Alliance Colony World AR-275

100 meters from the Alliance Military Compound

32 minutes since landing ...

Sand. If there was one planetary element that Shepard despised, it was sand. The granules are everywhere, getting into armour joints, into your eyes and mouth if you did not wear any head protection. Most of all, the sand reminded the commander of Virmire … and the terrible decision he had been forced to make there.

Shaking the thought off, Shepard shielded his visor with his gauntlet, trying to see through the storm that raged around his squad as the 15 Imperial Storm-Troopers they were accompanying faded in and out of the swirling sand around them. If there was any sign of their passing, it was in their disappearing shoe prints in the sand and the targeting beams from their helmets that lanced out in front as they slowly tracked their weapons to the fore of their advance.

Unable to exactly keep track of every member of his team through the swirling sand, the commander radioed over the squad's comms., "Shepard to ground team. Status?"

"Visibility's down to near zero and my HUD's scrambled, Commander." Williams reported over a static-punctuated signal to Shepard's helmet.

"Same here, Shepard." Garrus radioed; "I can barely keep up with the Imperials in the middle of the damn storm!"

Similar replies from the rest of the squad filtered back from Liara, Wrex and Tali. In the latter case, Shepard was momentarily alarmed to hear a series of coughs over the radio, but the visored alien eventually cleared her throat and reported that she was fine – a stray sand granule had bypassed her external respirator filtration unit.

If we can't get inside, we're going to have a lot more problems then a few stray grains of sand. Shepard reflected as he sloughed through a bank of sand that had been blown over the toes of his boots.

A few further minutes of struggling through the sandstorm eventually came to an end as Sergeant Altern, who had been moving ahead with the other Imperials, threw up his right arm and a balled fist; a command to halt. Everyone clustered in a rough huddle and took a knee within the driving sand as Altern grabbed Shepard's shoulder and released the pins holding his respirator in place on his mask.

"How much further to the base?" Altern yelled, trying to make himself heard over the now-howling wind.

Unable to hear him, Shepard bellowed back, "What?!"

Shuffling closer to the commander, Altern articulated, "How. Far. Are we. Away. From the base!?"

A shuffling of sand beside them and a curt cough from Ashley answered the sergeant's shouted inquiry; the Gunnery Chief was glancing down at her omni-tool, barely making out a map of the planet's surface that rapidly flickered in and out of static – it was evident that the dust storm was interfering with whatever ladar scans Ashley was receiving from orbit.

"One of the base's secondary entrances should be right over the next dune." she added through her helmet's respirator, slapping her omni-tool as if the force of her gauntlet would, if at all, be able to stabilise the degenerating data-feed she was trying to receive. "The garrison normally use these to move patrols in and out of the facility without attracting too much attention."

"Can it still be accessed?"

"Providing the base generators haven't been sabotaged," the marine shrugged, deactivating her omni-tool and hefting her rifle. "We should be able to come and go as we please."

"Fair enough." Shepard rose up from the sand, quipping to Altern,"You heard the lady, Sergeant."

"Move out!" Altern gruffly ordered to the gathered storm-troopers before the entire group set off once again into the dirt-induced twilight.

It took another quarter of an hour or more of struggling through the shifting sands of the desert, but eventually, as he led the others up another dune, Shepard heard a clanging beneath his boots. Stopping where he was, he knelt down and shifted handfuls of sand aside. This proved no easy task as sand continued to cascade back down onto the uncovered areas, but, after a few minutes, he had managed to clear away enough to reveal the door's security panel.

The visored visage of Tali emerged at the commander's side, fumbling with her omni-tool and muttering under her breath in quarian some obscure curse or other. With the door being taken care of, Shepard returned his attention back to the others as they gathered at the foot of the hatchway.

"What's our plan?" Verrik agitatedly queried, a few of his squad nodding in agreement.

Frowning, Shepard replied, "Our first priority would be needing to obtain a schematic of the base – which means we'll need to locate the commander's officer."

Garrus cut in over the comms. "And then stopping the Orks from hauling out any of those Javelins."

Trooper Dieter coughed from behind his respirator uneasily as he interjected, "And what if the Orks already have those weapons, Commander? Is there a fail-safe that we can use to prevent the weapons from being detonated?"

The commander nodded, as, in the background, Tali let out a whoop of triumph as the door squealed open on its hinges. "From the silo's fire control station, yes, Sergeant." Shepard answered. "But we'll have to obtain the command codes to shut down the missiles."

Verrik face-palmed. "And that means we'll have to search the commander's office for those as well."

As the three units finalised their preparations, Altern turned back to the two storm-trooper squads. "Alright, we know what our plan is, then? Verrik, I want you to provide security for the reconnoitre for the CO's office. My unit will stay with Shepard's squad and provide additional security on the assault on the silo. Remember, watch your corners, do not commit any actions that would arpuse the Orks of your presence and, above all else, watch your bio-spoor IFF's; anything that is not green-skinned and hunched over, you do not shoot! Understood?"

A chorus of "aye" replied to him as Altern marched back to Shepard and nodded slightly. "We're ready, Commander."

"Wrex." Shepard hissed, gesturing for the Krogan to lead them in. The burly alien nodded, pumping the action of his shotgun and proceeding through the hatch.

Filing in and switching the safeties off of their weapons, the rest proceeded inside, unsure of what they will find below.


Imperial Guard LZ

Outskirts of the colony

Perched halfway out of the turret hatch of one of the few command Chimeras he had on hand within his regiment, Gerrad scanned the horizon and the human colony that lay below with a pair of magnoculars as the Guardsmen and machinery of the expeditionary forces rumbled past him. The landing zone for the operation had been placed on a rise overlooking the colony from its southern side – no doubt, the Guard may already have been spotted the moment their transports broke through AR-275's atmosphere. If the Orks were present within the colony in significant numbers, they would have to move quickly before they were caught out in the open.

To his chagrin, however, he had learned minutes earlier that Jungter had "requisitioned" and diverted four Valkyries worth of his own infantry, including a heavy weapons company from the 497th, directly to what constituted the colony's spaceport. While this audacious, though somewhat vaguely planned, move would allow an Imperial presence in the immediate area the Orks were targeting, thus allowing the remainder of the force to clear out the colony at will, Gerrad had coldly reminded the subordinate commander of his place in the overall chain of command and that all troop movements were to be passed to him first.

Discipline and order were the codes the Imperial Guard were meant to operate by – the Gorgian 497th, in Gerrad's mind, were exemplars of this. Veterans of several campaigns in the Segmentum Tempestus and a rotation to Armageddon during the third Ork invasion had granted the 497th a reputation of fanatical, by the letter loyalty to the Imperium. As for the 85th – oh, they were another matter in entirety. Gerrad had fought beside them once during a particular operation in the Segmentum Pacificus and, in that time, he had come to form his own opinion on the regiment; while their courage was beyond doubt, their loyalty to the Imperial cause was another matter entirety, if the rumours from the Departo Munitorum were anything to go on.

Speaking of which…. He arched an eyebrow and lowered his magnoculars as Jungter and his command staff - including a power-fist wielding Commissar Kliest, a priest of the Ecclesiarchy and four Guardsmen of the 85th, including the standard-bearer for the Regiment (judging by the metal shaft covered by black cloth that he bore) – emerged from the rear hatch of Jungter's command Chimera and approached the Gorgian vehicle.

"I assume your men have been briefed?" Gerrad snorted down to his fellow commander as Jungter halted.

Jungter nodded, the venom in Gerrad's words either seeming to go over his head or ignored. "They know of their assignment, General. We'll be on the move within the next few minutes."

"Good." Gerrad replied, seeming to brush the junior commander with the same amount of indifference he would for a fly as he went back to scanning the horizon through his magnoculars.

Just as Jungter was about to rejoin his staff, he heard the squeaking of pistons and the soft thudding of mechanical feet. He barely had to turn around to see the riveted form of an armoured Sentinel slow to a stop beside the two commanders and the top hatch popping open as the pilot stood up from the cabin.

"Are you Talon One?" Jungter queried the Sentinel commander, noting the grey tone camouflage scheme of the walker.

The pilot nodded, removing his visor from his eyes and resting it against his helmet. "Yes, sir! Lieutenant Ferron, Second Reconnoitre Squadron. I'm in command of the mechanised element that'll be advancing on the main Ork encampment."

Turning back to the conversation behind him, Gerrad tried to make himself heard over the rumbling of a pair of passing Hellhound flamethrower tanks. "You have been briefed on your orders then, Lieutenant?"

Ferron nodded wearily. "Yes, General. While the main advance moves directly into the colony itself, my company and the mechanised elements will be attacking the Ork encampment to the South. We are to scour the Ork presence from the area and burn everything to the ground and out of the ground to prevent re-infestation."

The crackle of las-fire in the distance began to echo from the colony below. "Well, you better get a move on!" Gerrad urged. "Our advance forces have made contact and they will likely not last long if we dither here!"

Ferron clambered back into his Sentinel, yelling out a half-hearted "Good luck, sirs!" to the two commanders as he sealed the hatch and the diminutive Sentinel clanked away, tearing across the desert sand and into the distance.

Gerrad noted the still lingering Jungter and he spat, "Well, what are you waiting for, Lieutenant General? Go! War calls!"

Jungter nodded, but just when he was about to leave, Gerrad stopped him from leaving again. "And Jungter? Don't think I have forgotten your earlier "initiative". I want nothing in there, human or xenos, alive. Understand? Burn everything to the ground!"

Starting to become sick of the over-zealous nature of his superior, Jungter gritted his teeth as he grimly strode away. "Yes, sir. It will be done." he muttered.


Alliance Base - Somewhere on Level One ...

Deep within the bowels of the base, Shepard's ad-hoc force continued on in silence, not a single word passing between them in the cloying air as they checked each corridor that they came across. Initially, their journey towards the base's silos had some good fortune, thanks to a series of markers that had been suspended from the roof that provided a general direction as to where they are, but deeper and deeper into the base, they found that they had to rely on themselves for direction within the twisting and turning labyrinth.

TaliZorah and Ashley were not among their number, however; the Commander split them off with Verrik's unit to locate and secure the missile command codes from the base C.O.'s office and the extended time of lack of communication between the two units began to wear on him.

After what seemed like an eternity of running about in a metaphorical cage, Shepard's helmet earphone squawked to life. He could just hear Tali add over the crackling transmission waves, "Tali'Zorah to Shepard, come in."

Passing a signal up for the group to halt, Shepard cupped the right side of his helmet, replying, "Go ahead, Tali."

"We've finally made it to the commander's office on Level One. The Imperials are securing a perimeter and I'm staring at the commander's terminal in front of me now. Shouldn't be too much of a fuss to access the base's databank for the failsafe codes we need." There was a brief pause on the line before Tali added, "Hold on, updating base layout schematics to your omni-tool now."

Ashley's voice cut into the transmission as he reported, "The bad news is that we haven't found any of the base's garrison alive so far and I'm not picking up and Alliance IFF signatures on my scanner. I think the Orks wiped the entire garrison out."

"We haven't seen anyone human alive either, Williams." Wrex rumbled. "This place looks deader than a pyjack nest after it has been torn apart by ravenous varren."

That bit of news seemed to hang within the humid air for a few seconds before Shepard replied. "Understood; rendezvous with us at ..." The commander glanced down at his omni-tool to consult the forwarded map as he replied, "Junction 27A, Level 2. The silo shouldn't be too far from there."

Tali's voice cut back in as she signed off. "Understood, Commander. Be careful."

Just as the group was about to move on, Altern, who had since moved up to the front of the group, hissed and gestured urgently to the group. "Get back!"

Acting immediately, he entire group hugged close to the nearest wall as Altern peeked around the corner. He could see several shadows being projected onto the wall, hear the the clanking of boots against the base's floor and the snarling and boisterous tone of Orks; they seemed to be passing by in a hallway parallel to them, likely tracking down for any remaining Alliance personnel that may have been left alive..

"Ork patrol." he hissed back to Shepard and the others. "We're not alone down here."


Alliance Base - Level 2

Junction 2-27A

25 minutes later ...

Nearly a half-hour of sneaking through the base eventually saw Shepard and the others at Junction 27A – a crossroads somewhere within the base's center that split off into the domestic billets and barracks, the base's armoury and, Shepard hoped, eventually, the base's missile silos.

It had been a relatively quiet journey throughout the dark, Altern's team not uttering a single word as they kept their eyes peeled for Orks, which, thankfully, did not cross their path. But one question that had been haunting him since he set foot on site had been beginning to gnaw at him – where did the Orks go?

His opportunity to think on it further was interrupted when a hissed whisper of, "Hold your fire!" wafted from one of the adjoining hallways and Verik, Tali and the others emerged from the gloom into the helmet-lamp-lit section of the hall.

"Casualties, Gunnery Chief? Sergeant?" Altern asked the newest arrivals.

Ashley shook her head in reply. "None; we did have a few close calls, though; had to eliminate an Ork sentry after he got a bit too close our position."

"Same." Verrik quipped, keeping his eyes towards the left and right of the rendezvous point, watchful for enemy activity.

"Did you retrieve the fail-safe codes?" Shepard asked.

"Ready for uploading, Commander." Tali quipped.

Shepard nodded, satisfied by their progress so far, before tapping Altern and waved the force forward.

Booted feet clanked against the grated steel floor as the storm-troopers, with Shepard and his squad keeping pace, slowly made their way through the sharply contoured corridors. Torchlight emitting from helmet mounts glowed in the dark, heads slowly tracking left and right as they scanned for any sign of trouble. From his position towards the center of the group, the glances he stole of those around him and, in a few cases, the sparse patterns of breathing that he could hear in the dimness, the sergeant observed that the others were tense, as if something might jump them at any moment. Swallowing his own anxiety down, he tightened the grip on his weapons and slowly continued to keep pace.

The minutes continued to creep by as the three groups continued to wander towards their destination. On occasion, they could hear a rattle in the distance or a muffled yell. Each time, they halted in their tracks, training their weapons towards whatever passage towards or away from them they could see.

And each time, there was nothing.

After what seemed to be an agonising eternity of wandering through the eerily silent hallways, Verrik's auspex emitted several beeps. Everyone stopped in their tracks, right in front of a reinforced blast door five times their height, the flickering hologram of the damaged locking mechanism glimmering feebly in the twilight.

The storm-trooper and Shepard stacked alongside either edge of the frame, Shepard's hand poised above the door's control switch as Altern's fellow Imperials and Shepard's unit raised their weapons to cover the door.

Gripping his assault rifle by one hand, Shepard hissed, "One … Two…"

The Commander's fist slammed on the switch. "Three!"

Altern and Shepard rounded the door frame, their weapons clicking up as the pair charged through the slowly opening steel maw … before coming to a faltering halt several paces away.

"Holy … Throne!" Altern spat in shock as he lowered his hell-pistol. As the group strode inside, they seemed momentarily dumbstruck by the scene in front of them as they surveyed the evident damage.

This section of the interior of the silo was a rounded rectangular edifice approximately 65 meters wide, one and a half times in length (able to be accessed by two other entrances) and the 'roof' set far above them; the space within was populated by the massive tree-trunks of crimson, white-stenciled missile launch tubes. The bodies of Alliance soldiers lay slumped at various places within the area, their weapons clutched in their final spasms of rigor mortis or lying dismembered and scattered across the floor – the aftermath of one Ork or another's brutality in battle. Dried and damp sprays of blood caked parts of the walls and floor, the majority tinged bright arterial red. The minority, however, were of a dark green-black hue where a few Ork bodies lay face down – the 527th didn't go down without a fight.

Before any of the group could say a word, Shepard rushed towards one of the missile's launching tubes and wrenched open the half-opened side hatch. The dimness within revealed an empty launch tube; the restraining clamps had been sheared off. Altern could overhear the Commander beginning to mutter in panic as Ashley checked the neighboring tube; that was empty too. A final half-opened tube was found by Tali in the same state.

Three Javelins were missing. A terrifying fact for the humans fighting on the surface if they were detonated.

Pacing over to the Commander, who was tapping his omni-tool rapidly in a futile attempt to get a transmission to the surface, Garrus pointed towards a stairwell that led to the room's second level. "That looks like the silo's control center. 20 credits says we are able to use those deactivation codes there."

Shepard nodded, gesturing up the gantry. "Do it."

The turian nodded and, tapping Tali on the shoulder and beckoning for her to follow him, proceeded up the stairs and entered Fire Control.

"Sergeant Verrik!" Shepard called over to the storm trooper. "Gather your men and set up firing lines towards those doors! No one gets in and out!"

The sergeant scowled at Shepard before, with a slight nod, he turned to his men and barked out orders.

"You heard the commander," Altern called back to his squad. "Secure those entrances! Now!"

However, as everyone jumped to their tasks, a series of beeps sounded within the chamber, echoing off the steel walls. Everyone froze in place, unsure as to where the beeping was coming from or whether it indicated bad news ….

Finally, with a muttered curse, Verrik fumbled for the auspex that hung from his equipment belt and, pressing a command, stopped the noise. A glance at the read-out, however, snapped him into action. "Contact!"

Altern's eyes widened. "Defensive positions!" He then snapped at Verrik, "How many?"

"Fift- wait, sixty plus bio-spoors! Coming from the fore and both flanks!"

"How the frack did they avoid our auspex?" Gallentus snarled as she slammed a fresh power cell into the loading mechanism of her plasma gun and withdrew to the others.

"Must have hid in the vents or kept their mobs back in reserve and out of sight; the rockcrete would have done the rest! Damn those feckless xenos!" Isolde cursed as the Mordian veteran crouched by one of the launch tubes. Others seemed to following her example and soon, the labyrinth of missile tubes was the refuge of the entire group (bar Garrus and Tali, still up on the high ground in Fire Control) as they huddled in a rough defensive circumference facing all three doors. They could begin making out the sounds of hobnailed boots clanging against the steel-grated floor and the barbaric roars of the approaching xenos as they steadied their firing lines.

"Give me a range count!" Altern bellowed over to Verrik as the latter conferred with his scanner once again.

"50 meters to contact! 40 …. 35 … 30 …. 25 ..."

The first of the Orks burst through the open entrances and Shepard angrily gritted his teeth at the sight – a hunched, burly green-skinned alien with elongated canine teeth. Its small beady eyes smouldered red in rage, wielding a crudely made axe in one hand and bearing what looked like, to Christopher's revulsion, captured Alliance armour and a sidearm.

As more of the xenos came barrelling into the missile bay, Altern took aim with his hell-pistol and, as if to answer the Orks' guttural roars, bellowed out his next, and, for all he knew, his final order:

"FIRE!"


A/N: Ok, folks, I know it has been a long time since I have updated this, but between real-life, a major university keystone project over the last year, flooding, my laptop crashing and my replacement laptop being stolen at least once, trying to get this out any sooner has been a bit ... interesting.

Personally, I'm not really satisfied with how this chapter turned out as, originally, I maintained a relatively equal focus on the surface engagement now taking place and the infiltration mission taking place at the Alliance base. Hopefully the following chapter can both fill in the gaps left over from this one as well as bring the entire skirmish to a close.

In the meantime, feel free to leave some constructive feedback about where you think this is heading. I am more then willing to listen to practical advice about writing, in-universe knowledge, etc - probably the only thing I will NOT do is move haven and earth just so this story turns out according to the diktats of someone - it's up to them, in that case to pick up a pen/keyboard and start writing themselves.

Anyways, this is 2617, signing off!