Chapter One: Prologue: One More Time
"Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter."
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
OCTOBER 17TH, 2000
TEMPERATURE: FIVE DEGREES BELOW FREEZING
"Well?" Major General Adam Waters, USMC Force Recon stamped his feet in the elevated guard tower. "It's been four hours Colonel. Your man clearly isn't coming. Can't say I blame him. We've got half a battalion of the 82nd out there searching for him, plus the snake eaters I brought along."
The other three flag officers nodded their agreement. General Karol Padaruski, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Rear Admiral Solomon Vance, Operations Advisor to the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff and Major General Liam Kort, Special Advisor on Military Affairs to the President of the United States.
Colonel Abraham Lenau smiled. The Commanding Officer of the 7th SFG, United States Special Forces, had a well earned reputation as a gambler. It was grumbled that his Vietnam officer's commission had been awarded to stop him from taking money away from the other NCOs in his unit.
"Give him a few more minutes General," the lean officer finally spoke. "He'll surprise you."
"Surprise me? Hell, I couldn't have stayed invisible for this long," Waters grumbled. "And I spent my time in the boonies Colonel."
"Which will just make it all the more impressive when he succeeds," Lenau propped his arms on the edge of the wooden structure, staring into the valley, where the paratroopers searched through the scrub with torches attached to their M-16A4 rifles.
"Five more minutes," General Waters warned Lenau. "And that's only because you got my boy out of..."
"Agreed," Lenau broke the marine off. Lieutenant Sam Waters, US Navy, had been ordered to fly a long range stealth and reconnaissance plane in a place that it wasn't supposed to be. He had been shot down, and Lenau had personally led the team that pulled the young flyer out of danger. General Waters had proclaimed his undying gratitude to Lenau's Green Berets ever since.
"Well, I'm not sticking around any longer," Samantha 'Sam' McInery ground out her cigarette impatiently. The female CIA analyst was as used to pulling late nights as the soldiers in the watchtower. But unlike them, she did it with a tall pot of coffee, an unlimited supply of cigarettes, and doing useful analysis. Not hanging around with a bunch of soldiers past their prime, watching a bunch of eager kids prod around in the bush. "Your man's probably back in his barracks, fast asleep by now."
"No ma'am," Colonel Lenau replied impassively. "His bunkmates have orders to shoot him if he steps through the door."
"Then he's holed up with some lonely Army wife over in the married personnel quarters," Sam reached for her cigarette case and was disgusted to find it empty. "Either way, he's clearly abandoned the operations area. My reports...fuck. Does anyone have a cigarette?"
One of the figures in the watchtower stepped forward to pass her a cigarette, then obliging flipped open a silver lighter and allowed her to dip the tip into the flame. "Sorry, only have low tar content," the soldier apologised. "The full strength's are bad for the lungs."
"It's fine," Sam drew a deep breath through the cigarette. She frowned, the man wasn't one of the 82nd troopers acting as guards on the outpost. "Where did you come from?"
"Where did I come from?" the soldier sounded offended. "I've been standing here for five hours, waiting for you to notice me."
Waters snatched a torch from one of the guards, and shone it on the grinning face of Captain Robert Toland, United States Army Green Beret. Dressed in nothing but a standard set of woodland camouflage fatigues and some face paint, his expression resembled that of a cat that had successfully stolen a litre of cream.
"How the hell did you get up here?" The Marine demanded.
"Well I spent about an hour sneaking around your boys," Toland gave a courteous nod to General Padaruski. "Then one of your Force Recon Boys came within a few inches of nabbing me, so I decided to come up here. Incidentally Admiral Vance, I wouldn't recommend skiing in Colorado this year, Alaska's a better choice, thicker snow."
"I'll pass that on to my wife," the dark skinned Admiral had to contain his laughter. "Very imaginative Captain. Haven't even seen SEAL's perform that well. I'm convinced. How about you Liam?"
"President Bush is gonna want to knight this guy with the report I'll be giving him," Major General Kort slapped Toland on the back.
"Unanimous," Sam nodded approvingly, her previous comments forgotten. "Just the man for the job."
"Glad you agree," Lenau turned back to Toland. "That will be all Captain. Report to the briefing room tomorrow."
"Could I ask...?"
"Tomorrow Captain!" Lenau used the tone he might adopt with a petulant child. Toland shrugged and moved toward the ladder.
"We're not at liberty to say Captain," General Waters lit up a cigar. "But one thing I can tell you. Some Colombian drug cartels are going to discover just how much of a pain in the ass you are, through personal experience."
HEADQUARTERS OF TRIUNE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRIES
The yahg charged after the krogan with a feral scream, brandishing a primitive spear. The krogan ducked underneath the first thrust, grappling with his foe. The yahg's mouth opened into a gaping maw, roaring at his prey, hungry for his flesh. The krogan stared back, his expression almost thoughtful. Then he drew back his head and brought it crashing into the face of the yahg.
The massive carnivore staggered back, one of his eyes bruised, teeth dropping out of his mouth. He swung back around, meaning to finally crush his foe, only to find the krogan standing in front of him, spear in hand.
"A good fight!" the krogan panted, then jabbed forward, impaling the massive alien the full length of the wooden instrument. The yahg screamed again, drawing back his claws, trying to cut the krogan open with the razor sharp instruments. The krogan backed away, then retrieved his shotgun from the ground. "A good fight."
The sound of the shotgun's blast echoed through the rocky gorge. Wiping blood away from his face, the krogan turned away from his kill. "This is Wrex; send the shuttle to pick me up."
The studio audience erupted into cheers. A mixed collection of species, they were the idle young and rich of Ilium, piles of money already made and stored for them. And what better place to start an evening out than attending the season finale of the most popular show in Citadel space, 'Even Chance'. The premise was behind the show was that a hunter or team of hunters were landed onto the world of a non-spacefaring species, and then pursued and killed a selected target. The targets were always selected for their lethality, in this case, an Alpha Yahg.
"And there you have it folks," Keira Triune stepped in front of the cameras. "Even the raw strength and savagery of the yahg prove to be no match for the skill of Urdnot Wrex, currently our top ranked hunter. We'll be back in two months time, for the premier of Season Two of Even Chance, where the lives of our participants are in their own hands. I'm Keira Triune, saying, goodnight Ilium and see you again soon."
Waving at her audience, Keira bounced off the stage, to be greeted by her smiling salarian secretary.
"You were wonderful tonight Miss Triune," Besli presented her boss with a dressing gown. The elegant asari draped it across her shoulders and gave Besli a teasing grin that sent shivers down her spine. Keira believed in being a good boss. Certainly Besli was a sweet young thing, always had the reports done on time and had her schedule perfectly synchronised.
"I was wasn't I?" Keira walked toward her private elevator. "Honestly Besli, my job's just too easy. Just take an idea, expand on it, find some investors and watch the profits roll in. Has he arrived yet?"
"He's up in your stateroom. I had a fresh change of clothes, some armour and refreshments sent up to him," Besli told her proudly. "Just as you instructed."
"I don't know what I'd do without you," the asari gave the secretary a peck on the cheek. "You've definitely earned your bonus this year."
"Hmph!" Chief Detective Romus Vakarian snorted as he leaned forward and flipped off the display screen. "Even chance? Those poor bastards that get hunted never have a chance. It's murder, and I could prove that in any court of law!"
"Now dear, remember what the doctor said about your blood pressure," his wife, Chali Vakarian soothed him. "No use getting upset over it."
"Yahg, Chrithi, Wsev, the list goes on," Romus grumbled, going to the balcony of his modest apartment. "All uninitiated species, all of them completely oblivious as to what's happening when a bunch of bloodthirsty krogan suddenly appear on their tails."
"You could go to the Executor? Ask him to speak with the Council?" Chali suggested as she washed the plates from dinner.
"Perhaps," Romus had calmed down. "I'll speak with him about it tomorrow. That...that asari! Has to be violating some of the Council's laws."
BACHELOR OFFICER'S QUARTERS
FORT BRAG, NORTH CAROLINA
"Hey Kerry," Bob Toland spoke wearily into the phone. "How's my little girl doing?"
"She misses her father," his sister's voice had a distinct reprimanding tone in it. "You were supposed to be coming home for a while after that exercise in Canada. How long is it going to be this time?"
"I've got no idea," Bob confessed truthfully. "We've been ordered into isolation. This is the last phone call I can make for a while. The mission's top secret. I promise, I'll be taking all that leave I've got saved up. Six months, with me having nothing to do but spend time with Beth."
"Bob!" he privately winced. He was the soldier, but even he bowed to the authority of his big sister. "She's six years old. These are her formative years. She barely remembers what you look like, and I haven't even got the courage to ask her if she remembers her mother!"
Toland's grip on the phone handle tightened. Both ends of the phone line were silent. Finally Kerry spoke again. "Bob...I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. But that car crash only left her with one parent. And that little girl deserves to have that parent around at all times."
"I know that, I just..." he had no excuses, they both knew it. "Just tell my baby girl that I love her. Give her a big hug and a kiss for me. I'll be home in a few months, I promise."
"OK then Bob," his sister suddenly sounded as tired as he was. "Go save the world little brother. Just don't forget your own."
"Wrex! Darling!" Triune flung her arms around the burly krogan. He chuckled at her display of affection. "I trust that nasty yahg didn't rough you up too badly?"
"Barely scratched me," he returned her embrace gently. "He fought well."
"So I saw," Keira broke off the hug and sauntered to the trays of delicacies lying on the main table of her luxurious living quarters. Snatching a knife off the table, she flung it at him. "Think fast!"
Wrex caught the knife in midair. This little asari was exactly his kind of woman. So delightfully vicious when the mood struck her, but so unassumingly naive about everything else. Almost like Aleena in her own way. "Would you kill me before my dinner woman?"
"How thoughtless of me," Keira giggled. "And I'm sure you were looking forward to desert as well?"
"If you expect me to make a remark about how the desert looks delicious, you've mistaken me for a turian trying to impress the Consort," Wrex gave a bark of laughter. "Have you picked a new target for the next season of your show?"
"All in good time darling," Keira cooed as she strutted toward the bedroom, undoing the clasp around her neck as she walked. "In the meantime, how about you let me take some time to soothe your aches."
Wrex smiled again as the dress slid from her smooth body. This might just be the greatest job of his life. Certainly, the perks weren't bad.
Bob relaxed into the bed, making sure that his M1911 A1 Colt .45 was primed, safed and ready on his bedside table. Only idiots slept with the gun under their pillow. If you had a bad dream, your finger could tense on the trigger and you'd blow your own face off.
His mind turned back to the previous day. When he had started...then stopped packing for his trip back to his sister's house in California.
"Bob, you've been in the line for a while now," Colonel Lenau sounded dubious. "You should get back to Beth. You don't need to do this mission."
"Come on sir," Bob pleaded. "I'm the best one for this mission. I can handle it. Just one more time out sir. I'm good for one more time before I need a break."
Toland twisted onto his side, trying to silence his conscience. "I promise Beth, I'll make it up to you," he murmured into his pillow.
Just one more time. He needed to feel that adrenaline pulsing through his veins as bullets whistled past him, and the satisfaction as his own shots took down his targets. Just one more time.
A/N: I know that some people are not big fans of my Ashley story. As such, I'm doing this on the side to satisfy your cravings. Here's something you need to take into account for this story: Mass Effect never was, and never will be a video game in this universe.
To tell the truth, I debated doing this as a Self Insert. But then I decided that before I even consider doing a story with me as a central character, I need to do basic training first. So any SI fics on my end are going to wait until next year. To the best of my knowledge, I think someone did a fic based around Shepard fighting for survival in a game show, but I don't think I'm copying any intellectual property here.
Romus Vakarian is Garrus's great grandfather. And why did I choose Wrex to be the hunter? Who else could I have used?