Deus Ex Human Revolution is the property of Eidos/Square Enix

Mass Effect is the property of Bioware and Electronic Arts

Mass Effect: Human Revolution:

Chapter 41: The Battle of Noveria part 5

~[h+]~


EU Colonel Nicholas Gadolt is voiced by Nicholas Boulton

Urdnot Wreav is voiced by Jason Momoa

~[h+]~


Early Author's Notes:

Kept you waiting, huh?

Well, I promised this arc would end with this chapter, and I have kept my word. Only, it took a long time to write this one, and it's as big as two chapters. I hope you like text, because this one's packed with 64,000 words, enough to fill up a novella.

Translated French is, as always, at the end of the chapter. A suggestion? Open this fic in a separate window and scroll to the bottom. Trust me, going back and forth would take too long.

The German is coming at you courtesy of Google Translate. So blame that mega-corporation if it sounds a little stiff.

Spell check by WarpObscura, who has my special thanks for constantly fixing my typos. Some format and punctuation fixes by Yikari.

~[h+]~


CODEX ENTRY: TECHNOLOGY: ILLEGAL: NANOMACHINERY:

UNIVERSAL CONSTRUCTOR

A Universal Constructor, or Molecular Assembler, or a Nano-Factory, is an immense machine that uses nanites to rearrange substances to on the molecular and atomic level, essentially being able to create any possible physical entity from any other entity, as long as the machine has enough power to operate. Millions of atoms could be arranged by an UC on arrays and constructed at once, so entities multiple meters tall can be constructed in a matter of seconds: Mechs, tanks, starships, and even animals could be made in a matter of seconds.

During the drafting of the first version of the Citadel Conventions, the concept of the Universal Constructor was to be included in the Tier 2 definition of Weapons of Mass Destruction by the Asari, due to their strong concerns for the destructive potential of nanomachines, Earth, for example, had suffered a major catastrophe that nearly destroyed their ecosystem caused by the rampant Nanomachines of several malfunctioning UCs that spread around their planet.

The many states of the Terminus Systems have no such conventions, although they have learned a bitter lesson several times over: the inevitable destruction of several of their worlds due to Grey Goo incidents have left even the most ambitious Terminus dictator hesitant to try to fund the creation of an UC. The Turanic Kingdoms, however, are rumored to be experimenting with the technology.

An addendum was added that constructing a UC in any environment would have legal consequences comparable to withholding Prothean artifacts.

~[h+]~


Normandy

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Joker over the Normandy's intercom, with disingenuous enthusiasm, "we're about to go on a low-orbit cruise in 5 minutes, and because of our brush with the One Ring the inertial dampers may fail and not soak in all the turbulence and acceleration, so please secure your shit. ETA to Dosadi is 20 minutes. That's all."

After a quick briefing and an even quicker (and rather unsatisfying) meal composed of a protein block and a calorie-rich vitamin shake for biotics, Ramsus had excused himself to the cargo bay, and stood over the stasis pod that preserved the corpse of one of the three women that had defined him. His mother had created him. Annah had saved him. Junko had freed him.

And now Junko was dead.

Two out of three. The third was in peril at this very moment.

And yet, despite seeing the evidence for himself, he still felt as though Shepard was close, watching over him. But there was no Junko, he knew. Only Jensen, shadowing him, watching his every move for a hint of betrayal. Ramsus smiled. It would be simple to betray him, and profoundly stupid. The ship could not take the inevitable confrontation.

And Adam would be useful, far more useful than a bunch of grunts.

Speaking of grunts, Ramsus felt one of them approach from behind. The woman in the Phoenix hardsuit was about to salute, but Ramsus was in no mood for protocols.

"What do you want?" he asked, without looking at her.

"Er... Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, sir!" replied the soldier. Ramsus could hear the shifting of boots, and disturbed air caressing the back of his head. A quick salute.

"Well, I'm sure this Williams is a very lucky man," quipped Ramsus. Of course he knew who the soldier was, but sometimes Ramsus just could not help himself. "Go after him, and leave me to my memories of Shepard," he said. Perhaps he was not commanding enough, because she was still there, much to his annoyance.

"You knew her?" asked Williams.

"In every sense of the word," replied Ramsus, as he put a hand on the black, casket-shaped pod. He closed his eyes, and for a moment he was no longer in the Normandy's hold, but in that hot, damp, dark space within the metal depths of the SSV Kilimanjaro. "I remember everything about her," he said as he replayed that wild moment with her. "The smell of her black hair, the curve of her back, the softness of her pale skin... the feeling of her teeth on my neck..."

Jun, don't leave me...

I'm sorry... you're not what I need in my life...

Ramsus withdrew his hand, remembering that in the end she had chosen him. Kaidan. The bore. He tried to take some sort of delight in the fact that Alenko had died ignobly, but the fact of the matter was that he had joined Junko in death. Rage built up inside of Ramsus, and he let it out in the form of a brief red aura of dark energy. Alenko would have Junko in death for all eternity. Ramsus withdrew the flower from his leg pack and stared at it, sorely tempted to use it, to take her away from him forever...

No.

It was much too late. He knew better than to try. He chuckled to himself: He wasn't even sure how the blasted thing worked, really.

Williams shifted uncomfortably, as she was under the mistaken impression he was saying those things for her benefit. "To answer your question, sir, I want—"

Her hesitation was beginning to get on his nerves. "Out with it, woman."

"I've heard you're planning a rescue mission, and I would like to be part of your squad."

Ramsus turned around, and fixed her with his gaze. "You want to join Blacklight."

~[h+]~


Ashley Williams had some specific and somewhat lofty standards when it came to men. Men should be tall. Men should be buff. Men should look tough, with a chiseled face. Men should maintain simple, clean haircuts. Men, in other words, should be manly.

Lieutenant Johann Ramsus was not manly. He was tall, but lanky. The pale blonde hair that flowed out of his collapsed helmet was too long and too wavy, nearly past regulation length. His face was a soft, smooth oval with a small chin, covered in perfect, pale skin. His mouth was a bit small, the top lip a cupid's bow.

Ramsus looked too much like a girl for Ashley's tastes.

But as he turned around and fixed his gaze on her, as he narrowed his two pale amber eyes (a colour that suddenly reminded Ash of the sight and scent of wood shavings in her father's garage), Ashley had to suppress a gasp.

"You want to join Blacklight," he said, with a shockingly deep voice, with a pitch and frequency that made something inside her resonate. It took a moment for her to muster a response.

"No, I—" she was interrupted by the low growl of the dog mech, as it uncloaked at her feet. It curled itself around her legs, not quite touching them. Its tail seemed to float around her as the dog circled. She wondered if Ramsus was testing her, and she decided to rise to the challenge. She would not be intimidated.

"I have no intention of joining Blacklight, sir," she said, firmly. "I think I my talents can serve humanity best elsewhere. Working for the first human Spectre is right up my alley."

"I am not a Spectre yet."

"Do you doubt you will be?"

Ramsus smiled, and dismissed the mechanical hound with a gesture. He crossed his arms, appraising Williams, then spoke again: "I have questions for you."

"Of course, and I'll answer them, sir."

"...Is there anything you would not do for those you love?"

"Nothing, sir. Humanity and my family deserve my 100 percent."

"...Would you surrender, for their sake?"

"You mean... am I susceptible to blackmail, sir? The answer is no."

"Would. You. Surrender?" Ramsus insisted.

Williams jaw was set. This was about Shanxi. "No, I would never surrender. You never surrender."

"Then you are useless to me." Ramsus turned his back on Williams, returning to his mediation upon the pod.

"... what?" That was not the answer Williams expected.

"I have no use for you. I have a team. They are more than enough for the task that is to come."

"You... you'd take a Turian and some bimbo with you on a sensitive mission for the Alliance?" Williams was on the verge of screaming at the lieutenant. "They're mercenaries! You said so yourself!"

Ramsus sighed. "I trust the judgement and motivations of these mercenaries far more than I trust the ones of a self-obsessed, racist opportunist who deludes herself of what she is with notions of family honour and patriotism."

"How..." Ashley became outraged. "How dare you?! You don't know anything about me!"

"I know all I need to know from you, and what I know bores me."

At that point Williams wanted nothing more than to bury her fist into Ramsus' face. Reason reined in her fury: punching out a superior officer would send her career down the toilet. Through gritted teeth, she forced these words out: "Am I dismissed, sir?"

Ramsus said nothing, not looking at her at all. Taking his silence as his answer, Ashley turned around to leave. She had taken three steps away when Ramsus spoke again. "Williams," he said. She found herself stopping, and braced herself for more abuse.

"Nobody cares about your name. Nobody ever did. It's your attitude that keeps you from greatness."

His tone was soft, and gentle, almost as if he cared. Ashley walked away, no longer sure what to think of Johann Ramsus.

Or what to feel.

~[h+]~


Ramsus smiled inwardly. He liked to play hot and cold with women. It made them more delicious. He knew he probably would not have time to bed Williams, but one never knew...

"What the hell was that for?" Adam transmitted sub-vocally.

Ramsus closed his helmet and opened a Codec channel to Jensen. "Giggles, mostly," was his reply. "Also she hates dogs and loves poetry. I love dogs!... and I hate poetry."

"And the whole 'You are useless to me' bit?"

"She claims to be willing to do anything for those who she loves, and she backpedals at surrendering. I don't like hypocrites, either. I'd fuck one, but that's it."

"As if you would surrender?" accused Adam. "You don't seem like the type."

"Ah, you flatter me..." replied Ramsus, jokingly. Then, his tone became serious. "You would be wrong. I surrendered, once, for the sake of the one I love."

"...There's a story behind that, isn't there?"

"There is... but we haven't got the time to go into that right now. Your batteries must be getting low: you've been cloaked a long time."

"...Maybe they are."

"Don't be coy. Stop shadowing me and recharge your cells. I want you ready for battle when we reach Dosadi. Neither Saren's forces nor Scholar's will willingly let us approach their prize."

"...Fine, but don't go anywhere."

~[h+]~


Twelve percent. That was how much juice he had left, and it was dwindling a little too fast at 1 percent per minute. Adam hated to admit it but Ramsus had a point. He needed a power source, and fast.

"Garrus, does the Normandy have any spare power-cells around?" he asked sub-vocally via Codec. "I need to top up my energy."

It took a moment for Garrus to reply. "They had a couple of replacement OVO cells for their Mako. They lost it a while back, so I'm using one to replace the busted one in my nacelle and swapping the other one's gel in my C-mag. Sorry."

"Damn."

"I think the mess hall's got a few candy bars, though."

"Yeah, that's not going to cut it."

"...You could go to engineering, and pull that energy draining trick on a spare battery or a power conduit?"

"Hm... I think I'll try that, thanks."

~[h+]~


At the helm, Joker had gone through the checklist. They were ready to break atmo. While the Normandy was a fast ship thanks to its oversized element zero core, the fact remained that under atmospheric conditions, the ship could barely reach Mach 3. Crossing the six thousand kilometres from Peak 15 to Dosadi would take an hour, forty minutes and change. Going in and out of the stratosphere, however, would make the trip a lot shorter.

"Going full burn," he announced. At first the Normandy rose up without any problem, but its hull gradually shook more and more. "Damned Turian aerodynamics!" he swore under his breath. One would think that aliens descended from birds would be able to design a better plane. Apparently, one would be wrong. Joker pressed the intercom button and set it to engineering. "Hey, Addams! Those inertial dampers aren't working right! Can you correct?"

"Addams here. The inertial dampers read fine!"

Joker swore as he levelled the ship's pitch and lowered the throttle. "Then why the hell is the turbulence getting worse?!"

"Well slow down, then!"

"I AM slowing down! It's still getting worse! What the—"

"Holy shit!" swore Draven at her Sensor Station, and she hit the intercom and set it for the bridge. "We've got a swarm of Bogeys on our six o' clock! It came out of nowhere! Dark Energy readings are... the output's bigger than the Normandy's!"

"What?! There's no way that's possible!"

"It is!" The Normandy shook even harder. "It's disrupting our Mass Effect field!"

~[h+]~


In a dark, unseen corner of the Normandy's drive core room, Adam was about to grab hold of a live power conduit —something that, really, no sane man should ever do— when he started hearing a voice in his head.

[Drakengard 3 DLC OST - Seere's Prayer]

Adaaaaam...

Adam recognized the voice immediately. Mey Leng, he thought.

Did you forget about me? I'm hurt, Adam... I think about you all the time...

The ship shook, and the alarm came on."Aw, crap."

Don't worry, soon all you'll be able to think about is ME!

~[h+]~


"We've got more than sixty contacts, packed together, all drone-sized!" Draven reported. "And... what the hell are those?!"

"Give me a visual!" commanded Anderson, who was standing on the dais overlooking the CIC's holographic pit. The galaxy map fizzled out into a vid window that showed a swarm of drones in the shape of a swirling sphere. Inside, Anderson could make out things that looked suspiciously like... like...

"Are those sharks?!" said Joker, disbelieving. As soon as he said that, the creatures burst from the sphere and surrounded the Normandy. Anderson knew an attack when he saw one, and did not hesitate to respond.

"Activate the GARDIAN system! Shoot those things out of my sky!"

"Aye Aye, sir!" Joker whooped when the lasers came online and two of the creatures blinked out of the radar."That's right! Eat lasers, you.. you... oh shit."

"What's happening?!" asked Anderson, barking. From the grinding noises that resonated through the hull, it was not hard to figure out the answer.

"The sharks are eating the laser guns," came Joker's sullen reply. "Aw, this... is not good."

The hologram shifted to a status window of the Normandy. Someone had forced an airlock near the cargo bay.

"Sir! This is Williams! The Turian mercenary just forced open an airlock and jumped ship!"

"What?!"

"New contact! High thermal signature, no IFF! It's... I think it's attacking the creatures!"

"Give me a visual!"

A vid window came on: The IMREC cams were tracking, of all things, a flying Turian. The plasma thrusters under his nacelles were going at full burn, keeping up with the Normandy with no problem. He was carrying two weapons in each hand: a Widow and what looked like a light machine gun. The creatures stopped chewing on the Normandy's hull to attack him.

"Give him support! Launch the drones!" ordered Anderson.

~[h+]~


The Dayak flew right at Garrus, its maw wide open, ready to devour him. A single shot from the Widow broke its Barrier down, while a follow up with the modified Longinus took care of the body. The bright purple beam cut the creature in two. One down. Six to go.

Wait a minute. Did I just kill a flying shark by dual-wielding two anti-materiel rifles? Whilst flying at Mach 2 at high altitude?

Yes.

Yes I did.

SO going to rub that in Grey's f— OH CRAP!

Garrus had little time to savor that one little victory. His grin faded when the rest of the Dayaks attacked him and the defense drones the Normandy had launched to help him. The four of them did not last long, though one managed to explode inside a Dayak's belly, taking it down with it. Garrus executed the Widow-and-Longinus combo on another Dayak, leaving a total of four of the creatures. As he tried to line up another combo, a dozen of the flying mechs broke off from that swirling black sphere and proceeded to fire missiles at him.

The Longinus, in machine gun mode, took care of those, but the drones fired another full salvo of 84 missiles at Garrus in reprisal. Garrus took evasive action, a task made a bit more difficult with both hands wielding anti-materiel rifles.

At that point Garrus regretted not letting Hein fit chaff launchers in the suit. I didn't think I'd even need them!

~[h+]~


"LAUNCH CHAFF!" barked Anderson at a crewman.

"Launching chaff!" replied the crewman as soon as he punched the haptic button.

~[h+]~


Mercifully, the Normandy's own countermeasures were launched, completely throwing off the missiles. Some of them hit the hull, but the light frigate's shields took the blast. Garrus sighed in relief. He would not have to completely empty his gun's energy cell so soon after replenishing it. That was good.

What was not so good was that the other Dayaks had taken advantage of the distraction to burrow through the Normandy's hull.

"Oh no..." muttered Garrus in horror as he brought his guns to bear on the nearest Dayak. It died before it could Warp through the armor, but the other three Dayaks managed to enter the ship. Garrus brought the Normandy up on his Codec, with the vocal scrambler on. "Normandy! Ready your marines! You've got boarders coming through near the CIC, the cargo bay, and engineering!"

~[h+]~


"Shoot it! Shoot it! Fucking shoot it!" screamed Ashley as she tried to get a bead on the creature, who seemed to swim through the air at alarming speed, bullets bouncing off its barrier.

She was the only marine in the cargo hold in full gear: the rest, like Fredricks, only had fatigues to protect them from the — and Williams still could not believe her eyes — biotic flying shark's obsidian teeth. Fredricks had been the first to fall when the creature had practically melted its way through the hull. Poor bastard had his arm Warped off when it grazed him.

The requisition officer had been next and was now lying in a pool of his own blood, his head bitten off. His fancy guns had not helped him. Where was the great Johann Ramsus, Williams wondered? No doubt cowering in the elevator, she concluded.

Williams knew it was now her turn, as it seemed that the ravenous demon was now staring at her. "MEAT," it said, its mouth unmoving.

"You want me?! You want me?!" Ash screamed in defiance, as the Marksman Omni-Tool app surrounded her Lancer and nearly doubled its rate of fire even as it kept it steady. "Come and get me!" Williams' Lancer vomited hundreds of bullets at the creature as it opened its gaping mouth and dashed forward at her. The weapon overheated, having done nothing to stop what was to come. Williams fell backwards, her heart gripped with the sudden terror of knowing that she was going to die — childless, and with no one to carry on the tradition! Her life flashed before her eyes as the jaws snapped shut, over, and over again.

She could not feel anything. Was she dead?

It took her a moment to realize that she was not being eaten, even as the floating creature desperately snapped its jaws at her. Behind it Ramsus' mech dog had bitten the red shark's tail, its metal claws digging deep into the floor, serving as an anchor. Ramsus' other mercenary, the woman, casually stepped up to the shark and punched it repeatedly into submission, the muscles in her arm suddenly bulging with each strike, until its barriers finally broke and its head had been thoroughly flattened between the cargo bay floor and her open palm. Its eyes popped out, and brains poured out of the sockets. At least, Williams thought it was brains: some of the stuff was on her armour.

"Bimbo, am I?" said the woman scornfully, her voice warped by a vocalizer in her helmet, her face obscured by a golden polarized visor. Whatever thoughts of gratitude Ashley had, they had been chased away, making way for the realization that she had been saved by a machine, and whatever that woman was...

"You're not human," Williams said as she picked herself up. "You can't be."

"You say that like it's a bad thing." The woman shrugged.

~[h+]~


The CIC was caught up in a screaming panic. Only Joker and Anderson were keeping it together. The helmsman, focused on keeping the ship flying even as dark energies tried to crush it, and the captain by taking a piece of guardrail and smacking it across the flying hammerhead shark's head.

"GET! OFF! MY! SHIP!" Anderson screamed, punctuating every word with a rail strike. The creature, annoyed, grabbed the rail with its teeth and tossed Anderson aside. Just as it was about to move in for the kill, the creature began to contort as its body became wrapped up in red pulses of dark energy. It exploded in a shower of gore, splashing over both Anderson and Ramsus. The AIA assassin offered his hand to the captain.

"What the hell kept you?!" growled Anderson even as Ramsus helped him get back up.

"Your elevator," Ramsus shot back.

"Sir, there's a new contact, coming on our six o'clock high!" reported Draven. "It's... It's the Copperhead! It's coming in hot!"

~[h+]~


On Garrus' word, Neil opened fire on that sphere of biotic energy attacking the Normandy. He was not exactly keen on rescuing the ship that had tried to kill him, but attacking those bogeys certainly beat shadowing the Normandy. Much to Neil's surprise, Garrus had already downed a few of the drones attacking him, and whistled in admiration: Stormcrows were no joke, especially in groups. Neil himself had fought Syndicate drones that were almost as vicious in a Havoc gunship.

"Focus on the big one!" Garrus had commanded over the Codec, after the twelve drones harassing them were dealt with.

"Roger that!" The Copperhead's nose-mounted machine gun spat a stream of hyper-velocity slugs at the drone swarm. It was not exactly hard to hit, but from the little bursts of dark energy that appeared with every hit, it was obvious to the pilot that the gun was doing no damage at all. Garrus fared no better with his two guns. "The hell?!"

"I know!" shouted Garrus in his mic. "I think the swarm is synchronizing their Eezo cores to create a super powerful biotic field! Nothing gets through it!"

"I don't suppose A— I mean SHADOW can work his tech wizardry on them?"

"Good question! Hey! Partner! Do you read?!"

"Hold on!" Adam replied, and the loud report of his revolver came through the channel. Shotgun blasts erupted in the background. "Okay, that's one problem dealt with! What now?!"

"We got a swarm of drones out here! Can you Breach them?"

"Let me check... I don't detect any drone signals!"

"Then how in the fuck are they coordinating?!" shouted Neil in disbelief.

"Psionically, of course," said a smooth, deep voice over the Codec.

"Who the fuck is this?!" replied Neil, more than a bit confused.

"Ramsus, how about working some of that brain magic against that swarm, then?!" barked Garrus.

Magic? Ramsus? What the fuck is going on? Neil wondered, as the Copperhead suddenly became unstable. His HUD reported anomalies in the craft's mass-lightening field, and he promptly shut it down as he increased the engines' output. Ah, the wonders of aerodynamics.

"I can't," replied Ramsus. "Whoever is controlling that swarm is shielding himself too well," said Ramsus. "That bubble of dark energy he's wrapped in is too strong. I can't focus on him."

Completely ignoring Neil and Garrus' gunfire, the swarm, which now looked a lot like a giant black eye, slowly moved from the aft of the Normandy to its bow. Lightning crackled between it and the Normandy's hull as it moved, and intensified when it floated right in front of it. The swarm widened just a bit, just enough to reveal the core.

Neil zoomed in with his helmet and blinked. It was a woman.

"What the hell?" said Joker as the swarm parted to reveal a woman attached to one of the Stormcrows, just floating there like she was some sort of dark angel of death. Nowhere on her did he see anything remotely large enough to generate a Mass Effect field powerful enough to keep up with the Normandy. "Cap'n! It's... she's right in front of us!"

Anderson's response was immediate. "Main gun, load Tungsten! Joker! Keep us steady!"

"Aye aye!" replied Joker as his fingers furiously tapped the helm's haptics. "I mean, it's not like I've been doing this for the past five minutes or anything!"

"Tungsten loaded!" reported the Gunnery officer. "Ready to fire!"

"Fire on Joker's mark!"

Joker grinned wickedly. If anyone was going to be so stupid as to attack a frigate with a spinal mount railgun and then float right in front of it, then they deserved what was about to hap—

BEHOLD THE POWER OF THOSE TOUCHED BY THE REAPERS, MY SWEET ADAM, AND KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT FIGHT THEM

A woman's voice — THAT woman's voice — echoed inside Joker's head. It was almost worse than the cloaking psychosis in its intensity alone; it felt like a spider scratching the walls of bone inside of his skull as it devoured the soft, moist flesh inside of it. The woman then opened her mouth, and from the opening came a unearthly sound — or a song? — Joker could not tell. Glowing purple circles, with odd letters and symbols, appeared in front of her. Whatever the hell she was doing, it could not be good.

Joker lined up a shot and shouted: "FIRE!"

The tungsten core steel slug flew out of the Normandy's mouth, the friction igniting the air as it streaked towards its target. Joker had expected the winged woman to explode. Instead, the slug stopped dead in the middle of the circle of symbols. The woman sang louder, and the slug disintegrated in blobs of dark energy.

"That's... that's just not fair," muttered Draven, despairing.

Anderson's voice came through the intercom. "Joker! Draven! Report!"

Joker could barely process what had just happened. "Direct hit. No damage..." he said, knowing that whatever this woman was, it could not be human.

It just couldn't be.

The winged woman sang louder, and an orb of black energy gathered in front of her. Unless someone pulled a miracle out of their ass, Joker knew they were all fucked.

~[h+]~


"Where did that noise come from?!" said Engineer Addams, having never heard the report of a high-powered revolver shot before. His ears had been ringing.

"Does it matter?" said Lieutenant Taylor, as he checked his Eviscerator Shotgun. He had managed to put a dent in the creature's Barrier with a Warp before it fizzled out completely. Then, all of a sudden, it froze all over, allowing Taylor to finish it off with his gun. "I'm just glad it's dead. Thanks for the Cryo Blast, by the way."

"That wasn't me!"

As Lieutenant Taylor and Engineer Addams pondered the question of what exactly had made the creature freeze, Jensen, hidden from view, took the empty bullet casings out of Sasha, pocketed them, and slotted some live ammo in its chambers. Among the empty casings was one of the few remaining bullets Sandal had made for Jensen. It was a Cryo round, as it turned out, and a very potent one at that.

"Shoot it! Shoot it!" shouted Garrus over their Codec channel.

"I am! Nothing's getting through!" replied Neil.

"What's going on now?!" asked Adam, sub-vocally.

"We've got a singularity aimed point blank at our bow," said Ramsus. "I don't need to explain what will happen once it hits the ship, do I?"

Adam was annoyed at Ramsus' apparent calm. "Can't we dodge?"

"...No," replied Ramsus. "We're surrounded by a biotic field that's countering the ship's own Mass Effect field. We can't manoeuvre."

"There's got to be something we can do!" said Garrus, desperately.

"Any ideas?" replied Ramsus, calmly.

"I don't know! Can't we throw something at her?!"

"We shot her with the main gun. It didn't work... Gentlemen, while you figure something out, I'll try to delay our inevitable doom. Please don't bother me. Ramsus out."

~[h+]~


"Stand aside," growled Ramsus at the pilot.

"Can't!" protested the pilot, turning around to face him. "I—" Ramsus figured out the problem the second he saw the man's bluish sclera and his leg brace. Annoyed, Ramsus wrapped him in a biotic field, along with his seat, and shoved him into the co-pilot's chair.

"Gah!" the pilot shouted. "What are you doing?!"

"Buying us time!" Ramsus shouted right back as his entire body flared with a red light.

"Singularity's headed straight for us!" screamed the other sailor in the cockpit, a woman.

Ramsus snarled as he held his palms out, glowing bright red. The Singularity came to a relative stop four meters away from the cockpit window, its energies tugging at everyone inside. Ramsus tried to push it back with all his might and his will, but his foe, the woman... something else was behind her will, and it was even greater than his.

Ramsus felt something wet on his lips, and a sting in his nose. He was already starting to bleed.

No! he thought ruefully to himself. "I can't be killed here! I refuse!

He redoubled his efforts. "I REFUSE!"

~[h+]~


Cloaked and unseen, Adam stood in the middle of Engineering as the handful of technicians frantically tried to keep the ship flying even as its mass effect field became more and more unstable between the swarm's interference and the singularity at the bow.

The situation had become clear to him the moment he had Breached the entirety of the Normandy's wireless network by touching an unattended console: data from myriad systems had been distilled and streamed into his consciousness, taking form in his awareness. It was odd: Adam had not had to disable any WLAN ICE, though he was keenly aware of their presence.

No.

This isn't Breaching.

Time froze, and Aleph's voice rang clearly.

"You are beginning to understand," he said.

"Yeah... it's like I'm part of the Normandy now. Its cables and circuits don't feel like computers any more... more like nerves, connected to organs."

"Energy is essential to any system. Feeling that energy, manipulating its flow... that is what gives you power over machines. This is but a portion of what you gained from the Grimoire on Caleston. This is Zio."

As Aleph uttered the word, Adam realized there was more to it than three letters forming a syllable. The sound itself was laced with an unimaginable number of possibilities and thoughts, a subtle understanding of one of the underlying mechanisms of the universe.

Energy. All things living, all things that move require energy. Start from this element, and anything was possible.

"I... sort of thought Zio was some kind of attack program. You know, like lightning bolts?"

"Zio can be used offensively that way, yes, but it is at its best when used subtly. And at the heart of a ship, well... the possibilities are numerous."

"Right now? I'd settle for a way to stop Red Raven from killing us all."

"Arms?"

"Useless. She's too close for a missile lock, the laser guns are out, and the main gun didn't dent her barrier."

"Defenses?"

"Shields have been shut down to prevent the singularity's eddies from triggering them randomly. Turning them on won't work."

"What's stopping the singularity right now?"

"Ramsus. He's a biotic, and he's pushing back against it. Won't last long. No weapons, no defenses, and we can't manoeuvre."

"You have something better than a gun. This drive core was designed to create mass shadows for the ship to fall into. But these engineers have not even begun to realize the full potential of such a machine."

"I can. Ships with Biotics."

"Precisely."

"Still, Mey Leng is putting out insane amounts of power somehow. I don't think I can match that."

"You won't have to. Alif, in the martial arts, what is more effective than stopping a blow, more efficient than stopping a strike with something of equal power?"

"...deflection."

"I can't stay active much longer, but I think you can handle the rest."

"You know, you and I are going to have to talk about appropriate times to show up to provide assistance. There were a couple of times where I could have used your help, and my name's Adam, damnit."

Silence answered him, and time slowly began to catch up.

"Oh, this is going to be very annoying," Adam to himself. "I can tell."

Adam removed his hands from the console, and arcs of lightning kept him connected to it and the rest of the ship. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

"Okay. Let's do this."

~[h+]~


The engineers and the lone Marine were shocked by the sudden appearance of a glowing, transparent figure in the middle of the drive core room. Lightning surged out of it, caressing every piece of machinery, including the drive core. The rhythmic pulses of energy became more and more frequent, while the spinning arms that kept the drive core afloat spun faster and faster.

Addams attempted to make sense of what was happening to the machinery, but every single haptic display showed nothing but gibberish, the familiar orange lights making way for alien shapes and glyphs flickering all over too quickly for his eyes and mind to follow.

He found himself wanting to follow, feeling as if every single bit of data that got away from him was an opportunity to grasp something wonderful lost forever.

"Intruder in Engineering!" shouted Jacob in his helmet's microphone as he leveled his Eviscerator at the figure. It was beginning to float towards the core, no doubt to destroy it. With a casual motion of its hand, Jacob was pushed away by an invisible force and flew screaming through the open doorway. The automatic doors locked themselves after him.

Williams, answering Jacob's call, uselessly smashed the butt of her rifle against the doors, while Jacob himself felt like he had just been swatted away like an insignificant insect.

Addams stared at the figure as it reached out for something invisible, and slapped it aside.

~[h+]~


Outside, the Normandy's hull glowed with bright green circuitry. Dots of golden light ran across the paths, flowing together towards the bow. With a flash of light and lightning, the large dark sphere that Ramsus and Red Raven had been fighting over was swatted away.

"Whoa!" shouted Neil as he dove to avoid the incoming ball of dark energy. It exploded harmlessly behind him, half a kilometer away, though the Copperhead still shook a little from the blast wave.

~[h+]~


Adam reached out with both hands, grasping tightly.

~[h+]~


The drones broke and dispersed, barely forming a sphere anymore, as if giant fingers had been put into a river, disrupting the flow. Red Raven could no longer maintain the many element zero cores in sync, no matter how loud she sang, no matter how much will she poured of herself into the drones' Krypto chips. In desperation she reached out to the mind of the one doing this, hoping to burn images of fire into his mind to make him stop.

All she found was cold machinery.

~[h+]~


Adam pulled, as if tearing something in two.

~[h+]~


The swarm erupted in a burst of lightning and was torn in two. The Storm Crows fell from the sky to the icy surface of Noveria, their wings slack like dead birds, leaving Red Raven unprotected from Neil and Garrus' gunfire. They did not have the chance to put many bullets in her.

The Normandy, no longer bound, began to accelerate, and the bow of the ship rammed her tiny form.

~[h+]~


"Ooh!" Joker winced at the woman-shaped tangle of limbs that was flattened against the cockpit window. Her helmet was cracked, revealing the face of a beautiful asian woman.

"Mr. Moreau, to your seat," said Ramsus.

"Wha—" Joker and his seat were once again shoved, only this time back into their proper place. "Hey! Stop that! I can move just fine on my own, damn it!"

"No you can't," snorted Ramsus as he wiped blood off his nose. "Now, would you kindly wipe this mess off our windshields?" He pointed at the corpse.

"What do you want me to do?" Joker shot back. "Turn on the wipers?"

"That would be lovely, yes."

"Smart-ass," mumbled Joker as he conjured up the haptics from the helm. Instead of the familiar orange glow, the controls were made of green light. "The hell? What happened to the controls?!"

"I have no idea," said Draven. "It's all in English but the config—"

The woman opened her eyes and snarled, blood dripping from her bared teeth.

"OH FUCK OH FUCK OH FUCK!" screamed Joker, surprised and terrified. Who the hell could survive getting rammed by a FUCKING FRIGATE?! he thought to himself, even as he kept swearing.

Ramsus groaned exasperatedly. "The shutters, Mr. Moreau?"

"I'm trying!" Joker tried to get a handle on the new controls, which seemed to shift with his every movement. "Okay, okay... pitch, yaw, roll... throttle?"

One of the woman's arms, which was bent the wrong way, righted itself, and she proceeded to bash her fist against the glass, which began cracking.

"Shit, shit, shit!" swore Joker, still frantically looking for the shutter controls.

"Now, Mr. Moreau!" insisted Ramsus.

"I can't find it, okay?!" snapped Joker.

Ramsus sighed. "Must I do everything myself?" His body flared with an intense red light that gathered around his fist. He drew it back, a little insane smile suddenly appearing on his face.

"Oh shit! No! DON'T DO—"

The powerful biotic Throw smashed right through the thick transparent barrier and into the cyborg woman, knocking both her and the drone attached on her back away. The wind rushed into the cockpit, sending shards and chunks of broken glass into the CIC before the failsafe kicked in, and the metal shutters closed over the broken window.

"You insane psycho!" screamed Joker, who had the presence of mind to duck when Ramsus threw his bolt of kinetic energy. Draven had been just as quick, but pained groaning could be heard further back into the CIC. "Why don't you just take a shotgun to the crew while you're at it?!"

"Oh, do shut up," said Ramsus dismissively, as he turned around to walk away. "This was faster."

~[h+]~


Red Raven was furious, and that allowed her to ignore the pain she was feeling. She had been so close, so very close.

Soon, her implants would kick in and she would be better. She would recover, and she would have another chance to make Adam hers, all hers.

She reached out to the Krypto inside her Drone, and switched on her jets. Yes, she would survive this.

Something came closer, she could feel it, something loud, something intense, something... like an Archangel, come from heaven above to bring judgement down on Red Raven, riding on wings of light and wielding a flaming sword.

Or something with plasma jets and a big Omni-Blade.

The Turian flew straight at her and stabbed her in the heart.

Red Raven refused to die, and snarled, as she clawed at the Turian's helmet. She swung wildly with her razor claws, scarring the right side of his helmet. He fought her off with his free hand.

"NO!" she screamed and cried. "NOT YOU! YOU'RE NOT THE ONE THAT KILLS ME! SHE DIED! IT CAN'T BE YOU! IT CAN'T!"

The Turian grunted in frustration. "Argh! Just DIE already!" He pulled the Omni-Sword out, and stabbed her two more times, but she still refused to die. Deciding that this had gone on long enough, the Turian readied his sword for a swing...

"NOOO!"

"When you reach the lowest level of the seven hells," shouted the Turian, "tell them Garrus Vakarian sent you there!" That was the last thing Red Raven heard as she felt the hot blade slice through her neck. Her severed head fell off, and her body followed after it.

The two parts unceremoniously hit the ice, far below. The snow would eventually cover up the corpse, creating an unmarked grave... And thus ended the life of Red Raven.

Unmourned.

Unloved.

And utterly forgotten.

~[h+]~


Joker let out a sigh of relief as the Turian reported that their attacker was certainly, most definitely dead. The helmsman found himself quickly getting used to the new, strangely adaptive controls, and kept the ship level and steady.

INCOMING SIGNAL the console bleeped on the screen. Joker pushed the blinking hologram, and a nasal, male voice came through the speakers.

"Normandy, this is Copperhead Flight DARPA 01, do you copy? Over."

After a moment's hesitation Joker replied, realizing that he no longer cared about the Code Black at this point. "Copperhead, this is the Normandy... glad to have you on our wing." He wondered then why a gunship he had tried so hard to kill earlier was giving him help. "You uh... you passing through? Over?"

"Normandy, Copperhead. I'm... here courtesy of Director Hein. He figured you'd need help, since... since you're putting out such a huge Dark Energy wake. You're lit up like a Christmas tree, you know? Over."

Joker got the feeling that the Copperhead's pilot was lying, for some reason. Still, he did not want to seem ungrateful. "Roger that, Copperhead. Tell your Director we appreciate the help. Over."

"How about you show your gratitude by letting my ship go, Normandy?! Over!"

Joker could feel the Normandy's drive core from his seat, and the sensation kept getting stronger and stronger... "Copperhead, Normandy: what the hell are you talking about?"

"You got my nav computer slaved to yours! How did— and why the hell is your ship on fire?!"

"What?!"

"Your ship is a goddamned green fireball!"

"Joker!" barked the captain over the intercom. "All hands! Report!"

"This is Addams! We've got an intruder in the Core Room! It's... it's doing something— it's absorbing energy from the core!"

"Addams, are you sure?!" shouted Draven, typing frantically at the sensor station. "Because readings on our sensors suggest our cores's working at triple the output!"

"The hell?!" Joker checked his HUD: The core's readouts did not make sense. No, that was not true. He had seen these readings before. "Aw, shit, we're almost at Zero mass!" It became harder and harder to keep the ship from being swept by the strong winds, as the ship's mass approached that of a sheet of paper.

"At this rate we'll reach negative mass in 15 seconds!" reported Draven.

"Joker! Keep the ship steady! Addams! Stop whatever that... that thing is doing!"

"I'm trying!" the pilot and the helmsman said in unison.

"10 seconds!"

"Initiating emergency shutdown of the core!"

It did not work. The lever would not budge.

"Setting an invalid course!" Joker hoped that the Navcomp's failsafes would kick in and depower the core.

It did not work. The course trajectory was locked.

"Negative Mass in 5!"

Draven kept counting down, and as she did Joker felt like his entire being was being stretched forward into infinity. His own scream seemed to fade behind him, as if he had left his mouth behind.

Then, suddenly, a mountain appeared on the virtual windows.

"OH SHIT!"

~[h+]~


Garrus did not understand what had just happened. One second he was getting ready to get back into the Normandy through one of the tears in its hull. Then the green light blinded him, and he felt like he was gently carried by a giant hand.

And then there was a mountain.

"PULL UP! PULL UP!" screamed Neil over the Codec. Both the Copperhead and the Seraph rose sharply into the air. The Normandy, now back to normal mass, had been a little too slow, and knocked off a chunk of ice off the tip of the mountain. The helmsman lost control of the craft, but regained it just in time for a relatively gentle crash landing.

"This is, er... Mr. Blue to the Normandy. Are you in one piece?"

"Normandy to Mr. Blue," replied the Helmsman. "Yeah... we're okay. Mostly. How about you?"

"Normandy, this is the Copperhead, what the hell just happened?!"

"Copperhead, Normandy. We haven't got a fucking clue."

Garrus caught sight of a burst of light, and another, and then another. He turned his head to the left, and over the horizon he saw a pyramid, surrounded by frigates and dropships. Geth frigates and dropships.

"Guys... is that Dosadi over there in the west?"

"...holy shit, you're right," Neil muttered. "How is that...?"

"Copperhead, Normandy. Repeat? I didn't quite catch that."

"Normandy, Copperhead... We're about 100 kilometers away from Dosadi."

"We just made a six thousand kilometer short jump with no relay," said Garrus. Then, he added: "Son of a bitch."

~[h+]~


Anderson asked for reports from the Senior Staff, and received them within five minutes.

According to Chakwas, there had been only been one fatality: Requisitions officer Corso. As for casualties, one of the marines— Fredricks— had lost an arm, and several of the bridge crew would need time to recover from aggravated glass cuts.

With Alenko gone, Lieutenant Taylor had effectively taken over the marine detail. According to him, Fredricks had been the only casualty. The rest were shaken by the attack, but were still able to fight.

"We've taken the two remaining corpses of the um..." Jacob hesitated when he was about to say 'Biotic Flying Shark'. The term was ridiculous, despite the danger the actual creatures posed. "...the creatures that attacked us into the cargo bay. Figured Chakwas might want to have a look at them."

"Good call. Any more sightings of the other intruder?"

Jacob shook his head. "None, sir. It vanished without a trace. We're still on the lookout."

According to Navigator Pressly, they had indeed, as the Turian claimed, crossed six thousand kilometres in a fraction of a second. Anderson decided to speak to Addams, as he was certain he would be able to explain how this had happened.

"I haven't got the faintest clue," said the Engineer.

"Didn't we simply go into FTL?"

Addams shook his head. "No, the field harmonics required to raise the lightspeed limit can't be done in a gravity well. Judging from the data Draven and Pressly sent me, the Normandy created a small negative mass conduit and pushed itself through it. Not only that, but we wound up phasing right through a fair chunk of Noveria's rock, too."

"I thought only Relays could do that."

"On a galactic scale? Sure. On an interstellar one... It's theoretically possible to create one with just a ship drive, but the calculations and power requirements, not to mention charge buildup management were thought to be well beyond anyone's means."

"Until the Intruder proved that wrong."

"Yeah... no kidding. Anyways, on a planetary scale? Asari Vanguards — and Shepard — have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to create nearly mass-less conduits. It's not quite the same thing, but they proved it could be done, too."

Anderson's face fell a little. Shepard was the only human in existence to have executed a skill the Asari claimed took a century to master. Another grand accomplishment, and she had been unable to share it with other humans. Another reason to mourn her loss.

"Cap'n..." continued Addams, hesitantly. "Speaking of Shepard..."

"We can talk about a burial later, Addams," chided Anderson.

"What? No! It's just... I think I saw her."

"...Explain."

"It was when the Intruder sent the Core into overdrive. It was floating in front of it, shining with a bright, blinding light... But I could make out his form! It looked like a man in a full-body hardsuit, but at the same it looked like an android in tan robes, and... and the most beautiful Asari woman I ever saw. Her eyes were as blue as Shepard's, and the moment I thought that..." He rubbed the back of his head, a confused look on his face. "...there she was, in her red N7 custom armor. The Intruder was all four of these people at once and yet none at all." Addams pinched the bridge of his nose, and closed his eyes, feeling weary. "I don't know, maybe it was wishful thinking, or cloak psychosis... or both."

"...Are you entirely certain you sealed the Gyges unit?"

"Absolutely! It's still in the radioactive materials crate, and I scanned it again and again. It's not putting out any radiation."

"Good to know. And the ship? Are we still good for battle?"

"We're not quite at a hundred percent. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the changes in the ship's OS, and we've still got holes in the hull and the GARDIAN lasers are out of commission. We still have shields, missiles, propulsion, and the emissions sink, so we're good for hit-and-fade tactics."

Ramsus' unmistakable voice came through on the intercom. "Anderson. Meet me at the communication room, immediately."

Anderson was not exactly pleased at being ordered around on what was still his command. "Goddamned Code Black."

"I know," empathized Addams. "Still if it makes you feel any better, that one's got us where we should be. Right into the fight."

If only Chakwas had felt the same way, thought Anderson. "Technically, the Intruder got us here."

"Yeah, and it took care of that weird drone swarm for us, too." Addams smiled. "Some unknown figure comes out of nowhere and magically solves a huge problem for us, then gets us where we need to be. Isn't there a term for that?"

~[h+]~


"Deus Ex Machina," said Jacob as he put on his light hardsuit. Anderson had told him to keep the marine detail ready for any danger, and the remaining few of them, himself included, were now preparing themselves for battle at their lockers in the Cargo Bay. "That's pretty much what happened to us."

"Not a fan of the term. God does not come from a machine," said Williams as she tested her Marksman app on her Lancer. She found the term utterly repulsive, but reminded herself that she was talking to a superior officer. "I prefer the term 'divine intervention'."

Jacob shrugged. "Same difference, if you think about it. It all depends on your point view. Anyways, a Deus Ex Machina wasn't really a god, just a poor schmuck some Greek mummers hoisted up with ropes, pulleys, and a scaffold, way back in the day." Jacob chuckled. "Don't read too much into it, Gunny."

An awkward silence fell between them, and Williams broke it first. "Sir? Are you sure as to what you saw?"

"Like I said. Almost invisible, man-shape being made of light. Casually tossed me aside the moment I aimed my gun at it."

"Sir? Can I ask you a personal question?" Williams didn't actually wait for him to answer. "Do you believe in God?"

"...I spent my childhood as a Restavec," he answered, bitterly and indirectly. "It's coloured my view on a caring, loving God just a little bit."

"...I don't know what that means," said Williams, insensitively.

Of course you don't. Earth is Perfect. Aliens are evil and want to ruin it. Jacob gave her a quick glance. "Yes, I believe in god." He said, not wanting to get into an argument. "You going somewhere with this, Gunny?"

"It's just... a being of light comes out of nowhere and saves us all, and gets us where we can do the most good? I can't help but feel... vindicated somehow..." The Turian walked by, on his way to the briefing room. "As if God's sent one of his own angels to help us. After all the days spent in..." she looked at Shepard's coffin. "In doubt? In inaction? It's good to have a sign." She allowed herself the luxury of a genuine smile, for the first time since in Eden Prime. "And we just got the best one. God is with us."

"...Sorry to dash your hopes, but I'm pretty sure the figure didn't have four animal faces, four wings made of hands, and covered in eyes."

"...What the hell are you talking about?"

"Angels, Williams. I actually paid attention when my mother read her Bible to me. Both Testaments, and Angels aren't exactly pretty in the Old one, just saying..."

"Hey, Angels aren't monsters!"

"Whatever you say, Williams. All I know is, if God's own angels come down from heaven, you're more likely to shoot it rather than listen to what it has to say."

"Anderson to Taylor," said the captain over the intercom. "I need you, Williams, and four marines to join me in the Communications room, and now. We're going into Dosadi."

"Roger that, sir. Williams, you heard the man," He barked orders to the Normandy's marines in the cargo bay: "Olsen! Leslie! Kaplan! Mallory! Double check your loadouts! Captain wants us to meet him upstairs.

~[h+]~


In the circular comms room, Ramsus, accompanied by his entourage of mercs and a dog mech, briefed the Marines while a blue hologram of Dosadi floated in the center. The Geth were hellbent on pounding away at the top, but that section seemed to be protected by a shimmering globe. The parts under it, however, had more than few holes in the walls.

"The Copperhead pilot has agreed to provide me and my companions transportation into Dosadi on the condition that I provide his own comrades with reinforcements. That's were you come in. The Copperhead will fly us in, and deposit you near the Deep Eyes' position. After that, I'll continue on to my objective. In the meantime, the Normandy will execute hit-and-run attacks against the Geth fleet as a distraction. Any questions?"

"Wait, that's it?!"

Ramsus turned to the marine. Williams. Of course she would complain. "Yes, that's all."

"We are NOT bargaining chips!" she protested.

"Yes. You are. But fear not, my dear. You'll get a chance to kill Geth and Krogan aplenty. Now, is there anything else?"

"I got a question too," said Jacob, his gaze never quite leaving the Turian. "What does Hein want with Dosadi?"

"I am not privy to this Hein's thoughts," dismissed Ramsus. "You'll have to ask him."

"Something on your mind, Taylor?" asked Anderson, curious.

"Well..." Jacob was about to say something, but instead he stumbled a bit, and sniffed. A drop of blood, came out of his nose.

"Yes?" said Ramsus, smiling.

"No, sir. Nothing at all." Jacob recovered his composure quickly, and then, for no reason at all, he saluted.

"Alright then, gentlemen, the Copperhead is outside. We move out immediately..."

~[h+]~


"What was that about, earlier?" asked Garrus by encrypted Codec as they boarded the Copperhead. Thankfully, Neil had parked the ship close to the Normandy. Garrus wasn't a fan of the cold. "Taylor was about to say something about me, I think, and then he just... saluted."

"Taylor is an AIA agent," replied Ramsus. "And he suspects that you were the same Turian they encountered with the other Deep Eyes on Caleston. Don't worry, I killed the braincells that held this particular train of thought."

"What?... Spirits, you can do that?"

"Not with the same precision as Scholar's technology... but I manage. I didn't erase his memory, I just short circuited his thoughts on the matter. He'll get better, and as long as you don't go about waving modified Templar technology about he won't be having them again."

Does he know what you can do?" asked Brea.

"No. If he did he would have shot me the moment his nose bled. The AIA likes to compartmentalize. If an alien power knew that humanity had agents like me around, they would not tolerate it. By the way... interesting adventure you all had on Caleston. I only caught glimpses, but that was fascinating... especially at the end."

"I'd rather we didn't talk about Caleston, please," said Adam, sub-vocally.

"Ah, Jensen! There you are. How are things on the outside of the Copperhead?"

"A bit windy."

"I'll bet."

"We should assassinate Taylor at the first opportunity we have," said Brea, all business.

"I agree," said Hannibal, his voice a tinny growl. "I volunteer for the task."

"What's his objective?" asked Jensen.

"Observation of the Normandy and its crew," said Ramsus, "he has instructions to take over the ship should Anderson try anything."

"Leave him alone, for now."

"Jensen—" Brea tried to protest.

Adam cut her off in a tone that would tolerate no argument. "I don't want to hear it."

"I can kill him right now," said Ramsus. "I just pop a vein in his brain and no one would be the wiser, no one would know."

"I would know, and I would make you pay. Save your energy for the Geth."

~[h+]~


"Well, here they go," said Draven, who then shook her head at the sensor display. "Along with our captain. This is why we shouldn't promote marines to command starships. They always want to settle things on the ground."

Joker shrugged and started the take-off sequence. "I hear Anderson didn't even have to insist to come along, though I don't get why Ramsus would go along with that. Hell, he's got a combination of Iron Man and Hawkeye on his side, plus a combination of Samus Aran and Power Girl. Why bother with a squad of Marines?"

Draven gave him a confused look. "Who and what now?"

"...Once this is over, remind me to show you my collection of classics."

Draven considered it for a moment, and shrugged. "Sure, it's a date."

"Wait, wha—"

Pressly, who had the deck as the Normandy's XO, spoke up through the intercom. "Helm, are we ready to go?"

"We are. Ready to take off on your mark."

"Mark. Take us to Nav One and sync up with Gunnery. Let's show those robots what we can do."

Joker could have sworn Pressly was getting fired up for a second there. "Aye aye!"

~[h+]~


The Copperhead's cabin was eerily quiet. Next to Williams sat Anderson, wearing only a flak jacket for protection and wielding his light machine gun. She was impressed that he could carry that around without assistance from a hardsuit. Next to Anderson sat Privates Olsen and Leslie.

Opposite her sat Ramsus, with the woman at his side. Kaplan and Mallory were sitting next to her, nervous. As for 'Mr. Blue', the Turian had opted to stand and stay close to the stairwell that led to the Copperhead's main entry doors, on account of his sizable jetpack. Williams shook her head when she saw that the doors were essentially on the back of the Dropship's 'neck', behind the cockpit. It did not seem like a practical design decision.

The 'dog' was laying on the deck, as if sleeping quietly. Williams did not like dogs. And since her ordeal on Eden Prime, she did not like mechs either. Thus, Ramsus' pet offended her on two levels.

The engines roared, and the ship lurched as it took off.

"Ladies and gentlemen, mercs and soldiers, 'Alleys' and Aliens, welcome to Highwind Airlines. You are now seated inside a Diable Avionics TTAC Mark Seven Copperhead. This means that we've got inertial compensators, not dampeners, and in a few minutes we shall be doing some thrilling acrobatics, such as Loops, Slips, and Spins. Hell, we might even do a Barrel Roll! So yeah, barf bags are available below your seat."

Williams felt around under her seat, and while there was no barf bag, there was a two-shot high-density gas canister launcher. Apparently, US marines had never heard of parachutes or landing systems. Still, to pass the time, she read the instructions. It was simple enough: remove safety pin, aim to where you are about to land, pull trigger.

She sighed. "I wonder if being a smart-ass is a prerequisite to being a pilot?"

"Probably," replied Taylor, shrugging. When he saw she was handling an HDG gun, he pointed up at a spool of wire. "I don't think we're going to need that. There's rappelling gear, and it looks like the seats can be dropped by pulling that yellow lever."

"Huh... so that's how we're supposed to get out in a pinch? Thanks."

"No problem."

Anderson had picked up the gun under his seat. "Can't hurt to familiarize yourself with the thing just in case."

"Aye aye," the Alliance Marines said as they followed suit.

"Are you alright, Mr. Olsen?"

"Hm? How do you know my name?" When Ramsus tapped his fully deployed helmet, Olsen thought that his name was displayed on the AR interface. "I'm fine, sir. What makes you ask?"

"Your leg is shaking."

"Ah err... well, it is at that. I'm just so excited, sir! Ready to kick some synthetic arse!"

"Hm... maybe you should sit this one out?"

"What?!" Olsen was getting riled up. "Sir, I've got plenty of combat experience and—"

"Relax, mister Olsen... I was merely joking."

Olsen fumed, but Williams noticed his leg stopped shaking. She wondered if Ramsus enjoyed pushing people's buttons for their benefit, or solely for his amusement.

"Everyone, brace yourselves," said the dropship pilot. "Your frigate's about to start with the aggro!"

~[h+]~


"5 degrees up..." said the gunnery officer. Joker manipulated the new controls, and was impressed by the improved response time, not to mention the precision. Combined with the Normandy's stealth systems, this meant that Joker and Gunnery could play sniper for a bit.

"Firing main cannon!" The tungsten core steel slug flew 20 kilometres and found its mark, a Geth Transport with probably countless geth troopers on board. It caved in on itself as the slug blew through its center, and crashed a kilometre away from where it floated.

"Kill confirmed!" reported Draven.

Gunnery fed another set of instructions to Joker, and Joker lined up the Normandy's spinal mounted gun. Another transport was knocked out of the sky. The helmsman wondered at first why they did not take out a couple of Geth assault frigates, but Pressly was adamant about the troop transports, for some reason. He figured it would be smarter to take out the danger to the Normandy, first.

The Geth's reaction had been immediate: 50 fighters had been deployed to investigate the unseen threat. Gunnery fired a couple of Flak rounds through the secondary guns, and then Joker moved the ship, keeping the mountains between it and the Geth squadrons.

"Copperhead, this is the Normandy, we got their attention," transmitted Pressly. "Good luck."

"Normandy, Copperhead: Roger that."

~[h+]~


"Urrrgh, I think I'm going to be sick...!" muttered Olsen. The other three Privates were less vocal, but were obviously just as uncomfortable with the sudden acceleration. Alliance ships were designed around an element zero core, not enhanced by one, and as such their Marines were used to very comfortable rides in their shuttles.

Anderson, for his part, had sortied six times on older BearCat troop transports, which did not even have artificial gravity. He was more than used to a rough ride. Williams and Taylor, while uncomfortable, were more disciplined.

"Deep breaths, Olsen," said Williams.

"Listen to her, she's—"

The passenger cabin shook, and Olsen panicked. "Oh god, we're under attack, aren't we?"

"Yes," said Ramsus, not bothered at all by the danger. At that point Olsen thought that this was the worst possible position to be in. Stuck inside an old piece of junk being shot at by Geth fighters.

~[h+]~


Adam held on for dear life, his hands gripping the hull of the Copperhead as it pulled some very, very fast evasive manoeuvres as it was being shot at by Geth heavy pulse guns and missiles.

"You okay out there?" asked Neil over Codec.

"Yeah! Good times!"

He was, of course, being sarcastic. His AR display reported that his power-cells were at 475 percent capacity. While this meant he would not have to worry about running out of juice for a while, it also meant that the suit was starting to feel a bit hot, which was saying something considering the windchill and sub-zero temperatures of Noveria. Adam was not looking forward to being inside Dosadi again. At room temperature, he would cook. He needed to spend the excess energy, and soon.

"I ask again, think you can work your techno-wizardry on these guys?"

Adam was about to say no, but realized that it was worth a shot. After all, simply telling the Geth to self destruct or even just go away could save the millions on Dosadi (and spare him a rough ride).

He scanned for frequencies and locked on the most active one, used by the 12 Geth fighters that were pursuing them.

As it turned out, even a cyborg with a Promethean ghost stuck in his head was no match for the millions of processes of the Geth invasion force. They reacted at the speed of light, quadrupling their signal encryption even as they self-destructed the hacked fighter platforms and the others on their wings just in case. They had even managed to nearly break through the 108's firewall before Adam cut the connection. A millisecond too late, and they would have taken over the suit.

The pursuing Geth squadron exploded and crashed into the snow. At least that problem was done with.

"Hey! What did you do?!"

"I assumed I was saving our asses!"

"Well, however you did it, It was bad enough that they just sent two squadrons against us!"

"Aw, crap..."

~[h+]~


"Normandy, Copperhead here! We're just 10 kilometres away from Dosadi but we just got some major aggro!"

"Copperhead, this is Normandy!" replied Pressly. "It's worse than you think — the two squadrons they sent to find us just broke off and are headed your way!"

"...Tell me that you're chasing them!"

"That we are!" Pressly barked orders at Joker to pursue and for Gunnery to keep those flak rounds going. In ten seconds they had destroyed the Geth reinforcements, but the Copperhead was still being shot at by multiple fighters.

"Gunnery, I want missile locks on these bastards! Don't let them kill the captain!"

"Aye aye, sir! Just... err, Sensors? Is something wrong?"

"What is it?"

"You're giving us multiple aspect locks— I got fifty!"

"Roger that, double-checking... readings are accurate... I think."

Pressly wondered for a moment if the Normandy project had been granted access to European multi-lock technology — or better yet, the OCU's — but he knew that could not be. Earth militaries tended to keep their best toys to themselves. Still, Pressly was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The Normandy, in order to save space on a spacious munitions reloading system, was equipped with fifty Aerospace missile tubes, all ready to launch at a moment's notice. Reloading had to be done by hand, but since Alliance lock-on technology could only handle six simultaneous locks, the reloading crew was not particularly pressured to keep up.

"Copperhead here; my shields are almost out! If you're gonna do something do it now!"

"Helm!" barked Pressly again. "Get us in optimal range!"

"Aye-aye!"

"Gunnery, ready tubes 1 through 50! I want both Aspect and Image locks!"

"Sir?!"

"That's an order, Chief!"

"Helm here! We are in range, but they can see us!"

"FIRE EVERYTHING!" Pressly bellowed.

"Aye-aye!"

~[h+]~


From the port and starboard sides of the Normandy's hull fifty white streams of smoke snaked out, each tipped with a burning dot of yellow light. Each individual missile had its own target, and each of them pursued it relentless. As the Geth fighters moved the evade, the missile swarm expanded into a tangle of white streams. Most of the missiles found their mark, and the Copperhead was at the center of a fireworks show.

"Holy shit!" screamed Neil, shielding his eyes from the bright blasts.

"Copperhead, this is the Normandy, we just punched a huge hole in their fighter cover, I suggest you use it!"

"Roger that," said Neil as he took the Copperhead straight to the nearest hole in Dosadi's walls. "You Alliance space dogs are officially sort-of okay in my book, now!"

"We'll keep doing hit-and-fades for as long as we can. You get those men where you need to, Copperhead."

~[h+]~


Video windows appeared in front of every seat in the Copperhead's passenger cabin, streaming the moving images that came from a hi-definition gun cam. Neil had the vulcan gun scan the horizon, so that everyone got a good look.

Middle Dosadi was on fire. Bullets were flying everywhere, from above and below. SSC gunships put up a pitched, desperate fight against the relentless horde of Geth drones, which were easily and quickly replaced by the Geth transports. Geth dropships delivered troops from hotspot to hotspot. Corpses both organic and synthetic were littered across the streets. Wrecked Tendus Wanzers, never meant for full blown warfare, were among them.

As the pilot took the Copperhead near street level near cover, Anderson hoped he and his marines could make a difference in this battle, no matter how small.

"...Those are a lot of dead bodies, down there," said Jacob. He gave the mercenaries a dirty look. "Not that you mercs give two shits."

"Saren's going to pay for this," said Williams. "Even if we lose here, Earth—"

"Earth will do nothing," said Ramsus, cynically. "Noveria is a backwater far, far away. If it is razed to the ground it might be a headline on the news and little more."

"Humanity won't stand by and do nothing!" she countered, angrily. "They can't, not in the face of this atrocity!"

"Humanity stood by while atrocities took place on its very soil, Williams."

Williams was about to shoot back when the pilot spoke through the intercom. "Ahem! Got something on the comms... here," said Neil. Another, smaller window popped up, showing nothing but cyan static.

"...less inter... ce? ...hank god! ...his...is... eyes."

"Cleaning it up, aaand... there we go."

The static made way for an animated portrait of a man wearing a strange, golden helmet, which the vid window's bias towards blue made it appear greenish. "This is US Marine Captain Edward Grey to any friendly forces in the area, please respond!"

Anderson tapped the holographic communication controls and responded. "This is Alliance Navy Captain Anderson, we're riding your Copperhead and are on our way to assist you now!"

"Anderson?! Wh—What the hell are you doing in OUR—, oh, never mind! We're not the ones that need help. We're holed up in a Burger Town on top of Paulownia Mall along with some SSCs. It's Lieutenant Devereaux that needs help! She took her Zenith to respond to a—"

Another window appeared, this time of a woman with her eyes obscured by a Wanzer's piloting helmet. "This is Lt. Devereaux to any friendlies in the area! I'm escorting thirty civilians! I've got negligible infantry support and two Geth dropships on my scopes! I need assistance!"

"Devereaux, you're in luck! I've got ten Alliance Marines coming your way!"

"Hmph, I suppose they'll have to do! Sending coordinates now!"

On Grey's channel, a distant voice that sounded suspiciously like Sergeant Vega's bellowed something. "Geth incoming!"

"GEP that Dropship! GEP THAT DROPSHIP!"

All was static, and Neil's voice became panicked. "Grey?! GREY!"

Grey's face reappeared, but the unmistakable sounds of Pulse Rifle shots could be heard. "We're okay! Go and rescue Devereaux NOW!"

"Like hell!" Neil shot back, "I'm coming your way right now, just hold on!"

"We ARE holding on! I gave you an order, Pilot!"

The tall, curvaceous woman shook her head. "This is a waste of time. We should proceed to our objective," she said to Ramsus, coldly.

Ramsus tapped the pointed chin of his helmet, as if pondering it. "I'm new to military strategy, but... I would think that both this Devereaux and Grey would be useful allies against the Geth forces."

"He's right, but we can only help one at a time," said Jacob to Anderson.

Anderson hated these decisions. He could force the issue with the pilot, put a gun to his head if the need arose to divert him to Devereaux, or encourage him to head straight to the Deep Eyes.

Devereaux, a potential Spectre, and a Wanzer pilot to boot. He was partial to rescuing her. She had more firepower, too. And the Deep Eyes... they were Hein's lapdogs, and they had proven untrustworthy on Caleston.

But, they were Marines, and good soldiers, and you didn't leave Marines behind.

But he had to make the call; every second of hesitation meant that neither Devereaux or the Deep Eyes would survive.

Just as he was about to make his way towards the cockpit, gun in hand, a robotic, warped voice came on the channel. It was deep, and spoke haltingly, like a robot.

"This is DARPA Combat Mech Shadow 108 responding to distress call. Moving to assist Lieutenant Devereaux."

"Combat Mech?" responded Devereaux. "Whatever, I'll take all the help I can get!"

"What the fuck is this?" said Williams.

"That's DARPA's machine," said Jacob. "Wonder why it's not assisting the Deep Eyes, but since we saw what it can do, I'd say the Wanzer pilot's covered." At Williams' look of confusion, Jacob clarified: "You weren't awake to see it. Trust me, that thing's more than enough reinforcements on its own."

"Agreed," said Anderson. "Grey! We're on our way to the Burger Town!"

"I SAID—" Grey's window shut down.

"Oops, lost the connection!" said Neil, coyly.

The mech dog gave Ramsus a look, and as if sensing its thoughts, Ramsus said, "You want go and help her? Hmph, you always were a sucker for blondes."

The dog mech growled, as if angry.

"Fine. Pilot," said Ramsus, "open hatch 5." At the Marines' incredulous looks, Ramsus merely shrugged. "I'd hate not to do my part." He turned to his vid window. "Devereaux? We're sending another mech of our own."

As the wind rushed beneath the empty seat, Williams protested. "Sir! You can't rely on mechs to help! What if the Geth hack into them?! I lost my squad to Eden Prime's own LOKIs!"

"Shit," cursed Jacob out loud over the rush of the wind. "She's right, I didn't think about—"

"It's too late," said Anderson as the mech fell through the opening. "The call's been made! Familiarize yourselves with the HD Gas launchers. We might have to drop in hot and we don't have chutes."

Williams stared daggers at the closing seat. "Aye-aye..."

~[h+]~


Adam's fist glowed gold with the Icarus Landing System's electromagnetic energies, and he punched the head of a Geth Prime as he fell on top of it. Neither its shields nor its polymer frame withstood the blow, and its squadmates were blasted away by the force of the electromagnetic burst.

The ones that were still functional were easy pickings for Hannibal's claws.

"Let's not waste time," Hannibal growled."Devereaux's position is 5 kilometres away. Try and keep up."

Hannibal's entire Anubis frame had been primarily designed for one thing: speed. The curvature of its spine and the configuration of its polymer musculature had been based on the cheetah, allowing Hannibal to run at speeds rivaling those of a racing hoverbike. He was a bit displeased when Jensen caught up with him and slowed down just a bit to run besides him.

Garrus' faceless helm appeared on the corner of Adam's HUD. "This. Is. Shadow. 108. Beep boop!" Garrus laughed over the encrypted Codec Channel."Need my help?"

"No," replied Jensen. "I need to do this alone."

"Ah, yes, of course," said Brea derisively as her own image appeared next to Garrus'. "The knight in shining armour routine. Devereaux is hardly what I would call a damsel in distress, you know."

She was partially right, of course, but Adam would be damned if he would let her win this one. "I HAVE to do this alone, because my BATTERIES are overloaded and I need to unload the excess energy before they EXPLODE."

"...Oh."

"Yeah. Might as well take it out on the Geth."

"... I could always LEAVE," said Hannibal, a bit offended at not being wanted.

"Oh please," Ramsus laughed. "You want to rescue her as much as he does. Do have fun, both of you. I certainly will." His picture vanished as soon as it appeared.

"'Shadow'?" added Brea, "I'm transmitting the locations of every emergency weapons cache in Middle Dosadi to your automap, and the ones close by should show up on your HUD. You'll find everything in them from assault rifles to GEP guns."

"Aw, Brea, I didn't know you cared."

"...Don't get any ideas. You're wearing a multi-billion credit piece of hardware. I'm only concerned for my employer's finances."

"Er, your boss didn't pay for the 108. Hein did."

Brea became annoyed. "...Just follow your bloody NAV point!" And on that, her picture vanished.

"Gotta go," said Garrus. "The Alliance Marines are looking at us funny. And 'Shadow'? Give them hell!"

~[h+]~


As the Wanzer held the hatch open, Damien Raffaeli hurried the group of civilians through. Eventually, two people came to see him: his mother Melanie and his little brother David. Soon, it would be their turn to go through. If he had his way he would have had them go first, but Damien did not want to play favourites. The crowd would turn against him and things could get really bad when that happened.

They would be going to safety, or so he hoped. He had heard reports of Geth in lower Dosadi, but it looked like the gangs were keeping them at bay. Still, the floof was a lot safer than Middle Dosadi was right now.

"Tu viens pas avec nous?" asked David, his big brown eyes pleading as he gripped his mother's hand a bit more tightly. He was smart, but he was still too young to understand what was happening all around him.

"Je peux pas," said Damien.

"S'il-te-plait, Damien," pleaded Mélanie, her breathing ragged and urging. She had just taken her medicine, but she was out of doses. Her skin was already getting clammy and pale. "Viens avec nous! Les Geth sont partout! Et ils vont..."

"Ils vont quoi?" asked David, growing scared.

Damien knelt beside his little brother, and put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him."Ils ne passeront pas. Je vais rester ici pour te laisser du temps pour échapper aux Geth, mais—"

"C'est quoi, un Geth?"

Damien sighed. "Ce sont des méchants, et tu sais ce que je fais aux méchants?"

David smiled, feeling a little reassured. "Tu les arrêtes."

"C'est ça, et quand j'aurais fini de les arrêter, je vais te rejoindre, comme d'habitude. Je te promets, les méchants ne passeront pas."

He hurried Mélanie through the hole, and lowered David with his hip-mounted wires to his mother's waiting arms.

"Damien..." pleaded Mélanie once more.

"Officier..." reminded the Wanzer pilot, the woman's voice booming through her riot speakers. Damien stared down at the hole, into his family's pleading eyes. "Vous pouvez les rejoindre. Je ne vous arrêterais pas," she said, her tone full of understanding.

Damien looked at his family for what he believed to be the last time. "On se reverra," he lied. He then nodded towards the Zenith, and its pilot closed the thick, reinforced hatch, then shoved a nearby cargo container on top of it. Raffaeli turned to the other SSC contractors, those that didn't flee into the floof with the civilians. There were just ten of them.

"...We're all going to die here, aren't we?" said the Italian. He was no older than 20, and his dirty, white plastic armor did not fit him. He had to take it from a dead superior. Damien didn't quite catch his name.

"Yeah," replied Damien in English. It was the only common language between them all. "But we might as well make it worth something, yes?"

They all shifted uncomfortably. None of them were really soldiers. They had had a few drills to prepare for a major pirate attack, like the one that had nearly wiped out Elysium, but had not been instilled with the necessary discipline to make a fight of it.

"Get inside that building and bunker down," said the Wanzer pilot, pointing her huge machine's gun at a three story office building, "Stay off the streets, and try to keep any of those Geth hoppers off my back. We should be getting some reinforcements, soon."

"How soon?" asked the Brit. His name was Carver; he was the one with the Cousar Crowe GEP gun. The rest had Mattocks.

"...Soon," she said, half-heartedly.

"Well, you heard the lady," said Sergeant Lees. He had been their sole piece of Wanzer support, until the Zenith showed up. He was piloting a Tendus painted in SSC colors. Miraculously, he had survived this long despite having next to zero cockpit protection. Damien supposed it was because the man practically pissed metal with his two Leosocial wanzer machine pistols. "Get inside that building!" he barked, "There's a secure SSC locker in there. Arm yourselves and get ready!"

Damien obeyed, his SSC training holding true.

~[h+]~


From her cockpit, Elsa looked down at the militia as they entered the building. It was for their own safety: Wanzer combat could get messy, and infantry regularly got crushed underfoot. Still, she would have to stay close to them. The Geth had tried multiple times to hack her machine with those damned Hoppers, and they deployed plenty of rocket troopers against her. The best way to counter heavy infantry was with infantry of your own... although the SSC could hardly be called infantry. More like glorified mall cops. It was a brave bunch that had stuck with her, but their shots went wide more often than they hit.

"This is... you know, I never quite caught your name." said the Sergeant over Codec. Judging by his appearance and accent, Elsa assumed he was from the OCU. New Zealand, to be exact. Elsa didn't think much of the SSC, but this one was easily Silver Drake material. Too bad all he had to work with was a dinky Tendus Urban.

"Elsa," she replied.

"Nice name."

"What's yours?" she asked. She had heard it already, but she wanted to be polite.

"Oh, sorry. Lees. Nathaniel Lees. Be honest with me. What are our chances?"

"I honestly don't know. I got word of reinforcements. Two mechs."

"Wanzers?"

"No."

Damien sighed. "Shit. That's all?"

"Yeah..."

"I don't suppose your fleet is going to come to our rescue anytime soon?"

"I wish I—" Elsa was interrupted by a sudden noise, a distant boom, followed by the tingling of a million shards of glass. Middle Dosadi's artificial daylight flickered for a frightening moment, as if reality was having technical difficulties.

"The hell was that?!" shouted Lees. "Raffaeli! Use that gear and scout ahead, I think that came from the west!"

"Roger that!..." Said the SSC officer in street clothes. Elsa and Lees waited patiently for him to report. "Oh, bordel..."

"In English, you little shit!" Lees spat.

"Sorry!... I see a big hole in the glass wall, at least two kilometers away! A Geth Frigate is coming though it. It's... It's very big. I can see ships coming out of it... They're coming our way!"

Elsa wondered if she had pissed off someone in a past life to get this kind of shabby treatment.

"Lass? Lass?! Hermes, you lying git! You said the interference was—"

She recognized the Scottish burr instantly. "Zead? ZEAD! I can hear you loud and clear!"

"Oh, thank bloody Jesus Christ, are ye alright?!"

"I've got a frigate coming my way! Please tell me you're coming, too!"

"We've just taken out the Krogan Barge! Our fighters are breaking into atmo as we speak. I'm plugging my Liathach onto a Carryall and I'm headed to Dosadi straight away!"

"What's your ETA?"

"...Ten minutes, Lass."

"...Okay. I can do ten minutes."

"Ye hold on, ye hear? I'm not losing another Drake, not to these flashlights... Zead out."

"This is DARPA Mech Shadow 108. Meeting resistance. ETA five minutes."

Elsa didn't bother to reply. As far as she was concerned, a dinky mech was of no use to her. Ten minutes. That's how long she would have to last.

"Lees," she said, eyeing the radar bubble on her HUD. "Here they come. In ten minutes the fleet in orbit will be here, but until then..."

"I heard." Lees laughed. "Elsa, we're going to DIE here, I have no illusions about it. Just promise me one thing?"

"Alright?"

"You make sure to give the Geth a taste of hell before we do."

"Ha! I can practically guarantee they will."

~[h+]~


[Vanquish OST - First Battle]

ONLY THE CHIPLESS ARE FREE!

Adam had only caught sight of the graffiti as he slowed down a bit to make a couple of sharp turns in a backstreet. There was smoke, and fire, and wrecks and bodies everywhere. This was war, and he was in the middle of it. Thankfully, the fires were spread out, and the artificial daylight killed the orange glow of the flames. There would be no panicking and no fear on his part. Adam would move with far more speed and freedom than in Peak 15.

In the distance he could make out the sounds of gunfire, maybe just fifty meters away. The closer Adam got, the more obvious it was that the SSC was losing the fight, badly, and any assistance he could offer on his way, he knew, could turn the tide.

He ran across a street where three Tendus Wanzers were trying to fend off six giant Geth and their infantry support. The Geth analogue to the Wanzers towered over the squat machines by a meter and a half, but appeared downright skeletal and heavily reliant on their shields. They fought carefully, moving to cover whenever they were shot at, while their squadmates flanked their enemies. SSC troopers wielding missile launchers, holed up in a 4 storey building, were forcing the Geth Wanzers to keep their heads down, but the Geth Troopers had been able to breach the building, the defending riflemen unable to down their shields fast enough to kill them.

"I will take care of the Geth in the lower floors," said Hannibal, while the background noise in his signal spoke of tearing and gnashing of teeth. "Clear out the upper floors!"

Adam leapt through a window on the third floor of the building and immediately came across a Geth Trooper platform about to shoot an SSC officer in the back. The rent-a-cop was desperately trying to gun down an Anti-Tank platform, and didn't pay attention to his surroundings. Three quick shots from Sasha, and the Trooper was down.

"Holy shit! Who are you?!" shouted the officer. The Rocket Trooper he was attacking ignored him in favor of Jensen. It fired a single rocket from its bulbous, chromed launcher, aimed right at Adam's center.

Adam was already rushing at the Geth Rocket Trooper when the missile launched. Just as the projectile was about to hit him, Adam ducked and slid on his knees, his back almost touching the ground. When he got up, he was in the Rocket Trooper's face and the missile had gone past the window he came through. The Geth processes inside the trooper had no time to copy themselves away into another platform, as Adam quickly tore into its chest and tore out the primary processing core. The programs would be trapped inside forever.

Adam quickly took the Geth bazooka and deleted the processes inside to use it. Thus lobotomized, the weapon couldn't target lock, but it could still launch a dumbfire. Adam approached an open window and took aim and fired it at a Geth Wanzer about to grab a Tendus pilot right out of his seat. The glowing blue projectile, a sort of mini disruptor torpedo, was powerful enough to seriously damage the Geth shields and tear into its armor. The blast knocked the Geth sideways a little, giving the Tendus a good opportunity to finish it off.

Which it did not take, instead focusing its fire on a Geth in cover. The fallen Geth quickly got up and killed the pilot.

Shit... Adam thought to himself as he discarded the spent weapon. It looks like it's all up to me.

His HUD helpfully reported a weapons locker on the fourth floor. He went up a staircase and found three SSC officers desperately trying to open it up, cursing at each other as they repeatedly had the lock scan their Chips to no avail. He shoved them aside, dug his plasma claws into the locker and ripped it open. He helped himself to a Cousar Crowe 40 mm GEP gun and a spare 6-round box magazine, leaving behind a couple of assault rifles and an anti-materiel rifle.

"H-hey! That's SSC property!" said a nervous rent-a-cop as he shoved a CQC-11 shotgun in Adam's face. "P-put that b-back!"

One look at him and Adam knew he had paid for his Sergeant's stripes instead of earning them. The kid was maybe twenty years old and a nervous wreck, while his two comrades were quite a bit older and had their frayed nerves under better control.

Adam grabbed the gun by the muzzle, shoved its stock into the young man's hands and tore it out of his hands."This unit is confiscating this weapon for your own safety, citizen." Adam stuck the weapon on a Van der Waals strip on the small of his back as he sped off out the window... feeling a bit silly after his Robocop impression.

The officer tried to protest, but his shouts quickly turned into tearful whining.

"Save it, sarge, you kinda brought that on yerself," said one of the other SSC officers. "Let's get back into the fight, aye?"

Adam leapt to a neighbouring building's roof, wallrunning across the advertising panel of a street post along the way. As he did, an ugly Krogan's face came on the panel, and his voice could be heard across the entire city's intercom system.

"Humans! It is pointless to resist! Surrender, and we shall prove kind masters! Resist, and be destroyed!"

The Geth Wanzer he had damaged fired a burst at him and missed, its targeting systems too damaged to get a bead on him. From his vantage point, he quickly acquired a lock with the Cousar Crowe and fired a guided rocket into its chest. It must have hit something important, because the Geth promptly fell on its knees. Its head popped off its shoulders, and something ejected from the hole.

It was a Geth trooper with some kind of small, triple-barrelled, hand-held cannon. It cloaked, and from the angle of its trajectory, it was about to fall close to him, no doubt to hunt him down.

Two can play that game. Adam cloaked and took cover and waited for the Geth to land. It made a loud thump as its feet hit the ground, and Adam activated his Smart-Vision. The game of cat and mouse did not last long: Adam came out of a corner and fired his shotgun straight into the Geth's CPU. The tungsten flechettes punctured the Geth's chest with such force that the robot was sent spinning off the roof.

Adam whistled as he decloaked and checked the gun's chamber: six shells in the tube, all green and marked 'AP Flechettes' in blue ink. They were gunpowder rounds: effective, but cheap. Perfect for the SSC's tight budget.

Adam quickly got to work on the other Geth Wanzers; he acquired a lock on another of the huge machines, which quickly reacted by shooting at him. Adam promptly dropped off the edge of the building and let himself slide on a sloped skylight as he cloaked. With no target lock, the Geth was forced to guess where he was, and destroyed a great deal of glass of with its hand-held Pulse Autocannon.

As glass exploded all around him, Adam emptied the Cousar Crowe's magazine into the Geth Wanzer, hitting the chest and groin. As the machine dropped to its knees, Adam activated his Quicksilver and jumped off the roof. In slow motion, the ejecting Geth trooper was intercepted by two clusters of flechettes: One for the shields, another for the body.

Adam landed on the opposite roof, and attempted to reload the Cousar Crowe. Adam wasn't used to using a bullpup rocket launcher, and fumbled the reload. The Siege Pulse's explosion didn't help matters, and Adam was knocked off the roof. HE fell a distance too short for this Icarus Landing system to trigger, and he landed on his back. His ears were ringing and the world spun, but the revving sound the Geth Pulse autocannon galvanized him to recover quickly enough to take cover by Zero Shifting towards a concrete pillar. Even as the savage flurry of pulses from the autocannon chipped away his cover, Adam took a deep breath and dared to take a peak out to get a handle on his situation.

The GEP's magazine, of all the luck, had fallen in the Geth Wanzer's way as it approached slowly to get a better angle on Jensen. Adam thought about shooting it to make it explode, but that only worked in the movies—

—There was a tingle in the back of his head, and an idea quickly took form. Adam discarded the useless GEP gun, having no further use for it for now.

First, activate Quicksilver. Then, take aim at magazine with flechette gun. Follow up with something really, REALLY crazy that will probably not work and get me killed.

Adam waited until the Wanzer was right on top of the mag and executed the plan. The crazy part? Follow the shot up by holding his hand out at the slowly moving cluster of tungsten. His chest tingled, and the feeling crawled up his arm. Lightning emerged from his fingertips and arced between the flechettes. Thus charged, one of the flechettes struck the GEP magazine. The lightning charge caused one of the rockets to explode, and at point blank range, the Geth Wanzer's shields did not trigger to protect it. Its leg was pulverized, and it stumbled.

Not longer being shot at, Adam Zero Shifted right up to its chest and emptied the shotgun pointblank, then discarded the empty weapon and tore into the hole with his plasma claws. The Geth 'pilot' tried to shoot him with its triple cannon and narrowly missed.

"Thanks!" said Adam as he reached inside and took the weapon. A few shots and the Wanzer fell on its back. The Geth, of course, tried to have the last laugh, and sent the Plasma Shotgun's capacitor into a feedback loop that overloaded it. Adam wrapped it in electrified Biotic energy and threw it — hard — at yet another approaching Geth Wanzer. The exploding weapon was better than a rocket. So much better, in fact, that the chest was melted into slag.

It fell on its knees.

"Nope."

Adam casually fired Sasha three times at the ejecting Geth pilot — without even looking — and proceeded to take out a couple of moon clips to reload the custom revolver. The Wanzer exploded behind him.

By his count, there should have been two more Geth Wanzers to deal with, but Hannibal had taken care of those in his own way. He had leapt onto the main optic of one, tricking another into shooting it. When that Wanzer fell. Hannibal leapt off, spun with its swordtail out, and neatly bisected the huge machine in two. All in all, Hannibal had taken out the two Wanzers much more quickly and fluidly than Adam would have.

Of course, there was still the matter of the ejecting pilot, which Adam shot in mid-air.

"We've wasted enough time here; let's go."

"Agreed."

As they both sped away, they heard cheers fading behind them.

Adam opened a frequency to Devereaux, his voice masked. "This is DARPA Mech Shadow 108. Hostiles neutralized. Proceeding to your location."

Adam checked his power-cells: 404 percent. He felt a little cooler, but his sweaty skin tingled.

~[h+]~


TRANSMISSION INTERCEPTED

RESOLVING ENCRYPTION KEY

"Did you see that? Did you see that? They took out all hostiles in a minute and change!"

"Stow it! I'm calling for help! This is Sergeant Barker to Hanshan Command. Repeat, this is—"

"This is Hanshan Command, Acting Lieutenant Matsuo speaking. Barker, report!"

"Roger that. Sector 41 is clear of hostiles, repeat, Sector 41 is clear of hostiles. We've lost three men and one pilot but otherwise we're going to be alright. Can we get an extraction? Over."

"Excellent work. Your new orders are to redeploy to Sector 42 immediately and reinforce Sigma Company. They're pinned down and could use a flanking force. Save them and I can arrange for extraction."

"Roger that, Hanshan... uh, be advised for two unknowns with no IFF. They're... kind of the reason we're not dead. Over."

"Wanzers?"

"No ma'am. Just some kind of... black knight and his white wolf. Over."

"I have NO time for jokes, Sergeant Barker. Redeploy to 42 Now. Over."

"Ma'am, I'm serious! These two just—"

"You have your orders, Sergeant!"

"...*sigh*. Roger that, we are on the move to 42, over."

"What a cunt! She's safe and sound in Hanshan and she's telling us to hoof it all the way to 42? Fuck that bullshit!"

"You planning on deserting during an attack, Stoker?"

"Err..."

"I didn't think so. Take a quick lunch. We move out in 5."

TRANSMISSION ENDS

CONSENSUS REACHED

IGNORE COMMAND CLUSTER DESIGNATED 'BARKER' — probability of survival 9 percent.

UNIT CLUSTER BETA 12 REDEPLOYED

UPLOADING OBJECTIVES — accept our knowledge

IDENTIFY AND CAPTURE UNIT DESIGNATED 'BLACK KNIGHT' —visual data packet attached
who are you?
IDENTIFY AND CAPTURE UNIT DESIGNATED 'WHITE WOLF' — visual data packet attached
why are you here?
REVERSE ENGINEER TECHNOLOGY

IMPROVE US
will you show us the way...?

~[h+]~


"Shit!" cursed Neil over the dropship's intercom. The ship shook, having narrowly avoid an anti-air missile. "Everyone, keep calm, but this area's too hot for a rappelling! Everyone get your gas launchers out and prepare to drop!"

As the seats shifted and the hatches beneath the marines opened up, Garrus made his way to the main doors.

"I'm going to drop you on the street right next to the Mall!" said Neil. "Pull the big yellow lever—"

"WOOHOO!" shouted Olsen as he pulled his emergency drop lever. "Here I come your robot bastaaarrrrrds..." His voice was quickly muted by both wind and distance.

"—on my mark!"

"Oh God, Olsen just dropped!"screamed Ashley in disbelief as Anderson and Jacob cursed the foolish marine.

"I'm sure he'll be fine," said Ramsus quickly.

"Mark!"

To Williams, the idea of simply free falling straight onto asphalt seemed downright suicidal, but she kept her cool, correctly predicted where she would fall, and launched a canister at the spot. A thick cloud of green mist blew up below her, so dense it flowed like liquid.

Bullets whizzed past her, some even hitting her shields, but the flying Turian merc had her and the other marines covered. He shot the attacking Geth dead before they could injure or kill anyone. She had to admit, he was good. Real good.

She hit the cushion of high-density gas at high speed, and yet she felt like she was floating — no, swimming — in the stuff as it gently broke her fall. She held her breath, not wanting to breathe it in and drown.

"Get inside the Mall ASAP and make your way up!" said the Copperhead pilot over codec as the ship flew away. "I'll keep the drones distracted and provide air support when I can!"

The HD gas dissolved quickly around Williams, and she stood on her two feet, ready to destroy some machines.

"Man, that was close! Hey, where is everyone else?! I— urgh!" Olsen's death rattle rang out in the TEAMCOM as his vitals flatlined in the squad's tactical HUD.

"Shit!" cursed Williams. "They got Olsen!"

"NO TIME FOR THAT! GETH APC INCOMING!" shouted Jacob. True enough, a hovering Geth armoured vehicle turned a corner down the street and sped at them, a Krogan trooper manning a heavy high-caliber machine gun on top of it. It fired at the squad, forcing everyone into cover.

Almost everyone.

Ramsus had been the last to make the drop, and he was about to land right on top of the APC when the Krogan noticed him and shot at him. Ramsus laughed, batting the bullets away with his sword alight with biotic energy. He brought his sword overhead and increased his mass signature tenfold as he landed right in front of the Krogan trooper. The APC tipped downward violently and its nose screeched into the asphalt. The trooper was catapulted right into Ramsus' waiting blade.

And because bisecting a Krogan wasn't enough, Ramsus slashed the flying body in four, then eight parts, taking delight in the rain of blood. The APC's other riders, Geth Troopers and Hunters, tried to exit the vehicle, but Ramsus tossed a Singularity through the open gun turret and casually leapt off the vehicle as it collapsed in on itself.

"...Holy shit," muttered Jacob. "I thought he was an Adept, not a goddamned crazed Vanguard!"

Anderson had no time to voice his own bewilderment when he heard the familiar sound of Geth Juggernauts stomping around a nearby corner. Only, as Anderson soon realized as they came into view, these Juggernauts had four legs, not two, and were not armed with small Gatling guns.

These ones wielded Dragon's Teeth like lances. One of the Centaurs — the leader — had its vile weapon slung over its shoulder with three people skewered like pieces of meat on a kebab, and on the tip of it was none other than Olsen.

The Geth Centaur Leader swung its Dragon's Lance, and the three corpses flew off at the squad, waking up in mid-air, snarling. They were quickly dispatched, though Olsen had managed to tear out Kaplan's throat. The Alliance Marine's hesitation at shooting a former comrade had cost him his life.

Anderson did the merciful thing: "Frag out!" and tossed a grenade at Olsen and Kaplan, destroying both men utterly so that they would not rise again.

The Centaurs quickly found themselves under fire from the Turian's energy weapon. One fell, while the other two began to charge at the squad, intending to skewer and convert them to Saren's cause. Behind them was a horde of Husks, civilians, SSC officers, even Krogan that had been wounded in combat and coldly brought back to fighting shape by the machines' horrible technology.

There were hundreds of Husks, coming from all sides.

"Get into the Mall!" shouted Anderson. "Move! Move! MOVE!"

~[h+]~


Hannibal tore into the last of the Geth Hoppers keeping watch over the prisoners, and he quickly freed the most able bodied of the bunch and left them to free the others. He didn't wait for them to react to his presence, or his form.

Adam, meanwhile, was putting a new spin on an old tactic.

"Shadow! Do you read?" Garrus' voice boomed on the encrypted Codec channel. Adam could feel the Geth trying to resolve the encryption, but he countered them quickly just as he dropped a mass-enhanced cargo container on an incoming Geth Wanzer, crushing it flat.

"Shadow here; I read you!"

"We've encountered four legged Geth armed with Dragon's Teeth!"

"Oh no... I was wondering why they were keeping prisoners..."

"I know. If you encounter them, do not engage in hand to hand!"

"I'll try not to. I'm just a kilometre and a half away from Devereaux's position; how are you doing?"

"Could be better! Right now we're —WHOA!— right now the marines are making their way up the Mall while keeping hundreds of Husks funnelled into kill zones— escalators, and the like. It's working so far, but the marineshave lost two men already. Me and Mrs. Blonde are focusing on clearing the upper floors of Geth troopers."

"Hang in there."

"You too! Blue out!"

Adam cut off the connection to his partner and opened one with Hannibal.

"How did it go?"

"The civilians are safe for now," growled Hannibal subvocally. "I detect no further hostiles."

"Good, let's hurry!"

~[h+]~


The Geth Wanzers looked a lot like the Stork IIc, Elsa observed, with their big thighs and biceps tapering into long, thin mechanical limbs. Their artificial muscles were exposed, while the chest area was covered in some kind of segmented plastic. According to Tali, the young Quarian engineer, this was typical of the Geth. While they understood the need to create specialized units, their strategy had always been to rely on a multitude of cheaply-made units rather than focus on making groups of elites. That was their strength.

Their weakness? Individually, they were really shitty fighters. And whatever it was that made Wanzers such terrors on the battlefield, the Geth had missed it entirely when they started imitating them. Whatever it was that made Wanzers so dangerous, Elsa and Nathaniel had it in spades.

Especially Nathaniel.

"RAAAAAAARGH!" was all Elsa could hear on the TEAMCOM she had set up with Lees and his men. She had initially ordered him to focus on infantry, and he did so just fine. The problem was that with two Leosocial machine pistols, he quickly ran out of infantry to kill. That only left the the Geth Wanzers, and he often used the Tendus' squat form to his advantage. Tackle 'em and shoot 'em when they're down; that was Lees' tactic, and it was pretty effective.

Elsa's favored tactic at this point was to keep her Zenith on the move by skating and activating her jumpjets to be brought into close quarters with the enemy. With Geth being so poor at CQC, she had no trouble burying the sharp corner of her 120mm thick shield inside their chests to kill the 'pilots'. The shield wasn't a pile bunker, but the Geth Wanzers were so poorly armoured that it wasn't a problem. It was part of the reason she had decided to make her stand here: the maze of streets and buildings kept the Geth from pressing their advantage of numbers and ranged combat.

Their air support, however, was starting to get problematic, and Carver had missed a rocket drone. Again. Elsa took another Armor Piercing rocket in the kinetic barriers, and she was not happy.

Neither was Lees.

"CARVER! You worthless maggot — did you MISS AGAIN?! DO YOU HAVE ELVES MAKING YOU AS MANY ROCKETS AS YOU LIKE IN THERE?!"

"I'm sorry! I was sure I had a lock this time!"

"You know what?! I'm not gonna die here! I'm going to live just long enough to shove my boot up your ass! Get your shit together, Carver!"

"Sir! Yes, sir!" Carver's next shot something

"Save it for the Geth, Lees," said Elsa as she shot the remaining drones out of the sky. Wielding a long gun with one hand was tricky, even with a Wanzer, but Elsa had plenty of practice. "I have no more enemies on my scope. We should be fine for a while."

"Can we leave, now?" asked one of the soldiers. He was the one that had nearly gotten killed by one of the Geth pilots when it had escaped from its larger frame. Raffaeli's quick thinking had saved his life.

"It's only been two minutes," said Elsa. "A few more, and the civilians should be safe, and then we can make a run for it."

"There's nowhere left to run, woman," said the Krogan. His face appeared in a box on the upper right corner of her HUD. "Such determination just to save a handful of peons." He chuckled. "My men are going to tear open that hole, find them, rape them, and kill them. You fight in VAIN."

"Wreav." Elsa spat. "How did you get this frequency?!"

"The Geth gave to me. So... you still live? Pah, Geth... how can something without a soul be called a proper warrior? They can't even kill a WOMAN."

"This woman has got a 35 ton death machine!"

"And what are you without it? NOTHING. In a few moments, a handful of real warriors is going to show you your proper place."

Another wave of Geth Wanzers appeared on Elsa's radar, this one three times bigger than the last. She couldn't find any signs of infantry, however, and warned Lees to watch out for more of these cloaked robots.

None came, and by the time Elsa had gone through nearly a third of the Wanzer Squad, twelve small but very bright heat signatures appeared on her sensors.

"We've got 12 bogeys coming at us as the crow flies!" warned Elsa over the TEAMCOM.

"Drones?!" asked Lees, his transmission laced with gunfire.

"No..."

The hot bogeys landed on rooftops, and Elsa easily caught sight of them. These were Krogan, their heavy armour painted with red streaks, and festooned with bloody trophies both old and very recent. Strapped to their backs were large tanks, with multiple tubes feeding fuel to oversized, blackened nozzles. Comically, they wore goggles instead of helmets. Less comical were their insane grins and vicious looking weapons. Grenade launchers, shotguns, machines guns, hatchets... all adorned with spikes and freshly skinned skulls.

"Ah, merde! Lees, we've got Krogan infantry with Jet packs!"

"Shit! Don't let them get in the building, my men can't handle them!"

As the two Wanzer pilots tried to fend off both Geth Wanzers and Krogan Jetpack troopers, one of the latter had managed to propel himself right through a window.

"NO!" Lees screamed. "Men! You're got incoming!"

~[h+]~


Carver Havik was not having the best of days. His brother had died in the initial attack, his mother and sister were nowhere to be found, and he had just lost a friend to a Krogan with a serrated hatchet. He was gurgling out his last breath as the insane-looking giant lizard savoured the kill.

When the ammo counter in his Cousar Crowe beeped zero and the Krogan looked at him like he was dinner, Carver knew the day would not end on a happy note.

Have to reload have to reload have to reload

As he fumbled with the spare clip, the familiar hiss of Raffaeli's cables zipped from the broken sunroof and clamped themselves on the Krogan's shoulder and chest. Raffaeli jumped and allowed the cables to rappel back, adding a great deal of force to the cement block he slammed into the Krogan's exposed face. Stunned, the Krogan was powerless to stop Raffaeli's onslaught of SMG fire to his face. It took a full second before he finally died.

Carver had just finished reloading. "Oh thank god, I thought I was going to—"

"—Behind you!"

"Wh— Oh fuck!" Carver reacted to the sudden appearance of another Rocket Krogan as much as anyone would: He fired his GEP at it, and without a proper lock, the missile failed to explode on impact. The Krogan looked at the rocket buried in his chest, bewildered.

Raffaeli fired his tow cable at Carver and pulled him away behind cover before the missile automatically exploded once it ran out of fuel. Krogan flesh and blood splattered the entire room.

~[h+]~


One of Lees' Leosocials ran out of ammo, and without a spare ammo block he threw the useless weapon away in favor of a Wanzer-sized combat knife he had kept from his days in the OCU military. His superior in the SSC had not approved, but that superior's 'standard' electrified stick had not kept him from serving as lunch for an oversized frog.

"This is DARPA Mech Shadow 108. ETA: One minute."

Elsa ignored the machine. For all she knew, this was the Geth or Wreav taunting her. She bashed a Krogan away with her metal shield, and launched a couple of her PAX-9 Missiles at an approaching transport, shooting it out of the sky. She hoped that the platforms inside of it would perish in the crash. She suspected that they wouldn't be so lucky.

Lees slashed at one of the Krogan that had made a rocket jump to grab him out of his cockpit. The others came at him, one at a time, bellowing challenges. They wanted Lee's head, and the honor of taking it would not be tainted by the interference of others. For now, that was his saving grace.

Elsa was still busy with the large group of imitation Wanzers, and they had gotten wise to her game. They stayed on top of the buildings, now, taking shots at her from everywhere. Her shields, both kinetic and solid, held fast as she gunned two more of them down with her Cemetery IX. That's when they started bombarding her with Siege Pulses from cover, forcing her to keep her distance.

"ETA: 30 seconds."

Lees' other gun ran out as well, and all he had to fight the Krogan on his Wanzer were its fist and the knife. Seeing that the Krogan were taking their sweet time, a Geth Wanzer tossed a Siege Pulse right in the Tendus' chest. This coincided with a Graal Spike Thrower shot in the back of the squat machine's knee, causing it to fall over, disabled.

"Lees!" Elsa called out. She tried to get to him, but she was pinned. She redoubled her efforts in killing the Geth Wanzers pinning her down, but her hopes were quickly dashed when the platforms from the crashed dropship joined the fray, just as a Geth Corvette loomed overhead and provided air support.

Meanwhile, Lees had managed to crawl out of his Tendus and kill a Krogan with his shotgun, and was savagely hacking away at a Krogan's face with a leaf-shaped hatchet. "Elsa!" he roared into his headset. "We're as good as dead! We bought the civilians enough time! Run!"

So soon after Hayha's death, that was the worst thing Elsa could hear. "No! I won't abandon you! I refuse!"

"How incredibly like a WOMAN," taunted Wreav. "Getting a MALE, a REAL warrior, to fight and die for you while you COWER inside your machine! You have no right to fight and die next to him! I will have you IMPALED and spend the rest of your pathetic existence as a dried-up thrall!"

"Ta gueule!"

"ETA: 10 seconds."

"I said shut up!" roared Elsa in frustration. A couple of mechs would make no difference. Damn that dropship pilot! She needed soldiers! Real soldiers! Alone, she could only deal with the Geth and Krogan that tried to storm her position. Every time she tried to take a shot and give Lees a chance to make it to the building, every single Geth in the area suppressed her immediately. Her kinetic shields barely lasted half a second under their combined fire.

A Geth Wanzer, emboldened by the reinforcements, grabbed Lees with its free hand, not caring about the Krogan that wanted him dead for their own honor. It tilted its large head, and stared at the human with its optic, probably wondering how such a creature had defied probability and killed so many of their numbers. Lees spat in its flashlight of an eye, defiant to the end.

"Elsa!" screamed Lees. "We'll see each in —ARGH!— in hell! And when we do first drinks will be on me!"

The Geth started to squeeze.

"NO!"

"We have arrived."

~[h+]~


The Geth Stalker GS-514, stuck like a spider on a nearby wall, watched as the unknown quadruped mech —UPDATE identification 'White Wolf' — spun towards Geth Type W Platform 38 11 83, specifically its left forearm. 38 11 38 attempted to hurry with the termination of Anomalous Human pilot. It failed: its hand was sliced off and vanished in a blur of biotic energy too quick for the Geth Stalker to capture. White Wolf then bisected 38 11 38 despite its attempt at evasion. There was no time for the 38 11 38's five hundred processes to transfer away.

White Wolf then proceeded to attack the Geth Trooper platform fireteams. With instructions to capture the mech, they did not fight at full potential, waiting for GS-514 to disable it with Tech attacks.

Acquiring Target — distance 50 meters — Sabotage tech mine loaded — probability of success unacceptable — relocating...done — target acquired, acceptable risk of failure — platform consensus reached: launch attack

The mech designated White Wolf kicked itself off of a wall, avoiding the tech mine.

Reacquire Target — Target found 41 meters — Sabotage tech mine loaded — platform consensus reached: launch attack

The mech kicked itself off a wall again, and despite GS-514's attempts at predicting its moves, the Stalker missed again.

Reacquire Target — Target found 20 meters — launch — missed

Reacquire Target — Target found 12 meters — launch — missed

Reacquire Target — Target found 6 meters — launch — missed

Reacquire Target — Target found 2 meters — ALERT INCOMING MELEE ATTACK — REDEPLOY — Error! — Severe Damage reported on lower left leg actuators 1 through 4 — Target reacquired — DISTANCE 0.05 METERS

The last images GS-514's processes received through their main optic was the White Wolf's scalpel teeth. The 245 processes were quickly transmitted to the nearest ship, then another and another, until they found their way back to 01 along with hundreds of other programs that survived the White Wolf. The effectiveness of the design proven, the programs shared their experience and sensor data.

The White Wolf's design would be hybridized with Geth technology.

The Geth would be one step closer to perfection.

~[h+]~


When the dark figure burst through the window (Carver would hate the sound of glass breaking for as long as he would live) with someone wrapped in a plastic hand big enough to wrap itself around his thighs and abdomen, Carver did not know how to react. He could shoot the robot, but then Lees would...

Lees.

Carver and Raffaeli came over to the fallen soldier without a thought as the robot pried the giant Geth fingers open. "This citizen requires medical attention," it said, its voice a cold, deep droning.

"Oh mon dieu!" muttered Raffaeli as he knelt besides the groaning Sergeant. "Please tell me you have a first aid suite in your Omni-Tool!"

"Of course I do!" Carver shot back, offended that Raffaeli assumed he was that much of a screw-up. SSC officers were required to have a First Aid package installed to stabilize the wounded should EMTs be unavailable.

"This unit shall leave you to it and engage hostiles." The mech leapt out through another window.

Carver dialed up his First Aid App. "Okay, first, scan the wounded — oh god, that's a lot of broken bits..."

Lees' eyes opened suddenly, and looked at nothing for a bit. Finally, he focused on Raffaeli. "You... why... why aren't you fighting? Why... why can't I feel my legs?"

"You're badly wounded, sir. We're fixing you."

"And..." he gulped and winced. "And the others? I don't hear guns firing..."

"...It's just me and Carver, sir. Everyone else is dead."

"...Oh."

"Sir!" shouted Carver, "This might hurt a bit!" The Omni-Tool formed a long syringe filled with Medi-gel, and Carver stabbed it deeply in Lees' abdomen.

"AAAAAAAAAARG YOU FUCKER! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!"

"I have to stop the internal bleeding!"

"GIVE ME A PAIN KILLER FIRST YOU STUPID LIMEY FUCK-UP!"

~[h+]~


For some reason, the Geth had lost all interest in Elsa and focused on the newcomers. She was a bit offended that a 35-ton multi-million Euro war machine didn't rate quite as high as a US combat mech — a very fast combat mech, as it seemed to teleport from Trooper to Trooper as it stabbed them in a sweet spot — but she wasn't one to ignore an opportunity when it presented itself. She Dashed into position, and flanked the fire-team of Geth Wanzers that had been such a pain in her ass. They were dealt with in seconds, their shields unable to deal with a full-auto barrage from a Cemetery IX. As she flew into another favourable position by using her jump-pack, she noticed that even the corvette was focusing on the black mech, firing every single one of its heavy machine guns at it and completely ignoring her.

The UNAS mech used some kind of electromagnetic shield to make the bullets spin around him.

Elsa made the corvette regret its focus by firing her last four missiles at it, one at a time in quick succession. It reacted quickly to the incoming ordnance, but only manage to shoot out one of the missiles. The other three found their mark, and the small ship retreated, its belly a twisted, smoking ruin. The mech, for its part, gathered the bullets that orbited him into his palm and fired the swirling cluster of hundreds blue pulses like a shotgun blast, taking down an entire Geth Wanzer. Elsa had admit, that was really impressive.

After that, it was just a mop-up.

~[h+]~


Chief Kull of Clan Blood Comet, slayer of a hundred Asari Witches at the first battle of Agessia, had engaged the Dark Warrior with a honourable bellow of challenge and swung his thick cleaver at its back.

The Dark Warrior's reply to the challenge had been a sidekick to the left pair of kidneys, which sent the elder Chief flying 6 meters into a nearby wall of cement. He made a loud thud as his body cracked the cement, and his jetpack's right nozzle had been crushed, rendering it useless.

Kull shook his head, and watched in impotent fury as the Dark Warrior made quick work of his remaining three warriors. Thinking on his feet, Kull undid the straps of his jetpack, stuck a sticky grenade on the side of the fuel tank, and with yet another roar of fury, he tossed it at the Dark Warrior just as it skewered his last man through the heart. It had no time to dodge. Kill smiled as it became wrapped in flaming jet fuel.

When it stumbled out of the flames, he wasn't all that surprised. In fact, he was quite happy to have the chance to make it a very personal kill. Like a bull he ran forward and slashed at the Dark Warrior's kidney. Its armor absorbed the blow, and it was sent flying. Kull pressed his advantage, and this time he went for the skull, intent on splitting it in two.

The Dark Warrior had recovered more quickly than Kull had anticipated, and knocked the blow aside with its gauntlet, causing Kull to lean in too close, unbalanced. The Warrior then delivered an uppercut to Kull's solar plexus, sending the old Krogan Warrior up eight meters, a height the Warrior easily matched with a single jump. It brought two flaming fists down on Kull's back, and Kull's body cracked the asphalt. Much to his own surprise, he did not die.

The Warrior kicked Kull in the side, rolling him on his broken back, as it was not quite done with him. It straddled him, then proceeded to unleash a flurry of of one-two punches of increasing cadence.

No! Not like this! An honourable death! A death worthy of song! No one will know how I died!

As Kull's brains turned to paste, his last, comforting thought was that he had been the last one to fall, and that no one would tell tales of the Dark Warrior.

~[h+]~


As the Geth worked on breaching the Hotel's defences, Wreav stared at a monitor set up by a tiny floating Geth drone, replaying the holo vid of Kull's death, as recorded by a damaged, cloaked Stalker.

"Who is this... What is this... creature of shadow and flame? Who is this Dark Warrior?"

His questions were only met with silence from both his men and the Geth. Wreav patted his spike maul. Honor demanded that he kill that Warrior. Greed demanded that he turn him into a Thrall. Either way, it was going to be one hell of a fight.

He turned to the Geth drone. "Send this footage to my commanders — tell them to be wary of the Dark Warrior."

~[h+]~


Hannibal caught the ejecting Geth with his teeth mere inches away from the Wanzer Platform's neck. He chewed and whipped it around like a toy, and once it was completely broken, he spat out the remains.

"Combination attack complete. The last Geth Wanzer is dead, pilot included. Shadow? Status?"

The mad mixtures of whimpers, grunts, and snarling were not very comforting sounds. Hannibal went looking for Jensen, and found him savaging a Krogan's corpse. 'Corpse' was perhaps too generous a word, as there was little left of the alien but blood splatters and wet chips of bone.

"Adam..." Hannibal spoke out loud. "...he's dead."

Adam did not reply, nor did he stop.

"Hannibal!" Brea's helmeted face came up on a corner of Hannibal's vision. "Ad— I mean, SHADOW's not responding and his vitals... his heartbeat's at 214 bpm! What's going on?!"

"We are not under attack. However, Adam seems to have... gone insane. Also: He is currently on fire."

"Wh-? Get a goddamned fire extinguisher!"

"That won't do. Judging from the scene I would say he has been doused with rocket fuel. It needs to be washed off."

"There should be a hydrant right next to you! Use it!"

"I am not equipped with a hose."

"JUST DO AS I SAY!"

Hannibal sliced off the top of a nearby fire hydrant. The thick jet of pressurized water soared in the air, and cold wind and gravity provided Adam with a shower. He still burned, however.

"I apologize for this, but if you burn any longer, you might be damaged." Hannibal wrapped the flat of his swordtail around Adam's midsection and held him on top of the water jet.

~[h+]~


Elsa tossed the cargo container aside and opened the emergency hatch.

"Alright," her voice blared through the speakers. "You've held the line long enough. It's time for you to go."

"Oh, thank god!" sighed Carver as he and Raffaeli carried Sergeant Lees towards the manhole. The old soldier's torso was wrapped in an Omni-Gel cast to keep his spine from breaking any further.

"Carver," said Raffaeli, "you're going first."

"What? But..."

"I need you at the bottom to receive Lees. He's in no shape to climb down the rungs."

"I...oh, alright. It's the least I can do." Carver went down the hole without further complaint, and Raffaeli stuck his Urban Maneuvering Gear's cords on Lees.

"Raaargh..." slurred Lees, his brain addled by something "I can still fight! Put me in a Wanzer! I'll kick all their asses!..."

"Of course you would, monsieur..."

"Don't monsieur me you French son of a..." Lees' voice became distant and echoing as he was lowered into thefloof.

"Take care of him," said Elsa. "He's a good soldier, and so are you, incidentally."

"Don't worry, I will... and thank you. Where is the black mech? And the dog? We'd all be dead if it weren't for them..."

"That's a good question, but don't worry about it for now. Just go."

Raffaeli joined Lees and Carver at the bottom, and Elsa closed the hatch. She was replacing the cargo container when she received a call from Zead.

"Lass? Lass! Are ye alright?! We thought we'd lost you for a while, there."

"Yeah, Geth jamming. But I'm okay: Hein's machine came in the nick of time."

"That's good to hear... Listen, I'm patching you through to the SSV Normandy. She's been providing the Acheron with targeting data for orbital shots."

Elsa came around a corner, looking for the machines. "Alright... patch them through, already."

The face of an unshaven young man appeared on her HUD: "This is Flight Lieutenant Moreau—"

"Save the introductions. What's going on?"

"Well, we thought we were clever taking pot shots at their transports, thinking they had no place to take cover, but..."

Once again, the sky flickered, and the sound of thick glass breaking echoed through Middle Dosadi.

"Bordel!" cursed Elsa. "They're using the arcology as cover."

"Bloody hell," said Zead. "We can't shoot the bloody city. We'd get hanged high and low."

"Yeah..." agreed the Flight Lieutenant. "Half of their frigates and corvettes are making their way in. The rest are cranking up their shields and moving in to engage the Acheron and its fighters. They're using evasive tactics. Sniping them from orbit won't work anymore."

"Don't worry lass, I've ordered my Carryall to get me there, no matter what."

"Do you need us to provide cover?"

"Nah, stay there and keep an eye on the Geth, and keep us appraised of their movements."

"As you wish... Joker out."

"Good luck, lass. Zead out."

Elsa sighed. "Now, where is this dark knight in bloody armour?"

~[h+]~


Adam felt like he was floating in the dark, and in that void the voices of the many people that died on Elysium surrounded him. Rage was boiling in his heart and fear froze his mind. He felt like an animal.

He felt like the Shadow of Elysium again.

It's hot.

Fire. He remembered there had been fire. There was always fire.

"Adam...?"

The voice belonged to every woman that he had ever loved, and ever hated, and ever forgotten.

"Adam!"

He felt cold, now, and felt the fear and rage wash away.

"Answer me..."

LOAD BIOS
LOAD APS-OS version 1.4b
MEMORY SET
SYSTEM STATUS OK

ERROR - SUIT POWER LEVELS AT 298.62 PERCENT PLEASE CONTACT BATTERY MANUFACTURER.
WARNING - SUIT TEMPERATURE ABOVE NORMAL -APPLY COOLANT
COOLANT APPLIED

SHINKAWA APS 108 OS Developer Edition
WELCOME, WEARER

ERROR - HELMET OPTICS COMPROMISED
OPENING FACEPLATE.

Bright artificial sunlight pierced Adam's eyes, causing a moment of discomfort. Rivulets of water flowed and scattered into beads in front of his face, the glass keeping it from becoming wet.

The owner of the voice calling out to him became clearer.

"Brea?" he muttered.

"Ah... you're awake. Good."

"What happened?"

"As far as I can tell, a Krogan threw a canister of ignited fuel at you, and you went berserk," said Hannibal. He had an anti-materiel rifle clutched with his teeth. "Are you alright?"

"I feel like I ran a marathon. Or three. Whew... Were you the one that hosed me down?"

"It was my idea, actually," said Brea. Adam checked his suit temperature. It was dropping steadily. The water was almost ice cold.

"Great, now whenever you talk all I'll be able to think about is a cold shower."

"...What the hell is that supposed to mean."

"Shit, that came out wrong. I—"

"—Just get over here!" snapped Brea. "We just finished rescuing the Deep Eyes. We need to think of a way to get inside Upper Dosadi. If Wreav is so interested in getting in there, then so should we."

"Great, because the last time was so much fun. I'm on my way. Shadow out."

Adam heard a clatter besides him. Hannibal had just dropped the weapon at his feet.

"What's that for?" asked Adam as he picked up the rifle. Another cheap gunpowder weapon. "Well, besides the obvious..."

"You should avoid melee combat for a while."

Adam was about to protest that he was fine, but the heavy footfalls of a Zenith approached.

"HEY! ROBOT!"

"Polarize your visor," said Hannibal.

Adam did so, and approached the six meter tall war machine. It had taken quite a few hits, but it was still functional.

"YOU LOOK LIKE SHIT," Elsa's voice boomed throught the Zenith's speakers. "ARE YOU STILL FUNCTIONAL?"

Adam was about to make a cutting remark, but remembered that he was supposed to play the part of a robot. That had been Hein's idea, and Adam, lacking any other ideas to maintain his identity a secret, had gone along with it.

He still felt like a tit, though.

"This unit is 90 percent functional." That was a bit of bullshit on his part. He had no idea what that percentage actually meant. His helmet's optics had been warped by the heat, but besides that his HUD didn't report anything else.

The Zenith knelt down. "CAN YOU FOLLOW MY ORDERS?"

Adam thought about what a DARPA robot would say, then said it. "This unit has been ordered to follow your instructions as long as they do not conflict with UNAS and DARPA's interests."

"GOOD ENOUGH." The Zenith held out her hand. "GET ON. I'M GOING TO REJOIN SOME AMERICAN FORCES IN DOSADI. I'M PROBABLY GOING TO NEED SOMEONE TO KEEP INFANTRY OFF MY BACK."

~[h+]~


Elsa lifted the DARPA Mech and dropped it between the Zenith's head and its shoulder, giving herself an anti-personnel turret.

"What about the dog?" she asked. "Can it talk, too?"

"WOOF. WOOF."

"...Oh, fantastic," she said sarcastically.

"Unit K9 reports that it will scout ahead for hostiles,"said the 108.

"Good." Elsa set her Zenith for a Dash and pushed the throttle to 120 kilometres per hour. She watched the dog mech speed off. It was going nearly twice as fast. "Got that from two Woofs, eh?"

"...Yes."

~[h+]~


"K9?" asked Hannibal, his tone a little peeved.

"It was all I could think off the top of my head. Sorry." Adam clutched the Zenith's handle bar with one hand, and kept the anti-materiel rifle steady with the other. "You really should have gotten me an assault rifle: Sniping isn't my specialty."

The tiny silhouette of a Geth appeared on Adam's HUD, with 140m written just underneath it. "Geth Sniper."

"Got it." Adam aimed for center mass and fired. Garrus, he noted, would have pulled off the necessary neck shot that would have completely disabled the Geth. Adam's shot still proved critical, and the silhouette went down."Good eyes, Hannibal."

"Thank you. Engaging Heavy Weapon Platform Squad... Combination attack complete. Squad terminated."

Adam, in his robot voice, reported to Elsa that the way was clear, and she drove the Zenith on a highway to Paulownia Mall.

"You know, I'm faster than you are. I can scout ahead."

"Like I said, you should avoid close-quarter combat for a while. Geth Missile Drone ahead. Marking."

Adam's first shot missed, but the next found its mark. "Got it. What do you mean?"

"In order to be victorious in hand-to-hand combat, one must tap into something deeply primal. This is why the Geth are such poor combatants at close range: They lack brutality."

"Nonsense." Adam shot a pursuing Geth APC in the stabilizer, giving Elsa ample opportunity to shoot it up with her auto-cannon. "I've won plenty of fights by keeping calm and using my head."

"Then those you defeated that way were not your intellectual equal. When ALL factors are equal -Strength, Intelligence, Resilience... the victor is almost always the one with the strongest will, and the power of the will is tapped from the fury of the soul... And yours is a fury that cannot be controlled. I should know: I am the same... Target Marked."

Another Geth Prime went down, and its squad's effectiveness was diminished considerably, allowing Hannibal to make quick work of it. Adam had to shoot a geth rocket in mid-air with Sasha. "Could we save the philosophy forwhen we're not being attacked by an army of killer robots?"

"As you w— Uh oh."

"Uh oh?"

~[h+]~


[Avengers 2012 Soundtrack - Assemble]

More enemy contacts had just appeared on Elsa's HUD when the unkempt face of the Alliance helmsman reappeared: "Normandy here! Er, LT? Are you by any chance in the eastern part of Middle Dosadi?"

"This is Devereaux. As a matter of fact I am, why?"

"Oh, nothing... except you've got three Geth corvettes and a frigate incoming. Nothing too major."

"Nothing too major, hm?" asked Elsa, not appreciating the sarcasm.

"Okay, well, we're getting mixed readings, so there might be a few drones."

"Wreav must really want me dead. Thanks for the warning, Normandy. Devereaux out." She cut the connection to the Alliance frigate. "Hey! Robot! We've got more of your kind incoming! Think you can keep them off my back?"

"This unit—"

"At 225 kilometers per hour?" asked Elsa as she set her backpack's jets to boost her top speed.

"...This unit will request K9 to bring it a Cousar Crowe GEP Gun."

"Smart robot."

~[h+]~


Another large Geth downed, and Adam was out of ammo. "I'm out! Need something else, Hannibal!"

After easily tearing his way into an SSC emergency weapons locker, Hannibal ran full speed besides the Zenith with a weapon clutched between its teeth and spare mags stuck on its back. "HERE!" he shouted as he tossed the weapon at Adam, who caught it easily.

The Geth, as Elsa said, had sent a large number of units against them. First, came the drones. Adam had no trouble taking them out of the sky before they could be a problem. When it became clear that attacking from above with light units was suicide, they focused on creating as many obstructions in front of the Zenith by firing their rockets at nearby buildings. That had worked well enough for the Geth transports to catch up and drop more imitation Wanzers around them. Elsa shield bashed the one in her way, but had to turn on her heels and skate backwards to shoot them, even as she had to dodge wrecked cars and other debris.

"The Geth are not fighting at their full potential." noted Hannibal. "Odd."

"I don't suppose it's because they're scared?" asked Adam.

"I mean they're not playing to their strength: ranged combat... I think they're trying to disable us."

"You're probably right. It would be simpler to bomb the hell out of us. I think I see a frigate close enough to do just that."

"Then we should stay close to the Zenith, lest the Geth destroy it out of hand."

~[h+]~


Elsa, Adam and Hannibal took on all comers at 80 km per hour. Nothing the Geth threw at them could hold them for long. Finally, deciding that a change of method was in order, the Geth delivered one of Wreav's Elites — Khel 'Tomkah' Renk — Personally ordered by the Warlord himself to utterly crush Elsa, whatever the cost. Khel Renk had earned his nickname by being a formidable commander and gunner of the Tomkah, a Krogan battle tank.

But Khel Renk had not brought a Tomkah. He had brought a prize he had won from a group of Terran upstart mercenaries with more money than skill. It was a hundred ton, quad-legged machine built decades ago by the Coalition, equipped with an underslung Vulcan gun, two missile launchers, and a 300mm Krogan bazooka on its turret. It had been painted with the Khel colors: Rusty brown splattered with bright orange, with a checker board pattern at the feet and white teeth on the front armour, the Khel clan sigil (An exploding skull) just above plates of high-density steel had been bolted on, along with Geth shield emitters, for extra protection. It was a fusion of Terran engineering, Geth technology, and Krogan Artillery .

"Oh bordel!" c

ursed Elsa as the huge machine — easily the size of four wanzers — landed in front of her, its own skates throwing up sparks as it kept itself and the Zenith at the bazooka's effective range. "It's a ZHUK!"

"THAT'S ROIGHT, LOVE!" shouted Renk through the Zhuk's loudspeakers, his voice thick with a Khel accent. He tracked the Zenith with the bazooka. "AND UNCLE RENK? 'ES BRINGING DA BOOM!"

~[h+]~


Elsa fired her jump jets just in time, the explosion that should have destroyed her feet giving both her and the K9 mech a powerful boost. When she landed on the street, four stories below, her landing had been less than graceful, unlike the K9's. She made the Zenith rise to its feet, and checked for the 108. It had crashed into a nearby store, and was just getting out, torn handlebar in hand.

Above her, Elsa could hear the screech of the Zhuk's skates braking.

"BWAHAHAHAHA! THAT'S ROIGHT! RUN, KITTEN!" 12 streams of smoke streaked out of the Zhuk's back, and were coming right at Elsa.

Standard operating procedure for a Medium Wanzer encountering a mobile weapon was to coordinate fire with squad mates and avoid engaging one from the front, where the armor was usually the strongest. Lacking squad mates and out of missiles, there was only one available solution:

"Run!" she screamed into her mic, as she set her throttle to max. The K9 and the 108 followed her on foot, running besides her even as missiles exploded all around them, pressure waves kicking up dust, broken glass, and chips of concrete. Elsa looked back into the cloud of dust the missiles had cast over the area, and saw the Zhuk burst out of it.

"Over here!" She took a sharp turn into a street too small for the Zhuk to go through, then another, until it could no longer follow or shoot at her Wanzer.

"AW, NUTS. LOOKS LIKE I LOST YA. I GUESS I SHOULD JUST GIVE UP."

Just as he said that, a Geth corvette appeared above and began a furious onslaught of gunfire and missiles. She evaded it, only to run into more and more of its friends. The 108 attempted down one with the Cousar Crowe, but it was no use: their shields were just too strong for the one GEP gun.

She was herded back into the main street, where the Zhuk was waiting for her.

"KIDDING! BWAHAHAHAHA!" Renk charged full speed at her and renewed his attack and fired all three weapons at her. She dodged the heavy ordnance and took the Vulcan shots in the metal shield. The three corvettes that had herded her floated above the street and prepared to fire...

[3:30]

...A flight of three Rafales streaked by, and their missiles destroyed all three corvettes. A Carryall dropped a trio of Wanzers, the first of which fell between the Zenith and the Zhuk.

~[h+]~


Taggart deployed the Liathach's backpack's two arm-mounted 144mm armour plates in front of him, slanting them just so that the bazooka round would be deflected. The munition exploded harmlessly above and behind him.

The Zhuk kept skating forward, charging like a angry, wild beast, and Taggart increased the Liathach's mass signature by 150 percent. The 50-ton machine became more than twice as heavy, as far as the universe was concerned, and heavier than the incoming Zhuk. The air briefly warped around the Liathach, and the asphalt cracked under its huge feet. Taggart put his machine's hands forward and tackled the machine, and the rampaging Mobile Weapon came to a halt as the unyielding Liathach's feet tore into the road, kicking up dust and chunks of concrete.

"Hello lass!" greeted Taggart happily, almost oblivious to the monstrous machine he was wrestling with. "How are ye doin'?"

"Rotten! You're late, Zead!" complained Elsa.

"I'd say we got here in the nick of time!" said Hermes jokingly. "Need a fix?"

"Leutnant Devereaux!" asked Zoller. "Are you hurt?!"

"No and no!"

Eventually, the ground gave way, and the Heavy Wanzer fell into the crumbling ground.

Just as planned: Taggart used the leverage to lift and flip the Zhuk on its back.

"Now!" he barked into his headset.

~[h+]~


"Aye aye!" Zoller loaded a marker-light round into the Ziege and fired the slow-moving projectile into the Zhuk's belly, where it stuck and ignited. "Rafale wing Beta, this is Drake 3! We need an anti-tank missile at Marker-light signal Theta Nine!"

"This is Beta wing, request is acknowledged, coming in for a pass... Fox Three!"

The Zhuk was engulfed in smoke and flame.

"Beta wing to Drake 3, can you confirm kill?"

"I think we can call it... uh oh."

"Roger that, Drake 3, we're coming for a second pass."

"Wait, no!"

~[h+]~


"Shields holding!" reported the Zhuk's mechanic.

Renk spat, and the phlegm landed on the turret's hatch. "My turn... FIRE THE EMERGENCY PISTONS!" He roared at his driver.

"Firing the pistons!" the driver replied back.

~[h+]~


To everyone's astonishment, the Zhuk leapt up with a loud bang, and landed upright. Its four legs had been modified with heavy duty, explosion powered pistons designed specifically to flip itself back.

"THIS IS A GROUND BATTLE, YOU HONORLESS DOGS!" screamed the Zhuk's commander as he fired fired its countermeasures, causing the Rafales' missiles went wide. He followed that up with a missile strike of his own at the passing Rafales. The fighters, not flying at top speed, were easy marks.

"Mayday! Mayday! This is Beta wing! We're going down! I repeat, we're going down!" The Rafales glided out of sight, spewing black smoke and sparks as they went. "Ejectiiiiing!"

"Scheiße!" cursed Zoller, his Stoßzahn Funf atop a nearby building. "I'm tracking their pods!"

"They'll be fine, lad!" said Taggart as he jumped out of the hole he had made, his Wanzer covered in filth slowly washed away by the jets of water of breached plumbing. He took his Heat Hatchet out of its backpack mount and brought his PAX-9 launchers online. "Worry about us for now!"

"Looks like this Kroc wants to do this the hard way," said Hermes, as he brought his Giza Mk II's 'Grave' machine gun to bear on the Zhuk.

"Then let's oblige him..." Elsa replied. "Drakes! Engage! 108, you stand back: This is a fight between giants!"

~[h+]~


From cover, Adam and Hannibal watched on as, with the exception of the sniper on the rooftops, the European Wanzer team manoeuvred around the Zhuk. Adam hoped that, with their tactics, they would defeat the spider-like machine quickly.

It was a sound tactic, it seemed. Both the Medium and Medium-Heavy skated and whittled down its shield, and then the sniper and the Heavy could use their more powerful weapons to punch through the armor.

Unfortunately for all of them, the Geth had mounted some experimental shield technology on the old Terran war machine: bullets weren't being so much blocked as slapped away, a very energy efficient method of active defense.

With bullets not working, the Heavy Wanzer decided to bypass the shields entirely with a melee attack with his Heat Axe. But a Krogan was always ready for close combat, and the Zhuk's pilot spun one of its front legs around, turning into a battering ram, and knocked the Heavy away before it could land a blow.

"USELESS! USELESS! USELESS!" taunted the Krogan tank commander.

"Damn it!" Adam cursed sub-vocally to Hannibal. "We have to do something — any ideas?"

"We do not have the firepower to breach that armour."

"You sliced a Geth in two!"

"Geth are lightly armoured and easy to cut. The Krogan bolted high-density metal plates on the Zhuk, even its weak spots — I don't suppose you can use Warp?"

"Err..." Adam waited fruitlessly for that tingling sensation in the back of his neck. "...nope."

"Then it would take hundreds of repeated blows with our HF weapons to get through."

"We don't have that kind of time..."

"The Wanzers have the firepower necessary to take the armour down quickly, but can do nothing with the shields active."

Adam saw where Hannibal was going with this — his AR HUD highlighted a Geth device on the Zhuk's frame. It was circular, silvery, and three blue lights spun within a wheel. "The emitters are exposed. One on each leg, four on the body. We move in and take them out and let the Wanzer finish the Zhuk off."

"That is a risky proposition: besides the obvious, the Zhuk is equipped with 'Hedgehog' Anti-Personnel Spigot Mortars. Superheated tungsten shrapnel will rain down on us and make short work of both our shields and armor once they detect us."

"Then we'll have to be too close for them to use them."

"They are Krogan. They'll use it point blank."

"I'll have to be careful, then." And just like that, Adam sped off towards the Zhuk. Hannibal shook his head, wondering if Ramsus and Jensen were not related somehow. They both had a taste for daring, dangerous exploits. It was far more likely they were both just suicidal.

And just like Ramsus, Hannibal did not hesitate to follow Adam into danger.

~[h+]~


[Metal Gear Revengeance OST - Hot Wind Blowing]

If only we had not wasted all our Snowblind in that last op, thought Elsa, as she dodged another bazooka shot. The shields' sensors wouldn't be able to detect incoming rounds, and a few well placed missiles would have ended this fight quickly. At this rate, however, the Drakes would run out of ammo, be forced to retreat, and the Zhuk would then catch up to everyone and kill them. If only I had packed a pile bunker. If only I could get close enough. If only. Si seulement. The two deadliest words in combat.Then, out of the smoke, came the two mechs, rushing at the Zhuk.

"What the bloody hell is that?"

said Taggart on the Silver Drakes' Codec."It's the 108 and the K9 — Hein's mechs!" Elsa pinged the 108's signal and quickly got a response. "Hey, Robot! I told you to stand back!"

"Moving in to disable enemy shields," said the 108."Please be wary of friendly fire."

Please be wary of friendly fire? If Elsa didn't know any better, she could have sworn that robot was giving her some sass."Tch! Fine! Everyone, cease fire! Follow and assist the 108 whenever and however possible!""What could a mech possibly do against a Geth-augmented Mobile Weapon?!" asked Zoller."Do you have a better plan, kid?" responded Hermes. "Can't hurt to give it a shot, can it?"

~[h+]~


"I SEE YOU, DARK WARRIOR!" The Zhuk's commander lauged. "FULL SPEED BACKWARDS!"

With Hannibal right behind him, Adam ran full speed ahead at the retreating Mobile Weapon. Its Vulcan gun spewed bullets at him, but his elbow-mounted Pelta shield up, the 2mm slugs were easily deflected. Zero Shifting right at the Zhuk, Adam thought, might be a bad idea, as its shields might mistake him for a projectile and knock him away.

When the Zhuk slowed down to brace itself, keeping its bazooka steady for a shot, Adam had his chance: he leapt towards the left foreleg. Sensing his intent, the commander triggered the shield module's protective armour. Adam caught the two closing plates just in time, and tore them off.

"EAT HOT METAL RAIN!" The Krogan tank commander launched a trio of Hedgehogs just as Adam was about to plunge his Fandango into the spinning emitter. Adam kicked quickly and gracefully kicked himself off the Mobile Weapon. The Hedgehogs soared into the air; two of them exploded under a hail of gunfire from the Zenith, and one of them showered the Zhuk with hot metal... which barely scratched the armor. Adam, of course, was safely out of the way

Hannibal was quick on the follow up. "Initiating spinning claw attack." He leapt towards the emitter, his entire body spinning in counter to the emitter's own spin, and buried one of his claws into the sensitive piece of Geth machinery, destroying its insides. "Attack completed."

"Do you even need to say that?"

"No."

"...Right." Adam switched channels. "108 reporting: forward left shield emitter has been destroyed."

"Roger that 108," Elsa replied. "Everyone! Focus on the Zhuk's 2 o'clock!"

Adam had was just about stab the forward right leg's shield emitter when the tank commander sent the Zhuk into a spin, allowing the other shield emitters to evenly defend against the renewed onslaught of the Silver Drakes. Adam held on for dear life. To his surprise, the Zhuk's gunner managed to time a shot right at the Sniper Wanzer standing atop a nearby building.

And because that wasn't enough, he sent a volley of missiles at it, for good measure.

~[h+]~


"Oh mein gott!" screamed Zoller as the bazooka blast knocked his Wanzer off its feet.

"Zoller! Take cov—"

The following missile blast engulfed the roof the Stoßzahn stood on, and Zoller screamed in terror into his microphone before his voice was drowned in static.

"ZOLLER!"

"Blast it!" cursed Hermes as he loaded a new ammo block into his Grave. "The shields are weakening a bit faster but at this rate we'll deplete them in ten minutes!"

"That's too long! 108! K9! Keep it up!"

~[h+]~


That's what I'm trying to do! thought Adam, frustrated, as he struggled against the Zhuk's centrifugal force. With only one hand to work with and the Geth emitter fully protected, Adam punched it over and over again until the shell was well and deeply dented.

"I have destroyed the forward emitter," reported Hannibal.

"And I'm pretty sure the forward right one is—"

The dented emitter spewed sparks as its shell opened, and the three lights seemed to stare at Adam when they lit up like sunlight. Adam was thrown off the Zhuk with pure kinetic force. Time slowed down for Adam as he saw one of the Zhuk's legs coming straight at him. He shielded his face with his arms and braced himself for the blow, loudly thinking 'Tech Armour', hoping it would bring up the barrier in time.

[stop music]

THUNK.

Adam was kicked right into the asphalt, the plates of Omni-Gel and his shields having taken the brunt of the impacts. What little kinetic energy that went through, however, had brought a coppery taste up in Adam's mouth as he lay prone on the ground.

"Adam!" Hannibal called out.

~[h+]~


"The Zhuk's forward arc is exposed!" said Hermes. "Now's our chance!"

"Aye!" agreed Taggart. "Preparing Alpha Strike!"

"Wait! You'll hit the mechs!" protested Elsa.

"They're bleedin' robots! Hein can send me the bill after I save all our lives, aye?!"

Just as Taggart launched his volley, alarms blared in Elsa' cockpit as the Zhuk sent its own in response. "Oh mon dieu..." she gasped as she saw a swarm of missiles coming at her team.

A swarm of forty-eight.

~[h+]~


Hannibal heard the roar of two dozen HEAT missiles coming right at him, and he leapt off the Zhuk to avoid being destroyed along with it. As he jumped, he felt the pressure wave of the combined explosions rushing behind him. His shields snapped, and he was sent reeling into a nearby wall. For a moment, all was dark, and his emergency repair system sent his body into a reboot.

While the machine slowly woke itself up, the only thing left aware was the animal's soul.

~[h+]~


Adam felt something push him, and after he was done rolling, his Sentinel health system sent multiple alarms in his AR display. Internal bleeding, fractures... The damage would take an hour to heal, at most.

He was surrounded by smoke. Chunks of debris were still falling all around him. "This is... this is Shadow to Lieutenant Devereaux. Are you... functional." Static answered him, and he wondered what the point of that charade was, now.

He hoped that the Zhuk was a burning husk, torn apart by missile fire. When it burst from the smoke with a roar blaring out of its speakers, he knew he was wrong.

[resume music - 3:31]

The two metal legs came down at him, as if the Zhuk was a great, wounded beast intent on mauling him. With no time to think, Adam made his element zero nodes flare and stopped the three-toed metal paws from crushing him. He held fast, gritting his teeth, but he stumbled and fell to a knee as the toes became claws and began to spin, threatening to mash him to pieces.

He watched his power levels drop: 240 percent... 199... 170...

"HA!" cackled the Zhuk's commander. "YOU'RE FINISHED, DARK WARRIOR! YOUR HEAD WILL HAVE A PLACE OF HONOUR ON MY HALL!" The Vulcan gun, aimed at Jensen's head, began to groan as it spun. "REEEJOOOIIIIICE!"

The Ziege's 10mm bullet pierced the Vulcan gun, destroying it completely.

"WHUT?!"

Adam felt a surge in the back of his head and briefly glowed green. Blue lightning crackled all over Adam's body as he erupted into a burst of electricity, pushing the two front legs away. When the Zhuk lost its balance and fell forward towards him, Adam' right fist wrapped itself in glowing solid Omni-Gel plates imbued with dark energy. He uppercutted the Mobile Weapon right in its 'face', denting its armour and sending it reeling back, the heels of its hind legs grinding into sparks against the rough ground.

Adam promptly fell on all fours, exhausted.

Out of the smoke behind him came a Wanzer.

~[h+]~


"Ich verurteile Sie..."

Zoller drove his Stoßzahn forward at the Zhuk, firing his last three rounds into the Zhuk's underside where the pilot's seat should be, weakening the armor. He discarded the overheating Ziege rifle and switched to his pile bunker. His Wanzer spun on its skates to give the melee weapon that extra kick it needed.

"...zur HÖLLE!" he screamed out of his Wanzer's speakers, just as he fired and buried the spike right into the weakened part of the armour. Krogan blood spurted out, confirming a critical hit.

He retreated just as the Zhuk was about to fall on top of him. With the pilot dead, the machine could no longer move, let alone pull off fancy manoeuvres.

Elsa, in turn, fired her jump jets and landed on top of the Zhuk, grabbing the main gun with both hands to tear it off, giving Taggart the chance to bury his Heat axe into the turret's main rotor. Elsa pulled at the turret, intent on tearing it off.

~[h+]~


Renk's eyes strained at the sudden rush of artificial daylight as his Turret was peeled off. He didn't understand that feeling that crept in his two hearts as the Zenith stared down and reached for him. He wondered if that's how all the people he killed felt in their last moments:

Small. Tiny. Insignificant.

"NO!" he screamed as he was grabbed out of his seat, the cables of his command suit snapping from their plugs, the metal hand squeezing him tightly. "I CAN'T LOSE LIKE THIS! I CAN'T!"

A woman's voice came out of the Zenith as its head looked somewhere. He heard sounds his translator didn't catch.

"Allez, chien-chien... ATTRAPE!"

As he was thrown in the air, Renk wondered what those alien words meant. He quickly supposed it had something to do with the snarling Mech shaped like a Varren, about to catch him in mid-air with a huge segmented sword for a tail.

"NO! NOOOOO—"

Renk felt sharp pains all over his body as the sword tail became a blur all around him. Time slowed down as Renk's well-oxygenated brain forced him to stare down as his body became little chunks, watch as his film-like gelatinous nervous system came apart, firing off the last pulses in each part. In slow-motion, he saw the blade come for his head, and then he saw nothing, and felt nothing, as the Void claimed him forever.

And so ended the life of Khel Renk.

Killed by an imitation of an animal.

~[h+]~


The K9 growled as it landed, covered in red Krogan blood, and howled victoriously.

"Oooh, damn," said Hermes. Elsa could easily imagine him wince. "That was vicious."

"I've had a bad day," Elsa replied. "And he really deserved it. How's the 108?"

"It's down," said Taggart, coldly, as the K9 mech approached the fallen machine. It tapped the 108's head with its nose, then licked its golden visor. Is it programmed to act like a real dog? Elsa thought it was almost adorable, the way it treated the 108 like its master.

Its fallen master. Now Elsa felt a pang of sadness for the robot.

"Anyways," continued Taggart. "Our good captain tasked us with finding you and placing you under arrest. Do you agree to come in peacefully?"

"No."

There was a tense beat before Taggart spoke again. "Well, I fockin' tried." Taggart laughed. "2nd Lieutenant Taggart reporting for duty, lass."

"Likewise," said Hermes as brought his Giza closer to the 108.

"Likewise," said Zoller, after he recovered his rifle. "I apologize for the static my Chaff Grenades caused, Fraulein."

"No need. It was good timing on your part."

Zoller focused his Wanzer's main optic on the fallen black mech. "Such a... powerful machine. Standard Operating Procedure against Coalition Mobile Weapons is to engage with three Wanzers at least. This mech did not hesitate to take the Zhuk on its own!"

"Don't sound so damned impressed," said Taggart, annoyed. "Bravery is not a function of robotics."

"Perhaps..." agreed Zoller. "Are you sure this is a DARPA machine? It has an OCU look about it."

"It's definitely high-tech looking," said Hermes as he reached for it. "Maybe I should take this back to the Acheron and take it apart? I don't think Hein is in any position to complain."

The K9 snarled and whipped its sword tail at the Giza's hand, neatly severing one finger.

"WHOA!" Hermes' eyes went wide at the sudden damage report.

"It's hostile!" shouted Zoller.

"Hold your fire, idiots." Elsa switched on her Codec. "K9? Can you understand me?"

No answer.

Taggart snarled. "I'll stomp that bloody mutt flat!"

"EVERYONE SHUT UP AND HOLD YOUR FIRE!" Elsa barked as she opened up her cockpit and rappelled down to the ground. She approached the K9 with her palms up. It slashed at her feet, drawing a line in the asphalt. The message was clear: This far, and no further.

"Bon chien-chien..." she soothed, and she removed the electrode helmet, daring to take a step beyond the line. The K9 growled. "Easy... easy..." This is crazy, she thought, that's not a real dog! That's a killing machine! "I just want to take him back to the Americans at Paulownia Mall. They can fix him, right?"

The sword tail snapped again, leaving a scratch on Elsa's cheek. THIS far, and NO further.

"I just want to help, okay?" she smiled, but her eyes were wide with terror.

The K9 began to tremble.

"Gold..." said the K9.

"Okay, you can talk, that's good. Now why don't you put the tail down, alright? You're making my men nervous..."

"Gold? No..."

It's talking about my hair. Why is it talking about my hair?

"Stay... away...please?"

"You're a good dog," said Elsa, as she knelt down and reached out. "You're a good dog, right? You don't want to hurt anyone..."

...

You're a good person.

...

The K9 whimpered and whined, and let its tail go flaccid behind it. It walked up to Elsa and let her scratch its armor plates, the pressure sensors sending soothing signals to its electronic brain.

"Okay, everyone, just calm down, it's going to be alright, see?"

~[h+]~


Adam heard the sound of panting and the laughter of a little girl. "Sunny?" he muttered as he opened his eyes, and the laughter became nervous and older.

And French.

He rose stiffly on his feet, trying to keep the masquerade up. The distant sounds of explosions and rapid gunfire slowly came to his attention. Adam looked down at Elsa: She seemed so small, now that she was out of her Wanzer. At one meter fifty-seven, she wasn't that much taller than Manah. Tali towered over her.

Tali. Manah. He realized that ever since he dropped into Peak 15 he hadn't spared a thought for either of them. Kasumi, too... There had not even been any time to say goodbye. He had had to suit up.

"Oh, great," said Elsa as she pried herself off an oddly affectionate Hannibal. "You've got Auto-repair. All this stress for no... no..." She was looking at him straight in the eye, and saw something she recognized.

WARNING: POLARIZED GLASS COMPROMISED. PLEASE HOLD STILL AS OMNI-GEL IS DEPLOYED.

There was a hole in front of his left eye, the core of several cracks in his visor. It sealed itself, but it was too late.

"L'horloger..."

~[h+]~


There was no mistaking that eye. It was Jake Armitage: The 'clockmaker'. Elsa's mind ran in circles, trying to make sense of what she just saw. Was he sent by Hein to approach her? Why did DARPA have an interest in her? Was Jake Armitage his real name?

"Who are you?" she muttered, unheard by her teammates.

"...Shadow."

"That's not..."

"—please desist from sharing what you've seen with anyone. The 108's internal components are highly classified DARPA intellectual property."

"What is this nonsense?! You're—"

There was a noise that came from the Zhuk, and Shadow moved quickly between it and the fallen machine. Two Krogan came out, dazed and confused. One of them wore a greasy boilersuit, the other light armor.

"Excuse me..."

'Shadow' approached the two Krogan. "Surrender," he warned.

The Krogan in the light armour grimaced angrily and produced an oversized Krogan handgun.

"Never, Dark Warrior! DIE!"

Shadow never broke stride as he casually drew a revolver and shot the weapon out of the Krogan's hand, destroying a finger in the process. The wounded lizard snarled and tried to tackle Shadow, but two more bullets in the kneecaps put an end to that notion quickly. The Krogan fell, clutching his knees even as he was frothing at the mouth.

Shadow pointed his pistol at the Krogan grease monkey...

...Who promptly put his hands up. "I surrender! I surrender!"

The two surviving tank crewmen were put side by side and forced on their knees, their hands bound. The wounded one, which Elsa recognized as the sensors and comms officer of the tank, judging by his gear, winced when Shadow kicked him in the back of the knee to make him comply. The so-called 'robot' then frisked them, and produced a couple of pocket secretaries. The thick, heavy-duty kind.

Elsa gave Shadow a look that said 'this isn't over' and focused her attention on the Krogan prisoners.

"Talk," she said, drawing her handgun.

"I have nothing to say to you, woman." The radioman spat.

"Err..." the mechanic was about to say something, but the radioman snarled at him.

"You know, I'm getting really tired of being called that. Are all Krogan men this sexist?"

"Are all human women so soft and tiny? I treat you as you deserve: as a weakling."

"I may be a tiny woman, but my friends are really, REALLY big." The Stoßzahn Funf and the Liathach approached from behind her, their footfalls rumbling the ground. "What is Wreav doing here, exactly? Why attack Dosadi? Answer my questions and I'll be merciful."

"Keep your mercy!" The Krogan struggled to stand, and spat on the ground.

"I don't have time for this. We'll take you prisoner and let someone else handle the interrogation."

The radioman laughed. "You do that. And when go to sleep tonight, know that your human mercy will not stop me from breaking free and hunting you down. I shall grant you a brief waking moment to gasp, as my blade penetrating your flesh will be the last thing you ever see."

Elsa clucked her tongue, then said, "Zut." She sighed, disappointed, as she stood aside. "Zoller!"

The 25-ton Wanzer stomped the radio man flat, splattering blood on the Krogan engineer. Elsa turned to him. "Now, I—"

"GAAAH! MY NAME IS KHEL CHARR!" The dark-brown crested Krogan screamed, panicked. "I THINK WOMEN ARE AWESOME! I JUST FIX STUFF! I DIDN'T KNOW WREAV WANTED TO KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE! PLEASE DON'T STOMP MEEEEEEEE!..." The mechanic started to bawl like a baby. A big, half-ton baby.

"Sounds to me like he just wants to save his own skin!" Taggart spat through his speaker.

Shadow knelt in front of the crying Krogan. "We will not harm you. Calm down. Start from the beginning..."

The mechanic sniffled. "I was on Illium taking it easy with my girlfriend when my Clan Chief gave the call. He told me he wanted my talents for a brand new machine of his. I didn't want to at first, but a good life on Illium is hard on the bills, you know? I figured... Just this one job! Just keep the Zhuk's original parts working with that weird Geth crap and go home!"

"I'm fairly certain he meant why the Krogan came here with the Geth," said Elsa, a bit annoyed. "Not your life's story."

"What were you doing before the Zhuk was sent to attack us?" Shadow asked the mechanic.

"We were on that big suspended island in the middle of this part of the arcology," the mechanic replied. "You know, close to the roof? Wreav wanted us to help bust into the central tower with our main gun to bypass that yellow, shimerring shield protecting the top part of the pyramid... until he changed his mind." He looked at Elsa. "I mean, he REALLY wanted you dead. Like, wow."

Elsa quirked an eyebrow. "You don't say."

"Was there anything else out of the ordinary?"

Charr thought about the question. "No... I mean, wait! Y-yeah! there were bits of Geth tech all over the island. Cigar shaped spikes—

"—Dragon's Teeth. We have files on those."

"No! I don't mean the techno-zombie makers! Those were different! Some kind of sensor pylon. They had these red balls in the middle, and the Geth placed them all over the island. One time they made this screeching, maddening noise, and when they were done, they pointed faint red beams to a single point upwards."

"So, Wreav is interested in Upper Dosadi. Why?"

"Leutnant? I have Colonel Gadolt on the line," said Zoller, before the Krogan could answer. "He says he and his Marines have linked up with a group of Americans at Paulownia Mall and are setting up a forward base there. He wants us to meet him for a briefing."

"Is that so? Well, there's convenient coincidence." Elsa glared at the Krogan, then at Shadow. "I suppose we don't have time for twenty questions, then."

"Shall I kill this one too, Leutnant?"

Elsa looked at the terrified Krogan mechanic, wondering if he was worth keeping.

"Hey, did I hear him right earlier?" said Hermes as he made his Giza pull out one of the more intact shield emitters from the fallen Zhuk. "He worked with this Geth tech? Maybe we should take him prisoner, then. Might be able to tell me how these things work."

"I did! I can do that!" Charr nodded desperately. "I can even tune up your machines! Fix them! Upgrade them! Whatever you want!"

"Fine," said Elsa as she walked back to her Wanzer. "Taggart, grab him. But if he tries anything, squeeze him."

Taggart chuckled as he complied.

"Now, I have a rendez-vous with the Americans to keep." Shadow walked up next to her, followed by Hannibal. "So, you can interrogate people?" she asked. "Can you cook, too?"

"Yes."

"Cute." She climbed up into the waiting cockpit of the Zenith. "Try and keep up."

She could have offered him a ride, but she was angry at him, and that made her a bit petty.

Not so petty or angry enough to blow his cover, however.

~[h+]~


[Mass Effect 3 Soundtrack - London Hideout]

The Burger Town was a mostly automated grease burger joint with a drive through built in the middle of a parking lot for flying cars. Because of the risk of a car crashing into the building, its specs called for reinforced cement walls five inches thick sandwiched between two plates of high-density metal, and a shield emitter.

In short, it was a light bunker, and a perfect place to hold the line.

By the time Garrus, Brea, and the Alliance Marines came to help, Grey had mentally tracked the kills: 87 Husks and 42 Geth Platforms (Primes and Hoppers included). Ryan had gotten most of those by virtue of the dead Roegadyn's gatling gun. Vega had managed to down a dropship. That counted as just one, since the platforms inside immediately came out.

After the reinforcements, they went on to take out another 156 Husks, 72 Geth Platforms, and 20 Krogan Jetpack Troopers.

Most of the kills belonged to this Ramsus. He seemed almost bored, but when the Krogan came along he had become utterly ecstatic. The man, Grey noted, seemed to get off on blood. The messier the kill, the stronger his biotics seemed to get. So powerful, in fact, that his Singularity caused two dropships to fuse together.

Grey thought it was all over when the corvettes prepared to fire their bombs at them. The French fighters had streaked by and put an end to that worry, thankfully. Still, by the time the French Marines and their Wanzers started securing the area, there was little left to secure against... Just a huge mess to clean up.

You Deep Eyes are very good, Jondum Bau had said.

"The best," Grey said to himself, as he saw the Silver Drakes approach with his helmet's magnifiers. He saw Jensen running besides them, followed by the robot dog Hein had reprogrammed. He switched to his Codec. "Ryan?"

"Sir?"

"I'm going to greet the would-be Spectre. The other one, I mean."

"Roger that, I'll hold the fort here."

"Just make sure the Krogan doesn't go berserk on us."

"Don't worry, the big guy's been quiet... It's a shame we locked him up, we could have used him back there."

"Yeah, well, he shouldn't have tried to strangle the Salarian."

~[h+]~


Elsa parked the Zenith at street level and disembarked, letting Hermes do some quick maintenance on her Wanzer with his Giza's repair backpack, as well as reloading her weapons. Zoller and Taggart had disembarked as well, and walked beside her. Elsa curtly commanded Shadow to accompany her and bring the prisoner with him, thinking that maybe Colonel Gadolt would like to have a chat with the cowardly Krogan. She didn't expect theinterrogation to last long.

Paulownia Mall was an eight story building that had seen better days. Most of the windows had been damaged either by explosives, bullets, or a non-projectile weapon. Then again, the buildings around her had fared no better. Where had all the people inside of them gone, she wondered? Probably down in Lower Dosadi, where it would be relatively safe.

She saw her foggy breath hang in the air. It was getting cold, and dark. She hugged herself reflexively, forgetting that her blue-gray pilot's suit kept her insulated.

Skirmishes were still being fought elsewhere. The noise of gunfire and explosions, and the occasional ungodly scream, was carried to her by the cold wind.

Elsa was anxious to be done with this place, and move on to the Citadel, where she would fail to become a Spectre, and she could move on with her life. If she was lucky, Command would finally give her that dishonourable discharge she had been courting since the very day she had been allowed to step inside a Wanzer.

At the entrance to greet her, besides the EU marines, was a soldier in the oddest hard-suit she had ever seen in her life. It was mostly dark olive, but the oddly shaped helmet and buckles were gold. It stood in sharp contrast to the nearby marines in their dark grey hard-suits under olive combat vests, topped by white helmets with Y-shaped gold optics.

"There's my Golden Cyberman!" laughed Taggart. "How're ye doing, boy?"

"Is that a robot, too?" Elsa asked Shadow, stifling a laugh.

"No," Shadow said coldly. She was actually hoping for a chuckle out of him, and felt a bit disappointed.

The golden soldier gave her a salute. It wasn't a proper, European one, but Elsa took it in the spirit it was intended.

"Captain Edward Grey." He flipped up his faceplate. "'Deep Eyes' 1st Special Weapons Group, United States Marines."

Elsa approached him and shook his hand. "Elsa Devereaux. Pleasure to meet you. Did Colonel Gadolt send you?"

"No, I came on my own."

"How courteous," said Zoller, a bit jealous.

"Also, I wanted to resume proper command of the 108."

"... I see." Elsa let the charade continue. She figured her Watchmaker had a good reason to stay anonymous. What that reason was, however, she was dying to know.

The marine cleared his throat. "108! Authorization code double zero four five one, you are now back in full command of my unit. Confirm!"

"...Confirmed. Current orders are to escort this prisoner. Override?"

"No." Grey turned to Elsa. "Walk with me, Lieutenant."

The inside of the Mall looked no better. Combat engineers were at work putting out fires and manipulating dead bodies into piles with Kinesis Apps loaded in specialized Omni-Tools. Some had been shot in the head. Others were bent and crushed. Some had been sliced apart. All were corrupted by pieces of infectious cybernetics.

"Who did this?" asked Zoller.

"Alliance racked up a body count on their way up," said Grey.

"Impressive."

"Hmph. Maybe. All they had to deal with was a horde of Husks chasing them..."

They approached the center of the atrium. There, impaled on a crystal spire, was the body of a Roegadyn Husk. Judging by the scene, the Ogre had been the focus of a lot of gunfire and melee attacks, and had only died after being thrown off from the top of the Atrium and impaled.

A greataxe of Templar make was stuck in its face.

"...We had something much worse chasing us on our way up," continued Grey.

"Is that...?" muttered Elsa, recognizing the alien's gear.

"Yeah. He was with us. Wreav used some kind of nanite-infused melee weapon on him." He threw an unreadable look at Taggart. "I guess he told you the truth, in a way."

Taggart did not reply.

EU Marines saluted as Elsa passed by. One of them, a woman wearing a Corporal's rank insignia, stopped her group and handed the pilots breather masks. A Félin Assault Rifle was slung over her shoulder.

"Sorry ma'am," said the soldier in her Manchester accent distorted by her helmet's vocalizer. "Techs aren't done disposing of the corpse. It may have rampant nanomachines." She turned to one of the combat engineers setting up a few small pods. "Clark! You almost done?"

"Yep!" replied the tech. "Shield your eyes, everyone!"

A force glove surrounded the body, and a fusion charge exploded inside of it. When the light faded, there was nothing left of Brenin Tymestl.

"Clear!" said the tech, glad at a job well done.

"You can move through," said the Corporal. "but try to avoid any of the corpse piles. We'll be disposing of those soon. Oh, also, the techs got the elevators working if you want to use them."

"Thank you."

~[h+]~


The painfully slow elevator ride up was awkwardly silent as Elsa watched Shadow in the other one. The Krogan's weight was too much for the elevator to support both him and the rest of the group, so they had to split. The dog mech rode with her, and pawed at the window, its mono-molecular knives for claws scratching the glass. It was, while standing erect, more than two meters tall, and made everyone in the crowded cabin a bit uncomfortable.

Maybe because it was wagging its tail a bit.

"Tell me, Captain Grey... what does the 108 run on?" Elsa asked nonchalantly. "Baby food?"

"Batteries," replied Grey, the implication apparently having gone over his head.

"Mister Grey?" asked Zoller... "How is... how is the Durendal doing?"

"She's staying in formation next to the Acheron, providing Electronic Warframe support. Why do you ask?"

"I... I was concerned about your nurse."

"Nurse? We don't have a nurse."

"What? Are you certain?"

"Pretty sure it's just Dr. Ross working the med bay."

"Ah... err, nevermind then."

Taggart was quick to catch on. "Heh, looks like the boy's in love," he laughed, nudging at Elsa.

"Hm?" she hadn't really been paying attention, instead staring at the other glass elevator. Taggart noted that.

"I'm worried too," he said. "If the Geth manage to hack into him..."

"DARPA's ICE is very good," reassured Grey.

"Not OCU good, I suspect," countered Taggart.

"It's close enough."

~[h+]~


Balzac IX Dropships flew by, delivering more Marines from the Acheron's battalion.

The roof's parking lot had been pressed into the role of a landing pad. A handful of Rafale interceptors and a single Ouragan fighter-bomber were being serviced by the crew of a support corvette before they re-entered the fray. A Copperhead — an antique! — was parked nearby, being maintained by a single US marine in a standard M.I.P.S. The wreck of a mostly intact Geth Dropship was being examined.

The Burger Town was the center of activity for the foot-soldiers. Tents had been set up, as well as mid-range comms antennas. Apparently, the fast-food joint had been chosen by Colonel Gadolt as a temporary command center. Elsa would have taken a less exposed area, but then again she wasn't a Colonel. Or a Marine, for that matter, even if she did drive a Wanzer.

Gadolt was apparently busy talking to some Alliance officers, and couldn't see Elsa right away. With 'Shadow' gone to take the prisoner elsewhere, there was little for her to do but wait.

She overheard a few conversations as she walked around the camp:

"Damn, I liked the guy," said the burly young Hispanic man in the dark red Mercenary hard-suit to his likewise dressed but smaller, bald companion. They were both looking down at the bottom of the Atrium through the skylight. "I think... I think he said something to Wrex just before he pushed him off. Did you catch that?"

"No, but my suit recorder did," replied the bald young man as he checked his Omni-tool. "Cymerwch fy esgyrn i fy nheulu... According to my translator that means... Oh."

"What?"

"...Take my bones to my family."

"...Shit. Just... Shit! He'd still be alive if that Salarian hadn't insisted so hard on capturing Wreav! Just... shit! I need to punch something!"

Elsa let the large man fume. She then came across an Alliance Marine in white and pink Phoenix heavy armour, who spoke to a shorter but far more athletic woman wearing Corvo infiltration gear, minus the helmet.

"Thanks for saving me from that Hopper back there," said the Alliance Marine.

"I shouldn't have had to save your sorry ass, Allie," replied the shorter woman as she sharpened her Kukri. "The fuck was that back there? You had a good opening to blow it away."

"My gun was overheated. I... got carried away with my Marksman app."

"Then you should have used your pistol."

"It takes too long to switch weapons, the Omni-Blade—"

"Has got a fucking loading time. Don't you Alliance chucklefucks have knives?"

"We do, but it's a utility knife."

"If it's sharp, it's a weapon."

"It's not sharp enough to defeat Geth plating."

"Then buy better knives."

"...It's a situational weapon!" The Alliance soldier argued." A gun works best."

"Yeah, unless you overheat it and you've got no proper swapping technique. You haven't even got a proper holster, for fuck's sake. Or even a strap around your rifle."

There was an awkward silence, and Elsa was about to leave when the Alliance Marine tried another subject.

"What made you join the US Marines? You could have easily made N7, I can tell."

"...I didn't even know that was an option. Even if I did, though, I probably would've stuck with the US Marines, especially after what I've seen."

"Why?"

The woman in the Spec Ops gear snorted. "You Alliance types think it's all about humanity against the aliens."

"In case you haven't noticed, the Geth and the Krogan are being led by a Turian to kill us all."

"And we'll band together and waste him. We're pretty good at doing that. Nah. The aliens won't lay a finger on Earth. When Earth burns, and it will one day, it won't be an alien ship that drops the bomb that does it. It might have the seven blue stars emblazoned on its hull, or twelve stars, or the star and sickle, or the red, white and green moon. Hell, I hear there's unrest out in the colonies, even."

"The colonies would never rebel against Earth! And even if they did, they wouldn't commit genocide just to have independence! That's insane!"

Elsa thought about adding her two cents, but decided that she found the subject utterly depressing.

Colonies, rising up against their Empires. History, repeating itself on a larger, bloodier scale.

~[h+]~


In the Burger Town's basement, amidst crates of protein, vitamins, paint, and Omni-Gel, Adam was getting a tune-up.

"You have a very interesting internal architecture," said Burroughs, her ghostly form appearing simultaneously in Adam's AR interface and Grey's left gauntlet. Adam had thought about making a snarky remark in reply, but he felt too tired. "Diagnostics complete. The suit itself has suffered minor damage from your latest encounter, though there's slight structural fatigue in your fists. Your organic parts, however, need some repairs."

"Yeah, my Sentinel— urkh!"

"I know. I'm accelerating its healing process now. It's not Dia, but it'll do."

Adam felt a crawling sensation all over his abdomen, and a buzz inside of his brain.

"I've also tweaked your brain's chemistry. You should stay alert and awake for the next few hours."

Adam wasn't sure he liked a program toying around with his body, but as he sat up from the table there was no arguing the results. He felt... better, as if he hadn't just fought a giant robot. His exhaustion was completely gone, too. "Wow... beats the hell out of coffee."

"You're welcome," said the AI gratefully as the cable disconnected itself from the 108 and retracted itself back into Grey's gauntlet. "By the way, Mr. Grey... With the combat data I gathered from the 108 and your squad, I've come up with a few potential upgrades. Plug me in at the Durendal's materials lab as soon as convenient."

"What sort of upgrades?" asked Grey.

"Mostly for mobility: Micro-thrusters, Van Der Waals strips on the gloves and soles, that sort of thing."

"Can't you make those upgrades now? I could feel you shifting the suit around even as I fought."

"There are limits to what I can do with just the suit to work with. A lab would be more suitable."

Grey dismissed the hologram and nodded at Jensen. "Think you're up for one last objective?"

"I am, now. Let me guess: We're headed to Upper Dosadi?"

Grey gave a half-hearted shrug. "Maybe, I don't have the specifics yet, but both Ramsus and Bau are very keen on infiltrating the Granada hotel before the French marines start assaulting the island it's holding up. Their Colonel is on the fence, and he's too busy coordinating his batallion throughout Middle Dosadi to make up his mind right this minute. Ramsus is fuming, but Bau's being patient."

"I see. So I've got time for a quick meal, at least."

"Sure. I guess that Sentinel Health System makes you hungry, huh?"

"You should see him at the Warsaw Diner," said Garrus as he approached. He carried a wrapped Grease Ball Special in one hand, and a few strings of Geth Power cells in the other. "Hey partner, got you something a little more filling than a candy bar."

"Thanks." Adam unwrapped the burger as his visor retracted, and quickly ate the piece of flavoured protein. It wasn't made of real beef or real bread or even real grease, but when you're hungry, anything tasted good. He took a pair of Geth power units in his hand and squeezed, draining them into his suit's power cells. They went back up from 8 percent to a hundred.

"Wish my suit could do that..." said Garrus as he shook the two remaining cords playfully. Adam grabbed his hand, and lightning crackled. Garrus' own suit was back to 90 percent. "Ooh, nice!"

"That's an interesting feature," said Grey.

"So, how'd you get scratched up, Jensen?"

Burroughs appeared on everyone's visor. "He got those punching a Zhuk," she said, amused.

"...Shit. Are you serious?"

Adam nodded.

"What's a Zhuk?" asked Garrus. When Grey explained, Garrus was quite impressed, then worried. "Geez, Jensen. You could have called for backup."

"I had backup," Jensen defended. "Four Wanzers' worth in fact."

"But none of them are worth Garrus Vakarian," he laughed. "Say, I saw that little blonde pilot you came with. She was giving you that look—"

"— Yeah, about that," interrupted Grey. "Does she know you're not an actual robot? Because she was a bit coy earlier and—"

Adam heard something from the janitor's closet, and quickly changed the subject. "Somebody in there?"

"Yeah. Urdnot Wrex," replied Garrus.

"Really? What's he doing in there?"

"Tried to strangle Bau," replied Grey. "Couldn't make sense of half of his blabbering but apparently it had something to do about the Genophage. Bau filled him with Neural Shock darts and we chained him up in there."

"He's only going to get madder." Garrus shook his head. "Krogan don't like being tied up in small spaces."

"He didn't give me much choice." Grey turned to Jensen. "Look, you want to take care of this? Talking down Krogan isn't my thing."

Adam nodded. "Can't hurt."

"Good, that'll be one less problem to worry about. Ryan!"

"Sir?" replied the large marine. He was at the Burger Town's Omni-Bench, meant for the the restaurant's machinery. He was working on Bren's gatling gun, making sure it was still serviceable.

"You done reloading that thing?"

"Yep. I made imitation rounds using Omni-Gel. It's not Omar hand-loads, but it'll do the trick."

"Good, bring that thing over."

~[h+]~


"Wake up, sunshine."

Urdnot Wrex was kicked awake, and now he was mad. Really mad. His head was killing him. He was tied up. He was stuck inside a broom closet. He was tied up with strips of hardened Omni-Gel. Primal Instincts started to take over. He sat up. Soom the strips would bend and snap to his berserker strength and...

Bren's Gatling revved up, and there was the whine of energy weapons being powered up. Had he been a younger, dumber man, Wrex would have tried something stupid. He was old, and above average intelligence (by his estimation), and knew how to keep his rage cold, even if he still had Neural Shock darts still stuck in his face.

"Have you calmed down..." said Grey, a menacing edge to his voice, "or are we going to have to put you down like a mad dog?"

"...I'm as calm as calm can be, considering the circumstances," grumbled Wrex. "What do you want from me?"

"Your assistance. You saved our lives back there, and that makes you useful."

Wrex spat. "So that's all I'm good for, huh? A meat shield?"

"If it's about money..."

"Maybe I don't care about money anymore. Maybe I don't care if Saren wants to lay waste to an entire race of Pyjaks like you. Why should I? MY kind has been sentenced to a slow DEATH after a millenium of pain and despair, and the rest of the galaxy doesn't give two shits. You have nothing that I want. Kill me or begone. I'm done talking to you."

"We have Urdnot Bakara," said the human in dark armour.

Wrex shot up, and his restraints tightened. "...What?! How do you know that—" Wrex paused, then broke into laughter. "Ha, there's a million ways you could know that. Forget it. I won't let you rile me up."

"Her crest is red like yours, but curved and spiraling instead of pointed. Her skin is pale, and her eyes are violet."

Wrex's eyes narrowed."You touch her and you die."

"She is a guest aboard our ship. She has been trying to figure out a cure for the Genophage. If the Geth win here, then our ship will be destroyed and whatever she knows will perish with her. Help us, and you'll get to see her again."

"...If I survive."

"That part's up to you."

Wrex growled, then laughed. "Heh... I heard you humans weren't afraid to be complete bastards." He huffed. "Fine. You got a deal."

The dark soldier looked at Grey, who seemed to be unconvinced. "And the Salarian?"

"...Keep him away from me. I can't promise I won't twist his head off when he's not looking."

"...Fair enough," Grey nodded at Ryan, who promptly sent a sonic pulse through the straps to break them.

Wrex felt his wrists and biceps, massaging the strain away. "I'll need a weapon."

"Not yet. I have to speak to Gadolt about you. Don't want you to get shot on sight."

"Fine, just be quick about it. Oh, and tell the Salarian... this isn't over. He'll have to give me an answer sooner or later."

~[h+]~


Kull was dead. Renk was dead. His two finest men, dead.

Wreav wanted to personally break the human woman in two. Every second she breathed she defied everything that Wreav understood. Women cannot be Warriors. They could pretend all they want, but they must die for that affront in the end.

And the Dark Warrior! Such power! Wreav hadn't felt the true thrill of battle since Saren changed him. Were it not for that damned shield and that damned armored tower then he would have secured the objective already and went off to challenge him personally. Honor demanded it!

In fact, he was just about to leave when he received the call from Saren. "Wreav."

"Saren! The sh... the whatever you call it is within our grasp. and thousands upon thousands of humans are dead!" Wreav emphasized the last part. "The Geth have set up a drilling laser and—"

"Retreat."

"...What?!"

"You heard me. You must retreat. You took too long. The mission is a FAILURE."

"...No. NO. NO! Victory is within our grasp! No, we have already won! Only the prize remains! Do not tell me to leave just as we are about to—"

The doors to the Tower opened.

"Wreav, listen to me... Scholar has unleashed the Shibboleth fragment. It's too late."

London bridge is falling down

Falling down

Falling down...

"My... My children... I can hear my children, Saren..."

"Wreav, are you there?"

"My fair lady... My wife, my sweet wife... I'm coming."

"Wreav?! WREAV! ANSWER ME!"

~[h+]~


"It's too late," said Saren, sinking into the back of his chair.

"Get your machines out of there," said 01. "We'll find some other way for Scholar to pay for betraying us. 02, we will discuss the loyalty of your agents later."

"Theodore and—"

"Quiet!" interrupted 03. "This session is over!"

The fact that there would be bickering within the Triumvirate brought a brief smile to Saren's face, but it would not be enough to make up for this mess.

~[h+]~


The Krogan Warriors stepped in, calmly, lured by the ghosts of their deepest desires. In the hotel's atrium, waiting for them, was Theodore.

"Gentlemen..." he said, his arms crossed over his chest, hands over his shoulders, metal rods between his fingers... "Rejoice! For the Goddess is hungry, and she desires..."

The tubes opened and extended. Nanites laced with Phantom Dust hovered around him. And God's Angels began the celebration.

The Seraphim held them down.

The Putto began to chew.

"...the greatest of Feasts!"

~[h+]~


Colonel Nicholas Gadolt was born in Gibraltar some 40 years ago to a Welsh mother and Indian father. He was a 'lifer' who had signed on to defend Europe from the looming threat of the Coalition. He wasn't exactly pleased about being so far away from home, fighting a bunch of alien robots. The Coalition 'Georgie' Mech, in his opinion, was a far more dangerous robotic foot-soldier. Still, orders were orders, and preventing the civilians of Dosadi from being slaughtered was the right thing to do.

Even if it was a soulless Corporate world.

Would anyone here appreciate his men's sacrifices? Would anyone here appreciate his strategies, should they bring victory over the Geth? Or would the WTO show their gratitude by suing him and the European Military? He suppressed those questions.

They don't matter now.

A Valiant semi-automatic sniper rifle was slung on his back, over his standard officer's combat gear. He believed that while a commander may not be able to lead from the front, that didn't mean he couldn't assist his men in a pinch.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the situation," he said, as he presided over the holographic table. Gathered around it was an eclectic group. Along with the four Majors that would take part in what he hoped would be the final assault, there were representatives from the Alliance with Captain Anderson and Johann Ramsus, standing next to US Marines under the command of DARPA. Next to them were the Silver Drakes, standing right next to a Council Spectre.

The DARPA Marines would not give him too much trouble, and neither would the Alliance. The Spectre, on the other hand, might be a problem. Then again, nobody was in their proper jurisdiction save the SSC, but nobody cared to listen to those incompetents. Gadolt was in charge by virtue of the fact that he had 2400 trained soldiers at his back.

"Middle Dosadi is being secured as we speak." He manipulated the hologram of the city. Sectors that were colored red slowly became blue. "With the help of the SSC we've managed to secure territories and rescue over one hundred thousand survivors so far. We've been told that most of Middle Dosadi's population moved to Upper Dosadi, where they are protected by the shield. However..."

Red triangles representing enemy ships were headed towards the Granada island, a suspended city more than one kilometers in diameter. "...part of our success is due to the fact that the Geth have been making a slow withdrawal to this place. Recon suggests that they've built fortifications. The prisoner the Silver Drakes have captured corroborates this."

Hovering above the city map was a hologram of a Geth AA turret. "And he claims that they've set these up all over the city's perimeter, above and below. This effectively means that anything flying near the thing is as good as dead." He nodded to Anderson. "As per Captain's Anderson's hunch, I've ordered all Companies to be on the lookout for weapons of mass destruction. True enough, the Geth have been setting up fusion charges all over the arcology."

The hologram of a Geth bomb appeared next to the AA gun. "The good news is that we managed to disable most of them, enough to prevent the complete destruction of Dosadi. The bad news is that it is clear that Wreav and the Geth have no intention of occupying the city. Once they find what they're looking for they'll make another attempt at razing it to the ground and leave."

A long, high-tech looking spire appeared next to the arcology's hologram. "Bravo Company reports that they've retaken the planetary ansible. From what you DARPA boys tell me, the Geth would have used it to 'mentally retreat' from the battle. If they have any sense of self-preservation, the Geth will have to rely on their ships to get themselves out of here and won't detonate anything if their backs are against the wall. Which brings me to our main problem."

Gadolt looked around, making sure that everyone was paying attention. "Geth forces fortifying Granada are estimated at 12000. Krogan forces are estimated at 7500. The place is covered by 2 destroyers, 6 frigates, and 14 corvettes. Our Rafales and Ouragans are more than a match for those, but with the island's AA guns covering them, my only option right now..."

A holographic representation of twelve Light-Medium high-mobility Wanzers appeared on the map, wielding huge bullpup Gauss Bazookas. Spare clips were stuck on their thighs.

"...is to order Ortega and his Wanzer squad to begin making artillery strikes to punch a hole in their defenses. I would prefer not to bombard the place. Too many civilians may be in there. Trying to storm the place would lead to unacceptable casualties. Ladies, Gentlemen, I need an idea."

"A small team could sneak in and plant demo charges on the AA guns and shield emitters," said Bau.

"I thought about it," replied Gadolt, shaking his head. "With the MagRoads to Granada destroyed the only possible method of insertion is through the air, and that's not an option."

"The Normandy is a stealth vessel," countered Bau, looking at Anderson.

"It can't turn invisible," said Anderson.

"Not what I heard," said Grey pointedly.

"It doesn't matter," said Gadolt. "The Normandy is tied up in high orbit providing support to the Acheron."

"Then how about a Trojan Horse?" suggested Ramsus. His voice... it commanded everyone to pay attention to him. "We have a mostly intact Geth vessel right over there."

Gadolt nodded. "Assuming you can get it flying of course. My techs can't make heads or tails of it."

Elsa raised her hand. "The Krogan we caught has experience working with Geth technology. Maybe he could have a look?"

"Assuming we can trust him."

"We can keep an eye on him."

"Alright then, that's one possibility. Any other ideas?"

"We could send in the 108," suggested Grey. "It's equipped with a cloaking system."

"The 108? You mean that black robot of yours?" asked Gadolt. "And how do you propose to get him there without a stealth-capable ship? Throw him there?"

"Maybe. Or maybe we could find one of those Manticore Gliders. The 108 can take control of it."

"I doubt one mech could disable enough AA guns and shield emitters to make a difference."

"Permission to speak, Oberst?" said Zoller. "I personally saw the 108 deliver an uppercut to a refurbished Zhuk. It wore itself out but it gave us a golden opportunity to kill most of its crew."

"...You must be joking."

"I do not make jokes of that kind. I saw what I saw, and my Wanzer's black box will confirm it."

"And before that," added Elsa, "it managed to acquire quite a kill count of Geth and Krogan, so I can vouch for his... its performance. Sorry."

"I don't trust robots," said Taggart, tersely. "They're not worth one good soldier, in my opinion, in a covert op. I say we go with Ramsus' plan."

"And who will take on this suicide mission, then?" asked Gadolt. Mustering volunteers was always a problem.

"I volunteer the Deep Eyes and the 108," said Grey.

"I volunteer my Marines," said Anderson.

"I volunteer myself," said Bau.

"Likewise," said Ramsus. "Oh, and my dog."

Gadolt didn't mind the whole lot of them going off on a suicide mission. If they succeeded, then casualties could be kept to a minimum. If they failed, then he wouldn't have sent some of his own men to their deaths.

"Very well. You lot have 30 minutes to make this plan work. If you can't then I'll order Ortega to start with the artillery strike. Dismissed."

~[h+]~


Khel Charr was one of the few strange Krogan mutants that didn't find happiness in combat. Growing up, he had preferred to use his hands to fix, modify, and even make machines. Granted, most of these machines were made for killing (Tuchanka had little use for combine harvesters and the like), but their bits were technological all the same, and in need of both dexterity and intelligence to maintain.

His grandfather (May Vaul watch over him in the Void) was the one that had convinced him to find his happiness in the stars. In his words: "geeks like you are in for a world of hurt here unless you can make a bigger, better gun, and even then..."

Charr booked a ticket out of Tuchanka — out of the DMZ — and had not looked back for over a century. After a long pilgrimage, he had settled down in Illium, where all sorts of frontier tech came that way, and a lot of it was in need of repairs. A decade ago, after a stint aboard a freighter, Charr had discovered a love for robotics: Humans had brought a breath of fresh air with their concepts, and he had quickly learned his way around a Wanzer. He had also met Ereba, his girlfriend, his Blue Rose, at one of the Arenas. He had hoped to settle down with her, but needed steady work or at least one hell of a paycheck.

Then, just a month ago, Clan Chief Renk had been mustering a force, and he had sought out Charr to maintain his latest trophy. One look at the pay and the work (A freakin' Zhuk!) and Charr had signed on. He had thought he was just going to accompany Renk on a raid. Instead he had wound up help the new Warlord commit genocide with help from killer robots.

And now he was helping said humans get a Geth drop ship in the air. He hoped this would somehow earn him some leniency.

"There's two funny things about the Geth," he said, his hands deep in the ship's insides. "One: they're obsessed with managing every single component of their ships, even the shit that don't need it. The helm has got a processing core—"

"Which makes perfect sense, really," said the Terran pilot. Highwind was his name, as Charr recalled. Besides him were a handful of technicians, and the Dark Warrior, who was watching Charr like a hawk.

"I wasn't finished! There's a sub-processor on a safety valve, on a fuel manifold, even the coolant pump. Everything's connected to the LAN. Hell, even the thruster nozzles have a RAM chip on it. It's like they hate automation, or something. The second thing about Geth ships? They like to complicate things. It's almost as if they try too hard to be creative. Half of this stuff doesn't really DO anything, or at least nothing particularly useful. Here, let me show you. All I have to do is unplug this and bypass this, and..."

Charr connected something to an alien component, and the lights inside the Dropship began to flicker back on. The whine of engines rose, then sputtered and died.

With Charr's directions in mind, the human techs spread out and re-examined the problems they had been trying to solve.

"Well, seeing as the Geth 'jumped ship'," said Highwind, "that doesn't bode well for the helm, does it?"

"Well, let's have a look!"

~[h+]~


"Yep! You're boned!" said the Krogan cheerfully as he tried to conjure the haptics on the Geth brain's maintenance console. The 'helm' or 'cockpit' was little else than a tiny room for a bipedal Geth platform to swap out broken parts. "The hard drive's been formatted, and without an avionics package you can't fly this thing."

When Charr realized that this wouldn't exactly endear him to his captors, he let his shoulders drop a bit.

He cracked open the shell, and fished out some wires. "Well, we might be able to plug a flight computer into this and—"

The Dark Warrior suddenly grabbed one of the cables and plugged itself into the Geth brain. A moment later, and the haptics surged to life in sweeping Quarian Khelish, then flickered into a squarish Terran font — all lines perpendicular to the other. The holographic shapes became green and gold, and reconfigured itself into something appropriate for a pilot. Dozens of vid-windows appeared, connected to the Dropship's cameras. Most of them were static.

Highwind whistled. "Yeah, I think I can fly this no problem. Thanks, Shadow."

The Dark Warrior didn't so much as nod.

"Oi! Kroc!" called one of the techs from the rear of the ship. "We need you in the core room!"

~[h+]~


"Well, the Eezo core is fucked," said Charr after examining the inside of the silvery sphere. "Shattered into four bits. Don't suppose you've got a spare one laying around? Ah, never mind, it wouldn't do any good. The electrolaser matrix is fried. Can't make a Mass Effect field out of this for all the Eezo on Thessia."

"So that's that, then," said the Terran in the green and gold suit. "I'll ask Gadolt to have us link up with one of his companies, then."

"Come now," said the Terran in the bone white suit caked in blood. His voice was almost as deep and rumbling as a Krogan's, but yet as pleasant as an Asari singer's. "We have much better than a drive core."

The gold man folded his arms. "Oh really? And that would be?"

"Why, me, of course."

The techs laughed, and the Terran in the white armor did something weird: he cut his tongue, and let the blood wash over his the inside of his mouth. He shivered with delight, dark energy coursing through his arms as he spread them wide.

A field surged out of the man, and then bathed the entire room with a red glow. Then, the glow spread throughout the hull.

~[h+]~


Outside Gadolt and his subordinates watched as the Geth vessel became lighter than air and floated in place for a few seconds before gently lowering itself back on the floor.

"Ortega," said the Colonel. "Looks like we're going with the Trojan Horse plan after all. Stand by."

Grey approached Gadolt later, saying that the ship was mostly flight-worthy but that it would likely be a one-way trip. Gadolt took a second look at the ship's schematic given to him by the techs. The 26-meter long ship had quite a spacious cargo hold, large enough to store close to a hundred Geth in a fetal position, or four of the Geth Wanzer imitations.

Plenty of space for a single, real one.

~[h+]~


"You're going with them," said Gadolt to Elsa. "I would... feel better if one of our own assisted in the mission. Besides, they may need some heavy cavalry."

"Just me?" she asked.

Gadolt nodded, and Taggart was furious. "Over me dead body she's going alone! This is a suicide mission, god damn you!"

"She won't be alone. Between the Spectre, the DARPA and Alliance Marines, she won't be lacking in support. And then there's that 108 I've heard so much about."

"I'll do it," said Elsa.

"I wasn't giving you a choice," said Gadolt, reminding the Navy team who was in charge on the ground. "You're going to have to remove your Zenith's backpack and its shield, as well. The dimensions of the Geth cargo section won't allow for your current loadout."

"Are ye trying to get her killed you bloody leather-necked bastard?!"

"Of course not," Gadolt lied. He wasn't actively trying to get her killed, of course, but the truth of the matter was that he loathed the woman who had been granted much undeserved praise for what Gadolt considered a 'fairly average performance'. But, she was the Navy's pet, and her insubordinate, American cowboy behavior had been forgiven one time too many.

You got Hayha killed. Gadolt had wanted to spit those words at her face. He was the one Navy pilot he actually respected. Besides himself, the Colonel thought that Hayha should have been chosen as Spectre candidate. If Elsa survived and the mission succeeded, so much the better for everyone, but he would not be unhappy to see her gone.

But Gadolt always kept his cool, even as bitterness and jealousy boiled inside him. "You have your orders, sailor."

When she was dismissed, Elsa ordered Hermes to switch out her shield with Zoller's pile bunker, and had a Carryall lift her Wanzer up.

~[h+]~


Bau watched as the Zenith crouch-walked inside the bay, wondering why the colonel had only spared one Wanzer for this mission. After all, there was enough space to store at least one more. He assumed politics were at work here, and thought better than to challenge Gadolt's decision. There was simply no time, and he had learned that humans reacted poorly when aliens made demands.

He was a bit bothered by the sight of Urdnot Wrex being freed from his shackles and being handed Tymestl's large weapon.

"'Support Gunner' is not on my resumé," said Wrex. "Figured you would prefer me at the front."

"Front-line duty's my thing," said Whitaker as he helped mount the ammo drum on Wrex's back. "Actually, it's more likely you're going to blend in with your fellows."

"And what's gonna stop me from ratting you out?"

"Right, because you Krogan are just one big happy family?"

"...Heh, nah, I want to see those idiots dead as much as anyone else in this camp."

Urdnot took his place inside the Dropship, and gave Bau a dirty look. "Bau."

"Urdnot." Unconsciously, Bau rubbed his throat. He was getting a bit tired of being strangled. It seemed someone had spread the idea that was somehow the ideal way of killing a Salarian. It was anything but, unless the spine was snapped.

"You and I are going to have words after this is over."

~[h+]~


Anderson's sadness at losing three men had been tempered by the relief that the two men he had left behind at Freeport at Lawson's behest were indeed alive.

"Sergeant Vega, reporting for duty, sir!"

"Corporal Jenkins, reporting for duty, SIR!"

Both Marines saluted, and Anderson saluted right back. "At ease. Ready to take the fight to the machines, gentlemen?"

"Hell yeah," said Vega.

"Where are we headed, sir?" asked Jenkins.

Anderson gave them a quick summary, the same he had given Taylor and Williams: Get behind enemy lines, take out as many Geth AA guns as possible, hold the line until extraction.

"And we'll be working with the Deep Eyes," said Vega.

"Got a problem with that, Sergeant?"

"What? Oh, no! I actually like working with these guys! We killed over a hundred Geth before you guys arrived. That Captain Grey's kind of a micro-manager, though..." He imitated Grey's gruff voice. "Vega! Take out that dropship! Vega! Watch your ammo! Vega! Watch your six!"

"Kept us focused, though," commented Jenkins.

"Yeah, that it did."

Jenkins' expression suddenly became a bit odd, focusing on something behind Anderson. The captain followed the young man's gaze to the kneeling Zenith's cockpit. Devereaux had opened it up to get as much fresh air as she could. She was in the process of removing her helmet and shaking her hair out. Anderson looked back at Jenkins and smiled. No doubt the young man was seeing her in slow motion.

Jenkins caught himself. "Oh, err, sorry, sir. Did you say something?"

"Her callsign's Angel," said Anderson.

"Yeah..." said Jenkins wistfully, a glazed look coming over his face. "She looks like one..."

Vega took a glance at her and waved his hand dismissively. "Ah, she's kinda petite, and she's French, so you know she's high maintenance, like her machine... which is the real beauty. Damn!"

Anderson patted Jenkins on the shoulder. "Try and chat with her, Corporal, that's an order."

Jenkins' eyes widened, and he hesitated a moment, before he gave a brisk salute and overly loud "Sir, yes SIR!" and went to try and talk to the woman that would be Spectre.

"Heh, I get the feeling she's going to chew him up and spit him out."

"Or maybe he'll find some romance. Who knows? Now, as for you..."

"Ah, sir, I appreciate you playing matchmaker but—"

"It's about your flight experience. How did you score on Basic Flight?"

"About 84 percent. Why?"

Higher than either Williams or Taylor, Anderson noted. Boy could have been a fighter pilot. "Good, I need someone on the Dropship's helm, and it looks like you're it."

"Ah, sir, don't the Deep Eyes have a pilot on that already?"

Anderson winced. "About that..."

~[h+]~


"AGAIN?!" shouted Neil. "You expect me to sit this one out?!"

"SERGEANT!" barked Grey. "I forgave one act of insubordination today in the middle of a goddamned firefight. I won't have another in front of the French!"

"There's nothing to forgive! I made the right call getting the reinforcements to you—"

"I am THIS close to having your ass sent back home for a court-martial! Shut up, get back to the Copperhead, and be ready to extract us when I make the call!"

Neil was about to argue again, but Jane tapped his shoulder, getting his attention. She shook her head, and he kept quiet.

"You're dismissed, pilot!" Grey ordered, and with a bitter, halfhearted salute, Neil left for the Copperhead.

"I swear," Grey continued under his breath, "Hein killed our discipline. I'll have to fix that."

Garrus, who was watching, had something to say. "Don't you think you're being a little hard on him?"

"No," replied Grey, annoyed. "He was being insubordinate."

"He practically saved you!"

"He left Devereaux — the only competent Wanzer Pilot with the only Mil-spec Wanzer in the entire Arcology at the time — to DIE. That was NOT a good call, and it wasn't his to make!" He was about to launch into a tirade about the chain of command, but caught himself. This wasn't the time. "I don't have to argue this — check your gear, we take off in five!"

When it was just the two of them, Garrus spoke to Jane. "You know, for a guy with a dislike for Turians, he sure reminds me of my superiors in the military. They really, really didn't like soldiers with initiative."

Jane sighed. "Grey's a born soldier. The rest of us, not so much. Sure, we came out of Basic ready to say 'how high', but after Mars.. Akuze... Venezuela... The three of us just aren't soldiers anymore. Lovers, fighters, killers, I don't know... But definitely not soldiers."

"And he can't wrap his head around that?"

"He's trying, I think. The conditioning won't let him."

"It's not the conditioning," said Ramsus. Both Jane and Garrus nearly jumped out of their skins out of surprise. The rogue AIA assassin had snuck up on them without making a sound. "He wants things as they were before. I understand that desire all too well. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a ship to power."

~[h+]~


[Kenji Kawai - Blockage]

Clearance was given, and the nearly destroyed Geth Dropship awkwardly fired its jets. Vega had to take a scenic route to appear like a stray. After 5 minutes, he began the approach towards the suspended island. He switched off the IFF, and more than a few European fighters took potshots at them before Gadolt ordered them to cease fire. All part of the plan.

Anderson, Bau and Grey stood besides Vega, watching the video feed on the haptics. Vega checked his altitude: 5 kilometres away from the ground. More than enough to get a bird's eye view of the suspended city. It was night time, now, and all the lights in the floating city had been switched off. The Geth, ever wary of Terran stealth technology thanks to the Normandy's hit and runs, had set up a few searchlights. Some of the buildings had been bombed, a few fires were still burning here and there.

Bau had one of the cameras look up. There were a few black craters riddled with embers on the ceiling. The labs, Bau realized. It seems as EG had done some cleaning up to deny the Geth physical samples of their technology.

What was left of the Geth Fleet ground-side was hovering around the main shaft that connected to Upper Dosadi. The corvettes were on patrol.

One of them came their way.

"Evasive manoeuvres?" murmured Vega, nervously.

"No. Steady as she goes," said the Alliance Captain.

The corvette came closer. Its optic gazed upon them as it shone a light on the ruined hull. Vega's hand unconsciously hovered above the gun controls...

"Okay, everyone..." said Vega, "Don't look out the windows. Or the holes..."

~[h+]~


"Hide!" murmured Jane as the darkness in the cabin was pierced with shafts of white blue light, as Vega and Ryan had managed to punch quite a few holes in it when the dropship was in the control of the enemy. There were no seats, so everyone had to stand, holding on to hastily made straps to keep them from falling over.

Ashley took cover from the light, her back against the hull, a Mantis sniper rifle ready to fire just in case they came under fire. She wasn't sure she could do much against a corvette. Maybe shoot out one of its eyes out?

"Careful..." muttered Jacob, pointing at the sharpened bits of warped metal that surrounded the hole.

The Geth searchlight eventually cast its light on the Wanzer, wisely covered in a plastic sheet. Williams gasped. How good were the Geth's cameras? Did they have X-ray vision? Were they scanning them right now? Don't the Geth have IFF of their own? These questions racing through her head made her realize how crazy this plan was.

The lights turned off, and the corvette sped off. Everyone let out a sigh of relief.

~[h+]~


"We're past the red line," said Grey. "If they made us, then they don't care about us."

Vega's relief came to a screeching halt when red alarms appeared all over his console. "Shit! Weapons are going live all around us!"

~[h+]~


She heard explosions, and her heart skipped a beat. The Geth had made them, and had begun firing their AA guns.

Another explosion. And then another... and Williams had yet to see St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

"What the hell is going on?" She said.

~[h+]~


The Geth frigates were bombing the streets.

"Oh my god, the civilians..." muttered Grey.

"No..." said Bau. "Vega, zoom in!"

The vidscreen for the bottom camera came to the forefront. At street level, it was pure chaos. The Krogan had gone completely berserk, and were destroying Geth platforms. Dropships moved in covered by fire support from the frigates and corvettes, picking up as many of the machines as possible before taking off, leaving Troopers behind to hold the line.

Bau zoomed in on the frigates and corvettes. Their lights were flickering, and their gun turrets were acting a bit erratically. He wondered if the ships were overloaded with Geth programs. An act of desperation?

Anderson picked up a receiver from a small, heavy-duty suitcase. "Gadolt? We've got a situation here... no, technically we haven't failed but... The Krogan have turned against the Geth... Yes, they're retreating! We'll land and reconnoiter the area, but I suspect the Geth AA guns have ceased to function... Alright, understood." He put the receiver back in the case full of electronics. "He says they'll send a clean-up crew as soon as the Ouragans take out the fleeing Geth ships."

"So uh, we won?" asked Vega. "That's anticlimactic..."

"No," said Bau. "This may not be over yet. Wreav may yet be out there and what he knows about Saren's operations may well help us put a stop to them." And then there is Europa Genomics, he thought. They are connected to the Bioroids, which we initially believed to be Geth technology. This connects them to the murder of Shepard, and Wreav, who is working for Saren, was obviously trying to raid Upper Dosadi for something. Something very significant.

Something I MUST see.

"Take us to the parking ring. It should be in the middle of the—"

"Nope, it's not there anymore," said Vega, zooming a camera on the wrecked structure.

"Xu!" Bau swore. "Then take us to the entrance of the Granada Hotel. Wreav should still be around there."

Vega looked to Anderson for confirmation, and the captain nodded. "Okay, then," said Vega. "I'm taking us to a nearby rooftop, close to the Granada's plaza. Out of the way so that we don't immediately get swarmed by Krogan Berserkers."

"Good thinking, Vega." Anderson patted the Marine on the back.

"Err, don't thank me just yet, sir. I... err, well, my landings tend to be a bit rough."

~[h+]~


The Krogan and the Kua Fu came out first, making sure that the area was secure. When they gave the all clear, the Zenith came out next, discarding its sheet like a cape. The rest stepped out into the rain, just as the lights of the Dropship flickered and died. It was on its last legs, and without Ramsus powering it, it wouldn't have flown anyways.

The drops were big, and heavy, but sparse.

"Err, guys?" said Jenkins. "Last I checked we had a ceiling? Where's the rain coming from?"

"Oh god!" cursed Williams as she closed her helmet completely and switched on her filters. "That was... it smells like piss and vinegar and rotten eggs and—"

"Blood," said Ramsus. "My favourite."

Wrex gave Ramsus a strange look, hidden by his helmet. The lanky human was just about to open his, no doubt to have a drink. "Yeah, don't get any ideas," said Wrex. "Stuff's probably toxic."

"Hm... I suppose you're right. Besides, I'm not a fan of the color."

Grey knelt to get a closer look at a nearby puddle. "It's clear and kinda beige. Definitely not blood and definitely not rainwater... Burroughs?" Grey's Gauntlet came online, and the ghostly form of Burroughs, a floating woman clad in an ethereal dress, appeared over the back of his hand as the palm sensor came on.

"Scanning... I'm detecting exotic proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, phospholipids, and urea. Yep, it's amniotic fluid."

It took a moment for Brea to react. "...Ew! Just... ew!"

"...Yeah, right there with ya," said Jane.

"Whoa whoa whoa, wait! We're covered in... in... PEOPLE JUICE?!" Vega nearly shouted.

"What's the big deal?" asked Garrus, curious at the horrified looks around him.

"Amniotic fluid is the liquid that fills the amniotic sac of a human female during pregnancy. It nourishes the embryo as it grows," said Shadow.

"What he said," Burroughs added. "Although I am certain this was not produced by human plasma. I lack, however, the necessary knowledge to interpret these scans any further."

Garrus gave Shadow a look, then Brea, then Jane. "The more I find out about the your reproductive system, the less I want to know. You humans are gross!"

"Do shut up," snapped Williams quietly.

"Could we not talk about this?" growled Wrex.

"I am curious..." said Bau as his helmet unfolded and sealed itself around his head. He was looking up. "What is up there that would require so much organic fluid?"

"Upper Dosadi must be filled with the stuff," muttered Anderson as he put on a spare European Marine helmet and sealed it over his collar. "...What the hell is Europa Genomics up to?"

"Burroughs?" asked Brea. "Send me your scan data. I might make more sense of it."

"As you wish."

A quick burst of data, and Burroughs vanished. Grey rose. "Well, freaky shit notwithstanding, this changes nothing. Let's find Wreav. Use less than lethal methods against him to bring him down."

"Less than lethal, sir?" asked Ryan. "He's nearly three meters tall and he's probably enraged like the rest of his men. I don't think—"

Grey interrupted him by switching his Serpent Carbine on. "I know. By less than lethal, I mean 'Full-Auto.'"

Everyone got Captain Grey's drift. "Let's make our way to the ground level through the building."

"I'll go secure the street," said Devereaux, as she leapt off the roof.

~[h+]~


Mass Effect: Human Revolution:

The Dream Machine — FINALE

~[h+]~

Leto Valerius is voiced by Kevin McKidd

Hashmal Lephantis is voiced by Richard Ridings

Annah is voiced by Adelaide Clemens

~[h+]~


With the power to the elevators out, they had gone down the stairs of the building. The din of warcries, gunshots and bombs, muffled by the walls, grew more and more distant. The emergency lights in the stairwell were dim, and flickering, and the team had to use their flashlights for illumination."I hear something..." said Williams, as she approached the door to the ninth floor.

"What is it?" asked Jacob.

"I think it's a survivor!"

"Shh!" hushed Anderson.

"Quiet!" He strained his ears, and heard slightly deranged grunts.

"Could be hostile.""Permission to investigate?" asked Williams.

"Granted, but be quiet." He signaled Taylor and Williams to stack up on the door, and then to enter and clear the immediate area.

"Clear," reported Williams.

"Clear," reported Taylor.

The floor was an office space. Judging by the posters, this was supposed to be some kind of travel agency. The place had been shot up, bad. Corpses were strewn about, riddled with holes.

Brea knelt besides one of the bodies: It belonged to a man young enough to have been an intern.

"What is it?" asked Jane."Someone cut the Chip out of his skull post-mortem."

"Only the chipless are free..." someone muttered in the dark. The team looked around to see who it belonged to. Jenkins saw someone scurry away.

"That way!" he shouted as he ran after the unknown figure.

The deeper they got into the building, the more horrid things got. Someone had turned this place into a charnel house: Bodies were hung on makeshift hooks, ritually sliced apart. Everyone gave Wrex a glare."Hey, Krogan don't do that shit! I mean, leaving a bunch of good meat to spoil like that — it's a fucking waste!"

"Poor bastards must've suffered a great deal," said Ryan. "May God have mercy on their souls."

"Amen," agreed Williams.

"They didn't suffer," said Brea, too coldly and medically "Again, these cuts were inflicted post-mortem." Her tone was even and cold, but Shadow got the feeling that she was trying to reassure them in her own way.

"I suppose you're going to blame me for this, too?" Ramsus discreetly asked Shadow through the Codec.

"From what I've read, THIS is your style," countered Shadow sub-vocally.

"Well, I like to think I have a better sense of composition... Still, if being stuck in Peak 15 and fighting alongside the Deep Eyes isn't good enough of an alibi..."

"No, it is. So the question remains... who did this?" Ramsus said nothing, as he heard a familiar song:

"London bridge is falling down... falling down..."

As the team fanned out to find the singer, Jacob came across a piece of graffiti written in dried blood. "Guys? Anyone translate this? It's written in some funky lettering."

"I can," said Wrex. "It's... Old Uruk from Tuchanka. I'm a little rusty, but it goes like this:"

Speak not the Phantoms
Draw not the Phantoms
Write not the Phantoms
Sculpt not the Phantoms
Sing not the Phantoms
Call not the Phantoms name.

Shadow had heard this before, but from Manah.

Brea gave him a quick look, and Shadow knew she was processing the implications as much as he was.

"Hey! I found someone!" Jane shouted.

In a dark corner sat a salaryman in his mid forties. He briefly hissed when his sanctuary was burned away by flashlights, but he resumed his rocking back and forth shortly after, cradling a letter opener. His suit was long gone and his shirt was in tatters. At his feet were a bunch of hexagonal chips, freshly extracted from the skulls of his dead hands were covered in blood.

"I think we found the perpetrator of this... butchery," said Ramsus as he knelt close to the man.

"Careful," warned Garrus.

"Fear not, he's not going to hurt me." Ramsus picked up one of the chips and examined it. There was a logo printed in gold on it. "Krypto," he said aloud, before tossing it to Brea.

"It's shorted out," she said, before pocketing it.

"Only the chipless are free... Only the chipless are free..." the man continued his mantra.

"...Free from what?" asked Grey. The man didn't respond.

"He's in shock," said Williams. "The poor man... The Krogan must have done a number on him."

"It's not the Krogan," said Ramsus. "Something else is at work, here..."

"Only the chipless are free..." the man repeated.

"From who?" asked Ramsus. The man stopped chanting, and looked at him square in the eye. "...From the Goddess." The side of his head bulged, and popped like a balloon. From the mess came a winged centipede made of red and orange light. Before anyone could react, Ramsus grabbed it biotically and squeezed it until it burst into a puddle of liquid that evaporated into thin air. Inside the hole in the salaryman's head was a shorted-out Krypto chip.

"Madre de Dios!" shouted Vega. "What the hell was that?!"

Shadow knew, but had to keep his mouth shut. Dosadi was a feeding and breeding ground for Reapers.

~[h+]~


As the group entered the wet streets, Elsa's voice came out of the Zenith. "Are you alright? You all look like you saw a ghost."

"We saw some freaky shit, alright," said Vega. "Why didn't we just rappel down, man?"

"What did you see?"

"Better you don't know," said Anderson.

"Is the street to the central tower clear?"

"Crystal, but I have not checked every building. There could be more hostiles waiting in ambush."

"You heard the lady," said Grey. "Standard cavalry support formation with the Zenith in the center. Move slow, and keep an eye out."

As they moved slowly, scanning their respective areas with their weapons, Garrus opened a channel to Brea and Jensen.

"Okay, Adam? You feel that vibe at all?"

"Yes...Yes, I do."

"What vibe?" asked Brea.

"Caleston..." said Adam. "You weren't there. Approaching the lair of the Black Queen felt a lot like this... Only this time we're not even at the threshold, like before."

"Which means whatever is in Upper Dosadi... is a hell of a lot more powerful," said Garrus, grimly. "Sounds like Ramsus was telling the truth."

"Yeah..."

"Something else on your mind, Jensen?" asked Brea.

"Look, I didn't confide this in you because... well, I had a hard time processing it myself, and I thought you'd think I had gone crazy, but... Benezia, she wasn't some kind of super-husk. She was possessed by something called a Reaper."

"Excuse me?"

...

Behind the Spectre, a burning vortex the size of a sun,

a flow of anguished souls spiralling into a chitinous, pulsating heart the size of a moon.

And from that terrible machine came creatures forged from sorrow and madness and rage.

This was Hell.

...

Adam shook the vision. "It's what you saw escape from that man's head. They're... Ghosts. Entities from another layer of reality, and they're coming into our own."

Adam could practically hear Brea roll her eyes. "Oh, come off it! There's no such things as possessions or ghosts and you know it!"

"Yeah, and up until a few hours ago there weren't any psychics," quipped Garrus. Then, more firmly: "I believe Adam."

Brea scoffed. "Oh, fine. Be superstitious idiots, both of you." She cut herself off from the channel, unwilling to hear any more.

Adam sighed. "This is why I haven't told the Deep Eyes, either."

"But they saw! Surely that's enough—"

"All they saw was something corrupting a person, then a Wanzer. Hein warned me: they'll just try and come up with all sorts of other justifications for anything weird they see. Hallucinogens. Sub-sonic altered state inducers. Holograms. Nanomachines. They'll just try and twist and wrap it into something they can understand. Cavemen used gods and spirits. We use technology."

"So telling everyone to bug out and nuke Upper Dosadi from orbit is out, huh?"

"Probably. I'm thinking Ramsus wouldn't be keen on the idea, either."

"And us? Why aren't we walking away from this?"

"...I can't walk away from this. As far as I'm concerned, there's an Illuminati up there fucking with forces he has no real comprehension of and has violated basic sapient rights for god knows how long. If he's not going to answer to a court, then he certainly will answer to me."

"And that's why I follow you, Adam. And this time, I'm more than ready."

~[h+]~


They were half-way to the Hotel when Williams heard the cooing of babies from a dark alley on her right. "Sir? I hear something... it might be a lost child. Permission to investigate?"

"Hoo boy..." said Vega. "No offense, Gunny, but—"

"Stow it, Sergeant!" said Anderson."Everyone, stop. Permission granted... but be careful. Could be anything."

"Jane?" said Grey, looking at the narrow alley. "Looks like a potential close quarters situation. Go with her."

"Yes sir." Jane switched to her pistol and grabbed her favourite knife, keeping its handle against the grip of the gun. A CQC trick. Williams switched to her shotgun, and kept her Omni-Blade on, ready to slice. Jane approved. "Good. You're learning."

The alley was not exactly filthy, but it was certainly dark. The shadows seemed to dance around the beams of their flashlights.

"Could we get some illumination, here?" said Williams.

Elsa obliged them by switching on her Wanzer's head-mounted light. It was better, but there were still plenty of shadows for someone to hide.

Williams thought she saw something scurry in one of them. "What was that?..."

"You see someone?"

"Err... I thought I did."

They came to a crossroad, where Elsa's light could not reach.

"Hey," said Jane. "I hear chewing, and cooing."

"Where?"

"Over there. To the left."

They shone their flashlights into the darkness, and revealed the half eaten corpse of a Krogan. His armour had been chewed through; his ravaged intestines were splayed on the floor.

"Oh, God..." muttered Williams. She looked at Jane, who didn't seem to express any sort of reaction. "You okay?"

"Sweetheart, I've been through Venezuela." She nodded at the corpse. "This... this is nothing." She wasn't being pretentious, or posturing. She was warning Williams: It gets easier.

Williams wasn't sure she wanted that part of her to die.

She was about to say something when she thought she saw something move in the corner of her eye. She shone a light on the spot, and briefly caught the sight of a chubby, tiny leg.

"Hello?"

No answer.

Anderson's voice came through a burst of static on the Codec. "Williams? Have you found anyone?"

"No, sir. It's a bust... Sorry for wasting everyone's time."

"Don't beat yourself up," said Jacob. "We all want to save someone in this chaos. It's just not our lucky day."

"Come on back, Gunny."

"Aye Aye..." she turned around and saw the eyeless pale man reach out for her.

~[h+]~

There were gunshots, and shouting, and just as everyone was about to pour into that alley, a flapping shadow flew overhead, a breathless screech echoing out from it. It disappeared into the rainy night as Williams and Proudfoot came out of the alley, running.

"Did you get it?" asked Jane.

"I think I clipped it!" breathed Williams, visibly shaken.

"Are either of you hurt?!" asked Ryan.

"We're fine!" snapped Jane. "Just... shit, that thing took us by surprise, that's for damned sure."

"What the hell did you just see in there?!" asked Anderson. "A giant bird?!"

"I don't know, sir! It looked... It was thin, tall, its skin was like moulded wax and it had eyes... eyes where eyes didn't belong! I think I shot it in the belly!"

"There's something on your shoulder," said Ramsus, pointing.

"What?" Williams grabbed something stuck on her shoulder and examined it.

It was a feather, coloured in a majestic shade of red that contrasted with the blue gloom of the area. Then it became white, and then it turned into a small pile of dust that mixed with the wet ground.

Grey scanned it with his gauntlet.

"What is it?" she asked.

"...Sodium Chloride," he answered. "Salt."

Everyone looked at one another, confused, save for Shadow.

"...Fascinating," said Ramsus.

"Okay, new rule!" declared Vega. "No more investigating funny noises!"

"Agreed," said Grey. "We've wasted enough time. For now we'll assume that there are no survivors. Let's keep moving."

~[h+]~

At the entrance to the Granada, there were bodies everywhere. Mostly Geth, some Krogan. This was ground zero for whatever had driven the Krogan on the suspended city insane.

The Krogan had been consumed. Their bones were clean.

"Well, if Wreav is here, he ain't gonna be talkin'," said Vega.

"Look for a huge Krogan Skeleton, then," said Anderson. "Fan out."

"Do NOT touch his nanotech melee weapon if you find him," warned Bau. "In fact, if you've got the program, Incinerate it. Lieutenant Devereaux? Do not get too close to him! A nano-infested Wanzer is the last thing we need."

"I know he can convert people, but an entire Wanzer?" she asked incredulously.

"Trust us," said Grey. "We know what we're talking about."

After a few minutes, they had found neither Wreav's body nor his weapon.

"I have received an update from Gadolt. They're on their way to secure this place. I told them to be... extra careful."

"That's good to know," said Anderson.

"Well, Wreav just ain't here," said Vega. "Not that we checked every nook and cranny of this place..." he pointed at the open doors of the Granada Hotel. "Who wants to go into the creepy, dark, impossibly huge abandoned hotel?"

"I think Wreav will be dropping in any moment, now," said Ramsus.

"What makes you say that?"

Ramsus pointed up, and Vega saw a huge dark shape approach. The shape scattered, leaving a central mass to keep falling while the rest flew away out of sight.

"Oh shit!" Vega dove away just in time to avoid being flattened by the huge form of Urdnot Wreav, who cracked the pavement as he landed.

The team surrounded him.

"Is he dead?" asked Jenkins.

That was when Wreav snarled and got back on his feet, looking none worse for wear. He saw Wrex and immediately bellowed a challenge.

Wrex's reply came at 2500 rounds per minute. Everyone joined in the fun of perforating the man that had led the raid that had killed hundreds of thousands of people. Even Devereaux.

Everyone save Bau.

"Wait! Stop!" shouted Bau. Nobody listened to him.

"Focus on the limbs!" shouted Grey. Everyone obeyed him.

Wreav screamed in utter agony as he lost his arms and legs to their combined gunfire. He fell over with a wet thump.

Wrex approached his brother, the Vulcan gun's six barrels so hot the amniotic rain boiled away as soon as it touched them. "That was for Bren, you piece of shit." He took out his Executioner pistol and shot him in the quad. Wreav, who wasn't quite dead, screamed. "And THAT was for the Hollows."

Wrex dragged Wreav out of the crater, away from the Spike Maul that had killed Bren. Bau was about to protest this savagery, but Wrex cut him off. "He's still alive," he said, as he dropped his brother at the Salarian's feet. "Do what you want with him."

Everyone looked down at the fallen Krogan Warlord. Elsa was particularly happy at his sorry state.

"My... babies. My family..." Wreav groaned pathetically. "Give them back... Give them back..."

"Err, guys?" said Jenkins. "I think his limbs are growing back."

"They are," said Brea, observing that his hump was also getting a bit smaller. "He'll be back to full strength in half an hour."

Bau promptly shot him full of Neural Shock darts... to no effect.

"Any ideas as to how to keep him secure until Gadolt and his men get here?"

Ramsus knelt besides Wreav and caressed his face. "Hush, darling, hush, my sweet..."

"What?" Wreav coughed up blood. "Wha... no, who are you?"

"It is I, my husband... rest, rest! The children are safe, sound and asleep in their beds."

"Ah... ah..." Wreav began to close his eyes.

"But before you go to sleep, you have a message for me, do you not?"

"I... Yes... A message..."

"...SHOW ME," Ramsus whispered.

...

Wreav killed his way all over the halls, trying to find his children — they were alive! They were all alive! But they kept running away from him.

"Don't be scared! Please don't be scared!"

...

In the room there was a man, clad in a burgundy business suit. He smiled at him.

"I await you on the 222nd Floor, nephew."

Wreav didn't care what the man had to say. Where were his children?! The man would tell him where his children were, or he would tear him apart—

They came out of the walls, they came out of the floor. Wreav was beset on all sides and carried away, and thrown through the window.

...

"Now sleep..." said Ramsus, and Wreav closed his eyes. "He won't bother us for hours. Plenty of time, I think."

"How did you do that?" asked Williams.

"Magic," said Ramsus, his smile hidden by his helmet. He whistled as he got up, calling Hannibal to him. "If you'll excuse me, I have business with the Americans."

~[h+]~

Anderson watched as Bau tried to destroy Wreav's black maul by using Incinerate. Just as the inflammable gel ignited, the flames went out. A shimmering bubble had appeared over the weapon, blocking the air and starving the fire of air. The metal had been cleansed of filth, and the almost matte black iron became a polished electrum.

"Interesting," said Bau. "Looks like the Geth were smart enough to add some kind of self-defense mechanism."

"Odd," said Anderson. "I would have thought it would self-destruct. A lot of Geth hardware we've found have had their essential components destroyed by built-in charges... and you know what else? I'm not entirely convinced the Geth made this thing."

"Doubtful... The Geth are the only known entities that field this technology."

"Just because you use something doesn't mean you understand it."

"That's..." The notion of not understanding a piece of tech and using it was somewhat alien to him. Salarian children at least have some vague understanding of electronics before being allowed the use of a computer. Humans. Such silly people, sometimes.

Still, Bau had to admit, he might have had a point. On the other hand, one would think that synthetics would take the Salarian approach to tech... but it was obvious to him now that they didn't.

"One would think that the Geth would have been as powerful as Benezia's... other form."

"I know... now that I think about it, Wrex told me a story about the mask she used. Saren had found that thing aboard a private Volus super-freighter, loaded with other riches."

"...And you're only telling me this now?!"

"You never asked."

Anderson and Bau felt a rumble, deep inside of them, and heard the menacing growl of a beast.

It came from the hammer. The two men backed away, slowly.

"If this hammer is the exact same technology as the mask," said Bau, "then we need to put this in a Stasis field immediately!" He called for the first biotic that came to mind. "Ramsus!"

When Ramsus failed to reply, Bau looked for him. He, along with the 108, the dog mech, and the Turian mercenary, were gone.

Bau saw the other Alliance Marines, their way barred by the ones from the United States.

And Wrex.

The woman in the white parka leaned against the doorway. Elsa, in her Wanzer, for its part, kept a close eye on Wreav.

"What happened?"

"They just went in!" said Jenkins.

"I told them to wait!" said Vega. "This place has got juju worse than Caleston, I can feel it!"

Bau came to the conclusion that whatever Scholar was up to, Ramsus had gone up there to either clean up any possible involvement with the AIA or steal Europa Genomics technology for them. Neither possibility was acceptable.

"Let me through," he commanded.

"No," said Ryan, his Omni-Shield ready to bash away anyone that tried to get past him. "It's for your own good."

"Nobody's getting through," Grey added. "Whatever is up there is possibly more... dangerous than Benezia was. My men nearly died the last time, and I'm not going to risk any of their lives again like that. Or any of yours. So back off."

Bau was about to protest just as he heard the now very familiar sounds of Balzac transports approaching.

"This isn't over."

~[h+]~


[Angel's Egg OST Track 05 - Memories of Water]

"Well! Isn't this nice and familiar?" said Garrus sarcastically, as the elevator's doors opened to a darkened hall.

Ramsus had initially punched a key to take them to the top floor, only to be stopped at the 222nd floor. Adam tried to override it, but failed. Considering that, up until now, he could make machines do nearly whatever he wished, this was a bit troubling.

Hannibal growled. "I don't like this. We are deep in our enemy's territory and they can control where we can go."

"Ah, you speak!" said Ramsus a little too cheerfully, considering the circumstances. "So you haven't gone primal again. That's good: my Gilbert and Sullivan is a bit rusty."

"Focus, please," said Adam. "The elevator's locked. It needs a key to go up any further."

"And I know just who has the key," said Ramsus. "Come, one of our hosts awaits."

"Maybe we should split up?" said Garrus. "This place is huge."

"Absolutely not," warned Adam.

"And stay close to me," added Ramsus. "Only I can protect you from my sister's influence."

"Wait, your sister's doing this?"

"Not of her own free will, I assure you. Scholar is controlling her. Scholar is making her drive anyone nearby insane. The sooner we deal with him... and everything will be better."

Just as he stepped on the floor, the sensors were tripped, and the screen-walls flickered on, barely illuminating the walls but clearly revealing the blood that was splattered over every surface... but the bodies it belonged to were nowhere to be found.

"H-h-hello," said Scholar's distorted face, repeated every two meters on the OLED surfaces of every wall. "My name is Jonathan Scholar, and I'm here to ask you a question... What do you want?"

"Your head on a platter," said Ramsus. "And a glass of fine Garrafeira to wash it down with."

"He can't hear us," said Hannibal.

"It's a pre-recorded advert," said Adam.

Scholar's recording continued: he moved through a white background, making a presentation with funny icons and graphs. "A vacation on the beaches of Illium? A mansion built on the floating mountains of Amaethon? A trip to the far side of the galaxy and back? Whatever the answer, whatever the fantasy, our means often don't match up with our dreams. But why should the rich have all the fun? Using advanced Dream Catcher technology, we at Europa Genomics are happy to present you with ARCADIA..." He paused, for effect, the logo of a human head with a spiral inside of it hovering above him.

"The Dream Machine," he said with a smile, and vanished.

Ramsus guided the group towards the room Wreav had been thrown out of. The halls seemed to shift around, trying to lead him astray. When they came across the open elevator, Garrus knew they had succeeded.

"Well. Crap."

"Let's try different halls in the same general direction," said Adam.

They continued walking until they arrived at a crossing of halls. The one in front of them led to a wooden door, the rest back into the dark. They heard a flanged, mechanical giggling, and a small white-haired doll in an elaborate, frilly dress stood in the middle of the hall on their left. She beckoned them to follow, and with clicks and whirrs plaguing every step she ran away from them, into the dark.

"I vote we NOT follow the creepy doll down the creepy hall."

"In lieu of the non creepy ones?" said Ramsus, gesturing to the other three halls.

"I detect the scent of cologne," said Hannibal, "On our right."

"Considering the crowd that frequents this place, I'd say that's not much of a lead," said Garrus.

"Creepy doll, then?" said Adam.

"Hells no! Look, it doesn't cost us anything to open this door..." Garrus stepped forward, and tried to find a haptic switch, but could not find one. "Err..."

Adam stepped up besides him and turned the handle. "I'll go first," he said, Sasha in hand. He stepped through...

And landed in the middle of the tunnel's tracks. Adam looked at his hands: they were small, and weak, and powerless. The steam train roared and whistled, warning him that it would stop for no one, not even a young boy. Adam was only six, and didn't know how to react to an oncoming monster of iron and steam, of fire and hate, save to stare at the light, wide eyed and paralysed by fear...

"Adam!" shouted Garrus, as Hannibal leapt in, bit into the back of Adam's collar, and leapt out, dragging little Adam out of the way onto the safety of the platform.

The train sped by, flames trailing behind it. The blurry glimpses Adam took of the train cars painted the picture of a macabre carnival of nightmares, set to a discord of an orchestra of pipes and accordions. The station itself was a strange combination of an art-nouveau café, industrial architecture sub-way station, and a medieval castle.

"If your dreams and imagination leave something to be desired," Scholar's disembodied voice echoed all around, "Arcadia has a huge array of user-generated content that grows with every single night..."

Adam looked at his hands. He was big and strong again. The train station moved as he stood still, and he was outside another door.

"Are you alright?" asked Hannibal.

"Yeah... Yeah." Adam got back up, and realized that he was in a different hall, and that Garrus and Ramsus were nowhere to be seen.

"Hello?" he called out.

"RAMSUS!" shouted Hannibal. "... I don't think they can hear us."

"Damn it!"

"All is not lost. I still have the scent."

"Well, that's the only trail we've got in this insane maze. Lead the way, I'll follow you."

~[h+]~


The door shut violently in front of Garrus' face as Hannibal leapt through. He shoulder checked it open easily.

"Stop, you fool!"

Garrus ignored Ramsus and pursued his partner...

...Into a cemetery. Garrus looked behind him, no door. He looked around frantically for a way out, and slowly recognized the place.

"No... no no no... please, anywhere but here..."

The road towards the hill was barred by fences made out of black iron spikes. As he walked towards the hill, his shoes sank a bit into the mud made by the heavy rain.

"How do you like a tragic past?" said Scholar. "To motivate you into becoming something greater?"

Lightning struck, cutting through the night, the flash silhouetting the winged statues of the Archon Titan, looking down upon a young turian, judging him harshly and finding him wanting. Garrus kept on walking. His small funeral suit one size too big for him was wet with rain, the flowers in his hands were ruined and drowned. He discarded them. They wouldn't do.

Oily shadows in the shape of serpents crawled between and behind the bars, whispering taunts. "Traitor..." said one. "Bastard!" spat another.

"Failure!" That one stung the most of all.

Sounds of gunfire and dying guards echoed all around him, telling him not to abandon him. But what could he do? He was just a boy.

He tripped on a body. It was a man, clad in a white and blue uniform, bearing the crest of a dead House. His comrades lay all around him, and before long Garrus had no choice but climb on a pile of dead.

Someone was laughing. A woman.

It had felt like miles, an eternity looping inside a single minute, but he had finally arrived at the tombstone. It wasa foreboding monolith of stone, topped by yet another Archon, its wings fully spread outwards, as if shielding the tomb from rain. On the base of the stone was written:

HERE RESTS THE LAST OF A GREAT HOUSE

And under that, side by side:

HERE LIES LETO VALERIUS

10,140 — 10,191

BELOVED LEADER AND FATHER

HERE LIES MARCIA ATREUS

10,161—10,191

BELOVED CONCUBINE, MOTHER AND TEACHER

May their spirits watch over us all.

"Of course," chuckled Scholar, "Results may vary."

The oily shadows gathered around the monolith, cackling as they merged with it, turning it black. It melted from a fine stone monument to a shabby plank of wood. The carvings had been twisted from their fine Turian Gothic font to mangled claw scratches.

IN THIS HOLE WE TOSSED

THE NAMELESS BASTARD

OF A BROKEN HOUSE

A clawed hand burst from the mud and grabbed Garrus by the ankles. Garrus kicked at the skeletal arm and tried to get away, only for the rest of the undead creature to drag itself out of its grave to grasp the other leg. Flesh and cloth clung to its bones in strips and tatters. Red flames burned inside its sockets.

TRAITOR

The sound was wrong: it came from a non-existent throat. Garrus screamed and kicked, but then the living corpse of a woman joined the other in dragging him down into the earth.

YOU LEFT ME TO DIE

"I'm sorry!" cried Garrus.

I LEFT YOU A LEGACY AND YOU DENIED IT

"I didn't know what to do!" Garrus tried to kick them away, but it was no use: their grip on his ankles was like a vice.

YOU LET THEM ERASE OUR NAME

"I didn't know! I couldn't know!" Garrus clawed desperately at the ground, his talons finding only mud.

NOW YOU'LL JOIN US IN THE DARKNESS

"No, please! I'm sorry! I'm sorry I lived! Please! Please!..." Garrus' begging became muffled as he was pulled down, and the mud reached his face. He reached out for someone, anyone to save him.

All became dark as the mud reached his eyes, and soon only his small talon remained to grasp in futility at the air above.

Garrus felt someone grasp and pull. He gasped as the seal of his helmet was disengaged, and the air rushed back in. He coughed on his knees. He was safe.

"Come on! Breathe!" commanded Adam.

"Adam?" he choked out.

"Yeah, it's me..." Adam looked around, the Turian Cemetery having evaporated back into another of the Hotel's halls. "Are you going to be alright? What the hell was that?"

"It's nothing," said Garrus. "Where's my gun?"

"Nothing? It wasn't nothing! You said you could keep it under control!"

"I thought I did!"

"Bullshit!" Adam grabbed Garrus by the collar. "You thought some power armor was going to make you invincible?! You thought you could walk in the shadows with me because you clothed yourself in the manner of an Archangel?"

"Adam?!"

"Liar!" Adam threw Garrus into the ground. "PRETENDER! Remove that ArMouR aNd what are YOU?! WeaK! A liAbilitY!" The Fandango sprang from Adam's left hand,ready to pierce Garrus' heart. "Die!"

"You first." Ramsus ran Adam through the heart with the Longinus in sword-mode. Adam screeched and wailed and gesticulated. Garrus caught a glimpse of his helmet opening, and saw a waxy, eyeless face and a toothy mouth.

Ramsus promptly wrestled 'Adam' to the ground and kept it pinned there by straddling it. His back obscured the deed, but it was obvious he was tearing the creature apart, laughing as he did so. Ramsus tore out pieces of meat, bones, at least a dozen eyes, and bright red feathers. Something briefly glowed orange and red, and a shadow was cast on a flickering OLED wall.

Shadows in the shapes of wings.

Before long the screeching stopped, and Ramsus knelt in a pile of salt. He sighed, exasperatedly.

"How very disappointing. They don't bleed. Oh well, at least they scream." He picked up the Longinus as he rose, and tossed it at Garrus. "You dropped this."

"...How do I know you're real?"

Ramsus' helmet opened, revealing his smiling face.

"You don't," he said, chuckling deeply. "Welcome to the Dark, Garrus Vakarian... Welcome to the place where men like Adam and I must walk. Is it everything you hoped for?"

"I..."

"I thought you would be strong enough to keep your inner demons at bay, as you claimed you did back on Caleston. I thought you spoke true, after all... Turians are a bit... dull to the likes of me. No matter. Stay here. Stay here and wait while your betters kill the beast in its lair."

And he walked away, leaving Garrus all alone with the monsters that lurked in the shadows of his mind.

~[h+]~


Hannibal and Adam came upon the source of the cologne. The man had been slathered with the stuff and dragged all around, then hung in the center of a room over a dinner table. Adam quickly concluded that it was meant to draw the mech away. "Divide and conquer," he said. "Classic strategy." Hannibal agreed.

The room, of course, was a trap. Flesh eating insects gnawed their way through the walls. The first thing they focused on was the corpse, and then turned to the other fleshy thing in the room. Adam fled, not wanting to know if the 108 could protect him from a swarm of man-eating beetles. Hannibal followed.

They ran for minutes, unable to go full speed in the maze of halls. The swarm was relentless, and gaining on them.

A familiar giggle rang besides him, belonging to a teenage girl. Adam turned and saw the familiar blue glow of Aleph's little companion, flying besides him, then in front of him.

"...What is that?"

"You see her, too?"

"Yes, but I've recently learned not to trust my senses."

She flew away, beckoning Adam to follow.

"Come on!" he said. "I think she's going to lead away us to safety."

They followed her down a maze of halls to yet another door, where she simply vanished. This one door stood out: it was a clean rectangle of cold metal, riddled with glowing green circuits. On it was an elaborate, glowing sigil: a tree stuck by lightning, set into a rectangle made out of square symbols, encircled by rotating letters. Adam recognized the symbol, and was about to touch it when Hannibal grunted.

"Are you sure that is wise? The last time, we were split up."

"Don't be afraid," said Adam."This is a place of safety."`

The door opened with a gentle hiss. Adam and Hannibal crossed the threshold.

"Close it!" urged Hannibal.

"I don't know how!"

The Swarm was just about to cross into the room when they stopped, as if they had lost interest... or as if their prey had simply vanished. The black beetles dispersed, and the door gently closed. Adam sighed with relief.

[Animatrix OST - Beyond]

"Where are we?" asked Hannibal.

The room was circular, made of a smooth grey stone. At the center was a small garden: alien flowers surrounded a tree, sustained by a small pond full of glowing water. Set inside the tree, clutched in roots, was a metallic monolith made of black glass riddled with bright holographic green circuitry.

"This is one of the Terminal Rooms," said Aleph, suddenly appearing besides Adam. "My father told me that these are all over the Dark World, a place of safety and rest in a place filled with dangers... as well as a convenient method of saving backups. To this day I do not know if I found thousands of these throughout my travels, or entered the same one over and over again but at different places and times."

Hannibal growled at the unknown figure. Adam motioned at him to be still.

"Peace, Hannibal," said Aleph, his voice almost soothing. "I mean you no harm."

"Aleph, you're here?"

"I am wherever you go, Adam."

"Right but..." the implications of Aleph fully manifest without Adam's head hurting were horrible to contemplate. "...Oh god, I never actually left Arcadia, did I?" It made a strange sort of sense: All the strange, horrible things he saw...

Aleph shook his head. "You did leave, but you have re-entered it."

"I don't remember putting on a DC!"

"Nor would you need to. There is a powerful Element Zero core nearby, powerful enough to create a Dark Energy field potent enough to weaken the barriers between the Real and the Void. We are in an interstice between the two. We are on the edge of the Dark World."

"Dark Energy can do that?!"

"Of course it can. We are talking about something that bends the laws of your universe. Focus it well enough and you can break them... and that is why this Scholar needs to be stopped. He does not fully understand what he is doing."

"Tell me something I don't know!"

"...We do not have that kind of time... Still, I can help you make sense of this maze. How is your suit's Auto-map?"

"Glitchy. It can't make sense of this place."

"Then touch the monolith."

Adam approached the metal slab set in the tree. "It looks like... is that a Grimoire? No, it looks more like a Beacon."

"The Beacons are real world analogues to the Terminals, part of the Amala Network. It is... not what it used to be."

Adam touched the metal slab, and a progress bar appeared on his augmented reality interface. The suit rebooted, and on the corner of his vision Adam could make out a mini-map detailing the rooms he had been to.

"The chaos equation subroutines for your mapping system will allow you to make your way to the one controlling this floor. Hurry to him, defeat him, and stop Scholar... before he drags this entire city deep into the Void."

And with that warning, Aleph vanished, leaving Adam, once again, with more questions than answers. His voice however, lingered:

"Remember. In dreams we are gods, but in nightmares, we are but helpless children..."

~[h+]~


There had been a room, his room, drowning in milk, with toys that threatened to devour him with razor sharp teeth. Ramsus merely closed his eyes, and let them try. He saw nothing, and moved on.

He opened his eyes. and he was now in the ruins of a bombed out church, ignored for decades. Vegetation had grown everywhere: the walls, the painted ceiling... Shafts of bright sunshine shone on a bed of flowers — Lunar Tears. His mother's favorites. His sisters, too. White doves were frozen in time, mid flight, above them.

Ramsus closed his eyes. He saw nothing, and moved on.

When he re-opened them he was walking on water, the surface of an endless sea.

"Beautiful," he said, but he knew this was but a distraction, and he shut his eyes again, and didn't bother re-opening them.

He let his sister's whispers guide him. He felt the walls, he 'pushed' nearby creatures to ignore him and go somewhere else. His palm touched a door, and all became quiet. He knew he found his goal. He opened the door, and when he opened his eyes he found himself standing in a dancing hall.

At the thick, broken windows was a tall, lanky man in a burgundy business suit staring out into the cold night. Ramsus approached him slowly, and he closed his eyes again, this time letting his mind dip in the Dark, where the flow of Colors were at their brightest. Ramsus' hands became a scintillating, swirling vortex of red and orange from which purple embers were born and flew away, in a room that was an expanse of dull, dark grey that BREATHED along with the heartbeat of the man.

The figure before him was the bright center of a thousand hair-thin tendrils, through which pulses — thoughts — flowed outwards. Ramsus had seen that psychic configuration before: an Awakened, just like him, only designed and cultivated to become a 'summoner' — someone that psionically controlled creatures remotely, using rods to conjure them up from thin air. Ramsus chuckled inwardly. Remove all the ceremony and the mystique, and all you had was a child playing with remote controlled toys. How like the Illuminati, to create something in their image: a rich man, using slaves to fight for him.

There was a tether that matched Ramsus' own color attached to the bright blue-white core, pumping energy into it. Ramsus suspected he knew who was on the other end. He disturbed a handful of tendrils in his wake, and Theodore turned around. His eyes were gold, his skin was pale, and his hair was white. The features of an Imaginary Number.

He carried a bundle of cloth under his arm, big enough to hide a weapon.

Ramsus opened his eyes, drew his rapier and set it alight with Biotic energy. He willed his helmet to open. He wanted Theodore to see his face.

"Ah... nephew," said Theodore with a soulless smile. "I see you received my message. Where are your friends?"

"They are not my friends, and you are not my uncle," replied Ramsus. "I'm here for the key to the top floor. Give it to me, and I just might make your death quick."

"Aw, but I brought you a much better present than some keycard!" Theodore unwrapped the bundle of cloth, revealing a thick, wide saber with a wide, curved guard meant to protect the hand. It was not forged, but smoothly sculpted out of obsidian. Most of it was decoratively covered in the carved bone of a great beast, the weapon's creator having favoured some kind of flower motif in the finely sculpted details. A curved piece of obsidian served as the blade, sandwiched between two sheets of bone cut to resemble wings.

Ramsus recognized the weapon immediately.

"Ah, so you recognize it?" Theodore asked. "It's the very blade we had to use to cut you and your sister out of your mother's womb. Nothing else would have done the trick, see? Seven months along and the both of you could generate a Barrier that would have required a tank round to breach. And your poor mother..." He clucked his tongue thrice, as he examined the weapon. "Oh, she was so very angry and inconsolable. We had to put her out of her misery. I thought a quick cut across the neck would do, but Elizabeth knew that only a stab in the heart would end it for good."

"It was her favourite weapon..."

"That it was. There's a certain irony to it, no? We used it to bring you into the world, and then promptly used to it to take her out of it."

Ramsus recalled the moment and bit down on his hatred, feeding off of it, preparing to unleash it at the proper time. "Speaking of Elizabeth, where is she? You two are never separate."

"Tending to your sister. She needs so much care, you know?"

"I thought the Phantom Society would have wanted you to bring her to them. Why is she still in Scholar's clutches?"

Theodore chuckled. "Yes, well, your sister can be very persuasive. We all must serve, Ramsus. Might as well serve a real Goddess."

That took Ramsus by surprise. "My sister can barely talk, let alone convince anyone to betray the Society."

"She talks to you..."

"And only to me."

"Ah, therein lies the problem, why Scholar hates you so. I was going to offer you to join us, but..."

"And become Scholar's latest toy? No thanks."

Theodore laughed. "We are all toys, Johann. We are all HER toys. Her dolls, her puppets, her playthings. I see the strings she uses to pull me around. Do you see yours?"

Ramsus snarled and threw a Singularity at him, and Theodore casually swatted it away with the sword, not even bothering to look at Ramsus as the Dark Energy dispersed harmlessly around him. "Ah, I forgot. You think you're the evil twin. My mistake. Still, if it's a fight you desire—"

"I want to KILL you."

"—Then let's make it fair, and make it last." Theodore removed his fine jacket, revealing a harness with a dozen rods. He removed it each rod one by one, and tossed them out of the window. "There, none of my pets will interfere with our duel."

"I say again, I don't want a duel, I just want you to DIE." Ramsus' helmet closed as he drew his gun, and emptied his magazine at Theodore. The Summoner merely dodged, weaved, and danced around them as he approached his nephew and swung, the weapon easily ignoring Ramsus' powerful Barrier.

~[h+]~


"Want to see a lost loved one once again? You can..." said the advertisement, its voice slightly distorted.

They were in a lab, tended by a bespectacled blonde young woman. Adam didn't recognize her, but Hannibal froze in his tracks.

"She's not real," reminded Adam.

"I know," And Hannibal walked away.

"Arcadia. Your dreams are Better Than Life." continued Scholar's recording. Adam wanted nothing more than to punch the smug CEO right in the face.

"I can smell the Turian..."

"Good, we must be getting close to him."

To Adam's dismay, reuniting with Garrus had involved a great deal of gunfire, then, after he had moved in to disarm him, a lot of punching, stabbing, and the avoiding thereof. Garrus seemed enraged, screaming obscenities, something about Adam being a pretender, an imitation. Garrus' training, combined with a pair of Omni-Blades, a power suit, and the fact that Adam was doing his best not to kill his friend, had made the fight had drag on a bit. He had, in fact, pushed Adam so far that he deployed his Fandango.

When Garrus saw that it was on Adam's right arm, there was a lull in the fight. "Who are you?!"

"Garrus, it's me!"

"Prove it! Tell me— Oof!"

Hannibal tackled Garrus to the ground and pressed his paw against his skull, threatening to crush it.

"Your proof, Turian," Hannibal spat, "is that we're not killing you though we have you at your mercy." To make his point, Hannibal promptly got off Garrus and let him get up.

"And they wouldn't give you back your weapon," said Adam, as he did just that.

Garrus sighed as he took it. "That's the second time in too long, damn it. Err... Sorry about attacking you on sight, there."

"Don't be. I'm thinking you were attacked by someone that looked just like me?"

"Not quite like you," said Garrus, pointing at Jensen's left arm. "But yeah." He shook his head, feeling ashamed and a bit depressed. "Spirits, I hate this place... How, how did you find me?"

Adam told him about the upgraded Auto-Mapper and promptly uploaded it to Garrus' suit, along with the map data Adam had gathered. Getting to the area where Wreav had been thrown off the building would be simpler now, and Garrus gladly followed Adam's lead there.

As they got closer to their goal, they heard shouts and laughter, slashes and blasts, rumbling though the walls and the halls. Someone was fighting.

Hannibal urged Garrus and Adam to hurry.

~[h+]~


Adam and Garrus burst into the room by shoulder checking the double doors wide open. The large room was wrecked: the windows were broken, the furniture had been smashed into pieces and the walls had been cut apart.

Adam engaged Ramsus' opponent immediately, hoping to knock him out to interrogate him. And figure out what the hell was going in Upper Dosadi. To his surprise, the man in the fancy shirt and dark burgundy pants effortlessly dodged and weaved around his blows before surprising him with a Biotically charged palm strike that would have sent Adam out of the window had it not been for his Zero Shift.

Hannibal, being far more knowledgeable about Theodore's capacity for violence, held nothing back. He fared no better.

"To hell with this!" Garrus fired an energy beam at the suit, only to watch in surprise as he put his palm up and the beam scattered. Ramsus used his opportunity to try and behead his 'uncle', but Theodore dodged him easily.

Theodore clucked his tongue. "Well, this is hardly sporting, nephew," he said. He was trying to hide his panting.

"Breaking a sweat, Theodore?"

"A bit," replied the Imaginary Number as he produced a silvery rod from the sleeve of his fine, expensive shirt. "Let's even the odds, shall we?" The ring at the tip of the tube rotated, and a glowing green crystal pushed itself out. Theodore threw the tube to the ground, shattering it, and a green mist surrounded him.

~[h+]~


The European Marine Colonel and the leader of the Deep Eyes were shouting ultimatums at each other when Williams noticed a handful of green dots up above, rapidly approaching. The metal tubes hit the ground and, strangely, shattered like glass, releasing a huge cloud of glowing mist. At first she thought it was high-density gas, but the way it spread so quickly and its green colour alarmed her.

"Gas Attack!" she shouted as she switched from her filters to her suit's air supply. "Seal your helmets!"

That got everyone's attention. "Do as she says!" urged Anderson over the Codec. The nearby European Marines ran away from the cloud as it spread. Strangely, the mist was quite heavy, and eventually the particles mingled with the liquid on the floor.

Williams heard something cry nearby, and her eyes widened in horror as she saw the source

The fluid that had been raining down gathered itself up into a small humanoid in the shape of an infant, but the similarities with a young human ended with the lack of eyes. From there, it got worse as the rest of the body began to take form. It was chubby, with pale waxy, lumpy skin tainted with black veins that surged to life once the heart was formed. Malformed wings sprang from its back, beating loudly to lift the small body and allow its tiny legs to form.

Williams knew those malformed wings couldn't allow anything to fly, but they did.

The Putto smiled at her, revealing two rows of disturbingly and perfectly even incisor teeth, yellowed and caked in dark brown filth. It giggled, and before she could react Williams was fighting it off, desperately trying to keep it from eating her face. It managed to tear off a portion of her visor, letting Williams have a good look at its maggot infested mouth, as she grabbed it by the wings and smashed its body against the ground to stomp it flat into a splatter of dark blood that quickly turned into white salt.

The other Marines around her weren't doing as well as she was. From up above an entire swarm of the very same creature she had encountered in the alley had rained down upon the soldiers. Some of the winged creatures carried them off, their screams growing distant, while others held them down to let the children eat, their screams growing louder before being cut short as their necks were torn open.

One of the larger creatures spread its set of six regal red wings, letting the 36 eyes set into the feathered humeri focus on her. He pointed at her and snarled, exposing its blackened fangs. Williams knew what that thing was: one of God's creatures, one of its servants... and it had come to kill them all.

This is the Day of Wrath, she thought.

"OPEN FIRE!" screamed Gadolt over the Codec. He need not have bothered: Williams' survival instincts had pushed religion well out of her mind, and she wanted to live.

She had fired her gun at the Seraphim seconds before the order was given, screaming at the top of her lungs.

That was when the Putto she thought she had killed attacked her from behind.

~[h+]~


The green mist coalesced into three forms, each a sort of counterpart to the group.

Hannibal was faced with a canine armoured in bone and black chitin, a smoking aura emanating from its head and back. It growled at the mech, baring its huge, pointy teeth. Hannibal growled right back.

Adam was faced with, of all things, a knight in fine armor, covered in glistening blood that seemed to flow out of a golden wine cup. The Red Knight grabbed it tightly by the stem.

Garrus was faced with a winged human made of obsidian in dull red armor, wielding a spear and a shield.

The Barghest. The Red Knight. The Power. Theodore introduced them all with a flourish, and the fight resumed. The Red Knight armed itself with a segmented whip sword that sprang from the cup, set alight with purple flames. The Barghest vanished in and out around the room in a puff of flames and smoke, and Hannibal couldn't keep track of it as it blindsided him over and over again with its claws. The Power was constantly flying after Garrus, keeping itself well within spearing range. Blinding flashes from its eyes kept Garrus from taking proper aim. All of Theodore's constructs were incredibly powerful and resilient, and while Adam had managed to overcome the Red Knight, the Power threw a blast of energy at it that repaired it immediately.

Adam knew this was going to be a long fight.

~[h+]~


The European Marine squads were all broken by terror and blood. Only the Normandy's and Deep Eyes' soldiers kept it together. After coming to Williams' rescue, Grey had ordered everyone to take cover in the Granada's main atrium, thinking that they could cover the doors and keep the creatures at bay with focused fire.

When they sprang from the ground, he knew he was wrong.

"More on the left!" shouted Anderson. "Tossing grenade!"

"Urdnot!" barked Grey, "Covering fire!"

"I'm almost out!" complained Wrex.

The creatures were powerful, strong as a man in power armor and capable of firing off incendiaries. They were also brutal, relentless and, for all intents and purposes, nearly immortal. Every time the Marines downed one, it seemed to regenerate from a pile of dust after a few seconds, though Grey noticed that it took longer when he killed one with his Serpent particle carbine.

During the time it took for a creature to regenerate, some kind of weird cloud of blue voxels and static seemed to hang over it. Grey thought it might have been some kind of glitch in his helmet. He tapped the side of his helmet, hoping that would fix it.

"Spectral Plasma Entity detected," said Burroughs. "Recalibrating optics... done."

What Grey saw then made his blood run cold: At the end of hundreds upon hundreds of long, thin tongues of flame, there were strange creatures made of ethereal orange flame, eagerly waiting for their return to the bloodbath. One of them passed through a nearby panicking Marine and tried to do... something to him, but apparently failed. The Marine, for his part, seized up so hard he broke his own spine.

One of them got too close to Jane, and by conditioning and instinct and reflex, he fired at it, boring a few holes into its ghostly form. It silently roared in fury, and disintegrated into another pile of salt. The resulting creature was downright pathetic, and quickly knocked out of the fight.

"Tarukaja program loaded and active. Switching polarities."

The AR status readouts on his Serpent went from standard to bright blue, and Grey perforated the nearest ghost, causing it to melt and die. That was one creature that wouldn't come back.

"What the fuck are you doing?!" shouted Brea. For all intents and purposes, Grey was shooting wildly at nothing.

"Sir?" asked Ryan. "Please tell me you haven't gone crazy!"

"Ryan, I know this sounds crazy, but I'm actually saving all our lives!"

Or at the very least, delaying the inevitable. He only had one OVO cell left for the Serpent.

~[h+]~


Neither Adam nor Garrus, or even Hannibal, fared well enough against their foes to give Ramsus a helping hand for even a moment, and Ramsus was in desperate need of help. For all his power, he simply could not best Theodore in a stand-up fight. His barriers were useless. His biotic Throws were easily deflected. Curse that sword! he thought as a gash in his suit was opened, scratching the skin. If it wasn't for its properties, this fight would have been over in seconds!

Theodore executed a move that pulled Ramsus in for an elbow strike to the head, stunning him long enough for Theodore to tear off the face plate with his bare hand. Ramsus swung in retaliation. Theodore blocked, blocked, and blocked again until the two blades were locked. Ramsus' rapier was alight with a roaring storm of biotic energy, echoing Ramsus' fury. Theodore's obsidian saber weathered that storm, letting it wash over it, in parallel to Theodore's self-control. Sparks spawned at the contact point of the edges, illuminating the faces of the two psionics.

"And now," said Theodore. "Let's get rid of that rebellious spirit, shall we? We've entrusted you to these amateurs at the AIA for too long..."

Theodore reached into Ramsus' mind, and slowly began to destroy his brain. Ramsus resisted with his own power, confident that he would win. He had, after all, recently overcome the mind of an ancient insect queen.

But Theodore was better.

Ramsus fell on a knee, and Theodore pressed his advantage, bringing the blade closer to Ramsus' neck.

"Typical." Theodore smiled. "You always think you can overcome everything through sheer power of will. Shepard has been a bad influence on you... I think I'll burn those sweet memories of hers away once we're done here."

Ramsus could feel the inside of his skull get hot, and the trickle of blood coming from his nose. "Don't..." he struggled to talk through bloody teeth. "...you... dare!"

"And while I'm at it, I'll burn a lesson into you, boy... without focus, all your rage is naught but hot air..."

Ramsus tried to say something, but he started to choke and cough on blood. He was losing.

"Discipline. That is where true power lies... And when we rebuild your personality you will understand that all too well."

"...nooooo..." groaned Ramsus weakly, as he felt the blood in his ears boil.

~[h+]~


Elsa had never liked the callsign 'Angel'. It implied that she was a divine creature of purity and goodness, and not the violent, drug-addled, nicotine-addicted, drunken mess that she was.

After this carnage, after gunning down hundreds and hundreds of these things in futility, she would hate that name forever. Gadolt — that miserable asshole! — had sent the Silver Drakes on a wild goose chase, and they were minutes away from her.

Minutes. It didn't seem like much, but when you were fighting for your life, a minute was an unbearable eternity of stress, of blood, and screaming. Going by her sensors, there were a few hundred of the creatures, but that had been more than enough to send Gadolt's two companies into disarray. Over a third of the men and women in them were already dead.

Elsa had managed to rack up quite a few kills before the hundreds of winged men and infants took note of her. They flew up in the air, gathering together into a swarm that quickly formed into a ball. Their intent was obvious: Smash Elsa's Zenith down, then tear it apart. Elsa tried to stop them, but the ball of feathers and waxy flesh made of salt quickly reconstituted itself. If only she could dodge away. Alas, her jump pack was gone.

The swarm charged at her, a million teeth bared...

~[h+]~


"Shhhhh... Johann. Shhh... go to sleep..."

Ramsus screamed in agony, and Theodore knew that he couldn't last much longer. Theodore closed his eyes, letting his mind dip in the Dark, and looked at the flow of colours that would allow him to rewrite Johann back into an obedient, sweet young boy. He found nothing but a bright red dot, brighter than the sun. This was true psionic force, undiluted by the Dark Energy of element zero nodes. No, this was fueled by hate and desperation and love, and focused into a single point and aimed right at...

"...Oh dear," muttered Theodore as he opened his eyes. Ramsus was staring right at him now, and roaring in fury.

That horrible moment of revelation was quickly followed with Theodore's head exploding into a millions chunks of wet bone and bloody brains set alight with fire.

"Lesson learned, uncle," said Ramsus.

He spat blood on Theodore's corpse, showing all the respect his 'uncle' deserved.

Garrus was just about to land the killing blow on his foe when it turned to salt. He checked on Adam, then Hannibal. Both of them were just as confused as he was.

And maybe just as disappointed.

The air felt lighter, and less foreboding. The blood on the walls vanished, and this part of the Granada Hotel was restored to its pristine appearance... save for the marks of battle.

~[h+]~


The swarm of angels bashed against the Zenith, and Elsa closed her eyes, expecting at any moment that her cockpit would be torn apart and that she would be devoured by the would-be angels. After 10 seconds, she started to wonder what the hold up was.

She checked her visual feeds. Nothing. Was she dead? Was purgatory the inside of a cockpit in an endless void?

She made the Zenith move, and judging by the fact that there was indeed gravity, according to the Wanzer's gyros, and sounds of relief from nearby soldiers coming from its audio sensors, she realized that no, she was not dead, and that she was buried in a pile of salt.

"Grey here." Elsa heard the US Marine through her radio. "Is anyone out there left alive?"

"I am," said Elsa as she made her Wanzer dig itself out of the salt pile.

"Gadolt here." The Colonel's voice was raw from screaming orders. "Could any of you explain to me what the hell that was?!"

~[h+]~


"Behold the legacy of Majestic 12," answered Ramsus as he fished out a silver rod from Theodore's pocket and tossed it at Adam. Before that, he had spent an entire minute kicking the dead body, then stabbing it over and over again with the obsidian blade. "'Magic', as conceived by JC Denton when he bore witness to the power of an Universal Constructor. The power to create life."

"Are those names supposed to mean something to me?" said Garrus, annoyed.

Ramsus barely acknowledged him as he fished out a keycard out of Theodore's pocket.

"This is nanotech," said Adam as he examined the tube.

"Exactly," said Ramsus. "And far, far more advanced. I don't fully understand how they work — I'm a killer, not an engineer — but they're designed to be used by people like me." He tapped the side of his head, for emphasis.

"Who was that guy?" asked Garrus, pointing down at the mess of gore.

"His name was Theodore." Ramsus' mouth curled in disgust.

"That's it? What the hell was with the strange critters out of some bad video game? Couldn't he just create a small army of mechs and be done with it?"

"That's not the Phantom Society's way. Some use the shadows to hide their activities. Theodore and his ilk use the power of superstition, a cloak of unbelievability. When this is over no one will believe us...And that's all I care to say on the matter. Hannibal? Come."

At the large broken window, Hannibal turned to meet the gaze of his old friend. He walked up to Ramsus, who knelt in front of him, obsidian blade held in reverence in both hands.

"I need you to take this somewhere safe, away from here." He pushed the blade close to Hannibal's face, and Hannibal clamped his maw around the middle of the sword.

"Don't make excuses. You're sending me away."

"Clever boy. Still, the sword is... precious to me. As for sending you away, I'm sorry... but it's obvious to me now that only me and Adam can face what's up there. After all, Scholar has shown you a vision of your everything, did he not?"

Hannibal looked down, as if ashamed. "...Yes, he did."

Ramsus got up and looked at Garrus. "And it seems, it did not take much to fool you into shooting your own friend."

Garrus was quick to protest, not liking where Ramsus was going with this. "If you think I'm going to leave you alone with—"

"You are BOTH a liability to us. You began to falter at the edge of Hell, and we're only going deeper from here," countered Ramsus. "Scholar will use you against us."

"Garrus," said Adam. "He's not wrong."

"The hells he is!" shouted Garrus, angrily. "Adam, look at me! Look at this armor, this weapon! I worked on it for days so that I could be right there next to you when you face the insurmountable! You've seen what I can do now! I'm ready Adam! I'm powerful enough!"

"The more power you think you have, the more likely it can slip from your grasp... or be used against you, or your friends. Garrus, Scholar won't hesitate to make us kill one another. Like Ramsus said... he very nearly succeeded."

"Adam, no..."

"I'd trust you at my side against an army of thugs, pirates, mercs... but against this... corrupting evil, I can't. I'm sorry. You have to go, for both our sakes."

Garrus was overcome with the urge to throw his weapon down on the floor in frustration, like a petulant child that didn't get his way. Discipline won over his conflicting feelings of loyalty and jealous anger. "...Damn it. You're right, damn it!"

"Come, Garrus," said Hannibal. "I heard signs of battle down below. Perhaps we can better assist the soldiers there." Hannibal leapt out of the window, and without a word nor even a glance, Garrus fired up his jets and followed him down.

Ramsus' hand flared with biotics, and he created a chair made of debris to sit on as he nursed himself back to health. "Well, that was tense. Now if you'll excuse me a moment, I must replace half my blood with Medi-Gel."

Adam sighed, not happy about having to send his partner away. "That sword," he said, "It made a mockery of your biotics. How?"

"Magic," said Ramsus coyly as he injected his second hypo.

"Bullshit."

"Nanomachines, then. Look, I don't know, alright?"

"You said it was precious to you."

"It's the one memory that's clear in my head." Ramsus, happy that he was no longer bleeding from the head, checked on his Alghul sawed off carbine. To Adam's surprise, it was chambered for .357s. He found it odd that he and Ramsus shared similar taste in weapons. "I don't suppose you have some .357 rounds to spare?"

"I do, as a matter of fact... but they kick like a .50 BMG. Sure you can handle it?"

"I apply my biotics to everything, even gunplay," answered Ramsus. Adam gave him a fistful of his own spare ammo, Sandal's green hand load at the top. Ramsus examined that one, sniffed it, and smiled. Pocketing it as he loaded the rest in the Alghul's tube magazine.

"A corrosive toxin. My, my, aren't we a boy scout? Always prepared."

So that's what that thing is, thought Adam. "As you say. Are you ready to go now?"

Ramsus took a deep breath, checking his lungs for bruises. When they were gone, he picked himself up, checked his sword and gun, and sheathed them. "Yes, enough time has been squandered."

As they made their way back to the elevator, Adam checked Sandal's black bullet. The way it shone in the light... he briefly wondered if it was made out of the same stuff as that blade. If it was... it would be really useful against a powerful biotic.

Adam loaded it in Sasha's last chamber, just in case.

~[h+]~


Gadolt had barked orders for the reinforcements to secure the area and had everyone undergo hazmat precautions and procedures. Reports were coming in. The ground battle was pretty much won; however, he had yet to receive any status updates from the Acheron. For all he knew, the Geth were getting ready to bombard the hell out of Dosadi.

He had the Warlord's electrum weapon secured in a stasis field and kept close for eventual transport. The Krogan himself? He was locked tightly in a large cargo crate, and would be dragged to Earth into the waiting arms of the WTO. This was, after all, their colony, and they had every right to try the criminal. The Spectre protested on both counts, claiming that Wreav's involvement with Saren and the Geth was a galactic concern. Gadolt countered that they were technically not in Citadel space. If the Council wanted Wreav in their clutches, they would have to deal with the WTO's lawyers.

And as for the weapon... well, what did the alien know about safe disposal of nanomachines? Better to take it into the Acheron...

Yes, that would be best. But until it was time to return to the ship, Gadolt would be watching the weapon very closely.

Now, there was the matter of Scholar unleashing biological weapons upon his men. There would be a reckoning for that.

~[h+]~


The muzak came on, as if to taunt Adam and Ramsus as they made their way up past the tram station, past the floof, and into Upper Dosadi proper. Adam kept the elevator powered and locked out Scholar's attempt to keep them out.

"You said you stormed your way up here before?" asked Adam.

"All the way up to the top of the Granada Hotel," Ramsus said, almost wistfully. "So many dead Manticore mercs. I'm half the reason why they didn't have enough men to keep Wreav and the Geth at bay."

"And Scholar just let you go up?"

"In hindsight, that was somewhat suspicious."

~[h+]~


In his office, Scholar took off his glasses, sighed, and massaged his eyes. "Oh dear. It seemed your brother failed to stop him."

"Oh, why did it have to be so?" said Elizabeth, sadly. She would miss this Theodore, but he could be replaced with another. Still, it wouldn't quite be the same.

"Well, I expected this," he said as he took out a small, transparent bio-hazard container from his desk. "Go and tell my acolytes to prepare, and..." For a moment Scholar's eyes closed and darted about as if in an REM trance. "... and to crank up the dark energy output. It seems Wreav brought us a friend. A very hungry friend."

"Should I not be the one delaying little Johann?"

"No, I'm done sending proxies. Sometimes... direct intervention on my part is necessary. I just recently lost an Imaginary Number so quickly after gaining two. I'm cutting my losses. Go. The Goddess awaits her aunt."

The finely dressed woman dismissed, Scholar was left alone to admire the contents of the container.

The Magatama Symbiont Prototype twitched, stirred, and opened its eyes.

~[h+]~


Grey was in the midst of trying to explain what he was doing earlier when it happened.

Hannibal had been running down the wall of the tower when it happened, with Garrus flying close by. They were half-way down.

And Elsa? Elsa had told to Hermes to switch out her backpack with Zoller's.

It was a strange feeling that hit everyone left in Middle Dosadi, more so to those that were closest to the source. For a moment every piece of debris and dust and bullet casing and dust particle floated up, then violently came back down. It felt as though reality had been torn open and turned inside out, and everyone was pulled deeper into something unfathomable.

And then, the feeling was gone. Nothing and nobody came out of the ether to attack them, so everyone resumed their business.

All except Burroughs, the Demonica's AI, who put a stop to her explanation about Spectral Plasma Anima Constructs and was very adamant about everyone getting the hell out of here, just as Garrus and Hannibal landed nearby.

The entity inside the Maul, unlike Naamah in her mask, was a beast content to slumber until the time of the Feast, the time signaled by a surge of Dark Energy throughout the galaxy.

The time was not now, but the Holy Beast was not aware of this. It awoke from the maul, its massive ghostly form loosing hundreds of tendrils, snatching the entire of Anima of hundreds of hapless sapients — soldiers, judging by the flavour. Some among them were witches, for he felt pulses of dark energy course through his form, making it grow strong. Bullets passed harmlessly through him.

Having had his fill, he quickly resumed his glorious warform, for there was material aplenty to be had. His master's nanites worked quickly, and he could feel his white mane grow of his back, his blood coursing through freshly formed veins, and the feathers growing out of his taut, thick forearms. Sharp talons emerged from his red, gleaming, anisodactyl hand. He breathed in the air for the first time in eons, and regaled himself with the smell of prey.

And then, he caught the stink of Beth, one of the first Prometheans, the water-obsessed WHORE.

He roared in fury, remembering her part in the Great Betrayal.

"MORTALS!" He screamed, as bullets bounced off his hide. A quick snap of his serpent tail sent a shockwave throughout the area, and all were quiet. "I AM HASHMAL LEPHANTIS, THE HOLY BEAST! ...AND I DEMAND YOU ANSWER ME! WHERE?! WHERE IS THE BETRAYER AMONG YOU?!"

Instead of obeying like good little cattle, four Metal Golems barely half of his size engaged him in battle.

"SO BE IT! FIRST, WE SHALL HAVE SOME SPORT!"

~[h+]~


Ding.

The elevator doors parted. Adam and Ramsus stepped out, expecting to be beset by mechs or guards or even worse. Instead, only silence came to meet them, and that terrible feeling of being... somewhere else but here.

The floor they had emerged onto was part of Scholar's 'Manor', the inside of which was a vast testament to neo-baroque architecture with an ancient Mesopotamian flair, with its square pillars and arches and walls of brown stones. It was, also, the terminus for the elevator, just three floors shy of the top.

"Gentlemen," said Scholar's voice echoing through halls four times as high as Adam was tall, affable and polite."Welcome to my home. I... can't quite join you at the moment. I have preparations to make, you understand."

Ramsus realized this wasn't a recording. "Your funerary arrangements, perhaps?"

Scholar chuckled. "Always with the sense of humour. Who's your friend?"

"He calls himself Shadow. An apt name, don't you think?"

"... Very apt, yes. At first I thought it was some kind of machine, but even machines can be read if they are smart enough... but I can't quite get your sister to lock onto him, no matter how many times I ask her to. Curious. Very Curious."

Ramsus' eyes widened, then his expression and tone became menacing and vicious. "Annah. Let Annah go and I'll make your death quick and painless."

Scholar laughed. "A free bit of education? Never start negotiations with a death threat. And I would be more than willing to negotiate... if she wanted me to. Only she doesn't."

"That makes no sense! Why does she call to me if she does want to get away from you?"

"Why do women do anything?" he scoffed. "We men are but their playthings."

"What do you mean?! Answer me!"

Scholar said nothing, and Adam urged Ramsus to keep moving and find a way up. "Don't let him get into your head."

"He isn't in my head," countered Ramsus, annoyed. "I would know."

"Some people don't need psychic powers to do it. All they have to do is talk. You should know that better than anyone."

~[h+]~


Scholar's home wasn't so much a place of residence as a museum, a testament to his work... which, to Ramsus' annoyance, he was more than happy to narrate. Occasionally they came across a trapped room with a puzzle for them to solve. If they didn't, they would remain locked inside. Adam was very good at figuring them out. Ramsus? Not so much, but his last attempt at simply destroying the walls and ceilings had proven futile, and he had no choice but to follow Adam's lead. The entire building, it seemed, was rated to withstand nuclear strikes; they made a mockery of a biotic and a cyborg.

They came across a room with every single major building in Dosadi out on display. A maquette of the entire Dosadi Arcology itself... though the part representing Upper Dosadi was missing.

"Dosadi was going to be a grand experiment for social engineering for the Illuminati, as well as a testing ground for new drugs and biotech, evaluations for compatibility and marketability." Scholar sounded almost bored. "That was all it was going to be... but it grew into something more."

They moved on to a room with a simple mat. The walls were lined with wooden racks on which scrolls were set. Adam examined them. Hatha Yoga poses.

"Ah, my early days learning the Illuminati variation on Hatha Yoga. Boring, but I had little choice but to stick with it. Still, as much as I hated it, I felt that there was something missing from the philosophies, even as my instructor rambled on and on and on. I looked to many others to fill in the gaps, eastern and western and even alien. Aura, Prana, Qi, Od... so many words for what is essentially the same thing."

He paused for effect. "The Antediluvian ancients called it... Anima. Gathering that thing, controlling it... that is the path to greatness.

"And then I thought to myself, how do I gather this thing? Cultivate it, harvest it... Make the process more efficient? More potent? More convenient? More profitable? I spent decades figuring out the answers."

~[h+]~


"Dosadi was going to be a grand experiment for social engineering for the Illuminati, as well as a testing ground for new drugs and biotech, evaluations for compatibility and marketability." Scholar sounded almost bored. "That was all it was going to be... but it grew into something more."

They moved on to a room with a simple mat. The walls were lined with wooden racks on which scrolls were set. Adam examined them. Hatha Yoga poses.

"Ah, my early days learning the Illuminati variation on Hatha Yoga. Boring, but I had little choice but to stick with it. Still, as much as I hated it, I felt that there was... a purpose to it, something missing from the philosophies, even as my instructor rambled on and on and on. I looked to many other philosophies to fill in the gaps, eastern and western and even alien. Aura, Prana, Qi, Od... so many words for what is essentially the same thing."

He paused for effect. "The Antediluvian ancients called it... Anima. And the benefits are undeniable: Thích Quảng Đức set himself on FIRE and did not so much as move or scream as his flesh turned to tallow and cooked. Gathering that thing, controlling it... that is the path to greatness."

"And then I thought to myself, how do I gather this thing? Cultivate it, harvest it... Make the process more efficient? More potent? More convenient? More profitable? I spent decades figuring out the answers."

~[h+]~


At first Adam thought this was a gallery of mannequins. When he saw the girl in the living dress and the clone she had tormented suspended in glass stasis tubes, he knew he was wrong. He approached both young women,intent on freeing them.

Ramsus stopped him. "Don't bother. Their minds are empty and cold. They would not know what to do with the freedom you want to give them."

Adam looked down at a holographic screen next to the bratty teen. On it there was a schematic for an electronically-augmented brain, with some text on the bottom:

Shankar Corp. "Michelle" Beta Gamma 9 - Model 12

Krypto Prototype 3.23

Every woman here was a clone, and each one's brain had a substantial amount of electronics that got smaller and more refined as one went along the gallery.

"I bought a Sosamshin model from a friend of mine — at great cost, I might add — and when I examined her uniquely modified brain I thought I had my answer. After all, what is experience but memory? I poured a hundred lifetimes into that thing, but I never quite got what I wanted out of it. Losing her was a setback, but... Valuable lessons were learned. I refined the Krypto from an Omar partial cyberbrain to a tiny, itty-bitty chip. Some of my finest biotech work."

"...Why?" asked Adam, as he struggled with the implications that Kasumi was a part of the experiment that was Dosadi. "Why toy with the memories of people?"

Scholar snickered audibly. "They're not people, they're clones, and blank ones, at that. But in answer to your question... I experimented on them because of a flaw in my conclusions. What is Anima but experience? What is experience but memory? I thought by playing around with memory, I could manipulate that primal energy. But I was wrong. Experience is just that, experience... you have to live it."

"And Arcadia, where does that figure in your research?"

"Ah, you see... nobody said that the experience had to be grounded in reality. Dreams — intense ones — can do just as well."

~[h+]~


Adam carefully examined the last room with his Smart Vision, and realized that there was a spiraling flight of stairs built into the floor that would take them to where Scholar was waiting for them. Adam attempted to will the stairs to move into place, but it seemed the mechanism was completely analogue. Trying to biotically move any of the parts would cause the whole system to break, so that meant that, once again, Adam had to solve the puzzle in the room.

The puzzle concerned the order of, and this was quite a shock for Aleph, a set of 11 Promethean tablets. All were made of a jade-like substance, inlaid with gold — no, Oxium alloy — and marked with the sigil of five wings arranged into a spinning star.

The mark of Gimmel, the third of the Prometheans. The master of Air and Illusions...

... and Dreams.

Adam shook his head after he processed the tingling surge of information that, once again, left him with more questions than answers, and focused back on the puzzle.

Each tablet floated above its pedestal, and each pedestal was arrayed in a circle around where the spiral stairs were to appear. They were all damaged: burnt and cracked, no doubt from years of clumsy attempts at interfacing with them.

Adam tried to touch one of the tablets, only for it to fizzle out and distort between his fingers before resuming its shape. It was a hologram, of course. Scholar's laughter rang out into the room from unseen speakers.

"Did you really think I would leave multi-billion nuyen Prothean artifacts laying around?"

"Where did you get these?" asked Adam.

"Through the hiring of a small army of treasure hunters, the bribing of corrupt archaeologists, the paying of tomb raiders. That's not really important... It's not even important that I got some interesting data on brainwave manipulation and inducing altered states of mind through sound."

"What was important, then?" asked Ramsus, containing his own excitement as Adam worked to solve the puzzle. Soon he would have Scholar by the throat...

"What was important was that my research required me to use my own product, and that got... someone's attention. And that someone pulled strings and got me involved with Project Gestalt... and that got me Annah, as the Phantom Society were making no progress with her."

Scholar sighed wistfully.

"And then... she opened my eyes, Ramsus. She tore them out and she SHOWED them to me, and through those bloody voids in my skull I saw a world beyond imagination. Up until then, all I could do was sow Anima, but Annah...

"Annah showed me how to Reap it."

The puzzle solved, the staircase rose from the ground as a hole in the ceiling opened.

~[h+]~


[Remember Me - Rise to the Light]

Upper Dosadi, unlike what Adam had expected, was not an opulent playground for the super-rich. There were no golf courses, no fancy restaurants, no floating mansions. Instead, Upper Dosadi was nothing more than a dark enclosed space two kilometres high, host to a ziggurat in the middle of a sea of an amber fluid, the part above sea level little more than a triangular island with a length of about twenty meters. Above them, half a kilometre away, was the primary source of illumination: a floating crystal cube that slowly spun on its corner, glowing with an ethereal golden light. Droplets of faint sunshine gently flowed outwards from its surface and into the bright linings of transparent clouds.

From the dark amber sea came spectres and phantoms and ghosts made of golden flames that swam into the air, an ethereal fauna of creatures that resembled fusions of serpents, fishes and moon jellies and everything in between. They hovered around the cube in gentle orbits, singing in unison a gentle whale song.

Adam hated to admit it, but his heart was filled with awe at the sight.

At the edge of the island, sitting at a small round table of glass and metal wrought in a baroque style, was Johnathan Scholar, reading a newspaper made of digital paper. A matching tea set was upon it, with three cups full of steaming liquid. Next to the tea pot was an empty glass cylinder.

Adam and Ramsus approached him, weapons in hand.

"Once upon a time," Scholar began. "In a time of division in my order, there was an assassin, peerless in skill and strength and beauty, who rebelled against her masters. Until, inevitably, she was found. Before her death, she spoke a curse upon us all...

...

"MY CHILD WILL NEVER BE YOURS! " screamed the woman defiantly, surrounded by death. "HE WILL BE THE ONE TO LEAD US INTO THE DAY, WHILE YOU WILL LINGER IN THE SHADOWS, FOREVER!"

...

"...and here I am, basking in the light of a god, and here you are, a creature of death and darkness. Funny how things work out."

"You know nothing of my mother," said Ramsus, bitterness and anger and bloodlust barely contained.

Scholar looked up from his newspaper and smiled at the sight of the pair. He put down his reading, got up, and approached them. The bespectacled bearded man, clad in a business suit, was just as tall as Jensen, and it was clear that he had once been built like a linebacker. Age, and a life of leisure, had made him soft and a bit fat, but there was still quite a bit of muscle in that body. No match for a cyborg or a biotic, of course.

"Mister Jensen," said Scholar, with admiration in his voice. Adam couldn't quite tell if it was genuine or rehearsed. Maybe Scholar didn't even know himself anymore. "I have been hoping for us to meet ever since we lost you in Detroit."

"You've got the wrong guy," replied Adam.

"Please, don't take me for a fool — I hardly need psychic powers to figure out who you are under that gold visor: Your first instinct when faced with a puzzle room was to investigate. You thirst for answers to the unknown, as any detective would. When you dove into Arcadia that first time, my techs followed a bunch of complaints and found a recording of you, and I've been watching for you ever since..."

Scholar spread out his hands, and holographic images of his fight with Draven and Corvin appeared all around the CEO... amongst vids put up on the net by Mr. Weltall.

"Your fighting style has been thoroughly documented, and you've put them on a fine display here in my arcology. You have a dual arm blade stance reminiscent of the ancient Illuminati assassins, combined with the gunplay— nice revolver, by the way— of the more modern ones—"

"I am NOT an Illuminati," said Adam, cold and terse.

"—And you don't laugh at the mention of the Illuminati. But the greatest evidence of all? Look down."

Adam took a quick glance down, then did a double take. His boots were surrounded by plants and flowers riddled with green circuitry that sprang from the ground. "What in the hell..."

Scholar smiled victoriously. "Just like your avatar. Now!..." he sniffled, "Now that we've been introduced, is there something you want from me?"

"...I have questions."

"I only have ONE!" Ramsus was on the verge of roaring. "Where! Is! ANNAH?!"

Scholar rolled his eyes and ignored Ramsus. "Of course, of course... ask them!"

"What is this place? Why in God's name did you create it?"

"This..." he spread out his arms, "...is a bioetherium-rich dark energy environment ideal for the birth of the Gestalt larvae. These larvae are then put inside the Krypto chip, gathering excess Anima borne of... intense dreams until they mature and return here to their mother..." he pointed up, to the cube. "At which point Annah creates more of them. The cycle continues, and more and more Gestalt — and Anima — are gathered here."

Ramsus stared up at the cube, his mind formulating a plan to get up there and coming up a bit short.

"And the people?" asked Adam. "What happens to them?"

"The people? Nothing! This has been going on for years, and they suffered no ill effects..." he adjusted his glasses with a finger. "It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, you see: I'm a businessman, not some cliché dark lord! They provided me with Anima, and in exchange... I connected them to something greater than themselves, and each other on a subconscious level. Annah and I made them feel content, and fulfilled... surely, a bit of Anima isnot such a steep price to pay?"

"No ill effects...? We saw a man's head explode as a Reaper infant tore its way out!"

"Well of course it did! When Saren's thugs came knocking at my door I had no choice to crank up the dark energy field to maximum and unleash the children upon them all! Something like that was bound to happen but I had no choice!"

"No choice?! The EU Marines were on their way! All you had to do was wait!"

"SOMEONE— I won't say who..." he looked meaningfully at Ramsus. "TORE his way through my security forces the last time he was here, and SOMEONE ELSE," he looked at Adam, his jaw set, "took out Manticore's top leadership. My guards were quickly cut to ribbons and my doors were about to be breached! What was I supposed to do, let the Krogan in? And the Geth? Can you imagine what SAREN could do with my discoveries?!"

Scholar closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, and regained his composure. "But I can be gracious. I can forget the billions of Nuyen in property damage you've caused. I can forgive you breaking into my home, and I can even forgive you killing Leng. I am willing to simply let you walk away... unless you're willing to take my offer for a job. I have an opening, you know."

Adam glared at Scholar. "You MUST be joking."

"Adam, look at me..." Scholar put his hand on his shoulder. "Look at me and see the spirit of David Sarif reborn. For like him, I aim to change the human condition. Cybernetics, Gene mods, Biotics... all respond to the Will, and this technology can grant humans the means AND the Will to make all of their dreams come true. And the Illuminati? Who do you think sent the Geth here? I have become their enemy, and that... makes us friends, does it not?"

"Sarif was a lot of things, but he didn't do sick experiments on kids."

"As far as you know," Scholar chuckled. "But yes, I had to make experiments, yes, some people got hurt along the way, and some even died — I regret that, believe me. But you CAN'T let that get in the way of the DREAM!"

"Adam," Ramsus said coldly, a tone that would tolerate no betrayals at this point. "He enslaved my sister. Turned her into a component for a nightmarish machine that breeds disgusting creatures!"

"None of this would have happened if HE had not come here," countered Scholar, "if he had simply stayed in his prison. His mere presence has caused Annah fits of insanity! Why, Manticore has had to clean up so many messes! For example... one of their hackers spasmed himself to death just as he connected himself to Arcadia. Not enough? Four of my clones awoke and went AWOL, doing terrible things to one another in public,traumatizing children along the way. Eleven young Arcadia users were found dead in their homes, their bodies twisted by seizures! Oh, and don't get me started on the impossibly gory murder-suicides!"

"Don't listen to him! If I had that kind of power over my own sister do you think I would have needed your help at all? He's the one controlling HER!"

"...Yes, a control that slips from my grasp every second he stays here. Even if you refuse me, you can't deny that Ramsus is pure evil. Nothing good will come from him contacting his sister. Do you have any idea how many people he's killed? Raped? Eaten? Adam, you're a policeman. You give men the justice they deserve, not the prizes that they want."

Adam considered what Scholar had said. The man... well, he had a point. "You know what? You're right. I DO give men what's coming to them."

"Excellent, then—"

Adam punched Scholar across the jaw so hard his head twisted and snapped his spine. The man died instantly, and fell on his back.

"That was for Draven, you piece of shit."

Ramsus stabbed Scholar in the skull. "Ah, I do wish you had let me do the honours. Still, I do like your style." He breathed a sigh of relief as he cleaned his blade before sheathing it. He looked up at the cube. "So this is where she is. Finally. Finally, she and I will be reunited. Now... there has to be some kind of elevator around here... or a vehicle?"

"...Ramsus."

"Yes?"

Adam thought back about what Scholar had said about Annah getting more... erratic as Ramsus got closer to her... and realized that he was telling the truth.

The Manticore hacker...

...
"Sorry," snickered Riviera. "We kinda burned the real Baofu out a while back, and now we're in need of another cyberjockey like you. Don't worry, we offer a fantastic severance package."
...

The escaped clones...

There was a blonde girl downstairs, and she was beating up on a young black-haired woman in a black and white maid outfit, thwacking on her head over and over again with a fur purse... that yelped with every strike. Jensen zoomed in and, to his horror, that purse was actually a Welsh Corgi bio-engineered to become a living accessory.
...

The eleven dead Arcadia users...

...
"You mentioned other dream Hackers?" Ken looked somber. "Yes, I sent eleven other Dream Hackers. None of them came back from their jobs."

...

And the murder-suicides...

...

The AIA station, a small three story office building built in a residential area near the Souq, was as nondescript as possible when looked at from the outside. Inside, however, was a modern installation, full of sensitive data, well-trained guards, and a security system that could give an STG operative pause. Or at least there would have been, if Johann hadn't passed through here. All Jensen and Moody had to do to get in was just... open the front door. He was greeted by a grimacing corpse propped up at the secretary's desk. A huge smile had been carved out of his small mouth. The bodies of thirty other people that were his co-workers had been treated with even less respect.

"Oh... oh dear god," muttered Jensen. He had dealt with serial killers on the Citadel and in Detroit, but as insane as they were, they were never this depraved.

...

Ramsus stared at Adam, a confused look on his face. "What AIA substation?"

...

The deeper they got into the building, the more horrid things got. Someone had turned this place into a charnel house: Bodies were hung on makeshift hooks, ritually sliced apart. Everyone gave Wrex a glare. "Hey, Krogan don't do that shit! I mean, leaving a bunch of good meat to spoil like that — it's a fucking waste!"

...

"You think you're the EVIL twin," said Theodore.

...

"Only the chipless are free... from the GODDESS."

...

"Ramsus... I don't think Annah will be happy to see you."

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course she would be! I have come to free her from this... cage." Ramsus grimaced, finding the word disgusting.

"No, I mean... I don't think she wants to leave."

Ramsus gave Adam a look that told him he understood exactly what he meant... but then he shook his head. "Bah! Enough talk!" dismissed Ramsus. He drew his sword and held it like a throwing spear. "I think I can project this far enough."

"What for?"

"I can't Charge like Shepard could. I need a beacon of dark energy to Displace from one spot to another like that." The sword flared. "Of course, the range on my technique is a lot better."

"'Half a kilometer' better?"

"I have no idea," Ramsus smiled. "Let's find out, shall we?"

Just as Ramsus was about to biotically project his weapon towards the cube, the coffee table was smacked against him, thrown by a great force. His Barrier took it, but he dropped his sword.

The contents of the table clattered on the ground, and Adam saw the writing on the glass tube:

Magatama Prototype - Kailash.

That great force belonged to Scholar, who was standing just fine enough though his head was twisted backwards. He grabbed it with his two meaty hands and twisted it back into shape.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me..." Ramsus emptied the magazine of his Alghul at Scholar as the large man charged at him with surprising speed. Adam fired five shots from Sasha.

None of the bullets brought Scholar down. He smacked Adam out of the way like a rag doll, and lunged at Ramsus, intent on grabbing him by the neck. Ramsus reacted by bringing his sword back into his hand and swung for Scholar's skull, intent on splitting it open.

Scholar grabbed it with his bare hands, the biotic energies surging from the blade doing nothing to the meaty fingers.

"You two..." snarled Scholar.

Adam got up and jumped on Scholar's back, intent on choking him out. Despite the power of his suit and his augs, Scholar's neck held fast.

"...just FUCKED..." Scholar reached back for Adam and easily tossed him into the ground, while simultaneously snapping Ramsus' blade off and grabbing him by the throat and hoisting him up.

The infant Reapers snarled, and came down upon the trio. They buried themselves in Scholar's flesh, who became as sunlight in the shape of man. Powerful winds surged out of the light, and Ramsus had to look away, his breath knocked out. The light subsided, and Ramsus' blood ran cold.

Scholar was no longer there. Instead there was a giant nearly the size of a Roegadyn, covered from head to toe in segmented plates of brown chitin, on which Rangoli Lotus patterns were carved. A vile looking, ribbed horn was on his head, and his codpiece was shaped to mirror it. The plates on his face were twisted in a permanent grimace of rage. Lines of energy burned through jet-black flesh, their light both gold and orange, from between the seams in the bone armour. The eyes were glowing embers inside dark voids.

[Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 OST - Carmilla Fight (Grand Battle)]

"...with the WRONG CEO!" the giant snarled, his voice incredibly profound, his mouth opening to expose two rows of sharp teeth. "Look at me, JACK! Look at me and tremble! I am Annah's Shaman!" Scholar looked up and cried. "IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT ANNAH?! A handsome, strong creature like him to replace me at your side?! I understand, I understand the appeal, but..." black tears flowed from his glowing eyes. "Have I not been faithful?! Have I not been your most successful of servants?! This is the temple I built to HONOUR you...!" Scholar's voice broke, filled with sorrow only the betrayal of a great love could cause. "...to keep you WARM and SAFE and FED. Why? Why him?!"

"What the fucking hell are you even talking about?!"

Scholar looked at Ramsus. "I see... I will SHOW you, Annah! I will crush him before your very eyes, and you will see that ONLY I can be your Shaman... No, more than a Shaman..." Scholar tossed Ramsus away. He could have broken him in two easily: He was completely at his mercy, but this would be a duel, and Scholar wanted his victory to be absolute. He cried out to the cube above. "I SHALL BE THE HARBINGER OF YOUR ASCENSION!"

Ramsus got back up and called the shards of his sword back to him, holding them together by sheer force of will. Dark energy emanated from his body like flames.

Adam deployed his Fandango and activated his cloak. His body became as a black shadow, riddled with lightning... and unfortunately, in this place, more visible than ever.

Both men ran at Scholar at once, while the mutated giant simply raised his right hand in the air, a glowing hexagon set in the back of the larger chitin gauntlet's hand. He brought a mighty fist down on the ground, and the resulting shockwave caused both Adam and Ramsus to float helplessly in mid-air as reality twisted and unravelled all around them.

~[h+]~


Adam and Ramsus floated in a dull grey void, along with puzzle cubes made out of buildings of various styles of architecture, and infinitely long high-tech metal spires. Suddenly, gravity took hold of them and pulled them sideways towards a platform: an arena, and waiting for them were a dozen Copleys and a Jackal. Scholar looked on from a floating platform hight above. "KILL THEM!"

Adam and Ramsus easily killed the first wave of attackers, which were intent on tiring Ramsus out. When denied his favourite drink — blood — Ramsus' spirit waned, and in this place this was a death sentence. His swings, arcs of red biotic energy, grew slower.

Adam, on the other hand, seemed to get faster and stronger the more mechs he destroyed, and it was obvious Ramsus' failing spirit was being sustained by his mere presence. That was very interesting.

"No more of that, now!" chided Scholar as he split the arena in two. "Let's divide and conquer..." Adam attempted to Charge back towards Ramsus, but Scholar sent him to another dreamscape to alter his sense of distance. He would be lost, and Ramsus was now alone and vulnerable.

Scholar landed on the Arena with a thud, a big grin on his face: Ramsus was panting, out of breath. His sword was broken and useless, but he still had his biotics, and he still had his fury. With 3 swings of his hands he threw twenty-one bolts of red biotic energy. Only two hit Scholar in the chest, while the rest flew in the air. Scholar laughed, and was about to attack when Ramsus grinned and brought the stray bolts back, timing their impact just so that Scholar would implode. It worked: The giant's armour was cracked and broken, and his body, lingering with dark energy, floated up. A single Warp bolt, and the field was detonated. Scholar was consumed by the explosion.

Ramsus fell on one knee, panting. His rest was quickly interrupted when Scholar, still very much alive, ran up to him and delivered a palm strike to his chest. Ramsus was projected meters away and landed on his back, coughing.

"How?!" Ramsus spat blood. "Why aren't you DEAD?!"

"NAGASHIMA CELLS, BOY!" declared Scholar, as the cracked plates reformed themselves. "Or at least the N9 Replicant version! The symbiont inside of me forms carbon-laced ceramic plates over my skin, and repairs any damage as soon as it is inflicted!" He stomped the ground, did a brief yoga exercise, and entered into a Kalaripayatt stance. "You can't hurt me, Jack! But you're welcome to try!"

Ramsus screamed at the top of his lungs and engaged Scholar in a biotic fist-fight. Ramsus was faster, dodging and weaving around most of Scholar's palm strikes, but Scholar had excellent timing, and scored devastating critical hits on Ramsus' Barrier.

"It's hard, isn't it?! To fight without being able to read your opponent?!" Scholar laughed as he countered Ramsus' haymaker. "You're not a real fighter, Jack, you NEVER WERE! You depend on your psionics for everything! Your sword-play, your gunplay, your biotics!" As he spoke, it became easier and easier to counter Ramsus' blows. "You're a man-child, given to the AIA to become an attack dog! You convinced yourself that it was okay to indulge every sick, murderous cannibalistic impulse you had because you love your darling innocent little sister! Oh, please! You're nothing but a rabid animal, JACK! And you know nothing about your sister, NOTHING!"

"YOU TALK TOO MUCH!" With a surge of speed and power, Ramsus narrowly dodged a knockout punch and delivered a counter-strike — a tightly closed fist into Scholar's mouth — just to get him to shut up.

Scholar smiled. "NaiF Drry..." and bit off Ramsus' hand just as he delivered a palm strike to his solar plexus. Ramsus went down screaming, and was now a pathetic wreck on the ground. Scholar chewed through bone, polymers and flesh as he approached his vanquished foe, then swallowed. "Hmmmmmm... I think I finally understand your particular taste in meat, Jack..." He picked Ramsus up by the sides of his head, and began to crush it. "I think I'll have your heart next, and that I'll eat it right in front of Annah, with your head as a centerpiece on the table. What do you think?"

Ramsus began to giggle insanely. "I think you'll find I'm hard to digest."

Scholar felt something pop inside his stomach, and a stinging green bile welled up in his throat. The pain was agonizing, and Scholar dropped Ramsus and hugged his chest. He puked blood both black and green. "WHAT DID YOU DO?!"

"I left a little gift inside my hand— a bullet filled with Corrosive Toxin, courtesy of Adam!"

Scholar breathed hard, closed his eyes, and used his Illuminati yoga training to control the Anima flow in his giant body, slowing the poison, numbing the pain. "It! Doesn't! Matter!" Scholar stomped the ground, the shockwave causing Ramsus to stumble and fall. "You can't capitalize on your advantage!" He leapt up and prepared to finish Ramsus off with an elbow drop. "You're FINIIIIIIISHED!"

Ramsus took a deep breath, brought his two legs up, and delivered a biotically charged double kick right into Scholar's kidney, sending the mutated giant flying.

"Bah! You only delay the in—OOF!"

Adam appeared in the air with a burst of biotic energy, right in Scholar's way, and delivered a lightning-imbued punch right to the CEO's face, sending him crashing into a nearby floating building. Scholar fell into the infinite void before an island of cubes formed beneath him so that he could land with a loud and very painful thud. Scholar got up; his tongue hung out, his face was without feeling save for a tingling sensation.

Adam landed nearby, blue lightning crackling across his body. "My turn."

"How? How did you escape my maze?"

"Does it matter?"

Scholar snickered. "No, I suppose not." Scholar's gauntlet shone and he brought up his fist as Adam dashed forward. Their fists met, and the shockwave distorted reality once again.

~[h+]~


Ramsus watched as the two men vanished, leaving him in a rapidly disintegrating dreamscape. He caught sight of Jensen's high-frequency blade, planted on the ground near him, with a dose of Medi-Gel nearby. Ramsus groaned and grabbed the sword first, then held it by his teeth as he injected the Medi-Gel applicator into his neck.

"Now, how do I get out of here?"

~[h+]~


Adam found himself in a dark forest of trees made out of the bones of children, fed by the blood of their mothers. He caught sight of Scholar's twisted, giant form walking away from him, vanishing into the trees. "Catch me if you can..."

Then he saw another on his left, then on his right. There were dozens of them, coming in and out of sight.

"Which one? Oh! but which one? So many to chose from..."

Adam had absolutely no clue which was one was real: his Smart Vision gave him no insight as to which one to follow.

Then, out of nowhere, Aleph's pixie appeared, and pointed down. There was a trail of green puke, fading fast. The poison bullet, Adam realized. Ramsus must have hit him with it.

"Hurry!" The pixie cried, "before the poison runs out!"

Adam ran as fast as he could, following the trail back to an immense Renaissance palace, as designed by a child with no sense of gravity and balance. He smashed right through the huge, thick double doors. Adam felt powerful, and that feeling grew with every second he spent here. Lightning crackled beneath the soles of his boot as he ran faster and faster. Was this all a trick? Was he strapped to a table somewhere in Scholar's labs, running through a simulation? No matter. If Scholar was watching him through monitors, he'd see his self-insert avatar getting defeated, over and over again.

Waiting for him at the end of a regal hall of ruby walls lined with gold was a Dayak, its teeth bared and prepared to swallow him whole.

~[h+]~


In the middle of a circular ballroom of ivory walls inlaid with gold, Scholar took deep, controlled breaths as he purged the poison from his body, gathering it all up in his stomach. The Dayak he created would guard him long enough to—

BOOM.

The doors exploded open as Adam jumped through them, dragging the nearly dead Dayak behind him. He threw it down at Scholar, and the former Illuminatus, thinking fast, vomited a stream of corrosive poison at the projectile, disintegrating it before it could hit him. Adam followed close behind it, his fist raised and glowing gold. Scholar leapt out of the way before he landed, and the elaborate lotus pattern mandala on the marble floor was ruined with a spiderweb of hairline fractures.

"You're going to pay for that, Adam..." Scholar's gauntlet glowed, and ethereal serpents surged out of the hexagon. "TO ME!" he screamed, and after a blinding flash of light Jensen was surrounded by twelve identical duplicates of Scholar, and absolutely no clue as to where the real one was.

~[h+]~


Once again, Jensen's Smart Vision failed him: as far as he could tell, they were all Scholar, right down to the guts: heart, lungs, liver, the comma-shaped symbiote... Even the chip in the left hand. He figured the fake ones would be weaker and easier to take down. He was right on the second part. The first? Not so much: Each Scholar replica was as fast and powerful and as skilled as the real deal.

He learned that the hard way when one of them broke through his visor with a powerful spear hand strike that broke the lens of his right eye. Scholar's clones smiled, thinking that they had earned an advantage, thinking that Adam would be handicapped by a lack of depth perception. It was their turn to be surprised, when Adam returned the favour two-fold against one of them, using his arm-blades. The eyeless duplicate turned into a pile of salt that vanished into the ground.

It didn't rematerialize.

To make up for the casualty, Scholar brought six angel statues to life, their stone shells cracking and exploding to reveal waxy flesh and magnificent red wings. Adam simply Zero Shifted from one to the other and stabbed each one in the head.

They didn't remateralize either.

"How?!" screamed the Scholars in unison, "How is this possible?! The creatures should be returning! No matter! I can always make more!"

Adam was now confronted with a veritable army, and regretted not taking anything with more crowd control capabilities than just Sasha. Old habits, and all that.

Considering melee seems to work best on these damned things, maybe I should have brought Toombs' giant chainsaw axe along, thought Adam.

Will it, and it shall be so, Adam remembered Aleph telling him. He remembered re-creating a dreadnought: an axe should be easier. When he felt the weight of the Desert Wind in his hands and heard its HF modulator humming, he knew he has succeeded. With every swing, he took down multiple foes.

~[h+]~


The more Adam killed, the more monstrous he became. Now he no longer looked like some Tokugawa robot. Now he looked like a demonic knight, armoured in smoking shadows, his right eye a glowing ember of pale cyan. None of the Gestalts returned from their broken shells, and while the reason was evident, Scholar refused to accept it.

It was down to his clones, now.

"Nice trick!" taunted Scholar. "But you know how the song goes..."

Scholar willed his duplicates to form their own weapons: Urumis, maces, hammers, even chakrams. They moved in sudden bursts of speed, scoring hits on Adam's armour, but not his flesh.

"Anything you can do, I can do bet— NOOOO!" Adam easily cleaved another duplicate in two, and moved on to the next, and then the next one. Scholar's calm was fraying at the edges. It was down to six duplicates, now. They surrounded Adam and dashed forward all at once, intent on goring him with their horns. Adam leapt straight up, letting them all crash into each other at once and explode into salt.

Scholar came out of his hiding place, appearing just above Adam to smash him with both fists and send him straight into the ground. He swung, only to hit air. Adam reappeared right behind him and swung.

The chainsaw bit into Scholar's plates on his back, but didn't reach the spine. Scholar roared and reached behind him to grab the vile weapon and tossed Adam to the ground, and the cracked marble shattered into a million pieces.

~[h+]~


Adam landed in a dark, foggy cemetery, the imaginary Desert Wind nowhere to be seen. He was face to face with a tombstone. He half-expected to find his name on it, just so Scholar could mess with his head. He was half-right: Instead he found the name 'Arthur Jensen' carved into the stone. On the stone next to it, Margie Jensen, and on the stone next to that one, Sarif...

...Malik, Pritchard, Haas, even every tombstone set into the black dirt bore a name. A friend, a member of the family, a lover... all from his past.

"How does it feel, Adam?" said Scholar. "How does it feel to be the only one left?!" Something enormous emerged from the fog, a mechanical monstrosity the size of two houses in the shape of a tarantula. Its six legs — no, arms, for they ended in disproportionally large, bony hands — were made out of sinew and bone. Festively colored cloth served as their skin, under thick bronze plates sculpted into fish scales. The body was made of green brass fishes and dark seashells, the face was a grimacing Venetian mask with bugged out eyes made of painted porcelain, split down the middle from forehead to chin to reveal a cockpit lined with comfy quilted red leather. At the controls and levers made of brass was Scholar, his chitin face twisted into a smile. The mask closed, and the mouth opened, revealing a black iron cannon.

[The Toy Maker (Grand Battle) - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 OST]

Scholar shot Adam with a fireball. His target leapt out of the way, cursing, narrowly consumed by flames. With more flaming projectiles on the way, Adam had no choice but to flee.

"Look around you, Adam! Look at those you left behind! Oh, I can't tell you how hard we tried to thaw them all out... but a hundred years in cryo did terrible things to their bodies. But I'm not a doctor! Don't take my word for it!" Scholar's hellish machine grabbed a large clump of dirt and threw it right at Adam. "Here! Have a look for yourself!" It exploded right in front of him, sending dirt and body parts right into him. One of them hit him hard enough to put him on his back. He shook his head, shaking off the dizziness, and saw a dead woman on top of him, her gray skin dried and burned by frost. Her shrivelled lips were peeled back to reveal dark brown teeth. Her empty sockets were staring at nothing.

She wore a gray and orange jumpsuit.

"THEY'RE ALL DEAD, ADAM! IF YOU HADN'T RUN AWAY FROM ME SEVEN YEARS AGO WE COULD HAVE SAVED THEM ALL! ALL THESE DEATHS ARE ON YOUR HEAD!" Scholar fired on Adam again, and the cyborg was engulfed in flames.

~[h+]~


It was not over. To Scholar's surprise, Adam emerged from the flames, more shadow and flame than a man anymore. At least he stopped moving around. Then another Adam emerged from the flames. Then another, and then another, until there were twenty-five of them. They all wielded a chain axe.

Scholar made his Magitek Tarantula's back open, sending hundred of missiles against the group. The swarm made the comical whistling sounds of fireworks before it erupted into a staccato of thunderclaps as they hit their targets. Unfortunately, thirteen 'Adams' remained, darting about in bursts of dark energy, climbing on the machine's limbs and hacking away at the joints. Scholar managed to keep them off the two front arms, but the other four limbs were destroyed. Scholar roared in fury and turned the battlefield into an empty dark void, in which the Adam duplicates fell helplessly until Scholar shot them one by one until all that was left was the one trying to tear open Scholar's cockpit.

The Tarantula's abdomen spat out a golden chain that hit a rapidly forming ceiling just as the tarantula gripped Adam with both hands and threw him down onto the ground of the theater.

~[h+]~


Adam barely had time to enjoy the warm red tones of the rococo-style theatre when he saw a giant bony fist come down on him. His Tech Armor surged to life, soaking a couple of the blows, giving him time to find a chance to Zero Shift away.

"Why, Adam?!" Scholar pleaded angrily as the machine swung back and forth and his assault renewed. "Why do you persist in fighting me?! What are you even fighting for?!" Scholar's machine's fists shook the ground with every impact. Adam had to evade shockwaves powerful enough to kill a man. "I have a grand vision for the world!"

Adam felt an unearthly scream surge from his throat that caused the huge chamber to shake. Two giant arms made of black steel sprang from the ground, mimicking the movements of Adam's own arms. He grabbed the machine's two remaining limbs with them. Scholar reacted by firing his cannon.

Adam reacted by grabbing the cannonball, spinning, and tossing it back at the Venetian cockpit mask.

Scholar ejected from the tarantula as it exploded behind him, and engaged Adam in melee. His hands were a blur of palm strikes and punches, jabs and swings.

[pause music]

"I dream of a world FILLED with people like me— like YOU! Demi-Gods!"

Adam punched Scholar in the solar plexus, causing the mutated CEO to snarl. He continued his assault, undaunted. "I dream of bringing angels and demons into the world! I dream of making the world WONDERFUL again! Filled with both incredible beauty and unparalleled horror!" Scholar's flurry of punches accelerated, and Adam was being battered into submission. He targeted his chest, ensuring trauma to the vital organs. "A world ruled by personal power, not the influence of money!" Scholar pressed his foot on Jensen's chest, but the man still managed to struggle. "You've wronged me, in more ways than one, but you can still make it up to me. You can still become a part of my vision."

"If..." Adam coughed, his voice felt wrong. "You think I'll join you, you've got another thing coming..."

"You misunderstand." Scholar picked Adam up by the head with his left hand, and the hexagon flared with golden light. "I'm not giving you a choice."

Adam screamed.

~[EG]~


Deus Ex: Human%$&?%?23121!"%&("%aasc

34/"/$%"%&Syndicate: Corporate Dominion

Chapter 2

Adam %$""Leng is voiced by Troy Baker

~[EG]~


Adam brought the Typhoon prototype to Pritchard's office, not looking forward to the man's inevitable snark.

"Well, well, well! Here comes Mahatma Ghandi come to grace us with his life-preserving65487%$%/%t4isC:`L245isn't/?/&/$re4l

~[EG]~


Kai Leng brought the Typhoon prototype to Pritchard's office.

"Well, well, well... Here comes Attila the Hun, fresh from the killing—"

Kai Leng smiled wickedly. He had been hoping the geek would give him an excuse to break his fingers. He left him enough to keep working, then went to report to Sarif.

Wait.

That's not how it happened...

~[h+]~


Adam screamed and attempted to stab Scholar with his left armblade. Scholar used his free hand to stop him.

"Shhh... you're just too valuable to kill, Adam... I took an out-of-work actor and I turned him into a deadly killing machine. I'll remold you into the finest corporate samurai the world has ever seen. Fearless, obedient! Not bound by petty morality!"

~[EG]~


Kai Leng left the unconscious bodies of Tindall and Carella into the car and pushed it into the river. The two thieves woke up just in time to realize their predicament and beg for their lives.

~[EG]~


"Boss, what you're asking me to do, it's not exactly legal," said Adam.

"Yeah, so?" replied Sarif. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"As a ma(&%?3klfj5f—

?&F4"/%&*" "Get in that station and extract that body, before our competition does," said Scholar. "Do whatever it takes."

"Got it, boss. I'll go check the armoury."

~[EG]~


"And Adam?" said Haas, relief coming over his face, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Thanks."

~[EG]~


"Alright, you fucking monster!" screamed the blonde cop. Kai Leng knew a paper pusher when he saw one. There were twenty other cops besides him, taking cover, while the rest kept him suppressed. "It's thirty against one! It's OVER—AAAAAAAAARGH!"

Leng smirked as the napalm round set the cop alight. "No," he said, "Now it's fun."

~[EG]~


"LENG!" Screamed the pilot over the radio. Leng hadn't bothered learning her name. "DON'T LEAVE ME!"

Leng didn't like the odds, and besides, ammo wasn't cheap. "Sorry darlin'. Looks like you won't be getting that severance package after all." He cut the channel, and escaped.

~[h+]~


"You can resist all you want, but resistance... is not immunity. There, almost done... almost... soon you will be reborn! Soon you will—"

Adam's screams became unearthly, his visible eye flaring orange. From his head surged out a gestalt in the shape of a thousand people fused together. Some of the faces were contorted in pleasure, others... in agony. The most tormented of the lot were a trio, a large muscular man with a ring in his nose, a bald man, and a woman with a mohawk. They reached out to Scholar, and he wondered if they were begging him for release.

Or warning him of imminent danger.

Scholar stood there, frozen in terror at the sight that towered above him. "What... what is this? I... what..."

A shard of red metal imbued with dark energy planted itself in Scholar's outstretched arm, and suddenly Ramsus appeared, inches away, in a red burst of light, his armor covered in blood, the torn bodies of Seraphs that had desperately and futilely tried to stop him on still clutching his shoulders and arms, an HF sword raised high with his good hand and wearing an expression of pure fury.

The blade came down on the joint, severing the gauntlet. Scholar screamed and backed away as Adam fell on his back.

"Do excuse me," said Ramsus as he bit his sword by the handle and picked up Scholar's severed forearm. He tore out the bones and planted his own stump inside the hollowed-out shell of muscle and chitin. As the shell darkened and burned with red fire, and reshaped itself to a smaller size, Scholar focused his Anima and willed his body to completely regenerate his arm.

The chip glowed red in Ramsus' new hand. "Now it's my turn to make you scream."

Scholar dashed forward in a sudden burst of speed, hoping to gore Ramsus before he tried to use the Arcadia system.

He was too late.

~[h+]~


Scholar found himself in London, as Ramsus had experienced it as a boy. It was a maze of dark alleys walled off with wet black bricks, filled with whispers that always fluttered out of reach no matter how quickly Scholar ran.

"Where... where am I?" Scholar wandered the alleys until he came upon a street with floating globes of blood that glowed bright enough to challenge the neon beams that illuminated the writhing constructs made of naked legs and limbs, of faces connected to one another through red worms or shafts of flesh both pink and dark. For all his size, these creatures had no eyes for Scholar. In fact, they towered over him, making him feel small.

gO On KiD kEEP LoOkIn keep LOOKING keep lookin it's a FREE SHOW hahahaAHAHAHahahahahaAHAHAHA

Scholar sought refuge back in the alley. Waiting for him were boils that emerged from the bricks, and melted to reveal eyes. The whispers intensified, and shadowy hands — hundreds of them — came out of the shadows to grab him, to take him away, to tear him apart.

No, he thought. NO. I may have lost control of Arcadia but my body — no, my immediate surroundings — it is all my domain, and I am its Master.

He assumed the Lotus position even as the shadowy hands grasped at his plates, and focused his breath. The Illuminati method of meditation, the order's only true secret, was a method of imagining your body dissolving into light. In the Real World, its only benefits were stress relief and longevity. In this layer of the Void, it was a path to power.

Scholar felt a surge of light well up within him, and smiled. "Ah... Annah, you have not abandoned me..."

Lightning struck him, dissolving his body into a black cloud.

~[h+]~


"WAKE UP!" Ramsus kicked Kai Leng awake repeatedly. Or was he Adam? Yes, he was Adam. For all of the intensity of Scholar's brainwashing, he had forgotten to remove the very experience of seeing one's memories change before one's very eyes. That memory was the fulcrum, the sweet spot that led to a crack in the Kai Leng Persona, and the memories unravelled themselves in moments.

Yes, the man rising from the bench in the stone pedestrian alcove was Adam Jensen.

"Where the hell are we...?" He looked up to see a tower — Big Ben, to be precise— in the distance, right next toa bridge with buildings built right on top of it.

"London," answered Ramsus nonchalantly as he admired his new hand. "At least, as I remember it from my days as a boy."

"It's..." Adam took a glance at the architecture. "...medieval-looking, all of it..."

"Indeed? I must have mixed things up from a book I read. No matter. Scholar is lost in a dark maze, a taste of what he made us both suffer through. Let's go find the little rat, shall we? I intend to have his heart, lungs and liver for supper."

The clouds in the night sky gathered. The roar of lightning was far in the distance, yet fast approaching.

[resume music]

"Now is the time to feel the love of the gods!" Scholar's voice echoed everywhere.

A giant, glowing white Lotus emerged from the swirling dark clouds. "I think that he's the one that found us," said Adam.

"A deep love, a great love... A love powerful and formidable... a love that CRUSHES LIKE A GIANT METAL FOOT!"

From the lotus emerged a giant foot of gold and bronze and brass that came down at Adam and Ramsus at lightning speed.

~[h+]~


There was a crater, where the two annoyances had been. Scholar could barely feel their tiny crushed bodies through the metal skin of his sole, but he could feel them, and he decided to twist his ankle back and forth to make sure they were thoroughly smeared against the broken stone, mixed with the mortar chips of broken houses. He had won.

"Ha... I won. Ha... hahaha... I! WON! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!..." Scholar's laughter subsided as he admired his titanic body. It was an idealized version of himself, hairless, covered in a skin of metal that gleamed in the moonlight. Judging by the fact that he was at eye level with Big Ben, he was at least 100 meters tall, maybe more. He should have felt dumber, his spirit spread thin in such an avatar... but it was true. In the Dark World, the body was the plaything of the spirit, not the other way around. Such a shame that such a form was impossible to realize in the Real World. Still... A step above the Jackal — Lightweight Biological Wanzers? There could be big money in that... the possibilities of the concept deserved some research.

He was just about to leave when he felt something push at the bottom of his foot.

"No. No... No no NO NO NO! IT CAN'T BE! YOU TWO COULDN'T POSSIBLY BE ALIVE!" Scholar put his entire weight into his foot, but still it rose, ever so slowly.

Reapers of various forms appeared, and headed towards the gathering light. They screeched, desperate to get away.

~[h+]~


Ramsus tapped into his rage and insanity once more, holding his hands up high, feeling the burn in his body's many Element Zero nodes as he pushed up against the immense mass. Slowly, Scholar became easier and easier to lift.

In front of him, taking a growing lion's share of the workload, was Adam, wreathed in shadows, golden flames and blue embers. Ramsus closed his eyes, and saw Adam as a vortex that absorbed all stray tongues of flames into itself. The epicentre of that vortex, that void... had once been filled with love, and happiness, and joy, and it had all been torn away from him, thrice, making the void even bigger.

Adam's burning eye went from gold to blue-green as it looked straight at Ramsus, and he seized the bloody blonde man by the collar and tossed him far, far away.

~[h+]~


Thunder struck the crater from high in the sky, and Scholar felt a hand form around his foot and squeeze it tightly even as it pushed. Then the forearm formed, then the whole arm, the the body, then the skull. Scholar was soon on his back, and looming over him was a figure wreathed in smoky shadows, a titan as large as Scholar, armoured from head to toe in gleaming black metal, lined and inlaid with a gold bronze alloy. The two horns on its helmet, impossibly long, were curved at the base, but stood straight up at the sharp, pointy tips. A single blue-green light burned within the helm's eye-hole, and a low growl resounded from the beveled plate in front of the mouth. A dark knight, missing only a mighty steed and an oversized sword.

Lightning crackled across the armour as it tossed Scholar right into Buckingham Palace. Scholar was helpless when Adam, in his own gigantic form, leapt up and brought both fists down on Scholar's bronze chest, causing him to sink further into the palace in a conflagration of stone chips.

Scholar kicked Adam in the belly, giving him enough room to get back up, and the two titans roared challenges as their fists met their faces.

~[h+]~


Ramsus stared as two titans fought, their figures looming over the skyline, the impacts of their fists causing thunderclaps. How? That was the question that bothered Ramsus. How had Adam done this? Ramsus had barely figured out how to change the scenery, but there was Adam, transformed into a creature of the Dark as if he had been born there.

Ramsus stared at his new hand, and squeezed it tightly. He could pin all his hopes on Adam, make him his champion, get Scholar out of the way once and for all.

No. I will not simply stand by and watch. I will NOT become a spectator in the battle that is to decide our fate! But how?! How can I match this power?!

The whispers of a young woman came, and Ramsus understood.

"Annah, so you have not abandoned me..."

An inferno emerged from the ground below him, and Ramsus became a glowing mist.

~[h+]~


Scholar was losing this fight, badly. His skin was dented, and not mending. Why would it? It was metal, after all, and Scholar had no idea how nanomachines worked, so he could not simply will trillions of them into existence to fix himself.

And Adam? Adam was relentless. No matter how hard he tried to psych him out, no matter how many times he punched him into submission, Adam rose again, with more fury and power than ever.

Where?! Where is this power coming from?! I must know! I must have it! I must win this!

He was being pushed back, and now the River Thames and that mess of buildings that served as a bridge was right behind him, and Big Ben was on his right.

That was when Ramsus, in the form of a gigantic white serpent with six feathered wings, bit him in the shoulder. Adam moved in for the kill, but as Scholar struggled with Ramsus' serpent form its tail went astray and smacked Adam in the face, knocking him away and flat on his back. Scholar managed to grab the serpent by one of itsantler-like, golden horns, and would have torn off its jaw if it hadn't been for Adam quickly recovering and delivering a blow to his kidneys.

They fought like this, back and forth, Adam and Ramsus too eager for the kill to really work together and make it happen. Scholar took advantage of this for as long as he could, suffering bite marks and punches. But, of course, Adam was relentless: He finally grabbed Scholar from behind and pulled his head back to expose his throat, so that Ramsus could tear into it with his teeth. Just as Ramsus moved in for the kill, Scholar executed a Judo throw that sent the shadowy knight straight into the shining serpent.

With both giants sprawled, stunned and tangled on the ground, Scholar took his chance: He pulled Big Ben from the ground up and brought it up over his head, wielding it like a pike. He poured all his frustration and anger — his very will — into the impromptu weapon and it glowed with light as he roared and brought it down, piercing Adam's armoured chest and Ramsus' snake body at once. They exploded into smoke and mist just as the chimes rang out, signaling their defeat.

Exhausted, Scholar leaned against Big Ben. He closed his eyes and took three deep breaths before he heard the sounds of boots impacting against stone. He opened his eyes:

Adam and Ramsus were running up Big Ben and headed straight for his head. In desperation he smashed the buildings with both of his fists, sending debris flying everywhere. Adam and Ramsus simply leapt from stone to stone before finally appearing before his very eyes. They glowed brightly with their own colors of Dark Energy, and then became black...

London Bridge is falling down...

Scholar could feel his awareness rush out of his titanic body and back into his chitinous one. He couldn't see anything, but he was aware of the pulsating flesh and blood that surrounded him just before he felt the impact of two glowing fists push him out of the back of his bronze body's skull in an explosion of gore.

~[h+]~


[Music: 3:20]

Adam, Ramsus and Scholar formed a biotic projectile that went on a curved path that took it up in the sky and then straight down at the bridge. Ramsus roared in fury, just as they impacted against it, shattering on their way down to the Thames.

falling down...

Instead of splashing, the water became as glass, and shattered on their impact and became the epicentre of a million cracks that broke the entire city apart.

The three of them became unconscious for a moment, before finding themselves falling down amidst stones and buildings into an impossible deep ravine as gryphons flew over and under them.

"SCHOLAAAAAAAR!" screamed Ramsus as he willed himself towards the falling giant. Scholar, thinking fast, tossed a nearby stone at him, and Ramsus screamed in frustration as he was knocked away.
falling down...

When the ravine vanished in favour of the clouds surrounding the Kalimantan Space Elevator, Scholar grabbed another stone and was about to throw it at Adam before he split off into 13 duplicates.

"Oh," said Scholar, strangely calm as the duplicates surrounded him, plasma claws activated. "Well that's not fair."

One of the duplicates dashed forward, raking Scholar's back, then another, tearing at his chest. All 12 duplicates took their turn tearing at his flesh, until the final one was right in front of him, ready to deal the killing blow.

"BACK OFF!" screamed Ramsus as he biotically sent Jensen flying away. He shoved his HF sword deep in Scholar's chest, through the ruined plates, and shoved his new hand deep into the wound and grabbed the symbiont, intent on tearing it out.

As he did so, the world dissolved into dark clouds, and the clouds below dissipated to reveal the glowing cube with Annah inside of it.

Take a key and lock her up...

"NOT SO FAST!" Scholar seized Ramsus in a bear hug, preventing him from taking out the symbiont. Ramsus resisted with his Barrier, pushing against the crushing force. "You want to see Annah so badly, BOY?! FINE! I'll take you there myself, and when I show your broken body in front of her, Annah will know that only I am worthy of being her Shaman!"

lock her up

Ramsus struggled against Scholar's bear hug in vain. In a few minutes he would crash into the crystal cube, and Scholar would simply regenerate, just as he was doing right now.

"You should have let Jensen finish me off himself!" taunted Scholar. "But noooo! The great Ramsus is too PRIDEFUL to let anyone else savour a kill!"

Ramsus did not scream this time, or roar in fury. He simply closed his eyes, and focused his biotics into Scholar, increasing his mass signature tenfold. The pull of gravity intensified, and they fell faster and faster towards the cube.

"NO! Are you INSANE?!" Scholar punched at Ramsus' head, but Ramsus' Barrier held fast. Pushing him off was out of the question: his grip on the magatama was tight and unyielding. "STOP! YOU'LL KILL US BOTH!"

"I don't care."

"YOU'LL KILL HER, TOO!"

lock her up...

"I DON'T CARE! I WOULD RATHER SEE HER DEAD THAN BE YOUR SLAVE FOR ONE SECOND MORE!" Ramsus' biotics intensified, and the two men crashed into the cube's crystal wall, shattering it.

The cube's spin slowed and came to a stop, its lights flickered and died, and it slowly began to fall into the sea of dark amber fluid...

My fair Lady...

~[h+]~


Adam woke up deep in the fluid sea, slowly sinking, his internal re-breather rapidly running out of precious oxygen. He swam up in a panic, fighting the weight of his own armour as it tried to drag him down further. He checked the power: 0.01 percent, in total.

He made it to the top of the ziggurat where he promptly fell on all fours. He tore off his helmet, and promptly vomited some of the fluid that had made its way into his body through the visor. Once he stopped retching, all he could hear was the sound of crashing waves that soothed his troubled mind. He let himself roll onto his back. God, was he tired. Still, he found himself chuckling. "That was a dream, right? What just happened... London, the giant robot spider, the fall, everything..."

"...Yes," said the young woman.

Adam breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good. I..." Adam shot up immediately, the voice both familiar and alien to him. He was surrounded by a thousand identical young girls, numbers printed on their foreheads, their eyes slack and tired and dead. Standing over that horizon of pale gold hair was a slender young woman, her back turned to him.

"And no..." she said, as she turned round. Her skin was pale, and her eyes were red. She wore a plastic form-fitting suit of dark grey, frosted tubes plugged into her neck, chest, and abdomen. The girls seemed to float away from her as she approached, and Adam felt a sense of dread the closer she got. He stood, and he caught sight of one of the girls pointing at Sasha, and another pointing directly at her forehead.

Adam went for his gun immediately.

"You..." her voice was soft, but there was a cacophony of snarls and eldritch words behind it. She pointed an accusatory finger at him. "You... ruined... eVeRytHIng..."

"Annah Ramsus, I presume?" asked Adam. He already knew the answer.

"You... tHe pOweR waS nOt mEAnt foR you. The power was meant for him. Only HiM... Even now it escapes your fingers..."

Adam looked down at his hand, and then his body. A glowing smoke was emanating from him, and as it did that strange sense of awareness of his own body and its limits was beginning to fade. Turning into a giant, dividing himself... the methods had been so obvious before, but now... not so much, escaping him like half-remembered dreams.

The smoke rose up and turned to a million wisps that giggled and laughed, and Adam's heart lifted, though he did not quite understand why.

Was he still dreaming?

"Stay back," he warned, as Annah approached.

"You... don't... deserve..." her mouth was open, but did not move. Her voice was static. "...the POWER... that's been inflicted on you... CANNOT... complete me..."

Adam's broken eye hurt, and he caught a flicker behind and above Annah: A dark figure, a twisted reflection of Aleph covered in gleaming black iron, his arms spread wide in joy and celebration. Annah approached, and began to scream an unearthly wail that built up a pressure inside Adam's head.

He felt like it was about to explode.

He pulled Sasha's hammer back and pulled the trigger. The shot shattered Annah's forehead, and the nightmare, at last, collapsed.

~[h+]~


Adam's eyes opened wide as he felt himself drowning. He grasped for his helmet seal and vomited the fluid that had made its way inside the breaches. Damned auto-repair had sealed the crap in.

He was on all fours, retching, when he felt someone approach. He looked up to see the ghostly form of Aleph.

"Aw crap, am I still dreaming?"

"No," Aleph simply replied. "Are you alright?"

"I just puked a lungful of god knows what, and before that Scholar put me through the mother of all acid trips. No, I'm most certainly NOT alright..." He coughed up the last drops of fluid in his system, and got up. He checked his power cells: 0.005 percent.

"You're alive," said Aleph. "That's something, at least. And as for the hallucinations, well..." Aleph pointed at the distance on Adam's left. Staring out at nothing was the gold and bronze body that Scholar had tried to kill them with, slowly melting into salt as it slowly sank into the small sea of fluid. "'Hallucinating' in the Void can have consequences in the Real World, even in such a shallow a layer. What happened, happened. You experienced it, and so it might as well be real. I'm... impressed. Most people would have been too terrified to master their dream selves. But you're not like other people, are you?"

"So I've been told."
Aleph nodded. "And your friend impressed me as well. Look there." he pointed right, at the fallen crystal cube, half sunken not a meter away from the edge of the ziggurat's top. That part Adam didn't quite remember happening. Had Ramsus brought it down? The man sized hole near the top corner said 'Yes'.

"Ramsus..." He checked Sasha, only to find her barrel smoking. He checked the chambers. The black bullet was spent. "Goddamnit!" he cursed. "What the hell?"

"You fired the bullet in the air when you had your nightmare."

"Great, just great. Now I've got nothing to defend myself with against the evil psionic goddess."

"You've done enough for now. She won't be a problem for the near future. But your companion... Go, he may need your help."

Aleph vanished, no longer able to keep himself conscious. Adam sighed and made his way inside the cube, his steps faltering as he felt the strain of 24 hours of non-stop stress, pain, combat, and pure insanity.

~[h+]~


Clint Mansell - The Nursery (Moon OST)

The inside of the cube was a mixture of cryogenic tubing and crystalline architecture — the likes of which anyone would see in any sci-fi vid involving impossibly advanced aliens. The crystal was engraved with circuitry, something Aleph would recognize as more of Gimmel's work if he hadn't been asleep. An incredibly elaborate, if primitive, moleculartronic computer system.

As Adam got deeper inside the very core of the broken Dream Machine, the tubing became more dense, and the halls more metallic and maze-like. He came across a trail of blood, and decided to follow it to the very center. On the way, he came across chambers within chambers, and mounted on every layered wall were thousands of Omar Cyberbrains. They were small, the size of children's heads, configured like a massive network server. Printed on the side of each shell of black metal and white plastic were serial numbers, all of which started with AC.

Adam reached out to one, and lightning arced between his fingers and the case. For a brief moment, he saw himself, reaching to himself as he sank deeper and deeper into an airvent. He recognized the moment, the perspective. It was that little blonde girl inside the airvent in the Peak 15 residential.

Something clicked inside Adam's head. AC. Annah Clone.

Adam looked at the thousands upon thousands of brains. White blood was no longer being pumped through them. They were all dead.

"You can't help me..."

Thousands of little girls, raised and harvested to become parts of a machine... were they at peace now, he wondered? Or did they curse him for not giving them a chance at a real life?

"I'm sorry..." Adam muttered, and moved on.

~[h+]~


The core room's floor was made of cryogenic tubes, while its walls were made of moleculartronic crystal. Once, the place had shone with a yellow, heavenly light, but now the only illumination was a faint blue glow that came from emergency lights. A single sphere, not unlike the one Ramsus had been trapped in, was the center piece of the room. It was wide open, and empty.

Scholar's corpse lay at the end of the blood trail. Judging by the broken abdomen, the bloody codpiece, and the shattered face, it was obvious how he had died: Ramsus had broken Scholar in half and repeatedly smashed his face against his pointy codpiece. A brutal way to die, but Scholar had deserved it.

Discarded was the crushed symbiote.

And Ramsus? He was sitting in a corner, pinned to the wall, a black steel polearm — a Glaive — sticking out of his belly. Beside him was a cube of glass, with a white flower with five petals encased inside of it.

Adam sighed, and shook his head. Nothing to do now but take his corpse back to the Durendal.

Maybe Hein can glean something from his body. Hell, I don't know.

Behind him, Adam heard Scholar laugh. Adam whirled around, expecting a fight, but no... Scholar was still a broken wreck on the floor. His veins and eyes, however, still glowed and flickered. "Does this feel..." he coughed, "...like a victory to you, Adam? All this energy spent, all this blood, and violence... and it turns out your princess is in another castle. Oh ho ho! You must be pissed..."

Adam approached him and loomed over him. "Where. is. she?"

"Somewhere safe, somewhere far enough to be safe from HIM," Scholar spat at Ramsus' direction. "What? Did you really think I was going to challenge you both to a fight with the prize just within reach, a reward upon my defeat? Please..." he chuckled. "I'm not some video game endboss — I can THINK, and I've just outsmarted you both. Twice, in Ramsus' case, heheheheh..."

"Chuckle all you want," Adam growled. "You're not long for this world."

"You think so, Adam? Oh Adam, Adam, Adam... death is for the poor. Rich men, men of means — like ME — get to live on and on... I think... yes, I think I'm going to rededicate my many, many resources into making your life hell, Adam. Yes..." Scholar took a deep breath, and said: "Releasing... Control..."

The glow in the eyes was gone, and Scholar's avatar had a sudden look of confusion and fright before it breathed its last breath and its eyes went slack.

~[h+]~


At the nerve center of a vessel, deep inside its dark, gloomy interiors made of black steel and machinery, with a crew of pale men in black bio-mechanical robes that circulated throughout its vastness with a system of chairs on rails, Scholar unplugged the fanged tendrils from his withered, bald head. Dying inside his Avatar had been unpleasant, and there was that nagging feeling that he had left something behind with it... No matter, the ship's engines were ready to go, its immense Element Zero core re-purposed from Dark Energy emission to travel.

"MISTER RUGER!" He roared out.

"Sir?" said a bald Ken Ruger, as his chair moved into place besides Scholar.

"Take us out of here! The Europeans have defeated Saren's pet and the Upper Dosadi amplifier has been... compromised. I'm cutting our losses. This ship must not be taken!"

"As you command," replied Ken, and he relayed the orders to the rest of the bridge crew. "Engines at maximum!"

~[h+]~


Adam felt the entirety of Upper Dosadi shake. The rumbling made the black glaive turn to salt, and Ramsus gasped, his eyes widening. "Ah...Adam...?"

"Ramsus, oh, Jesus Christ! Hold on!" Adam rushed besides him and knelt, checking the damage. Besides the obvious, he was now losing a lot of blood. Without any Medi-Gel, all Adam do was plug the holes with Omni-Gel and hope he could get him some real medical care ASAP.

He checked his Codec... not enough juice for a signal. Damn.

"Annah..." Ramsus choked out through clattering, bloody teeth. He was freezing... "She..." Ramsus did something Adam had never expected: He cried, cried like a little boy. Behind the fury, and the violence, and the bloodlust, that was all Ramsus was:

A boy, who wanted his family back.

"What happened?!" asked Adam, desperate. "Who did this to you?!"

Ramsus' bloody face contorted in a grimace of frustration, rage, and sorrow. "Elizabeth!" he spat the name out like a curse. "That BITCH had one of her creatures lie in wait for me in that very chamber... 20 years! I was..." Ramsus was speaking through desperate, quickened breaths. "...I was so happy, so... "

"So you were caught by surprise..."

"...Yes. I... What's that rumbling? What's going on?"

"I don't know..."

"I... I can feel her... I can feel her growing more distant... Adam? It's getting dark." He choked back blood. "A-are you there?"

"Yeah..." Adam reassured Ramsus. "I'm here."

"Good..." He picked up the flower. "It's... her birthday today, Adam, I promised... It's her favourite, you see?"

"...I understand."

The tears mixed with blood to the point Adam could no longer tell one liquid from the other. "Will you..." he coughed. "Please? Will you bring it to her?"

Adam hesitated. He had no idea if he had the means of finding her, or even if she deserved to be saved. "I..."

"Please...!" he cried, "Promise me!"

"Ramsus, I don't think Annah—"

Ramsus gasped, and dropped the glass cube.

~[h+]~


As the cube slowly descended, Ramsus caught sight of two figures behind Adam. They were two out of the three women that had ever mattered to him.

One was a tall pale woman with raven hair, clad in red armour. Her eyes we blue, so very blue.

The other had pale gold hair, and was slighter of build, but no less fierce. She was clad only in a blood-splattered dress held together by black bands of silk, and a half cloak lined with black fur. Her eyes were a shade of pink...

Junko. Mother.

The two figures merged and approached him, and caressed his face... and he let himself go to sleep.

~[h+]~


Adam caught the glass container before it could hit the ground, and looked back at Ramsus' face.

It was too late to promise anything. All he could do was close the young man's eyes.

~[h+]~


Adam stepped outside, atop the cube. Sunlight was streaming from above from a triangular hole, where the ceiling had been. He thought back to the puzzle room with the maquettes: that scaled down Upper Dosadi piece had required one last piece at the top, another pyramid.

And the scaled up version of that piece was now flying away, with both Scholar and Annah inside of it, no doubt.

Adam checked his Codec again. No signal. No one would be coming out of nowhere to fix everything. Beneath him there were nothing but dead children. Above him evil people were making a clean getaway, their crimes unpunished.

Adam sat down, and stared at the flower Ramsus had given him in his left hand. Then, he cradled his face with the other, and laughed bitterly. He had tasted the power of a demi-god earlier, and now here he was, impotent to stop a single corporate fat cat with delusions of godhood from putting his insane ideas to work somewhere else.

All the fighting, all the deaths, all the pain everyone had gone through...

It was all for nothing.

~[h+]~


Author's notes: And so ends the most bloated story arc in this fic... And good riddance. It's a huge mess of references and I hate it. It'll be good to move on to another planet. But first, I'll take a break, draw some art, write an epilogue, an interlude, and then it's back to the Citadel! Spectrehood and politics await!

-What's that? What happened to the Hashmal Lephantis? It's gonna be a Missed Moment of Awesome for now. Spoiler alert: Garrus, Grey, Elsa and Hannibal killed it. And killed it awesomely. As a matter of fact, I've left a bit cut content behind. Originally, I planned on Ramsus to tap deeply into himself and try to stop Scholar's ship from escaping, but I left that out, since I was already risking ending fatigue.

-Before you ask, no, I did not suddenly discover a passion for yoga. As a matter of fact, the Illuminati practicing yoga is apparently canon. From the Deus Ex wiki:

"In order to progress to higher degrees of illuminism, members are obligated to practice Haratha Yoga exercises in the morning. According to Stanton Dowd, the Illuminati's only real secret is a technique of meditation - "a way of imaging your body dissolving into light." At the top of the Illuminati leadership is the "Supreme Enlightened - a title which has been held by Lucius DeBeers for most of the 20th Century.

During Bob Page's restructuring of former Illuminati elements into MJ-12, he replaced the pseudo-religious "degrees of illuminism" hierarchy with "secular" security clearances - each of which is named after angels. According to Stanton Dowd, Page never progressed beyond 'Master of Tyre' due to consistently sleeping during morning yoga exercises. Curiously 'Master of Tyre' is also the name of one of the real world Allied Masonic Degrees. "

So, yoga and Angels. For all his talk of rebelling from the Illuminati, Scholar's knee-deep in their imagery and beliefs.

-Alley and Allie is, as you might recall from way back in the Citadel arc, a nickname by US Marines given to Alliance marines. 'Allie' is of course short for Alliance.

-Wanzer Chaff grenades are an actual thing in the first Front Mission. Using one guarantees that the next enemy Missile attack will miss.

-Theodore's rods is a double reference to the nanite detonator in the intro to Deus Ex 2 and the summoning tubes used by the main character of Devil Summoner: Kuzunoha Raidou.

-Numbers! You may notice that 12 shows up a lot when the Illuminati are concerned. Jensen and his duplicates numbered 24 in total: this is a reference to the knights of the round table: the Winchester Round Table seated 24, King Arthur included. When he duplicated himself 13 times, that was a Final Fantasy reference. You know the one :p


And now, for the translated French:

"You're not coming with us?" asked David, his big brown eyes pleading as he gripped his mother's hand a bit more tightly. He was smart, but he was still too young to understand what was happening all around him.

"I can't," said Damien.

"Please, Damien" pleaded Mélanie, her breathing ragged and urging. She had just taken her medicine, but she was out of doses. Her skin was already getting clammy and pale. "Come with us! The Geth are everywhere! And they'll..."

"They'll what?" asked David, growing scared.

Damien knelt beside his little brother, and put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him. "They will not pass. I'm going to stay here to give you time to escape the Geth, but—"

"What's a Geth?"

Damien sighed. "They're bad guys, and you know what I do to bad guys?"

David smiled, feeling a little reassured. "You stop them."

"That's right, and once I'm done stopping them, I will rejoin you, as always. I promise you, the bad guys won't get through."

He hurried Mélanie through the hole, and lowered David with his hip-mounted wires, to his mother's waiting arms.

"Damien..." pleaded Mélanie once more.

"Officer..." reminded the Wanzer pilot, the woman's voice booming through her riot speakers. Damien stared down at the hole, into his family's pleading eyes. "You can join them. I won't stop you," she said, her tone full of understanding.