Picture after picture flashed before him, blinding his mind even as he found himself unable to feel his body, turning him into nothing.
Hackett's grim face.
The relief in Kenson's eyes.
Kenson's face, a smirk...
Give yourself over and be spared.
Guns blazing, alone, surrounded...
An artefact, dark and aglow with malice...
Your struggle is pointless, your mind is mine.
A woman's voice, sounding bored. "I'll have to increase the dosage again, soon it'll be lethal though, I for one don't understand why we still keep him around. End recording."
You will the first to witness our arrival.
He felt it, a tingling, his consciousness defiantly reaching for his body, a burning hatred driving it on...
He was alone, the others couldn't help him, he had agreed about that with Hackett, of those left on the Normandy none could come with him into Batarian space. The Quarians were on bad terms with the Batarians as it was, the Turians would have Michael's head on a spike if he dragged one of them into a conflict, and for his own sake taking along any Cerberus operatives was an easy way to get executed on the spot if something went wrong. No, better it be someone with no affiliation, someone whose actions could only be blamed on him...
So he had went alone, it wasn't entirely foolish, he was to get in quick and get out the spy, there was no need for firepower, a single commando knowing the value of stealth had been perfect.
Of course, since he wasn't Alliance any more, he was also perfect in the sense that if something did go wrong he was expendable. The Alliance could deny any involvement with what had happened and in that way ruin any Batarian excuse for declaring war.
Hackett had known this, Michael had known this...yet even though he had no obligation to clean up an Alliance mess...he had agreed without a second thought. After all, Kenson was Alliance, and if she cracked the Batarians could well find a reason to declare war, a war the Alliance and the galaxy did not need with the Reapers coming ever closer. And then there was the fact that Kenson had claimed to have found a Reaper artefact...that had been the important fact, what had made Michael's decision easy.
Yes, there had never been any hesitation for Michael when he had decided to help, despite knowing he was essentially acting on his own and sent there due to politics more then anything else.
Freeing her had been easy. The Batarian guards had never been prepared for such an infiltration, and though Michael suspected a few security feeds had caught at least glimpses of him, he considered that part of the mission a success.
Of course Kenson's revelation of the Reaper's imminent arrival had been a shock...as to her second revelation...
I should have known...
I should have suspected something...
They were too sure of themselves, too calm...
Why wait to destroy the relay...unless you've decided not to?
Michael clenched his teeth, holding back a groan as a spike of pain shot through his skull, the memory of the energy lashing out at him in the open chamber still fresh in his mind.
Do not resist.
Harbinger...I will never stop resisting.
He twitched, body jerking, fresh energy coursing through him, destroying the dullness within him, energizing it with anger.
The voice was somewhere to his right, and Michael kept his eyes closed as it sighed. "I'll be glad when this is over and I finally get to see them...I-John? What on Earth are you wearing!"
"Hey baby." A man's voice, tinged with amusement. "Got to love having access to the armoury, check me out. I'm Commander Shepard, and you're my favourite babe in the galaxy..."
"Well...wow..." The woman muttered. "...can't believe it fits...you look...good."
"Uh-huh?" Was the amused response. "Though I should have left the weapons behind, my back's already killing me..."
"Well..." A sultry sigh. "...maybe we should get you out of some parts and get you...comfortable..."
A low chuckle. "Well...we have half an hour before the arrival, maybe we should go and celebrate...?"
Half an hour!
Michael's eyes were instantly wide open as he looked about himself, finding himself in some sort of sick-bay by the looks of it; his bed, white walls, computers and other things his startled mind had no time to process as he turned his gaze over to the right.
The doorway was not far from where he lay, behind it a pale woman with curly red hair and wearing a lab-suit was more or less attached to the chest of a tall man wearing Michael's armour, her lips brushing his as she reluctantly pulled back. "Let me just seal the lab and I'll be-" She turned...and her voice died as she stared at Michael.
Then it all exploded.
The man followed her gaze and shouted out in alarm as he spotted Michael leaping off the bed, the man reaching for the pistol attached to his hip.
The woman rushed for the controls to the door...
Then gasped as Michael's right foot struck her in the stomach, sending her flying back.
The man pulled the pistol free, the weapon swinging round towards Michael...
Who spun with his kick, his left foot scything through the air before striking the side of the pistol, sending the weapon flying out of the hand holding it.
A growl escaped the disarmed man who lowered his head and charged right at his unarmoured foe...
Grunting, Michael dropped to the floor and let the man stumble over his prone form and crash face first into the wall. A moment later Michael was on his feet, his foot coming down on the back of the man's neck as he tried to pull himself up...
The man's head twisted to the right, caught against the wall as his neck was forced downwards.
There was a crack...and Michael turned around towards his second foe.
Who had come to her feet, shrieking out a near inhuman cry as she launched herself at Michael, hands reaching out like claws...
He caught her wrists as he pulled backwards...only to slam his forehead into her face, knocking her back to the floor as her nose spurted blood. She just growled in response, trying to get up...
Only for Michael to kneel down on her, his left leg bearing down on her chest, his left hand gripping her by the hair as his right reached down to the floor and retrieved his pistol. "Stop struggling." He growled the order, placing the barrel under the woman's chin as he glared down at her. "I want the location of the control room, now." He pushed the weapon harder against her to reinforce his demand.
To his surprise though, the woman, who was nothing but a doctor, not a soldier, growled at him. "I'll never tell you!"
"You have a choice." Michael calmly retorted, letting the barrel slide over to her temple as he kept his gaze cold. "Tell me and live, or don't and die, it's that simple. I don't have time to argue, make your decision."
"You're going to try to stop the arrival..." The woman hissed, eyes widening, something flashing within them. "You can't do that! You must not!" She cried out, bucking under him with surprising strength as her hands shot up, fingernails raking his neck as he pulled back in surprise. "I won't let you! The Reapers must come! They will come! I will-!"
Michael squeezed the trigger.
Sighing, he rose and turned over to the other corpse; leaning down he began to strip the man, replacing his hospital gown with the armour and weapons he would sorely need.
Is it really only half an hour left? They kept me drugged for two days? I have to act swiftly...
For a moment he hesitated, remembering that destroying the relay would very likely end the lives of over three hundred thousand Batarians, and this was not the scum of criminals you usually found in the Terminus system, this was a real Batarian system.
How many are part of their dictatorial leadership? How many are soldiers and policemen enjoying their absolute power over the people? How many are just civilians, innocents struggling to make ends meet...?
He shook his head.
If the system isn't destroyed trillions of people will die when we're caught unprepared by the Reapers, this must be done. More time to prepare is...worth their deaths.
Michael frowned, he wasn't sure about himself in this matter. Before he had viewed any loss as unacceptable, it had hurt him deeply...and even after that he only reluctantly accepted the possibility of losses as something unavoidable. Yet now he felt more then ready to sacrifice so many for something as intangible as time? In fact he felt duty-bound to do so...
I will make it worth it...
The words he had told himself back in the Collector base echoed through his skull, convincing, right, eliminating all doubt.
Kindness, mercy, hesitation...it was all for a world without Reapers...
And until they were gone, he could not allow such feelings to hamper him, he would not try to deny them as he once had, but he would not let them control him either. He wanted these Batarians to live, he would try to warn them, they would be more forces to fight the Reapers with after all, yet they could not be saved, they had to be sacrificed. Yes, he felt guilty about having to do so, but such sentiments were pointless.
Putting on his helmet, Michael turned back to the killed doctor, his gaze moving past her shattered skull and to a electronic data-pad she had probably used to make that recording he'd first heard.
He walked over to it, a sweeping hand activating it. "Right...connecting to the network...show me the control room..." He narrowed his eyes at the shown map, the highlighted area was nearly at the centre of the map. Not good, but do I have a choice? At least the guards here are about as skilled as you'd expect a bunch of expendable grunts sent into enemy territory to be...just a notch above mall-security, trained for espionage, not combat. "Right...and how long until the arrival?"
The amber light on the data pad was as cold as it was horrifying.
Michael growled, transferring the countdown and the map to his omni-tool before tossing the data-pad aside.
Well...at least I'll get some exercise...while being shot at...
Growling, he began to run.
His head rang, limbs feeling heavy as he blinked, vision blurry until it managed to focus on the floor he was apparently lying on. He saw his arm, the hand still clutching his pistol, a hint of smoke rising the barrel. Recently fired...
Groaning, he forced his limbs into action, to push himself off the floor. So...shooting her didn't work...obviously...
He looked up, shoulder sagging in relief even as he straightened.
The reactor was unscathed, though humming loudly as it supplied the engines of the asteroid with power. Part of its hull was scorched from the explosion, the plate he had found Kenson in the middle of unfastening had been peeled back by the blast, but apparently it had done its job in protecting the insides of the core from the explosive the woman had carried.
Kenson had not been so lucky. There was nothing left of her since she had practically stood on the explosive when Michael had tried to bring her down, nothing but a few charred lumps lying spread across the reactor floor. Michael shrugged at it, he had known trying to save her had been impossible the moment she had drawn a gun on him, and when it came down to it death was better for her then to stay indoctrinated.
"Computer..." He coughed, clearing his throat before continuing. "...where's the nearest escape shuttle?"
"All personnel, follow the yellow lights." Was the calm response, making Michael look down to indeed find blinking yellow strips of light along the floor and leading towards a door over which it in bold letters said; 'landing platform'. "Warning, five minutes until impact, evacuate."
Grunting, Michael began to run, hand shooting up to his helmet. The pieces of the hardseal hidden within his helmet appeared with a whirring sound, covering the space between his chin and visor before swiftly clicking into place. His suddenly synthesized voice lacked his usual humorous tone. "Yes ma'am."
His target was running for it, despite there being no shuttle left, despite having nowhere to go, the man was running to escape the fate of his brothers.
Kneeling, Michael followed the running soldier with his sight, taking a deep breath...and then slowly exhaled as he squeezed the trigger.
The blast of his Revenant was muted in space, yet he felt the vibration in his hands, and watched with some satisfaction as the distant target fell forward, clutching after his shoulder, then his neck as his body realised all air was going out of his suit.
It didn't take long for his struggling to stop.
Michael didn't pay it much heed though, the moment he had confirmed he had downed the last foe he was up and running, leaping towards the communication relay at the far end of the platform. Kenson had cut off the base's connection to it to stop Michael from warning the Batarians, from communicating with the Normandy, a spiteful move that had done nothing but make the end of this fight all the more tragic.
She couldn't stop him from manually using the relay though.
Speaking of relays...
He looked up, eyes widening at the sight of the massive, and growing, sight of of the Mass Relay that seemed to fill the space ahead of the hurtling asteroid with its barely contained energy.
Right, getting away, good idea. His hands danced over the controls, making it connect to his helmet at a wide broadcast. "All inhabitants of the Bahak system, this is-" Don't use any titles. "Michael Shepard, I implore you to leave the system this instant before it is destroyed, I repeat, this instance! It's a matter of life and death!" It would probably do no good, but if even one managed to escape it was at least something gained. Michael swiftly switched to a private channel though. "Joker, this is Shepard, come down on my position and get us out of this system! Now!"
"Been on my way ever since I saw the asteroid start to move, will be there within two minutes." Barely enough time...Michael swallowed at Joker's calm words...that were swiftly followed by a chuckle. "By the way, Tali is here calling you all manner of colourful things in Quarian...I think she even got some Turian insults into it..."
Michael smiled at that. I'll gladly have her yell at me after this... "Just get over here..." Then something to his right flickered, a glow... "I'll...get back to you."
Stepping around the controls to the communications relay, Michael found his eyes narrowing at the flickering orange light appearing above one of the, a light swiftly growing and taking shape...
"Shepard." The hologram of the Reaper was enough to make Michael gnash his teeth, his hands curling into fists. "You continue to fight the inevitable, yet you know you cannot win."
"I'm about to prove it's anything but inevitable." Michael growled back, taking a step forward. "You will not arrive today, I've made sure of it."
The hologram glow became harsher, the eyes of the machine that wasn't really there glaring at him. "This seems a victory to you, a star system sacrificed. You have gained nothing, we will come, and your galaxy will die."
Michael glanced back.
Behind him dead men and women in dark armour lay, indoctrinated – enslaved – people fighting for their 'gods' that wished to feast upon them. Above them he could see shining stars, but also the distant planet of Aratoht, there nearly every Batarian in the system lived, two thirds nothing but slaves, nearly all of them hard working people struggling on with their lives...and all soon to die without ever knowing why.
He shook his head, looking back to Harbinger. "No...this isn't a victory." The hologram seemed ready to respond, yet Michael was faster, marching closer, he jabbed a finger towards it. "The victory will be when your broken husk is scattered through space! The victory will be when all of your kin join Sovereign's fate! The victory will be when what's left of your species is reduced to nothing but scrap metal!"
"You speak out of ignorance, you will-"
"And you out of arrogance!" Michael shouted back, the pointing finger curled to join the rest into forming a fist. "Know this; Saren, Sovereign, the Collectors, the Shadow Broker...all of that is nothing compared to what I'll visit upon the Reapers when they appear! You may have scoured this galaxy hundreds of times, but against us you have lost every encounter! Remember that when you arrive, remember that and know I'm coming for you next."
The eyes of Harbinger's hologram glowed with rage. "You will watch your galaxy burn, you will know despair, and we will-"
"This exchange is over." Michael snorted, remembering all too well Sovereign's parting words back on Virmire. Glaring at the hologram he drew his pistol in one fluid movement and fired a single shot into the communication relay.
The hologram instantly disappeared.
He barely reacted when the Normandy appeared a moment later, barely reacted when he entered the cockpit of the ship to find Joker barely steering their ship into the Mass Relay in time to avoid its collision with the asteroid. He barely even reacted when Tali crashed into him, fists pounding at his chest as she shouted something at him, instead he hugged her when she was done, the eyes under his visor narrowed into a frown.
They are close now, so close, I can feel them...
Thanks to Abydos Jackson for never getting tired of me.