward and grabbed the Commander's shoulders.
"You have to listen!" He begged, his eyes wide and wild. "They know who you are. Find them, or the fires will burn. Find them!"
"Manuel!" Dr. Warren jumped up and pulled Manuel off of Riley. She offered an apologetic look to the two women. "I'm really sorry. He's perfectly safe, but we lost his meds in the attack."
"Right…" Narrowing her eyes, Riley watched Manuel as she backed away slowly. There was something about him that creeped her out, and she just wanted to get as far away from him as quickly as possible. Following after Ashley, they left the building.
"Shepard!" The radios crackled to life, and Nihlus' worried voice came over. "Flying Officer Dash has been shot."
"What?" That wasn't supposed to happen. Worry flooded Riley, and all of the horrible situations that could have happened ran through her mind. She couldn't help but shout back into the radio, anger building inside her. "Nihlus, what the hell happened?"
"A colleague of mine, Saren Arterius, showed up and tried to kill me. He's a Spectre."
"What?" Another Spectre? What was happening. First the geth, and now this? "Another Spectre? What happened Nihlus, you're not making any sense!"
"I don't know! All I know is that Saren is behind this."
"Are you still at the space port?" Riley asked, frowning.
"Yes," was Nihlus simple answer.
"We'll be there in a minute. Wait for us!" Riley ordered, motioning for Kaidan and Ashley to start moving.
"I'll be here, Shepard."
The communications ended.
"Shit." Shaking her head, Riley started to run. "Come on."
It only took a few minutes for them to reach the space-port, coming to the top of a hill overlooking the entire complex. Broken geth bodies were strewn everywhere (Nihlus' work, Riley assumed), along with more of those husk creatures.
Rushing down the hill, Nihlus met them at the stairs up to the loading dock. "Shepard."
"Nihlus." Riley glared at him.
Before she could say anything, a horn blared. It shook the earth, seeming to rattle their very souls.
Looking up, the four of them watched as the massive ship beyond the spaceport lifted off the ground, flying back up to space.
"Look at the size of it!" Ashley shouted, wondering at how the ship even managed to work. The amount of element zero needed to keep it from tearing itself to shreds the moment it even started to move.
"It must be Saren's ship," Nihlus said as the ship left their sight.
"Where's Rainbow?" Her glare unabated, Riley tapped her foot impatiently.
"She's over here." Nihlus led Riley, Ashley, and Kaidan behind the large shipping crate that he had dragged her behind. Sure enough, Rainbow Dash was lying on her back, a small inflatable pillow under her head. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, her eyes wide and her breathing heavy.
"Hey… you," Rainbow slurred as she looked over at Riley, a dopey grin on her face when she caught sight of her sister. Riley immediately realized that her little sister was probably up to her eyeballs in drugs. "You pretty… sister."
"Oh Celestia." Riley massaged her forehead. "Mom's going to kill me."
"That's not very nice," Rainbow reached out a hoof towards Riley, squinting as if she was trying to focus on something a mile away. Her lower lip quivered, and tears filled her eyes. "Mom shouldn't kill you… I'd miss you."
"Wasn't being literal there, Dash." Shaking her head, Riley turned to Ashley and Kaidan, blushing at her little sister's words. Kaidan looked like he was trying not to outright laugh, while Ashley was looking anywhere but them, not sure how to take it.
"Wha… Whaz' literal…" Rainbow started to snore, a little pouty sound that was completely out of character with her tough pony persona.
"Only you, Dash." Riley rolled her eyes. She looked at Nihlus, an eyebrow raised. "What drugs did you give her?"
"Morphine." Nihlus shrugged.
Before she could do anything else, there was a noise from behind a fallen stack of cargo crates. The four awake warriors were instantly on guard, raising their rifles and pointing them in the direction of the noise.
"Come out where we can see you!" Nihlus called out, his voice even and steady.
A second passed in silence, and they grew tense, fingers hovering over triggers.
A cough. "Wait!"
A pair of hands raised out from behind the crates, followed by the dock worker they belonged too, peering terrified out from his cover. "Don't— Don't shoot! I'm one of you! I'm human."
"Why were you hiding?" Watching the dock worker carefully, Riley's voice was hard, a rod of iron backing her up.
"Why aren't you dead like the others?" Nihlus narrowed his eyes, watching the worker curiously.
"I…" The worker choked back a sob. "I'm sorry. I was hiding from those creatures. My name's Powell, and I saw everything that happened." He cupped a hand over his mouth, doubling over as he struggled to keep himself together. "Oh god! He just tried to kill you!"
"Did you see where he went?" Nihlus asked, taking a step forward.
"He jumped on the cargo train and headed over to the other platform." Powell pointed towards the train, leaning forward against the crates. His eyes widened in realization. "He's probably going after the beacon!"
Shaking his head, Powell sunk down to the ground until just his head was visible over the top of the crates. "I knew that beacon was trouble. Everything's gone to hell since we found it. First that damn ship showed up, and then the attack. They killed everyone. Everyone! If I hadn't been behind the creates, I'd be dead too!"
"How come you're the only who survived?" Riley asked the question that was niggling at the back of all of their minds. "Why didn't anyone else try to hide with you?"
"They never had a chance." Powell hung his head, having to speak through his sobs. "I… I was already behind the crates when the attack started."
"Wait a minute." Kaidan eyed Powell like the scum he was. "You were hiding behind the crates before the attack?"
"I… sometimes I need a nap to get through my shift," Powell admitted, hiccuping around his tears. "I sneak off behind the crates to grab some shut-eye where the supervisor can't find me."
"You survived because you were lazy?" Ashley shouted in outrage, rushing forward to attack him. Kaidan grabbed her, holding her back.
"Forget him, Ashley," Kaidan said. "He's not worth it."
"Yeah…" Ashley glared, but relented. "You're right."
"We need to find that beacon before it's too late," Riley said, turning to Nihlus.
"The cargo train, that's where the other turian went," Powell said, pointing. He tried to push himself up but failed. Instead, he started to crawl away. "I… I can't stay here. I need to get away from all this."
"Alenko," Nihlus said, turning his attention to Kaidan. "Stay with Flying Officer Dash. Make sure nothing happens to her."
"Yes, sir." With a salute, Kaidan settled down next to Rainbow, his back against the shipping crate. Neither the geth or the husks were going to get to her, not when he was watching over her.
"Shepard." He turned to Ashley, pausing when he realized he didn't know her name. "… Marine, follow me. We're going after Saren."
Together, the three of them headed towards the cargo train.
Kaidan blinked in surprise as Rainbow woke up again, looking up at him with accusing eyes. "Yes?"
"When did you get a mustache?" Squinting her eyes, Rainbow leaned forward.
"Your mustache escaped."
"I've never had a mustache."
"Ish' okay mustache man. I shall help you retrieve your mustac…" Once again, she passed out, much to Kaidan's relief.
Riley, Nihlus, and Ashley jogged down the stairs towards the cargo train just in time to be shot at by a squad of geth who had stayed behind.
They scattered, opening fire on the geth as they rushed for cover. The three of them hid behind whatever was available, keeping up a constant hail of bullets heading down towards the geth.
"Shepard, cover me!" Seeing his opportunity, Nihlus took it. He rolled out of cover and rushed down the length of the station, shooting a geth soldier dead with a shot right through its optics.
Riley and Ashley covered Nihlus, peppering the areas around the turian with as much gunfire as they could.
Riley grumbled, catching sight of an opportunity. With wonderful precision, she shot at a pile of several high-pressure canisters. They ignited and exploded, shredding several of the geth standing nearby. The two women took the chance to rush forward and join Nihlus on the lower level before the geth could push forward again. "I'm really beginning to hate the geth."
"It took you this long?" Nihlus asked, laughing.
Ignoring him, Riley rushed out of cover, firing at the lone remaining geth. It towered over her, a good twelve feet tall, but that didn't stop her. Ducking under its massive gun, Riley leaped up with a roar. Grabbing its arm, she scrambled up the geth's armor plates until she was clinging to its back.
Pulling out a massive combat knife, she slammed it through the geth's neck. The massive mech immediately started jerking, sparks flying everywhere. Grabbing the hilt of her knife, she jerked the blade around the inside of the neck, trying to destroy as much of its electronics as possible.
With a pitiful chirp of electronic noise, the geth fell to its knees, giving out. Riley rode it all the way down.
"Right," Ashley said as she and Nihlus came out from behind the cover. She stared at Ashley with wide eyes, more than a little terrified by the woman. "Remind me to never get on your bad side."
"Ah." Riley shook her head, snapping her fingers. "I'm a very cuddly woman."
The fact that she was covered in the coolant of the dead geth, dripping its white blood, did everything to bely her words.
"No time to stop," Nihlus broke in. He pushed past them to step onto the sole train remaining at the station. "We need to keep moving."
Riley and Ashley joined him, and with a short button push the train started, racing towards the other end of the spaceport. In less than a minute, the train had travelled the mile that separated the cargo port from the space port proper. Together, they rushed up the stairs to the main level, and across the tracks they watched as a group of geth lowered a large, multi-ton bomb to the ground.
"They're trying to destroy the spaceport!" Nihlus realized, hoping against hope that the bomb wasn't nuclear.
"Well, we better stop them then," Riley retorted, rolling her eyes.
Together, they rushed across the bridge above the tracks to get to the other side. The geth saw them and immediately moved to stop them.
Unlike the last fight, there weren't very many geth left. They fought sloppy, their gunfire going wild more often than not, much unlike the scarily precise shots that were flying towards them during the beginning of the mission. It didn't take Riley, Nihlus, and Ashley much time at all to destroy them.
They stopped in front of the bomb, staring down at it.
"I'm good," Nihlus said with a rumble, "but I have no clue how to disarm a…"
His eyes widened when he realized just what type of bomb he was looking at. It was much, much worse than the nuclear device he was fearing. "That's salarian made! It's powerful enough to make this continent unlivable for the next one-hundred thousand years."
"I'm a marine, not a bomb-tech," Riley said, shaking her head.
"Let me try." Cracking her knuckles, Ashley stepped forward.
"You know how to disarm this?" Nihlus asked. Just what did they teach marines in the Alliance.
"Whether I do or not, does it matter?" Ashley didn't see much point in telling them that she dabbled around with electronics. "We're dead if I don't try."
"Fair enough." Nihlus nodded, stepping aside.
"Try not to breathe funny." Pulling off her helmet and gloves, Ashley got down on her knees and began to dismantle the panel in front of her.
Nihlus and Riley took a collective step backwards, away from Ashley and the bomb. Turning around, they keep a watch for any lingering geth or husks that might be trying to sneak up on them. If Ashley failed… it didn't really matter which way they were facing.
A minute passed down. All three of them could feel an invisible timer ticking down, the time left completely unknown.
"So…" Nihlus drawled, bouncing uneasily on his feet. "How's it going?"
"We're not dead yet, are we?" Ashley laughed, shaking her head.
Glancing at Riley, Nihlus frowned and gestured with his head at Ashley. "Where did you find her?"
"She found us."
"Hmm." Nihlus hummed.
"I… I think I got it." Standing, Ashley backed away from the bomb, holding her hands up.
"You think?" Riley asked, feeling decidedly unhappy with that answer.
"We'll know in a few minutes either way," Ashley said with a shrug.
"You are extremely comforting, Williams."
"I try, ma'am." Ashley shot a toothy grin at Riley, picking up her rifle from the ground.
"Let's find the beacon, if Saren hasn't already taken off with it," Nihlus said, wanting to get as far away from the bomb as possible, disarmed or not.
"We better hope not." That would not look good on Riley's report.
The three of them moved forward.
It wasn't hard to find the beacon. It was just behind the wall, sitting overlooking a plateau where the ungodly ship used to rest. A massive burn scarred the earth, caused by the ship Riley couldn't help but think. The arcologies were on the brink of collapsing in on themselves. The ship had caused massive damage that would take decades for the colony to recover from.
Riley, Nihlus, and Ashley walked forward, taking in the beacon. It glowed a sickly, unholy looking green, seeming to pulse every so often though not in any predictable way. The three of them slowed as they neared it. The beacon pulsed again, and they could feel something in the air, a strange weight that they couldn't quite place their fingers on.
Pausing for a moment, Riley activated the radio. "Normandy, the beacon is secure, but we have casualties. We need immediate evac."
Nihlus started walking towards the beacon, drawn towards it. It almost seemed to him as if there was a faint voice calling to him, speaking a language he had never heard before.
"This is amazing!" Ashley followed behind Nihlus, noticing none of his awe at the beacon. "Actual working Prothean technology. Unbelievable! It wasn't doing anything like that when they dug it up. Something must have activated it…"
She shook her head, marveling at just how amazing the protheans had been. "It's been under out feet the whole time… God, you have to wonder what else is buried down there."
"Roger that, Normandy." Riley ended talking with Spitfire. "Standing by."
Leaning forward, the beacon called to Nihlus and he obeyed. It pulsed, and it started to drag the turian forward into its clutching glow.
"Nihlus!" Noticing the turians problem, Riley pushed past Ashley and ran towards him. Grabbing him, she was pulled up into the air with him. The power of the beacon was almost too much for her, but with a great cry, she twisted her muscles and tossed the Spectre out of the way. The beacon pulsed angrily, wrapping her in its power and lifting her higher. She struggled uselessly, too weak to fight against the might of the protheans.
"Shepard!" Ashley cried, but her voice sounded faint to Riley, like she was submerged in water.
With a brilliant pulse, the beacon smashed through Riley's head, pulling her consciousness away from her body.
Darkness surrounded her. Looking up, Riley found the Citadel hanging above her, the ward arms burning.
Protheans died by the billions around her, screaming in terror as their flesh wilted from their bodies.
Billions and Trillions of stars disappeared from the night sky, until all that was left was darkness.
The Mass Relays were all that were left, silently spinning in the forever void.
The ship, surrounded by flame, reached out for her.
A ROAR shook her to her very core as the ocean crashed over her, pulling her into the deep and the cold.
Everything went black…