Well. I wrote this about 7 months ago, and I have no idea where I was going with it, actually. Haha.

I had to reread like half of my story just to figure it out.

I actually finished this like a month ago. But I just now was able to post it. Lack of Internet access sucks.

Hello from the USO :) sorry for lack of editing.


With a last pull on the slide and an unmistakenable familiar click, Shepard checked the chamber of his Carnifex and holstered the weapon. The last mission it had been taken on left the gun rendered useless after Shepard ran out of thermal clips, and then was used as a melee weapon at a very close charging krogan mercenary. The krogan had gotten the worst of the brawl, but Shepard's gun was a mangled mess, and required replacement.

Jacob Taylor had ordered a new one, and upgraded the weapon exceptionally well with custom modifications. With reduced recoil, high capacity, and less of a tendancy to overheat a thermal clip prematurely, Shepard was more than eager to test its functionality in live combat. Which was very soon, according to EDI's reports.

Shepard moved from the armory and down a floor through the CIC, giving reassuring nods to crewman who met his sweeping gaze. They look to him for guidance and leadership, and Shepard wanted to make sure they knew of his appreciation for their trust. The Normandy's crew was an exceeding brilliant team, Cerberus or not. Their fight against the Collectors would be null without such a strong support group.

"Commander, sir, do you have a minute?"

Shepard turned to see Crewman Rolston approach, he seemed slightly hesitant, almost worried; the man was generally very well spoken and enthusiastic. "Sure. I've got about two hours before we hit planetside, what was it you wanted to talk about?"

Rolston looked to speak, but his gaze averted to the floor. Shepard could sense the subject was intended for him only, not the whole CIC. With a pat on the shoulder, he nudged the Crewman over to the main battery. The doors slid open and revealed Garrus hunched over his rifle, who seemed to be arguing with himself about heat sinks and muzzle breaches. He turned to greet Shepard, but Garrus seemed to sensed he should be somewhere else at that moment, and excused himself.

The doors hissed shut behind Garrus, and Shepard's full attention was back on the restless crew member standing next to him. Shepard felt as though his crew deserved a connectable yet reliable leader, and dropped formalities. "Okay, Rolston. What's up?"

"Well, you see Commander, I know we are at sort of a dead end, right now, and-"

With a raised hand, Shepard stopped him. "Rolston, you can be as blunt as you want. Right now, it's me and you. Not commander and crewman, but friend to friend,"

He nodded. It seemed like Rolston would take a moment to collect himself, but Shepard received a response quite quickly. "I don't know if I can do this anymore,"

The statement would have been surprising, only if Shepard hadn't known the amount of pressure that was on all of their shoulders. He could watch the anxiety rise everyday; the fear and doubt was beginning to seep into the ship like a slow plague. "Why?"

"I know I signed up for a suicide mission. But..." Rolston sighed.

Shepard knew exactly whe this was going. And he didn't blame his crew member one bit. "You're afraid your daughter isn't going to grow up with her father," Horizon hit home for everybody, but not as hard as it had hit Rolston. His family had barely made it out of the colony alive, but the wait for that news must have been agony for the crewman.

Rolston simply nodded. He couldn't bring himself to speak it, the look of fear in his eyes spoke enough for him. But there was also relief. And guilt. There wasn't anything Shepard wanted more than to see Rolston with his family again. Shepard wanted that not only for him, but for everybody.

He put a reassuring hand on the shoulder of the frightened man in front of him, "Rolston. I can only imagine what you must feel right now, and I want to say I'd probably feel the same way were it me in your position. To imagine someone I love, worrying about ever seeing me again, that's scary,"

Rolston binked back tears, ones of deliverance and heartache. Who knows how long he had been keeping all of his feelings pent up. Now that someone understood his fears, Shepard knew his crewmember was trying to keep himself together, and avoid a breakdown. "Rolston, you were chosen for this mission for a reason. If we don't give our 110 percent, then where is the hope for the billions of other families in this galaxy? Human or not? If we don't do this, your little girl, and every other little girl in the universe won't have a father either."

With a thumb, Rolston tried to rub the tear from his eye, and took a deep breath. "Shepard. I don't know where we, or I, would be without you as our leader," He looked his Commander in the eye and gave a small, yet relaxed laughed. "How could I be so selfish during this time?"

Shepard smiled back, and gave a last reassuring clasp on his shoulder as the two turned to the door. "Because you are human, friend."


The irons sights of the Carnifex moved from object to object, scanning empty areas and leaving Shepard with an odd pit in his stomach. Every Eclipse facility they hit so far on this planet was barren and seemed abandoned. The proof was right in front of his face, but EDI had just updated her information an hour ago, showing human heat signatures all over this area. Something about this place did not sit well with Shepard, and he was bent on finding out what.

"Shepard," the accent-laced voice of his CO caught his ears a few steps behind him, a strange quiet tone, "I've got a bad feeling about this place," Miranda had made herself quite scarce the past few weeks, and Shepard knew it was deliberate. Shepard had no intention on treading into her space either, and remained on his own small project he had taken.

Shepard flipped on the channel for the comm the other teams were set to, "Bravo one two. Status?"

"Negative," Zaeed's gravel voice broke through.

"Charlie one three, this is Alpha actual. Have you gotten anything over there yet?"

A small hiss later, Garrus's voice came over the small speaker, "Just as dead over here as you are," the turian gave a small chuckle to himself. "We've gone through another three small compounds, and there's not even a risidual heat signature on anything. Oh, wait, Jack says she needs to talk to you,"

There was a small rustle, and a moment after silence Jack's voice was screaming through to everybody on the channel, "SHEPARD, I fucking swear to some damn Asari Goddess bitch, that if me and tankborn shit over here don't get some Eclipse motherfuckin' pussies to kill or blow the fuck up, we will find you after this shitty shit mission and-"

"Bosh'tet!" The comm went dark and the small Quarian behind Shepard threw up her arms. "I thought Joker said he had fixed this junk communication system, it's been glitching this entire mission,"

Shepard switched to a different channel, and then back again, "-and the things biotics can do to fuckin' fleshy bodies-"

He turned it off and looked toward Tali smiling, "I'll have EDI triple check next time," he turned back to the complex, partially covered by trees. The small path from it led to an open field, toward their next destination. There was no cover, so Shepard's team would have to skirt the treeline to feel somewhat less exposed.

The temperature dropped a few degrees, and a wind picked up that rustled the tall grass throughout the large field. The light atmosphere around them seemd to tingle, like lover's kiss on bare skin, and the slight hue increase of the sky told Shepard that they should be prepared for something. Except he didn't know what exactly.

A slight hum began to rise in the air causing Miranda to shift, unusual to her normally confident demeanor. The hum grew and turned to loud vibrations echoing deep in Shepard's chest, the small tingle increased similar to a slow sunburn. Suddenly a strong force swept over them like a tidal wave, full of vibrations and static. The passed as quickly as it had came upon the group, and they were left a little perplexed.

Except Shepard felt like he weighed a ton, it was a struggle to even take a step and his muscles were straining against the weight. The data display in his helmet had disappeared as well, leaving his vision strangely barren.

"What the hell was that?"

Something was wrong with the artificial muscles and braces in Shepard's suit, usually they supported the heavy weight of the armor to reduce the strain on simply wearing the suit. But as Shepard reached for his Omni-Tool, he saw it wasn't working, and neither was the protection encasing him. He was just a man in a big metal suit. Shit. "That was an EMP,"

Tali moved to check everything they had on hand, "Kinect barriers and storage cells have been knocked out, communications, internal autotargeting, precision support, shield generators, electronic based sights, all of it is down. In a nutshell, we have nothing," Tali's body language changed, suddenly tensing up and showing a slight panic, "No electricity means no mass effect fields..."

"So?"

Instead of Tali responding, it was Miranda. And her faced showed slight distraught. "All of our weapons use miniature mass accelactor technology, mass effect fields and magnetic force to propel the bullets. No mass effect field, no guns. And no biotics,"

Ah fuck. This wasn't what Shepard wanted to hear at all; no weapons, no communications, and his armor weighed a ton. Wait. "Tali, if the EMP hit everything, why is your suit still functioning?"

The Quarian seemed to ponder for a moment, and then shook her head, "Our suits have a two-fold countermeasure against situations like this. Apparently, the back ups booted up after a brief period of complete system failure, on their own generator," her omni-tool lit awake as she waved her hand across Shepard. "It seems your suit's generators have been knocked out,"

Shepard snorted, "Of course. Well, a metal prison does me no good," Pieces of the suit began to fall to the ground, locking mechanisms broken as he pulled them apart. All that was left was his Normandy crew uniform, and a pile of metal that was Shepard's armored suit in a previous life.

His CO examined the pile of scrap with some disdain, "That suit cost Cerberus a fortune, you know,"

A glint of metal in the sun, and Shepard's combat knife was free of its sheath. The last defense he seemed to have, "So did I. I don't remember how much exactly, but I'm quite certain you do," he turned to Tali, watching her study charts and blueprints on her omni-tool. "How much longer until you can get the communications back up?"

She shook her head, "I possibly can get our end functioning, but I can't get the other team's up from this distance. Especially with this EMP tech, it's nothing I've ever seen before,"

Damn.

"Shepard," he turned to the source, Miranda, and knew she saw their situation as just dire as he did. "We haven't found anything on this planet. We have no weapons, no biotics, no communication. And even if we do find something, perchance, it is highly not in our favour. You need to call it,"

How was EDI wrong? She sent him the scans, the charts, Shepard saw it all himself. Was this personal mission of his really a chase for a ghost? A ghost he thought would bring him redemption? Such a thing must be a myth, it seemed.

There were flares built into the backpiece of his suit, unreliant on electricity. He pulled a few from their compartments and pointed to a building near hidden in the trees, a few hundred meters in from the tree line. "Look, this vast open field has very little cover. We'll check that last place out over there. If there's nothing, we'll pull a three-sixty on one of the smalled buildings and throw up a signal for the other teams. And unfortunately anything else out there,"

The trek through the vegetation was agonisingly slow. The lack of functioning equipment left the group moving very cautiously, and the short trip of a few hundred meters left Shepard feeling like he needed to take a few lessons from his Drell squadmate. The exterior of the building looked just like all of the others they have ventured to; empty, hollow, forgotten. Yet if there was a thermal chart for this area, Shepard knew it would show a different story. All the rooms were void of life, as expected.

"Well then, it seems security is in order," Miranda gave Tali a short nod. "Shepard, I'm not really sure what we've been doing on these past few missions. I just hope you do,"

They both left from the concrete room, Miranda leaving Shepard with a sidelong glance before she disappeared. He was beginning to share those opinions. Did he even know what his goal was anymore? Ever since that event on Illium, Shepard hasn't felt like the Shepard everybody thinks he is. He hasn't felt heroic, or proficient, or like the leader he should be. He failed, plain and simple. And not just failed a mission, but Oriana. He failed Miranda, he failed a team member. How did Shepard deserve their loyalty, if he couldn't help them when they needed it most?

He didn't. And it was unacceptable.

The stone was cold beneath his fingers, the cracks between bricks showed an old face In the rock. And yet half was new; metal, flawless. It perplexed him. This dead place, why would someone upgrade and leave?

And then he felt it. Wind. From where? It was so slight, it had to be a facade in Shepard's mind. No, there it was again. The cracks?

The fuck...

His eyes trailed across the cracks, leading him to see a very small square which had be cut where metal met stone. His thumb traced the square, curious of its origins.

And then it began to glow under his touch.

What the fucking fuck.

Holographic screens were projected onto every surface there was in the room, images and colours danced across Shepard as they presented themselves.

"Electrical anamoly detected. Backups initiated. Rebooting...Input required,"

Voice commands? The Normandy Commander pondered for a moment, "Access last entry,"

The room went momentarily dark as all of the files closed, and a single video file attempted to open.

"Data corrupt. Reconstructing now,"

The video Shepard was shown was only partially complete video, it looked as though it was only the middle section. The beginning and the end were too far gone to recover. It was of a human, some kind of scientist it had seemed. But embroided on his coat was the all too easily recognisable Eclipse logo. The timestamp on the video read only two days ago.

"I'm not sure how we didn't pick them up on our scanners. We don't know who, or what they are. I've uploaded all of my data onto the main server, hopefully my collegues will recieve the files. Of course, the packet is encrypted,"

The audio cut out, and the scientist looked back towards the door. The video shook, and Shepard heard an odd humming as the audio returned.

"I've put her under these very floors, access is limited, yet possible. Once the threat is eliminated, I will resume my observations, and my research will continue. So far the experiments have yeilded fascinating-"

The images disappeared, and Shepard's surroundings went dark. "Data corrupt. Input required,"

"Access blueprints," The facility was expanded on the wall, showing lines and numbers that formed the building. A red dot was placed on the map were Shepard presumed he was, next to a number. Fourty-seven. All of the rooms were numbered in sequence, with a total of sixty-five. Yet in the same box as this room, there was a single letter, E.

"Access Echo,"

The ground beneath his feet suddenly moved, blocks moved down various depths creating a staircase leading under the room. Leading to what?

To her. Holy shit, what did I get myself into.

Peering into the hole in the floor, Shepard was slightly torn. He backed up to the doorway, and called out for his teammates. There was no response after a few minutes, but Shepard didn't want to leave the passageway by itself. Go in by himself?

Ah. Fuck it.

Breaking the seal on one of the stationry flares, Shepard descended with his red light leading the way. The steps lead him far, he wasn't sure how far, but it felt like forever. With the flare in one hand and his knife gripped tightly in the other, all he could do was take the steps down, and see where they led. No fucking electricity, a flare, and a big ass knife. What the fuck is this, the Temple of Doom or something.

He suddenly came across a door, with an access pad. It lit upon his approach, prompting for palm recognition. Humanity might have thought very highly of Shepard, but his hand wasn't magic. There was no way he was going through in that method. Instead, Shepard slide his knife into the console, causing a surge of electricty and a shut down of the panel. The door hissed open.

The only thing on the other side was a tiny dark room, as barren as the top level of the facilty. Shepard scanned the room one last time, seeing nothing of import. It was just as he was about to turn around that he heard it. That small sound. Something in his mind? No. He heard it again. Shepard took a step into the room without thinking twice, red light before him.

What the hell am I doing.

The sound returned again to his left, Shepard turned toward the source. A form, human. Seeming to try and make itself smaller, compacted into the corner. I've put her under these very floors. Her. Who? The red light illuminated the small woman, only to see Miranda's face staring behind folded arms at him.

She was Miranda, yet...not Miranda. Holy shit.

Oriana.

Metal clattered to the floor as Shepard tossed his knife to the other side of the room. She didn't need a stranger with a weapon, Oriana needed someone with hands free to help her. Kneeling in front of the small figure, Shepard spoke soft words, unsure of her mental state. "Oriana, I'm here with your sister. My name is Shepard. We're going to help you away from these people, okay?"

Oriana moved with a quickness Shepard almost didn't register at first, wedging herself in his arms, as if he would disappear forever if she was any further away. The quiet stricken sounds and shaking coming from her told Shepard more than any words ever would, and he wished he could make the memories go away. But he couldn't, Shepard couldn't even make his own memories go away.

The Commander pulled Oriana from the floor and into his arms, carrying her back up the staircase in which he came. He wanted to make sure Crewman Rolston got a chance to meet Oriana, to see the reasons they were all fighting this fight. Why they needed to win.

Except Rolston wouldn't be waiting for him when they all returned to the Normandy. In fact, nobody would be waiting for them.