Huddled behind the makeshift barrier, clutching his pistol close and listening to the constant barrage of enemy fire, Lieutenant John Shepard knew this was not how he'd planned to spend his leave. He ducked instinctively as a cannon shell detonated just behind his position, showering him with chunks of grass and dirt.
No, he'd pictured spending his leave looking out on beautiful landscapes of both environmental and female origin, sampling the local favorite dishes and drinks, getting plenty of sleep, and oh yeah – visiting his parents. Instead, on the day after he'd arrived, a massive force of mercenaries, pirates, and raiders had unexpectedly landed outside the human settlement on Elysium and wasted no time in wrecking havoc upon everything they saw.
The city leaders had promptly sent a distress call to the Systems Alliance, but as often happened in the Skyllian Verge, the nearest patrol ships were hours away. In the meantime, it was up to the colonists themselves to mount a defense.
Not a good thing, in John's opinion. Especially since he just happened to be the only marine in the whole goddamned town. So, naturally, he was expected to organize the resistance. Like any good soldier, he tried his best despite limited resources. He'd chosen a spot to hold – the entrance area to the settlement's main complex, where naturally formed bluffs narrowed the valley enough for the colonists to build a crude wall across it. The inexperienced yet willing settlers fetched every weapon they had, including several turrets that had been ripped from their original holdings and propped precariously on temporary tripods. The men and women brave enough to fight stretched out on either side of him, shooting into the dark with outdated guns.
Yet the enemy seemed endless. And they had new guns, and good armor, and snipers, and – he flinched as another cannon blast tore apart the nearest defense turret, which had ceased to be manned hours ago. Twisted metal flew everywhere; the lieutenant ground his teeth as a fiery pain slashed across his left bicep. He glanced down, saw the spread of blood, and swore. What he would give for a hardsuit at the moment. Or a few grenades. Or a sniper of his own. Or a tank. Or maybe just some kind of – any kind of – backup.
John took a deep breath and rose into a crouch, peering over the top of the wall and squeezing off a few well-aimed shots that felled three of the advancing mob. But so many more stretched behind…
It was a losing battle, he knew in his gut. The colonists weren't fighters. Already most of them had fled in terror or were injured and lie squirming helplessly on the ground. They had no military training. Despite his repeated efforts to organize and lead them, the rush of battle, the sight of the enemy, and the noise of screams and gun blasts had divided most of them into their own worlds of survival. They didn't listen to him. They seemed not even to hear him when he barked orders.
We can't do this as individuals, he thought in dismay. We have to work together, we have to hold together…
The meager defense was falling apart. Few of the settlers were left standing, even fewer were still shooting. For a split second John Shepard considered ordering a retreat. They could take shelter in the reinforced complex and perhaps live long enough for the Alliance to come to the rescue.
But then he remembered the reports that had poured in shortly after the first wave of pirates hit the colony's outskirts: the raiders killed mercilessly, destroyed what they could not loot, and appeared to be taking slaves. And… they were almost all batarian. Fuck that. I won't give them Elysium.
He gripped his pistol in both hands and stood, swiftly taking aim. His gun fired so rapidly it sounded more like an assault rifle; the front row of yelling, chanting pirates dropped heavily to the ground. The pistol whined in protest as it overheated; John dropped it to his side and raised his right hand, feeling the familiar tingle throughout his body as he called on his biotic abilities and created a vortex of gravity right in the middle of the enemy group.
Their bombardment faltered as a good number of them flew off their feet and collided mid-air. They hung there for a long moment, struggling vainly and cursing, and every colonist still fighting concentrated their fire on the helpless knot. The other raiders seemed alarmed by this development, hesitating in their ceaseless march. Unfortunately, the signature bright-blue corona of dark energy manifestation made John an obvious and very visible target; he dropped back down behind his cover as the mercenaries still on their feet brought their weapons to bear on his location.
John turned his head to see a farmer by the name of Randy Diemler beseeching him with wide, terrified eyes. The man's words were nearly lost amid the ping and clatter of enemy slugs against the wall; the metal grew uncomfortably hot against Shepard's back and he crawled to a new spot.
"We gotta fall back!" Randy shouted, gesturing wildly toward the complex looming behind them. "We can't hold them, there're too many!"
"No!" John insisted, shaking his head. "We can't! If they get past us here the colony is lost! There's no where else to hold them… this is our last chance! Our last chance!"
"Lieutenant, the colony is already lost! If we don't fall back now the colonists will be lost! There won't be anyone left for the Alliance to save!"
That happens too often out here, John thought sourly. I'm not going to let it happen tonight. "We're not retreating!" he barked. "Hold your positions! I'll use a Lift, all you have to do is –"
A cannon blast deafened him and the section of wall near his head exploded violently. Something slammed into his temple and Shepard went sprawling; white flashed across his vision and the pain took his breath away.
Beneath the ringing in his ears he vaguely heard Randy's voice, screaming hoarsely and tinged with panic, "Fall back, fall back! Retreat to the complex! Go now, they're coming through! Go, go, go!"
John forced himself to roll onto his side despite the fact the ground still rocked beneath him. Warmth spilled down the right side of his face as he shifted and the lieutenant stared with a strange sense of detachment at the blood dripping into the grass. He assumed it was his, though the pain in his head had already subsided to a dull ache. I'm going into shock, he realized dazedly.
"Shepard!" Randy dropped to his knees in front of the lieutenant; the man took one look at John's temple and his expression made John's stomach turn. "God damn," the farmer exclaimed, "you're one tough son-of-a-bitch. Lucky that shrapnel didn't take off your head. Can you stand? I've ordered the retreat –"
"No." John pushed Randy away, but was concerned with how difficult he found it to talk. "No retreat. Hold them here."
"Are you fucking insane? They'll be on top of us in less then a minute… come on, we need to get you inside…"
"No!" Shepard looked around for his pistol, found it, grabbed it. He pushed himself to his feet; the pain stabbed through his skull again and the world tilted. He staggered; Randy caught his arm to steady him.
"You can't even walk, Lieutenant! We need to save the people who are left! The Alliance patrol will be here soon, we can last inside the building… there's an underground chamber –"
"I'm staying here," John said gruffly. "I'll stall them. You go ahead."
Randy stared at him.
A fresh shower of slugs from the mercenaries caused both men to duck. John fought off a wave of nausea; Randy shook his head in exasperation. "Fine. You wanna stay out here and die, that's your choice." He hesitated, his eyes going again to the lieutenant's right temple, and then the farmer put a hand on John's arm. "Good luck, Shepard. If, uh… if things don't go well out here… I'll tell the Alliance what you did. We'd all be dead already if not for you."
John grunted, pulling a fresh clip of ammunition from his belt and clapping it into his pistol. "Trust me, Randy, I'll be telling them myself."
The other man gave a grim nod despite the skepticism in his eyes, then took off toward the central compound at a crouching run, leaving Lieutenant John Shepard alone to face at least a hundred batarian pirates. He swallowed hard, knowing he never could have imagined being stuck in this situation. This was definitely not how he'd planned to spend his leave. And definitely not how he'd planned to die.
A distinctly batarian form appeared in the gap caused by the cannon shot; John felled it with a blast to the head. He forced himself to stand again, summoned a wave of dark energy around his hand, and then threw it into the nearest group of enemies. The force of the shimmering field knocked at least twenty of them away like dry leaves before the wind. Most of their crumpled forms did not get up from where they landed.
John's head was pounding now. He ignored it, first shooting with his left hand and then sending out a biotic attack with his right. The effort of having to use his biotic skills so many times in such a short amount of time drained him quickly. A buzzing started in his ears. His vision began to splinter, making it hard to focus. The flow of blood still trickling down his face grew heavier. His pistol overheated again… he needed more ammo… his fingers felt numb as he fumbled with a new cartridge, but eventually the gun was ready again.
How long had he been fighting? He didn't know, but it felt like a lifetime. Still, the sky had not lightened. No Alliance ships had appeared. And the pirates kept coming. Their bodies piled up, their blood making dark splatters on the pale bluff faces. Until finally… finally their numbers seemed to thin, the onslaught of bullets and cannon fire slowed… then stopped.
John Shepard stood in the gap of the makeshift wall and looked out on the scene of death and carnage. He reeled with exhaustion; it was all he could do to stay on his feet. His body pulsed in time with his heart, his skin felt burned, his hands were trembling. Never in his life had he used his biotic abilities so relentlessly – he wondered distractedly if it might have caused permanent physical damage. He waited for more mercenaries, or pirates, or raiders, or whatever they were. He waited in the suddenly eerie silence, but nothing moved.
The lieutenant was about to turn away to return to the shelter of the complex behind him, but something in his peripheral vision caught his eye and he lifted his pistol again warily. No more, he pleaded desperately. How can there be any more?
A lone figure detached itself from the dark mass of the bluff, moving in John's direction with a purposeful stride. The lieutenant tracked it with his pistol, but it was becoming harder and harder to keep the weapon steady, to focus on one spot… The silhouette came closer and John recognized the four-eyed features. He squeezed the pistol's trigger instinctively, but the bullets ricocheted off the batarian's hardsuit shields. Damn. It must have some kind of upgrade… The alien smiled, showing pointed teeth, and lifted its own rifle.
John didn't have the energy to duck or the time to bring up a dark energy barrier. The rifle's short burst caught him in the right shoulder and he stumbled, the pain racing down his arm like liquid fire. He tried to push the injuries from his awareness, tried to concentrate, tried to collect another biotic attack.
But the batarian closed the distance between them swiftly and smashed the butt of his weapon into John's left temple. The lieutenant's vision blackened; when it cleared he found himself on the ground, staring up into the pirate's leering face.
"Fascinating," the batarian mused, his four eyes flickering over John's prone form. "So you are the lone human who killed so many. Impressive, I must admit."
Shepard hardly registered the words. His skull felt like it had split open, his body like it had shattered into a million pieces. The pistol grip still rested in his palm, but his fingers wouldn't wrap around it. He automatically attempted to build up a dark energy charge, but the agony in his shoulder distracted him, and the neurons of his left arm were out of practice. The tell-tale blue flicker rolled down to his hand and fizzled out. John tried again, and again. He was just too damned exhausted… he couldn't maintain it…
The batarian cocked his head to one side. "Too bad you are a biotic," the alien said. "And so troublesome. Otherwise I would have taken you as a slave. I'm sure your determined energy would have made a good addition to my estate. But as it is…" he lowered his rifle at John's forehead, "I'm just going to have to kill you. I wanted to tell you first, however, that your efforts here were in vain. You think this was all of us?" The alien chuckled. "Oh no, human. We have many more ships waiting in orbit, many more on the way. You humans think you can take Elysium from us? No. We will burn its surface into glass. And you will die for nothing."
The lieutenant mustered everything he had left. The tingle through his body was now more like a burn - using his biotics hurt. He clenched his jaw; the blue field hovering around his body grew brighter. The batarian took its rifle in both hands, but before it could fire, a deep rumble echoed over the valley. The alien looked around in confusion.
The rumble grew louder, more ominous, and a large disturbance gathered in the sky above, glowing steadily more orange. John recognized the shape – an Alliance patrol ship, tearing through Elysium's atmosphere in the hopes of saving its colony. It was the most beautiful thing John Shepard had ever seen in his life.
The batarian realized what was happening just seconds later, its face twisted into a scowl as it turned back toward John. But the soldier was ready this time. The sight of the rescue ship had solidified his will to live and he finally gathered the strength to release his dark energy build-up. The force hit the pirate square in the chest, throwing him backwards a good thirty yards and out of sight. Shepard wasn't sure if the alien was still alive. He couldn't bring himself to sit up or shift enough to see where the pirate might have landed. But a good minute passed and the batarian did not return. Maybe he had simply gotten up and ran.
The Alliance ship reached the lower atmosphere, the thunder of its engines a wonderful sound as it approached the nearest landing port. John saw tiny shapes drop from its belly; little blue lights signaled the drop thrusters of crawlers as they sailed toward the ground. The lieutenant heard the vibration of one giant armored vehicle approaching his location, but he couldn't hang on any longer. He let himself slip into welcoming darkness.
"That was the most incredible thing I've ever seen!"
John winced at the volume of his commanding officer's voice as Captain Nathan Reynolds barged into the SSV Agincourt's medbay.
"The colonists told me what you did and I saw what was left of it myself on the ground," the captain continued, his face beaming as he walked over to John's bedside. "I tell you, young man, I don't know how you did it. We counted two hundred and fifty dead mercenaries down there, and over half of them were killed by your biotics!"
John's head still pounded viciously despite the drugs circulating his system and the fifteen hours he'd spent unconscious. He wished the captain would lower his voice. But it seemed Shepard's deeds on Elysium had already circled the entirety of the Alliance fleet – he'd barely regained consciousness before the vid-mails, calls, and visitors began arriving, starting with his parents. Doctor Calloway had been forced to physically push his mother out the door; Hannah Shepard had only allowed that after the doctor promised to send her weekly updates on her son's health and John swore to visit just as soon as he was well enough. It had been a constant bombardment even after his parents were gone; the tiny space around his bed was full of flowers and gifts from the colonists he'd saved almost single-handedly.
The doctor had tried her best to keep things relatively quiet for him, but it was near impossible. She looked up from her station by John's monitors, watching Captain Reynolds warily.
The graying man reached out and grasped Shepard's left hand – his right arm was still in a sling to immobilize his injured shoulder – shaking it heartily enough to rattle the lieutenant's teeth. He suppressed the cry that wedged in his throat and somehow managed a weak smile, hoping he wouldn't pass out in front of his CO while the man was still so impressed.
"Lieutenant John Shepard," the captain boomed, "I'll be recommending you for a promotion for this, you can be sure of that!"
John carefully gave a nod of appreciation. "Thank you, sir." His voice was gruff; his neck felt stiff.
The doctor cleared her throat loudly and Captain Reynolds turned to her in surprise, as if seeing her for the first time. "Doctor," he offered in greeting. "How's our hero holding up? How long till he's well enough to transfer?"
The woman lifted one eyebrow, punching a few buttons on the screen in front of her. "The lieutenant's lucky to be alive, Captain," she said bluntly. "He suffered a severe concussion, a broken right humorous and a fractured right scapula as a result of the gunshot wounds to his shoulder, and some inner tissue damage from the near-constant use of biotics for longer than thirty minutes. Thankfully the tissue damage won't be permanent. He just needs some time to rest and heal." She crossed her arms. "If you want your hero back any time soon, sir, he shouldn't have any more visitors. He needs peace and quiet."
Captain Reynolds smiled. "Of course. You're right." The man turned back to John. "Well Shepard, looks like you'll be staying aboard the Agincourt for awhile longer. I've already spoken to Captain Colms, you're free to remain here for as long as the doctor orders." He looked over his shoulder to the dark-haired woman. "And doc, I'll tell the Captain that Lieutenant Shepard is to have no more company till you give permission."
She gave a nod. "Thank you, sir. That would be in the lieutenant's best interest."
Captain Reynolds tossed John another grin as he walked back across the room to the door. "Rest up, Shepard," he said. "You deserve it. We'll debrief when you're healed."
"Take good care of him, doc," the man added, then slipped from the medbay and was gone. The soft hiss of the door closing was loud in the resulting silence, and John welcomed it. He let out a relieved sigh, sinking back into his pillows, the knowledge that he wasn't going to be disturbed again for awhile finally allowing him to relax.
He glanced over to Doctor Calloway. "Thanks, doc," he said, and he meant it.
"Just doing my job," she returned, but her expression was appreciative. "What you did down there was amazing, Lieutenant. But you're still human, and you sustained some pretty substantial injuries. The congratulatory visits can wait. I've locked the door – anyone else wanting to get in will have to go through me first. So try to get some sleep… it will help."
John felt a smile pull at his lips as he gratefully closed his eyes. "Whatever the doctor orders," he murmured, and despite the lingering pain of his head and shoulder, he slipped easily into a dreamless sleep.
A/N: As always, many thanks to my awesome beta Rian Sage!! Also, if you'd like to see what my John Shepard looks like, I'll post a link to pictures soon on my profile page, so keep an eye out.