Death of Innocence
I don't own BioWare
May contain Spoilers
ALLIANCE FLEET HEADQUARTERS
Shepard turned as Anderson halted at the foot of the ramp. The Admiral looked behind him.
"Dave, get on board!" Shepard reached out for his friend. "We've got to get out of here!"
"I'm staying!" Anger flared in Anderson's eyes as he watched a tower collapse in the distance. "These people need help…those poor, damned fools!"
He turned back to Shepard. "Get to Arcturus. Williams knows what to do. There's a plan in place, get as many ships out as you can, then come back with even more. We've can't save Earth…but we can damn well avenge it."
Shepard felt Vega tugging at his arm. He pulled away. "Are you sure you'll be alright?"
Admiral David Anderson drew himself up to his full height. "Son, who do you think you're talking to?"
Despite the situation, Shepard couldn't help a smile. It was easy to forget that Anderson had been one of the best. N7 Marines never really lost their edge. "How could I forget?"
"Oh, and by the way," Anderson reached into his pocket. "I had these struck up, just in case."
Shepard saw a flash of silver, and snatched the object that Anderson had tossed him. It was a set of dogtags, his name was on them. Anderson shouldered his rifle, shouting above the noise of the Normandy's engines. "CONSIDER YOURSELF REINSTATED!"
The Normandy ascended away from Anderson's position as the Admiral turned back toward the crumbling city. The skyline was filled with descending Reapers. Overhead, a squadron of fighters launched a salvo of missiles, connecting with the nearest behemoth. A flash of smoke and flame appeared, and the Reaper staggered slightly from the impact. Then its point defence lasers reactivated, sawing the fighter-bombers in half.
"Well," Anderson murmured. "This was a bad idea."
Shepard followed Ashley and Vega into the elevator. "What's the plan?"
Ashley passed him an earpiece. "When Caesar threatened Rome, Pompey fled and hid in Greece, where his allies sheltered him."
Shepard thought back to high school Ancient History. "Didn't Pompey eventually get murdered in Egypt?"
"Yes, well, we'll try and avoid that, if possible," Ashley replied curtly. Shepard was struck by how much she had changed. No 'Welcome back, Skipper', no 'What's the Plan?' No fun loving Gunnery Chief, just a razor sharp, brutally efficient Commander. He was, again, painfully reminded of just how far apart his crew had grown after his death...and how much they had grown on their own.
The doors opened, admitting them to the bridge. Shepard's eyes almost popped out of his skull. "What did you do to my ship?"
"Your ship?" Ashley spared him a glance. "You surrendered it to us, remember? Cerberus stole the plans for this thing, you stealing it back off them doesn't make it your property. Besides, she's better now."
"Cerberus has some good tech," Vega retrieved his own earpiece from one of the tactical consoles. "But at the end of the day, Alliance has a bigger budget. And a lot more friends in other governments. We've been refitting our cruisers with Silaris armour for over a year, courtesy of the asari, the Normandy's hull is twice as strong now. We've also given the Normandy a brand new engine core, double the efficiency of the old one. Shakedown crew had to be careful that she didn't rattle herself to pieces. Your AI wasn't too happy, but we convinced her that the additions were necessary."
"How's the fleet holding up?" Shepard grabbed for a handrail as the Normandy shuddered. EDI's avatar popped out of the bridge projector.
=Second Fleet has currently holding fifty percent of orbital corridors, though that number is diminishing= The AI sounded...worried? =Southern Hemisphere orbital defences have been completely wiped out. The dreadnaught Rushmore is heavily damaged, and has abandoned her position. Admiral Jennings is pulling the Eighty First Strike Flotilla back to Mars, she will attempt to punch a hole through to the Charon Relay.=
"That's our exit strategy," Ashley took the captain's position behind the display. In front of her, a map of the Sol system appeared. She frowned as she saw the tactical situation. Raising a hand to her earpiece, she keyed into the battle-net. "All ships, this is Phoenix Actual. Juno is airborne, we have Omaha on board."
=Roger that, Phoenix= A burst of static accompanied the words. =This is Mikhailovich, business is good today=
"Clear up that signal!" Ashley snapped at one of the comms techs. "Bounce it off one of the low level weather satellites, don't use anything tagged military, the Reapers will be monitoring those."
"Aye ma'am!" The fresh faced crewman leaned into his console, his hands working the controls as fast as he could. "It's done, they can't stop the signal."
=...ix do you read me?= Mikhailovich came back online. =Is Warhorse onboard?=
"Negative, he stayed behind," Ashley heard a hiss of annoyance from the Admiral.
=Tubvoyu maht!= Mikhailovich swore ferociously. =Alright, Plan Ares has been scrapped. The Vancouver corridor is no longer open, the Singapore just got creamed. Head for the New York alternate, corvettes Brooklyn and Kanimbla will lead as many Reapers as they can away from you.=
"Roger that, how are things looking up there?"
=How do you think they're looking?= The Admiral sounded tired. =The Einstein's burning, and that's our only carrier in the sector. I've lost six of my frigates, including my flagship. I managed to evacuate my men from the Arnhem to the Gettysburg, but the Sixty Third doesn't have the necessary firepower for this fight. Get your ass moving, Mikhailovich out!=
"Helm, all ahead, flank speed. Vega, how are my weapons?" Ashley looked at the Lieutenant.
"Torpedoes are online, the auto-calibration matrix for the Thanix Cannon is working perfectly," Vega turned to face her, concern on his face as his earpiece blared. "Ma'am, I'm getting reports from UNAS Army units holding JFK Spaceport, they're in danger of being overrun. They need air support, requesting our assistance."
Ashley gritted her teeth. "Well we can't, we've got a mission."
"Ma'am, if we lose JFK, the evac ships won't be able to get off the ground!"
Shepard stared at Ashley...Commander Williams, he reminded himself. Would she be able to do it? Make the same kind of call he had made at Torfan? Leave people to die for the greater good...it was a bastard of a choice.
"I'm aware of that, Lieutenant," Ash brought up a detailed tac-map of the area. "But if we divert, we're going to lose a lot more than just a few transports. Contact Fort Benning, tell them to get every gunship and Tier One unit they have, and send them to JFK. "
"Yes ma'am," Vega began to speak into his mouthpiece, delivering his message and hoping it got through.
"Kanimbla is down!" One of the comms tech's yelled. "Brooklyn is taking heavy fire, but she's still flying. 4th Air Wing is diverting two squadrons of fighters to assist us. Their high level bombers are tied up over DC, husks are storming the White House. Reports say the President is dead."
"Tell Brooklyn to break away, the corridor is clear. Helm, when we reach zero point, I want flank speed from all engines." Ash turned to Shepard. "N7 teams were dispatched to retrieve as many world leaders as we could. We're meeting with limited success, but we did manage to get the Prime Minister and most of the Alliance Parliament off world before the Reapers struck."
"Politicians," Vega muttered. "All the good people we left behind..."
"We tried our best," Ash gripped the handrails. "There are some good people in the Parliament, men that tried to help the preparation effort. Thanks to them, we got the funding we needed for the Normandy's upgrades."
The Normandy arched up sharply, the engines screaming as it accelerated away from New York. Only the artificial gravity kept the crew glued to the deck.
"I don't like this," Vega stared at the images still coming in. The Statue of Liberty was crumbling. "Feels like we're running away."
Shepard patted him on the shoulder. "We'll be back, Lieutenant, don't doubt that."
=Normandy, this is Gettysburg!= The channels lit up again. =We have you on our screen. Fall in formation with Wolfpack Bravo-Six Three.=
"You have a plan, Admiral?" Shepard spoke for the first time.
=Affirmative, Commander= Mikhailovich replied. =Admiral Jennings and the Rushmore pushed as far as Jump Zero, they even managed to wing a Reaper, but there's two more right in front of them, and the Eighty First is down to its last few cruisers. Sixty Third will join up with them, try and punch through to the Charon Relay. Admiral Hackett made our orders quite clear, Commander. Get you and the Normandy through to Arcturus, no matter the cost.=
"You'll get no argument from me," Shepard stood next to Ashley, eyes fixed on the console. "Do we have enough firepower?"
=Five of my frigates have Thanix cannon, courtesy of your little present from Cerberus. The Rushmore's beat up, but her main gun is still online. Those machines might not feel emotion, but they've got plenty of reasons to be nervous about an operational dreadnaught.=
"Munich and Sydney just got hit," Vega informed Shepard grimly as the line shut down again. "Those were our last heavy cruisers. We've got no more major fleet units to protect Earth."
The comm lines were packed full of screaming =JFK spaceport's gone, the evac ships are burning!=
=We've lost Chicago! All units retreat, I say again, abandon the city!=
=This is London! SAS just got Her Majesty clear, but Downing Street is lost! We need the RAF to bomb the Thames shoreline as soon as...=
=...air support! WHERE'S OUR FUCKING AIR SUPPORT?=
=The fleet's withdrawing, they're leaving us! Get those gunships...=
=...are leaving, those fucking cowards are running for it!=
=I HOPE YOU PEOPLE ROT IN HELL FOR THIS!=
"Ensign!" Shepard wheeled towards the comms officer. "Ignore all transmissions coming from Earth, focus on your job!"
The young officer hesitated, looking past Shepard to Ashley. The second human Spectre raised an eyebrow. "What are you looking at me for? Commander Shepard gave you an order."
"Aye ma'am." The ensign tapped in the necessary command, and the panicking screams vanished. "Calls restricted to Alliance vessels."
Mikhailovich's flight plan steered the thirty ships of the 63rd Scout Flotilla well clear of any advancing Reapers. The machine leviathans were only destroying ships directly in their path, the rest of them were charging towards Earth as fast as their engines allowed.
=All ships, buckle up= Mikhailovich finally spoke again as the Flotilla raced past Mars. =When we're two million kilometres away, we launch torpedoes. At one million, the Gettysburg, Normandy, Midway, Alamo, Fallujah and Shaih Kot will fire their Thanix Cannon. At five hundred thousand, we cut loose with everything we have and hope it'll be enough.=
"Alright, everyone stay focused," Ashley pointed toward the weapons console, whose officer was starting to look queasy. "Shepard, I need a firing solution now!"
"I'm on it," Shepard pushed the Lieutenant on the console off the chair. "Sorry kid, but you don't know her like I do."
"Helm, put us on the fringe of the formation." Imagery from the few remaining sensors on the ruins of Jump Zero showed the two Reapers, ugly, bulbous affairs, firing their bolts of superheated metal at the Rushmore. The dreadnaught's armour and shields were the toughest in the Alliance, the Rushmore was renowned for her ability to take a beating. But she was wounded, venting fuel into space, flash fires springing up and dying over her broad hull.
"We have to help her," Shepard looked up from his console. "We'll never get through..."
"I know," Ashley cut him off. "Mikhailovich, we're breaking formation to aid the Rushmore."
=Understood, give them hell=
"Helm, come to course three two zero. Weapons, give me a new firing solution on the primary target."
"Solution locked in," Shepard grimaced as the Normandy glanced a piece of wreckage. "Ready to fire."
=Normandy, this is Rushmore= Admiral Jennings' Kentucky drawl rang through the CIC, her voice calm despite the state of her ship. =Our shields our down, our armour's compromised, and my magazines are damn near depleted. We've been shooting for almost an hour. Please tell me you got something=
"Just enough, Rushmore," Ashley glanced at Shepard. "How's your ammunition?"
=I've got enough torpedoes for a couple of salvos, but only six shots left for my big gun= Jennings was silent as the end of the Rushmore erupted in a flash of fire as its main gun fired again. The projectile struck one of the Reapers at the base of a tentacle and exploded, blowing the arm off. =Make that five shots=
"Lock in your firing solution with ours," Commander Williams instructed the Admiral. "Hit them in tandem, don't give them a chance to recharge their shields."
=What about that other Reaper?=
"We've got a plan for that one, too." Ashley looked at EDI. "Shepard, how good is EDI at cyber-warfare?"
"She's..." Shepard began, before EDI cut him off.
=I am the best cyber-warfare platform humanity has= EDI explained. =But a Reaper is beyond my capabilities. I could not do more than short out a few circuits...=
"What about its shields?" Ashley suggested. "Could you make it shut down its shields, just for a brief period?"
=Perhaps...= EDI mused. =I calculate that there is a seventy six percent chance that I can drop its shields for a window of three seconds=
"That'll have to be enough," Shepard kept his eyes on the weapons status. "Hook up with Mikhailovich, link your attacks with his."
"Approaching firing position," Vega tensed up as the Normandy barrel rolled around the wreckage of the cruiser San Francisco. "Shepard...don't miss."
"I don't miss!" Shepard growled. "...usually."
"Target the lower abdomen and fire!" Ashley yelled over Vega's incredulous reply.
The two ships worked in tandem, the Rushmore's massive cannon slamming a twenty kilo ferrous slug through the Reaper's shields, the projectile carving a path for the shot from the Normandy's Thanix cannon.
"Rushmore, this is Normandy!" Ash hung on for dear life as a return shot from the Reaper grazed the Silaris armour. "Murder that son of a bitch!"
The Rushmore's fourth shot struck something sensitive, the Reaper began to wheel to the side, leaving it vulnerable to a coup-de-grace from the Normandy. Shepard saw the opportunity...
"I see it, I see it," the Commander pressed the comms switch again. "Rushmore, salvo all torpedoes. Concentrate them on the central hub, armour's weakest at the base!"
=Understood, Normandy= Jennings came back online. =I have interceptors from the Einstein closing in. They've lost their carrier, but they've still got their ordinance. I'm ordering them onto attack vector Echo=
Round after round, missile after missile, the two ships and a few dozen tiny fighters mercilessly punished the 'machine-god'. Armour that had protected the monster for millions of years finally cracked, plasma burning furiously in its vulnerable sub-systems.
=Normandy, we've got a straight shot to their engine core= Jennings crowed triumphantly. =Firing our last heavy slug!=
Manoeuvring till she was almost on a straight line with the tip of the Reaper's spine, the Rushmore fired off its last shot. The effect was instantaneous. Explosions dotted along the hull, then something inside ignited and the nightmare exploded in a ball of hideous blue flame.
A cheer went up from the Alliance crew. It reminded Shepard of Jenkins' exuberance. These kids were new, idealistic, but they were also smart. Anderson and Ashley must have handpicked them.
"Mikhailovich, what's your status?" Shepard managed to make himself heard over the din.
The admiral's voice groaned in reply. =Situation is normal, Commander. All fucked up. Gettysburg has taken a hit...half of my crew is dead...I'm not feeling too good myself...=
"What about that Reaper?" Ashley interrupted him. Mikhailovich barked with pained laughter.
=See for yourself=
Images flashed back up on the viewscreen. The other Reaper was burning silently, not dead, but not capable of fighting back. But at a terrible cost, Shepard could see the fragments of roughly two dozen frigates scattered around the ancient ship. Most of Mikhailovich's command was gone. The Reapers were just too strong to beat conventionally.
A tear traced its way down the side of Ashley's face. "The Midway..."
"You knew someone...?"
"Her skipper, Captain Rothschild...he served with Dad..." Ash snapped back into reality. "All ships, general retreat. We can't hold them, pull back now!"
Barely a dozen frigates and corvettes were alive to hear her call. All responded back, before turning and racing toward the Charon Relay. A few squadrons of fighters joined them.
"Jennings, get your boat out of here," Ash commed the dreadnaught. "That Reaper's going to power up any second."
=Thank you for your kind intentions= Jennings managed a laugh. =But the Rushmore's not going anywhere. We've lost hull integrity on all decks. The blowback from that last shot fractured life support. I've got maybe three decks that still have oxygen, and about fifty men left to crew my boat. If we try going through that relay, we'll shake ourselves to pieces.=
"What are you going to do?" Shepard already knew the answer. The Reapers weren't taking prisoners. There was only one option that Jennings could...and would...take.
=I think we might stay and finish off that ugly son-of-a-bitch over there,= The admiral coughed. =Give 'em hell, Shepard. You too, Williams. Been an honour, good luck and Godspeed."
"Aye-aye, ma'am," Ash lowered her head. "Helm, take us through the Relay...full speed."
None of the crew could bear to watch the last footage coming through. None of them cheered as the Rushmore and the Reaper were engulfed in a fireball. And none of them looked back to see Earth burning. But in each of them, something died...something precious. They had lost their world.
Their home was gone.
Sergeant Henry Gordon Price stared, tears streaming down his face, at the scene before him. Bodies lay everywhere, mostly humans, but with a few alien diplomats thrown in. The 22nd Special Air Service Regiment and the 3rd N7 Special Operations Group had tried to evacuate them...they had failed. His comrades were lying on the street, weapons clutched in unmoving hands.
Price had seen war all over the globe. He had decided against a career in the Alliance, preferring to stay on Earth, where he could put down roots. In the space of two hours, everything that he had built had been torn away from him. His friends, his family, all dead.
There was nothing left. No officers, no orders. Hereford had stopped communicating. The rest of the Regiment would fight hard, they always did...but for no avail this time.
His hands closed around the barrel of his Incisor sniper rifle, his eyes looked to the sky, taking detatched note of the descending monsters. Big Ben was still standing...would probably be a hell of a sniper perch.
NEAR ARCTURUS STATION
Mikhailovich brought up another wave of blood as he retched and coughed helplessly. Shepard cleared away the red fluid, then lifted a cup of water up to the man's mouth. Mikhailovich drank greedily.
"The blood's in your lungs," Shepard informed him, gripping his shoulder. "They're trying to free up an operating room, you just need to hold on..."
"Don't patronise me, Shepard," Mikhailovich growled. "I've seen men triaged before. Those that can be saved, and those that can't be, and I know which one I am. Give me the common courtesy of not giving me false hope."
"Sorry, sir," Shepard smiled faintly at the Admiral's blunt manner, which so many mistook for aggressiveness. "Guess I can talk too much sometimes."
"Don't be sorry for anything," Mikhailovich growled. "Sign of weakness, and we can't be weak anymore."
For a few minutes they sat in silence, Shepard watching helplessly as the red blood staining the Admiral's dark blue uniform began to turn a dry brown. Finally, Mikhailovich spoke again.
"I once said some improper things about you...and your ship, Shepard. Do you remember?"
"Yeah." Shepard laughed humourlessly. "Yeah, I remember."
"I see now that some of them...if not most of them, were mistaken conclusions on my part," Mikhailovich managed his own laugh. "Would you accept my apologies for those words?"
"Seems a silly thing to hold a grudge over," the Commander replied. "You were doing your job...I was just happy that you were wrong."
"As am I," Mikhailovich began to pale. "Thank you...for sitting with me, Shepard. I find myself strangely afraid of dying alone."
"I died alone, Admiral. I wouldn't wish it on anyone else," Shepard held the dying Admiral's hands as they began to shake. "It's not much comfort..."
"It's enough," Mikhailovich frowned suddenly. "What fool's turning off the lights. It's getting dark as anything in here...so...very..."
His hands stopped shaking.
Reaching forward, Shepard closed the Admiral's eyes. The steely globes that had once made junior lieutenants quiver in fear, were dull and lifeless, the strength behind them faded away. One more name to add to the list started at Eden Prime.
Jerking his head around, Shepard came face to face with Ashley. She had changed out of her stylish officer's uniform, into a set of combat fatigues. "Shepard, are you alright?"
No, I'm not. "What are our orders?"
"Hackett's giving you the Normandy, he wants you take it and do what you do best. Find allies, rally everyone you can. Put together a force that can win this war, while Fifth Fleet does what it can to slow the Reapers down. He gave me command of the Chicago, she's one of the cruiser's from Second Fleet. I'm to supervise the evacuation of Amatesaru..."
"No." Shepard stood up. "You're coming with me."
"With respect, Commander, but I have been given a mission..."
"So have I, and I need an XO that knows the new Normandy," Shepard looked at her. "Ash...I need my team...I need you."
"What you need is to get your act together," Ashley turned away. "My ship's due to leave in an hour, I need to make sure that my..."
She felt Shepard's hand on her arm, and then found herself in his embrace. She could feel tears landing on her shoulder, and was unashamed to let her own fall. "Earth...Skipper...Earth is..."
"I know..." Shepard whispered. "We all tried so hard...and still they came."
"We don't stand a chance," the other Spectre almost choked. "We don't have any kind of hope. We're all going to die. It's not fair."
"We still have hope," Shepard tried to re-assure her. "We're still breathing, we can still fight. We still have friends."
"It's not much."
Shepard looked back at Mikhailovich's prone form. "It's enough...it has to be."