Last Bastion, Kahje

Day 1, 1825

"Nobody. Move."

There was an awkward shuffling, as the squad stared up at the turret, and the turret's beady eye stared back.

"It's motion-sensitive," Solara continued. "So don't. Move."

"Motion-sensitive?" Irving growled. "Who the fuck thought of that?"

"It hasn't killed you yet," Ekris chuckled, darkly. "So maybe don't knock it, chief."

"Alright, alright…" the big marine grumbled. "What do we do?"

"Well, I'd recommend destroying that thing…"

"Frickin' genius…"

"You two, shut up a minute!" Sarah snapped, breathing heavily. "How do we take it out? What do we have?"

"Gun won't kill it before it gets us," Irving muttered. "It's a piss-poor security system otherwise."

"Grenades?" the lieutenant ventured.

"Lost mine," he grumbled. "Ekris?"

The drell just shook his head.

"Alright then… biotics?" she murmured, calmly.

"Best bet," Solara nodded. "Which of us does it?"

"You're an unknown, I'm a mid-level, Ekris is… stronger," Sarah rambled, more to herself than to Solara. "Ekris?"

"That filing cabinet," the assassin began, nodding to the steel article on the left side of the room. "Is it bolted down?"

"Doubt it," the other drell replied.

"Okay… and it'll start firing the moment I try to move, right?"

"Right."

"Then you three might want to go for cover. On three?"

"On three," Sarah nodded.

"One… two… three!"

Quite suddenly, there was a biotic thrum in the air, and a rush of movement that was almost too fast for Sarah to process. As she bolted for the desk, Irving was moving with her, Solara was going to vault over the desk, Ekris was flinging out a biotic arm… as if in slow motion, she saw the turret's first two rounds bounce off the steel desk, trying to catch Solara, but the drell was a fraction too quick. She dropped behind the desk, Sarah and Irving slid down either side of her, and-

Wham! The sight of a steel cabinet flying across the room, in a blaze of biotic blue, was… kind of a disconnect, really. Satisfying, though - it impacted with a resounding crunch, snapped the turret head clean off its base, ricocheted into the window, bounced off the desk, and fell still.

The room went… very quiet. The only noise in the room came from the water pipe spraying above their heads, and the faintest of biotic murmurs as the blue fire fell away from Ekris' arms.

"I… I honestly can't believe that worked," Sarah panted.

"Thanks for the vote on confidence," Ekris scowled. "Are we good?"

"Err… no," Solara murmured. "No, I don't think we are…"

Sarah looked down, confused. Solara was lying on the floor between herself and Irving, laid out on her side… and with a jolt, the lieutenant realised one of her arms was completely submerged. So too were Sarah's own legs, in her kneeling position, and looking back, she realised the water was half way up Ekris' boots. Worse, it was still pouring out of the pipe, and…

"The door's sealed," the drell continued, quietly. "So…"

"So, we need to sort that out," Irving grunted, rising to his feet and marching over to the pipe. He clamped a hand around it, cutting off the water as best he could, but it was still spraying out through the cracks, and when he applied a second hand:

Pssh! The pipe exploded further up, throwing a second jet of water over Irving's head - as he coughed and spluttered, he shifted a hand up to block that one, and…

Pssh! A third, and then, with a terrible groaning sound…

The pipe twisted, buckled, and tore clean in two in Irving's hands.

"Goddamnit!" the marine swore, ducking away as a new fountain of water billowed out, showering him and spraying the centre of the room. Sarah and Solara both scrambled to their feet, and Ekris was already pacing across the room, eyes scanning every nook and cranny as only an assassin's eyes could - in search of an escape.

"Force the door?" he muttered, business-like.

"Didn't work before, won't work now," Irving grumbled.

"Window?" the drell suggested. True enough, there was a shallow crack where the cabinet had hit it, but:

"Less likely than the door," Solara murmured, shaking her head. "It's thick enough to withstand small arms fire, biotics, a personal mortar…"

"Yeah, yeah, you did a good job with the security," the chief scowled. "No need to rub it in when it's about to kill us."

"Oh, don't be so negative," Ekris deadpanned. "Solara, can you try and hack-"

"What do you think I'm doing?" she sighed, omni-tool open on her wrist. "It's no good, my credentials are locked out…"

"Wow. Somebody doesn't trust you."

"Really? You're going to be petty now? Really?"

"Alright…" Irving interrupted, clearly quite keen to break up the argument and… y'know, live. "Movie clichés. Let's go."

"Blow the bloody doors off?" Sarah ventured, with a weak chuckle.

"Like it, but no."

"Gunship rescue?" Ekris sighed, with a humorous smirk.

"Gunship's crashed…"

"Bring in the cavalry?"

"Cavalry's drowned."

"Wonderful… miraculous hacking skills?"

"Still no," Solara frowned, jabbing her omni-tool in annoyance.

"Air vent?" Ekris muttered.

"Heh."

"No, seriously… air vent."

As one, they turned to follow the assassin's outstretched finger… all the way to the metal grille in the back corner of the room, high on the wall.

"You gotta be fuckin' kidding me…" Irving gawped. "Since when does that actually… you know what, I'll take it."

The marine went wading into the corner - wading, Sarah noted, because the water had crept up to their knees in the meantime - and grabbed a hold of the panel from either side, examining it cautiously for a moment.

"Please tell me there ain't a gun in here too," he laughed mirthlessly, looking back over one shoulder.

"Not… to my knowledge," Solara frowned, checking the water level as she did - thigh-height and rising, cold.

With an audible grunt, Irving twisted the panel from two corners, and it tore away in his hands, to reveal a rectangular air vent beyond. A cool breeze came whipping in as he did, which was… encouraging. At least they wouldn't cook in there.

"Jesus, are we really considering this?" Sarah murmured, speaking aloud the thought that had been rattling around her head for the last minute or two.

"I don't see any other way out, ma'am. Can't smash in a window, can't break down a door… that's all my go-to options out."

"Uh-huh. And you don't see any… flaws, in this plan?"

"Not really."

"No? Nothing like, how the hell are you going to fit in there?"

She gestured angrily from the very big marine to the very small vent - big enough for the drell, maybe even for her, but certainly not big enough for Irving.

"Yeah, well… I was kinda planning to go last and hope you didn't notice, ma'am."

"Great. Great plan, chief! Fucking magnificent!"

The drell both shuffled awkwardly at that, and Irving's brow rose in amusement at the last outburst. Sarah, however, was oblivious to all that - she was staring very hard at the marine, glaring with all her might.

"So… I take it you don't approve?"

"No, I do not approve."

"Uh-huh. No medal, then? For noble self-sacrifice?"

"No."

Irving sighed, and looked at the floor - or at least, as much of it as you could see through the water, now making its way steadily to hip-height. After a moment more, he looked up, to address Ekris and Solara:

"You two," he murmured, quietly. "Get moving. The lieutenant and I need to have a word."

Another long pause, as Ekris shot the marine a meaningful look. And then, with the slightest of nods, he began to move towards the corner, waving mutely for Solara to follow.

"Don't move," Sarah snapped-

"Belay that order. Get going."

The lieutenant just turned to glare at Irving, as the two drell watched them nervously. Then, finally, Ekris nudged his fellow in her side, nodding to the vent and crouching down to give her a hand up - as he did, Sarah noticed the water lapping up towards his chin, and relented slightly. No sense in them drowning while the two marines bickered. A moment later, Solara sprang up, using Ekris' hands as a foothold, and disappeared out of sight into the tunnel…

The assassin himself followed quickly, casting one look back at his squadmates as he did. Then, finally, he shook his head and clambered through the precipice, boots clanging loudly off into the wall and out of sight.

Stony silence filled the air, as the two drell's footsteps receded into the distance, echoing more and more faintly into the office amidst the din of gushing water.

"You're going," Irving grunted, as the water crossed his hips.

"The hell I am," Sarah retorted, lifting herself onto the tips of her toes to disguise the fact that the flood was already at her waist, a good deal lower than Irving's.

"What? You got some master plan, ma'am?"

He folded his arms, features grim, and the lieutenant just stared back at him for a moment, teeth digging hard into her lip. Her blood was thrumming angrily once more, building with each pulse, until:

Wham! She whirled around, pouring all her frustrations into the door with a blaze of biotic blue. It rang, and clanged, and echoed, but when the bluebell flames subsided, the only mark was a shallow dent in one corner, barely half an inch deep. The lieutenant swayed, doubling over slightly with the effort, and her face dipped dangerously close to the water…

"Easy there," a calm voice murmured. A dull splashing sounded out as the chief waded over to her, grabbing her by the shoulder and pulling her upright. "Save your strength, ma'am…"

"How else can we break it down?" she growled.

"I… don't think we can. You barely scratched the damn thing."

"Alright, alright… then we radio in with Ekris and Solara. Those vents have to come out somewhere, they can drop down, and circle round, and open it up."

"How?" he grunted, simply.

"I don't know, they'll think of something!"

"Uh-huh. Before the water gets up to here?"

With a sad, lop-sided smile, he held his hand level to her mouth by way of demonstration. The floodwater was already welling up around the lieutenant's midriff, and a gentle pressure was trying to nudge her off her feet, towards the door…

"Alright, what's your plan, then?" Sarah frowned.

"Get you into that vent and outta here, ma'am."

"Negative. Next plan?"

"Sit here and drown."

"That attitude's not helping," she snapped.

"Neither's yours," he retorted, calmly. "You. Have got. To go."

"No way. No-one left behind, chief."

"Oh, grow up…" the big marine growled, good-naturedly. "That was never part of the deal, ma'am."

"And you can cut that ma'am bullshit while you're at it," Sarah replied, face reddening even as the water crept up her torso. "You know my name. Use it."

"No can do, ma'am."

"Why the hell not, chief?"

Irving looked down for a second, and chuckled to himself. Clearly, there was something fucking amusing about their present situation that had somehow managed to elude the lieutenant.

"Because, ma'am, I have a job to do."

He took a step forward, forging a current in the water as he did and causing a rippling wave to bob up almost to Sarah's neck. She shot out an arm to the door to steady herself, even as her legs threatened to give way, and the marine, rumbling, continued:

"That job is not, was not, has never been, to get everybody out alive, or to get out alive myself. My job is to serve. My job is to make sure my superior can do their job. And you can't do yours if you're dead, ma'am."

"Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit… bullshit."

The chief's eyebrow quirked upwards, and his gaze hardened.

"Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it ain't true," he muttered.

"Why now?"

"What?"

"Why. Now?"

"Because we're in a frickin' locked room that's about to fill," Irving growled, bluntly.

"Not what I mean, and you know it," Sarah snapped. "You only pull this 'superior' shit when you're about to get yourself killed."

"Usually because it means saving you," he scowled.

"And that's worth it?"

"My life, here" - he held a hand low, just above the water - "your life, here" - he lifted the other high above his head.

"What, just because I've got some fucking commission?" she gawped, angrily.

"Sure," the chief growled.

"No better reason than that?"

"Mm."

The two continued their standoff a moment longer, Sarah glaring, Irving… not quite meeting her eye, but standing resolute nonetheless. The water was just sneaking under the lieutenant's arms, buoyancy tugging up from the waist…

"No," she snapped, finally. "No, we do this properly. We'll radio in, find a way around…"

"Ma'am."

"… maybe they can find something outside to batter the door down with…"

"Ma'am."

"… or, or explosives, or Solara can try hacking it again, or…"

"Sarah!"

The lieutenant's head snapped upwards as a loud bellow filled her ears. Looking up, she found the chief red in the face, shoulders heaving angrily with each subsequent breath.

"For fuck's sake…" he whispered. "Don't fight me on this."

Irving took a step forward with no small amount of effort, and Sarah shrank back a little as he did. The tide was up around her shoulders now, and his movement sent a ripple cascading up over her collar, splashing cold water over her throat and-

Whoosh. Without so much as a yelp, her legs gave out to the pressure and she dropped below the surface, cold water welling up inside her armour, in her nose and throat and eyes…

Before she could even think about fighting upwards, a strong tug around her waist pulled her up, onto the shoulder of the hefty black form above her. Hacking and coughing and spitting stale water, she could do little to protest as the big marine carved his own path through the tide.

"You gotta go," he muttered, yet again.

The words 'I don't want to' were dancing on the tip of the lieutenant's tongue, but all she managed was a wracking cough, another trickle of water from her lungs, and finally, a muted nod of submission.

"I'll shut the grille behind you," Irving continued matter-of-factly, grunting as he hefted her up into the vent. "Should stop it flooding."

The arm supporting her back fell away, and Sarah found herself lying flat in the cramped confines of a metal tunnel, walls pressing in on all sides, a shallow puddle of water running off her armour…

Clang. Lifting her head, she saw Irving's head bob back into view through the vent, by her feet. He had the cover panel in one hand, having fished it out of the water, and as the lieutenant watched on, he wedged it firmly into place once more. A weak salute followed, obscured through the lattice of the vent, and then… clunk. He slid it shut, and was lost from view.

Sarah was left alone for a moment. Her only companions were the gentle breeze swirling around the vent, and the dull patter of the rising floodwater outside.

Slowly, numbly, she turned over onto her belly, and started off along the tunnel.