Chapter 21: Boarded
2:30 PM Galactic Standard Time
Captain Welch paced across the bridge of his ship, anxious for any sign to indicate Cerberus' arrival. He'd always hated not knowing when an enemy would show themselves, but this seemed to be the most nail biting scenario he'd ever experienced. The silence became unbearable as the ship's sensors continued to scan the area to no avail. Just as Welch was about to ask Jacobs to contact Juarez's ship, she said, "Sir, we're receiving a call from Captain Jaurez."
Welch replied, "Well, that's convenient. Patch him through."
The comm system came to life as Juarez's image appeared on the screen. "Bill, your sensors picking up anything?"
"Not yet," Welch answered, "I was just about to call you about that."
"Hm, we don't even know when they're going to show up. Could be today, tomorrow, next week, even a month from now."
"I know, but we can't take chances. Have you talked to Makasani?"
"Unfortunately, yes. He called me a few minutes ago to gripe about your "guests"."
"Of course he did."
"Indeed. Well, we'll keep an eye out and let you kno-" The comm system suddenly cut Juarez off before he could finish.
Welch raised an eyebrow and said to Jacobs, "We lost connection. Hail him back."
"Aye-aye, sir. SSV Apollo, this is SSV Patillo. We lost your signal, please respond, over."
The channel remained eerily silent for a good ten seconds. "Try again."
"I repeat, SSV Apollo, this is SSV Patillo requesting immediate response, over."
Again, there was no answer from the Apollo, raising Welch's suspicions immediately. "I don't like this. Try the Saratoga."
"SSV Saratoga, this is the SSV Patillo requesting comms check, over."
The bridge fell silent in anticipation, only for the call to be unanswered yet again. "Our comms are being jammed." Welch stated, knowing that their enemy had arrived.
"Sir," Jacobs started, "I scanned the area for any jamming signals. The area's clean."
"Then why the comms breakdown?"
"Hold on...I just ran a diagnostic on our comm systems. It looks like they were shut down from the inside."
"Get on the horn with Briggs and Travis down on Deck 6 and tell them to check it out."
"Aye-aye, sir." As she made the call, Welch waved another ensign over to him. The ensign saluted and awaited orders.
"I want you to head down and make sure our guests are secure."
As the ensign entered the elevator, Jacobs looked back at the Captain, clearly concerned. "Sir, I called both of them multiple times, neither of them are answering."
"I knew it." Welch walked up to the comm station. "Is the ship-wide PA still operational?"
"Yes, sir, but some of the receivers have been cut off. Several decks may not get the message."
"It's better than nothing. Open it up."
Meanwhile, in the Mess Hall...
"I'd like to thank you for convincing me to play, Mr. Grani. Don't worry, I'll spend your credits wisely." Narala bragged as she collected the credits from the last hand while Nick grumbled to himself.
"Don't feel too bad, Nick," Telius teased, "technically your credits were hers originally anyway."
"Grrr..." Nick growled in frustration as Samantha chuckled for the first time in the last couple of days.
"Heh, thanks for the game, guys. It helped." Samantha sighed as her thoughts turned back to Nepturus.
"No problem, we all needed a chance to relax." Telius replied.
Narala placed her winnings in her pocket before noticing that Jones and Miles were no longer in the mess hall. "Hey, where'd the marines go?"
"They left a few minutes before our game. The girl wanted to go talk to one of the quarians down in the hangar bay and the guy got jealous and followed her." Nick answered, recovering from his embarrassing loss. Just then, they heard the PA system come to life and begin broadcasting a message.
"Attention all personnel. This is Captain Welch speaking. We have been boarded by a hostile force. Lock down all elevators and secure all armaments. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is NOT a drill. All non-military personnel are ordered to stay in your quarters until the danger has passed."
"What does he mean by "hostile force"?" Samantha asked nervously.
"I don't know," Telius responded, "but we need to get back to the bunks, now."
Nick nodded in agreement as he pulled out his hand cannon. "If it's any of those freaks tearing Earth apart, I've got a few choice words for them."
"Save the smart remarks until we're in a more secure place, Mr. Grani." Narala said.
Just as they were about to open the door out of the mess hall, Telius caught the subtle sounds of footsteps on the other side. "Wait. Back up." He whispered, everyone doing as he said as they waited for whoever was on the other side to make their move. Both Nick and Telius had their pistols trained on the door as Narala flared her biotics in preparation. Samantha cursed herself for not having a gun or any other weapon with which to defend herself, she hated being a damsel in distress.
Then, just as sheer silence fell upon the room, the doors hissed open loudly to reveal five or six soldiers clad in white and orange armor and an all too familiar insignia on their chests. "Cerberus! Shit!" Nick shouted as he opened fire on them almost immediately, forcing them behind cover long enough for him and the others to jump behind a table, Telius kicking it over instinctively to give them better protection.
The Cerberus troops returned fire in precision bursts, forcing their targets to stay down to avoid their fire. Nick and Telius returned fire when they could, succeeding only in forcing the invaders back into their cover. "Squad, move up!" One of the troops called out as he pushed their manpower advantage.
"Cocky little assholes, aren't they?" Nick remarked, firing on them as they pushed forward into the room, managing to hit one in the shoulder but only grazing his shields.
"Shut up and help me move the table back!" Telius ordered, grabbing one end of the table while Nick took the other. They all shuffled back while the two security guards pulled their cover back to a better position, all the while being fired upon.
"Surrender your weapons and you won't be harmed!" Another Cerberus trooper yelled out, trying to end the fight quickly with minimal hassle.
"Interesting proposal!" Nick yelled back, jumping out from cover and firing several shots at the trooper in question, knocking him off his feet. "There's our rebuttal!"
"Gah! We don't have enough clips on us to whittle their shields down. We need another plan." Telius said, doing his best to keep their foes pinned while he thought of a good strategy.
Narala, sick of feeling helpless, tapped Nick and Telius on the shoulders and said, "Cover me." Unsure of what she was going to do, they did as they were told and sent out a barrage of bullets to keep the Cerberus troops down while Narala's biotics flared up around her. Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of mass effect fields being generated popped up behind them as Samantha turned around to see every other table, chair, dish, coffee cup and utensil in the room begin to lift off of the floor and float in mid-air.
Narala grunted in effort as she fought to build up the strength for what she would do next. One of the troopers called out, "Look out! Biotics!", but was too late as Narala let out a loud yell and thrust her arms forward, sending everything she'd lifted careening toward their attackers, hitting their intended targets with devastating accuracy. Most of the troopers were sent flying into the wall behind them while the others were knocked on their backs in a daze.
Taking advantage of the situation, Nick and Telius jumped up from cover and began firing on the downed troopers, putting most of them down before they had a chance to recover. One trooper managed to get to his feet as they were forced to reload, nearly taking a shot before Telius jumped over the table and knocked his gun away with a kick. The trooper threw a punch at Telius' face, only to have it caught and twisted in the former turian soldier's expert grip, breaking his arm before having his head smashed into Telius' knee, effectively knocking him out cold and finishing him off with his pistol, ending the fight in seconds.
The skirmish having ended, Nick let out a loud laugh and walked over to Telius, "Damn! Nice work, Blasto."
Shaking off Nick's jokes, Telius said, "Don't celebrate yet, there'll be more. You alright, 'Rala?"
Narala had braced herself against the table, having expended a lot of energy using her biotics on such a large scale. "I'm fine, just...give me a minute to catch my breath."
"I haven't seen you throw a biotic fit like that since that time you nearly threw that cargo crate at me a year back." Nick quipped after taking one of the dead trooper's rifles.
Telius then checked on Samantha. "How about you, Sam? You good?"
"Give me one of those assault rifles and I will be." Samantha said as Telius took one of the guns from their downed attackers and handed it to her.
"If you need help figuring out how to work it, just-" Telius offer was interrupted by Samantha ejecting the used thermal clip and adjusting the sight on the gun with great efficiency and speed before collapsing it and extending it to show off. "-nevermind. Narala, you want one too?"
Narala shook her head. "You know I've never been good with guns. I'll stick with my biotics."
"Right. Well, I don't think heading for the crew deck is a good idea. These guys aren't screwing around."
"No kidding," Nick added, "I heard Cerberus wasn't too friendly with the Alliance, but I didn't think they'd be crazy enough to attack one of their ships. Damn terrorists."
"Think we should bunker down here, Nick?" Telius suggested.
"Nah, it's too open. We need to get to the cargo hold and get off the ship."
"And leave everyone here to die?" Samantha said.
"Hey, I hate to tell you this, but we're not in a great position to fight these guys. Besides, the Alliance boys can handle themselves."
"No, Samantha's right," Narala said sternly, "I'm sick of being useless while other people are fighting for their lives. If we can help here, we should."
Nick looked over to Telius, who nodded in agreement to Narala's statement. Sighing deeply, Nick said, "Yeah, you're right. What's our next move?"
"Just the four of us won't be able to hold out in close quarters with these guys for long." Telius stated, trying to think of a strategy. "We need to link up with the marines, but I have no idea where they'd be and we can't just go wandering the ship aimlessly."
The room fell silent for a moment, the four deep in thought, until Samantha snapped her fingers, "Wait, Palana and her husband came aboard with a squad of quarian marines. They'll all be together on the crew deck."
"Good thinking. Alright, let's take it slow heading down there. I'll take point. Nick, you take the rear. Narala, Samantha, stay between us." Telius ordered, raising his weapon as he checked the area outside of the mess hall. Signaling with his hand that the coast was clear, the other followed him down the hall.
Meanwhile, on Deck 3...
"We need to be strong, Haal. Not just for ourselves, but for the marines. They look to you for guidance and strength." Palana comforted her husband as he sat on a bunk, staring at the floor in self-pity.
"I know...but it's difficult to show fortitude when you're home is being taken to war against your will. How could Taio do this? I trusted him!" Haal answered, his fist clenching at the thought of his friend and first officer going against his wishes.
"He is doing what he feels is right."
"Yes, but that doesn't make it so. He's risking the well being of every man, woman, and child aboard the Ictomy in a doomed war against the geth. He's completely ignoring the wishes of the people under his command and forcing them into a situation they know is wrong for them. He's...he's...he's doing exactly what I've been doing with our daughter..."
As Haal placed his head in one hand, Palana wrapped her arms around him. "Sometimes, in our quest to do what we feel is right for those we love, we don't take into account what they feel is right for them. But don't think for a moment that you were being selfish. You wanted to ensure her future and her happiness. In the end, that's all that matters." Haal looked up into his wife's mask, not really smiling, but nodding in appreciation, though he didn't quite believe all of what she'd said.
Suddenly, six of the quarian marines ran into the room, guns ready, the squad leader in front. "Captain Haal, sir! The ship's been boarded. It's Cerberus!"
Caught off-guard, Haal said, "What?! Why wasn't an alarm raised?"
"The troopers infiltrated the ship and started shutting down comms. My men and I ran into some of them while we were coming back from the cargo hold."
Regaining his composure, Haal said, "Casualties?"
"Corporal Sivik'Topol was killed upon first contact. We were separated near the elevators, so I'm not sure of the rest of the squad's status, sir."
Quickly analyzing the situation, Haal came to a decision. "We're better off remaining here and fortifying our quarters. Have your men place some automated turrets outside in the hall and lockdown any entrances."
The squad leader then said, "Captain, I'd like permission to take two of my men and try to find the rest of my squad."
"No, we can't afford to lose any more of you."
"I understand, sir. We'll fortify the room and see about getting into contact with the other squad members over comms."
"Very good. Get to it."
The squad leader saluted and started passing out assignments to the others while Palana said, "I can't believe this. First the reapers, now Cerberus! It's as if the entire galaxy wants to destroy us."
"I will not allow them to harm you or any more of our men. We'll be safe here, for now."
Palana then wrapped both her arms around one of his and hugged him tightly, taking strength from his confident exterior. Haal held her close for a a while before she released him from her embrace. "I'll help the men lock down the doors."
"You don't have to-"
"Yes I do. I need to do something to help or I'll go crazy." As she went to help the marines, Haal looked out the window, taking as much solace in the endless abyss of space before the battle reached them, which he knew it would.
Meanwhile, in the Cargo Hold...
"What the hell is going on?" Private Jones asked aloud, fuming over his omni-tool. "I've tried contacting the bridge ten times now and there's still no answer."
"It is more than likely a communications breakdown." Gelek'Turen responded as he attempted to contact his own squad.
"Thanks for the professional diagnosis, Doctor Obvious."
"Give it a rest, Jeremy." Private Miles rebuked, silencing him for the moment. "This isn't right. If there was a total comms blackout, they would have activated the ship's backup landlines, but those are offline too."
Just then, some very faint static came in over Gelek's omni-tool. "Gel...eed...sitance...open...go bay...now!"
"What was that? I didn't copy. I repeat, I did not copy." Gelek attempted to get them to reiterate.
"We're comin...deck 5...open the door..."
As the transmission ended, Gelek ran over to the entrance to the cargo hold and prepared to the open the door, his weapon drawn. Miles and Jones pulled out their pistols and took positions on the other side. Gelek gave a quick nod and opened the door, both he and the two marines training their sights on the hallway as the sounds of gunfire echoed toward them. Just as Gelek was about to enter the hallway, the sound of a door hissing open around the corner heralded a barrage of gunfire ricocheting into the hallway as five quarians scrambled inside, firing behind them as the desperately attempted to seal the door they came through. One of the marines caught sight of Gelek, Miles, and Jones. "Get ready to seal the door behind us! There must be a whole platoon of them!"
"Of what?" Lucy asked as she and Gelek ran up to assist them.
"Cerberus! They're crawling all over the ship! Hurry up and get that door sealed!"
"Done!" The marine called out as they made their way back to the cargo hold, keeping their eyes trained on the hall behind them as the sound of fusion cutters tearing through the door told them that the Cerberus troops were already making short work of the door.
Once everyone was in the cargo hold, Gelek turned to Private Miles, "Lucy, help me lock down the-" Before he could finish, the lights in the cargo hold, as well as down the hall, went out, thrusting them into complete darkness.
"Oh crap, they cut the power!" Jones called out as a loud thud was heard coming from the door down the hall.
Gelek turned on his omni-tool's flashlight to illuminate the hall, revealing the Cerberus troopers taking up positions in the door ways. "There they are! Take them out!" One of the troopers ordered, starting a barrage of gunfire towards the cargo hold.
The quarian and human marines bolted for cover, doing their best to keep their foes suppressed. "If we can't seal the door, we'll just have to fight them off until help arrives." Gelek said, sending a few shots down the hall.
"IF help arrives." Jones said pessimistically.
The Cerberus troops continued to send wave after wave of bullets down the hall and into the cargo bay, one of which managed to hit one of the quarians in the leg and sent him falling to ground screaming, "I'm hit!"
"Hold on!" Gelek said to himself as he fired blindly towards their attackers to give him time to roll over to the injured quarian and pull him out of the way.
Another of the quarians shouted out, "We're running out of ammo! We need to seal this door! Now!"
Lucy darted her eyes around the darkened cargo bay, trying to think of any way possible to get power to the door. Finally, inspiration struck as she saw the quarians' ship. "I've got an idea! Gelek, does your ship have an outward power outlet?"
"Yes, why- Ms. Miles, you're brilliant!" Understanding her plan, Gelek turned to another quarian and said, "Keep these bosh'tets busy just a little longer! We have a plan!"
"Work quickly!" He replied before turning to the others, "Covering fire!"
"What the hell are you guys doing?" Jones asked Lucy before she and Gelek bolted toward the ship.
"No time! Help the quarians!"
Looking frustrated, he murmured, "Pain in the ass." He then continued his barage of gunfire down the hall, managing to kill one of the Cerberus troopers with a headshot. "You storm trooper idiots picked a bad day to screw with me!"
Gelek pulled a maintenance panel off of the side of the quarian ship while Lucy hurriedly scrounged through a cargo crate and pulled out a long cable with oddly shaped plugs on each end. Coiling it around her arm, Lucy rushed back to Gelek, who had located the power outlet, and plugged one side of the cable into the outlet while Gelek ran into the ship to activate its power supply. Lucy then ran to a panel next to the doors, nudging a quarian out of the way as she pulled it off of the wall. She plugged the other end of the cable into a receptacle in the wall and typed a code into a pad next to it. She shouted toward the quarians' ship, "Okay, Gelek. Now!"
Hearing her signal, Gelek began the power transfer, firing up the ship's emergency power cell just as the Cerberus troops began making a push toward the cargo bay. Lucy waited for several seconds for the holographic control panel to pop up next to the door, her teeth grinding in anticipation as one of the quarians shouted, "They're charging!"
Then, just as the troopers were about to reach the door, the control panel flickered to life. Lucy pressed the close command as quickly as she could, causing the doors to shut just in time, leaving the room lit by nothing more than the nearby relay. She typed in a command to activated the door's kinetic barrier to prevent the troopers from cutting through it and leaned against the wall, sighing in relief along with all the others in the room.
"Keelah, that was close!" One of the quarians exclaimed as he moved to check on his wounded comrade.
Jones wiped the sweat from his brow and walked over to Lucy saying, "You guys couldn't have done that any earlier?"
"Give it a rest, Jeremy. I didn't see you coming up with any brilliant ideas." She replied, not in the mood for Jones' attitude.
"Woah, calm down, I was just kidding. Good work."
Gelek stepped out of the ship and ran over to the injured quarian. "How is he?" He asked the medic attending him.
"Not as bad as it could have been. He suit's seals isolated the area well enough, but the bullet tore straight through the bone. He's not walking anywhere like this." The medic answered.
"Well, that's just as well. We're trapped in here until help arrives." Gelek then turned to Lucy and said, "That was quick thinking, Ms. Miles. Feeding energy from our ship's emergency outlet into the door's backup systems."
Lucy smiled and replied, "I wasn't sure if it would work, but I figured anything was worth a try."
"Okay, so we got the door locked down," Jones started, "but what do we do now?"
"We'll have to remain here until help arrives." Gelek said, no less thrilled about the idea than anyone else.
"We can't just sit here and wait for them to figure out a way past the door!"
"We don't have a choice. That door is our only way out and we can't risk opening it, so we'll have keep this room locked down until reinforcements arrive."
"And if they don't come? Then what?"
"You don't have very much faith in your fellow crew members, do you?"
"That's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying we need a backup plan if it turns out they're the ones that need our help."
"Hm," Gelek thought for a moment before turning to Lucy, "what do you think?"
"Me?" She replied. "Well...right now, I think we should try and gather up as many supplies as we can and try to figure out an alternate way out of here in case we need to leave."
"Yeah, what she said." Jones agreed.
"I agree." Gelek turned to his fellow marines and said, "Alright, we need to secure all of the useful supplies in this room and start scouting for alternate exit routes. Remember, Captain Koran is still on board somewhere, so we'll need to join back up with him and the rest of our squad sooner or later. Let's move." Acknowledging his order, the quarians spread out and started searching every container for supplies while others scouted for an escape route.
"What are we gonna do?" Jones asked.
Lucy replied, "I'm going to keep trying to reach someone over my omni-tool. You can help me search for any signals coming from other parts of the ship."
"Alright, anything's better than just sitting around waiting for them to bust down the door."
Lucy and Jones began working in their omni-tools and Gelek helped the quarian medic move the injured marine to a more comfortable spot. Gelek set the marine down on a cargo crate, allowing the medic to begin work setting the bone and administering anti-biotics as he went back over to the ship and entered the cockpit. He checked the readout near the pilot's seat which read E-cell Stored Chargeand saw that the power from the emergency power cell was draining at a steady rate. At the rate the power was draining, the door would only have power for another hour and a half. Gelek sighed and thought to himself, I hope the Captain is safe...because we are anything but.