"Just as we thought," Ralik said as he ran into the cave and hopped into the passenger seat of the Skimmer with jittery haste. "The geth are still on our trail. I've never seen them walk that fast before."
Tyr waited until the salarian was inside before starting the engines. "Any sign of the commando team or the Kellius?"
"None. The reaper ascended into space a while ago, but I haven't seen anything since. Still can't reach Welkas, either." Ralik peered over the back of the seat to find Arla laying down across the Skimmer's middle seats.
"She fell asleep again just after you left," Tyr noted as he gunned the engines and blasted out of the mouth of the cave. They descended half-way to the base of the mountain they were hiding in before they turned around and headed towards the summit. "We might have better luck with the comms up high."
They had been running from the geth ever since the commando team came in direct contact with the reaper. The synthetics came in force and were indeed armed to the teeth. Ralik was forced to get Arla and Tyr to the Skimmer, which was accidentally – yet conveniently – left behind. They didn't have the manpower to contend with a single large wave of geth, and had been trying to whittle their numbers down by strafing their flanks with little success. They resorted to finding a cave far to the south of the basecamp just to catch a moment to get their bearings.
When they finally settled at the top of the mountain, Tyr shut the engines down again. He was taking every possible precaution to make it harder for the geth to track them, and loud engines were counter to that paradigm. Both he and Ralik accessed their omni-tools almost immediately and checked to see if they could get any connection to the Kellius.
Ralik shook his head . "This is becoming. . . problematic."
At that moment, Arla rose from her makeshift bed in the back and wearily held onto the backs of the front seats. "Still nothing?"
"Nothing from anyone," Tyr said while standing up to look for geth movement. Finding none, he hopped down from the driver's seat onto the rocks. "We have to give them more time. I imagine they're having some difficulties."
"Wait, I have something!" Ralik shouted. "It's the Kellius!"
Tyr opened up his omni-tool again and contacted the ship. "Welkas, it's Garloh. What's your status?"
"Hey Chief! I was just contacted by the commando team. They're requesting immediate evac. I'm on my way right now."
All three sighed at once just before the Kellius appeared over a distant mountain range, approaching low and fast. It skimmed right over their heads with blazing speed, causing everyone to duck and the two quarians to instinctively grab a hold of their hoods as the following blast of air knocked them around. Immediately thereafter, the frigate ascended sharply, quickly disappearing against the cyan of the sky.
"This is good news!" Ralik said with a nod towards the other two. "They must have completed their mission!"
Tyr crossed his arms. "Good, then maybe they can get down here and help us with these cursed synthetics. I'm getting tired of running from these things time after time."
"You're the strategist, aren't you?" Ralik asked. Tyr simply replied with a sideways look. "So strategize. How are we going to handle these things until they get back?"
"It's not that simple, Dolannus. We're outnumbered, outgunned, and we have a non-combatant. We need to keep avoiding them for now."
Arla pulled herself a bit higher on the seats so she could see Tyr. "I'm. . . Ah. . . I'm not a non-combatant, Tyr, I can help you two fight."
Tyr chuckled. "I admire your persistence, lieutenant, but you're not in any condition to be fighting geth. If you took a hit, the additional infections would certainly be fatal. It's out of the question. Not to mention that Kevin would have my head on a platter if I let you."
Ralik shook his head and had chuckle of his own. "Sorry. I'm still trying to wrap my head around something."
Arla looked to Ralik. "What?"
"Kevin? Emotion? Feelings? This planet's atmosphere must be getting to my head." He stared back at Arla. "Yours too!"
Arla heaved herself up and reached over the seat, giving Ralik a shove into the dashboard. Ralik could only help but laugh. Their antics ceased when they realized how silent Tyr had been. They fully expected him to belittle them, and when he didn't, they looked over to find him staring at the sky to the west. They both noticed a faint red reflection come and go on his visor.
"What the. . . Did anyone see that?" Tyr asked, highly alarmed.
Ralik and Arla also looked to the sky. "What was it, Tyr?" Arla inquired.
"A brilliant red line shot across the sky. I'm sure the origin was somewhere in orbit. I think I saw fire, too." He spared no time in getting his omni-tool open. He tried to raise the Kellius once again and looked to the sky for any more activity.
A second crimson line appeared across the sky. This time, explosions were clearly visible some distance from its origin.
"Keelah. . ." Arla whispered.
"That. . . That better not be what I fear it is," Ralik said, his voice shaky.
For a short time, there was nothing else to see, save for smaller bursts of orange light around where the explosions were. They felt the ground start to vibrate and saw numerous arcs of electricity emerging from the mouths of several caves on a distant mountain range. The electricity danced across a seemingly predetermined path on its way to the summit, whereupon it collected and shot forth into the sky as a massive bolt. The vibration in the ground quickly settled after that.
The three were dreadfully silent, afraid that any misspoken word would cause something bad to happen. Within a few seconds of the burst of energy leaving the planet-relay, a spectacular blue-white explosion filled a good portion of the sky. The sphere of released energy made its way to the surface where they stood, and hit them with a concussive blast powerful enough to knock each of them over and shove the grounded Skimmer a few meters.
"Augh. Was that the reaper's eezo core?" Tyr asked Ralik as he slowly stood to his feet.
Ralik was already standing back up, even jumping with one fist in the air. "That was it! The commando team did it!"
Victorious laughs and high-threes were passed around, but their joyous celebration quickly came to a halt as a number of falling fireballs appeared in the sky, clumped together and heading for the surface. They soon discovered that the fireballs were not falling debris from the reaper, but instead all manner of pieces from the Kellius. Arla and Ralik both hopped out of the Skimmer, wordless and numb at the sight.
"No. . ." Arla said under her breath. "No! No! Kevin!" She took two quick steps forward, staring in pure horror as the pieces exploded again upon impact with the surface where their basecamp sat. Her clenched hands trembled fiercely and she fell to her knees, screaming Kevin's name with one long breath until her throat could no longer take it. This brought on another coughing fit, forcing her to fall forward onto all fours as she repeatedly drove a fist against the solid rock of the mountain. When the fit passed, she went back back to kneeling and looked down into the valley where smoke and fire had taken over. She slumped to the ground, as her legs had ceased trying to hold her up.
Tyr and Ralik were speechless. Everyone had just lost more than they could bear.
"No. . . Kevin, you can't leave me. . ." Arla whispered while staring at the ground. "Not now. Please. . ."
Tyr placed a hand on Arla's shoulder and she turned her head away from him. "I'm sorry, Arla, but there's nothing we can do."
She shakily stood to her feet with her hands covering her visor. "We- We need to go down there and search for survivors! We need to go now!"
Ralik looked at Tyr and released a dragging breath, shaking his head slowly.
Tyr's head sunk forward for a brief moment before he looked back to Arla. "Arla, you know as well as I do that no one – human, quarian, anything – could have lived through that crash."
Arla threw Tyr's hand off and spun around. "No! No, you're wrong! Kevin would have found a way! He would have- He wouldn't leave. . ."
Tyr shook his head. "Kevin's a stubborn bosh'tet, but he's not invincible. As much as it pains to say it. . ." Tyr paused to gather his nerve. "You have to let them go." He took a step closer to Arla and placed his hands on her shoulders. "All of them."
Arla let herself fall onto the chief. He wrapped her in his arms and heard a sound he'd never thought he'd hear from his lieutenant. Weeping. Not just the subtle sounds of a withheld cry, but the full emotion only told by sobs. Ralik turned his head and rested a hand against the front of his mask. They were all facing the grim truth that the four on the ship were nothing short of smears on the churned up dirt.
As Tyr took a moment to compose himself, Ralik heard the dreadful stuttering sound of geth in the distance. He peeked over a cliff to look down and he could see tiny white spots all over the mountainside. He let out a sigh of exasperation and went back to Tyr and Arla while shaking his head. This wasn't what they needed right now. "We have to go."
Tyr sluggishly turned his head to Ralik and nodded. Arla was in no mood to move, so he pulled her along to the Skimmer. They got inside, kicked on the engines and blasted down the other side of the mountain. "We'll have to find a place where we can take a moment to catch some downtime. We need to think about our next course of action."
"What for?" Arla asked, pure depression lacing her tone. "Everyone else is dead and we have no ship."
Tyr sighed. "We're not dead, lieutenant. We're beaten, but we're not dead. We're not done yet."
Arla looked to the floor of the Skimmer and recalled when Kevin said something similar. When she said it back to him. It only made her hurt now, thinking of his face, but there was truth in those words. They still had a mission to complete. The problem was that she was having a difficult time thinking about the mission. Images of Kevin getting crushed amidst the burning wreckage filled her mind. Images of his lifeless body caught under rubble and broken metal. Images of him calling out to her with his last breath. It was almost too much to take and she threw her head into her hands, shaking her head violently.
Ralik pointed off to a dense grove of trees some distance from the mountain. "There. If we can get the Skimmer inside that grove, we should be able to stay for a while. None of the geth can follow our trail while they're busy on the other side of the mountain."
"One would like to think so," Tyr said in disbelief. They thought they'd lost the synthetics several times already, and he didn't think this time would be any different. At the very least, there would be a decent distance they had to cover this time. Tyr steered the Skimmer rather skillfully through the trees, all three of them ducking behind the windshield to avoid the numerous branches that would otherwise catch them in the front of their helmets. At the center of the grove was a picturesque clearing, only about four time the size of the Skimmer. Tyr set the hovercraft down on the far side and shut down the engines yet again.
They stayed there until nightfall, finally glad that the geth were no longer in pursuit. Ralik had climbed a tree after the sun no longer held sway over the surface to find out if he could see any of the geth, and he did. There were small lights darting about the surface of the mountain still, and it was inferred that the geth were still trying to find them there. A few hours later, they climbed into the Skimmer to use it as a place to rest their heads for the night.
Tyr was having a hard time pushing Arla to keep going. It seemed to him that she had all but given up the will to live. He felt for her, and it was hard seeing a close squadmate's morale so utterly crushed. He wanted to spend some time grieving as well, but they couldn't. Not yet. At least Ralik was following along well enough.
Just as they all got settled and were ready to fall asleep, they could feel the oscillation from the underground rings climb sharply in frequency. There was a series of near-constant flashes in the sky that resembled distant lightning, but this ended with a large bolt shooting deep into the black abyss of the sky. As soon as the bolt shot, a faint blue line appeared, heading off in the direction of the galaxy.
"What the heck was that?" Ralik asked. Apparently he noticed that too.
Tyr looked over the back of the seat. "What do you think, Arla? Did you see that?" Arla was laying on her side, curled up tight and facing the back of her seat. She didn't respond. Either she was asleep, or she couldn't care any less about funny lights in the sky. Disappointed, Tyr sat back down. "I think someone, or something used the relay."
"There's only one entity I know of that is still capable of relay-based travel," Ralik stated, his tone dire.
"Indeed. We now have a problem, Tyr."
"Yes. If that geth vessel was able to use the relay, and this relay drops off somewhere in the galaxy, that means the geth on that sphere can too. The Migrant Fleet is in immediate danger now."
"If only we had a vessel capable of relay-based travel. . ."
"We might," Arla noted impassively, having already sat up. "That is, if there are any geth transports still grounded at the cluster."
Ralik tilted his head. "But how exactly are we going to get through the relay using a grounded ship?"
"Not grounded," Tyr commented, seeing where Arla was going. "Controlled flight."
"I'm still not following this," Ralik stated, crossing his arms.
Arla took in a deep breath and let go of it slowly. "Tosh was given a program from admiral Xen's team at one point. It was designed to emulate a series of geth processes that took direct input from an omni-tool. Remember?"
Ralik looked to the sky for a few seconds before he snapped his gaze to Arla amidst a nod.
Tyr continued this train of thought to its natural conclusion. "If there's at least one grounded vessel left, we can take it for ourselves and see where this relay drops off. I'm guessing we can all fit in the transport chamber during flight."
"So we really can make it back?" Ralik asked rhetorically. Tyr nodded anyways. "This is exceedingly spectacular news! Will we wait until morning to make our move?"
Tyr thought for a second then shook his head. "No. If the geth give up on their search and head back to the cluster, we'll have to deal with them while hoping they don't take the ships for themselves. We need to move now if we want our best shot at this. Agreed?"
The other two nodded and Tyr turned back to sit normally in the driver's chair again. He spurred on the engines and made his way through the backside of the grove. Tyr knew that he would have to take one heck of a wide detour if he wanted to avoid detection, and he did so. Even in the Skimmer, the trip to the geth cluster took a couple of hours longer than it would have to go straight there. By the time they were close to arriving, the sun was causing a faint orange glow on the horizon. They armed themselves in anticipation of a counter-attack, but none came – even as they set the Skimmer down next to the two remaining geth transports. It seemed every single geth had left to pursue them.
Tyr hopped out immediately drew his attention on the transport laying on its side, its landing gear sticking out to the side having failed in their purpose. "What do you make of this?"
"Likely a result of the quakes brought on by the reaper escaping its stone prison." Ralik looked to where the mountain used to be. "We're in close proximity, and I imagine the quakes were far more intense here than they were for us. I didn't bother to look when we stopped by to pick up-" Ralik didn't want to finish. The wounds were still too fresh.
The answer made sense, so Tyr moved on to the last plausible ship they could use. "Alright, Arla. Let's see if we can take control of this one. It's our last shot."
Arla brought up her omni-tool and she ran the program Tosh had uploaded to her. After a few warnings and other messages, it finally connected to the geth entity they knew as the transport ship. The vessel came to life, so to speak; it's thrusters were automatically warming up, its drive core was coming online, its weapons systems were priming, and a number of visible lights on the exterior brightened. At first the team was wary of it, but Arla put their fears to rest after a large assortment of haptic interfaces appeared in front of her. "I'm in." Familiar with geth technology, she quickly navigated to the doors covering the transport bay and opened them.
"Excellent!" Ralik exclaimed. He wasted no time in climbing up to get inside, and neither did Arla or Tyr.
Conversation was practically non-existent as the door shut beneath them and Arla spread out the user interface. She endured another coughing fit, then studied the various sections and shook her head. "Ugh. I haven't had to touch this level of piloting detail since flight class." Tyr and Ralik sat down on either side of her and she sent a few of the windows to each omni-tool so they could handle them while she focused on piloting. Ralik ran a quick translation application to make Arla's quarian text a bit more readable.
After a wobbly start, the three of them managed to get the geth transport stable enough to start heading for orbit. They collectively tried to come up with some way to sabotage the relay to make it unusable once they left, but they knew so little about the workings of a relay that they were unable to formulate a feasible plan. If they had proper equipment, they could rig an asteroid to crash into the fins of the relay well after they had left, but they had almost nothing to work with. They knew leaving the relay intact was a bad idea, but there was simply nothing they could do about it. After some hesitation, they piloted the transport into orbit and activated the relay.
"Any guesses as to where this drops us?" Tyr wondered aloud. The others shook their heads.
A bolt of energy sprung from the nearest mountain range and struck the vessel, shooting it into the heart of the galaxy amidst a blue-shifted tunnel. When they dropped, Arla checked the geth's sensors to see what there was to see.
"There's a lot of noise. Hang on, let me filter this a bit." Arla manually dropped several cluttered sensor readings, leaving just enough for them to make visual sense of their surroundings.
"Is that. . . Is that Omega?" Ralik asked, both glad to see a familiar location and horrified at the implications.
"Hng. There's a lot of activity around the place right now," Arla stated.
"Stay clear," Tyr instructed. "We don't want to risk getting shot down on principle. Maybe they saw the previous geth ship come through and got spooked."
Just then, Arla and Tyr's omni-tools lit up with incoming messages. Tyr checked his so Arla could continue piloting.
"Looks like the Migrant Fleet is on the move."
"They're finally done at Raheel-Layya?" Arla asked.
"Seems so. I've got a new set of coordinates. We should head there now."
Ralik snapped his head to look at the two quarians. "Are you sure that's a good idea? Based upon what I know of your people, we're more likely to get shot down there than here at Omega."
"We've got that covered," Tyr replied. "We have a verbal confirmation system that will allow us passage into the fleet, remember?. It's not unusual for quarians on their pilgrimage to return to the fleet in different ships than they left in. This is how we determine when or approaching vessel is friendly or hostile."
"Right. I. . . forgot about that tidbit."
"Do you have the coordinates, Arla?"
"Yes. Locked in and heading for the Omega-2 relay."
The geth ship headed straight for the relay and synced up to it, avoiding confrontation along the way. Only a matter of minutes after they arrived back in the galaxy, they shot off to rejoin the Migrant Fleet.
*Later. . .*
Once on the Neema, Arla, Tyr, and Ralik stepped into the unusually crowded courtyard to an unexpected thunderous applause. Arla was already flanked by medically trained Migrant Fleet marines who were scanning away to determine what needed to be done to contain her infection, but she largely ignored them and hobbled onward. Confused, the three walked in and saw admiral Han'Gerrel waving them over from the other side of the courtyard. They pushed through the crowd to reach the admiral, glancing at each other the entire way. They were wholly unprepared to talk about what had happened, and they certainly didn't want to talk about it in front of a crowd. Arla especially didn't want to be dealing with others right now.
"You kids have no idea how relieved I am to see that you made it back," the admiral admitted. He looked around them as if expecting others to push through the crowd.
Tyr looked up at him. "We're. . . We're glad to be home, admiral."
"I only see three of you. Where are the others?" Gerrel asked. "Where's the human kid, Kevin, Bela'Merni, and Kar'Welkas?" He paused. "Where is Siri'Kortel?"
Arla's head slowly fell forward and Tyr decided to answer this question in her stead, despite it being directed at the ranking officer. "We have. . . A lot to brief you on, admiral. With all due respect, we'd rather not be in public when we do it."
Han'Gerrel gave them a silent, understanding stare. "I should say you do. Come with me to my quarters. We'll discuss your mission there."
One of the doctors placed a hand on Arla's shoulder. "Lieutenant Tavval, we'll need you to come with us. Your infection is pretty severe."
"No. I'm going with Tyr and Ralik to see the admiral."
"This is not up for debate, lieutenant. You need treatment. Now."
Arla fervently removed the marines' hands from her. "Get off of me! I'm fine!"
Tyr looked over to the ruckus. He knew her infection was bad, but he also knew that it was the only thing she had left of Kevin to hold on to. "Admiral, she has invaluable insight to the mission. We can't debrief with any sort of accuracy unless she's present."
Han'Gerrel nodded to Tyr. "Let her be, marines."
The admiral cut him off. "Does she have any suit damage?"
"N-no, but the-"
"Then the infection was most likely voluntary. Stand down. That's an order."
The medical marines shook their heads in disappointment, but they did as ordered and left Arla alone. The three of them did not hesitate to leave with the admiral, eager to put the hyped crowds behind them.
Once in Han'Gerrel's quarters and safe from the prying ears and eyes of the public, the surviving trio spent a number of hours debriefing the admiral on everything that had happened since they left – they went into detail about the successful assault on the geth valesh'saat and Siri'Kortel's sacrifice, the geth sphere and the experiments, the fight with the reaper, the crash of the Kellius, and their escape to the Migrant Fleet. Each time a death was mentioned, Han'Garrel slumped just a little bit more. Arla barely held it together by the time they finished; Her thoughts were still on her lost love, and the coughing fits that resulted from the infection he gave her weren't helping.
When the debrief was finished, there was a silence that pervaded the room for several minutes straight. After the admiral had a chance to absorb everything, he stood from his chair. "We'll hold a memorial service to recognize those who had given their lives for this most demanding mission. It'll be held tomorrow, so you'll have some time to make preparations. I assume you'll want to keep it private?"
"We'd appreciate that, sir." Tyr said with a slow nod.
"There does happen to be a ray of light in this dark hour, however. By returning to the Migrant Fleet, you've given the Xelvas'taersh a name again. We all feared we sent you out into the maw of certain death, and from the sound of it, we weren't far off. That said, we can consider this initiation a success, and continue the program by considering new recruits. I think we'll defer to your judgment on whether or not the selected individuals will make the cut. You've set an incredibly high bar."
Tyr looked to the salarian at his side. "What about Ralik? What will become of him?"
"What will become of him, chief?" the admiral asked.
Tyr looked to Arla for an answer, as she was the ranking officer on the mission. She sighed and looked to Han'Gerrel. "If it's alright with Dolannus, I would like to allow him the chance to remain in the program. After all we've been through, it would be terribly uncouth and unjust of us to ask him to leave simply on racial grounds. For all intents and purposes, he's one of us, admiral." She looked to Ralik, who nodded back in thanks.
The admiral had his hand on the chin of his helmet as he considered her words. After less than a minute of thought, he nodded. "I don't see why not. You've made some valid points, lieutenant. I can't refute the difficult work he's done for the quarian people."
Arla forced aside a set of coughs and looked to Ralik and asked him formally. "Ralik Dolannus. Will you continue to serve at our side as part of the first Xelvas'taersh in three hundred years? Will you stay with Tyr and I as we move ahead?" Her voice was weary, but steadfast.
Ralik put a hand to his helmet-covered chin and thought out loud. "Hmm. I need to contact my brother before I make any significant decisions. Is there a terminal I can use for outbound calls?"
The admiral used his omni-tool to set Ralik's omni-tool up with the ability to make calls through the Migrant Fleet's proxy clusters. "There. You should be able to make calls from your omni-tool now."
Ralik nodded in thanks and stepped off to the side of the room to make his call. Meanwhile, Han looked to Arla. "How are you holding up, kid? You look about eight shades more depressed than the others, enough that I can see it through your suit."
"I'm sorry, admiral. I'm glad to be home, I really am. It's just that..." She trailed off as the sickening thoughts returned to her head. "I wish he was here with me. . ."
Han'Gerrel looked at Tyr and the weapons chief shrugged. "The human kid, sir. The one in the quarian suit."
"Kevin? Ah, so then your infection. . ."
Arla nodded, a faint shimmer building under the glow of her eyes. "Voluntary, sir." She had to choke back an immense lump just so she wouldn't sound pathetic in the presence of the admiral.
The admiral sighed deeply, but before he could make any comment, Ralik returned. "How did the call go?" the admiral inquired instead.
"Terrible. I couldn't get through to my brother."
"Why not?" Tyr asked.
"I. . . I don't know. It's not like he was missing my calls – they were being actively rejected."
"That's. . . unusual," Arla said with a sluggish tilt of the head.
Ralik stared at the floor for around fifteen seconds before he looked up to Arla. "In light of this new information, I'll be staying with the Xelvas'taersh. It's. . . It's what Kevin would have wanted."
Arla sighed. "What Kevin would have wanted. . ." She nodded to Ralik's confirmation. "There you go, admiral. The three of us are the remains of the first Xelvas'taersh squad since the war. What would you have us do?"
Han'Gerrel chuckled. "I'd have you go get some rest, lieutenant. You're more than deserving of a rest by this point. Hop to. We'll get to the details of the ceremony when you wake. I'll also send off this report to the other admirals. I'm sure they'll want to be present as well."
"Thank you admiral," Tyr said with a formal salute.
The remembrance ceremony the next day was brief, but emotionally charged. The only individuals other than Tyr, Ralik, and Arla that were allowed to attend were the admirals and the families of the fallen. Each had a chance to say something about the deceased, and they lit small ceremonial fires for each one. Tears were shed by nearly all in attendance – only the admirals maintained a strong stoic presence.
The nap before the ceremony did Arla good as well – her infection was showing signs of slowing its progress, little by little.
Just as they finished the ceremony, it was back to business – quarians could never really afford to be off of the the job for very long, and only Arla was granted additional rest in order to fight off her infection before it took too much of a toll. Han'Gerrel had spent a portion of the past day looking at absurd amounts of detail and he handed Tyr and Arla a list of potential candidates for the Xelvas'taersh program. Some time later, the trio stood in a line with arms crossed as they evaluated a host of quarian marines. They had another mission lined up, but they needed a ship and crew. They were they dead set on picking the best from a wide range of skills. The future of the Xelvas'taersh, now in the hands of Arla'Tavval, was looking bright. Despite their inability to forget the deaths of their squadmates, they pushed forward in their memory to move beyond their own limits.
Arla's depression never truly lifted, though she became quite adept at hiding her feelings around her comrades. She simply could not move on after Kevin's death. There were times when she would be caught falling asleep to a certain song set to a loop in her quarters – a slow song that seemed modeled after classic human rock ballads which lacked lyrics. She pressed on and worked hard to earn her new position as the new captain of the Xelvas'taersh squad mark II, and pushed forward as though it would bring him back.
Tyr refused promotions of all sorts under Arla's leadership, as he wished to stay a Gunnery Chief in rank. He still acted as a close advisor to Arla, however, and continued to be an indispensable strategist and inventory manager. He was also in charge of instructing the new Xelvas'taersh recruits in 'proper' weaponized warfare against the geth and other groups, as he was the most experienced marine on the entire squad.
Ralik continued to dabble in all things scientific, delving into the world of expert hacking in remembrance of Tosh. Though he could never quite reach Tosh's ability to program on the fly or make quick work of electronic salvage, he still managed to climb grades better than he ever did in the STG. The three of them formed the very core of the new Xelvas'taersh squad, collectively acting as the head, even though Arla maintained authority.
When they were finally awarded a new ship to use, a special monument in one of the hallways was placed which named all of the known Xelvas'taersh marines to fall in the line of duty. The first and only six names that adorned it were Siri'Kortel, Bela'Merni, Riik'Votis, Tosh'Rolush, Kar'Welkas, and lastly, Kevin Folner.
*Elsewhere In the Galaxy*
[Encrypted Data Received]
Download to omni-tool now?
Downloading. . . . . . . . . . Complete.
Decoding. . . . . .
Allocating cipher data. . . . . . .
Restructuring deciphered files. . . . . .
Opening index file.
INDEX TEXT FILE TITLE: [Your Request]
We are pleased you chose our information retrieval services over that of your comrade, Tarsil.
We are quite sure you'll find the additional files attached in this message worth the sum
of money you forwarded to us. Put them to good use. We hope to hear from you again.
[THE SHADOW BROKER]
END OF FILE
Attached files found: Audio1, Audio2
| Open Audio1
Matching codecs. . . Opening. . .
A female voice plays over Kevin's omni-tool. It is light and airy, full of life and charming to the ear. The perfect voice suited to taking calls at the front desk of a big front company.
"Yes? Of course. The office reported unusual activity a little over six weeks ago. Confimed - just after Project Evolution was decommissioned. Primary sources say the entire cell was instructed to report for processing two weeks later, but none showed. Our agents inside also went silent during this time. No, sir, they did not. There was one other thing. A boy calling from a terminal in Omega inquired about the Evolution cell three weeks ago. Kevin Folner. It appears so, they mobilized merely days after. We have leads on their projected destinations, shall I notify a hunter-seeker? . . . No? Sir, are you sure? U-Understood. Thank you, sir, and have a pleasant day."
"Hey, what was that about?" A second female voice asked.
"That was the Illusive Man requesting an update on the Evolution Cell debacle. I was sure he'd want to send in a hunter-seeker to contain liabilities, but. . ."
"Something big must be going down that we don't know about. His priorities are changing pretty rapidly."
"I wouldn't stick your nose too far in that mess, Liz. We've got a nice spot here, I'd rather not get recruited for 'processing'."
"Yeah. . ."
END OF FILE
| Open Audio2
Matching codecs. . . Opening. . .
The sounds of moving people and rustling equipment emitted from the omni-tool. From the way the sounds played, Kevin inferred the recording device was stationary and the movement was happening all around it.
A familiar male voice with an Irish accent was the first to be heard. He sounded somewhat aged. "Hurry up with those! Cerberus is going to be on our sorry backsides real soon, and we can't dally any more!" The accent was unmistakable: It was Liam McRoilie.
A female voice joined the fray. It was Allison. "Liam, what's going on? Nobody's told me anything!"
"The project lead shut us down a few weeks ago, Allison. We were told to standby for processing, but news of an unexpected inquiry found its way to us."
"An inquiry? Of what sort?"
"No no no! Rose, forget those! We won't need them!" He paused. "One of Cerberus's front call centers got a call asking about our cell yesterday. You'll never believe who placed the call."
"It couldn't be. . ."
"Yes! It was our last living subject! It was Kevin!"
"That's great news, Liam! But. . . Why are we packing up? We were told to standby for processing."
"The Illusive Man lied to us, Allison! He shut our project down because he said he had confirmation that Kevin was dead! If that was a lie, then who knows what he has planned for us now. We need to get out of here before we find out what 'processing' really means!"
"Oh God. What do we have left to move?"
"Just get the data storage from the east wing and we're out of here. We need to find Maela T'Vess – we're going to need her if we want to have a chance at saving Kevin, assuming he hasn't already had his final NCI."
The rustling quickly faded into the distance.
END OF FILE
Kevin smirked to himself. It sounded like someone from Cerberus was coming for him again.