-Here We Are, Juggernaut-
"Just like old times!"
Crouched behind a stack of shipping crates, ducking and covering my head as a rocket fired by a geth sailed overhead to explode against the concrete wall only yards away, I heard Garrus' exclamation clearly over the comm. Had my attention not been wholly focused on avoiding enemy fire, I would have smiled at his words. Another rocket struck the wall several feet from the first, pelting me with debris; from beyond the safe boundary of the crates came a steady stream of energy rounds from multiple geth pulse rifles. Past the pyramid of shadow cast by the shipping boxes in which I huddled the ground steamed and hissed, the air all around it wavering from heat. Haestrom was not a welcoming planet, its parent star having grown even more unstable in the years since the quarians had been forced to abandon it. Subsequently, survival on the planet was dictated by how quickly you could get out of the blistering, deadly sunlight and into any kind of shade.
The Illusive Man had finally pinpointed the location of my former teammate, Tali'Zorah. She was on Haestrom as part of a scavenge-research reconnaissance mission dispatched by the Migrant Fleet. It was a terribly risky venture on their behalf, as there was extensive orbital geth construction around Haestrom. I'd hoped to arrive and secure Tali before the geth became aware of their intrusion, but my luck held out the way it usually did, and we found ourselves far behind enemy lines while chasing after the steadily retreating quarian squad.
Until now. We'd managed to close the gap, fighting our way through geth primes and and destroyers and managing to establish tenuous communications with the remainder of the quarian forces. We learned that Tali'Zorah was—for the moment—secured in a room at the far end of what had once been a construction yard. Upon arriving there we encountered the only other quarian survivor aside from Tali, a marine named Kal'Reegar. From him we learned that there were significant impediments to our reaching Tali in a timely fashion. Kal'Reegar had been wounded in his attempt to get to Tali and had offered to act as a distraction, sacrificing himself in order to give me and my team the opportunity to get safely across the yard. I'd managed to talk him down from what would have been tantamount to suicide, convincing him instead to remain safely behind a concrete barrier to provide what he could in the way of cover fire.
Garrus had taken up position near Kal'Reegar, sniping at any geth that moved out in the open. I suspected he was enjoying himself immensely; overwhelming odds were something he dealt with better than most. Crouched with my back against the metal grating of a crate, I ejected the spent thermal clip from my Locust and rammed home another before turning to Legion, who knelt at my side.
"Tell me about the Colossus," I ordered, referring to the massive, four-legged, long-necked mechanical beast that awaited us at the far end of the yard.
"It is a hybrid, Shepard-Commander," he replied. "We surmise it was originally an Armature, but it has been altered from its original form. "
"What," I asked, having to shout over the whistling scream of another rocket, "does that mean for us?"
"It possesses two main weapons: a long-range siege pulse cannon and short-range automatic mass accelerators. Its shielding and armor are substantial and it has the ability to self-repair. We recommend a flanking maneuver with heavy weapons fire—once its shields fail, it will be forced to enter a preservation mode. That is when it will be most vulnerable."
His recommendation sounded nearly impossible given the location of the Colossus and the large number of geth we'd need to eliminate in order to get to it, but we didn't have much else in the way of options. Thinking fast, propelled by an alarmed shout from Kal'Reegar as a blast from the Colossus' cannon impacted with the concrete barrier he and Garrus were using for cover, I risked sticking my head out from behind the crates to take a swift look at the situation as it stood.
As I suspected, it wasn't good. "Legion," I said, turning back to him, "has your tactical cloak been repaired?"
"Good." The rolling boom of the cannon sounded again and this time the ground beneath us shook violently. Bracing myself with one hand, I gestured with the Locust as I gave my orders. "I'm going to need you on my six. Keep your cloak up until I say. We need to create some crossfire. " With a thrust of my chin I indicated a raised catwalk to our right. "I'm going to rush that. You tail me. Once I'm in cover I'll give you the word. Got it?"
I glanced in Garrus' direction, knowing he'd heard every word through the comm. He was crouched with his back to the wall, rifle held in two hands with Kal'Reegar close beside him. He caught my look and nodded and I heard the unspoken warning that passed between us in that one fleeting glance: be careful.
"Always am," I said in reply. I swivelled back to Legion and clapped him on the shoulder before moving past him in a walking-crouch. He activated his cloak and rippled out view. I inhaled slowly, deeply, brought the Locust up to bear, and burst from cover. Both Garrus and Kal'Reegar opened up with their weapons in order to keep the geth distracted as I ran, but even with their interference I was dodging bursts of energy from enemy rifles. I thudded over the flat expanse of concrete, my path serpentine as I tried to keep out of the light of the sun. Some exposure was impossible to avoid and my hardsuit beeped insistently at me as my kinetic barriers steadily depleted under the harsh solar radiation. I wondered, belatedly, how Legion's cloak would hold up against the same and fervently hoped it would last as long as I needed it to.
The Colossus' cannon fired again and I saw from the periphery of my vision the bright, blue-white bolt hurtling towards me. I dove, tucked and rolled unevenly across the pitted stone, coming to a rough halt and throwing my hands over my head as the blast struck the wall only a few feet away. Chunks of rock rained down around me, some of them large enough to sting through the thick layers of my armor. I was laid out in the open and the light of Haestrom's expanded sun was painfully, blindingly harsh, accompanied by the searing heat; I got to my feet as quickly as I could and bolted for a large rectangle of shade provided by an ancient piece of abandoned machinery. I paused there only for a moment, until my barriers hummed back up to full strength, before jumping forth and resuming my mad dash.
I hit the ramp leading to the catwalk and charged up it, aware of the Colossus' head turning to track my progress and aware too that there were geth awaiting me on the catwalk. Reaching the top, I sprinted towards another derelict piece of equipment and slid in behind it. I could hear the garbled, mechanized sounds that indicated that the enemy was near. Tightening my grip around the Locust, I leaned to the side, pinpointed a geth that was steadily advancing on my location, and pulled the trigger. I emptied the clip and it staggered backwards; executing a seamless reload as it recovered, I resumed my stance, fired again and watched as it fell backwards, twitching twice before falling still. From behind it another was approaching and I recognized its type immediately. It was a destroyer, its entire form a dark red and I experienced then a small pang of alarm; when destroyers weren't being irritating as all hell from a distance by wielding rocket launchers, they were making everyone miserable by engaging in close combat with flamethrowers. It made only perfect sense that this particular destroyer was equipped with the latter weapon.
Though a distance of ten or twelve feet still separated us, I reflexively ducked back behind the defunct machinery. A heartbeat later a stream of fire shot past with a whooshing, deadly roar. I waited until the jets of flame died away before lunging sideways, coming into the open with my finger clamped down over the trigger and the barrel of the Locust aimed in the general direction of the geth. I loped sideways, heading back to the ramp because being confined in a corner, regardless of whether or not it had cover, was not a good place to be when facing an opponent with a flamethrower. To add to all the other daunting factors that made the destroyer an enemy to avoid, it possessed a more than adequate shielding system. It was quickly closing in on me, and I had no wish to test my own shields against a full blast from the flamethrower when they were already being taxed by the radiation; I came to a halt, sighted quickly and hoped for accuracy before firing off a quick burst. I hit the fuel tank attached to the flamethrower and with a hissing shriek the compressed, flammable gas began escaping from the puncture. The destroyer hesitated. I steadied my aim and fired again before quickly dropping and turning in order to avoid the subsequent explosion.
I was back on my feet and running hell-bent up the ramp instantly, skirting around the flaming wreckage of the destroyer. Legion hadn't broken his cover to assist me and I was thankful for that, for he was my element of surprise. I hurtled past the machinery I'd used for cover and headed for the far end of the catwalk. Another burst from the Colossus, however, forced me to seek shelter in the small shadow of a lone shipping crate. From this vantage point, facing back the way I'd come, I could see that Garrus and Kal'Reegar had done an admirable job at thinning the enemy geth ranks. While they weren't all gone, their numbers had been thinned considerably.
I shifting, my gaze running down the length of the yard and I could see two geth on the ground level, sheltered from Garrus' shots by a massive piece of construction machinery, drawing a bead on me; the crate at my back wouldn't protect from their fire. "Legion, now!" I shouted, shifting to one knee and sighting through the bars of the catwalk railing. My aim had been low, striking the nearest of the geth in its legs. I adjusted my aim and my bullets chewed their way up its metal torso. It tottered backwards and fell and at the same time I heard the stentorian roar of Legion's Widow rifle. The second of the geth below dropped instantly, having fallen prey to Legion's unerring aim.
"Hold there," I directed the friendly geth, my words fast and breathless into the comm. "Pick off any you can. I'll head further up and get any I can. We should be able to deal with the remainder with the crossfire."
Legion had taken up position behind an L-shaped arrangement of old, rusted fuel drums. Like his antagonistic brethren, he was able to withstand the brutal solar radiation and didn't need to seek the shadows for safety. Feeling considerably more secure now that I knew he could guard my back, I eased out from behind the crate, scouted the area ahead for geth, and finding the way clear rose to my feet and began to run again. My target destination was the end of the catwalk, where the railings had been replaced with thick metal sheets. I could take cover there and work at taking out any remaining geth while also having a clear line of fire at the Colossus.
I'd crossed the halfway mark when something hit my midsection, hard. I immediately doubled over, wheezing while something struck me again in the middle of my exposed back. The Locust fell from my grip and I dropped to all fours and rolled instinctively; on my back staring up, I found I'd narrowly missed taking a point-blank shot to the head as fired by the geth hunter that stood looming over me.
I hadn't seen the hunter, because like Legion, geth hunters were outfitted with a cloaking system. They stood taller than the other types I had encountered, and their favored—and effective—tactic was to make use of their stealth to close in and attack with the energy weapon that was their version of a shotgun. Said shotgun had shifted and was centered directly over my face. I lunged forwards and up, tackling it around the knees with the hopes of bringing it down. It was like trying to tip an anchored boulder and the hunter only stumbled back a few steps before regaining its balance. That was all the time I needed, however, to get back to my feet. The hunter swung around with the shotgun; I threw myself at it again, knocking aside the arm holding then weapon.
My hardsuit had begun beeping as my kinetic barrier began to deplete again beneath the onslaught of the sun. It was imperative that I overcome the hunter and get out of the harsh light, but the hunter grasped me by the upper arm and suddenly we were locked together in a grapple. My hand was locked about the limb that held the shotgun in an attempt to keep it from pointing it in my direction but the force the hunter was exerting was tremendous and my arm trembled as I fought to keep it at bay. The low-shield warning emitted by my hardsuit had become a continuous, high-pitched wail and I knew my shields were only seconds from failing completely. I kicked low at the leg closest to me. The hunter was unaffected. Growing desperate, I pulled backwards and succeeded in wrenching free of its grip on my shoulder. Balling my fingers into a fist, I aimed for the hunter's single, glowing eye.
My first blow was a glancing one. My second struck true, and with a garbled, machine-like shriek the hunter reeled back as the solid, thick armor of my gloves shattered the outer covering of its oculus. As it shook its head, effectively blinded, I made an attempt to wrest the shotgun from its grip. The hunter abruptly toppled forwards, hitting its knees before collapsing entirely and I had to leap back to avoid being caught beneath it. Uttering a silent thanks to Legion for his assistance, I wheeled around, bent to retrieve the Locust, and bolted towards the shade offered by the sheeted railing at the end of the catwalk.
"I'm here," I panted, alerting the rest of my team that I'd arrived at my destination. My hardsuit had fallen silent and a quiet hum informed me my kinetic barrier was beginning to regenerate. "How many left?"
From afar, I could hear a single shot from Garrus' rifle. "That's the last I can see," the turian informed me.
"All platform heretics appear to have been eradicated, Shepard-Commander." Legion added.
"Which just leaves the big guy." I hazarded a glance over the top of the railing to find the Colossus very near, on the level below me, its bright singular eye focused in my direction. Having a fix on me, it began to fire its secondary weapons, which beat against the metal sheeting I hid behind with enough force to shake the entire catwalk. "Garrus," I asked, "how is Kal'Reegar?"
"He's stable, Shepard, but I don't think he's up for taking on that thing."
I nodded though he couldn't see me. "Okay. I want him to stay there. You have any heavies?"
He said nothing for a minute, but finally replied with, "Grabbed a rocket launcher off one of the geth. Several rounds left."
"Good." Shifting, I flipped the Locust into its compact position, returned it to the holster at the base of my spine. From where it rode against my upper back I removed my own heavy weapon, one of Collector design that the others had taken during our ill-fated venture onboard their ship. It was, Mordin had discovered upon examination, a particle beam emitter. Like most beam weapons, he'd advised, it would be extremely useful against pretty much all manner of armor and shielding. Unfortunately, I hadn't had the chance to field test it yet. No time like the present, I thought darkly as I flexed my fingers around its oddly shaped grip.
"Legion, are you able to target the Colossus?"
"You know its weak spots—work on those. Garrus, I need you to move up as quick as you can—stay out of the sun, stay in cover. Legion and I will work to draw its attention. Open up on it when you have a clear shot."
From where I knelt, I could see across the yard and watched as Garrus eased out from behind the concrete wall and headed swiftly down the ramp to the ground level, clinging to the shadows as he ran. Legion began firing with the Widow, the shots near deafening as they resounded around the yard. The Colossus switched targets, honing in on Legion with its secondaries, intermingling the rapid fire with that of its main cannon. My comrade geth ducked under cover, and I rose up on my knees to begin my own attack. The particle beam fired smoothly, with no kick and with extreme precision. I focused my attack on the segmented joint of its hindmost legs and was surprised at how quickly I cut through its shields. The Colossus shifted its attention back to me and I ducked back down as energy rounds bit into the stone wall behind me.
Legion took up where I'd left off, firing three rounds in quick succession. I heard a grinding screech followed by the noise of metal buckling beneath pressure and I knew that we'd collectively managed to cripple the Colossus.
"It will enter repair mode," Legion warned over the comm.
"Garrus?" I questioned.
"On it," came the response, words punctuated by fast breathing.
I heard the sound of a rocket being fired and twisted around to peer over the metal panel. The Colossus had tipped and was braced at an awkward angle, having lost one of its four legs. Its massive head had swivelled to seek Garrus, who was by now out of sight somewhere within the maze-like arrangement of shipping crates and old machines. With the particle beam I aimed for the joint of the leg nearest me and fired; I heard Legion do the same a heartbeat later.
Caught between three enemies in different locations, the Colossus was unable to effectively focus its fire. It jerkily re-adjusted its aim at intervals in an attempt to suppress us all. It lost another leg and toppled even further, its heavy, oblong shaped torso sliding with an ear-piercing shriek across the rough concrete of the ground. Even as it fell Garrus slid out from cover and fired twice with the launcher. Sensing the imminent victory and impatient to get to that point, I refused to lower myself into cover when next the Colossus' head swung my way, instead directing the beam of my weapon directly into its singular, glowing maw.
Its pulse cannon fired twice. Even as I threw myself backwards, the Colossus' head exploded under the dual impact of Garrus' rockets and Legion's bullets. Unfortunately for me, the part of the catwalk upon which I knelt had been significantly weakened by earlier weapons fire and the final two bursts from the cannon were all that was needed to finally sever the metal struts attached to the concrete of the wall. The catwalk groaned, shuddered, and suddenly I was sliding downwards at an extreme angle with steady, dangerous acceleration.
Crates and assorted pieces of ancient quarian junk raced past me to land in a cluttered heap at the point where the edge of the fallen catwalk met the ground. I was headed directly for that pile and there was no escaping it; my fingers as they scrabbled at the grate of the catwalk found no purchase. Desperately, I tried to tuck in upon myself, throwing my arms up and around my head as I braced for impact.
I hit a mound of broken shipping crates shoulder-first and cried out as pain lanced through me. I had no time for any other reaction, for the remainder of what had been on the catwalk with me was tumbling my way; I tightened into as small a ball I could manage and shouted as more crates, mixed with fuel barrels and thin slabs of metal, crashed down all around me.
Garrus' voice. It was dark all around me, though my haphazard prison had cracks aplenty with which to allow thin streams of sunlight entrance. I moved hesitantly and froze as the pile of objects around me creaked alarmingly. I was in pain, yes, but it was a winded, bruised kind of pain and I was fairly certain nothing was broken. Kinetic barriers were good for more than just stopping bullets, after all. Garrus shouted my name again and it was nearly deafening through the earpiece.
"I'm alright," I said, hazarding moving my legs. They brushed against a piece of the collapsed grating, which trembled in a way that suggested it might fall inwards. I stopped moving and tried to look around as best I could, which didn't accomplish much, given I could only move my neck less than a quarter turn in either direction. "Going to need help getting out of this, though," I added.
I heard the turian and the geth outside the confines of my jail minutes later. Harsh clanging sounds echoed around me as they wrestled with the objects that had me imprisoned. It wasn't long before I was exposed to full sunlight, and, squinting, was able to make out their forms as they stood silhouetted above me. Legion got to me first, reaching down with his hand extended. I clasped it, and he hauled me to my feet.
"Thanks," I told him, taking a shaky step out of the mess, followed by the two of them as I made my way to the shade provided by a large overhang. I halted in my tracks, however, remembering the particle beam I'd lost at some point during my tumble. I half-turned to go back for it when I saw that Garrus had it in his hands. With a nod, he handed it back to me.
"Thanks," I said again. I resumed my path, stopping for a moment to stare at the collapsed heap that had been the formidable Colossus. Moving past it, I made my way to a concrete ramp that led up to a single metal door set into the rock of the wall. The lock indicator was red, and I knew that past that barrier we would find Tali.
Legion had already stepped past me, moving up to the door and beginning to work at a circuit bypass. I watched him work, glancing at Garrus as he fell in beside me.
"That was close," he said, his eyes also on our teammate.
"It usually is, Garrus."
"You," he said, turning to face me fully, "need to be more careful. If anything had happened to you, I would have had to gone back to being Commander. I'm not very good at it."
I snorted. "And you would have had to gone back to reading Fornax for your kicks—"
I stopped speaking, mortified at what I'd just said, feeling a flush invading my face that was so potent the roots of my hair felt as though they were burning. Garrus burst out laughing. I looked at Legion, knowing that he would have heard my words over the comm, but the geth was still intent on bypassing the lock circuits. Since Garrus and I had become lovers—since that fact had become known to most the Normandy's crew—different members of my team had approached me in one way or another in order to express to me their well-wishes, their misgivings, or in Grunt's case, their blunt evaluation of just how turians would fail at being adequate mates. Legion had done none of those, for which I was extremely grateful.
"Fornax doesn't have much in the way of human females," Garrus said between chuckles, his grin as wide and genuine as I'd ever seen it.
"Shut up." I snapped, and my tone would have been authoritative if not for the way it wavered from my own suppressed laughter. Unable to keep the smile off my face, I made my way up the ramp to reach Legion. The lock indicator turned green just as I neared and Legion made to enter immediately, but I caught him by the arm with a shake of my head.
"Tali's quarian," I said, "I don't think she'll react favorably if you're the first thing she sees."
The geth considered this for a moment, the flaps around his oculus moving in staggered counterpoint to each other. "We do not wish to harm Creator Tali'Zorah."
"I know that, but I guarantee her first instinct will be to shoot you, regardless of whether I'm there or not. Let me talk to her. "
Dipping his head, he moved aside in order to let me pass. I took a deep breath, steeling myself. Facing the Colossus had been one thing. Convincing Tali to work with Legion would be a trial all on its own.