Interval One: Revolution
Chapter Two: Descent
"The Replica represent a bankruptcy of staggering proportions, morally, ethically, and honorably. They are a deliberate corruption of the human genome to produce disposable soldiers, which cheapens the sacrifice of sapients who give their lives to defend their people, be they volunteer or conscript. Not even the krogan accept tank-bred soldiers. Creation of a form of sapient life for the sole purpose of warfare, even one as mentally deficient as the current generation of Replica, is morally reprehensible and ethically hollow. There is no place in the modern world for soldiers whose sole purpose is to die."
-Primarch Nicta Calderus, "Paradigms and Morality of Genetic Warfare" (2182)
"Primarch Calderus's assertion is only slightly flawed. Allow me to more precisely correct him: There is no place in the modern world for soldiers with any purpose other than to die. What difference is there between the drone used to draw fire, and the Replica that guards a doorway? Cognition? Ambition? Morality? The Replica, like so many other weapons of war, possess meaning through purpose. Varren are purpose-bred for war. Vorcha are purpose-adapted for warfare and little else. Krogan have been purposed for war, no matter what prettied words the salarians used during the Rachni Wars. The entire turian species has been built into a powerful war machine through the systematic denial of the right to say "No, I do not wish to." What makes the human genome sacred when the Council has used entire sapient species as cannon fodder and neutered them when their folly became apparent? With the Replica, there is no question of what they could be. They are."
-Sheng-Ji Yang, Armacham Technology Corporation Director of Ethics, Official Press Release 9/14/2182
The star was dying.
Not that said fact terribly mattered on the scale that galactic civilization progressed. The old red giant may have been in the last throes of its life, expanding swiftly as the hydrogen reaction at its heart ran down, but to the short-lived beings on the tiny speck of metal and ceramic and element zero that circled the dying star, they would be long dead before its last fitful bursts of fusion heralded the conclusion of its billions-years existence.
He fancied old supergiants like this one. Witnessing the last gasps of the eldest of stars in the galaxy gave him a reminder of how temporary organic life was. Even Reapers could die, while these unfathomably old forces of the universe endured. It was a good reminder of the reality of the universe, of how cold and uncaring and enduring the whole was. Every sapient species in the galaxy could die at this moment, and the stars would never notice.
Whenever the ethics of his existence troubled him, he would just look out at that the old stars his station orbited around, and remind himself that in the grand scheme of things, the suffering of thousands was truly meaningless.
That perspective had carried him far. It had pushed him to abandon his old name and identity, and adopt something new. Where once he had been finite, a single man fighting for corporate money, now he was now the embodiment of an ideal. Jack Harper had . . . Evolved, for a lack of a better term, into what the Alliance had dubbed "an illusive man." An apt appellation.
The console beeped, and he exhaled. The sharp scent of the cigarette drifted out of his mouth, and he faintly felt the burn of lethal chemicals taken in just miniscule amounts to hurt but not kill. The auto-healing implants in his chest were doubtless even then countering the poisons he pumped into his lungs, but the brief burn in his chest was the whole point.
The console beeped again, and he shook his head. Drifting moments like this were when he did his best work, but he brought himself out of the haze and focused again. Implants within his brain secreted a slight bit of stimulant, and his mind sharpened almost instantly. He sat forward, tapping the console's haptic display. Pressure buzzed up his fingers, and he hit a few more icons on the display, opening the communications link. Two seconds passed as the encryption protocols went through their handshake protocol, and a screen popped up in front of his display, showing an audiographic reading of the voice that came through on the other end.
"Go ahead," he ordered.
"The situation on Naxos is deteriorating faster than anticipated," reported the speaker on the other end. The voice was undergoing standard distortion, as this particular communication was forced to go through the comm buoy network instead of quantum entanglement.
"How long until the trace is finished?" the Illusive Man asked.
"Unknown at this point, sir," the electronic voice replied. "The signal is erratic. It's not just stellar drift and orbital corrections that we have to account for. The synchronicity signal is not following a predictable pattern."
"Unsurprising, considering the nature of the human mind," the Illusive Man mused. "Continue attempting to lock it down. If we could even narrow down the point of origin to a single cluster, that will cut the odds down significantly."
"Yes sir," replied the voice. "There are other complications, though." The Illusive Man nodded, gesturing for the voice to continue. Though they were communicating via audio transmission only, his suite recognized the gesture and sent a cue to the other end. "The Alliance dispatched a ship to the site. We confirmed it as the SSV Normandy."
The Illusive Man's eyes narrowed, and he picked up a decanter next to his chair. He poured a couple of fingers as he pondered the implications.
"I assume Shepard is on the ground?" he asked.
"We confirmed a Mako dropped from the Normandy, but was shot by an anti-armor missile," the voice reported. "Point of origin unknown, but it came from the general direction of the spaceport. I couldn't ID the shooter."
"Irrelevant," the Illusive Man said. "He's on the ground and alive, correct?"
"Replica forces have been engaged in heavy fighting with someone in the district around where the vehicle went down. I estimate at least a hundred casualties."
Which meant that Shepard was unquestionably on the surface.
"Is the erratic nature of the signal coinciding with Shepard's arrival?" the Illusive Man asked. There was a pause.
"Partially," the voice reported. "There was a forty-two percent spike in variation between signal pulses upon the Normandy's arrival in-system."
"I doubt we'll be able to determine point of origin with Shepard moving on his own through the colony," the Illusive Man said. "Keep trying. If it looks like the Replica have sensed your presence, go dark and maintain passive observation. Until then, continue attempting a trace."
He cut the line of communication, picked up his glass, and peered into the swirling reaction of the dying star. Were it not for the station's shielding . . . Well, he would be getting a firsthand view of the event, directly from her.
She remembered. And unlike the others, she could find him.
Glittering blue eyes watched the old giant pass into its death throes, and the Illusive Man took a sip, losing himself in thought once more as the alcohol burned down his throat. He peered through the windows of his gilded, self-imposed cage, and pondered how to keep turning this to his advantage.
The Normandy skittered sideways, and Joker rolled the ship's thrusters underneath the beam as the entire frigate shuddered. Heat flared through the ship, the entire left port flank of the Normandy sending damage reports as the beam sheared through the upper deck armor. Screams and warning klaxons resounded throughout the ship, and internal heat had jumped up so high that sweat started gathering on Joker's forehead in seconds.
He weaved the Normandy beneath the beam, relative to the enemy ship, and then fired thrusters while flipping the frigate onto a heading perpendicular to the hostile's course. His eyes flicked over the incoming damage reports, noting that despite significant damage to the upper port decks, their weapons and engines were still almost fully functional. The stealth systems would be fried until they could hit a drydock, but until then the Normandy could keep fighting. Upper compartments around the CIC just down the corridor behind him were sealing off, and crew were scrambling for breathers.
The only good news was that he'd seen the attack coming in time to dodge. If that shot had been a few meters lower and to the right, it would have sheered through their engines and left the Normandy crippled, letting the alien cruiser finish them off at will.
On the ladar, he saw the enemy ship turn to pursue, but with its sheer bulk and mass it would take precious seconds to bring the main gun to bear on the frigate. The prow of the massive ship was practically glowing with radiating heat as it vented from the main gun and charged up the next shot.
But instinct still directed Joker's blurring hands as he guided the Normandy away from the target, and he sent the frigate into another evasive pattern. A couple of seconds later, a second beam sliced through the void along the Normandy's original path, even though the massive organic/rock-like alien ship hadn't lined up its axis with the frigate.
"Off-axis beam weaponry, great," Joker hissed under his breath as he kept the ship dodging. Options flicked through his mind. There was absolutely no way the Normandy could take a ship of that size; its armament was impressive for a frigate but by itself it didn't have the firepower to tackle anything more than a light cruiser with any hope of success. The sheer power output and size of the alien vessel - almost as big as a full-on dreadnought - meant fighting was suicide. But Shepard was still down on the ground.
Technically, Pressly was in charge when Shepard was away, but the lieutenant was really just an operations manager. In combat, Joker was unofficially in charge of the ship, and right now Pressly was knee-deep in damage control at his console. Thus, it all boiled down to Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau's ability to assess the situation and make the right call.
They couldn't win in a straightforward fight. The Normandy was damaged, crew were dying, and waste heat was building up faster than they could vent it; radiation from the last near-miss had cut combat endurance down to less than a minute. There weren't any other options he could see, and while it felt wrong on every level, Joker knew they only had one option to survive.
Joker grit his teeth, made the call, and engaged the mass effect field around the ship that would let them cheat physics. The enemy ship charged up another shot, but the instant before it fired the Normandy vanished into a corridor of red-shifted light.
Hypervelocity rounds flattened and deflected off Shepard's shields, and he slid into cover behind another air-conditioning unit on the rooftop. Liara's biotics pulsed next to him in a swirl of dark energy, and another Replica went flying. Rounds scythed in from more than a dozen directions as the Replica closed in on all sides. The six-man squad returned fire with lethal efficiency; Shepard estimated that they had killed more than a hundred Replica by this point. But the clones did not seem particularly concerned by their casualties, and it was becoming harder to keep the fire off of his squad as they advanced, as the enemy became more organized and brought more troops to bear.
Shepard shot up to his feet, slowing, and picked targets. A Replica fireteam was twenty meters ahead, behind some more cooling units, with another fireteam moving to a line of rooftop modules to the right that would let them set up a crossfire. A platoon were across the street, firing suppressive bursts that kept Shepard's team on the far side of the rooftop, and another squad was thirty meters behind them, spreading out to better firing positions. Ashley and Sergeant Maness were keeping the enemy to the rear suppressed, while Garrus picked off targets across the street as fast as his rifle could cool down. Sensors showed more Replica below, ascending toward the rooftop.
"Liara, sweep targets!" Shepard ordered as he highlighted the fireteam behind the cooling units. Liara breathed an acknowledgement, and another micro-singularity burst into place above the enemy troops. Shepard and Corporal Dilbague, a few meters to his left, opened fire on the enemy as they were pulled into the air. A couple of seconds later, Shepard rushed around the cooling unit and waved the squad forward. He ran along the edge of the rooftop opposite the street, weapon up. He advanced a few steps, and then a metallic climbing claw latched onto the edge of the module two meters to Shepard's right.
A Replica surged onto the rooftop. A small but powerful motor in the claw yanked the clone soldier up to the ledge, and with one arm gripping the side of module, the Replica hauled himself and the full kit he wore up over the side with about as much difficulty as stepping over a knee-high hedge. He rose up, rifle shouldered and tracking Shepard.
Three more clambered up onto the roof around him.
Shepard slowed. The first Replica's weapon dragged to a crawl, and Shepard's left arm snapped up, smacking the barrel of the rifle aside. His own weapon rose up, and he jammed it into the Replica's neck, the barrel passing through the clone's kinetic barrier. He squeezed the trigger, and a five-round burst punched through the thin armor-fabric over the clone's throat. Blood and bone exploded out of the back of the Replica's neck, and as it fell backwards Shepard snapped his left hand forward and caught the front plating of the soldier's armor. He whirled and shoved the dying clone into the closest of his companions to his immediate left, and both went tumbling off the side. The other two gained the edge of the roof.
Pain edged in at the back of Shepard's head, but in the window of dilated time, he could make out the details clearly as the clone soldiers began to raise weapons. To his immediate right a Replica leveled a shotgun at his chest while to the left the other was bringing up a submachinegun. The shotgun-wielder was faster on the draw, but was too close.
Shepard twisted around as the shotgun discharged, the roar of the weapon an agonizing and drawn-out blast barely muffled by his helmet. Hypervelocity slugs dragged past him as he stepped in closer, and he punched the Replica in the head with his left hand, the blow starting from his waist and pouring down his shoulder into a solid cross into the clone's optics.
To Shepard's perspective, the movement of his arm was at normal speed. To his opponent, the fist struck so fast that it was a blur of metal and ceramic plating and a flaring kinetic barrier. For a normal human, a punch like that would do almost as much damage to oneself; the human body was not designed to handle throwing blows that did not so much break bone as they powdered it. When his fist moved that quickly, however, Shepard's hardsuit and omnitool recognized what he was doing and activated a dual-layered kinetic barrier around his forearm; the end facing the Replica was hardened to impart maximum force based on the shape of Shepard's fist, while the inner layer formed a gravitic cushion to protect his arm from the inevitable reaction to his action, absorbing the kinetic energy in a series of mass effect barriers that behaved much like ballistic gel.
Outwardly, the shifting gravity and dark energy took on a blurred, rippling effect. But from his perspective, Shepard could clearly see the barriers shaping around his forearm as it impacted with the Replica's kinetic barrier. He saw the miniscule emitters in the cloned soldier's armor flare and go dark, the azure corona of the shield dissipating under the blow, and his fist slamming into the faceplate. Backed by sheer velocity and shielded by the multiple layers of boosted barriers in his forearm, his fist drove into the Replica's optics and smashed them back into the soldier's face, with the helmet crumpling around the point of contact like an eggshell. Blood erupted out a literal heartbeat later, and the Replica's head snapped backward, sending loose gore arcing up into the air. Its limbs went limp, flopping outward in a single spasm of shock.
Shepard saw the whole gory tableau in minute detail. It dragged on, the Replica driven backward into a deceptively graceful backflip, head twisted and spraying blood. The barriers and fields around Shepard's forearm rippled outward in response to the kinetic impact before dissipating. He could perceive every step of the brutal, high-tech, psionically-boosted burst of violence.
To everyone outside of Shepard's dilated time-perspective, however, it simply looked like the Commander had punched a Replica with a blurring, flaming blue fist so hard that it sent the clone tumbling through the air fifteen meters away.
Spikes of agony started jabbing into Shepard's skull at the Replica flew away, and he spun, pushing his body as much as he could. The last Replica was leveling its Tempest, and the weapon flashed, bullets crawling out of the submachinegun's muzzle. Three of them impacted his shield, and Shepard sidestepped out of the line of fire. He could see his own reflection in the Replica's optics with each gun flash.
Then a shimmering blue discus arced in from his left, where Liara had been crouched, careening in at a stately pace toward the Replica. The pain running through Shepard's head intensified, and he couldn't hold it any longer. He released, snapping back to normal speed, and the hollow roar of the Tempest turned into a rapid high-pitched zipper-whine, following an instant later by the distinctive bwoom of the solidified dark energy field associated with a biotic throw. The Replica was launched off the side of the building as if hit by a transport aircar.
Shepard's legs wobbled for a moment, and he dropped to one knee, his vision going white as the pain flared up and then started to subside. He fought the urge to deploy painkillers; the headaches were the only way to warn him if he was pushing his body to the point of inflicting brain damage. If he'd kept using his psionics for a few more seconds he might have passed out and never awoken.
An arm looped under his left shoulder, and he heard Ashley call his name. He struggled to his feet, the battle still raging around him. He opened his eyes, vision clearing, and brought his rifle up. On his sensor displays, Replica were still closing in. He counted nearly a hundred contacts on the rooftops alone. He nodded to Ash as he steadied himself, and made a quick decision.
"We're taking too much fire! Break contact," he ordered. "We have to get downstairs! Ash, point!"
"On it," Ashley replied, and took the lead. The rest of the team followed, bounding from cover to cover. The pain in Shepard's head faded quickly, and in its stead was a faint sense of euphoria. Psi-high wasn't as potent in physicals like Shepard, especially when compared with manifesters, pyros, and renders.
He followed after Ashley, covering her.
Movement ahead. He slowed, squeezing several shots, and the Replica ducked behind cover before he could break through its shields. They'd realized just how powerful his team's weapons were.
They were learning fast.
Paxton Fettel hovered somewhere between control and madness.
For most of his life it had been easier. But he felt the flow interweaving, thoughts colliding and clashing. It came in fitful spurts, bursts of memory, emotion, images, sensations. But intermixed with them was understanding and purpose.
They all deserved to die.
He clung to that simple concept. It made things clearer. When in doubt, kill. That was something he could control.
Fettel shifted between soldiers throughout the facility, taking in their perceptions. He jumped to a squad assaulting an Armacham Port Security team, and felt the phantom pains as two of the Replica were killed covering the rest of the squad as they moved in close and gunned the enemy down. He moved to an engineering team working on repairing the engines another Armacham team had damaged with incendiaries. He shifted to the guards outside, covering the main entrance, and then hopped between multiple units pursuing . . . Him.
Minds dimmed one by one as they tried to bring down he group surrounding him, and he could feel their bodies being ripped apart or blasted to pieces or hurled off the rooftops. They were bursts of dull agony, like distant echoes or splashes of water soaking his skin from nearby raindrops. Yet despite losing an entire company and more of soldiers trying to bring them down, he saw no appreciable reduction in their combat ability, and none of the enemy had been wounded or killed.
It seemed a waste.
He scowled and nodded. Yes. This was a waste of resources. He didn't need to kill him, after all; he just needed to delay him. Besides, throwing squads of Replica at him at this point was just going to get his troops killed. Better to reprioritize his resources, especially considering the forty percent casualties he'd sustained thus far.
Fettel pulled himself back to his own mind and glanced to the command units, and located them in the swirl of signals racing around him. They opened up to him, and he flowed a part of his consciousness into them, feeding his will to their minds. They reacted instantly.
"Delta Company, disengage targets. Retreat to spaceport and secure Point Sigma."
"Stairway down!" Ashley reported as they advanced, firing a long burst at the Replica as they closed in. She started down an exterior stairway into the top level of modules, and Adam followed, weapon pointed over her shoulder. The rest of the team followed suit, and as they descended the Replica fire intensified. A torrent of rounds skipped off the hardened metal rooftop of the module, but by that point the squad was out of the line of fire. Ashley stopped at the top level's doorway and keyed it open, and they went inside, sweeping for threats.
It was a standard apartment module, messy with the detritus of both a lived-in space and something that had been hastily abandoned. No one was visible, and it looked-
Adam opened fire right next to her, and Ashley jerked at the sudden roar of his weapon. She whirled, bringing her own rifle to bear, but his weapon went silent just as abruptly. Bullet holes pockmarked a closed door.
"Jesus!" Ashley said under her breath, spinning to check the other side of the room. The rest of the squad piled in, with Garrus taking up the rear. She took another breath to speak, but then stopped.
The six months spent with Adam Shepard had seen a lot of weirdness. Most of it alien, but some of it from him. She'd expected some oddness out of him from the start; their first meeting on Eden Prime had been when he'd blurred past her with an overheating rifle and snap-kicked a geth so hard its torso went flat. Physicals were distinctive like that, and by the end of the first month she'd gotten accustomed to his abrupt bursts of blurring speed, incredible physical strength, and impossibly precise aiming. It had taken longer to get used to the eyes that bored right through her, or the paranoia; he'd switched to the pistol because there wasn't enough room in the bed for the both of them and the shotgun. There was also his tendency toward unexpected bursts of violence, as that reporter had discovered when he'd grabbed her by the throat, snarled something about "counterfactual assertions," and thrown her into the Presidium lake.
The hallucinations were new, though, and they had her worried. A psychic with hallucinations was either getting fucked with by another psychic, or was sliding down the slope toward insanity thanks to mental strain. But she couldn't voice her concerns now, not in the middle of action. They needed to be focused, and she couldn't do that by second-guessing Adam.
Shepard lowered his weapon and his helmet's HUD flashed up. His body twitched slightly - the outward sign that he was "slowing" - and a moment later his helmet snapped up and he pointed to a door.
"That way," he ordered, and Ashley immediately started toward the door. She keyed it open and swept the corridor beyond, running between modules. "The Replica are surrounding us," Shepard continued, "but we can lose them inside the structure long enough to reach the spaceport. There's enough interference in there that we can avoid their scanners."
Ashley nodded in agreement as she led the way down the passage.
"Normandy, this is Shepard," he called as she checked a couple of doors. Garrus covered the opposite side of the passage, while Maness and Dilbague paired up behind them. The rooms beyond were clear. "Normandy, report."
She checked her own comm, but there was no response.
"Joker should have responded immediately," Liara said. "Something's wrong."
"Yeah, but what?" Shepard asked. Ashley felt a sinking sensation in her gut, the kind of thing that dozens of mindless cloned supersoldiers shooting at her didn't elicit.
"If something happened, why didn't he signal us?" she asked.
"We were in the middle of getting shot at," Garrus remarked. "But I don't see how we could have missed a distress call. Unless whatever happened hit so fast that he didn't have time to send it."
"I'll keep trying to raise him," Shepard said, and nodded down the corridor. "Let's get moving before the Replica find us."
Ashley nodded and pressed onward.
"They're retreating," Garrus reported a couple of minutes later, and Shepard glanced at his display. The sensor contacts indicating the Replica units were all moving north toward the spaceport, but they were also moving away from his squad. Ahead, Ashley reached a door that opened outside, and was sweeping the exterior. She froze for a moment, as if spotting a contact, but held fire.
"Confirm that," she reported. "Contacts on ground level, but they're running north."
"In that case," Liara said, "Trap?"
"Oh, yeah, definitely," Shepard replied with a nod. "Only question is whether they're going to try to ambush us or simply set up a new defensive line to stop us."
"We would pick out any ambush, unless they start jamming us," Liara said. "More likely they will attempt to fortify any entrance. They certainly have the numbers."
"If they had the numbers to spare they wouldn't have sent only a few platoons at us," Ashley pointed out. "Especially after we wiped out a few squads wholesale. We never saw more than a hundred at any point, right?" Garrus nodded.
"Which means most of Fettel's resources are tied up elsewhere, either securing the spaceport or fighting off Armacham troops inside the port." His mandibles tightened a bit. "He's probably taken heavy losses. Even three thousand Replica would have taken a lot of casualties breaking out of a secure facility, especially one guarded by a battalion's worth of security mercs. That port's a big facility. They can't cover every entrance and repair the freighters and subdue the rest of the security forces. At least not without compromising some point in their defense line."
"So, front gate?" Shepard said, and the others went silent for a moment. Garrus nodded, thoughtful.
"An option, but not the one I'd pick." He brought up the schematic of the spaceport, and that appeared on everyone's HUD. "There's underground maintenance accessways scattered around the outer blast wall. They can't cover all of those. We move fast and keep out of sight, beyond short-range element zero scanners, and we should be able to breach one of those and get down into the understructure of the spaceport."
"The blast shielding should hide us from their scanners," Liara added. "We can move undetected."
Shepard's eyes flicked back and forth with psychic-enhanced speed, apparently looking over the data. He finally nodded.
"Good plan," he said. "We'll hit this access point here." He highlighted one about two hundred meters away. It was the base of the blast wall surrounding the port, separated from the main entrance by another hundred meters and a couple of intervening module-buildings.
"Sounds like a plan," Ashley said, and Liara, Garrus, and the other two Marines nodded.
It took them fifteen minutes to get there, moving as fast as they could in hostile territory without compromising their own security. They moved from building to building, carefully sweeping each room and checking for ambushes or traps that managed to evade their suit scanners. However, the Replica kept their distance, and no one showed up on their scanners. Not that Shepard trusted them indoors.
They exited the apartments close to the spaceport, the blast wall looming overhead, and started down a flight of exterior stairs. A service road ran around the exterior of the spaceport, a thin paved path only a few meters wide. Module-towers rose on either side of them, restricting their view, and unease settled over Shepard as they reached ground level. The Replica could easily snipe them from any angle.
His sensors remained clear, especially the MkI Eyeball, so he led the team down to the access hatch. It was surrounded by a metal gate and fence, which were barely speedbumps to them. A couple of unused maintenance vehicles were parked nearby, rugged old hovercraft that wouldn't have been out of place in a military convoy with hulls thick enough to resist small arms fire. He noted their presence, and his feeling of unease grew, when he knew it should be subsiding.
Something breathed on his neck, and he spun around suddenly and shouldered his rifle again, making the rest of the team drop into a crouch as well. His rifle jerked around a few times before he stopped and exhaled.
"Shepard?" Liara asked, and he shook his head.
"Thought I heard something," he said. He then gestured toward the hatch. "Garrus, Dilbague, Ash, Maness, security. Liara, unlock the door, I'll cover you."
"I can get through it faster," Garrus said, but Shepard shook his head.
"I need you on security. Watch those rooftops." Shepard did not add that he trusted Garrus' senses more than his own right now. As a psychic tackling another psychic, it was possible that Fettel could be playing with his perceptions.
Garrus nodded, mandibles twitching unhappily, and stepped outside the gate. He and Dilbague took cover behind the maintenance vehicles while Ashley and Maness took cover across the street under the cover of the building. Liara moved to the door, omnitool lighting up, and Shepard crouched behind her.
"Shepard, are you okay?" she asked him, linking to his suit specifically. He frowned and shook his head after a moment.
"No," he replied. "But its not important right now. We have to end this rampage soon."
"That's just it, though," Liara murmured. The door chirped quietly as she worked her way through the lock; she wasn't the best hacker, but she had a working knowledge of electronics which had only expanded in her time working with Shepard's crew. "We're taking on a psychic here. And you haven't been well since we stopped Sovereign."
"We can worry about my mental health after we put Fettel down," Shepard said quickly, and she nodded.
"I understand." She paused, frowning. "Almost got it. Give me a few more seconds."
Shepard opened his mouth to call for the others to move up, when his HUD exploded with a sudden blast of static and squealing electronics. He jerked, grabbing his helmet, and could hear gunfire raging over the howling in his ears. Shepard spun, hunting for a target that had triggered the ECM burst, but he couldn't see anyone.
Instinct made him look straight up, in time to see half a dozen Replica coming straight down the wall from overhead, light flaring from backpacks. Their armor was different from the previous troops' consisting of dark browns and grays, with larger optical systems in their helmets. Two of the Replica had glowing omnitools on their left hands and carried Tempests; the rest had Avenger rifles.
"Overhead!" Shepard yelled, and slowed. His rifle snapped up, and he fired two long bursts at one of the Replica tech-specialists. The clone's shields flared and collapsed, and the second burst tore through its armor, launched blood into the air, and sent it into an out of control tumble. He shifted aim to the second Replica tech, and put another burst into its shields. A burst from another direction, from one of the Marines apparently, took it in the chest and torso.
Shepard reverted to normal speed just as Liara's biotics flared and impacted one of the Replica air-assault troops from below. The mass effect field launched it straight up into an uncontrolled, spinning flight over the top of the spaceport wall. Another's head simply blew apart in an explosion of ceramic, optics, and brain, courtesy of Garrus.
The last two Replica hit the asphalt outside the gate, on the opposite side of the parked vehicles, and dropped into cover. Shepard saw other contact icons popping onto his radar from overhead, and spotted more of the Replica air-assault troops coming over the top of the blast wall.
They could have just shot us from the top of the wall, he thought. Why are they descending and attacking us in close quarters? The only reason he could immediately think of was trying to keep his team from simply running into the hatch once it was opened.
"Liara, get that hatch open!" Shepard ordered. Outside the fence, Ashley and Maness were firing up at the descending troops while Garrus and Dilbague engaged the pair who had landed. Shepard sighted another descending enemy Replica and slowed once more, shooting the close down, and then saw something else coming over the top of the wall, and the Replica's tactics made a lot more sense.
There were two of them, enormous, human-shaped forms two meters tall and massing more than a krogan. They were clad in heavy brown and gray armor plating, thicker than even the heaviest conventional plating a human could wear, with a rounded helmet festooned with multiple large optical and scanner arrays. Large, rectangular plates were mounted on their shoulders, like medieval shields, and they carried long, heavy, three-barreled machineguns that vaguely resembled the newer Revenant rifles. The hulking shapes wore massive backpacks which flared as they descended.
"Heavies!" Shepard warned, slowing again and targeting one of the massive Replica soldiers. His weapon roared, sending long, ten-round bursts into the Heavy's shields, but the rounds flattened against thick shields, and his display showed a startlingly-powerful mass effect barrier surrounding the genetic and cybernetic hulk.
"Marines, carnage, Heavies!" Shepard ordered, collapsing his assault rifle and dragging his shotgun out. Another dead Relica soldier slammed into the ground next to him with a wet rattle. Ashley and Maness complied, pulling out their own shotguns, and they charged their shotguns' underbarrel launchers. At almost the same moment, the three of them fired at once, and searing red bolts erupted from the shotguns and slammed into the targeted Replica. The charged high-explosive rounds hammered the Heavy's barriers, the first shot battering them down, the second collapsing them, and the third hitting the Heavy in the chest and launch it backward to slam into the blast wall.
The roar of boosters filled Shepard's ears, and he spun, slowing everything once more. A Replica air-assault trooper had landed in a crouch right next to him, barely two meters away, and its rifle was tracking up as it stood. Shepard leapt up as he spun, and his left leg lanced up. His boot hit the Replica in the neck to hard that the head snapped at a perpendicular angle to the rest of its body, and the clone was sent slamming into the nearby fence hard enough to dent the metal.
Shepard reverted to normal, spun back around, and his shields flared. A second Replica had hit the dirt behind him, firing a submachinegun at almost point-blank range into his side. Shepard slowed once more, sidestepping out of the Replica's line of fire, and shot forward with another flaring, mass-effect shielded punch into the clone's chest. The air-assault trooper was hurled brutally against the fence and fell in a boneless heap to the asphalt.
The ground shook outside the gate, and Shepard spun again to see the second Heavy had landed, and the ground was littered with dead Replica. At least three more of the air-assault troops had landed among the chaos of the street battle. He spotted Ashley blowing one clone's head off its shoulders with her shotgun, and Dilbague trading fire with two more. Garrus' rifle thoomed, and a nearly bisected clone's body tumbled to a splattering crash on the pavement. More were landing around the Heavy, opposite the side where the vehicles were parked, and were using the massive Replica's shields as cover.
"Unlocked!" Liara shouted. As the hatch opened, she whirled toward the chaotic gunbattle.
A massive surge of dark energy erupted around the asari, powerful enough to shake Shepard's teeth, and when she thrust her hands at the cluster of Replica around the Heavy, her biotic power crashed over them like a breaking ocean wave. The half-dozen air-assault troops were lifted off their feet and cast backwards like being slapped by a massive, annoyed god, and flew more than a dozen meters down the street. The Heavy stumbled backwards and toppled off its feet, rolling in the torrent of savage force.
The biotic blast was massive, powerful, and it sent Liara to her knees, her whole body shaking at the sudden exertion. She didn't use blasts like that normally, because they could leave her dangerously vulnerable.
"Now! Everyone to the hatch!" Shepard called, and stepped back toward the gate to shield Liara, firing at another Replica that landed a few meters away. He punched rounds through its shield and backpack, and as blood erupted from its torso plates, the boosters malfunctioned and sent it skipping across the street. But despite Liara's devastating biotic throw, there were still more Replica in the street, and additional clones descending every second. There must have been an entire air-assault platoon coming after them, and a glance overhead showed another Heavy descending. The second Heavy was starting to clamber to its feet, plates scraping and squealing as it fought to regain its center of balance. Ashley and Maness had managed to cross the street to where Garrus and Dilbague were still firing, having dealt with the pair of clones that had landed close to them. The air was shaking with the deafening reports of a dozen assault weapons raging back and forth and the shouts of the Replica troops and Shepard's team as they coordinated movement and fire.
"Pinned down, Shepard!" Ashley called over the radio, her words partially downed out by gunfire. Shepard could see tracers hammering their position by the vehicles, and knew that they would get cut down if they tried to reach the gate.
"Garrus," Shepard called. "Can you hack those vehicles?"
"Easy enough," the turian replied. "The plan?"
Another Replica tried to enter the gate. Shepard blasted it off its feet.
"Withdraw," Shepard ordered. "Find another way in. We can't get to you and you can't reach us."
"Understood," Garrus said, his voice low. "Standby." A couple of seconds later the ground shuddered, and one of the utility trucks rose off the ground. "Simple enough. Everyone, on board!"
Liara had risen to her feet again and was firing her submachinegun through the fence at another Replica trooper, and Shepard finished it off. Her hands rose and another biotic blast launched two more of the enemy across the street. Shepard waved a hand for her to go into the hatch, and she nodded. He slid in behind her as she started into the doorway, and he spotted the rest of the team clambering into the truck. Two of the Replica were charging forward, and he saw one drawing a grenade.
"Frag the vehicle!" one of them shouted in its filtered voice.
Shepard grit his teeth, slowed, then rushed out of the gate. He knew that outside, everyone was seeing a blurring form racing out from behind cover, and he could hear low, drawn-out shouts of warning as he leapt through the open gate, shotgun raised. The Replica holding the grenade turned toward him, helmet moving with a slowness that would have been comical if the clone hadn't been trying to kill his companions. Shepard guessed they were less than three meters away when he pulled the trigger.
The aspiring grenadier took the blast in the upper chest and throat, and the clone's shields collapsed almost instantly. The second blast tore its head off and sent the corpse tumbling sideways. Shepard whirled on the other Replica, took a step forward, and shoved his shotgun inside its shield before pulling the trigger.
The shredder slugs bisected the clone from the middle of its chest. Shepard sidestepped as the body flew apart, blood flying everywhere, but it still splattered on the front of his armor. He heard the howl of agony from the clone as it died, the Replica's agonized death-cry distorted and inhuman.
His head screamed in agony, and black spots started to appear in his vision. Shepard reverted and dove back into the gate, while the utility truck leapt up and drove away. Rounds flew past as the rest of the team fired out the rear bed and passenger compartment, and more bullets slammed into his shields or skipped off the fencing around him. His legs started to wobble as he threw himself across the asphalt to the waiting hatch. A bright blue flare rippled past him, and he heard a Replica scream as it was launched away, and then hands grabbed him by the arm.
He blinked through the agony in his head, and found himself stumbling into a dim hallway of industrial gray ceramic. Gunfire blazed behind him, but as he spun around, he heard a door hiss closed. Liara crouched by the door for a couple of seconds, working with her omnitool, and the indicator light over the door's panel turned to an angry red.
"There, that should hold," she said, rising and stepping over to where he was sitting.
Shepard blinked again. When had he sat down? His head was swimming with the ghosts of euphoria and a deluge of dizziness. Psi-high, once more. Liara's omnitool glowed over him as she scanned quickly, her dark lips pressed in a thin line behind her visor.
"No injuries," she said after a moment. "Thank the Goddess. When I saw that blood . . . ."
"You should see the other guy," Shepard grunted, and started to rise as the aftereffects of overtaxing his brain wore off. That was the one blessing of psi-high; just as fast as the symptoms set in, they wore off. Unless you were going crazy.
Shepard steadied himself, shaking his head to make sure that the dizziness was gone, and then nodded to Liara. He activated his radio as he looked down the passage, and signaled to Liara to switch to low-light.
"Garrus?" he called. "Ash?"
"Here, Shepard," Garrus replied. "We've managed to disengage. Looking for alternate route into the port."
"Avoid contact if possible," Shepard ordered, and shook his head. Not likely, considering the furball they'd just waged. The Replica would be all over them now that they knew that Shepard's team had at least attempted ingress through the maintenance accessways. Precisely how they located them was uncertain, but what mattered now was that the Replica knew they were in the underground access passages. They had to move fast to evade being pinned down.
"We're going to continue inside," Shepard continued. "See if we can find Fettel."
"Understood," Garrus replied. "Once we get inside we'll link up."
Shepard nodded he started down the corridor. Garrus' confidence was a good sign; he'd come a long way from the turian who was uncertain at what direction he was going to take. He would make a good Spectre, once he was finished with Shepard's crew.
He took the lead down the passage, Liara behind him, and they advanced into the darkness.
"Echo Seven-One to Command, contacts on long-range sensors. Sensor return does not match Alliance, Citadel, or Terminus."
They crawled below, sliding within their structures, their lives meaningless, directionless, purposeless. The only ones of note were connected by threads of pulsing dark energy to one, a sign of true purpose, of focused willpower. Of non-biochemical evolution, of directed advancement to a higher purpose. Thousands of them, united in a single direction.
But even then, an accident.
"This is Command, we see it. Stand by."
The pulses below, the shifting beacon of dark energy emerging from a central point, drew the attention of the extension and its subordinate limbs. It drew it down; were the extension a lesser awareness, it would be like bait. But this was . . . An objective. Yes. A goal to be achieved, an asset to be collected, dissected, analyzed, and purposed toward a greater end.
"Charlie Three-Five to Command, picking up airborne disturbance. Large mass effect field descending through upper atmosphere."
The lesser extensions of the central beacon turned their blind eyes upwards, taking warning. Their feeble arms were raised in alert. Their limited, finite consciousnesses, slaved to the central will (itself an extension of a far greater) became aware as the vessel descended and the limbs gathered. Their wings flickered, the animal sense of self lurking in their efficient, simple minds readying for combat.
"This is Command. Heavy weapons go to alert status. Possible hostile vessel entering perimeter. Stand by to engage."
Pulses of weak energy. Sensor scans. Limbs reaching for armor and cover. Primitive sounds exchanging, sophisticated pulses of thought through dark energy corridors transferring higher-level information.
The central beacon sent a short, decisive pulse, and the limbs connected to it answered. The identical, purposed lifeforms brought weapons to the ready and oriented toward the arrival.
"Command to all units, vessel does not match known iterations. Assume hostile. Engage at will."
Then there was another pulse. A different one, but recorded. Observed. Familiar. A priority. A form that had earned recognition.
Confirmation screamed down a thousand brains and through a hundred kilometers of zero-mass corridors. Every limb and extension awoke to the observed threat. Covers opened, weapons were raised, and the limbs leapt out, focused on their confirmed goal.
"Command to all units, hostile alien lifeforms landing inside the city. Unknown technology. Engage with caution."
Weapons were charged and released. The arms of the limbs screamed and hissed, dark energy shifting around each limb to deflect incoming strikes. Primitive mass accelerators dominated the enemy arms; basic armor and equipment compared with overall tech level. Disposable. Purposeful. Efficient.
Conflict was joined.
Phantom signals slid back up the corridors to the extension: echoes of pain and suffering, filtered into meaninglessness. Limbs collapsed and died, irrelevant. They were replaceable.
Other limbs, swarms of even emptier minds than the primary bipedal limbs. They emerged and then screamed. Dark energy surging through the site interfered with them; thousands of individual, miniscule limbs collapsed, overloaded or confused. The extension quickly withdrew them, annoyance flickering through its tendrils. The pulses from the beacon rendered the seeking clouds of tiny limbs ineffective. A potent weapon rendered impotent by the accident of biology.
Perhaps a reflection of the conflict in general.
"Bioform profile scanning. Data aquired, compared to known species. All units, be advised, alien life forms consistent with profiles acquired from Collectors. Uploading combat data to squad leaders for tactical adjustment."
The enemy's limbs changed their orientation and behavior, aware of what they were facing. The extension focused on the battlefield more closely, and found where conflict was most ferocious. Feedback rolled through the extension, and data was fed both above and below.
"Command, Echo Three-Six, be advised, hostile forces deploying significant personnel outside the spaceport. Requesting support. Perimeter units cannot contain enemy incursion."
The limbs, alone, would not be sufficient, at least not swiftly enough. The extension reached down, found one limb, and peered through its eyes. Machinery triggered, dark energy flared, and the connection was established.
"I AM ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL."
"What the fuck is that?"
"Quiet down! Command, Echo Three-Six, one of the Collectors is changing. Possible biotic threat present. Support request-"
Feedback ran up the radio, chased by an agonized scream.
"I AM ETERNAL. YOU ARE INSECTS."
"Command, hostile entity is using incend-"
"YOU CANNOT STOP ME."
"He wiped out the whole squad!"
"SHEPARD WILL NOT ESCAPE ME. YOU ARE BUT DUST."
The limb broke down, but its purpose was fulfilled, and countless more poured through the gap that had been forced in the organic defenses.
And the pulses grew faster. More erratic. More discernable.
The Replica responded to the sudden invasion with characteristic ruthlessness. Individual emotional responses of fear and anger were sublimated. Outlying perimeter units like the ones that had been engaging Shepard's squad moved to intercept the invaders as they bounded over the rooftops; the alien troops numbered in the hundreds, while the remaining clone troops were but a few dozen strong. They had no hope of winning, but that wasn't the point. The Replica slowed the invaders down, holding them back for the precious couple of minutes needed for a thousand fearless soldiers to be reoriented toward the incursion.
Paxton Fettel directed his commanders personally. Their decision-making processes were overridden and he took control of the command units directly. It was a painful mental chore to seize absolute control like this, but with the sudden arrival of the intruders, he needed to direct this battle personally. At the same time, he spared a small part of his awareness to jump from one mind to another as his perimeter sentries were overwhelmed, giving him a better look at the intruders. VI-supplied confirmation of EM profiles and biological structure were nothing compared to a firsthand look at the enemy. These . . . Collectors.
He saw creatures the size of humans, clad in gray-brown armor of chitinous plates - or maybe that was their skin? He couldn't tell. He saw other details: elongated heads, a quartet of glowing yellow eyes paired horizontally along the sides of their heads, and spindly arms and legs tipped with claws. They were oddly identical; he saw no variation in height, weight, or even the shapes of their armor or weapons. The only differences between individuals were the intensity and shapes of the mass effect fields surrounding them, red-shifting their appearances slightly.
"How curious," Fettel murmured to himself as he maneuvered his troops to face the threat, while commanding his engineers to focus their efforts. One freighter as nearly finished, and he ordered the engineers to ignore the other. He suspected that few enough of his Replica would survive the coming clash of what appeared to be two armies of cloned soldiers.
He moved quickly between sets of eyes, analyzing his enemy. The Collectors had deployed a substantial force of infantry, but he saw no vehicles. No aircraft, no hovercraft, nothing to support their ground troops. Long-range recon was returning images of swarms of tiny insect-like objects flying around the towering, organic shape of their warship hovering over the city, but they did not descend for some reason he couldn't fathom.
A signal flashed back up the chain of command, and he caught it from the command unit that received it. Fettel narrowed his eyes and concentrated, tracing the signal back to the Replica that had sent it, and peered through that clone's eyes and listened through its ears.
One of the Collectors had . . . Changed. glowing cracks had formed within its armor, like shining lava breaking through broken rock. EM detectors showed a thermal bloom surrounding the body, and element zero scanners showed a mass effect field of stunning power around the Collector.
It spoke, a voice deep and powerful, but edged with contempt.
He didn't hear the words it spoke, for the moment the voice flashed back into his mind, Fettel's knees gave out, and a white-hot fury screamed through his mind and body, so intense it sent spikes of pain through his limbs and chest. Part of him was distantly aware that the hate he suddenly felt was alien, but the rest of him was consumed by the inexplicable rage the voice had caused, and he screamed.
The roar that escaped his lips was not merely audible. The Replica commanders in front of him started twitching in their chairs, one convulsing so hard it fell to the floor. The guards surrounding the room started screaming as well, shaking and twitching where they stood. Their weapons, linked to their armors' biometrics, locked up and did not fire even as the triggers were reflexively pulled over and over.
Writhing in pain and seething with alien hate, Paxton Fettel managed a single coherent thought, and the Replica suffering under his own telepathic agony responded immediately.
Kill them. Kill them all.
Pain lanced through Shepard as he reached the intersection in the maintenance passage, and he stumbled again. He tried grabbing his head as agony beat against him, but his fingers met only his helmet. He thought he heard someone shouting his name, and a sudden numbness swept through his skin - painkillers, meaning medigel dispenser - but it did nothing to deaden the agony in his brain.
Worse still, it was familiar. It was-
-but stronger, more intense. More . . . Aware.
He pushed back against the pain, fighting back a scream, and his back hit a wall. Liara was in front of him, omnitool glowing, fear and worry etched across her features. He stared at her eyes for a few seconds, gritting his teeth, and-
Something moved behind her, visible on his scopes.
He blinked, focusing through the pain, and ignored Liara's worried questions. He stared past her, trying to make out the shape, and saw . . .
A young girl, with dark hair, a red dress, and feet and fingertips crusted with dried blood, walking down the hallway toward them.
Blackness yawned behind her, a void swirling and twisting, tendrils sliding in and out, dark energy writhing like a living thing. Eyes gleamed with a gold-red light, focusing on him, specifically.
"Shepard?" Liara asked, and finally seemed to notice he was looking past her. She started to turn, and her motion broke the spell.
The tendrils leapt out, reaching toward them and accompanied by a scream that shook his body and mind, and he saw flames erupting from the appendages.
Shepard did the first thing that came to mind, and the world slowed. He leapt forward, shoving Liara back, and raised his assault rifle. He leveled it at the nearest tendril and opened fire, the weapon's muzzle strobing with energy release at a stately pace. The rounds punched through the fire and the shadow, and went right through it without stopping, but the tendril began to retract as if in pain. He shifted his fire to drive back the next one, and then the next, and each shadowy appendage retreated as he shot it.
He drove them back, then turned his hyper-fast eyes toward the little girl. Her face was pale, almost corpse-white, and was blank, while her gold-red eyes -familiar dream eyes- stared at him with what might have been curiosity or apathy.
Instinct and a decade working with FEAR told him all he needed to know. He knew out-of-control psychic phenomena when he saw it, and knew the quickest way to solve it. Shepard leveled the rifle at the little girl's chest and pulled the trigger.
The room flattened. The ceramic walls cracked, metallic machinery was pounded flat, and the dim lights exploded. Shepard found himself weightless for a heartbeat, and realized he was airborne, apparently flung backward, and his ears were ringing from what felt like a bitch of a loud scream.
He hit the ground with a scrape of armor on ceramic floor, and rolled down the corridor. He came to a halt against the wall. Liara lay nearby, and in a moment of panic he checked her biometrics. Her hardsuit returned that she was alive, but unconscious due to unknown head trauma. He triggered an emergency medigel application while his head was still swimming, and fumbled for a weapon. His sidearm unfolded in his hand, and Shepard raised it, looking around for-
She stood next to him, staring down at his prone body, so close that black hair brushed the top of his helmet. Those glowing eyes bored down into his mind, and he thought he saw something different in her expression. Sadness, maybe?
One of her blood-crusted hands reached down toward his helmet as he swung the pistol around, and the finger went through it as if it wasn't there. They touched his forehead, and there was a sudden flare of heat along his skin and within his skull, then-
The display beeped again, and he took one quick drag before reaching up and touching the flashing key.
"Report," the Illusive Man asked.
"Massive telesthetic spike on Naxos, sir. We're tracing it now. I can narrow it down to a cluster, maybe a single system if it lasts long enough." A pause. "Got it! Sending it now!"
"Good work," the Illusive Man said, managing a small, satisfied smile.
"Sir, Collectors are confirmed on the planet. We've also lost track of Shepard's team."
"You've done your job," he replied. "Get out of there. Don't concern yourself with Shepard or Fettel. We have the real prize now."
As the line cut, he spun around in his chair to another display and began sending orders to the retrieval force. If they were fast and lucky, they could hit the target before they moved it to another system. And if they recovered the target . . . .
His fingers slowed. If they recovered it, they would be playing with a force more dangerous than anything else in the galaxy. He'd seen what happened to Sovereign. But more importantly, if they recovered Armacham's dark little secret, it might backfire on them if she sensed him. He put nothing past something that powerful.
But they had to take that risk. That was what Cerberus specialized in, after all. Taking one monster and turning it and its power against another.
He finished sending the order, and settled back in his chair. He looked upon the dying star once more, and slid back into thought while pouring another shot. Everything was in motion now, and all he had to do was wait and ponder.
That was the worst part of it all.
Codex - Organizations - Armacham Technology Corporation
Founded in 2114, Armacham Technology Corporation (ATC) is currently the single largest military-industrial firm in human space, and one of the top ten largest corporations in the galaxy. Originally founded simply as an aerospace and weapons company, Armacham's meteoric rise was jump-started 2120 when it managed to secure a no-bid contract to supply the United North American States with next-generation small arms. From there, additional contracts were established the UNAS and other countries. Armacham swiftly expanded their product base, branching out into other fields, both high and low tech. ATC eventually secured contracts in advanced spaceflight and colonization in 2135, and an ATC survey team uncovered the Prothean ruins on Mars in 2137.
Armacham spearheaded research into element zero and mass effect technology, and developed the first faster-than-light drive based on mass effect fields. ATC survey units discovered the Charon mass relay and charted a large number of star systems beyond Arcturus, and secured contracts to supply the newly developed Human Systems Alliance with everything from small arms and spaceship weaponry to toothpaste and MREs. When the First Contact War erupted in 2149, ATC deployed first-generation Replica units to defend the colony; the exceptional performance of the Replica and other ATC-engineered weaponry during the conflict drew galactic attention. Once relations between the Systems Alliance and the Citadel were formalized, Armacham began receiving contracts from planetary and species-wide governments.
Armacham is currently an industry leader in fields such as small arms, aerospace weapons and engines, robotics, genetic engineering, and psychic-shielding technology. In recent years the corporation has received bad press due to allegations of unethical bioengineering, legally-questionable psychic research, and their extensive private military wing. Due to Armacham's extensive contracts across Citadel space and contacts with many governments, the corporation retains immense political capital, and has weathered legal trouble, criminal inquiries, and even Spectre investigations.
The corporation also maintains a substantial private military force that operates primarily in the Terminus Systems, although their military forces have also been contracted out to Citadel and planetary governments. Conservative estimates place ATC's active military strength at between twenty to fifty thousand mixed-species personnel, although many estimates put actual military strength as much higher, and do not factor in "regular" corporate security. Spectre Jodum Bau has stated in a report to the Council that, "With three extranet calls, ATC can mobilize half a million troops." These numbers can be further augmented by an unspecified number of Replica battalions; STG and Spectre analysis estimate at least forty thousand Replica units in active service, with at least one hundred thousand or more in "storage."
Author's Notes: Its kind of interesting how writing small-scale, tactical battles can be harder and more complex than large-scale battles. With large-scale battles you can skip elements and gloss over parts of the engagement by switching up perspectives, but with tactical battles where everything is happening close together, describing the environment and everyone's positions and actions becomes a lot more challenging.
One of the reasons this chapter took a bit was because I did a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the overall story, as well as putting in work on Renegade and Forward and Tiberium Wars as well. I actually wrote out an entire, fairly-complex timeline and a number of Codex articles that I used to reference for technology, history, and behavior. (this isn't the first time I've done something like this; I had an entire order-of-battle written out for the 4th Battalion, 103rd Recon in TibWars, for example) This was critical to both establishing the story's framework and keeping everything consistent within my own work.
There's some alternate history elements in this story as well; the actual ME timeline has been massaged a bit thanks to ATC's presence (i.e. a sharp fan will note the First Contact War's date doesn't jive with canon). Another thing to keep in mind is that, considering how much I am changing things, don't take everything for granted; those familiar with either ME or FEAR might be caught off-guard.
Until next chapter . . . .