Sound the clarion
"I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals.."
-Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
In Maverick's not so humble opinion, they were all crazy. Boon, Carver, Sakino, and herself. All of them. Batshit nuts, without a doubt. They'd done some insane things while under Shepard's command, but this? If she were honest with herself, it sounded like something Shepard might have swept them up into, if the reason were good enough, but that was just it- Shepard hadn't been the one to come up with this bucket of insanity. Oh no, that had been Anderson. Admiral Fucking Anderson. Maverick had always known he and Shepard were tight -father and daughter tight, even- but this?
Insane. Mental. Certifiable.
"Creepy…" Boon murmured through their closed comm link. The angle of his helmet told her he was talking about the contorted blue corpse -human- frozen in the act of clawing at a closed door.
That too, she thought to herself.
"So," she said into the wary silence. "Anyone thought that this guy might be leading us, I don't know, somewhere other than to Shepard?"
"He knew your name, Mav."
Damn Sakino, always with the logic.
"Doesn't mean he's taking us to the Commander."
"Doesn't mean he isn't."
"Quiet, both of you," Carver cut in. He was watching the alien, who had stopped at a doorway and was looking at them intently. They waited, watching him. Without needing to be told, Maverick and Boon turned sideways and aimed their weapons down the corridor, watching for threats. Carver and Sakino kept theirs trained on the turian.
He pointed at the door, and started to speak, slowly so as to let the translator VI pick up what it could. Only a handful of terms were spat out, garbled but intelligible.
"Sounds like there's more of them on the other side," Maverick guessed. "People he doesn't want us to hurt."
"People he wants us to promise not to hurt," Boon corrected, sounding dire. "He said 'keito' and 'riten.' 'Vow' and 'children.'"
Maverick sent him a sharp look, which he wouldn't see through the polarization of her visor. "Since when are you an expert on turian languages?"
"Since Anderson gave us our mission."
"That was less than twelve hours ago."
Boon ignored her. Carver tapped out a response into the VI interface, rather than speaking.
"What are you telling him?" Boon asked.
"That if there really are any children, they won't be harmed." Carver turned his head towards them. "That's an order."
Maverick scoffed. "No shit." She gestured with her weapon. "Let's go, already!"
Carver finished his entry, and projected it. Modulated words, lacking a true turian's dual toned vocals, echoed in the quiet corridor. The alien nodded, turned, and keyed open the door with visible tension and apprehension in his movements that even the humans could recognize. When it had cycled open, he stepped through, and Shepard's squad moved to follow.
This was going to be bad, no way around it as Garrus saw it. Definitely one of the more tense moments of his life- Shepard's people behind him, his father and nephew ahead. He'd spent the walk back here thinking on how to handle it, how to make every second count, stretching his tactical abilities to their limit. In a few moments, perhaps less, Vakarian senior would spot the humans holding weapons to his son's back and for once Garrus hoped his father would hold his stoic, analytical way of handling unusual situations. The seconds bought by his father's way of thinking before acting might buy Garrus the time he needed to keep everyone from killing each other.
"Hold it!" Garrus snapped as soon as Nomos spotted him, gesturing for him to maintain his position when he spotted the armed unit. "Don't do anything stupid!" The words had been chosen carefully, despite what he knew his father would think. The accusation of stupidity made his father look at him for a moment, then back to the humans, that extra time allowing Garrus to move, to tackle his father to the ground just as the elder Vakarian began to raise the rifle he held. Garrus' shoulder hit him in the chest, and then everything seemed to happen at once, everyone on the balcony erupting into a flurry of movement. Norius raised the pistol, Lornas shrieked and back pedaled away from everyone, the human squad moved to surround Shepard's prone form, and across the expanse of the chamber, something roared.
The roar made them all freeze. Garrus pulled himself up off his father, who rightened himself just as one of the humans switched off the polarization in its -his?- visor, and met Garrus' gaze squarely.
The thing roared again, and somehow an understanding was reached between turian and human. Garrus looked to his father, who'd witnessed the exchange. He gave a terse nod of reluctant agreement to the silent accord.
The human male gave instructive hand gestures to the others, all but the one who had knelt beside Shepard. On other side of the group of humans, Lornas was visible holding herself still from bolting, while Norius stood, uncertainly, clearly unsure whether to turn to the new threat or keep his pistol on the humans.
"Norius," Garrus said, voice calm but firm. Norius hesitated, then came around to stand beside his uncle and grandfather. Lornas scrambled after him.
"Sakino?" the human male with the visible face spoke to the kneeling one, who was taking Shepard's vitals.
"She's fine, just unconscious," Garrus told them. The VI sputtered the translation, and the one called Sakino nodded.
"Permanent-sleep?" another asked. Garrus assumed that to be the mangled interpretation of 'coma.'
Any forthcoming answer was interrupted by another howl, and the faint sound of scraping echoing down the hall on the far end of the chamber.
"We need to get out of here," Nomos said harshly. "We don't have enough munitions to last through another wave." Garrus eyed the humans' weapons in vain- the configuration of their ammo clips weren't compatible with turian tech. A shame.
"Agreed," said the human male. He took one solid step towards Garrus, holding his weapon nonthreateningly to the side. He gestured to himself with his other hand. "Carver." He then held out the hand.
Garrus felt his father tense beside him, but the veteran said nothing. Even he understood the benefits of joining forces, given the situation. Garrus took it upon himself to answer the human's call for peace.
"Vakarian," he said, waving his hand at himself, then also holding it out. As he expected, the human took it, shook it up then down once, firmly, then let go. They both stood back.
Carver turned to his squad, and said something to Sakino that neither Garrus nor the VI caught. Sakino removed something from a pouch at his thigh, something long and cylindrical. He popped a slender cap from one end, revealing a long, thick needle.
"Hold her," Sakino ordered. The female human -Maverick- slung her weapon behind her on its strap and knelt, holding Shepard down by her shoulders. She nodded to Sakino, and then Garrus had only a moment for the alarm he felt before Sakino raised the needle, and plunged it down, directly into Shepard's heart, with enough force to make the impact sharply audible. Shepard's eyes flew open, and her scream mingled with the sudden gale of howls that echoed across the cavern.
Shepard's world was being shredded. Somehow, she'd begun to understand. Somehow, she'd been given the ability to hold, assimilate, consume the information that had been forced upon her. The miracle of the human mind had begun to unravel it all, to make sense of it in ways she could utilize.
But all of that was being undone. Somehow. She wasn't sure how, but all of the understanding and planning she had compiled was being...disintegrated. Like clay washed out of a mold before having the chance to set.
It didn't matter how, or why. What mattered was that she had to retain as much as she could. She had to warn them all.
She had to remember.
"Come on, Shepard, come on!"
Images and sounds, memories and fleeting impressions, it all swirled at the forefront of her mind, even as the waking world hauled her sharply into its embrace. She had to remember…
If it hadn't been that her mind had just been mired in too much information, too much sensory input from whatever it was that had invaded her head, she would have been swimming in confusion as she came suddenly, painfully awake. As it was, reality proved to be a downgrade in information level. She knew she was still in the cavern, but in a different spot. She knew that her squad was around her, Maverick holding her down, Sakino leaning over her with a spent needle full of a special cocktail called 'Satan's Kick' by those who'd been unfortunate to experience it. This was the third time it had been used on her, which helped her cope- she knew what to expect, and braced herself.
The mix of drugs, including a large dose of concentrated adrenaline, speared its way through her system. Her major organs lurched into overdrive, her fight or flight instincts honed to painful impulses as she flailed, unable to stop herself, against Maverick's hold. A wordless cry made its way past her lips, interrupted only by deep gasps for oxygen. She fought against her body's programed response to the drugs, wrestling them back down under her control. When her flailing and gasping had slowed, Maverick released her shoulders.
Shepard sprang to her feet, pacing a short distance as electricity raced up and down her limbs. Her over-aware mind made notes of the presence of others, their locations in relation to hers, their armaments.
The rising squall of shrieks, howls, rumbles- the sound of an advancing horde. The realization and acknowledgement pushed the churning memories of nightmarish visions sharply aside. Later- she could analyze it all laterk herself, realized she was gripping the metL railing that kept her from plummeting down onto the cavern floor. She was staring at the smoking remnants of the Prothean relic she's been near when...
Well, that answered the 'how.' She'd figure out the why later. As if to punctuate that decision, another soulless roar filled the room.
She rounded on Carver. "Tell me you have a way out of here." He grinned.
"Then let's go!" She moved away from the railing and scooped up her pack, fighting the nausea that was forcing bile up the back of her throat. Sweat was beginning to make her skin gleam. As she rose from retrieving her -lighter- pack, she met a pair of blue turian eyes.
"We'll talk about the mustang later," she told Norius, in clear turian words. The youth gave her a sudden sharp-toothed grin. Behind him, she saw the two older turians exchange looks. Nomos and Garrus. Neither of whom she wanted to deal with, even if the situation had been ideal.
Boon handed her one of his sidearms, and they retreated back through the open door just as a dozen of blue, partially armored turian thralls came lumbering through the maze of crates in the room below the balcony. Once they were all through, Garrus shut the door and sealed it with a jab of a familiar knife through the control box. Without the box to signal and control the pressurized gears, it would take a coordinated effort -and time- to pry it open.
They moved quick, the armed humans in front, Shepard and the youths in the middle, the turians bringing up the rear. They came across no resistance, and eventually stopped at a hole in one of the stone walls that looked to have been recently made. Carver led them through, and on the other side was a stone shaft leading sharply upwards. They wasted no time in scrambling upwards.
The drugs in Shepard's system did their job. Experience told her she was injured, exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, but she felt no pain, no fatigue, nothing but nausea and the drive to move. Her subconscious told her that there were more important things, things that would need to be addressed as soon as she wasn't in immediate danger for her life. But that was later. Now was running, now was hoping she didn't crash until they were all out of the danger zone, now was not letting herself realize fully that she was alive, that the Vakarians -and an extra tagalong she didn't recognize- were running alongside her. Now was her squad, here, on Palaven. Rescuing her.
She decided she liked now.
There was no poetic emerging into sunlight, at the top of the shaft. They figured that out when their feet first hit the rivulets of water, and heard the thunderous storm raging even before they finally reached the exit. The world above was awash in another famous Palaven thunderstorm.
"Time?" Carver asked, raising his polarized visor against the radiation. He activated his external speakers for Shepard's benefit.
"Twenty," Boon responded tersely. Shepard felt her gut wrench in a way that had nothing to do with her nausea. Twenty minutes to reach their evac point. If it was the same point she'd been given earlier, then there wasn't much of a chance they'd make it, not from the ruins.
Not on foot.
"Norius." She rounded on the youth, and for the first time in her team's presence she spoke in turian; none of the turians wore omnitools. "I said we'd talk about the mustang later. It's later. Where did you park it?"
Norius looked around, clearly trying to get his bearings in the downpour. The clearing they'd emerged in was not the same one that had held the crumbling temple and their original entrance. Glancing up, he spotted a gap in the tree canopy that showed him the faint glow Menae, only barely visible through the cloud cover.
He focused on the moon, clearly recalling his lessons on navigation.
"If we're west of the temple, then that way. If we're east, then-"
"The other way." She swapped languages. "Carver? Happen to know our location in relation to a big stone temple in desperate need of a remodel?" At her request, Carver pulled up his own nav system. Shepard ignored the warmth of sheer satisfaction at once again being in charge, with people she trusted, adrenaline - both natural and drug induced- tuning her senses to max.
"That way, almost a full klick. It's also the same direction as our evac point."
A stroke of luck. Those were unusual enough in Shepard's life to make her wary. Well, more wary.
"Care to share what's going on, Shepard?" The question, spoken in the turian language, was phrased with excruciatingly careful neutrality, with only the slightest emphasis on her name. A lesser woman would have winced.
Shepard turned to Garrus, fully aware if their size difference as she noted how close he'd come.
"Our extraction point is too far to reach on foot in time. The vehicle I took is by the side of the road, even further than the aircar Norius drove. Even if it wasn't, that thing can't traverse terrain like this." She gestured to their surroundings. "We book it to the aircar, and get off this planet before the Spectre or the escapees or anything else notifies unfriendly individuals to our presence."
He only blinked, but she thought she recognized the look of someone looking for a flaw and not finding one.
"Commander. Eighteen minutes."
Shepard broke off the budding staring contest and turned away.
"Let's move!" She barked, hoisting her pack higher on her shoulders and checking her pistol. She called over her shoulder, "There's safety in numbers- keep up if you can!"
She didn't look back again, but she heard the sounds of four individuals crashing through the foliage behind her and her team, and smiled grimly despite all else. She had expected to be torn on whether or not to risk slowing down for Norius and the female, but it proved to be a nonissue as even the shorter legged turians kept up easily.
Predator race, Shepard reminded herself, and kept going.
They reached the sky car with seven minutes to spare, all of them huffing. Shepard felt the drugs in her system begin to fade, the pain in her side, chest, shoulder and most of all her head, all beginning to demand her attention. She ignored them all, focusing on her surroundings. They'd passed through the clearing with the temple entrance, careful and watchful of anymore shamblers, and she knew precisely where she was now.
Rain pelted all of them as Shepard keyed in the access codes, then turned to the turians while her squad piled in. "You know how to get to the red ground vehicle from here?" She waited until she saw gestures of understanding from Norius before responding to Carver's call of, "Six minutes, Shepard!"
She backed away from the turians, one of her many unimportant background thoughts suddenly seizing a moment of her focus- this was, very possibly, the last time she 'd see any member of the Vakarian family, good or bad. She thought of Gabias, Solana, Meda, and was mildly surprised at herself for feeling regret.
She didn't have time to dwell or analyze. She looked at Norius and said, "Keep your brother out of trouble, and don't you ever scare your mother like this again. Next time I won't be around to pull you and your uncle and grandfather out of the fire."
"But-" Norius tried to take a step towards her, but was stopped by one of Garrus' hands on his shoulder, and the fact that Shepard had turned away and climbed into the aircar. She rapped her fist on the hood as she did so, and the vehicle rose into the air.
She made herself look at Garrus, and their eyes locked. She kept her gaze steady- she owed him that. When they were about to clear the top of the trees, she slid the door to the aircar shut.
She didn't blink once, and neither had he.
It was Lornas who spoke first, after the hum of the retreating aircar faded.
"Did the human speak-"
"Yeah, she did," Garrus cut her off. Another pause. This time Norius ended it.
"Did she say 'spectre?'"
Nomos and his son exchanged glances. They hadn't missed that part, either. Had Shepard run into Saren Arterius? How? Had Saren told her of their location? Or had he not even spotted the human? Once, Garrus would have said it unlikely someone would have gone unnoticed by the famous Spectre Arterius, but then again that would have been before that someone had gone unnoticed in his own home.
Well, perhaps not entirely unnoticed… Just not recognized for what she was.
"It does not matter," Nomos declared. "I think it high time we vacate this Spirits-forsaken place." He placed a heavy hand on Norius' shoulder. "We shall have a lengthy talk when we are home, you and I."
"And I bet your mom will have a few words for you, too." Garrus added.
"After today? She can shout all she wants and I won't even want to shout back." Norius sounded fervent, and Garrus chuckled lightly despite everything.
They followed Shepard's directions, and found the ground vehicle with a branch fallen across the back end, though thankfully the damage was not bad enough to affect its drivability. They got the thing on the road and headed for home
The silence in the aircar was deafening. The sounds of the storm outside was dulled by the thick materials separating the passengers from the wind and rain, so that that the sudden calm and quiet made Shepard's ears ring. She knew they'd make the evac point in time. Barely, but they would. The abrupt lack of 'running for her life' let all the other ailments she'd been suppressing seem all the more loud, suddenly, and she let herself press her hands to the side of her head and lean her elbows on her knees, eyes shut against the dim interior lighting.
"Hold it together, Shep," Boon told her. They all still had their helmets one, visors in place. Habit. Letting down even one piece of your guard could mean an errant bullet through the skull. She felt suddenly naked, as she hadn't felt in all her time on Palaven, without her hardsuit.
"Holding just fine, Boon." She managed to crack a grin. "So, what are you all planning on doing with your lives once the brass has had your asses on court benches? You can't tell me this rescue was sanctioned." She didn't mention the communique from Anderson, since it hadn't mentioned anything about a rescue team.
"Let's just say you owe Anderson a drink," Carver said from the pilot's seat.
So, this had been part of his extraction. She'd hoped he'd just bring himself to get her off planet, and while she was grateful for the extraction she couldn't help but feel a twinge of annoyance at the man for endangering them all. They weren't even off the planet yet. They could all still end up dead, or in turian prisons -no quellen status for them now!
"Commander." Boon's serious tone pulled her out of her silently building irritation. "We've got a problem." He was tapping furiously at his omnitool interface. "Anderson says there's a projectile heading for the ruins. Specs say it's a missile. A big one."
"How big?" She asked automatically. Boon tilted his arm so she could see for herself, and she swore. Colorfully.
"Step on it, Carver!" She said, gritting her teeth. Their time to reach Anderson was just that much more narrow, now- their evac point was inside the fallout radius for that nuke. Who had sent it? And why?
The answer hit her like the proverbial ton of bricks.
Saren Arterius. The Spectre. She didn't know how she knew, but she knew. Saren was cleaning up the mess left behind by whoever had built that place and created the blue thralls, and he was doing it in typical Spectre fashion- loudly and without leaving any evidence behind of what it was that had needed eradicating in the first place. Typical turian-
Shepard's hands clenched where they'd fallen from her head.
"Turn around," she said. Carver looked at her sharply- they all did. "Turn around! Set the scanners to look for specs matching an old earth ground vehicle leaving the area of the ruins, and tell Anderson to get out of range of that missile."
"If we won't be able to escape the blast in an aircar, they sure as hell won't be able to outrun it in a fucking mustang! Now turn around!"
Carver complied, but the others continued to stare. Maverick lowered her visor, looking incredulous.
"I'll ask about the mustang part later. For now- for turians, Shep?"
"Two of them were kids, Mav."
Shepard didn't respond, just fixed her subordinate with a level stare. Maverick went on.
"And what if we can't escape after we pick them up? Can this thing even carry four more?"
"It can, though not comfortably, and someone would have to ride on the roof," Sakino volunteered, sounding oddly calm considering.
"We're not leaving kids, Maverick." Shepard's voice was low and intent.
A pause. Then, "Understood, Commander."
Shepard's headache built behind her eyes, but she continued to ignore it. Apparently, she wasn't done rescuing the Vakarians today.
I'm not dead! I promise! Not gonna give you the typical sob story excuse/explanation about life and whatnot, you've all read/heard it before.
And in case the way I left off this chapter didn't make it obvious, we're not done yet. At least one more chapter to go, probably an epilogue. For the few of you that noticed (almost a year ago...), I fixed the mix up about Shep taking the mustang to the ruins- Norius took the mustang, Shep took the aircar. I think when I wrote that chapter I worked off an old version of that scene that I had written out way in the beginning, and just didn't catch it.
Anyways, I have another story recommendation; 'Second Chances' by servantofclio. My work productivity pluuuuuumeted the day I found that fic. Pretty much hid in my office for half the day.
For those of you who stuck around...endless gratitude. Hope my work is still worth reading...haven't done a lot of writing recently, and what I had been writing was of a very different style. It was actually a bit of a challenge to switch back to the voice I used for this particular tale. And, honestly, not sure I'm a fan of it anymore, personally...
As always, comments and critique is welcome and appreciated.