Oh, hello.

The gusting, searing wind washed over the crouching turian as he huddled against a hot boulder, bracing his M-92 Mantis tightly against his shoulder and right mandible.

On this tropical world of Zorya, they were fighting in one of its very few deserts, baking under the fiery rays of its setting sun, Faia. The intense orange rays played across the battlefield, setting intense areas of both extreme light and dark. Behind his protective rock, he felt invisible.

Garrus Vakarian sighted down on a Blue Suns trooper, catching his unaware target in both partial cover and consumed by the distraction of reloading his assault rifle. Most of the trooper's head and part of one arm were exposed. Another blast of hot wind scoured bits of sand and twigs over the sniper, but he was well-braced and the heavy barrel of the rifle was unaffected the air's efforts to nudge it aside.

Too easy, should I even bother to use the scope? I could tell Shepa...

The world went blinding white.

The turian was slammed forward into the stone outcropping that was suddenly not his ally. Flames and chunks of hot metal shot into his shields, dropping them to nothing. His armor was peppered with dents as he was enveloped by black smoke. Bouncing off the unforgiving rock, he fell to his back on the ground, senseless, the rifle pinned beneath him.

After several seconds of corpse-like stillness, his pupils twitched, then he blinked slowly. Darkness. Light. His brain made connections to his senses, and awareness returned.

Alive?

Unmoving eyes stared up at the blurred sky through his cracked visor as tracer rounds crisscrossed the air above him silently.

I...think.

The silence slowly became a high-pitched tone, and then the tone was mixed with distant gunfire.

Ringing ears. Pain.

That means alive.

So, get up.

His body politely declined.

GET.

UP.

Weakly pushing a flaming chunk of metal off of his chest, he rolled over to his side with a groan he didn't realize he'd uttered, then rose to one knee, his stomach lurching, vision blurring again into a mess of colors and glowing areas.

Concussion?

Smoke. Orange flickering light.

Shuttle on fire, peeled open like a can, could almost reach out and touch it.

It would cook one side of my body if I didn't have armo...

Uugggh, no, do NOT vomit.

I hope this ringing in my head isn't permanent.

Hey, what's up with the running internal monologue?

Whoa, I'm in a weird place.

Huh.

I feel terrible.

Shaking his head gingerly, his vision improved a little, and he could see small bits of flaming metal were all around him, obscured now by smoke rather than by dimmed eyesight.

Wait a second.

What fired at me?

He coughed heavily, and fresh pain shot through his chest, bending him double. Dancing lights filled his vision.

Breathing is bad, got it, understood. Why can I smell smoke? That should be filtered out.

With a grunt of effort, he leaned on the rock and peered over it, hoping he didn't see a dozen armored-up mercs bearing down on him. No, it was worse than that. Tapping the com button on the low right-side of his helmet, he...what?

That doesn't feel right.

After feeling around the jagged metal opening, his wrist resting in the notch of his neck armor blasted out two weeks ago by a gunship rocket, he decided that the button simply wasn't there anymore. Pulling his gloved hand away and up in front of his blurred sight, he squinted at the two fingers and saw his dark blue blood.

Did I just reach through and touch my neck and not feel it?

I'm sure that's not a bad sign at all.

At least it's on the side of my head that was pre-ruined.

Turning to the direction, or to what he was pretty sure was the right direction, where he last saw Jack, he yelled "MECH!" as loudly as he could manage, which actually came out as a loud croak. The effort of this made his head swim, but he ignored it and slowly bent and picked up the Mantis, every joint in his body protesting. A droplet of blood fell from his face into his helmet's cracked visor.

Joker is going to own me for taking another rocket to the face, maybe it's best if I just die here.

Shepard owes me a drink for this. For getting exploded. Maybe getting exploded is two drinks...will call a team meeting later and hash this out.

Make some rules, Miranda can make a chart, it'll be sweet. We'll have snacks.


Twenty meters away, Jack spun around towards the sound of the shouted warning, just in time to catch a blast of stinging dirt in the face.

I hate this fucking place. At least she had worn her mirrored visor today for this very reason. The whole crew on-planet wore breathing masks or helmets.

That sounded like Shepard's boyfriend. I think. In a, you know, strangled to death kind of way.

She dismissed the biotic Pull ability she'd been using on the thrashing Blue Suns centurion currently floating in the air towards her, sparing him the close-range shotgun blast he'd had waiting for him.

Shit, that would have been sweet.

Freed from the biotic suspension, the armored soldier fell twenty feet and landed directly on a pointy rock, making a brittle, splintering noise. He rolled over, curled up in agony with his legs twitching, and didn't get up.

Hah, ok, that was pretty funny too. I love it when they're crunchy.

The familiar tingle in her lower belly was starting up again, but she pushed that aside. I got shit to do.

The biotic turned her head and saw, in order: a plume of black smoke blowing across the brown, rocky landscape; a burning shuttle that was the source of said smoke; Garrus, who was himself smoking and appeared to be on fire; and, in the distance beyond, a heavy YMIR mech lumbering across the stony field of the old Blue Suns communications base.

Jack's face, already aglow with the excitement of battle, slashed into a wolfish smile as she burst into a run directly towards it. A quick glance satisfied her that Garrus was still alive, and she nearly hurdled directly over him as he stooped to pick up his gun. "I'LL DROP HIS SHIELDS!" she yelled as she flew by, her voice distorted by her breathing mask and the heavy winds.

Tucking her legs up and skidding over his cover, she never broke stride and charged the mech without pause, her biotics flaring brightly over her body. Emerging from the background of flames and smoke, Jack closed the distance to the YMIR fearlessly, her face twisted in crazed aggression. The mech stopped its advance, hesitating as it processed options and brought weapons up to bear.

Too late.

The criminal biotic let forth a wordless shriek and unleashed a Shockwave across the ground even as she sprinted directly at the lumbering machine.

Rocks and dirt exploded into the air and were immediately churned by the hot wind. A trooper, who had just fallen in beside the YMIR for mobile cover, was thrown far into the air and away, out of immediate view, his rifle spinning off in an entirely different direction. The tank-like YMIR itself was actually staggered as the ground beneath it heaved, and it briefly flailed its limbs as gyros and processors crunched information to keep it standing.

With a final burst of speed, she abruptly dropped in mid-run, sliding through the falling cloud of dirt on one knee and her butt, under the rocket-arm. Popping up behind it to her feet, she was now directly behind the heavy, whirring machine.

Its auditory sensors could assign no meaning to her sudden and vicious laughter.


Miranda, kneeling, squinted against the blowing grit and pointed at one of two figures cautiously moving around a large rock on a small ridge ahead. "Left one." Thane, prone beside her, had already predicted her choice and caressed the trigger of the M-97 Viper. The helmet-less Batarian Blue Suns Legionnaire's head burst open violently, spraying its contents over the soldier next to him.

The surviving trooper, a fully armored human - now speckled in gore - dove to the ground and hurriedly scrambled back into cover. Ahead and below them, Grunt and Zaeed had dug in to provide a front defensive line in case the Suns came out in force. They had, once, and the open ground was littered with blue-armored corpses, the result of a merciless crossfire from two of the toughest beings on the crew.

Liara's information to Shepard had been good, and the Blue Suns were indeed at this installation in unusual force. Shepard had gathered the team in the Normandy's war room and had spoken of very heavily encrypted message traffic, as well as of reports from local sources regarding the sudden buildup of manpower and materials at the site.

He had not specified why they should care so much about a Blue Suns facility, or where this information had come from, but Miranda was no fool and had pieced together the latter, at least. Shepard had been receiving fairly regular intel from someone, and he happened to be the ex-lover of a certain asari. Said asari was now, she knew, an information broker who was ferociously loyal to him. Hardly a mystery, that.

Now, here she was, leading "the B team," who had simulated an assault on the opposite side of the installation upon report that the primary team had entered into a firefight. With the numbers reported here, and the generally high caliber of Blue Suns mercenaries, walking in the front door seemed a poor choice. At least now a sizable portion of Suns were diverted and distracted.

Now, if she only knew precisely why they were here, the frustration she felt gnawing at her stomach might perhaps subside.


Shepard paused behind a large metal crate that was taller than he was and offered him a moment of complete cover. Enemy rounds thudded into the far side, while others specked the wall behind him, as he reloaded his large M-6 Carnifex pistol with heavy warp rounds, not bothering to look down at the gun as he did so. Snug at his back was tucked a N7 Hurricane, modified with lightweight materials and an expanded magazine to offset its furious rate of fire, for when he dealt with enemies in room-to-room fighting, as he expected he would today.

From the sound of things, Jack and Garrus were keeping most of the outside forces busy on this side of the installation, and if Shepard gained entry to the door, he could try to discern the contents that were so heavily protected.

Shepard popped his head around the corner of his cover for an instant, updating his situational awareness. In battle, he instinctively kept a sphere of sorts in his mind, populated with known enemies; last known location of currently unseen enemies; cover and concealment options, including damage resistance of said options; firing arcs, both incoming and potentially outgoing; all while factoring in known weapon options and biotic powers of current teammates. He layered this with a chaotic combat "style" that had no one pattern or technique.

Every battle, with every foe and teammate, he observed and absorbed.

Thane's slippery evasion followed by focused striking; Wrex and Grunt's shock trooper charges that disrupted the execution of the opponent's game plan; Miranda's almost passive cover-and-observe defensive stance, waiting to see what the enemy did and then making them pay for every inch they gained; Zaeed's grim I'll-win-because-I'm-tougher methodical advance forward; and Garrus' gift of picking the singular moment when a perfect shot could turn a battle.

He used them all.

He also used his brutal years of training that had led him to hyper-elite N7 status, a designation achieved by so few that even being invited to attempt N1 certification was a respected achievement, even in failure. Succeeding at N1 was a career-maker, and being an N7 was approaching mythical status. He also used something he was simply born with...an undeniable willpower that would blaze to life at the appearance of an obstacle between himself and the goal.

Improvise. Overcome. Advance. Destroy.

A grenade landed in the dirt next to him with a dull thud, and a dull red light pulsed from it, showing armed status. With only mild irritation, Shepard kicked it aside. As it exploded at a harmless distance and showered him with gravel and dust, he emerged from cover and surged forward.

The galaxy's only living hunter of Reapers. A killer of men; krogan; batarians; turians; and geth; thousands of times over.

A dead man risen more powerful than ever.

Inside his helmet, his eyes were calm and still behind the visor, for he felt no anger.

He felt little of anything.

There was no need.