Chapter Eleven: Knife Range

There were fourteen GDI troops on the top-level loading platform. Nine of them stood between the Scrin and the wide bay doors into the storage warehouse, dropping boxes and equipment and drawing weapons in surprise. Those nine humans caught the attention of a tidal wave of crystalline aliens. The furious storm of lightning and white-hot fire that surged from the Scrin warriors burned them down, melting ceramic armor and scorching the platform's surface black.

Jacob and Kaidan had the good luck to not be among those nine. They also had the fortune to be biotics, and in one case, be able to yank a half-loaded cargo dolly off the ground with one hand and fling it in front of them as an impromptu shield right as several of the Scrin whirled on them and opened fire. Two of them matched the "Disintegrator" designation: the small quadrupeds with the long, cannon-like heads, and narrow, blue-white beams erupted from their weapons and bored into the dolly, slicing into the metal of the hovering platform. The third was one of the larger quadrupeds with the green crystals sprouting from its back, which had been designated "Ravagers". It twisted its head toward them, set its blade-like feet in a wide stance, and a stream of blurring emerald spikes lanced out from a launcher mechanism in the thing's gleaming eye. They slammed into the dolly, the first couple failing to penetrate, and the rest punching through the weakened metal like it was made of paper.

Kaidan never intended the dolly to be serious cover. By the time the jagged crystals and disintegrator beams cut through it, Jacob and Kaidan were scrambling out of the line of fire, running behind a set of larger, heavier crates made of hardened ceramic and metal.

"Alenko to Embassy Command!" Kaidan shouted into his radio as they ran. "Scrin on Loading Platform A! Scrin on Platform A!"

"Up top!" Jacob shouted as they dove behind the crate. Crystal rounds slammed into it, jamming half a meter into the exterior of the container, and Jacob thanked the lunatic GDI engineers who had decided that cargo containers should be armored to the same degree as Coyote APCs.

"On it," Kaidan replied, and he leapt straight up, easily reaching high enough to grab the lip of the four-meter-tall cargo container with his free hand, and hauled himself up with a casual pull. Jacob leaned around the edge of the crate and fired a couple of bursts at the Scrin with his Werewolf rifle. The two Disintegrators skittered sideways, bounding like large, ungainly dogs, while the Ravager ignored the mass accelerator rounds that smashed into its armored skin and returned fire another barrage of jagged spikes.

Kaidan crouched on top of the crates, bringing up his submachinegun Werewolf, the lighter weapon almost comically small in his hands. He activated the grenade launcher module, fitted with standard fragmentation rounds, and got a good, ugly glimpse at the Scrin across the platform from his vantage point. Most of the wave of gleaming pseudo-insects were surging across the platform into the Embassy itself, with a small number fanning out to secure the platform. The two Masterminds who had teleported the rest onto the platform vanished in a flare of white light, probably to go get more troops.

Where the hell did they come from? He quashed that thought immediately, leveling his grenade launcher at the Ravager firing at Jacob while the Disintegrators circled around.

"Jacob, hostiles at your two, moving to flank." He raised the launcher, set the module to maximum force, and fired. The grenade did not arc; at maximum force, it impacted at comparable speeds to mass accelerator rounds, smashing into the Ravager's flank and exploding. The beast stumbled sideways from the impact, then turned its head toward Kaidan, who thrust a hand toward it and loosed a biotic thrust. The blast hit it dead center in the head, sending it stumbling backwards.

Below, Jacob tracked the two Disintegrators on his radar as they dashed around the ruined dolly, turning their cannon-heads toward him as they ran. He sighted the first one and fired a quick burst, catching it in the head and legs. The first couple of rounds bounced off the armored skin, but one round penetrated a foreleg and sent it stumbling. The second fired as he shifted aim, the beam slicing past him at chest level. He dove for the ground as the beam cut past, nearly bisecting him at the waist, and as he crashed to the platform, Jacob send a biotic pulse at the alien. Dark blue light swirled around him as he grabbed the alien in a field of null gravity, dragging it up into the air, and he fired three careful bursts into it as it flailed around. The thing twitched and jerked before going still. He dropped his aim to the first alien, which was lurching to its feet, and put two more bursts into it. The second burst sent it sprawling and still.

The Ravager let out a warbling, resonant howl and opened fire again, this time at Kaidan, who scrambled back out of the line of fire. Jacob rose to his knees, leaned around the corner, and switched to his shotgun attachment. He keyed the module to slug-based firing mode and loosed a powerful single shot at the Ravager, aiming for its legs. The dense slug, massing about a hundred times the size of the typical mass accelerator round, impacted the Ravager's leg and sent it stumbling again.

"All we're doing is pissing it off," Jacob shouted, the heat from the shot dissipating. He fired another slug, aiming higher, and saw crystal armor-plate crumple under the impact. The Ravager turned toward him, and he threw himself backward. Jagged crystals that would have easily opened up his armor screamed past only centimeters away. The Ravager then lurched to its left as Kaidan grabbed it in another biotic pull. The monster was too heavy for the field Kaidan had hastily thrown at it, and it pulled free of the altered gravity field, firing a couple of spikes at the mutant's position atop the crate.

As Kaidan dropped beneath the alien's fire, he spotted more Scrin charging across the platform: another Ravager, three more Disintegrators, and one of the humanoid creatures with the gleaming eyes, bladed fingers, and glowing arm-mounted cannons. GDI designated them "Intruders," though the only records they had of this variant of the Scrin came from Shepard's accounts and recording equipment from the massacre on Akuze.

"More hostiles inbound," Kaidan called. Jacob fired another shotgun slug below, annoying the Ravager and drawing its fire. Kaidan rose and hit it with another grenade shot. He thought he saw black and silvery fluid running from rents in its armor. Good; if it could bleed, they could kill it.

We killed plenty of Scrin a century before we ever found mass effect technology, he thought with grim determination as it shot back at him. And we can kill them now. They could drop this creature if they kept pounding it, assuming it didn't get lucky and catch them with one of its spikes. Even a glancing hit on an infantryman from one of those jagged projectiles could be lethal, considering how they'd opened up tanks and APCs a century ago. But the reinforcements were closing in, and they had to kill it fast.

White light flared across the platform again, and Kaidan looked up. The Masterminds who'd brought the first wave were returning, and another slew of crystalline horrors were gathered around them. They surged toward the Embassy, though one of the monsters stopped, and Kaidan realized from its bulbous shape that it was another of the teleporting command units. This one had thicker legs and a smaller, flatter body. Gleaming spikes of sapphire ran along thick, ridged armor plates, crackling lightning playing among them.

He recognized it from Shepard's reports, but that just made his blood run cold.

The strange Mastermind variant turned toward him, the gemstone eyes on the front of its body glittering with a dark blue light, and every Scrin creature between Kaidan and the new arrival scrambled out of the way as lightning intensified around the spikes.

"Oh," Kaidan breathed, and spun. "Jacob, move! Incoming!"

There were maybe a dozen heavy crates surrounding them, weighing multiple tons, and every single one of them were simply launched into the air. There was no telltale blue surging of dark energy that characterized biotic mass effect fields. Nor was there the lightning or white light that characterized other Scrin weapons. There was just a tremendous surge of raw kinetic force, throwing aside crates and corpses and a couple of unlucky Disintegrators, and it picked up and hurled Kaidan and Jacob off the side of the platform along with the heavy crates they'd been using for cover, sending them plummeting toward the Ward below.

Locke was still selecting his gear, looking over possible loadouts, when his commlink pinged. He glanced down at it, and a single text message scrolled across it.

GDI Embassy under attack. Scrin presence on Citadel. Mobilize for action.

His heart sped up marginally faster, but that was his only reaction. He started gathering gear, while shooting a quick coded message to the rest of his team to load up. The heavy components of his combat suit and his weapons went into an enormous bag nearly as large as he was, and he slung the whole assembly onto his shoulder with barely a grunt of effort.

Scrin. He'd never fought them before. He'd killed at least one example of everything else in the galaxy; he had even destroyed a couple of geth units during a recon op in the hours after Eden Prime, which had been the same one to tip them off to the quarian presence. But the century-old boogeymen of humanity were the one foe he'd never tested himself against.

He'd get the chance soon enough.

"Once we have to data secured, I'll get a platoon over there to recover it," the human, Parker, was saying as he walked down the hallways with the ambassador, Udina. Garrus walked beside them, listening as they spoke. From what he could tell, Udina was not happy that a Citadel Spectre was within arm's reach, but since Admiral Parker had accepted his presence on details regarding military matters like this, then Udina couldn't object. Or maybe Udina was terrified of a man nicknamed "Havoc."

"A platoon might be too high profile," Garrus suggested. "We should be more discreet."

"This coming from the guy who hunts mercenaries with cargo haulers?" Parker asked with a laugh.

"I agree with Spectre Vakarian," Udina said. "We've already caused enough of a stir. We should try to keep this quiet until we have the data itself. Then we can launch the all-out attacks you two are so fond of."

"I don't want to risk tipping our enemies as to where the data is," Garrus added. "We still don't know the extent of Saren's resources on the Citadel."

"Which is why I think we need to move in force," Parker said. "Saren's already killed one small but well-equipped team moving this intel. A platoon of Marines would be a much harder-"

The building's alarm klaxons erupted, and Garrus had his assault rifle unfolded and ready almost immediately. Parker was drawing his sidearm and lifting his wrist to his mouth, while the air vents in the corridor hissed closed.

"Report," the Admiral ordered. Garrus keyed into the Embassy frequency while Udina asked the usual inane civilian things that came about while under attack: "What's happening? Who is shooting at us? I'm squishy and not wearing armor and I'm a liability, get me to safety, etc." Garrus ignored them as he listened.

"Topside loading platform is reporting that it is under attack," reported the Embassy's EVA. "Scrin force of platoon strength with several heavy supporting units. Uploading force composition."

The hell? Garrus immediately brought up his visor's secured commlink and connected to the Citadel's dedicated Spectre office servers. He could faintly hear gunfire overhead as the visor did its handshake with the encrypted servers.

"Scrin?" Udina said, his tone shocked. He must have listened in on his own radio. "How did they-"

"Irrelevant," Parker replied. He grabbed Udina's arm. "Sir, I need to get you to safety."

"The Director?" Garrus asked as they started down the corridor. A pair of GDI Marines came around the corner and joined them, Werewolves shouldered at move-to-contact position.

"Council chambers in the main tower," Parker said. "He's safe. We need to be more worried about the quarians."

"Shepard was with them in the medical wing," Garrus said. His visor finished linking up with the Spectre office, and he began downloading all the relevant tactical data on the Scrin that the Spectres had accumulated from GDI reports and accounts of was limited of overall value, but GDI had been very forthcoming with everything they had on the Scrin threat, especially in the hours after Eden Prime. He could at least get useful data on their tactical abilities, especially where vulnerable points were.

"Right," Parker replied, changing frequencies. "Shepard, this is Parker, you read me?"

Shepard crouched in the hallway outside the infirmary, Werewolf at the ready, assault rifle module armed and helmet deployed. She could hear Tali inside, speaking with Kal'Reegar and Doctor Michel as they put his suit back together, and she cocked her head to the side as the admiral spoke in her ear.

"Shepard, I copy, sir," she replied.

"You got the lowdown?"

"Scrin, sir," she replied. "They've overrun the loading platform."

She did her damned best to hide the trembling in her hands that came at that warning, and kept the quaver out of her voice at the memory of Buzzers tearing through her suit. She kept her hands busy by ejecting and reloading the grenade magazine on her Werewolf.

"Are you with the quarians?"

"Yes sir," she replied. "They're getting armed up."

"Get them out of here, Commando," Parker ordered. "Everything else is secondary. We need them and that damned intel."

"Understood, sir," she replied. "The Ambassador?"

"We're taking care of him," Parker replied. "I'm coordinating a defense until we can get C-Sec here. Priority now is securing the VIPs and evacuating them. Nothing else matters."

She heard movement behind her in the infirmary, and Kal'Reegar's tone was annoyed.

"-can't fight if I don't have a weapon-"

"Secured files, sir?"

"Oh. Hold on." A pause. "Hey, cool, no one's in the file rooms or the secured servers!"

The Embassy shuddered a moment later.

"Heh. Always wanted to do that." Someone said something on the other end; it sounded like Udina. "Yeah? Triple-layered EMP, plasma, and high explosives. Do you know a better way to wipe secured data, sir?" More exasperation. "Sir, all that data is backed up on secured servers back in homespace. We didn't lose anything we can't replace unless you had some weirdass hanar porn in there or-"

"Sir, we need to focus on the killing," Shepard called, and Parker grunted.

"Right, right. Get the quarians out of here. Garrus said he's headed your way now. Hostiles are still up on the top floor, going to try to organize a defense there to hold them back. Get them to the secured garage on the second level and get them out of here."

"Yes sir," Shepard replied, and closed the link. Behind her, she could hear the quarians and Michel coming out of the infirmary. "You three ready?"

"Yeah, I'm good as can be," Kal'Reegar replied. "I'm not armed, through. Security took our weapons, though Tali doesn't need a gun to be deadly."

"I'm not sure, Kal," Tali murmured, fingers playing over her forearm and the invisible, helmet-displayed interface. "My omnitool is optimized to use ECM against geth or conventional technology. I'm not sure how well it would work on Scrin. I think I can mod the minifacturing to fabricate a mono-"

"Sync your suits with mine," Shepard ordered, cutting Tali off, then detached her sidearm, holding it back behind her. Kal'Reegar took the pistol, and Shepard brought up the Embassy schematics. Good news was that the air vents had sealed, so the little bladed fuckers couldn't sneak up on them. They'd have to use the hallways like everyone else.

"Thanks, ma'am, but I think we need more firepower." He paused. "Got the schematics."

"Armory station two corridors down," she reported, highlighting it. "Enough weapons in there to arm a small colony." She glanced back to Michel. "Doctor, stay close to Kal'Reegar and keep an eye on his vitals."

"Understood, Commander," the French-accented woman replied, her voice remarkably calm despite the situation, and Shepard noted she'd grabbed a heavy medical kit and a backpack medical rig capable of immediate in-field surgery. Good thinking; she would be a liability in direct combat, but if anyone got hurt, she'd be a godsend.

"Tali" Shepard added, "stay close to me, charge up ECM grenades. Kal'Reegar, you're on rear guard. Doctor, anyone gets hurt you pull them back and patch up the holes."

They nodded, and started down the corridor. Gunfire roared overhead, and she could pick out the distinctive sounds of sonic grenades and railguns, coupled with personal ion cannons and conventional mass accelerator fire. Intermixed with the ugly, familiar whines and pulses of Scrin weaponry. As they moved, she brought up Garrus' commlink.

"Garrus, you hear me?" she asked.

"Loud and clear. I'm moving across the second level toward the infirmary. Contact?"

"Negative. We're rerouting to Armory Station C. Meet us there."

"Understood," Garrus replied. "Things are going bad up above. Top floor is nearly overrun. They're moving fast."

Shepard suppressed a shudder as she advanced. Akuze was a distant memory, but no less potent for that. Close-quarters combat in the halls and dockyards of a burning pre-fab colony against these monsters was a nightmare she didn't want to imagine, let alone repeat.

They reached an intersection, and Shepard took them to the left, the quickest way to the armory station. She didn't see anyone down this corridor; according the Embassy's internal sensors, everyone with a weapon and armor was moving upstairs to repel the attack above, while the noncombatant Embassy personnel were going down below to the garages or upper non-GDI levels of the skyscraper to evacuate. That left the second level relatively empty; she counted maybe two dozen people on this floor total.

A whining sound came down the corridor, and Shepard froze in place. She held up a hand to stop the others, then clenched a fist, heart pounding. Dark energy swirled around her.

The ceiling ten meters down blew in under a torrent of white fire and noise, and a gleaming, crystalline horror crashed down through the opening, indistinct in the sudden cloud of dust and debris, and then surged down the corridor toward her group.

Shepard shouted in fury and terror, her cry drowned out as she opened fire while the Scrin poured in through the breach.

Sergeant Vernon Mills' rifle squad had barely any warning. They had moved up from the second level to reinforce the beleaguered and overrun defenders on the top level, and were advancing up a corridor toward one of the GDI fireteams holding the passage to the topside vehicle hangar when the Embassy EVA issued them an alert. Mills threw himself to the floor, activating his railgun module, and sighted down it right as the aliens suddenly burst around an intersection.

The first of the Scrin beasts to round the corner, one of the little Disintegrator bastards, fell into his sights. He triggered his railgun, and the massive gun - making up half the mass of the entire weapon system - screamed an echoing battle cry down the corridor. The heavy hypervelocity round that erupted from the module wasn't the usual type; most hypervelocity rounds were shaped by firing computers inside the weapon on the fly to ensure accuracy and to avoid issues with friction and wind resistance between barrel and target. The railgun round was a much larger bullet the size of Mills' index finger, pre-shaped and fin-stabilized with an armor-piercing tip and a frangible core of tungsten shards. It impacted right where the Disintegrator's cannon "head" met the quadruped body.

The mess was extraordinary.

It was also a waste. Mills cursed quietly as more Scrin came barreling around the corner: several Disintegrators, a Ravager, and two of the humanoid Intruders. A cloud of Buzzers surrounded them. Any of the latter would have been a much better target for his railgun, even the Buzzers, due to the sonic shockwave.

Fortunately, the rest of the six-man rifle squad had taken up positions around and behind him, and their weapons unleashed a torrent of fire upon the rest of the Scrin force. Hypervelocity rounds punched into crystalline armor. Fragmentation grenades impacted among the closely-packed aliens, and two more railguns split the air. Mills saw several Disintegrators blown apart under the withering barrage, and Buzzers began to scatter and fall to the deck as their mind-linked swarms were shattered.

The Intruders and the Ravager were a different story. He saw one of the humanoid creatures take a railgun hit directly to the chest and stagger backward. The second railgun round hit the other Intruder in the left forearm and severed it completely, but the only reaction by the alien was to stumble to the side, glowing silvery fluid splattering from the stump. The Ravager waded through incoming fire without concern, and then retaliated.

A streak of green shot down the passage, and Mills was suddenly covered in blood, and PFC Ruleman screamed. Mills rolled sideways to the side of the corridor as two more jagged green spikes ripped past, and a second Marine's biometrics flatlined instantly. Mills fired his railgun again as it cooled, plugging the wounded Intruder in the chest. He saw the gleaming armor crack under the impact and the alien was flung off its feet, a pair of Disintegrators leaping over the body.

"Fall back!" Mills shouted as the Ravager fired two more shots. He rose to standing position and fell back a couple of steps, switching to machinegun mode, and began pouring fire into the standing Intruder. The rest of the fireteam were retreating down the corridor, firing as they moved, and taking cover at an intersection further down. The Intruder charged through Mills' rounds, armor cracking and crumpling under the weight of the incoming fire, silvery goop flying from injuries to its "flesh," and it raised its arm cannons.

A double line of searing plasma swept across the corridor, focused into two tight beams, and hammered Mills where he stood. His shields stopped the superheated gas itself forty centimeters from his armor, but the heat washed through. Ceramic plates melted and ablated off, and the sheer amount of thermal energy incinerated flesh.

For an instant, there was blinding, white pain. Just as swiftly, he was struck by a sudden, numbing chill, and dropped to the deck.

The Buzzers fell on him as he lay there, but he barely felt a thing as they carved his flesh into charred chunks of meat.

Corporal Din Galorus clung tightly to the gun controls as his partner sent the C-Sec emergency response air car screaming through the Wards, above the atmosphere sheath. Corporal Tomasis Valerian was known to be a reckless driver, but he was also a damned decent pilot, and was decorated for ending several high-speed air chases with deft effectiveness and no loss of life. Galorus worked well with the turian, operating as his tech support and gunner. Volus were not as physically adept as many of the taller and slimmer species that the galaxy seemed to spit out with far more regularity, but one didn't need long legs or arms to operate vehicle-mounted riot and assault weaponry.

"Dispatch, Unit Seven-One-Three-Nine, en route to disturbance at GDI Embassy," Galorus reported. "ETA forty-five seconds."

"Acknowledged Seven-One-Three-Nine," came the response from a male turian, his voice strained with the sudden chaos hitting the C-Sec network. "Be advised, orders are to maintain distance and provide overwatch until Special Response units arrive."

"Understood, Dispatch," Galorus replied. He paused to inhale from his breath unit. Unlike most species, volus didn't need to breathe constantly. Once every thirty seconds was sufficient. "Have we confirmed who is attacking them?"

"Seven-One-Three-Nine, reports indicate unknown hostile alien life forms," replied Dispatch. "Indications are they may be Scrin. Proceed with extreme caution."

"Spirits," hissed Valerian. "Scrin? I thought those were just-"

"You're paid to fly in a crisis, Valerian, not think," Galorus cut him off. He turned back to Dispatch. "Dispatch, discretion?"

"Avoid contact if possible, but if necessary to protect civilian lives, you are cleared to engage."

"Copy that, Dispatch. ETA thirty seconds."

They swept across the Ward, closing in, and on the emergency response air-car's display the volus officer could easily make out the GDI Embassy. It was easy to spot, even among the field of shimmering lights of the endless sea of skyscrapers and holograms across the Ward. After all, no matter how garish the advertisements were, they didn't match raw, blazing fire and lightning.

They were the first C-Sec unit to respond after Avina sent the station-wide alert, and thus were the first C-Sec officers to get an unimpeded view of the Scrin as they assaulted the human building. Galorus could see strange, crystalline bodies moving around on the upper loading platform, amid white-hot fires blazing here and there on the same structure. The windows of the uppermost floor were all dark, save for a continuous series of flashing blue and white lights: the exchange of gunfire from GDI soldiers and the Scrin attacking them.

"Dispatch, feeding sensor data," Galorus reported. "Multiple hostile entities on loading dock. Some form of insect. Vaguely resembles rachni, but made of some kind of crystal and metal. Numerous smaller units, having difficulty picking them out on thermals."

Most of the Scrin seemed to have entered the Embassy, though he spotted two about the size of light tanks, one guarding either end of the platform, and several smaller ones with rounded upper bodies. He wasn't sure what to make of them, though he recognized the shape of some form of alien weapon on the "heads" of the larger creatures, or machines, or whatever they were.

One level down from the loading dock, he spotted a section of the Embassy wall slide up, revealing an air car garage. Two civilian cars suddenly shot out of the garage, flying hard and fast.

They weren't fast enough, Galorus realized. One of the larger Scrin legged guns was standing on the edge of the dock, directly overlooking the garage, and the instant the cars appeared it opened fire. A blue-white bolt erupted from its cannon, intersecting the first car the moment it appeared. A flare of light from the car's power generator hid the vehicle from view for an instant, and when he could see it again, Galorus saw the car split in half a dozen pieces, debris and what might have been pieces of people tumbling from the burning remains.

"Valerian, punch it," Galorus ordered, his normally cold, synthesized voice now sharp and hot. The turian needed no encouragement, and the response car launched forward at full speed.

The second civilian car dove and tried to evade the Scrin's fire, and the first two shots from the alien walker burned close. The third hit the car in the rear, and the back half of the aircraft flew apart in a blaze of light. It began a wild tumble, and a fourth shot cleanly hit the remains and blew it apart.

Galorus made certain the response car's topside gun turret was set for high-explosive rounds, and targeted the Scrin walker was they closed in. The alien weapon turned and started firing into the garage. Cars exploded beyond, and someone inside started closing the doors again.

"Dispatch, Scrin are firing on evacuating civilians," he reported, his words harsh and angry. "We are engaging."

He brought up his scopes, locked on to the walker, and opened fire.

"They're in the Embassy now," Miranda reported, checking her submachinegun in the back of the armored aircar. The two men beside her and the one in the passenger seat ahead were double-checking their weapons and gear as well. They were lightly outfitted: black skin-layer armor-fabric with a second long coat of more armor-fabric over it. Light armor plates wrapped around their legs and torsos, and the rest of the team wore helmets with dark red visors.

"As expected," Kane murmured in her ear through the radio. His holographic representation hovered in the air before her, expression pensive as he studied something offscreen. "The attack on the factory has made Saren desperate. More desperate, at any rate, considering he had his mercenaries murder a dozen quarians on the street."

"C-Sec is responding, but I don't think they will be able to react fast enough," Miranda added, checking the feeds on her visor's display. She eschewed the helmets and armor-coats her troops wore, preferring the visibility of the wraparounds and the mobility of just the light plates and skin-layer. The wraparound crystal was not the lightweight holographic display that many people preferred, but they were plenty reliable, and much better at stopping shrapnel intent on blinding her.

Citadel Security's internal network had gone berserk within moments. Miranda watched hundreds of reports fly by on the high-priority channels alone as the aircar shot over the Wards. The lower-priority channels were being swamped, and C-Sec units were already responding, with one emergency response air-car strafing the Scrin with insane disregard for its own safety. Special Response was mobilizing in full force, and the CDF was reacting with immediate and decisive violence. She could see on the external cameras that CDF ships had begun maneuvering toward the compromised turian cruiser, their weapons hot, and she knew that they were not going to attempt a boarding action.

"This is a suicide run," she murmured, and Kane nodded.

"Less of an issue for the Scrin than it would be for other species," he mused. "The cruiser was a vehicle to deliver a sacrificial strike force. As I said, Saren is desperate. I am running scenarios now to determine when he put the ship that initiated this attack in place."

"My team is too small for a large-scale intervention at the Embassy," Miranda said, bringing things back to the immediate issues they faced. "My Dagger teams don't have the firepower to stop the Scrin." Aside from the three other agents and the driver in the armored car with her, there were two more cars with a similar number of personnel, designated "Dagger Two" and "Dagger Three." A dozen operatives, no matter how well equipped, would be slaughtered in a straight fight with the Scrin troops attacking the Embassy. Not to mention that GDI might be a bit touchy about another unexplained armed force showing up without warning to shoot up their building.

"You're not headed for the Embassy," Kane replied. His image shifted, showing a schematic of the Citadel itself. "They are using Masterminds to phase-shift troops there, but Masterminds by themselves do not have the range to conduct a temporal phase-shift directly from the Valedictum to the GDI Embassy. They appear to be working in a relay system."

Markers appeared on the Citadel schematic: three points, one starting few kilometers from where the Valedictum had been located, another halfway down the Ward, and a third close to the Embassy.

"These are the temporal phase-shift points that I have detected," he explained. "They match the radiation patterns associated with the warping gates the Scrin used on Earth in 2047, as well as Akuze."

"We cut the chain, we cut off Scrin reinforcements," she said, and Kane nodded. He highlighted the location closest to the Valedictum.

"The majority of the enemy force is still located here. Perhaps two hundred remaining units. They have established a foothold in what appears to be a disused factory complex in the industrial section of the Ward." He paused, frowning. "They planned for this for some time, it seems. Saren may have some connection to the factory. Regardless, it is not your target. I need you to eliminate the point on the chain closest to Embassy. Several Masterminds have secured each location with a small enemy force. Destroying the ones located here will delay the enemy and may buy GDI enough time to evacuate and C-Sec enough time to effect a rescue before the enemy inflict irrecoverable damage."

Miranda frowned. They'd be throwing themselves into the teeth of superior aliens, some of whom had remote mind-control capability, and at any moment reinforcements could teleport in.

"We'll take care of it," she said with confidence. Nothing she couldn't handle.

"Are you certain?" Kane asked, leaning a bit closer on the display. "I have additional elements mobilizing. I have a Marked unit moving now, and they will be able to support you in less than twenty minutes."

"You said it yourself," she replied. "We don't have much time. I'll take the help, but every minute we delay, the Scrin bring more troops to the Embassy. They need us to cut the chain now."

He nodded, face set in grave, stark lines, but when he spoke, he did so with confidence.

"Good luck, then, Miranda," Kane said. "I know that I can trust in you."

Locke stood in the back of the heavy cargo truck as it swerved through traffic. He was no longer clad in his low-profile civilian armor. He wore heavier ceramic plating and an angular helmet, not too dissimilar from the GDI infantry helmet's design. In fact, save for the dull gray color scheme and heavier plating, the armor was mostly modded GDI armor plating, with an energized armor layer and strength-enhancing exoskeleton upgrades. His heavy, boxy backpack contained the standard-issue jetpack, but it also carried a massive shield capacitor directly fed into the armor to boost its barriers well past the norm. The armor and pack added imposing mass to his already massive form.

The whole outfit was bulky and heavy, but by now, Locke was familiar with it, and he moved through the cargo compartment with ease. Half a dozen men sat in the compartment with him, wearing similar gear. Two of them wore even bulkier lift-assist exoskeletions, and carried heavy mass accelerators with large, boxy magazines of ejectable heat sinks. That design was not common in infantry arms, though vehicle weapons generated so much heat that ejectable sink magazines were becoming more commonplace. The rest of the team wore lighter slate-gray armor, three of them carrying Werewolf rifles with grenade and shotgun attachments, and the last with a dedicated marskman rifle, the long, narrow, rectangular barrel distinctive from the snub-nosed Werewolves.

"What's our target?" he asked, keyed into the quantum entanglement system in the safehouse via tightbeam transmitter on the armored truck. It was still fairly secure, though nowhere as secure as directly interfacing with the QEC itself. That was why their communication was being kept short and simple.

A set of coordinates flashed onto his helmet's display. He checked them against the Citadel's standard coordinate system, and found a trio of locations across Zakera Ward.

"What are we after?" he asked.

"Scrin Masterminds," came the short, garbled response. "They will collapse and self-destruct immediately after death, so one must be incapacitated and taken alive for analysis."

"Understood," Locke replied. He glanced at the feeds showing the Embassy, and the blasts of lightning and plasma screaming through the top level. "The Embassy?"


He nodded. The notion of ignoring an attack on his fellow humans by an alien force did not sit well with him, but he had a job to do.

"Understood," he repeated, and glanced to his team. They nodded one by one. "It's not likely that it will stay alive long even if we bring it down alive."

"Scan it as much as possible before it expires," the voice ordered. "Any data will help."

"We'll get it done," Locke replied, his tone quiet but resolute. He didn't know how his superiors had learned of the pending Scrin attack. Maybe they had just ordered him on standby in case, and were jumping on an opportunity. He didn't need to ask questions. Were he operating on his own, he might have taken more liberty with his actions; he'd done as much when fighting the turians on Shanxi. But this objective was narrow, and the window was limited.

And unlike GDI, Phoenix knew what it was doing.

Jacob and Kaidan fell amidst a shower of creates and debris hurled from the rooftop, dropping toward the Ward below. The Citadel's own internal systems were set up to prevent lethal falls like this; when all gravity was artificial, it was easy to automatically adjust the gravity settings to keep fall injuries and deaths to a minimum. Even then a Citadel VI was tracking the falling objects and preparing to locally reduce gravitational pull to minimize injuries around where they would impact.

The two GDI Marines were in no danger of that particular blast of anticlimax. They both spun around as they fell, orienting their feet down toward the Ward, and fired their integrated jetpacks. Hover mode was preprogrammed into the suits' computers, automatically adjusted for the mass of the wearer, their gear, and local gravity, so both men came to a near complete halt. Jacob shifted to the side a bit to avoid a falling crate, and then they were clear.

"Back up top?" Kaidan asked over the radio, and Jacob shook his head.

"Commander was with the quarians on the second level," he replied. "That's where we need to be."

Kaidan nodded, and they poured more power to their jetpacks. They shot up the side of the building, passing glaring holographic signs until they reached the upper levels where the Embassy had requested no advertisements be mounted, and came to a halt at the second floor. Flashes of fire and fury sounded up above, and Kaidan set his expression into a grim mask as they readied their Werewolves. They stopped in front a large bay window, likely someone's office.

"Warp the glass, then we'll blast through," Jacob said, and Kaidan nodded. The "glass" was really a hardened transparent crystal that could resist anything short of anti-vehicle fire. No one wanted someone with a grudge and a sniper rifle or a high-speed car to just fly up and take out important GDI officials in a suicide strike.

The window cracked and twisted as they both set upon it with ripping, distorted gravity. Jacob slid an armor-piercing mod-cylinder into his rifle's port, ejecting the shredder module, and it took only a moment for the weapon to accept the change in ammunition. Kaidan followed suit, and a couple of seconds after initiating the warp fields, they leveled their weapons at the window and opened fire. Tungsten rounds ripped through the crystalline armor-glass, blowing powdery holes through it, and the glass twisted and cracked faster.

"Push it inside," Kaidan ordered, and they both released the warping fields and thrust their hands at the glass and released a different burst of biotic power. This gravitic alteration pulled away from them, grabbing the glass and dragging it inside the office. The window held together for another second before shattering into thousands of razor-edged pieces of hardened crystal. Chunks flew into the room and embedded in the far wall, while others scattered around the interior of the office, burying into or on top of office furniture.

The pair of biotic Marines angled their jetpacks forward and dropped into the room, careful not to step on any large chunks of sharp-edged crystal.

"Let's get back into it," Jacob growled, and Kaidan nodded. They stepped out of the office onto the second floor of the Embassy.

Admiral Nick Parker V coordinated the chaos as best he could from the second floor vehicle garage. He stood in the center of the hurricane of violence and humanity, a calm center amid the swirl of evacuating civilians, squawking Citadel agencies, screaming GDI military assets, and infuriatingly deadpan Embassy EVAs. Everyone was screaming in his ears at once, and he fought to keep the insanity under control. Civilian Embassy workers were fleeing below, but the access to the upper floors of the skyscraper were limited, forcing him to use a couple of squads of troops just to keep the evacuation in order. Now that reports were coming in of Scrin squads breaching through the upper levels to the second floor, not everyone was able to get down below to escape.

"Third Platoon, A Company is being overwhelmed in section Top-Three-C," reported one of the security EVAs. Parker grunted, hands working over the Command Omnitool and the three-dimensional command hologram it was displaying over him. The ComOm was a natural outgrowth of the old ComCom wrist units used for the last century by battlefield commanders, and it gave him a running list and display of all of his combat assets in the Embassy in extreme, constantly-updated detail.

With two quick gestures, he moved another Zone Trooper squad to reinforce the overrun units. The EVAs were reporting at least fifty Scrin units inside the Embassy now, with a few dozen more appearing about once a minute on the exterior landing platform. C-Sec emergency response and Special Response units were en route, but had no arrived yet, save for one lightly-armed air-car that was strafing the enemy on the loading platform. Whoever was in that tiny car had balls of neutronium.

Those same Scrin units on the platform had a pair of Gun Walkers, who had taken a commanding position of fire over both vehicle garages, which had only become apparent when the first round of civilians tried to flee and were shot down. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) Ambassador Udina hadn't been among the poor bastards that had flown into the Walker's fire.

"Alert!" one of the EVAs reported. "Lower exits are being sealed. Emergency security protocols enabled."

"What?" Parker demanded, bringing up the lower floors. All of the exits connecting the bottom level of the Embassy were being sealed shut, civilians crowding behind them. Soldiers were trying to access the terminals nearest the doors or the door controls and reopen them.

"Who the hell ordered those sealed?" he yelled, but the answer came even as he spoke. "Belay that. EVA, lock those assholes out!"

"Isolating hostile attack vectors," the EVA replied. "Multiple points of access. Unable to fully isolate systems from internal attack. Alien attack programs bypassing internal firewalls. Physical isolation of uncompromised network nodes complete."

"Show me what they've compromised," Parker ordered.

The schematic on his hologram display showed red markers stretching across the Embassy. Internal sensors and door controls had been compromised. Automated defenses had been disabled. Internal comms were intact. Control over the external doors for the launch bays were still under GDI control. Most of the remaining systems were still theirs, but with the door controls locked the Scrin could go anywhere they wanted.

"Points of origin on those hackers?" he asked. Four locations on the top level were marked instantly.

"Unable to isolate precise point of origin of alien attack vector," the EVA replied. "Likely access points noted."

Parker brought up a plot of all of his active tactical units, and spotted one on the second floor that wasn't engaged. Actually, two individuals, close together,moving fast.

"Alenko, Taylor," he called, cutting in over their radios. "This is Parker. Respond!"

The first thing through the hole in the ceiling was straight out of her ugliest memories of Akuze. The Intruder hit the deck amid a shower of dissipating plasma and white-hot debris, whirling toward Shepard with both arm-cannons blazing and gemstone eyes shining, and charged through her first pair of bursts without slowing.

The biotic blast that took it low in the legs, however, sent the humanoid monster tumbling forward, disrupting it just long enough for her to switch to the armor-piercing shotgun module. As it leapt to its feet, tungsten flechettes drove into its face from less than five meters away, sending spiderweb lines through the plating around the eyes. Shepard put two more shotgun blasts into its head at point blank range, and the last one set a splattering cone of silver-white gore out the back of the thing's head. Over the report of her own weapon, she could hear Kal'Reegar's own pistol barking behind her, putting rounds into the alien's head right alongside her own shells.

Shepard didn't stop firing; Akuze had taught her that. The alien's head was a mess of that reflective stew that ran through their tiberium-based bodies, but it wasn't dead. It recoiled, whether in pain, disorientation, or simple surprise at the ferocity of her attack, and she hauled back with her off hand, dark energy swirling around it. Another shotgun blast to the massive beast's chest pushed it back a step, and she stabbed her off hand forward, a massive cone of biotic power rippling around her arm and translating into a tremendous blast of altered gravity that launched the decapitated Intruder down the hallway into the pair of Disintegrators that dropped through the hole. They crashed together into a heap.

Shepard switched to the grenade launcher module and fired two frags directly into the pile. The explosions sent a tremendous streak of silver blood and alien body parts flying down the hallway.

She was mostly sure it was dead, but only mostly. No assumptions when these things were involved.

"Keeh'lah, Shepard," Kal'reegar murmured behind her, his tone impressed. "I barely got any shots-"

He snapped the pistol up and started firing as another Intruder dropped down into the hole, landing among the pile of ruptured limbs and twitching body parts. It whipped toward them, arms flying up, and Shepard hit with another biotic blast as the arm cannons triggered. The push smashed into its chest and threw it backward as a double line of plasma blazed out of the guns and discharged into the ceiling. White-hot droplets of molten metal and ceramic poured down in twin rivers.

"Down!" she screamed, firing another grenade as the Intruder tumbled backwards. It slammed one clawed hand into the floor, the blades cutting into the ceramic tiles and halting its flight. The grenade hit as it started to stand, and blew it off its feet amid a spray of more silver slurry.

Three Disintegrators poured through the hole as she fired upon the Intruder, their clawed legs digging into the ceiling and letting them hang overhead. Kal hit one with a pair of rounds, and it twitched and dropped from the ceiling with a chittering mechanical howl. Shepard crouched and rolled sideways as the other two fired, bright blue beams slicing through the air where she'd just stood. Further back, Doctor Michel and Tali were taking cover in a doorway while Shepard and Kal traded shots with the Scrin.

Shepard came out of the roll with her Werewolf rising, and fired a grenade at the ceiling. It shot past the Disintegrators, but she hadn't been aiming for them directly. Instead, it hit the hole behind them, and the detonation sent shrapnel flying both into the aliens both overhead and in the room above. Both of the quadrupeds were blown off of their perches, and she thought she heard more resonant howls of pain from the room above.

The one Kal had shot was standing back up, and the Intruder down the hallway was clambering onto its feet, one arm shorn from its shoulder and weeping that silver blood all across the floor. It raised the other arm, the cannon glowing white-hot once more, and she shifted aim toward it and launched another grenade before it could fire. The explosion sent it tumbling down the corridor in several pieces. Gunfire beside her dropped the standing Disintegrator and finished off the last two.

Shepard checked her ammunition for the grenade launcher in the brief few moments of respite, loading a fresh magazine; a third of the previous magazine of the microgrenades had been expended, and she wished she'd had the forethought to carry sonic grenades like she had on Eden Prime.

"That all of 'em?" Kal asked, keeping his weapon trained on the gap in the ceiling.

"Better be," Shepard breathed. They spread out to opposite sides of the corridor, backing away from the hole. Her eyes flicked to the carnage in the hallway. The walls and ceiling were dripping with the bizarre silver slurry that made up the Scrin's internal organs, and most of the alien commandos had been blasted to unrecognizable hunks of metal and crystal. The floor was carpeted in body parts and shiny sludge for about thirty meters. "If only for the janitor's sake."

Nothing else came through the hole, and after a few moments she advanced, Werewolf braced in one hand and dark energy swirling around the other. She looked up into the gap above; sludge dripped down from overhead, and she saw another mangled alien corpse lying on the floor above. Nothing else was visible.

That bothered her way too much.

"Move," Shepard ordered, and the trio behind her ran past while she covered the gap. Shepard waited until they passed her before backing down the hallway after them, eyes and weapon locked onto the breach above. She kept expecting something to come through the hole after them. A wave of Buzzers, maybe, or more Intruders.

"They're melting," Michel whispered over the radio. Shepard muttered quietly in disgust.

"Scrin breakdown if they don't have a supply of that weird neutrino-like radiation they had in TW3," Shepard said. "Same thing happened on Akuze. They didn't build anything. They just showed up and killed, and the bodies broke down."

"Intersection's clear!" Kal called down the hallway, and she kept backing toward them, splashing through the alien sludge. Her heart pounded in her ears, and her throat felt dry.

Come on. I know you're up there. I've been in this exact place before. Come on. Come on you tiberium bastards . . . .

She reached the intersection with the others, and lowered her weapon.

"I'm on point," she said, turning. "Kal'Reegar, rear-"

The Ravager smashed through the gap in the ceiling up the corridor, hitting the floor and standing tall, filling the entire hallway with its massive presence. The green eye locked directly onto her, boring into Shepard where she stood.

"That's more like it!" Shepard screamed, firing a grenade and launching a biotic thrust at the Scrin warrior with equal parts terror and vindication. "Go, go!"

"First teleport waypoint ahead, ten seconds," the driver reported. Miranda nodded, readying her Werewolf submachinegun, and checked the sensor feeds again on her visor. The Scrin had set up on top of one of the Ward's many skyscrapers, with heating and cooling units that radiated waste thermals out into the air over the Ward and into the vacuum beyond the Citadel's atmospheric sheath. The Scrin were hiding among the radiating heat signatures; if it weren't for the specific calibrations Kane had made to their sensors to detect the exotic radiation the Scrin released, she wouldn't see them at all.

As it was, she counted two Masterminds, judging by their size, and several Shock Troopers and a single Ravager. Two clouds of Buzzer swarms augmented the alien security force. She sucked in a breath, heart pounding in anticipation. First contact against the Scrin; it was an apprehensive thought, but she kept the cool she'd shown Kane when he gave her the attack orders. Fear was a useful tool to temper overconfidence.

"Concentrate fire on the Masterminds," she ordered, to both Dagger One and Two and Three in the other armored cars. Numbers appeared over each contact, designating them for easier targeting. "Ignore the other units until we've neutralized them."

If they didn't hit them first and fast, odds were their assault would end with the Nod troops blasting each other's brains to charred bits.

They swept in at dangerous speeds for the fireteams. Miranda threw open the side door of the car and leaned out, switching her Werewolf to micro-rocket mode, her dark hair whipping behind her in the braid she'd pulled it back into. Aside from the standard mass accelerator module, she also carried a cutting pulse laser module for dealing with heavy armor. She shouldered the weapon - the Werewolf submachinegun was much larger than Citadel standard submachineguns, demanding a stock and foregrip - and sighted the Masterminds as the armored cars swept over. A rifle pointed over her shoulder, one of the other troopers in the car sighting for targets as well. On the other side of the vehicle, the other doors opened, and the rest of the fireteam spotted targets.

The three armored cars were outwardly indistinguishable from the regular traffic of the Citadel, but their course was more than enough to alert the Shock Troopers securing the rooftop. They shifted their attention overhead, bulbous upper bodies splitting to reveal illuminated spikes. Discs of white-hot plasma erupted and rocketed toward the oncoming Nod vehicles, and the driver swerved violently. Miranda braced herself, fighting to keep the first Mastermind locked in her scope so the smart-sight's computers could target it properly.

Her sight pinged and lit up in confirmation that the rockets had a lock, and she squeezed the trigger. The Werewolf vibrated and pressed against her shoulder as it launched the rockets from the side-mounted pods, which ignited after flying several meters and dove toward her target.

The pilot dove suddenly, and there was a flash of light and noise overhead and to her left.

"Dagger Two is down," reported the pilot, his voice the quiet and dispassionate monotone of experienced airmen. It wasn't sufficient to reflect the deaths of five soldiers and one third of her force, but getting emotional about it wouldn't help, so she bit back the spike of frustrated anger that shot through her chest and focused on the objective.

"Mastermind One is injured," reported one of Miranda's soldiers. "Two is immobilized, appears dead. One is retreating. Losing sight of it." A check of their feeds confirmed it; the second alien target was lying still, radiation markers erratic. The first one was scrambling among the thermal vents, harder to spot while the rest of the Scrin tried to shoot the Nod team down.

"Injured doesn't mean dead," Miranda replied. She grit her teeth, and let the anger burn low and cold. "Get us down and drop us on the rooftop. We're just targets up here without a clear shot at that thing."

The pilot murmured a deadpan acknowledgement, and the aircar dove into a weaving swoop toward the rooftop. The fireteam knew the maneuver, and were firing as they descended. Rockets and grenades lanced out toward the rooftop, scattering explosions and expanding clouds of thermal energy and plasma. Miranda wasn't sure if suppressing fire even worked on Scrin, but incoming fire slackened enough that the few seconds it took to reach the roof did not suddenly end with screaming, high-energy death.

She dropped off the aircar, hitting the pavement in a low crouch with weapon shouldered, and the Buzzers swarmed over one of the thermal vents to greet her. The cloud of glittering, crystal blades hummed like their namesake, swooping toward Miranda and her team with liquid speed and motion that would have been beautiful if it hadn't belonged to a swarm of murderous, self-aware razor threads.

Dark energy swirled around her, and the Buzzers were torn asunder as she ripped apart the air around them with a warping field. The first part of the Buzzer horde broke apart into a cloud of writhing, broken strands, with the rest recoiling and flying apart, their graceful swarm spreading out into a fragmented horde of creatures squealing and screaming in collective agony.

That had been a little too easy, she mused, waving her team forward. They advanced between the thermal vents by pairs, bounding and covering each other and watching for other aliens.

"Dagger Three, on the rooftop," reported the third fireteam's leader, designated Three-One. "Advancing." Their position appeared on her HUD, thirty meters down the rooftop and much closer to the Mastermind's last known position.

Someone screamed over the commlink, followed by a flurry of laser blasts. Scrin weaponry screamed and hissed, lightning and white fire flaring over the thermal units in the direction of Three's position.

"Contact, Ravager, two Shocks, Buzzer swarm. Two-Three is down. Support requested."

"One to Three, en route," Miranda replied, and signaled One-Three and One-Four to move to assist. That was why only one swarm of the little bastards had come after them: Most of the Scrin assets had gone after Dagger Three as they were landing.

"Three, go defensive, draw them in," she ordered. "I have One-Three and One-Four moving to assist. Keep their attention."

"Yes ma'am," Three-One replied, his words icy-cold.

Good. Three and half of One would keep them occupied while she and One-Two tracked down and killed the Mastermind. Classic Nod misdirection. She hadn't planned for it, but Kane appreciated her knack for improvisation.

Miranda and One-Two slid through the thermal vents, closing on their prey, ignoring the roar and whine of directed violence just two dozen meters away. Through the columns of venting heat, she could pick out the radiation signature of the wounded Mastermind.

"We have a complication," Locke reported as the armored truck circled over the rooftop.

"Elaborate," came the reply.

"Hostile presences on rooftop. Looks like another assault team. They are trying to destroy the Masterminds. Advise."


"Brotherhood. Loyalist going by configuration," Locke said, keeping the disgust out of his voice. GDI loyalty ran deep in his blood – deep enough that he recognized when the ideals were being twisted by weak hearts and appeasers. He had little love for Kane's people.

"Orders remain. Terminate Brotherhood element if it interferes."

"Acknowledged," Locke replied, and cut the link. His eyes hunted over the display, analyzing the Nod team's approach and assault pattern. Most of them were tied down fighting the Ravager and its support units, while two of them had broken off to chase down and kill the wounded Mastermind.

They weren't likely to get a better opportunity.

"Take us in," he ordered the pilot, clenching the Werewolf in his off hand in cold, calm anticipation.

"Two men down," Dagger Three reported, still firing, his voice still cold and dispassionate. "Tougher than anticipated. Ravager is light-armor equivalent."

"Understood," Mirnda reported, vaulting over a vent pipeline. The Mastermind was less than ten meters ahead, just around a larger communications array atop a wide, rectangular rooftop module. "We're almost on-target. Keep it busy."

"Acknowledged," came the reply. The last syllable was drowned out by a flurry of gunfire.

Miranda and Dagger One-Two swept around the corner, weapons shouldered.

The Scrin creature lay on its side, body rising and falling rhythmically, as if breathing, or doing whatever it was Scrin did. It didn't look like the massive, sinister monsters that she'd seen in holograms, towering over human thralls. Lying on its side, the huge crystalline create seemed almost . . . pathetic. Silver slurry pooled around the creature, oozing in dribbles from rents in its flanks and a gaping hole in one side. It faced away from her, so she could not see the gemstone eyes, but the ground on the far side of the creature was lit up with dim blue illumination.

But Miranda wasn't here to give the thing her sympathy, nor was she here to take risks. Prone and wounded, the Mastermind was still a Mastermind, and she switched to her cutting laser.

Dagger One-Two exploded in a fountain of blood and composite armor, drenching Miranda and throwing her backward. The rooftop around her exploded, shrapnel flying everywhere. Her shields were the only thing that saved her from being shredded. She scrambled sideways, leaping to her feet and bringing her weapon up as something shot down to the rooftop between her and the wounded Scrin. Golden light wreathed around the figure as it hit the roof, exploding outward in a wave of force when it struck the top of the building.

The figure rose, a titan of armored plating, looming even taller than a GDI Zone Trooper. The armor was slate gray, with no markings, and while it closely resembled GDI plating, it wasn't Zone Trooper power armor, but rather a hardsuit that was fitted to a man of immense proportions and equipped with larger, heavier plating. The angular helmet was a GDI design, but sharper in some of its lines. The Werewolf was a Zone Trooper variant, but in the titan's hands, it seemed like a submachinegun.

Other figures in similarly-colored plating hit the rooftop around the Mastermind. Their gear was not standardized: some wore lighter, Marine-style hardsuits, while two of them wore thick suits with lift-assist exoskeletons and light vehicle weaponry.

Oh hell, she thought. Phoenix.

The titan pivoted toward Miranda, his movements smooth and predatory, as if he were naked instead of clad in a hulking half-ton suit. His Werewolf shot up, deploying a grenade launcher, and she threw up a biotic barrier while diving for cover.

The world exploded behind her, turning into a hurricane of noise and shrapnel.

Shepard remembered, and reconciled the conflict of memory with the lumbering thing before her. It was bigger than the ones on Akuze. Slower. Skin thicker, the "muscles" heavier and more solid. And when her grenade hit it, the shot didn't send a wake of sliver blood-slurry like she remembered. It just pushed straight through the grenade with a mild flinch.

The quarians and Michel ran around the corner as the Ravager-on-steroids opened fire, jagged crystals screaming past. Shepard dove around the corner-

Intense force smashed into her left arm, and she crashed back against the wall. Agony, white hot and terrible, ran down her arm, redoubled as she slumped from it. She looked up, and a meter-long, gleaming crystal of the strange, processed tiberium the Scrin used was buried in her left bicep, crushing armor plate and buried into the wall. Blood splattered from the wound, running down her arm.

The Ravager advanced down the hallway, and she turned her helmet back toward the hulking creature. Shepard raised her Werewolf against with her good arm.

"Bring it!" she shouted. "Come on you crystal fuck!"

The Ravager closed in, and Shepard fired another grenade at another of her goddamned demons.

Codex – Aliens - Non-Citadel Species – Scrin (overview)

The Scrin are an alien species connected to the strange, resource-rich crystal known as "tiberium." They have been encountered very rarely: once in 2047 during the Third Tiberium War, where they assaulted Earth but were eventually repelled, and again in 2177 when they assaulted the GDI colony world of Akuze shortly after tiberium was discovered on that planet. 2183 saw additional attacks by the Scrin, first on Eden Prime. In all encounters between the Scrin and organic species, whether human, Terminus, or Citadel, the Scrin have been hostile, issuing no demands or attempts to communicate and indiscriminately attacking any non-Scrin in their path. Their apparent alliance with the geth and Saren Arterius during the attack on Eden Prime, however, shows that they are not universally hostile.

Scrin biology, insomuch as human and Citadel scientists have been able to determine, is based around tiberium. Bodies that have been studied before breakdown indicate that they are a tiberium-based lifeform, incorporating a processed form of the crystal into their bodies at the cellular and genetic-equivalent level to the same degree that carbon is incorporated into organic species. The morphology of individual Scrin beings appears to be extremely malleable, with some components of their bodies made up what appear to be mechanical structures, while others are softer, "living" tissues. Specialization and directed growth/construction are theorized to be extremely advanced within the species, with many different creatures making up the armies and support elements of Scrin society. If there is a "true" Scrin entity or body form, it has yet to be encountered or identified as such.

Scrin forces represent a significant threat to conventional military forces due to their unconventional weaponry and technology. Energy weapons, including devices that generate intense electrical charges or masses of projected plasma, are the primary weapon of Scrin forces. These weapons are at best slowed down by kinetic barriers and at worst pass right through them. Scrin also present unusual technologies that allow them to teleport troops from point to point, seize physical and mental control over groups of organics, or initiate a "phase-shift" that freezes troops or objects in place in a manner resembling a biotic stasis field. A complete non-reliance on mass effect technology further makes the Scrin difficult to detect or counter.

Little is known of Scrin social structure. Though highly intelligent and possessing clear, identifiable objectives in every encounter, the psychology and mindset of individual Scrin creatures and their leadership in unclear. Though individual units appear to possess analogues for organic emotions and sensations like pain, they will not hesitate to throw themselves into suicidal assaults or sacrifice themselves to protect other, more valuable units. Decoded communications from the Third Tiberium War and later encounters indicate some form of social structure, and that at least part of their culture is centered around spreading, mining, and using tiberium. Additional information indicates that there are subcultures within Scrin society, divided up by purpose and assigned numbers based on when each sect of a particular subculture was formed. Identified groups within the Scrin include "Traveler-59," which appears to carry out reconnaissance, infiltration, and subversion operations, and "Reaper-17," which carried out aggressive, brutal assaults with powerful ground forces.

Using decoding techniques pioneered in the Third Tiberium War, GDI cryptoanalysts have been able to determine that the sect that attacked Eden Prime identified itself as "Reaper-18."

Codex – Aliens – Non-Council Species – Scrin: Buzzers

"Buzzers" are an ubiquitous sight among Scrin forces. Forming up into swarms and clouds, Buzzers are creatures that resemble long, thin strands of razor wire, with cutting blades and tiny claws. Their precise means of locomotion is unclear, but it is theorized that whatever technology the Scrin use for their antigravy craft is also used by these creatures. In combat, Buzzers attempt to close with their targets, and surround them, using their blades to cut through any soft points on enemy armor. Once breached, the blades will quickly and efficiently slice apart the soldier within.

Buzzers also appear to serve as a maintenance and operations force for Scrin structural units in the field, with swarms emerging from damaged or destroyed alien facilities to attack GDI and Nod soldiers. Buzzer swarms defended the same facilities from infiltration and assault, often forcing GDI and Nod armies to simply level entire Scrin bases and occupied zones. "Hives" of Buzzers formed a perimeter defense around many Scrin facilities and operational zones, housing massive swarms of these creatures, and heavier Scrin combat "vehicles" would have Buzzers housed in their hulls, using them like mobile insect hives.

Buzzers possess a linked consciousness. Disruption of individual Buzzers within a swarm causes a backlash across the swarm. While the deaths of individual swarm-members will not stop a group of Buzzers, the deaths of a number of the swarm will cause a severe backlash that can cause the rest of the swarm to either die of shock or be paralyzed by pain. Once this happens, the swarm loses coherence and the whole group will die off within minutes. For this reason, flame-, sonic-, gravitic-, and area-effect weaponry are recommended to quickly destroy swarms. For this reason, GDI facilities also possess atmospheric lockdown protocols to automatically seal off air vents and other passageways buzzers swarms can use to bypass defenses.

Author's Notes: This chapter was originally planned to cover the entire Embassy battle. But it kept growing and growing and more stuff snuck in until I realized we might as well just split it in two or maybe three parts. Yay, more violence!

One thing that developed while I was writing this chapter was Shepard's apprehension regarding the Scrin. I tried to make it clear that the Scrin goddamned well scare the shit out of her but she's able to keep her cool - for the most part - while fighting them. It wasn't as apparent in the Eden Prime chapters, and later revisions of this story will reflect that change to her character. Buzzers, though...well, there's a reason Shepard got those scars...

Until next chapter . . . .