Shepard stormed forward and slid behind the natural cover provided by a rock formation. His eyes scanned the impromptu battlefield, taking inventory of his squad's status. Garrus, mandibles clacking in dogged determination as the steady rat-tat-tat coming from his M-15 Vindicator assault rifle kept the horde of synthetic undead threatening to overrun his position at bay, at least for the moment. Samara, whose expression remained serene despite the waves of dark energy rippling off of her glistening blue skin in visual manifestation of her powerful biotics. She gracefully alternated between biotic Reave and her M-12 Locust submachine gun. To only see her face, one might think the asari justicar was engaged in a peaceful pursuit such as meditation rather than contending with Harbinger and Scion Collectors simultaneously.

The tell-tale beep in his helmet warned Shepard that the time on his Tactical Cloak had almost expired and he'd soon be visible again. The infiltrator sighed bitterly as he checked his equipment status, realizing he was nearly screwed. M-98 Widow sniper rifle? Empty. M-6 Carnifex hand cannon? Ditto. The M-920 Cain heavy weapon? Blew its wad on that damned Praetorian Collector a couple of areas back, concluding a hellacious battle that Shepard was sure would lead to a clean getaway from this so-called 'derelict' Collector ship. All that was left was his M-12 Locust. It was a fine submachine gun to be sure, but by far his least favorite weapon. Noisy quantity over quality submachine guns were a last resort for the man who'd had made his reputation as a tactical genius with a propensity for rapid but carefully aimed lethal shots, preferably head shots from long range.

"Last clip, 15 shots left," Shepard noted mentally. His eyes quickly scanned the area, silently pleading for a familiar glint. When it didn't reveal itself, he openly scoffed and bitterly added, "And of course, not a single thermal clip in sight…"

It had been maybe 15 minutes since the Collector ship had begun to power back up and EDI, the Normandy's AI, had informed him that their mission intel had been faulty. In fact, EDI had all but stated outright that the Cerberus chief known as the Illusive Man had knowingly sent them into a trap. Since then, Shepard's squad had been fighting through one wave of Collectors after another while progressing towards the exit. Running low on ammo was making what was already turning out to be a bad day even worse.

"Your form is fragile, my attacks will tear you apart…" Harbinger taunted while trying to maneuver around closer to Shepard's position. "You will know pain, Shepard. If I must tear you apart, Shepard, I will." Harbinger's haunting voice could be clearly heard even over the din of battle.

A gentle but insistent female voice sounded through the radio in his helmet, momentarily interrupting his thoughts. "Shepard, I will keep the door open for as long as I can," she reminded him. "Please evacuate the ship as soon as possible."

"Roger, EDI. We're almost there."

Joker, the primary helmsman of the Normandy, chimed in. "Uhh… Commander, I hate to rush you but those weapons are about to come online! You might want to double-time it so we can leave before they blow the Normandy in half!"

Before Shepard could respond, a pair of husks charged his position. He knew the mindless synthetics didn't have an actual strategy behind their attacks, but their inadvertent pincer formation forced him to choose between the two. He reflexively raised his Locust and squeezed off a short burst into the head of the first husk. Seeing the husk stagger but not fall, he fired another burst that finished it off with just enough time left over to drive the butt of his gun into the face of the second husk right before it got to him.

Taking advantage of the brief separation from the enemy, Shepard brought his gun back into shooting position and fired a series of headshots that knocked the husk further back. But before he could drop it into the throes of death he heard the cringe inducing click of his Locust protesting his attempt to fire. All of his thermal clips were spent.

Reacting quickly, Shepard reengaged his Tactical Cloak, confusing the husk by his sudden disappearance. Swapping out the lightweight Locust for the heavier Widow sniper rifle, he rushed the weakened synthetic and bashed it repeatedly until it fell silent. With the immediate threat removed, Shepard used the remaining time left on his cloak to dash ahead and take cover behind another rock formation. Staring in frustration at the largely useless rifle in his hands, a single embittered thought came to mind.

"This never would've happened if Hilda was here with me. If she was here I'd already be back on the Normandy with my feet propped up in the debriefing room." Shepard once again found himself wanting to strangle the Alliance brass idiots that thought it was a great idea to retrofit all of the weapons in service with the geth thermal clip technology. And when he was done with them he'd move on to the turians and asari and everyone else that followed suit. Looking around and still not seeing any spare clips lying about, he laughed acerbically and thought of his recent conversation with his old friend Councilor Anderson.

-==000==-

Shepard shook his head, still trying to wrap his mind around the events of the last several minutes. Despite the Citadel council being generally unhappy with him and his involvement with Cerberus, and their refusal to believe him regarding the Reapers and Collectors, they'd reinstated his Spectre status on the condition that he keep his activities confined to the Terminus system. Then an incredulous Udina, former ambassador to the Citadel before humanity was granted a council position, came in and read him the riot act in front of his crew and Anderson. That prompted Anderson to put him in his place and dismiss him from the room. Now Anderson was stonewalling him on the whereabouts of his former Normandy crew, and was being especially evasive regarding Ashley Williams, his best friend in the Alliance. Shepard didn't like it, and suspected it had to do with more than just the presence of a Cerberus employee in the room.

"Fine," sighed Shepard in resignation that he wasn't going to get much useful information out of Anderson at this point. "Can you at least tell me where to get some old school Spectre HMW weapons that don't use thermal clips?"

Anderson raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Nowhere that I know of. Why would you want those anyway? Thermal clips are universal, any weapon can use them and you can find them anywhere."

Shepard scoffed. "Yeah, you say that, but you and I both know that isn't true."

Miranda Lawson, Shepard's XO on the Normandy, pinched the bridge of her nose as she closed her eyes in visible annoyance, while Garrus chuckled softly. Despite the very different reactions, they both knew what was coming. They'd each heard the rant several times before. Salarian professor Mordin Solis appeared somewhat amused as well. Even though he was the 'new guy' on the team, he'd already heard Shepard's thoughts on the subject shortly after he came onboard.

"What do you mean?" asked Anderson, wearing a bemused expression.

Shepard shook his head. "You say thermal clips are universal, but when Lu runs out can she borrow one from Bria? Of course not! She's stuck sitting on the bench until I find more! And then when Bria runs out can she take thermal clips from Sadie? Yeah, right… I'm stuck bringing in Sadie even though she's so not my type. I get it that Bertha runs out of ammo because she doesn't use thermal clips, but the others? Sheesh… Hilda never had that problem. Know how many times she overheated while I was pursuing Saren? A big. fat. .zero." Shepard paused briefly before mournfully adding, "Man, do I miss her."

Anderson stared at Shepard in bewilderment. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Shepard. Who are those people, crew members?"

It was Miranda's turn to scoff. "His guns…" she replied sarcastically before Shepard could say anything.

"Kinda thought that was obvious," stated Shepard matter-of-factly while shrugging his shoulders.

"Wait… you name your guns?" asked Anderson.

"Doesn't everyone?"

Anderson shook his head, reminding himself once again that military brilliance aside, Shepard was still a bit of a head case.

"Shepard doesn't get out much," offered Garrus, chuckling. "They're the closest thing to a girlfriend as he's got."

"Anyway…" said Shepard in a slightly exasperated tone, "the point remains."

Anderson raised an eyebrow in response. "I have to admit, I'm not really getting the point."

"What's not to get?"

"Councilor," began Miranda, "It took me a couple of tries before I understood it as well. Basically what he is saying is that he prefers to use his sniper rifle, but when it runs out of thermal clips he's forced to switch to his pistol and then later to his submachine gun rather than just using all of his thermal clips in his sniper rifle and leaving the others empty."

"Isn't that exactly what I said?" asked Shepard irritably.

Anderson nodded at Miranda. "Thanks for the explanation. So which one was 'Hilda' or whatever that never overheated?"

Shepard's eyes gleamed as he fondly remembered her. "HMWSR X… Spectre master sniper rifle. Frictionless Materials X and Kinetic Coil X upgrades, Inferno Rounds X… wow was she beautiful. Without her we might all be speaking geth now."

Anderson laughed lightly. "More like dead than speaking binary like the geth, but I get what you're saying. Sorry, I can't help you out there. Can't Cerberus acquire or make another one for you?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Shepard grumbled in response.

"Please, do not get him started on that," said Miranda.

"Why not?" Shepard asked incredulously. "I mean, they can recreate a better Normandy than the original and can bring me back from the dead, but they can't get me a freakin' gun that doesn't use thermal clips?"

Miranda rested her face in the palm of her hand, silently wishing the Illusive Man hadn't been so dismissive of Shepard's request. Shepard's rant had been funny the first time right after he'd agreed to the mission and been given the keys to the Normandy SR-2, not quite so funny when he searched the markets (legal and otherwise) on Omega, rather irritating when he ranted to a very disinterested Aria on Omega, and now downright annoying here on the Citadel in Councilor Anderson's office. She didn't doubt that Shepard was going to stay obsessed with it until he either got what he wanted or the mission ended. And she didn't think she could take it over and over at every stop until the mission was complete.

Anderson nodded. "I can't say I've gotten this complaint before, or that I'm aware of the Alliance brass hearing complaints from the troops in the field about the availability of clips. The consensus is that thermal clip technology is a superior solution to the problem of weapons overheating. Hell, I remember in my day when all too often one gun or another would get stuck in an overheated state and refuse to auto-cooldown like it was supposed to. Then I'd be unable to use it for the rest of the mission. Are you sure you don't just take too many shots?"

Shepard's expression turned dark as his eyes flashed in anger. "Don't talk to me like I'm some twitchy teenage FPS playing spaz that freaks out and blows their wad at the first sign of trouble! Not many Alliance soldiers get put into the situations I've been in, where they individually have to take down dozens of mercs, mechs, synthetics, or whatever else on a single mission. Why couldn't the manufacturers just fix the damn software bugs that prevented overheated weapons from cooling down in the first place? What idiot decided that wholesale replacement of our weapon tech with the losing side's tech sounded like a great idea anyway? And when was the last time you saw a horde of husks drop thermal clips?"

Anderson held up his hands. "Calm down, Shepard, I get the picture. I wasn't trying to insult you. Best I can do for you is put out some feelers, and if I get a line on some pre-retrofit era guns I'll forward you the info."

Given how trying to get information out of Anderson went earlier, Shepard wasn't particularly optimistic about the prospects of him being very helpful. But being smart enough not to burn bridges unnecessarily, he thanked Anderson and departed with his crew.

-==000==-

An explosion rocked Shepard from his flashback, forcing his attention back on the present. Quickly collecting his bearings, he realized that the Scion was firing on his position. Samara had taken down Harbinger before falling to the Scion, and Garrus was in the process of being overwhelmed by a swarm of husks. Letting loose a string of expletives as he watched his turian friend go down, Shepard activated the last of his Medi-gel through his Unity power, reviving his squad mates.

"Garrus! Samara! Get to the exit! Don't fight anything you don't have to!" he barked over the comm. After a quick five count, he engaged his Tactical Cloak and sprinted towards the exit, determined to get to the exit before the husks caught him. He was literally running for his life.

Unbeknownst to Samara, she was hot on his heels, and a nearby explosion from another shot fired from the Scion knocked both of them from their feet. Garrus blew by both of them, and Shepard staggered to his feet with the warning beep sounding in his ear that the charge on his cloak was running out. Reaching over and yanking the justicar to her feet as he became visible again, Shepard gave her a shove towards the exit. He turned to run as well, but felt something claw at his feet. He spun and clubbed the husk with his empty sniper rifle and tried again to flee, but another hand was on him, and then another, as the pack of synthetic undead latched on and dragged him down. The status indicators on his hardsuit began flashing red from his shields failing.

Crawling forward with everything he had, Shepard could see the Kodiak shuttle that would take them back to the Normandy hovering not more than 100' away, the promised land of the open bay door practically taunting him at this point since 100 feet might as well have been 100 miles. He could see that Garrus was on board and Samara was going to make it, but he knew it was all for naught if he didn't make it.

Shepard sent a last ditch Inferno at the husks, knowing it was pretty much futile but not having anything else in his bag of tricks at this point. Garrus was trying to provide help by firing on the husks from the shuttle, but he was using his pistol and Shepard knew that meant Garrus was about out of ammo as well. Feeling himself break free from the grasps of the wailing husks gave him a momentary sense of optimism that he was going to make it. But that fleeting feeling dissipated when another explosive shot from the Scion knocked the weakened commander back down, and the remaining husks were back on him.

Aware that consciousness was leaving him, Shepard hoped that EDI would remotely activate the failsafe F9 switch on his hardsuit to save him from the spiral of death he knew was coming. Just before blacking out, one last thought went through his mind…

"Fucking thermal clips!"

.


AN: Just a short one here inspired by the infamous 'derelict' Collector ship mission. I almost abandoned my Insanity game because of that mission before eventually getting through it. I'm mostly indifferent to the changes in ME2 over ME1, to me it's mostly just "different" and not necessarily "better" or "worse." The big exception is thermal clips. I hate those things, where especially on the harder difficulty levels you're often running out of ammo if you favor the sniper rifle or pistol like my infiltrator Shepard does, and forced to use all of your weapons.

'F9' is the PC hotkey to 'QuickLoad' your last save, for those who might not have gotten the reference when I referred to the 'failsafe F9 switch' :-)