Robotech and their characters are properties of Harmony Gold USA Inc., Mass Effect and their characters are properties of Bioware. There´s no economic remuneration gained from this story.


So boys, as promised, here is the next chapter.

But before that, there's the honorific mentions section.

And the award goes to:

dtiapula, for being the new addition to the alerts.

As for the reviews:

Thanks to Shadow Cub and darkfinder. As for the relationships, yes they can be a pain in the ass. But they were an integral part of the plot of Robotech (even if you, like me, were more interested in those giant transforming robots). For Mass Effect they are an interesting side of Shepard's world, even if you choose no to pursue any romantic involvement.

so... sorry, it had to be done.

Hopefully this will be less than a filler chapter than the previous one.

On with the show!


Chapter Eleven:
Voids that bind, part 2

Omega Space Station, Sahrabarik System,
Omega Nebula, Terminus Systems,
Norma Galactic Arm.

Pieces of a life. Small bits of metal, rock and polymers jumping around. Foul and dirty air leaking through the helmet's reservoirs, infesting the atmosphere with the smell of death.

Don't let them escape!. Aria will amply reward those who bring her those bastards!...

The alien's voice behind him screams with a despotic tone, commanding the pack on his back. He doesn't want to turn to see how close they are, but curiosity is killing him more effectively than the hundreds of shots all around. The evac team is close. The transport waiting to take them back home is less than one hundred meters. He can see the faces of his companions, as they flee, carrying the precious cargo commissioned to them to recover. The population shows itself very hostile. Never thought the power and temptation of easy money in Omega were so big.

An error of judgment that has been costly...

They're almost there. The dropship's ramp opens to let them in. Suddenly an explosion beside throws them out of course, slamming them violently on a demolished roof that holds miraculously. He can hear the transport's weapons shooting vermilion and purple death on the armed population. Hear the cries of several as they fall, while heat jets pass by his side, like infernal comet tails, ready to crash into a wall of flesh that resists despite the onslaught. He stands up as he can, the red of his blood pouring hard from his crotch. He feels nothing, but the urgent need to move forward. Battles the urge to stop and look for his peers. Soldiers hard and tough as they are, some have not risen again, proclaiming that he can and will turn up all alone for the last stretch of the road.

His conscience berates him:

'Alliance Marines don't leave anyone behind!', the spur of his boot camp instructor drills his ears. But he has no time to go back for them or their dog tags. He doesn't stop to find out if they're still alive.

If any of us is left alive, he or she must bring this info back home!, they made him swear on what he considered most sacred. They didn't get along quite well, but they were sentient beings, with its many flaws and virtues.

He's afraid that, like many others, they would never return home.

Runs while the shots bounce off his biotic barrier. He's exhausted and can't feel his body, due to the enormous effort made tonight, but draws strength from who knows where to invoke his shield again and run the final leg. The evacuation transport is within walking distance. Two soldiers come down the ramp and grab him from the arms, while a third shoots cover fire. He can't move anymore. Can hear the barking of the dogs of war so close that the chill runs down his back like a poisoned sting, paralyzing every part of his being. Feeling the pressure on his arms, dragging his bruised and dirty body, he vanishes. He can't go on.

He doesn't want to...

Alenko... Alenko!, Alenko get up!...

"... Lieutenant Alenko!, wake up already, Lieutenant!". A woman's voice brought him back to the nightmare.

"What, who?..."

Kaidan Alenko opened his eyes, confused and not remembering how it was that he'd come to be in the place he was. Stood up, trying to combat the shock. Circumstances came to his mind quickly, though for a time he didn't recognize the place. Some old abandoned room, he later identified as a hidden accessory. As he looked around, recognizing the trinkets cast aside despite the darkness around him, got the idea of how he had arrived there. Through his mind flashed a short sequence of images:

The perilous journey through one of the most treacherous of Omega districts. Zaeed fulminating a scout party, without any other help than the old rifle he called "Jessie", which they recovered along with their other weapons, in haste. The times they had to hide from the various Mantis assault ships patrolling the district. The pleas of the salarian Haalaka, asking to be let go, promising that he would never cross their path again. And the steeled negative of the girl Janice.

After an hour, they had arrived near the previously agreed evac point. They had to draw on all the firepower the "Cyclone" ride armor, Captain Dante brought with him to do so. They even gave themselves the luxury of shooting down a Mantis ship with an available salvo of micro-missiles. That had taught the mercenaries they were hunting dangerous prey. But the resources they could draw on, coupled with the surplus staff provided by Aria T'Lok, were definitely a force to be reckoned. Overwhelmed by superior numbers of the enemy, even advanced technology had helped them little.

They were fleeing, pursued by security robots and more ships, when the Recon Beta supposedly waiting at the extraction point reached them, reducing several of their pursuers to scraps with the weapons on board, and giving them valuable breathing seconds:

"[Miss Janice: There is a gap between buildings like one klick away, in your direction!. We'll meet you there!...]", the ultra-line communication came directly to the headset of the robot . "[...But you need to hurry. We've detected a giant enemy contingent, half a klick of your position and quickly approaching... wait!. Incoming communication from the "Ark Angel". Alfa priority. Redirecting and re-encrypting...]", said one of the Valverde twins while the transport turned away towards the evac point.

Janice waved at them, ordering to keep watch, as she walked away a little and received the encrypted message. Her features didn't alter when she was receiving info or evaluating situations, but Alenko reached a glimpse of a face, he couldn't say for sure whether it represented discomfort or concern. Once she returned with them, suggested to continue down the main street of the district. It was the quickest way out, but the most insecure one. They ran without resting, dragging their miseries in some extra effort. Three hundred meters later, however, under a group of dilapidated buildings, the mercenaries caught up:

Damn... Alenko's head was filled with familiar feelings at that moment: The sight of shots crashing into the walls, the heat generated by his tense body and the howling of the Blood Pack-trained varren, rapidly gaining ground.

Here I am again!. Just like eight years ago!...

"Captain Dante!...", the voice of the purple-haired girl, above the sound of gunfire and the frantic screams of their pursuers, sounded as clear as one he'd heard at the time:

"Your orders are to take the salarian Haalaka and Lieutenant Alenko to the "Ark Angel". I'm also offering support to Mr. Massani, to get out of here... I'll keep the enemy occupied and buy you time to reach the extraction point!", she said pointing into the distance, where the ship waited. At Angelo's protest, which began to emerge from his lips, she added:

"Otherwise, none of us will live!". She quickly checked the charge and adjusted the strap of the Galant rifle to her body.

"That's fine by me!, things here are going to get ugly real fast!", added Zaeed, throwing an incendiary grenade at a group of soldiers trying to sneak through the left.

"Why splitting?, we can all get to the ship. We just have to...", Kaidan began, but the girl interrupted him:

"Negative. They'll reach us before we go a hundred meters if someone doesn´t delay them", shouted as she left cover and opened fire on the main group. A batarian and a human fell, struck by rifle shots, electric charges flowing from their ruined armor before the rest of the opponents could take cover.

"You can't stay alone to face them!", shouted the Sentinel, firing blindly over the cover, while trying to make her change her mind at all costs. He was fully aware of how it all could end and he didn't want to go through it a second time.

"The lass is right...", Zaeed grumbled, as he filled a suicidal Krogan coursing to them, with shots of the sniper rifle, then grabbing the Sentinel's arm to pull him. Angelo was already out, launching the last rockets of the "Cyclone" and moving towards the evac point, taking the coward Haalaka by the arm, sheltered by the covering fire of the others.

"I'm not leaving!", the Alliance soldier insisted, getting free of the old man.

"My orders have changed, Lieutenant Alenko. You have accomplished your mission and there's no need for you to join me in this new endeavor", the voice of the woman arrived cold and patient. It enraged the young man.

"I'll stay anyway!. I´m sorry if this offends you, but I´m sure you won´t be able of dealing with such a horde on your own..."

Zaeed was about to intervene, but gave up when he saw Janice nodding to leave them. Nobody else mentioned anything. Dante only shrugged and threw a package of supplies, the female didn't refuse.

A second later both decoys started shooting while their companions moved toward the extraction area. The scouts of Eclipse and the rest of the Blood Pack both quickly fell on them, however Alenko put to good use his biotic and sabotage abilities. In a matter of minutes they had driven them back. In the distance, they heard the turbines of the Beta, a sure sign the air transport was taking off:

"Lt. Rush: I´ll contact you for safe evac soon, once I 've accomplished my orders", the gynoid mentioned over her communicator.

"[Understood. Good Luck. Over and out...]"

The siege increased in intensity, when the enemy began to use rocket launchers to destroy their cover. They decided for a tactical retreat. While Janice used her particle weapon with the same skill Zaeed used the sniper rifle, Kaidan ran into the buildings. The others used grenades, flamethrowers and other heavy weapons to hunt them, several of them neutralized thanks to the marvelous aim the girl possessed. Then Alenko gave cover to his companion with some stasis powers and they moved further away. Spent some eternal ten minutes escaping. Finally, fortune favored them when they managed to confound their pursuers, finding their current shelter.

After checking the place and making sure they wouldn't be found easily, Janice decided that they should rest a little.

And now we're here...

"Aside of the burn from earlier, which is healing quickly thanks to the medicine I've applied, you are in good condition", said the girl standing by his side and slightly auscultating his wound, something which caused discomfort in the young man.

In spite of all... thought the soldier and added, this time aloud:

"Didn't know you had medical knowledge beyond first aid?."

"I can be full of surprises, Lieutenant. And I think you would appreciate this". She extended a metal canteen, with the symbol of the Systems Alliance engraved on the side.

"My energy drink!". The young man swiftly opened the container, to get a drink. The drink was a mixture of different restorative elements, of the most advanced food technology Earth could offer. The effort to create mass effect fields strained the human body as only an endurance test could do, and biotics knew it quite well. It was a common joke, saying they were the most undervalued high-performance athletes of the galaxy.

He took a second sip of the potent energy drink. Janice commented the Expeditionary Force had analyzed the contents of the flask he always carried, replicating the drink after a thorough analysis and adding a pair of alien components that helped accelerate his metabolic breakdown, providing a faster assimilation, although some adverse reaction might still occur. The young man decided that the risk was worth it, to hydrate himself and recover lost nutrients and protein. The force returned significantly to his body, as he saw Janice stand up and look around. They seemed to have shaken off their pursuers, but with Omega´s mercenary corporations, he could never be sure.

"Are we still being looked for?", asked the young soldier. The soldiers of fortune, especially the Blue Suns, could be very persistent. Almost like the old hunting hounds of Earth. Should they fall into their hands, it was better to think about resisting the invariable torture they would make use of.

"Yes. Although so far it hasn´t occurred to them look for us here. I'm intercepting their communications however, and a large "S&D" contingent is approaching. So we're going to have to move soon", she said, leaning against an old armchair and smiling.

Alenko looked at her a moment and just happened to laugh. His mind had been invaded by the sudden memory of another female whom he knew in similar circumstances. Now that memory overlapped itself with reality. But such a sudden appearance was only a matter of a moment. A ghost that vanished in the mist of time.

"What are you laughing at?", asked the purple hair without aggression, but perplexed, wondering exactly what was it that his partner thought was funny. Kaidan kept smiling.

"A memory", he mentioned and said nothing more. The gynoid scored his reaction and made a mental note that she should study the reactions of his companion more thoroughly.

They got up and checked their supplies and ammunition. Alenko dared to ask:

"So what are those new orders that force you to stay here, on such bad timing, if I may ask?"

"That's classified".

It was all the answer he got.

"Oh come on, are you also going to play the game of secrecy?".

The girl smiled, her eyes shining like those of a pleased lover:

"You have no idea, Mr. Alenko. Were I to tell you, i´d probably have to kill you..." She then laughed with impudence. Kaidan thought that despite all, things were within that "a-little-crooked" normalcy, that was the behavior of his partner.

Gathered all the supplies within grasp. Janice took the bag Angelo had left her, and got a kind of small silver vehicle, a cross between a remote control toy and a combat drone. She programmed a few things and then let it go. So waited a few minutes, until they heard explosions and cries of alarm. Later these went away. The girl decided it was a good time to get away from the den and carefully peered through a window. When no one was found near the place, she made a sign to the Alliance soldier and both took to the streets, careful of remaining stationary for long.

Kaidan activated his omnitool and using the built-in ladar, saw the signs of the enemy going away. Scratched his head in incomprehension:

"You look surprised, Lieutenant. Did you think they were going to jump us, as soon as we went out?"

"Yes... did that toy you set to work had to do something with it?"

The gynoid said nothing and smiled, moving away as she did. Then waved to the confused earthling, that could only follow her, stumbling by.

Ten minutes later they had put distance between themselves and the search patrols. Kaidan looked at her with suspicion and concern. The young biotic was intrigued by the fact that her friend seemed intensely concentrated, as if her mind was a thousand miles away from her body. They came to a wall of rock, which belonged to the original asteroidal body of the space station. As the man watched for enemies, she looked between the walls until she found what she expected. A series of air ducts running to another area of the station. They went inside the ducts rapidly, being assailed by the stench of burned fuel, rubbish and gasses circulating around. It wasn´t lethal, but definitely unfriendly.

For the next twenty minutes, the situation continued like that, with the purple-haired girl lost in her silence, breathing with the help of an osmotic mask and sporting a face of intense concentration. Something that gave him the creeps. Tired of such a proceeding, decided he wouldn´t give another step until getting some answers:

"Well, alright!...", the biotic stopped on a fairly wide tube combination, dry enough and slightly less smelly than the rest, to stop and rest his back on one of the walls:

"What is going on Janice?..."

She stopped and sat on the opposite wall near another T-conjunction. Unknown to his interlocutor, the robot was internally pondering what was the best route forward, checking the Omega maps, she had found among Haalaka files.

"Hey! ...", the Alliance soldier insisted "...alright!. Distracting the guards with the toy was a very good trick. I admit!. And the way you intimidated Captain Dante a while ago...!", he whistled loudly. "Let´s not talk about what you told the quarian woman. You´ve made abundantly clear that you´re a woman of significant resources... but now it seems as if the whole weight of the galaxy is coming down on your shoulders all of a sudden. Maybe it's none of my business, but you seem different from the girl I've spent the last eight hours with!. Also, if you don´t mind, I'd love to know what kind of mess are we getting into!."

The simulacrum turned to him with neutral expression:

"You shouldn´t be getting into this "mess" to begin with, Lieutenant Alenko. I told you to go with the others and don´t risk your life anymore than necessary. As you´ve seen already, I can take care of myself...". The image of the pretty girl had flickered very lightly, for less than a second. A dull mind wouldn´t have ever noticed. To Kaidan, it seemed as if the vapors of the tunnel were playing tricks on his mind, through the filters of his helmet. Debated internally on raising his visor to rub his eyes and remain indifferent. He chose the latter.

"With all due respect, ma´am, but are you always such a bitch?", the young man countered bitterly. Janice had her secrets, many in fact. And she had proved inscrutable. She had told only the least necessary about herself and the mission to work effectively. But that didn´t fit the style of the soldier. As an officer he was used to the secrecy of the orders, and could carry out his mission objectives as long as he trusted the people he was working with. However, the whole mission had thrown little light on who was actually the person who stood beside him and if he could trust her.

"If I was an ungrateful and heartless person, Kaidan... a 'bitch', as you mention... I would say you stayed here to help me, because of an outdated sense of chivalry. A remnant of an old-fashioned macho behavior, I wasn´t even aware it existed at this time. I appreciate the help though, be sure about it. I'm not the 'bitch' you believe me to be...

However, as much as I appreciate the company and the help, I have no moral qualms forcing me or even suggesting that I need to reveal you my goal."

"But you let me stay, instead of insisting to Captain Dante and Massani on taking me back to the ship by force!. Why?."

The girl didn´t answer immediately. She ruffled her hair and closed her eyes in a face that revealed her clear disgust. A minute later, she replied:

"Against all logic, I must say I like you, Lieutenant. Despite your atavistic behavior, I can see that you do and say things honestly. And I like that. You´re a soldier through and through, and for me, used to wear a mask here and there, your personality is... refreshing."

That disarmed the Sentinel. He definitely wasn´t expecting that answer.

"I usually work with Dr. Nichols, a reliable and 'focused-on-his-work' type of person, whose social interactions are few and rather clumsy. From time to time I go to the officer´s hall and have conversations with Captain Grant or his wife. In general, however, few of the soldiers approach me. My opportunities for interaction with my companions are few, and plagued by a sexist tone that i despise above all. However you and your foolproof respect, I like. Guess I can trust you with some things and you won´t betray my confidence."

Kaidan lowered down his face, embarrassed:

"I... overreacted. I'm sorry. I didn´t have any right to push you like that. I understand it's your job and I can´t tell you how to do it. If you won´t tell me anything, okay. Anyway I´ll help you fulfill your mission as long as I...

She cut him off:

"That´s all right, Lieutenant. I'll tell you what little isn´t classified and can be told. Anyway, you have studied many things from us already and once we get back to the 'Ark Angel' you´ll have plenty of time to fit the pieces together:

The ship's sensors have detected a small radiation source, concurrent with what we call 'protoculture'. It appeared nearby, in one of the warehouses, two levels above, a few hundred meters from the place where we stand", the girl invoked a three-dimensional map of the station, coming out of the accoutrements she had brought:

"Since we know the SDF-3, Admiral Hunter´s ship, arrived here on this dimension by accident, we can assume that this signal belongs to some technology of ours. It´s also possible that someone else of our universe had come by mistake, and left supplies or equipment on the premises.

My task is to find the source of the signal and, if it comes from resources of the Expeditionary Force, I must subtract or destroy it. Please understand we can´t allow such advancements in the hands of hostile forces."

"To prevent such developments or weapons from being used against you..."

"That's right. You see, your friend Rankar has been kind enough to provide me maps of service and alternate routes, which few people in Omega know. I also found important info about the whereabouts of the Admiral and his ship, that I have sent along with the salarian to our ship. I must say that your former partner has given me a helpful way to take advantage of our shared affinity for technology...", the woman made a slight gesture and the typical orange flash of an omnitool covered her arm:

"Therefore I don´t need Mr. Massani to guide me anymore... or you for that matter. However, as I said, I appreciate the gesture, however futile it may be."

Kaidan was silent for a moment and after weighing all the things the girl before him had said, he smiled again:

"You were right!.You ARE full of surprises!. Are all the girls in the REF that way?" asked the Sentinel, surprised.

"No. That's part of what makes me unique...", mentioned the apocryphal woman. Then she arose:

"Time to go. I don´t want to stay any longer than necessary in this place... It smells horrible in here!". The girl crumpled in a face gesture, that Alenko thought lovely.

Both continued crawling through the ventilation shafts, for another thirty minutes, up some maintenance corridors and stairs that haven´t been seemingly visited for years. However, something in the previous conversation had troubled the soldier. He couldn´t put a finger on what it was exactly, but it was there. Suddenly he began to ramble, until he could put words to his thoughts:

"More human than the humans..." he muttered.

"Did you say something, Lieutenant?"

"No... nothing... I think we are near the exit."

It was true. The tunnel they were travelling, came to a gigantic hall, wich they crossed to go out to an unguarded clearing, on another level and district of Omega. They moved hastily, scrutinizing every corner and took refuge in what looked like an apartment building, abandoned in a hurry. Its people fearful of being involved in another possible gang war about to explode.

Janice looked at the map. Three hundred meters southeast, until reaching what looked like an abandoned warehouse. There were few to no signs that Aria's henchmen or other mercenary bands were on active duty in that particular area, but it would be better to careful. Moved little by little, checking the corners with caution, until they were in front of the building. The neighborhood was too quiet. Something triggered Kaidan´s gut:

"There's something fishy in all this, don´t you think, Miss Em?"

"If you mean the lack of people guarding the area, I agree. But the protoculture signal is behind those walls...", she pointed to the steel-and-polymer-walled warehouse standing about twenty feet above them. "Either we are to fall into a well planned ambush or the natives really have no idea of what they have stored in there", the robot sentenced.

"It´s possible, but Commander Shepard used to say something about this kind of situations..." Alenko prepared his weapon.

"What did he use to say?", asked the girl, as she checked her weapon load.

"Things don´t become simple anymore". The guy smiled.

"A wise man, that Shepard...".

They looked for an entrance and soon found it in the form of a pipeline that, after tearing the cover apart and squatting to crawl for a few seconds, gave them access to the interior.

The room was dark, the only light that entered the enclosure filtered through the high windows of the building. The inside was filled with square and rectangular boxes, made of composite metals and fibroplastic. Most of them contained various electronic parts and other resources. Janice however, invoked the omnitool she had been given and sought the signal of interest, doing some calculations and adjustments, while Alenko was checking the entrances and corridors in view.

They penetrated deeper and deeper into the warehouse, until they came to a shelf where only an artifact rested. It looked like a silver box with instruments and an electrical oscillation indicator, from which protruded a small antenna. The man saw the face of his companion decomposing into a rictus of surprise:

"A bio-emulator". The voice of the girl had taken an ominous tone that put the willies on the soldier.

"A what?"

"A bio-emulator. REF technology developed to fool the Invid. How did it get here?..."

"The Invid?"

"An alien race with which we aren´t in very good terms... There's something wrong. This device is modified to exactly mimic the protoculture energy signal. The bio-emulators of the REF can´t do that..." The robot stopped for a second and almost immediately turned to the area looking everywhere. Then she turned to the soldier:

"We gotta get out of here..."

"Why?, what about your mission?"

Janice was about to reply, but the view of a character dressed in a dark red cape, coming out of the shadows, made her pause:

"You will come with us, Hybrid..."

Alenko watched the hooded figure moving towards them. At first glance it was taller than his partner, but he couldn´t determine its physique, due to the red-colored cloth, loose down its shoulders like a tunic. What was unmistakable, was the light source in the center of the face. His first reaction was immediate:

"Geth!"

However, something didn´t fit with everything he had seen until then, about those synthetics that had become his enemies. That didn´t stop him, however, of moving towards the figure framing the sights of his gun at it. He pressed the button of the ammo module until it stopped at "tungsten rounds" and pulled the trigger, before his companion could stop him:

"Lieutenant Alenko!"

The heavy tungsten round didn´t reach its intended target. Behind the figure, a kind of metal shield came out of the darkness behind it, blocking every shot. Janice's hand rested over the barrel of the gun, forcing Kaidan to lower it:

"It isn´t a Geth, Lieutenant, although it shares with them the quality of being synthetic. It´s a Haydonite, our current enemy. Things can get quite complicated very quickly. Don´t do anything before I tell you", she mentioned in a calm voice that inspired little confidence in the Sentinel. Kaidan lowered his weapon.

"You´ll come with us for reprogramming", the hooded figure spoke with a voice of electronic quality, devoid of all emotion.

"Has the Awareness also foreseen this?. Last time you tried that, things went wrong for you..." Kaidan became bewildered, when the voice of her companion equaled that of the interloper. The Sentinel turned to her:

"What´s going on, Janice?", he asked, feeling the situation was evolving very quickly for his own liking.

"A minor setback saved you on our previous meeting. But now you don´t have your organic pets to defend you anymore", mentioned the other, without any voice inflection, but meaning all possible bad blood.

Janice said nothing, but Kaidan was left stunned for a moment. The suspicion that had arisen in his mind, and had been silenced for the sake of his mental health, suddenly resurfaced, What it signified, turned out frightening:

"Organic pets?... reprogramming?", was all he managed to say. Janice didn´t answer right away.

"Lieutenant Alenko: Look at me... look at me!", she cried, turning to get him out of his frightened state and face him, watching his visage distorted by a sudden panic:

"No matter what happens from here on out. I won´t let them hurt you. Do you hear me?... we´ll come out of here... together". The woman's tone revealed... anxiety?, fear?, how could he know for sure?. She turned again toward the enemy and raised her Gallant pistol, in defiance:

"I'm not going anywhere!. The Awareness is again wrong in its calculations and by creating me, has caused a situation that it can´t stop!."

"Then, the only answer is to remove you from the equation..."

A second synthetic appeared beside the first, out of the darkness of the cellar. A tremor shook the structure. Alenko distinguished the shield that had protected the creature move up. It was part of something huge, as big as the robots he had seen in the "Ark Angel". He raised his gun and fired at what he guessed was a cockpit, but the shot bounced off the armor, of what was a cross between a gorilla and giant metal praying mantis. It was a larger size than any Destroyer, Neural Node or Geth Colossus he had ever seen.

"Flee Lieutenant!, your weapons are obsolete against this thing!...", heard from behind him. There was the sound of a gunshot and he knew his partner had started her own battle:

"You must return to the "Ark Angel" and warn them!. Go!"

Kaidan said nothing. Invoked his biotic barrier and ran away from the center of the building. Just in time. The sound of metal boxes being crushed invaded his ears. That thing was trying to reach for him and in the process was knocking down the ceiling of the warehouse. He walked away several meters, using his biotics to open a hole in the walls of the storeroom and out of the building. Walked away from the dust and metal chips, while his barrier protected him from the falling fibroplastic debris of the building. He lost sight of Janice as he ran. A shot bounced off his shield, overloading its capacity. Sparks leaped from his armor, a sure sign the barriers had been overloaded. Revised the torso and found that his polymer armor had lost a piece that was about twice the size of his fist. Yet, the wound left was superficial. By some miracle he remained almost unscathed. Had he been, not a whole world worth of medigel could have saved him.

The noise of the energy gun of the girl made him aware of her relative position. She was on his left, near what had been the enclosure walls, engrossed in a hand to hand duel of power with the first of those entities, which she had called "Haydonites". At the moment the offender was not more than a cybernetic torso moving at high-speed. The cape had hidden that the construct had no lower limbs of any kind, but levitated. The arms had been replaced by high-powered energy weapons. Their shots, illuminating the darkness with red flashes, were as powerful as discharges of the GARDIAN systems of a frigate, and his partner dodged them with acrobatic moves that a human would have never been able to perform.

More human than humans... she is not human...

He silenced his thoughts, focusing on the dangerous present. The sudden sound of metal against metal informed him that the enemy robot had released himself of the remains of the roof that had fallen on top of him. The young man assessed his chances in a jiffy: If he tried to stop that thing from afar, the gun mounted on the chassis would shred him to pieces, no matter how many shields or biotic barriers he´d have been able to invoke. Attacking him on close quarters carried the risk of perishing crushed by the enormous force such contraption deployed. At least it didn´t move too fast, but that was only a small consolation.

He ran away from it, hiding behind a wall. Invoked his omnitool and tried to disable his enemy sensors. He soon discovered it was far more difficult than expected: When trying to break into the software architecture of his opponent, he was left dumbfounded. It didn´t even remotely resemble that of the Geth or anything he´d seen before. A piece of wall falling down to crush him, forced him to move. He soon realized that the second synthetic was tracking him on foot, firing at him with one of those powerful guns of his arms. Dashed to his left, trying to buy time and moving away to an adjacent intersection. The pair of mechanical demons chasing him didn´t seem to mind the constructions which surrounded them, either passing over them, or collapsing them like as if made from wet tissue.

He heard noises and cries to his right and saw that the mercenaries supposedly guarding the area, and conspicuously absent until now, began arriving, guns drawn and ready to destroy the hostiles who were terrorizing the neighborhood. The sight of that monster almost eight meters high couldn´t be ignored. They opened fire on the mech, just slightly denting its internal structure. One of them saw and pointed to him, but the Sentinel used a biotic push to bring him down. He didn´t need another opponent besides those he was already engaged to.

He decided the distraction provided by the others was welcome enough and ran away from the area as fast as he could, while thinking how to cope with his opponents, with the little firepower he carried. Maybe if his biotic skills were stronger biotic, he might do something more...

Stronger.

Light shone in his eyes all of a sudden. Stopped running and hid in a small alley. Checked his load and quickly changed his weapon´s ammunition setting to "explosive rounds". Took a deep breath and went back to the street. The firepower of the shotgun and the other small arms wouldn´t be enough to stop the robot, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Invoked his barrier again with a mnemonic gesture, just in time to see that his smaller pursuer was still tracking him, while the largest was destroying walls, barricades and the few mercenaries and obstacles in front of it.

He slipped to his right, dodging debris of the other buildings that the mech produced while chasing the enemy. He went quickly into the lobby of a seemingly abandoned multi-floored building, which had been blocked in a hurry, piling box after box of possessions to reinforce the door. Kaidan used the explosive ammunition rounds and broke the door, opening enough of it to let him slip inside. Such nuances weren´t going to stop his pursuers, but the biotic had taken that into account already.

He went speeding up the stairs of the building. He dodged many fleeing civilians assaulted by panic, when they realized the approaching of the big robot by looking through the windows. Still others dug in their apartments and making use of weapons acquired in the ubiquitous black markets of Omega, shot at him, used as they were to deal with thieves and bullies who were an inescapable part of the space station. Fear motivated their actions and, in that situation, neighbors and acquaintances became enemies, or at least suspects. The screams and panic were everywhere, reflected in the form of whining, distrust and paranoia. Some of the locals tried to stop the man, realizing the invasion their lair was suffering, but they could do little. Several shots and uses of his powers at the right times taught them the caliber of Alliance soldier.

Once he got to the third floor, located above the height of the attacker robot, entered the main corridor, firing at several hostiles without give or ask for mercy. The mercenaries, some turians, many more humans and the occasional asari backed down, prioritizing the bigger target over him, and letting the invader move at ease. When Alenko made sure that nobody was going to bother him, he scanned the air a bit, trying to make a familiar scent amid the morass of sweat, smoke and dust. A slightly sweet and repulsive smell, halfway between a woman's perfume and the smell of the sea. It only took him a moment to place it and when he did, he entered one of the closed apartments, breaking down the door with a kick. There in a corner, huddled against an inside wall, was one hanar, lamely wielding a gun. The Sentry disarmed him before the other could react and then asked:

"Where do you have the 'Red Sand'?".

He aimed at him regardless. The huge flying jellyfish paled visibly.

"Wh-why a-are y-you as-asking th-this one?. This one do-does not se-sell..."

"Damn it, where is it?!"

Kaidan released him, and proceeded to open the cupboards, checking boxes and frantically searching:

Where is it?!, there has to be some around!

A tremor shook the structure and made it stagger, product of the enemy robot shaking the building. He strongly grabbed of one of the walls, to avoid falling to the ground. Boxes and other supplies fell, spilling its contents by. The hanar, a rarity in the Terminus systems, seized the moment to float away terrified, as fast as his repulsors would allow. It was then that he saw what he was looking, on the back of where the alien had been floating. A group of bags of blood-red powder, finely ground. Immediately took one of them and hurried out of there, heading for the stairs again, dodging the falling of debris the besieged structure was suffering.

Upon reaching the door of the stairwell, an explosion propelled him back. Fell back and rolled a little stunned, but the adrenaline in his body made him rise almost immediately. He peered out to the door, which was now bent and shabby. Something passed through it, flying at full speed and crashing into a wall at his side. Kaidan pointed its shotgun toward it and glanced sideways to see what had fallen near him. It was a krogan, as dead as the hanar who had occupied the room, whom he discovered inert beside. Both he and the other occupants of the flat, whom he had dispatched moments ago, like some others, were dead. The big lizard's face was shattered, though disfigured by its half was a more accurate description. A huge gap, covering nearly thirty percent of his body and giving off waste heat, adorned it. There were very few things that could do such damage to one of the most resilient races of the galaxy.

He heard noises coming from the door, overlapping the mechanical sound of the battle outside. Kaidan tuned his aim.

And then THAT penetrated.

It was his pursuer, yet it was not. The torso without arms and legs that started shooting at him on the streets, had been transformed. It had acquired legs and arms of steel, titanium or some clearly hyper-reinforced material, with a vaguely humanoid figure, that the young man couldn´t identify. They glowed with light red fretwork, which delineated its contour and gave the smoke coming from behind him, a hellish air. It looked like and ergonomic body armor, tightly fitting the body of the fighter. But that was all the similarity with the organics it had acquired. The head had been strengthened to form a semi-circle, in which the same fretwork was visible in streaks of light running perpendicular to the length of the hull. There was no sign of eyes or mouth beyond the red light viewer he had seen the first time, that made him much resemble the Geth so much, now framed by a reinforced mask. The hands and arms of the torso appeared and disappeared, as if the human eye failed to recognize them properly.

Kaidan hesitated a moment, and that was enough for his opponent to become aware of their presence. It seemed he could see through the smoke from the room. He pointed an arm that swiftly reformed, as if thousands of small parts in it unfolded and were remade in the barrel of a fearsome-looking weapon. From behind the new threat came a asari, wrapped in the blue aura of power that characterized them, no doubt trying to hit him. The synthetic reacted with overwhelming speed, striking her down from the front with a shot of energy to her face that enveloped all her head and made it disappear. The body fell to the ground, limp and lifeless.

The doubt disappeared from the mind of the Sentinel. He relentlessly fired several rounds of explosive ammunition, hitting the machine squarely in the torso and the bottom of the head. The figure leaned a moment, as if surprised by the power of the shots. A piece of armor was blown to pieces, but the synthetic was still standing. Alenko saw the armor of his opponent promptly repair itself, as if thousands of spiders suddenly began to weave their webs with silver strands, and knew he had to move. He jumped up just in time to dodge the shot of the other, but couldn´t prevent the blow that came after making him fly to the end of the corridor, where he crashed miserably.

The adrenaline in his body made him recover quickly, injecting him with vigor. But the punch of his enemy clouded his vision for a split second and made him drop the gun. Instead of looking for it, he invoked his barrier and lunged at his opponent, giving him a biotic kick, which made him lose balance for a moment. The Haydonite however, recovered quickly and gave him a push, followed by a kick that sent him away, over the nearest the window, outside of the building. The young man landed head on the ground, nine meters below, a short distance from where the assault robot was tearing the building. He got up and walked away reflexively, taking several steps, but suddenly stopped. His head was spinning and he couldn´t focus his eyes. Had it not been for his barrier, his helmet and his intense concentration, he would have split his skull. He was dazed and disoriented. And he couldn´t run effectively, but stopping the threats pursuing him was becoming an increasingly remote option.

His opponent emerged from the smoke that began to invade that level from the space station. His menacing figure jumping down the building with a terrible roar, ready to finish his task. Nearby, the enemy mercenaries tried to balance the scales firing rockets, grenades and other explosives at the mech, trying to make it deviate from less affected areas and showing what little they could do to stop it.

Alenko crouched, ready to sell his life dearly. The Haydonite was advancing on him, when a shot made him tilt his head. A second biotic power blasted him down, giving the young Sentinel a few seconds of valuable time. Behind him new mercenaries had arrived. From Eclipse probably, judging by the yellow armor and the accompanying security droids, 'shooting to kill' on the synthetic. The defense of the robot, however, was still higher than the firepower used against him. Volley after volley of biotic powers pushed him back, and several shots, bursts of incineration, grenades and drones fell on him in an attempt to weaken his armor. After a few seconds, the warrior determined that enough was enough and started to answer the fire. Some shots to his right and left, of that damned powerful gun and the operatives were already running to take shelter behind some barricades and walls.

Kaidan slipped away without attracting much attention, as he watched the other back down a bit, thanks to the rockets of a couple of security robots of the newest 'Ymir' model. As the largest robot jumped on them and reduced them to junk, thanks to his enormous strength, the young Sentinel recalled the package he found in the building and without anymore doubts, broke it, spilling much of the content in his right hand, raising the visor of his helmet and breathing heavily the fine red dust.

He already knew the illegal drug known as 'Red Sand'. He had experienced its effects, during one of his several works in Omega, when he was part of Commander Dietler´s team. That had ended with a terrible headache and vomiting for three days. The substance was highly popular in the Terminus Systems, because it was able to increase for a few hours the biotic potential, making even zero-potential subjects manifest powers, though on a smaller scale. For those proven biotics carrying the powerful - yet highly noxious - L2 implants like his, their potential increased exponentially with a dose. But too much of it could affect their nervous and circulatory systems. He could die of a stroke by increasing the blood pressure in his body, turning him a bloody and shapeless mess. That of course, if the rattles and the intense pain didn´t annihilate him first. Taking the drug was as dangerous as wielding a double-edged sword.

But the present circumstances wouldn´t allow him any other options.

As the chemical entered his body, a spasm shook him. Reactions on the receiver varied, but were generally notoriously violent. His perception suddenly changed, as if noticing things around him starting to dilate. The euphoria would soon come, but Alenko hoped he would be finishing the battle before the effect of mental dullness affected him. He rose quickly, adrenaline and a sudden rush of energy in his body urging him. He also noted a brief trickle of blood on his nose, which he wiped with the back of his hand. So far the artificial construct hadn´t noticed him or had considered him defeated, but as soon as he got up, it pointed one of his hands to him, while using the other to fire a laser burst at mercenary, frying him completely. Kaidan didn´t think twice and attacked.

First a biotic lifting made his opponent crash to the ground, followed by a shove that shot it to the fallen building, causing several walls to collapse. At her new strength, a beacon of hope flashed through his mind:

I can win this battle!...

The other however, was not going to give up so easily. It left the rubble where it had fallen and with quickly shot a few bursts towards Kaidan, who moved to the side to dodge the shots. The synthetic ran to the Sentinel, who received him catching it with both arms. Man and machine grappled for a second, using all the force they could muster, without giving the slightest ground. The parity of forces was balanced and none of them was giving in an inch from their place. The machine however, could still deploy more strength and gradually the Alliance man realized he was losing ground. Used the force of his opponent to throw him back as if it were a catapult. The robot flew through the air and fell back, the soldier activating his power to crash him on the floor. At landfall however the robot recovered, using one of his arms to spin like a top and the other to release some discharges that Alenko narrowly dodged.

Damn!

Kaidan concentrated, making the mnemonic gesture to invoke his "stasis" power and countered. Launched the mass effect field just in time, as his opponent was about to fire a second time. The robot stood still, paralyzed by the field the young man had invoked. Then the soldier felt a deep twinge in his head...

Damn it, not now!

Some of the problems of being a biotic in the epoch the Alliance had established the training program was that the L2 receivers implanted, caused terrible damage to their hosts. He was one of the most fortunate in that regard, because only some migraines besieged him, few of them disabling. Most L2 biotics felt crippling pain and suffered from mental disorders. Their careers in the military lasted little. And now, with the effect of the 'Red Sand' in his body, the pain would increase exponentially. The man clenched his teeth and focused."Hold on!", mumbled to himself, struggling with the headache, which was beginning to feel as if he had his skull split with a sword.

If your opponent's armor is a hindrance, tear it apart!, was what he thought he heard in his mind, coming from his late biotic instructor. Kaidan concentrated, despite the crippling pain and called forth the Warp technique he had been taught, throwing it into the chest of his opponent.

Upon impact, a reaction happened however, that the Alliance didn´t expect. Maybe it was the residual energy of all the biotic impacts accumulated in the armor of his opponent. Maybe it was a chain reaction of mass effect fields on some basic element of the alien. He would never be able to say for certain. A burst of bright blue exploded, and his opponent's body became twisted, as if someone was twisting a rag in opposite directions from both sides. The synthetic fell to the ground, shattered armor, arm and leg destroyed. The light went out of the luminous streaks as its body began to fail. Part of what was the helmet was utterly destroyed and the inside could be seen. Electronic circuits of enormous complexity, throwing sparks and burning. The Haydonite tried to move, only to find that it´s systems didn´t work well. Interestingly enough, the man couldn´t hear anymore the screams of the civilians, nor the firing of mercenaries and neither the destructive steps of the bigger robot. With a half blurred vision, the young Sentinel saw someone approach the fallen synthetic. The other was raising the only operative arm he still had to attack, but the person stepped onto it quickly, holding it firmly against the ground. Then took another stomp and the battered helmet was crushed. The whole body went rigid, without any signs of conciousness.

Kaidan couldn´t do anything more. The pain in his head was killing him. He could not focus his eyes and the light sources caused him more pain. He would gladly let someone crush his brain, provided that ended the intense hell he was experiencing. He dropped to his knees and fell to the floor in ventral position, quietly praying for someone to bring him a painkiller.

Someone lifted him and he opened his eyes. Next to him was Janice.

"Rushed heartbeat, dilated pupils, intense reactions in various parts of the cerebral cortex, pain, nosebleed... Lieutenant Alenko!, what have you done?..."

Kaidan smiled a moment, battered as he was.

"What happened... to the giant... robot?"

"It stopped moving, when I finished him". She said, pointing to the body of what had been their enemy.

Suddenly the young man realized. His eyes weren´t deceiving him - and the red sand could cause euphoria, but not hallucinations -. His companion's face was appearing and disappearing, replaced by a strange face, metallic... similar to that of his fallen foe.

In a word: Synthetic.

Panic suddenly became a powerful emotion, almost as powerful as the pain he experienced:

"Lieutenant...", commented her, thinking on how to relieve the suffering her teammate was experiencing.

"Stay away... from me", he muttered, while slowly gathering his strength:

"Stay away..."

Janice saw his partner invoke some of his biotic and try to hit her. When the robot dodged, moving away a little, he dragged apart, moving slowly and laboriously. And who could blame him, after the destruction he had seen the Haydonites make?. The gynoid observed the pale face of his companion and then her mental processes were assaulted by something. The strange feeling that she had lost something very important.

She had heard Dr. Lang talk about something called 'ghosts in the machine', in relation to how her new body with Haydonite technology, had the ability to reform its programming to become more adaptable, sometimes creating code structures that amazed him by the strangeness of their effects on her behavior. She hadn´t fully understood what was the origin of such wonder. But now, seeing her companion crawl away from her, seized by an emotion she was designed to mimic with great accuracy, but never to really understand, she realized what it meant. These 'ghosts in the machine' were which had allowed her to feel the full force of that emotion.

Kaidan probably had seen her true appearance, and that meant the soldier wasn´t going to trust her again. Years of mistrust against synthetic intelligences preventing it. It was a risk she had decided to take. Captain Grant and the other commanders knew of the man's distrust towards synthetics, from the info they had recovered from his omnitool. But the chances of behavioral analysis that could be achieved in the mission, outweighed any such mishap. She only hoped and yearned secretly - if artificial intelligences could afford themselves to do that -, she had not alienated her partner forever.

She went to the lieutenant, to lift him, since the young man had passed out from the effort. She was crouching beside him, when the sound of footsteps made her lift her head. A high-powered shot rocked her head, make her spin around and crash down to the ground. Unsuccessfully tried to get up, and her diagnostic programs made her aware of the futility of her efforts. The last thing she saw before her systems entered auto-repair and standby mode, was her reflection in the four black eyes of a batarian, dressed in blue and white armor, with the badge of the Blue Suns in his pads:

"I have just won the Lottery!", shouted the mercenary and turning his omnitool on, barked into the microphone:

"Dispatch... send word to Aria and Tarrak, that Bashar Cathka had just catched the fugitives they were looking for!..."


In the next chapter:

Jenny Sparks return to the spotlight. And the combined forces of Saren, the Geth and the Haydonites unleash hell on the Citadel!.

See you around.