Chapter Eighteen - Tower Defense
Tilican Tower, Bachjret Wards, Citadel, Serpent Nebula
April 9, 2183
"Hey! You can't come in here."
Riley was the first one to enter the tower, her rifle drawn but held loosely in her hands, as none threateningly as possible. Garrus and Wrex were the next behind her, cutting an imposing figure to frame her with. Kaidan and Ashley were just after them, taking up the rear, nearly unnoticeable behind the first three. Together, they all looked over at the group of turians and salarians standing around what looked like the front desk, dressed in C-SEC uniforms.
"We're in the middle of C-SEC operations." A turian strode towards them, pointing at the door behind them.
"Show me your badge." Raising an eyebrow, Riley gave the turian a once over, completely unimpressed.
"I don't have to do anything! You're obstructing a C-SEC operation." The turian glared, getting angry. "If you don't leave now, I'll have to arrest all of you."
Riley looked over her shoulder at Garrus, who shook his head as he rolled his eyes.
Raising their guns, Riley and Garrus opened fire. Wrex joined in moments later with a booming laugh to match his even louder shotgun blasts. In moments, the group of turians and salarians were dead, their light armor having been torn to shreds by military grade weapons and heavily regulated ammunition modifications allowed to very few on the Citadel.
As Wrex fired one last shot into the face of the turian that had first approached them while standing over his dead body, Riley turned to find Ashley and Kaidan looking at the three of them in utter disbelief.
"What the hell?" Ashley managed to croak out, looking unsure as to whether she should just shoot Riley herself.
Kaidan couldn't even say a word.
"They weren't C-SEC." Garrus didn't say anything else, stepping over the body of the turian to go behind the main desk. Grabbing one of the data pads from behind the desk, he rejoined them as he flipped through what little information it contained, trying to bring himself as much up to speed on the tower as he could.
Stepping over the bodies, Riley walked to the elevator. She looked back at the rest of her crew when she saw that only Wrex had followed her. "Are you coming, or are we going to have to do this on your own?"
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Wrex said, pushing past Riley to press the up button.
The three of them rushed to catch up to Riley and Wrex.
It took nearly a minute before the elevator dinged and doors slid open. They clambered inside, the doors sliding shut moments later.
"This tower's a dead spot," Garrus commented as he opened his omni-tool, trying to connect to the C-SEC network. "We're being jammed."
"And isn't that just wonderful!" Riley crossed her arms. "I guess we'll have to do all of this ourselves. The horror."
"Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Shepard." Garrus closed his omni-tool.
Wrex shifted on his feet, adjusting his armor. "I knew they weren't C-SEC."
"Yeah, go ahead and brag about it why don't you?" Ashley scowled at the back of the krogan's hump, crossing her arms.
"I already did!" He laughed.
The last thirty minutes had passed by in a near blur for Vinyl, and the next thing she knew she was that she was hugging a wall as tightly as she could, Caesia standing over her with her assault rifle held tightly in her hands. The voices of more mercenaries echoed out from just outside of the apartment that Caesia had broken into to hide.
Looking away from Caesia, Vinyl looked around at the apartment. The furniture was torn almost completely to pieces, and there was a large blood stain in the carpet near the bedroom. The occupants had obviously gotten in a struggle trying to not get get dragged from their home.
Vinyl looked back up, watching as Caesia fiddled with her gun, flipping through the mods that the last owner had installed before settling on a fairly standard armor piercing set. Looking down at Vinyl, she raised a gloved talon to her mouth, making sure that Vinyl knew to be absolutely silent. The little mare nodded in understanding.
"We've already been through here. We have other floors we should be checking." The voice sounded rough and gravelly, a turian if Vinyl had been forced to guess.
"I've just got a feeling," Another voice answered, smoother and higher pitched, most likely a salarian.
"Whatever." The first voice spoke again, tiredly resigned to acquiescing to the second. "Just make it quick."
Caesia steadied herself, letting out her breath as she raised her rifle as there was fumbling outside the door. Vinyl clenched her eyes shut, her ears flattening themselves back against her skull as she made herself into as small of a target as possible. She barely managed to keep herself from whimpering, remembering Caesia's words.
The door slid open finally, and someone stepped inside. Someone else was just a few steps behind them. They were quiet now, moving with a purpose and trying their best to not let anyone who could have been inside know they were there.
It obviously had never occurred to them that anyone inside could have heard them from the hallway.
There was a moment of silence, and Vinyl practically felt each second as it slithered on past. She curled up even tighter against the wall, a fore hoof against her mouth keeping her whimper from escaping out into the wild.
The silence was broken as Caesia fired off two shots. Even with her ears so tight against her head, Vinyl's hearing started ringing. She stayed curled up, at least until a hand on her shoulder made her jerk back in terror.
Opening her eyes though, she let out a sigh of relief when she saw that it was simply Caesia. The old turian woman had gotten down on her knees before her, her mandibles flaring comfortingly.
"It's okay, Vinyl," Caesia reassured her. "Everything's fine. Please though, just keep your eyes shut. You don't need to see this. I'll carry you out."
Vinyl jerked her head in a nod before she closed her eyes again, letting Caesia pick her up. Her ears swiveled on her head, but she couldn't hear anything other than Caesia's steady breath. The door slid shut behind them, and Caesia set her down.
"You can open your eyes now."
Doing so, Vinyl found that they were out in the hallway. She glanced back at the door, but Caesia gently turned her face back so she was looking at her with a single talon.
"Don't think about that. Just focus on us getting out of here and everything will be fine."
"I... I want Tavi." The whimper finally escaped Vinyl, and she felt her fake leg start to twitch again.
"I'm sure she's fine." Standing, Caesia kept her voice calm and even. "My husband is probably with her. He'll be making a fool of himself, drawing all the attention to himself to keep everyone else safe. He's a fool like that… it's why I fell in love with him."
Vinyl didn't really believe her. She just wanted to hold Octavia and go back to sleep, pretend that all of this was a dream.
"Everything is going to be alright, I promise you that." Caesia said, seeing her disbelief. She lowered herself down onto one knee in front of Vinyl, resting her talon's on one of her shoulders. "First, I need you to be brave. If you listen to everything I tell you to do, we'll both get out of this safe and sound."
Vinyl nodded her understanding.
"Good girl." Caesia motioned towards the stairs, massaging one of her talons. "Now come on. We need to get moving. Someone's going to start missing those boy's eventually, and we don't want to be anywhere near here when they find them."
Riley, and her squad took the elevator to nearly the top of the tower. After Wrex's laughs, the rest of the ride had been in silence.
"It's so quiet," Ashley murmured.
"Fist has probably rounded up all the residents and put them somewhere he can keep an eye on them." Riley took in the apartment doors that lined the halls.
"Yeah." Wrex snorted, nodding. "Sounds about right."
They walked down the hall, but before they could reach the end Riley held up her hand, signaling them to stop. They all did so.
Looking at Wrex, she motioned for the krogan to break down the nearest door on the right.
Stepping forward, Wrex did so happily.
Riley followed Wrex into the room, gun at the ready, but all she found were two of Fist's mercs dead on the ground.
"So." Lifting her rifle, Riley looked at Wrex, then back at the the rest of her squad in the doorway. "There's another player here."
One of the mercenaries omni-tools chirps to life.
"Eldon. Eldon, why aren't you answering?"
Kneeling down, Riley pulled the omni-tool off of the dead man's wrist and activated it, answering the call. "Hello, Fist."
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the call before the man answered. "Who is this?"
Grinning, Riley looked at Ashley before growling into the omni-tool. "You don't know me, Fist. You don't know who I am. You will by the time I'm done with you."
"What did you do Eldon?" Fist asked, his voice icy.
"I made him beg, then I slit his throat."
"You bitch!" Fist shouted.
"You have made some very powerful people angry, Fist. That wasn't a smart move." She had to keep herself from snorting in laughter, glancing at Ashley. "I'm coming for you."
"I'll kill you!" Screaming, they could all hear as Fist started breaking things on the other end of the line.
"No." Deadly serious this time, Riley shook her head. "I don't think you will."
Dropping the omni tool, Riley crushed it beneath her heel. She looked up the rest of her squad to find Ashley, Kaidan, and Garrus looking at her in confusion.
"You slit his throat?" Ashley asked, tilting her head as she stared at her Commander. She wondered just what type of person her Commander was. It was a pretty ridiculous story to even try and sell, but somehow, Fist had bought it.
"That was a little over the top, wasn't it ma'am?" Kaidan almost sounded like he wanted to reprimand her, but had thought better of it.
"Fist is a fool." Riley explained. "He thinks he's more important than he really is. A little theatrics will push him over the edge. It'll make him slip up, make even dumber mistakes."
"Not like he hasn't made enough of those." Scoffing, Wrex almost seemed annoyed by that. When he had joined Riley, he had been hoping for a challenge.
"I don't enjoy putting myself in harms way." Garrus said, disagreeing with the krogan.
Wrex snorted, looking at Garrus funnily. "And you decided it was a good idea to join a Spectre hunting down a different Spectre?"
"I like seeing justice served more than I don't like people shooting at me." Garrus shrugged.
Wrex was silent for a moment before he nodded. "Fair enough."
Thankfully, the mercenaries that roamed the hallway seemed to be making good use of the elevators, leaving the stairways relatively free and clear for Vinyl and Caesia to use. Together, they made their way to the recreational floor, hoping that it would be free and safe enough to try and call for help.
Coming out from one of the side entrances, Caesia and Vinyl entered the recreational floor, and they were immediately met by the sound of voices in one of the nearby rooms. Grabbing Vinyl, Caesia darted to a greeting desk just across from the door. Sliding underneath it, she set Vinyl down, kneeling in front of her.
"Wait here, Vinyl." Caesia smiled apologetically to Vinyl, shaking her head. "Don't make any sounds. I'll be right back. I want to see what's happening around here."
"A-Alright." Vinyl nodded, hesitant, her ears flattening back against her head.
Caesia purred reassuringly from the back of her throat before turning and sneaking away.
Vinyl just sits down, her breath coming in ragged pants. She is scared out of her mind, but she knows that she needs to stay quiet or someone might find him.
Crawling backwards, deeper into the shadows of the desk, Vinyl waited for Caesia to return. Her omni-tool on its dimmest setting, she watched as first a minute passed, then another.
Directly across from the greeting desk, the elevator chimed. Vinyl froze, putting a forehoof over her mouth to keep from making any noise. She was still for a moment, but something in her gut was telling her that if she didn't move she was going to end up getting captured, or worse.
Without another thought, Vinyl bolted, disappearing down a side hallway just in time to hear a large amount of feet exiting the elevator. Peering around the corner of the hall, Vinyl watched as a large group of Fist's mercenaries escorted what looked to be all of the residents of Tilican Towers past the greeting desk and into the recreational floor.
Her eyes widened and a hoof went to her mouth when she saw Octavia slung over Fidelis' shoulders, blood clumping and clotting over one of her eyes. As much as she wanted to run out and join her wife, her experiences with the Batarians had made it so that she would rather die than ever become a captive again. Octavia would have to hold on a little longer until she could find a way to sneak her free.
Vinyl watched as the large group went past, her neighbors surrounded on all sides by armed mercenaries and thugs. As soon as they disappeared deeper into the recreational floor, Vinyl backed up and started creeping down the hallway she'd ducked into.
She stepped carefully, taking extra care not to let her hooves make any sound on the tiled floor.
Around a bend in the hall, Vinyl found that the hallway forked into two ways. She waited, staring for a long moment, wondering just which way to take. Which would take her to safety and back to Caesia. Caesia was her only hope to get her wife back from those thugs.
Vinyl finally decided to take the right hallway, using the same slow walk that she had been using.
Going down the hallway, Vinyl paused when she heard voices up ahead behind large bulky doors. She ducked into another room across the hall when those doors started to open, hiding behind another desk as she heard footsteps in the hall, which slowly grew fainter as the owner of the voices got further and further away.
As soon as they were gone and Vinyl couldn't hear them anymore, Vinyl crept out from behind the desk and cracked the door open. She first looked up the hall, then down. No one was there.
Satisfied, she crept out of the room and towards the doors that she knew the voices must have just come from. Putting an ear up against the door, Vinyl listened for any signs of life. She didn't hear anything for a long moment.
She was about to continue on when she heard a very familiar sound that sent shivers down her spine.
A quiet nicker echoed in the room behind the doors, and it cut right to Vinyl's heart.
Vinyl paused, one of her forehooves raised to take her in the opposite direction, but something inside her stopped her, keeping her from running. She whimpered, frustrated at herself, but she couldn't bear to get herself to just walk away.
Millions of thoughts ran through her mind, but only one ended up mattering.
That was one of the most familiar sounds she had ever known. It was a sound that she had heard nearly constantly for almost ten years, and it was even one that she herself had made on the rare occasion that she wasn't too tired or hurt during her captivity with the Batarians. It was a sound that the ponies had ended up making to comfort one another. A sound that they had made to try and let them all know that they weren't alone.
With a sigh of frustration (she found that her body simply wouldn't let her walk away), Vinyl pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The room turned out to be a supply room, and Vinyl hesitated inside the doorway. Looking around, she was immediately met by the sight of nearly one-hundred crates, stacked at least five high all over the room.
Creeping forward, Vinyl headed to the nearest. At the front of those crates, there was a single slit to allow air in. Peering inside, Vinyl was met by the sight of a barely conscious mare inside, half starving.
Backing away, Vinyl looked at all of the crates with a feeling of such sadness and disgust in her stomach. It roiled and churned inside of her, making her feel like she wanted to throw up. She nickered softly, and the mare inside the crate raised her head, repeating the sound, staring with sightless eyes in Vinyl's general direction.
"I'm sorry," Vinyl managed to whimper out, backing away. "I'm so sorry."
As fast as she could, Vinyl ran from the room, bursting out into the hallway. She didn't stop going until she reached the other end, and as soon as she was around the corner, she dropped back against the wall and tried to catch her breath.
That was a mistake on her part, a horrible mistake.
All of the emotions and thoughts and fears that she had thought she had overcome boiled up, rising to the surface inside of her mind and she couldn't stop the tears from coming. She choked, trying to keep from making any noises, but she had a feeling that she wasn't at all succeeding on that end.
"Spirits, Vinyl!" Caesia's voice whispered from behind her.
Looking over, Vinyl found the aging turian approaching. Before she could even begin to think about propriety or dignity, she threw herself at the old turian woman and hugged her as hard as she possibly could, the tears bursting free.
"Shh…" Surprised, Caesia hugged her back, rubbing up and down the ponies spine. "It's okay. Everything's okay. Everything's okay."
"No!" Vinyl shook her head, sobbing. "No, it's not!"
Caesia held her for a little longer, rubbing Vinyl's back. "Come. We should go."
Vinyl made absolutely no indication that she was in any type of position to start moving. Caesia picked Vinyl up and she carried her down the hallway.
Riley and her crew moved down the hall, weapons at the ready. They had travelled up several more floors, clearing them as they went.
Holding up a fist, the group found the nearest cover and fell completely silent.
They waited for a moment, looking for any sign of what Riley heard.
They didn't have to wait long.
Around the corner, a heavily armored krogan and several of Fist's mercenaries came tromping forward, sure of their power and strength. They looked completely unconcerned. Nothing could take them. They were the meanest, baddest soldiers around. There was no one who could stand against them.
They really should have known better.
Popping out from their cover, Riley and her squad took down everyone but the krogan. Wrex charged forward, tackling him to the ground. The krogan was simply no match for Urdnot Wrex.
"Stop struggling," Riley said as she strode forward, followed by the others.
The krogan just grunted, slamming his crest into Wrex's. Wrex slammed right on back, dazing the krogan with the much harder head-butt.
"You see," Riley said, clucking her tongue as she shook her head. "You should have listened."
Kneeling down, Riley placed the barrel of her shotgun against the krogan's head. "Behave, or I shoot you were you won't regenerate. It'll hurt, then you'll die."
The krogan slowly stopped struggling, glaring up at Riley with mottled green eyes.
"Good boy." Riley nodded, happy in how quickly he had folded. "Now. I have some questions and you're going to answer, got it?"
"Fine!" The krogan grunted, growling angrily.
"First question. Where is Fist?"
"Who?" The krogan asked, not moving a single muscle.
"Wrong answer." Grabbing the Krogan's crest, Wrex lifted it up and slammed it down against the ground once, twice, three times!
"I'll ask you again." Riley kept her voice kind, making no sign that she was letting her own krogan beat the hell out of him. "Where is Fist? Whatever he's paying you, it can't be enough for this."
"The third level from the top!" The krogan practically shouted.
"How many men does he have?"
The krogan growled, eying first Wrex, then Garrus, then Kaidan and Ashley, trying to figure some way out of the situation.
"You really don't want me to ask again." Riley glared down at him, placing her shotgun right down under his left eye.
"Fine, you bitch." The krogan growled unhappily. "Thirty!"
"Thank you for your cooperation. It was very appreciated." Riley shot the Krogan in the head. Once! Twice! Three times. The krogan's body falls still.
"Alright." Standing, Riley pointed towards the stairs. "You heard the man. Let's get going."
Following after Riley, the squad went rushing up the stairs. Looking up at the next six levels Ashley groaned to herself.
"I hate stairs."
"Let your armor deal with it, Williams," Riley said, shouting over her shoulder. "You're a marine, bitch on your time."
"Aye aye, ma'am," Ashley replied with a grunt.
Wrex passed by her, taking the stairs three at a time. "Shepard, I'm going to want lunch after this is done. All this killing is making me hungry."
Ashley didn't complain again for the rest of the six flights of stairs, and a minute later they emerged out onto the fourth floor from the top.
"Uh…" Ashley glanced at the number next to the door. "Aren't we on the wrong floor, ma'am?"
"Nope." Opening her omni-tool, Riley pulled up a scanning feature, searching for the loudest point coming from the ceiling above them, holding her hand up as high as she could.
"What are you doing, Commander?" Kaidan asked, his voice having the sound of long suffering.
"For what, ma'am?"
"Noise…" Riley looked at him, scowling. "You aren't helping Alenko. Don't make me order you to shut up."
Ignoring Kaidan's blink of confusion, Riley continued her scanning, walking into a different room. The others followed her.
Riley finally grinned as her omni-tool started beeping, looking up at the ceiling. Looking over at Wrex, she motions for him to come over.
"Come on and give me a boost."
"What?" Wrex blinked, cocking his head at her.
"Just hold still." Riley just rolled her eyes and walked up to him.
Before Wrex could even comment or protest, Riley clambered up him until she was standing on his shoulders. Rather than get angry or try to throw her off, Wrex just let her do it.
"What are you doing, Shepard?"
"Using you like a krogan ladder."
Wrex blinked, then blinked again. "Just so we're both clear on the matter."
"Glad we're both on the same page." Riley looked over to the rest of her squad, holding her hand out. "Alright, everyone pass over their grenades."