Mass Effect: "All Along the Watchtower"

Chapter Six - Whiplash


Bryant admired the smooth ride that the turian enforcers had provided. The vehicle was wide and spacious; more like a limousine than a prisoner transport. It hovered across the streets of Aihus City without making so much as a noise. If the captain had closed his eyes, he probably wouldn't have been able to tell that they were moving.

The transport itself was auto-guided, leaving room enough for Bryant, Kaidan and Young to flank Ka'hyra on both sides where she sat comfortably. On the opposite end of the aisle, three turian officers stood with guns poised and ready in case their prisoner decided to make any threatening movement.

An uncomfortable atmosphere, to be sure. No one had said a word after the transport began making its way to the Judiciary Temples. But it was Kaidan who finally broke the silence. He spoke to their prisoner, but didn't bother turning his head to make eye contact.

"Back on that moon," he began, "you carved a message into a tree stump. 'From the tower falls the shadow.'"

Ka'hyra remained silent.

Kaidan pressed the matter. "What did it mean?" he asked. "Was it even meant for us?"

"You are an intelligent human, Kaidan, so it pains me to see you get tangled up in this matter." Her tone was razor sharp and hinting at annoyance. "Did what you read make any sense within the context of your life?"

Put off by the turian's change in demeanor, Kaidan decided to ignore the question.

Ka'hyra sighed. "Can you blame me for my current attitude?" she asked, matter-of-factly. "No, Kaidan, that message was not meant for you and your and ragtag band of..." She tailed off. "It was meant as a simple direction, for someone else." She fell quiet for a moment. "Someone who didn't quite make it far enough to see my message."

Kaidan noticed the turian's expression grow somber. "Who was it that you tried to help?"

"Someone important." She looked to the two turian guards, whose weapons were still aimed at her forehead. A hopeless expression flitted across her marble eyes. "Someone I'd rather not be connected to right now."

Kaidan nodded in understanding. "Fair enough."

"Just know that Tarius has been trying to kidnap people like you and me for a while now. I've been doing my best to keep them out of his grip for just as long a time. But it's not enough for me to leave little guideposts here and there anymore. His reach has grown too wide. Which is the reason why I had to make an unannounced visit to your colony's moon."

"If this mission of yours was so important," Bryant cut in, "why did you blow it all by killing those Alliance scientists? You could have hid out in the jungle for years without anyone finding you."

The turian female rolled her eyes. "You and I, we're in the business of saving lives. For all our sakes, let us hope you differentiate between worthy and unworthy lives as little as I do."

Bryant huffed and waved the lecture away.

"Anyhow," Ka'hyra continued, "it was only a matter of time before someone found me out, whether I was subtle about it or not. Tarius' methods of interrogation are quite…effective."

The transport's console, nearest the two turian guards, lit up and emitted a gentle warning.

"What is it?" Kaidan asked.

"Traffic on the fourth level thoroughfare. We're redirecting to ground level," the first guard replied.

"That's not very typical for this time of the day," Ka'hyra purred.

The second guard shook his striped head. "I don't suspect you'd know that for sure, outcast."

Ka'hyra grinned. "I suppose I wouldn't." She settled back into her seat. "Have I been gone long enough to find my homeworld a foreign place?

The first guard leaned forward. "The second you betrayed the Hierarchy, Palaven was no longer yours."

"Hmm." Ka'hyra only stared.

"All right, now," Bryant said. "There'll be a time and a place for these accusations. The latter will be right in front of us momentarily. You boys can hold your tongues until then, can't you?"

The guards' jaws worked themselves in an aggravated fashion, but both of the turians nodded.

Their transport descended to the ground level and began to move through the gravely roads. Kaidan snuck a peek through the window behind him. He was instantly impressed by the cleanliness of the streets. The major cities of Earth could learn a lesson from the turians in that regard. Humans who dwelled within these megacities were lucky to walk the ground levels without any fear of getting robbed or worse.

Just as the Judiciary Temples began to reveal themselves above the surrounding ziggurats and skyscrapers, the transport whined to a halt. Everyone within the vehicle snapped their eyes to the front, and found that the guidance system had stopped them to allow for pedestrian traffic.

"Also typical," the first guard assured his fellow passengers. "There'll inevitably be a few more stops, but we'll get there faster this way. Upper level traffic is not something most can deal with and still retain their center."

"As long as we get there," Bryant said, smiling. He was just happy to have some momentary peace.

"Agreed," Kaidan replied, exhaling slowly. But then, as he went to rest his arms behind his head, he saw something through the opposite window, past the two guards' heads, that drained the color from his face.

This is gonna get bad. Kaidan hardly had time to form the thought before their transport was drowned in shadow. The two guards looked up just in time to catch sight of a tumbling hovercar careening directly toward them. The rogue vehicle slammed into their transport, forcing a gaping wound down the middle. The splintering steel and glass shredded the two turian guards as the rest of the passengers hit the floor. In the din and through a cacophony of thoughts, Kaidan heard Ka'hyra's voice, loud and firm. Almost panicky, but not quite.

"From the tower falls the shadow," she chanted. Her voice was muffled by metal now, but he couldn't make out her position. "From the killer comes the… call… from the killer…" As the banshee cry of twisting metal and tearing flesh reached crescendo, he could have sworn he heard her laughing.

As the car seemed to change direction, he felt it slam into the ground. In an instant he disregarded the turian's words and quickly got to his feet. When the noise had subsided his pistol was in his hand, and his eyes surveyed his surroundings. Their transport had been divided down the crumpled middle by the ravaged hovercar, effectively separating Kaidan from Bryant, Young, and Ka'hyra.

"Captain!" Kaidan called out, continuously looking out the windows around him for enemy contacts. "Captain, are you alright?"

"Yes, Alenko, yes!" the captain called back. He was coughing heavily. "Get on the comm. Call in a mayday."

"Yes, sir." Kaidan immediately began to carry out his orders but had no time to reach the receiver in his ear. The transport was torn apart. Kaidan's half of the vehicle drifted for several meters, leading a trail of sparks and broken glass behind it. He lost his balance and held on to the nearest seat until the mangled transport came to a stop.

Again, he was back on his feet. He looked out to where the other half of the vehicle had came to rest, and saw a group of four armored turians approaching it. Kaidan didn't have to think for very long before realizing those were Tarius' men. They had already caught up with them.

Kaidan kicked off into a dead sprint, keeping his eyes on the enemy turians and his pistol raised in their direction, bobbing along with his stride. When he was close enough for a clean shot, he fired off several rounds into the group. None of the four seemed aware of what had happened, but all of them had their arms raised, and a deep blue shield of dark energy surrounding them.

The bullets Kaidan had fired fell harmlessly from their shields to the ground.

Kaidan had to wrap his mind around this new development. He would be fighting biotics. Although, he couldn't help but wonder why Tarius would employ the use of their skills in his anti-biotic crusade.

Holstering his pistol, Kaidan moved in closer. The four turians were still causally walking toward Captain Bryant's half of the prisoner transport, where Young had thrown up a shimmering, weak-looking shield to protect the captain and their captive.

Kaidan latched onto the dark energies around him, and shot a kinetic blast from his arm. The ball of vapor and distortion shot through the air and caught one of the turians in the knee, sending it snapping backward and throwing him off his feet. The turian screamed out in pain, clutching his broken leg.

Witnessing the fall of their comrade, the other three turians suddenly forgot about Ka'hyra and turned their attention on Kaidan, who started to feel very small as the tall, lumbering figures made their way over to him.

"A biotic protected by other biotics," one of them said.

Another spoke up. "Tarius will be absolutely thrilled that we were able to bring back three sensitives—that wench included."

"Caused us more than a bit of trouble, hasn't she?" the first muttered gruffly, enjoying the moment.

Spurred on by his fellow, the other renegade raised his chin defiantly and continued the proud display. "Yes, indeed!" he crowed. "But I do believe it'll be very much worth the effort."

The third and nearest turian, tired of the exchange, snapped a shotgun into his hands and discharged a shell in Kaidan's direction. Kaidan's shock instinctually triggered a shield around him, and the many pellets that would have torn him apart sat hovering in front of his eyes. Before the turians could react, he thrust the shield forward, sending every single pellet returning back to the turian they had come from.

With one of them still immobilized, and another collapsing from wounds that spread from head to talon, Kaidan regarded the two remaining turian biotics.

They unleashed a wave of kinetic blasts in a panic. Kaidan was able to throw up another shield, but the force of the blasts still sent him sliding across the ground. He knew he couldn't hold out forever. Eventually, the shield would drop and he'd be taking one of those strong kinetic blasts to the face—which would make things real difficult.

He had been pushed so far back he was nearly back at his half of the prisoner transport. This gave him an idea. He timed the blasts that were coming at him, and at just the right moment, he dove out of the way. Using all his strength and ignoring the part of his mind telling him no, he wrapped the half-transport with dark energy and, with a strained wave of his arms, lifted it momentarily off the ground. Forcing himself to take pleasure from the maneuver, he threw his entire self into a repeat performance. This time he spat a restrained grunt as he threw his arms into the air, wrenching the wreckage up and launching it through the air at his assailants.

The two turians jumped out of the way without looking, landing clumsily on either side of the descending debris. They were able to avoid getting crushed by centimeters, but the turian with the injured leg was sucked under. His body was ground up into the gravel.

The two turians got back on their feet and found Kaidan already barreling toward them. They both began to focus their energy for another barrage of kinetic blasts, but halfway into it they both came to a realization. With Kaidan's extraordinary display occupying their attention, they had forgotten about the two biotics on their left flank.

Young was only a couple meters away, her arms bright and pulsing with dark energy. Before the turians could find any sort of cover, the woman's arms clapped together, unleashing a band of distortion that whiplashed through the air. The band struck and wrapped around the nearest turian assailant, sending him catapulting into the air. His screams were silenced as his back struck the corner of a nearby building—his body fell five stories to the ground.

One left.

The lone turian backed away from the two human biotics closing in on him. He knew this was a fight he could not win, but he was not about to turn his back on his opponents like a sniveling coward.

"You haven't won here," the turian said. "Killing us won't stop what's really at work here."

Drawing the attention of every biotic on the field, Ka'hyra approached the last turian, her arms still shackled together. "I know what you're thinking," she said. "Let it go. You're expendable, can't you see that? Tarius sent you here to test how well-defended I was in Alliance custody. He sent you here to die."

"How would you know that?" the turian asked, his body trembling.

"You don't know how close I was to Tarius at one time in my life. I'll assume that was a question out of ignorance. All the more reason why you should think this through."

Kaidan was unsure what Ka'hyra was talking about, until the turian assailant pulled a pistol from his belt.

"I can't go back," the turian said.

"No one is saying that you must," Ka'hyra assured him. "Come with us. Put the gun down."

The turian managed a smile through his anxiety. "This isn't over," he said. "You'll be his soon enough." He pressed the pistol to his jaw—and fired.

The three biotics watched the turian's body fall. He landed gracelessly on his back and rolled back and forth on his hump, the awkward motion forcing Kaidan to attend to his final moments.

The captain approached then, ignoring the scene. "Someone try and hail the Shiloh on the comm. I can't raise them from mine."

Kaidan tapped his commlink active. "Alenko to Shiloh, do you read?" He was met with the silence of a dead channel. "Alenko to Joker. Come on, Joker, now's not the time to ignore the comm."

A loud burst of static finally filtered in. Words came through as well, in Joker's voice, but none of them made any sense.

"Say again, Joker," Kaidan said. "What's going on?"

"We…ying…can't…"

"Joker! I can't hear you! Adjust your frequency and—"

"Mayday!" Joker shouted through the receiver. "Mayday! We're under attack!"