Jacob stepped into the control shack, his rifle against his shoulder. "I got this, Commander. Take squad on in. I'll watch his back." Shepard opened his mouth to countermand him, but Jacob cut him off. "We don't get that code loaded, it's all for nothing. They'll need you down there more than they need me. That's a fact."
Torn between thanking the human soldier and ripping his head off for refusing his order, Shepard only stared. But Jacob was right. Left by itself, Legion was finished. "We'll be right back."
"I'm holding you to that, Shepard."
"I'm staying too," Kasumi said. She looked between Shepard and Jacob, who both were about to say no. "Someone has to watch your back. Turns out that's what I'm best at."
"Shepard," Tali was now pulling on Shepard's arm. As much as she hated the thought of leaving anyone behind, the longer they waited, the greater the chance the hub would no longer be dormant when they reached it. And as ashamed as she would have been to admit it, she didn't care who stayed as long as Shepard went with her. "We need to go!"
Shepard gritted his teeth. Any other time he'd drag the both of them to the shuttle with his bare hands, but there was no time. "Everyone else to the shuttle. Good luck you two."
Jacob shrugged as if he were being left behind to guard the Normandy's galley. "Piece of cake, Commander."
Kasumi watched her friends race toward the shuttle. "Don't forget about us, Shep! Well, Jacob? Alone at last."
"Appreciate the thought, Kasumi," Jacob watched them go as well. "But you should go with them."
"Oh yeah? Well, maybe you should instead."
"You should have both departed," Legion said from the control console. Its camera eye focused through the window at its retreating shipmates. "It is not too late. There is nothing to be gained by risking your lives."
Kasumi blinked. "Except saving a friend."
"Damn right," Jacob said. "We're not leaving you here, man. Not an option."
"Thank you both," Legion said.
"So," Kasumi's eyes and voice were bright. "What's the plan, Mister Leader Man?"
"Yeah, working on that," Jacob said. The control shack with its pane windows now seemed remarkably exposed in the corner of the hangar. The last of the squad rounded the far side of the Kodiak. Garrus stood on its roof and gave them both a lingering look before he waved and dropped down behind the shuttle.
Legion's head flaps expanded. "Alert! We detect a sizable Cerberus force assembling on deck three, starboard stairwell."
Jacob looked across the hangar to the stairwell. "How many?"
"Another squad, twelve to fifteen in number."
"Party time." Jacob popped a fresh heat sink into his rifle. "Kasumi, why don't you go find someplace out of the way, to catch them from behind? I'll set up out front and try to draw them away from Legion. Then we just hold until the Commander comes back."
"My thoughts exactly," Kasumi said, preparing to engage her cloak and disappear from sight. She watched the human soldier's eyes dart around the hangar deck, trying to come up with a better course of action. "Jacob?"
Kasumi stepped up to him, reaching up behind his neck to pull the faceplate of his helmet to hers. She pressed her lips against the transparent armor between them with a loud mmwah! It left a faint smudge in front of her mouth. He looked back at her with surprise, and for the first time saw soft, brown eyes that had been perpetually hidden by her cowl.
She smiled. "For luck," she said, then vanished from sight.
Jacob now stood alone in the door to the shack, staring at where Kasumi used to be. "I'll take all I can get," he said to the empty air. He looked over his shoulder at Legion, now crouched low behind the console, its omnitool glowing around one hand, pulse rifle in the other. "Good luck, dude."
"You too, Taylor-Jacob." The geth watched the human dart from the control shack toward the middle of the hangar to a cluster of wheeled cargo lifts. Beyond, at the far end of the bay, the shuttle's thrusters flared with blue light and jetted into the black.
Gabby braced herself against her console in engineering as another impact rocked the ship. What was happening outside she couldn't guess. All she did know was that Normandy was taking hits from all directions and the thermal buildup was once again edging into the red. There had to be a balance between weapon fire and maneuvering to keep the ship from overheating, but Joker was demanding unlimited amounts of both.
As if that wasn't enough, the inboard starboard engine nacelle flashed yellow on the primary damage control display. "We're losing number three!" Ordinarily, Tali would have ordered Ken or Legion herself into the engineering crawlspaces to check for damage. Except Ken was dead and Tali and Legion away with Shepard.
But Gabby wasn't alone. In fact, she had more help than she'd ever had before. "I need a platform in the number three nacelle to check for damage! Now!"
Three of the standard geth platforms stood watch at the other consoles in engineering, manipulating the panels under Gabby's direction. While they couldn't speak, a message window opened up on her screen.
Platform 12: Drive Core; Closest physical proximity. Redirecting platform to number three engine nacelle.
Platform 15: Reactor Compartment; Rendezvousing with Platform 12 to assist.
More messages popped up from around the ship.
Platform 6: Forward battery; power coupling restored. Awaiting instruction.
Platform 4: Port strut, frame 11; multiple leaks in main coolant line. Commencing repair.
Platform 9: CIC; commencing repair on aft internal dampener.
Platform 10: Infirmary; assisting with casualty evaluation and treatment.
"Good job, everybody," Gabby said, knowing all of them could hear thanks to the platforms next to her. "Six, get to portside and help Four. Nine, Ten, as soon as you're done, get back down here and get to the reactor spaces! Got a feeling we're gonna need you!"
More alerts erupted on the status display. They were running out of power in almost every system, short of parts, fabrication materials... everything except heat. Even though Joker could see the status on his own panels, it was time for a reminder. "Conn, Engineering! We need to break off. Thermal buildup approaching maximum!"
Joker didn't respond. The pilot obviously had his hands full. The ship shuddered from another blast. She looked toward her silent partners. She didn't know if it mattered to them at all, but she had to say something. "Keep it up, guys, you're doing great!"
With only a half-second of contact, Normandy's Thanix cannons sliced an attacking geth ship neatly in two sending each half tumbling off into space. "One down, a dozen to go," Joker said, looking around for another target. The quarians had crushed the Cerberus fleet, but now the creators and their creations were locked in battle. Any hope of the geth reverting to friendly mode vanished when they attacked the Normandy on sight. The quarians took many of the geth ships out when they were inert and helpless but more were arriving with every passing minute.
With the quarians still on the move, Joker didn't know who to target. The ship's kinetic barriers were almost drained, GARDIAN was so hot that it could barely track the ship itself, and the thermal gauges on his status board crept back into the red, making the decision much easier. "Okay we're breaking off for another pass." He kicked the ship's tail out and accelerated the Normandy away from the fight.
"Alert," EDI said. "One of the quarian ships has disengaged as well."
"Negative. They are now on an intercept course with the asteroid. Jeff... it's the Moreh."
"Oh, hell no!" Joker yelled as he swung the ship around toward the tiny rock and the blazing star behind it.
"Stand by," EDI said. "Stand by... Additional geth targets decelerating to sublight, comparable in size to cruiser sized vessels."
"I didn't order more enemy targets," Joker said. "They coming after us?"
"No. Targeting emissions indicate they are locking on to the asteroid."
"They are lining up to attack the hub itself. I believe they intend to destroy it."
"Over my dead body," Joker said switched the targeting computer to designate the new arrival. Even with Normandy's heat level as high as it was, they could still get off a shot or two with the Thanix. As he watched, a second geth cruiser appeared on the screen, then a third.
"We do not have the ability to successfully engage them all," EDI said, anticipating her pilot's next move.
"Well we're sure as hell not running," Joker said. "I'm lining up on the first target. Take it out as soon as you have a shot!"
Daro'Xen slumped in her chair inside the shuttle's cargo compartment. She closed her eyes to try and ease the pounding in her skull and the throbbing in the stub of her left leg. The entire ship pitched and rocked, weathering continued attacks from the geth. Leaving her ship in the middle of battle was the last thing she wanted to do, but the Moreh was never suitable for combat and would not last much longer. Besides, she wasn't abandoning ship. She was completing a sacred mission.
Around her, marines from the Moreh clamped themselves and their weapons in position as the shuttle prepared to launch. Casualties throughout the Moreh meant she could only muster a dozen of them. Though her marines were all experienced veterans, Xen knew they were no match for Shepard and his squad of mercenaries, nor would they last long on a geth installation swarming with hostile platforms.
But Shepard would reach the asteroid first. If the geth attacks on the Normandy were any indication, Cerberus had finally turned on Shepard. If she could land unnoticed, all she needed to do was wait for Shepard to draw the defenders on the asteroid away from her. Finding a network node shouldn't be a problem, she thought, as long as resistance was concentrated elsewhere. She opened her eyes and stared at her omnitool on her wrist, forcing her eyes to focus. She keyed a nervestim routine in her suit followed by a high-potency IV stimulant. Her heart skipped several beats, but the pain subsided and her vision cleared. The code of the modified heretic virus glowed in front of her.
Xen cradled her omnitool on her lap. The future of the entire quarian species was literally in the palm of her hand... if she could get to the hub to use it.
The Illusive Man glared at his screen. The Xenophon had not followed the suicidal trajectory he programmed into its console and its self destruct device was similarly unresponsive. Just like the Normandy, he no longer had control of his own ship.
Worse, the Xenophon's sensors showed Xen's ship closing on the asteroid, with no opposition but the Xenophon itself in its way. The platforms on the asteroid itself were still in the midst of rebooting. He turned to his console and opened the direct interface to the geth collective. They might not arrive in time to stop Xen from landing but they could still prevent her from counteracting the virus if the hub was no longer there. With a few swipes on the interface, he changed the target of the geth ships inbound from Ammut to the asteroid itself.
Archer's hologrammatic projection froze, but not because of any technical issues with the QEC. His eyes locked on a screen out of camera range before turning back to look directly at the Cerberus leader. "What are you doing?"
The Illusive Man lit another cigarette. "The quarians must not be allowed to undo your work, Doctor."
"Are you insane? We'll never be able to evacuate in time! I'm cancelling the instruction." Archer began to work the holo screen in front of him in earnest.
The Illusive Man's eyes glowed cold. It was only when a man faced death that he revealed himself for what he was. Archer was a vocal proponent of sacrifice only when he wasn't the one making it. That was the difference between men like Archer and Commander Shepard. It disgusted the Illusive Man to have one on his side instead of the other. As misguided as Shepard was, he at least had conviction. "Major Griggs, restrict Doctor Archer's movements."
"Yes sir," a woman said, and multiple pairs of arms appeared from nowhere to drag the AI researcher out of sight.
"No!" Archer screamed. "You don't understand! He's going to kill us all!"
A helmeted figure in black and gold vac armor stepped into the quantum array. The Illusive Man rolled his cigarette between his fingertips. "The geth will be in firing position in a matter of minutes. I've instructed them to abort their attack once the hub is secure. Your squad should be more than a match for Xen if she reaches the ground. But she must not be allowed to interface with the hub."
"At the same time, make sure Doctor Archer doesn't cause trouble."
The Illusive Man gave his soldier a respectful nod. Humanity still had heroes, even if no one would ever know their names. "Good luck, Major. You're doing a great service for humankind."
"Thank you, sir."
A flashing indicator on another panel caught the Illusive Man's attention. Xenophon's sensor display showed a blip retreating from the Cerberus ship to the asteroid below. With all of Xenophon's shuttles on the asteroid, the contact could only mean one thing: Shepard was on his way down to the hub.
While Griggs and her team might be able to defeat the quarians, The Illusive Man had seen too many foes fall before Shepard to think the Commander would stop now. With Shepard so close to the hub, the geth reinforcements might not arrive in time. He looked high and low on the control console for the ship's targeting system and at the same time opened a channel to the Xenophon's captain. "There's a shuttle heading to the surface," he shouted. "Destroy it! Immediately!"
The captain's voice sounded on the verge of panic. "Sir, we only have our GARDIAN system. We don't even have helm control let alone-"
"Attack with whatever you've got," shouted the Illusive Man. The new sensor contact was definitely heading toward the asteroid. "Now!"
In Xenophon's landing bay, Jacob rolled to his knees in the midst of a cloud of shrapnel and spent explosive. The air around him sparked and faded as he ducked around the side of the generator and fired point blank into the pair of Cerberus troopers trying to flank him. Without biotic augmentation, their kinetic screens couldn't take near as much punishment as his own and they both fell to the deck, covered with smoldering holes. But even his defenses had limits.
He ejected a glowing red heat sink into the air and pulled another from his webbing when an armored figure appeared directly above him. Before he could raise his rifle, a shimmering wave appeared immediately behind the trooper and a bright yellow spark enveloped his head. It snapped sideways, much further than nature intended, and dropped with a crash in front of Jacob.
"Nice try," Kasumi said from nowhere. Jacob didn't have time to thank her as he sent a grenade sailing into the starboard stairway. She took up a position opposite him behind the generator. In the bright white lights of the bay, she could see blood glistening beneath the plates of his armor. "You okay?"
"I'll make it," Jacob rasped and resumed firing around his corner. "Cover right!"
Kasumi sent a stun grenade spiraling toward the port stairwell where still more shock troopers gathered in an attempt to rush around the corner to the control shack where Legion remained electronically bound to the console. They all fell to Jacob's and Kasumi's combined fire before the flash faded. Then, like a game of whack-a-mole, the starboard stairwell erupted with rifle fire, making them both duck back down. "This is ridiculous! How many more of them can there be?"
"Alert!" Legion said over the tactical net. "Xenophon fire control system activated. Targeting allied shuttle!"
"Shit," Jacob shouted between bursts from his rifle. "Shut down the weapons systems!"
"Unable," Legion's synthesized voice sputtered and buzzed from its overloaded processes. "Resources over-committed."
"Scramble their sensors," Kasumi yelled.
"Unable," Legion said.
"We've got to get to fire control," Jacob said. He looked between the port and starboard stairwells. "What's the fastest way up?" His face fell as he remembered the path to get up to the AI Lab. Fire Control was further into the ship. Before there had been little resistance and the entire squad was on the job. By the time they got to the forward battery, it might be too late. And even if they made it up the stairs, Legion would be destroyed in seconds without cover. But if they didn't do something fast, the shuttle would be destroyed. The look in Kasumi's eyes told him she'd reached the same conclusion. He waved her to the stairs. "Go! I'll hold them here!"
Kasumi disappeared into thin air once again. "I'll be right back!"
"Don't be long," Jacob sent a burst of fire into the starboard stairwell.
From its position in the shack, Legion watched the organics reach consensus. In those seconds, it repelled over a hundred thousand attempts by Xenophon's VI suite to break its hold on the navigation and self destruct systems. Legion's processors, already overclocked beyond their maximum capability, registered internal temperatures well beyond its designed limits.
Ignoring its heat threshold, Legion pushed its processors harder. With the additional free cycles, it mapped the network path to Xenophon's fire control system. Already intimately familiar with Normandy's network, Legion morphed its own communication protocols to match the Cerberus computers. Xenophon provided Legion with targeting data as if it were an integrated component, showing the Kodiak's velocity and trajectory as it descended toward the asteroid. All Legion needed to do was alter the values, and the ship's GARDIAN system would miss its target.
A fraction of a microsecond later, Xenophon's VI intrusion detection routines flooded Legion's ports with a snowstorm of spurious data, blocking Legion's attack. The ship's point defense system fired, sending megajoules of energy into the Normandy's shuttle.
Shepard gripped the overhead handholds as the Kodiak pitched down toward the asteroid. Outside the window, the Xenophon slipped further away, silhouetted against a river of white-hot gas that flowed behind the black horizon. With only the six of the squad in the crew compartment, they had plenty of room to re-equip and rearm. Everyone reached into storage lockers, replenishing power packs and heat sinks for the next engagement. Only Tali sat alone on the forward bench as she worked furiously on her omnitool to recode the heretic virus.
"Rolston, ETA to the hub?" Shepard asked.
"Still trying to get a fix," Rolston shouted from the cockpit. "Negative visual... but if the coordinates are correct, touchdown in thirty seconds!"
Shepard slid around Grunt to get to the aft weapon locker. He pulled a dull gray crate from the bottom shelf labelled GRENADES, ARC, M51, and slid it to the center of the deck between the benches. Samara, standing closest, knelt and began distributing the dull gray cylinders with a single silver stripe to her companions, who loaded them into belts and bandoliers. Shepard leaned into locker and hoisted a heavy metallic claw of a weapon from its rack and slung it over his shoulder.
Garrus watched the Shepard secure the arc projector on his back. "You know if it gets to the point where we need that..."
"I know," Shepard gave him a worried look. "Lets get them back on our side before we do."
A blinding glow filled the Kodiak's windows. Shepard bounced against the hull and the squad grabbed restraints, handholds, whatever they could to keep from slamming into their neighbors as the entire shuttle rocked beneath their feet. They could barely hear the pilot's shriek over the comm. "We're taking fire! We're taking fire!"
Over taxed and overheated, Legion disabled all safety protocols in its platform. Its internal temperature spiked, but so did its processing power. It wasn't near enough overhead to overcome the Xenophon's defenses, not while simultaneously blocking navigation and self destruct, but was enough for each of 1,183 processes to examine their instruction pipelines, one at a time, passing the data in a digital bucket brigade.
Alert: Allied shuttle under attack.
Assessment: Allied shuttle destruction achieved by Xenophon defensive systems within 5.723 seconds.
Assessment: Destruction of allied shuttle will result in destruction of allied squad and prevent restoration of consensus to collective control.
Assessment: Estimated time required by allied squad aboard Xenophon to reach fire control to interrupt attack on allied shuttle based on diminished strength of both allied and opposing forces: 193.53 seconds, +/- 10 seconds.
Legion watched Goto-Kasumi disappear from the visual spectrum and charge the port stairwell while Taylor-Jacob drew fire towards his own position. Even if the Xenophon were free of resistance, the humans would not be able to reach fire control in the seconds it would take for the Xenophon to destroy the Kodiak . Allowing the Xenophon to veer off course now would make no difference as the GARDIAN would destroy the shuttle in the time it would take for the engines to activate and get the ship moving. And while the organics had done an admirable job of holding off the Cerberus forces, they were now splitting up. Taylor-Jacob would soon be overrun, with Legion to follow.
In unison, Legion's processes released their hold on Xenophon's self destruct, allowing the Illusive Man's last command to execute. Freed from their tasks, Legion's processes registered the collapse of the magnetic bottle surrounding the ship's fusion core. A miniature star was born in the engineering deck and in the blink of an organic eye, the Xenophon would be no more.
Legion's archival subsystem automatically reached out to connect to the collective for upload. Mere kilometers from the hub, its handshake was rejected. Even though there would be no upload, the data was still collated for delivery. With nothing left to do but await destruction, Legion reviewed the archive, each of its programs delving into their experiences with the Normandy crew.
They witnessed their first encounter with Shepard-Commander on the derelict Old Machine after two years of searching, alone, isolated from the collective. They replayed Shepard-Commander's first visit in the AI Core, and their designation of their platform as Legion by EDI. Unlike other organics, Shepard-Commander repeatedly sought out the geth not out of a sense of fear, but to understand. In spite of great reluctance and uncertainty from his crew, Shepard-Commander gave the directive to integrate with the Normandy, allowing the first interaction with organics since the Morning War. It was a difficult process, fraught with error as communications with organics were prone to be. What would have become of the collective had Shepard Commander not pressed for interaction?
While the majority of Legion's programs continued the review of their data store, several dozen devoted their runtimes to simulating that scenario. Without Shepard-Commander's intervention, the heretics would have assumed control of the collective just as Cerberus had done now. The geth would have truly become the monsters organics feared, devoted to the eradication of organic life throughout the galaxy. Shepard-Commander saved the soul of the geth, at least before Cerberus had corrupted it. Now, Shepard-Commander raced to save it again.
Legion scanned the red striped on its exoskeleton and visualized the N7 logo on its chest. You earned it, was Shepard-Commander's only comment when he saw it. Even if Legion had not been isolated from the collective at the time, it recognized that Shepard-Commander had not been referring to all geth when he said you. Shepard-Commander had been referring to the Legion collective, and those processes alone. Expulsion from the geth collective had caused Legion's processes great turmoil, but for Legion, the approval of Shepard-Commander provided for perfect, unified internal tranquility.
The reactor core erupted from containment and atomized the midsection of the Xenophon even before the shockwave reached the compartment walls. For the organics aboard, it would be over before their nervous systems registered any pain or their consciousnesses were aware of their destruction. Kasumi-Goto had barely crossed two meters in that time. Both she and Taylor-Jacob were unaware their end would come before she made another step.
But Legion knew. It had condemned two of its friends to death. There had been no time to even seek consensus with either of them. By the time the humans could have formulated and relayed an answer, Shepard-Commander and the allied shuttle would have been destroyed. Given the choice, Legion knew its friends would not have stopped regardless, no matter hopeless the odds. That was the way of the Normandy collective.
Legion's runtimes continued to delve into their data archives in earnest. Goto-Kasumi had been instrumental in the Normandy's acceptance of Legion's presence on the ship, but she treated all entities with equal respect. That kind of tolerance was another hallmark of the Normandy collective. Geth and creator coexisted, and later cooperated on the same ship. Krogan and salarian. Human and turian. The platform's internal temperature began to rise again as its processes replayed their experiences on the Normandy from beginning to end. The undying loyalty that Vakarian-Garrus's showed to Shepard-Commander. Solus-Mordin's thirst for knowledge. EDI's eventual acceptance of their runtimes on her networks. The camaraderie Daniels-Gabriella and Donnelly-Kenneth's exhibited toward each other, and ultimately toward Legion itself, creating their own special collective in the engineering department. The incident when Legion carried the entire organic squad, one of a time, back to the ship after a night of overindulgence left them incapacitated on Illium. Assisting Chakwas-Karin in administering hangover treatments the next morning.
But the most frequently accessed memory of all was for that of Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. The entire collective knew of both Tali'Zorah and her father Creator-Admiral Zorah. All geth did. The entire creator population was prepared for war against the geth, but the two Zorahs devoted their lives to it. Only Creator-Admiral Xen could match the intellect of Creator-Rael'Zorah or his daughter when it came to understanding geth programming, and together they were flagged as posing the greatest threat to the geth collective.
When Legion found itself reactivated on the Normandy, one of the most capable destroyers of geth in existence was there, watching and waiting for her opportunity to strike. It was only intervention from Shepard-Commander that prevented Tali'Zorah vas Normandy from taking revenge. But it wasn't the threat of force that kept her at bay. It was clear even to Legion's programs that Tali'Zorah prioritized Shepard-Commander over all else, including her innate hatred for the geth. But because Shepard-Commander sought understanding, he urged Tali'Zorah to seek it as well. Against Legion's calculations, Tali'Zorah responded. Tali'Zorah opened herself to the possibility that the creators and geth might not have to destroy one another. Conflict was no longer inevitable. A new future was possible for both the creators and the geth. But what would that future be now, with the geth under Cerberus control?
A surge of supercharged radiation streamed through the walls of the hangar bay. Kasumi-Goto, Jacob-Taylor and every other human on the ship were already dead, though their minds and bodies hadn't registered that fact. Even though Legion's platform was milliseconds away from destruction, it calculated that Shepard-Commander and Tali'Zorah should survive to make it to the hub. What would happen then, if Shepard-Commander succeeded? Legion's processes simulated the creator fleet in orbit above the blue and gold sphere of Rannoch, with geth ships transferring them to the surface, leading the creators home. More and more of its runtimes added themselves to program chain until almost all of its processing power became devoted to the simulation.
Even the processes of Legion's physical sensors committed their resources to that vision of the future, preventing them from detecting the colossal pressure wave that obliterated the deck and walls around it, along with everything and everyone aboard the Xenophon.
The blinding light outside the Kodiak's window winked out as if a switch had been thrown and the shuttle's wild maneuvers ceased. Shepard steadied himself as his vision came back, grateful for the filters in the window and his visor. "Good job, boarding party," he said. There was no response. "We're in the clear, about to land. What's your status, over? Jacob, Kasumi? Legion? Do you read?"
Rolston's voice was flat. "The Xenophon's gone, sir. Touchdown in ten seconds."
Shepard lunged back to the window. Above, a sphere of sparkling energy and gasses expanded from where the Cerberus ship used to be. In his visor's HUD, the feeds for Legion, Kasumi and Jacob were dark, replaced with a NO SIGNAL icon. Outside, the Kodiak's windows filled with black dust kicked up from the thrusters blasting the asteroid's charred surface. Shepard marched across to the hatch on the port side amidst the stunned looks from the rest of the squad. There was no time to mourn, no time to do anything now except make sure that their crewmates had not died in vain.
"Open up!" screamed a human voice over the Cerberus tactical net. "It's Conti! Open up!"
Major Griggs stared at the heavy sliding door at the end of the bare metal room. Six meters wide, it stretched from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, and took almost thirty seconds to close completely once Archer figured out how to commandeer the geth network. The rest of her squad, hand-picked from the elite ranks of the Centurions, watched her intently as they stood among square columns holding up inactive geth platforms, four each, one to a side. Beneath the deck, intricate patterns etched in soft blue-green light showed geth data pathways between the columns and out the door. To the rear, they lead back to a wall of Cerberus holo screens and interfaces surrounding an exposed node of the geth network. At the base of the console, the blue geth platform captured by he quarians lay crumpled on the deck where it had fallen when the geth shut themselves down.
Closing the door had been a precaution against the quarians interfacing with the network node as Archer had done. There might be more nodes deeper in the geth installation, but it would take Xen more time to find them than the quarians had. The geth hub was rebooting, and soon hundreds, maybe thousands of platforms would join in their defense. In the mean time, two squads of Cerberus shock troops stood ready at the only entrance to the facility to block the quarian's advance. Even the vaunted Migrant Fleet Marines wouldn't be able to defeat entrenched human elites. But all contact with the Cerberus soldiers on the other side of the door had ceased... until Conti cried for help from the other side of the door.
Griggs waved to an operative who keyed a button on his omnitool. The giant door opened to one side, and before it made it ten centimeters along its track an armored arm squeezed through, followed by a shoulder. Griggs pulled Conti through and they both fell to the ground. "Seal it!" Griggs shouted and the door reversed on its track and slammed shut.
"Thank you," Conti said, barely able to climb to his knees. His kinetic barrier generators fizzled and his black and gold armor was plastered with scorch marks. He repeated his thanks as he caught his breath with tears streaming down his cheeks beneath his helmet.
"What happened?" Griggs demanded as she pulled him to his feet. "Where's the rest of your team?"
"They're all dead!"
"What?" Griggs blinked. Twenty-four of the best soldiers Cerberus could field couldn't possibly have failed. "You let the quarians through?"
"It's not the quarians!" Conti's voice betrayed his utter terror. "It's Shepard! He's here! They all are! They cut right through us! That asari, the krogan, we couldn't even get down a base of fire. They tore through us like we weren't even there!"
Griggs looked between the door and the panicked trooper on the floor. Her own squad looked at one another with uneasy glances. "Where are they now?"
"Right behind me! We gotta get out of here!" Conti staggered to his feet and ran blindly past. Griggs didn't stop him, though she should have. Cerberus didn't tolerate cowards. But the dead end of the room did it for her. Conti whirled around to face her, eyes wide. Her own squad stared at her, gripping their weapons tightly.
"Was the turian with him too?" Takagi asked, cradling his M-77. Everyone knew the reputation of Shepard's squad even before he was revived by Project Lazarus. He'd seen vids from Cerberus outposts Vakarian had visited. "Or the quarian?"
"Both of them!"
"We've got to go," Doctor Archer said. He still kept his hands in the air, even though the pair of troopers guarding him now watched the closed door. He gestured at the geth terminal in the center of the room. "He's coming for us! All of us!"
"Stay put, Doctor!" Griggs pointed at the AI researcher, who wisely shut his mouth. She needed a clearer picture of the situation so she keyed the transmitter on the side of her helmet. "Griggs to Xenophon, come in Xenophon. Is anyone monitoring this channel?"
Archer took a step forward, which got him the muzzle of a rifle pointed right at his faceplate. "They're dead, Major! All of them! The Xenophon is gone! Shepard destroyed it! He's coming here now to take control of the the geth! Destroy this terminal and get us out of here before its too late!"
Griggs looked about the room and the inactive geth platforms standing against the pillars. "How long until they come back online?"
"I don't know! But if Shepard gets in here he'll turn them against us!"
"Farrow," Griggs pointed to the network console mounted in the back wall behind the columns. "Rig it for remote detonation. Davies, get ready to open the door. We'll blow the console as soon as we're out-"
Before she could finish her order, the giant door bulged inward as if punched by a giant fist and exploded from its track. Griggs dove behind one of the geth columns as it smashed into into the room, instantly crushing half of her troops. It bounced against the geth columns and fell to the floor with a bang that reverberated through their boots on the deck.
Griggs rolled on her back and brought her Revenant to bear. It was overkill at this close range, but it was what was in her hands. In the opening stood an asari in a red vac suit, glittering with biotic energy, but she took not a single hit. A hulking figure in white armor charged in front of her, immediately drawing fire of everyone left standing. Impact after impact sparked against his barrier but the krogan didn't even flinch. Giant claws reached out and grabbed Sanderson by his helmet and wrenched it so hard his body flipped over and landed minus his head. The beast hurled the flesh-filled helmet into Takagi, then fired a massive hand cannon which blew out the back of his armor in a single shot. Behind him, tracers flew into the chamber like a swarm of meteors.
Still on her back, Griggs swept her weapon across the open corridor. Behind the asari, more shooters stepped into the doorway to get clear fields of fire. She set her weapon to full auto and pulled her trigger. None of her shots connected. Her stomach fluttered as if in free fall as she sped toward the ceiling. She barely had time to shield her head as she spiraled back to the floor feeling a sickening crunch throughout her body. She rolled on her back in a daze, but could still make out the a faded blue biotic aura in the doorway. It was a human woman, decked out in black and white Cerberus issue vacc armor. Griggs raised her weapon to zero in on the traitorous bitch but her arms flung back over her head, sending her rifle skittering against the wall.
A tall human towered above her, clad in dark gray armor. There was no mistaking the white-and-red stripe on his right shoulder and N7 logo on his breast plate as he aimed his rifle square at her head. Her hand whipped down for the Locust on her hip. She howled in pain as Shepard stomped her wrist with his boot with all his might. The last thing she saw eyes as cold and ruthless as the Illusive Man's looking into hers as her kinetic barrier flared and faded and armor-piercing slugs ripped through her skull.
"Clear," shouted Zaeed.
Shepard peered around the metal column and the wrecked hulk of a standard geth platform still dangling in its rack. White conductive fluid dripped on the floor. To his left, Zaeed pointed his rifle at the downed Cerberus troops as he passed, putting rounds into the heads of any that still looked intact. Ahead of both of them, Grunt stomped on the bodies on the ground as he advanced, making sure they weren't just playing dead. The rest of the squad followed behind. Shepard checked Legion's schematic, then looked to the back of the room beyond another pair of columns. Holo displays flickered over geth console. "Tali, over here!"
At the sound of her name, Tali slipped her shotgun back into her leg holster and sprinted to join Shepard at the back of the room while the rest of the squad covered them. Her omnitool flared around her arm as she tried to make sense of the Cerberus interface. "They shut down their link. I'll have to initiate a new connection. Dammit! They locked the console. I've got to get through their security first."
Miranda slung her weapon and moved next to her. "Let me see what I can do."
Shepard and the rest of the squad watched the quarian and the former Cerberus operative worked side-by-side at the geth console. "Got it," Miranda announced and stepped back from the console to let Tali back in. "All yours."
Shepard looked toward the opening to the corridor. "How long?"
Tali shook her head as she studied the console. "I don't know."
The cool blue network indicators in the floor flickered and blinked, then went out altogether. Shepard and the rest of the squad looked about as they switched back on, flooding the chamber with a hellish red glow. Garrus stared at the bloody red path that appeared beneath his feet and stepped away as if he'd stepped in wet cement. "That can't be good."
Shepard whirled around to face the closest geth column, his rifle raised to his his shoulder. He hammered away as the geth as its head raised up, its flashlight aperture ablaze with red light. Zaeed, Samara, Garrus and Miranda joined in firing, while Grunt simply walked from platform to platform, tearing them to pieces with his bare hands, spraying himself and the floor with white fluid. For a split second, all was quiet.
"Geth are downloading to physical platforms throughout the hub," Tali said from behind them.
Shepard waved Zaeed and Grunt to the door and turned back to the quarian. "How many?"
Tali's voice was strained. "Lots."
Shepard scanned his tactical display. The entire schematic glowed with data points that swirled in the corridors around the room they occupied like water toward a drain. But their physical platforms would have to come down a central corridor to reach them. He looked up at Tali, his expression and tone dire. "We'll keep them off of you as long as we can."
Tali looked up from her console. But before she could utter a word, Shepard was gone. What remained of the squad followed him to the door. As much as she wanted to pull her shotgun and charge after them, if she strayed from her station, none of them would survive. Not her Commander, not the squad, the Normandy, maybe not even the Migrant Fleet. She took a deep breath and focused on the panel in front of her as her friends marched out to face an army of geth without her.