Author's Note:This is an idea that's been floating around in my mind for a while. Inspiration for this fic is drawn from several sources: the Richard Bachman/Stephen King novel The Running Man where, in the future, the highest rated TV show concerns people being hunted down for sport, the remake of the film Death Race where, again, people (in this case convicts in armour-plated vehicles with big guns) are pitted against each other in a race to the death (naturally) all for the satisfaction of a blood-lusting public and finally, the video game Manhunt that came out several years ago.
For those familiar with my previous Mass Effect work, there's nothing to laugh at here. Except maybe by accident. Also, things may get a little bloody.
'Cause I need to watch things die
…from a distance…
Vicariously, I live while the whole world dies
You all need it too
Prologue: A Ratings Slump
Karrick glared disgustedly at the images on the vidscreen; a human mercenary captured in the Sentry Omega system was on his knees, begging for mercy. Begging. How the humans had managed to inflict such heavy losses on the batarians at Torfan was a mystery to Karrick.
Onscreen, the mercenary, his hardsuit breached in several places looked up in supplication at the turian hunter who had run him to ground. Tears mixed with blood coursed down the man's stubbled cheeks. Pathetic.
"P-please, d-don't do this..." the merc could be heard pleading courtesy of one of the many thousands of hidden cameras and microphones that dotted the abandoned urban sprawl where the hunts took place.
"Stand up and fight, you worthless piece of varren shit!" the turian snarled, administering a brutal pistol-whip. The human's head snapped to the side and the cameras zoomed in to better capture images of blood spraying from his burst lips.
Slumping to the ground, weeping, the human curled himself into a ball.
Karrick shook his head, mouthing a litany of batarian curses. "Turn it off," he ordered. The screen went black just as the turian, finally tired of toying with his victim, pressed the barrel of his sidearm against the man's forehead and fired.
Karrick crossed the room to a bar hewn from solid bethel wood and poured a glass of green liquor for both himself and his business partner, Jorik. Accepting the glass, Jorik consulted a datapad in his other hand.
"Ratings this month are down by five percent compared with this time last year," he informed the other batarian. Five percent may not have sounded like much to some, but when dealing with viewers numbering in the millions, even a slump of five percent was a concern.
"And what of our sponsors?" Karrick enquired. Sponsors of the hunts included Batarian State Arms who had invested millions of credits in the games over the years and provided most of the firearms and hardsuits used by the hunters.
"Koth Incorporated are threatening to pull support for next year's games," Jorik answered, calmly meeting Karrick's four-eyed gaze without blinking.
"Koth? To hell with them, then. I'm sick of dealing with that slime of a volus," Karrick spat. "That being said, we need to do something to reverse this ratings slump. People are getting tired of seeing the same worthless pirates and mercenaries hunting each other down."
"What do you suggest?" Jorik asked, sipping his drink. "Air another varren and elcor special?" Jorik smiled as he remembered the pack of varren surrounding and tearing apart the hapless elcor. Ah, the memories.
"No, we need something...special to convince people to tune in." Karrick paced back and forth in his office, past the trophies mounted on the walls. Each head he had personally severed from the body of its previous owner. Most of the heads were those of humans with a smattering of krogan and turian here and there.
As Jorik watched his fellow batarian pace the floor, a thought occurred to him, "Maybe an old-fashioned grudge match? Say krogan against turians? Heh, toss in some of those spindly salarians as well. We could bill it as the chance for krogan to get even with the bastards who neutered them after the Krogan Rebellions."
"Perhaps," Karrick allowed, "If nothing else, krogan in full battle-lust are always good viewing. But I think I may have something more...interesting in mind."
Karrick turned back to Jorik, a smile growing on his face. "Set up a link with our contacts to the Shadow Broker; I want to know where the human ship, Normandy will be enjoying its next leave."
Shepard hadn't been this drunk in years and placed the blame for her present state of inebriation squarely on First Lieutenant Hayley Storm. The Lieutenant, nicknamed Hailstorm, had been part of Shepard's reconstituted crew aboard the SSV Normandy since just after the Sovereign Incident in 2183. After Sovereign, and the extended shore leave granted to the Normandy's crew, several officers and crew had requested transfers to other ships in the Systems Alliance fleet, figuring that a stint on the ship at the centre of the battle for the galaxy's very survival would get them the posting of their choosing. Shepard's former XO Pressly had applied for, and been granted, a position as navigator on the dreadnought Everest and other key members of Shepard's crew had parted ways as well.
Upon Shepard's recommendation, Garrus Vakarian, former investigator with Citadel Security had been accepted into the Spectres, no doubt enraging his by the book father. Having completed her pilgrimage by acquiring crucial information on geth sentience and their evolution as a synthetic species, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya had left the Normandy and began the long trip to rejoin her people aboard the quarian flotilla. Finally, Dr Liara T'soni, who had devoted fifty years of her life to studying the long-extinct Protheans was currently leading a research expedition to the Prothean sanctuary of Ilos, in the hopes of uncovering more details on how the Protheans had lived.
For Shepard, saying goodbye to Liara had hurt her almost physically. Scuttlebutt aboard ship during the hunt for Saren Arterius had been rife regarding Liara's attraction to the human Commander and whether or not Shepard would give into her own attraction toward the asari. In the end, however, Shepard had forced herself to look at the bigger picture - the rogue turian Spectre had been attempting to open a path along which a race of sentient machines could invade Citadel Space with the aim of extinguishing all organic life.
Shepard understood that, if she were to maintain the focus and drive needed to end Saren's mad crusade, she couldn't afford to allow the walls she had built up around herself since Akuze to crumble. After Akuze, after seeing her squad mates, her friends slaughtered by threshers right before her eyes, being unable to save them, Shepard had felt a depth of loss so great, it had been all she could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Forget about forming any kind of relationship with people, why bother, when they'd likely all die anyway, leaving her alone once more. Then she met Liara. Over time, during long talks with the asari, first about the Protheans and then about Liara herself, Shepard began to feel the barriers she'd placed around herself starting to crack. It had terrified her - seeing the admiration in Liara's eyes rapidly become something more.
Don't allow yourself to fall for her, Shepard warned herself. You fell for O'Donnell and you remember how that turned out.
Serviceman Michael O'Donnell had been the first to fall on Akuze. He and Shepard had been bantering back and forth over a private comm link, enjoying each other's company, even in the field when the ground beneath them first shook then burst apart, dirt and rocks erupting in a wide arc.
The thresher, a massive column of flesh topped by an immense ring of teeth reared above them, emitting a deep booming roar that Shepard felt through her chest cavity. O'Donnell had been standing right over where the thresher's head emerged. A single snap of its jaws later, and both halves of O'Donell's body thudded to the ground, still twitching. At the time, then-Lieutenant Shepard had been too shocked to feel much of anything. The pain came later.
Years later Shepard farewelled Liara T'soni, doing her best to fight the tears she felt growing in her eyes. I'm sorry, Liara, I know how you feel about me, but I won't put you through what I went through. It almost destroyed me and I won't visit that same pain upon you. It was only after Liara's shuttle departed the Citadel docks that Shepard allowed herself to cry.
All of these personnel movements left the Normandy's commanding officer with several slots on the crew roster to fill. Fifth Fleet brass had forwarded several dossiers to Shepard, and First Lieutenant Storm had caught Shepard's attention. The woman had seen action on Torfan, under the command of Major Kyle and had distinguished herself during the fighting, not least because she'd actually survived while seventy-five percent of her comrades had perished during the brutal close-quarters battle.
With the loss of Lieutenant Alenko during the disaster that had been Virmire, Storm's technical expertise and her abilities with a sniper rifle had earned her a place on Shepard's ground team, post Sovereign. After Sovereign, everything had changed - the loss of so many of the Council races' ships had meant that the largely unscathed Fifth Fleet had to pick up most of the slack in patrolling and securing Citadel Space. Humanity had won for itself a position on the Council and Shepard's former commanding officer, Captain Anderson had done well in representing his people on the galactic stage.
But, as ever, forces were at work in the galaxy, threatening the fragile stability of Citadel Space. Taking advantage of the disarray in the fleets, pirates and slavers carried out lightning raids on colonies near the edges of the Terminus Systems, sacking worlds and killing or enslaving tens of thousands of civilians.
For several months, the Normandy had been part of a task force comprising dozens of cruiser and frigate class vessels, destroying as much of the slaver operations as possible, in addition to securing those systems that hadn't been hit yet.
Finally, however, the bulk of the slaver rings had been smashed and the surviving pirate and slaver ships had retreated back into the Terminus Systems. Shepard hadn't been sorry to see them go.
The crew of the Normandy was now enjoying a much-deserved week-long leave on Elysium, itself a past target of slaver attacks.
Shepard sat at the bar in a club that seemed to be channelling Chora's Den, right down to the scantily clad asari dancers and drunks ogling them.
"God, Shepard, you always take us to the very best places," Storm had commented dryly when they'd first entered. The tall blonde officer observed the dancers and the drunks and shook her head. Bloody perverts. The thought flashed through her mind almost before she was aware of it.
"What can I say? At least the local yokels are going to be too busy eying off the girls to bother much with us," the Spectre had answered, leading her fellow officer to the bar. Shepard ordered a drink and, as the saying goes, the drink took a drink then the drink took the man.
Presently, the Spectre sat at the bar, propping her head up with one hand and fighting the urge to vomit. The pounding techno music that seemed to be all the rage these days seemed to match the throbbing of the pulse in her head and neck.
"Storm, I don't think I can walk. I'm so hammered..." she slurred. The other woman had suggested some kind of perverse drinking game that, like most such things, had seemed like a good idea at the time only now, both officers were cataclysmically smashed and the marines they'd arrived with had already left.
Storm gazed blearily at her CO before levering herself up off the barstool and throwing her arm across Shepard's shoulders.
"Come on, soldier, let's get you back home," Storm instructed, easing Shepard onto her feet.
Shepard took a half-step, reeling from side to side, before collapsing onto the floor.
"Shit," Hailstorm muttered before turning to the bartender, "Can I get some help here?"
The bartender rolled his eyes at the officer's request. Bloody soldiers, coming into my place, getting so drunk they can't even stand up. The trade from soldiers on leave kept his place nice and profitable but by God, they could be so inconvenient.
"Fine, fine. Luke, Riley, give 'em a hand," he directed two other bar staff.
Eventually, Storm, with the help of the staff managed to get the semi-conscious Spectre outside and into the rain that had started to fall.
The cold, heavy rain drops spattered into the top of Shepard's head, the wetness going some way to bringing her around. "Uh, what the hell?" she moaned, slumping against the rough brick wall of the club.
"You got falling-down drunk," Storm cheerfully replied, wiping rain from her own face. "Girl, you're getting too old for that kind of shit."
"Screw you, Hayles," Shepard shot back, starting to feel more herself. She levered herself off the wall, trying to ignore the feelings of vertigo and the sensation that the ground wasn't quite steady. "The drinking contest was your idea."
"Yeah and you being the senior officer, you should've known better than to go along with it," Storm bantered back as they set off away from the club, hopefully in the direction of the port.
After several minutes of unsteady, staggering progress, Shepard blurted out, "I don't rem...remember where we parked the ship!"
Storm tipped her head back and laughed.
Standing in the shadows in an alleyway opposite the humans' position, a pair of batarians observed the shambling progress of their target.
"Are you sure that's her?" one asked. His compatriot double checked the image displayed on his omni-tool, careful to conceal the instrument's amber glow, lest it give them away.
"It's her. Shepard. Drunk out of her mind," he shook his head, amused, "This is going to be too easy."
"What about the other one?"
Shrugging, the second batarian shut off his omni-tool before removing the stunner from his belt. "We'll take her too. Knowing Karrick, he'll want to have some...fun with them before giving them to the hunters."
Nodding in agreement, the two batarians slipped silently from their shadowed nook and moved in on the humans.
The rain was both a blessing and a curse, Storm decided. It was a blessing because the coldness of the water and the reduced air temperature was quickly bringing both herself and her CO to a slightly higher state of alertness. It was a curse because it meant that, when they got back to the Normandy, it'd mean she'd have to get changed before hitting the sleeper pod, and Storm just wanted to sleep.
As the two officers made slow progress along the rain-slicked street, their pursuers quietly gained on them. The hissing of the rain as it struck and rebounded from the road surface served to render their approaching footfalls undetectable. The lead batarian touched his companion's arm, then pointed to the blonde human; his companion nodded and moved to the left while the other stepped towards Shepard.
Just as Hailstorm thought they were making pretty good progress back to the docks, Shepard suddenly broke away from her and staggered to the gutter, retching.
"Ah, geez," Storm muttered, eyes rolling. With a sigh she turned to her CO; Shepard leaned forward, hands braced on knees, breathing raggedly. "God damn," she moaned.
As she moved to assist Shepard, Hailstorm caught a flicker of motion in her peripheral vision and turned.
Eyes widening, the Lieutenant observed the pair of batarians running at them and shouted a warning, "Shepard! We got hostiles incoming!"
"Wha?" the Spectre wiped her lips with the back of one shaky hand and straightened up. The four-eyed alien was on her almost before she knew what was happening.
Reeling backwards, totally losing her equilibrium, Shepard threw a wild punch at her assailant. The batarian easily ducked it and struck the woman in the face with his stunner. With a single strangled cry, the human fell back to the road amid the rain puddles, limbs awkwardly bent.
Hailstorm managed to duck the first jab of her attacker's stunner but the cry from her superior caused her to lose focus for a precious second and pain like thousands needles piercing her skin ripped through her. Storm collapsed to her knees in an oily puddle, struggling mightily to stay conscious.
It was a losing battle though, and with a final look at Shepard, lying senseless nearby, Lieutenant Storm's world faded to black.
A/N: I wanted to have another shot at writing a 'properly serious' fanfic. Not that I don't get a kick out of making with the funny, I just want to try something else for a while. I also wanted to add in some detail on Shepard's refusal to hook up with anybody - I like the idea of her being strong and resilient on the outside but unable to let anyone close in case she gets hurt again. As always reviews are appreciated. I hope to have an update posted in a couple of weeks. Keep watching the skies.