"...And in a bold and shocking turn of events, an Alliance Black Ops team under the command of Admiral Hackett has conducted a daring raid on Cerberus Headquarters." The newscaster read, as Miranda watched with dread. "This is expected to be the first of many raids conducted over the next six months, with the goal of entirely dismantling the terrorist organization. I'm Emily Wong, Citadel News."
"Commander," Miranda began, turning the screen to face Shepard, "Did you know about this?"
"Know?" The Commander repeated. "No. Suspect? Definitely."
"You suspected the Alliance was going to attack, and you didn't tell us?" The Cerberus Operative demanded.
"I've got no loyalty to Cerberus, you knew that when you asked me to help with the Collectors." Shepard stated. "Besides, I'm not worried."
"Not worried? We no longer have any resources to complete this mission, no way of getting information to our next lead, we're probably being hunted down by the Alliance, and you're not worried!?"
"No." The Commander shrugged honestly. "Alliance Intelligence have started datamining the computers. They've offered full pardons for everyone on the Normandy crew, given what they've found."
"Full... pardons?" Miranda repeated, stunned.
"That's right." Shepard nodded. "Compared to the rest of Cerberus, what the people on this ship have done is pretty light. That, and Hackett owed me a favor."
"The Alliance trusts us like that?"
"Not the Alliance. Me." Shepard corrected. "I know about your sister, don't ask how. Just know, you're not the only one that's made poor decisions motivated by the desire to protect their loved ones." For a moment, Shepard stared off into space, with a regretful and solemn look. He shook it off, and continued speaking. "Take a little time off, cool your head." He ordered, as he moved to exit her cabin.
The Normandy slipped into an Alliance drydock, and the docking stabilizers clamped down onto the engines, holding the ship in place. The Normandy's engines powered down, and the ship settled.
The Normandy's inner airlock opened, and Shepard stepped forward to greet the man that came through.
"Engineer Adams." Shepard returned. "Long time no see. How have you been?"
"Well, considering the circumstances, I'd say pretty good." Adams answered, as Shepard led him into the Normandy.
"So, what brings you to the Normandy?"
"The new Enterprise-class cruisers are looking to be damn fine ships, but I couldn't pass up the chance to work on the Normandy." Adams admitted. "Even if she is a totally different ship."
"I hear that." Shepard agreed. A moment passed, before he noticed what else Adams had said. "Enterprise-class? I hadn't heard of that kind of ship before."
"I wouldn't think so. They're Admiral Hackett's new 'secret project.' Something he's been working on in case more colonies began disappearing." The Engineer outlined, as they stepped into the elevator. "The first one won't be ready until the end of the month, though."
Shepard's eyebrows shot up to the top of his forehead. 'It's only the eighth, there's no way he could've put the design to construction that quickly... could he?'
Adams seemed to pick up on Shepard's confusion, and quickly explained; "Parliament wasn't happy when they found out he was designing warships in secret, but they made him a deal. If he could get a working prototype that delivered on his promises built by the end of the month, then they'd let him put the ship into full production, if not, then they scrap the whole design. So he's got every engineer and worker at Io Station working to get it built before the deadline's over."
"Hackett's determined, I'll give him that." Shepard commented. "How's the prototype coming along?"
"It's not much more than a skeleton at this point." Adams said. "But the inner structure and and hull should be completed by the three week mark. Like I said, it's a mad dash to get it done... Actually, I'm kind of worried about that. If they try to get it done too quickly then major corners could wound up being cut. I'm mostly worried about the reactor."
"The reactor?" Shepard questioned, as the elevator stopped on the engineering level, and the two stepped out.
Adams snorted. "I don't know what the Admiral was thinking when he dreamt that up. It uses antimatter for crying out loud! But, as much as I hate to admit it... it looks solid." The Engineer conceded. "But without it, the new FTL propulsion system wouldn't work, so it's kind of necessary. But I really hope they don't try to rush it too much. There's no way we can get that thing built in such a short amount of time without some kind of corner being cut."
"Yeah, the original Normandy was rushed in its construction, and because of it the elevator took forever to go down one level, the door buttons didn't work half the time, and the phantom panel glitch sprung up. But for all that... She was still a damn fine ship." Shepard smiled wistfully, reminiscing fondly on those days. He shook his head, and brought himself out of his reminiscing, and led Adams into engineering. "I hope this new Normandy measures up to the original." He remarked.
"I have no doubt that it will." Adams stated. "Cerberus may have been a bunch of evil bastards, but they know how to build their ships, I'll give 'em that."
"That they were. Welp, here it is. Engineering. Those are the two engineers Cerberus assigned to the crew, Kenneth Donnelly and Gabriella Daniels." The Commander introduced.
"Pleasure to meet ye, sir." Donnelly greeted.
"I know you two, you were up for transfer to the SSV Kilimanjaro before Cerberus snagged you." Adams recognized.
"That's us." Daniels nodded.
"Aye, we wanted to go through with the transfer, but after the Normandy was blown to scrap and the Collectors started attacking..." Donnelly let the sentence hang.
"You've already met Tali." Shepard directed.
"Hello again, Adams." The Quarian greeted. "I'm glad you're back. Those Cerberus engineers are good, but they aren't the same."
"In that case, I'm glad to be here."
"Well," Shepard breathed out, "I'll leave you three to it. Adams, if you need anything over to course of the retrofits, let me know. I'll be with the rest of the crew, taking shore leave, so here's my comm frequency. And Adams? It's good to see you again."
"You too, Commander." Adams returned, as the Commander left. "Now, let's get these retrofits underway..."
The Normandy retrofits weren't much, honestly. Mostly, they were simple equipment fixes that the Cerberus crew neglected while building the ship originally. An emergency bulkhead was installed to prevent the core from venting into engineering, the probe scanners were upgraded to function faster, and the engines were modified to provide greater thrust.
Also, the Normandy was given a fresh coat of Alliance paint. The more complex retrofits would have to be put off until the suicide mission was over, but for now, they would suffice.
"Commander, the retrofits have been completed, and the Normandy is ready to launch." Miranda reported, in a significantly better mood.
"Great. I assume you took my advice to wind down?" The Commander questioned.
"Right. I'm ready to continue with the mission."
"Excellent." Shepard stated, heading up to the galaxy map. "Prep the team. We're heading out."
"We heading for a piece of equipment we'll need to get through the Omega 4 relay. A Reaper IFF."
Shepard stood on the Normandy's bridge as the ship passed into the Reaper's mass effect envelope. The Cerberus station built into the Reaper still recognized the Normandy's IFF, and allowed the ship to dock with the station.
A team consisting of Miranda, Mordin, and Shepard himself went over to the Reaper.
The Cerberus station was totally empty, the only sign of any former presence being the station itself, and the logs of the crew, which were... disturbing, to say the least.
As the logs came closer and closer to the current date, the mental state of the Cerberus crew deteriorated further and further. At first, the crew only started feeling anxious, like something bad was just around the corner, which to be fair, was entirely natural, given the location. But as time passed, things got worse. The crew started seeing shadows coming out of walls, they got a constant feeling of being watched, and even some started sharing the same memories, until the crew finally snapped, and started worshiping the Reaper with superstitious awe. Then, it somehow kept getting progressively worse, until they decided to impale themselves on the Dragon's Teeth inside the Reaper, willingly turning themselves into Husks.
And as Shepard's team proceeded deeper into the Reaper, they started coming across the Husks. Thankfully, there wasn't that many, due to the small size of Doctor Chandana's team, but what little there were proved to be adequate resistance. They also encountered a new type of Husk that exploded and set fire to everything within a small radius of the explosion.
A short ways into the station, the entire Reaper shook, and the team was notified that the Reaper engaged powerful kinetic barriers, making getting out or in through them impossible, necessitating that the Reaper's Mass Effect core be destroyed.
The team progressed through the Cerberus station, and exited through an airlock to the outside of the Reaper. The team stopped, taking note of the state of the Reaper, while unbeknownst to them, two Husks crept up behind them.
Two shots from a sniper rifle rang out, causing the sneaky Husks to instantly fall to the floor, dead.
Shepard looked to the source of the shot, and his eyebrows shot up fifty feet.
Getting up from a crouching position, was a single Geth. Only this one was... different. A large chunk had been taken out of the Geth's chest, revealing some of the complex inner workings.
The Geth nodded, and did something even more unexpected. It spoke.
"Shepard-Commander." The Geth addressed, before turning to walk away.
"What the hell...?" Miranda breathed, looking on with surprise.
"Geth stronger in numbers." Mordin stated. "More likely nearby. Should be more careful."
"Right." The Commander nodded, leading his team forward. Eventually, they came to another airlock, this one holding the Reaper IFF on a lab table. Shepard picked it up, and looked it over. It certainly didn't look like a piece of Reaper tech, in fact, it looked the exact opposite. Reaper tech was generally smooth curves and spikes, but the IFF had blocky angles and blunt corners. The Commander put the IFF in a compartment in his armor, and waited as the other door in the airlock.
The door opened, revealing the Geth from earlier working at a terminal in front of what presumably was the Core. The Geth did something to the controls, and the glass panel blocking the entranceway fell, allowing access. Before Shepard had the chance to question the Geth, a Husk ran up behind it, and activated an EMP using the tech in its body.
The team instantly opened fire, and the hailfire of bullets ripped through the Husks in the room. Once all the Husks had fell, the Reaper's Mass Effect Core opened up, allowing a clear shot into it. Shepard took the opportunity presented, and threw a grenade into the Core, while Mordin fired an incineration blast. The combined fire was enough to crack the core's containment shielding, causing the Element Zero inside to explode, leaving the core housing empty, resulting in the Reaper to start falling into the atmosphere of the brown dwarf it orbited.
Shepard ran up to the Geth, picked it up, and slung it over his shoulders.
"Commander, what are you doing!?" Miranda demanded, she and Mording following behind as Shepard ran forward.
"As far as I know, nobody's ever captured a Geth before." Shepard explained. "Imagine what we could learn if we had the chance to talk to it!"
"Interesting research opportunity." Mordin conceded, as Shepard radioed the Normandy for evac. "Still, should be careful."
"Joker, open the Main Airlock." Shepard ordered, seeing the Normandy maneuver into position. The airlock opened, and Shepard threw the Geth forward, jumping after it to land in the airlock. Miranda and Mordin followed, and the Airlock slid closed, the Normandy speeding away as the Reaper fell into the brown dwarf...
"You retrieved a Reaper IFF?" Hackett questioned, from Io Station's comm room, not believing the words that left Shepard's mouth. "Where did you find it?"
"There was a dead Reaper orbiting a brown dwarf. You know the Great Rift on Klendagon?" At Hackett's nod, Shepard continued. "Apparently, it was caused by the Mass Accelerator round that took that Reaper out. Back on topic; now that we have the IFF, we can put a stop to the Collectors' abductions once and for all."
"I look forward to it, Commander." Hackett nodded.
"Has the Illusive Man made it to Venus-Max yet?"
"That he has. Right now, we have him in the highest security cell in the facility, doing three-hundred-seventy-five consecutive life sentences. He's not getting out any time soon."
"Have you been able to get any information out of him?"
Hackett simply shook his head. "No. Most of the data we've collected on Cerberus's operations has been from the base itself."
"Well, he had to stop being co-operative eventually."
"I know, I just wish it hadn't been so soon. We could've learned a lot about Cerberus from him directly. There is something else I need to talk to you about." Hackett shifted on his feet, looked around to make sure he wasn't being listened in on, and continued. "We've lost contact with all of our probes in the Bahak system. And it's not just us, the Council and STG have also lost contact. The Batarian refugees that came from the system claim it was a band of human terrorists that destroyed the Batarians' colony, and somehow managed to destroy the Relay, but we're not entirely sure how much of that is true. Know anything about it?"
Shepard shook his head. "No sir. But I can look at the data the Enterprise gave me and see if I can find anything about it there."
"Good." Hackett nodded. "I'll be waiting. Hackett out."