Beta'd by the wonderfully awesome Greenmamaba5. Thanks Bri!
Although against the grain of my nature, I have included some game dialogue because well...you can't improve upon perfection. Taking it out or changing it seems somehow wrong. So, I left it in but added a twist... or two. K read please.
Chapter 22: Deviation
Mordin stopped moving, a remarkable reaction considering the salarian barely stopped for anything including the basics of living. Slowly, his head rose from its customary perch atop his microscope. He scrutinized the turian leaning against his counter. In a split second he analyzed the situation and determined the consequences of the all the possible answers he could provide. The choice before him was simple: duty to Commander's privacy or duty to Commander's safety? He also knew that it would only be a matter of time before Garrus figured out what happened. The fact that he hadn't said anything to Garrus about it until now was cause enough for him to worry about the former Archangel's reaction.
"Primary," he huffed simply.
Garrus mouth snapped shut and he blinked. The shock that Mordin answered the question so quickly and without a fight caught him off guard.
"Further deception of incident pointless," Mordin continued, answering Garrus' thoughts. "You will find out the truth soon enough. Have more important things to do. Must win war."
"No one wants to win this war as much as I do, Mordin. Well okay, Shepard does but we can't win this without her! So what the hell is this truth?!" he snapped, finally unable to hold in his frustration any longer.
Mordin blinked on the verge of replying when Sera's voice cut in over the comm.
Spirits! he huffed; his hand balling into a fist, how the hell does she know when to do that?!
"Yes, Commander?" he bit out a little sharper than he intended; his frustration bleeding through.
[I need you in the shuttle bay. Now.]
"On my way."
If she heard the aggravation in his voice, he didn't know and at the moment; didn't care. He was going to get to the bottom of this. Soon. He understood the value of patience but this war didn't have a pause button. After this rescue mission, someone was going to explain what the hell was going on. He quelled his frustration as he looked over at the scientist who had already gone back to work and decided to leave it alone for now.
"Thank you, Mordin," he called as he walked out the door. "We'll talk again later."
When they emerged from the shuttle, they could hear gunfire and the faint screams of the students echo through the walls of the school. They didn't expect to find anyone guarding the auxiliary cargo port the shuttle had slipped into but they kept their guard up, just in case. It was Cerberus after all. Garrus and Liara fanned out and began to check the area for soldiers while Sera quickly pulled up a map of the Academy. Finding a quick route to Kahlee, she motioned the other two toward one of the doors. Liara hacked it in seconds and they swiftly made their way down one empty hallway after another. The screams of the students became louder and the rancid smell of burned plastic and metal permeated through their helmets, making Sera's eyes water.
They rounded the corner and Garrus quickly ducked behind one of the fallen storage containers for cover. Liara hung back to cover their six in case any of the patrols were returning. Sera ducked and rolled behind a planter to the left of Garrus' position and pulled out her Black Widow. Garrus did the same and peered over the top of the storage container. His visor told him all the stats he needed to know about the soldiers trying to hack a door down the hallway.
[Commander? This is Kahlee Sanders. I'm locked in the server room and Cerberus troops are trying to get in!]
"We're on it Sanders! Don't worry."
She motioned to Garrus a count of three and slowly ticked it off with her fingers. They each scoped their respective targets and took them down with well-practiced simultaneous precision. The third trooper never had a chance as his head exploded in a pulpy red spray that painted the end of the hallway. Sera looked up to see Liara's face decorated with a satisfied grin. She shook her head as she stood up and ran the length of the hallway, calling out to Sanders when she got to the door.
The doors slid open and Sanders lowered her weapon as the three of them crossed the threshold.
"Thank you, Commander! Anderson said you were the best when he heard you were coming. Cerberus is after my students. When word of the Reaper invasion came, we told them all to go home. Twenty of them elected to stay behind. Some are prototyping technology and the rest of them are biotics. God knows what Cerberus will do to them, if they're captured," Sanders quickly explained as she sat down at the console.
"Agreed," Sera said grimly.
She knew all too well what Cerberus could and would do. There was no way in hell she was going to let the Illusive Man get those students. There was no telling what plans he had for them and they couldn't afford to find out. The thought of them being turned into husks made her skin crawl and the rage of indignant fire burn through her.
After agreeing to a quick plan of extraction, the three of them left Sanders in the server room and headed towards Orion Hall. As they made their way through the halls and what used to be classrooms, the smell of scorched flesh mixed with burnt blood seared its way into her nostrils through her helmet. Her stomach turned and she swallowed hard against the rising bile in her throat. The further into the school they went, the worse the destruction got. It was barely recognizable as a school anymore. Suddenly they heard voices coming from a hallway ahead and slowed their pace. Stopping on either side of the doorway, Garrus and Sera peered around the bend to see two Cerberus troops trying to talk down a young biotic who was barely maintaining the barrier he had put up.
Sera quickly loaded explosive rounds into her Widow and took aim. Garrus followed suit but, before he could pull the trigger, he watched as two soldiers' heads exploded in quick succession. His head quickly snapped to the left to look at her, completely surprised that she went against their routine.
"Sera…?" he questioned.
"Sorry," she muttered half apologetically through her radio. "The kid…didn't look like he could hold out much longer," she finished quickly.
In truth, she didn't really know why she took out both targets on her own. It was an instantaneous reaction and over before she realized what she had done. She couldn't blame Garrus for his reaction but she really didn't have an explanation. Before he could question her further, she moved out of cover and toward the boy.
"Hey…" she began softly, "It's okay. We're here to help you."
"No! Don't come any closer!" he yelled, struggling to maintain the barrier.
Even from her own limited biotics, she knew he wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer, much less inflict any harm on any of them. She took off her helmet and set it on the ground in front of him and knelt down.
"I am Commander Shepard with the Alliance. We're here to rescue you from Cerberus," she said firmly but gently.
He looked at her and after a second, dropped his barrier with an exhausted sigh.
"S-Seanne….my sister," he panted, "Seanne is still in there somewhere. Please save her."
"We'll do the best we can," Sera said reassuringly as she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Right now I need to you lie down until the coast is clear. When you feel like you can, get to the server room. Kahlee Sanders is there waiting for you."
He said nothing but nodded as he lay down on the ground and tried to catch his breath. Sera gave him reassuring pat on the shoulder before picking up her helmet. She stood up and put it on. Looking around quickly, she noticed that Liara had disappeared and Garrus had gone on ahead to scout for more Cerberus troops. It irritated her that Liara had gone off on her own, again. It would seem that ever since Liara became the Shadow Broker, she always had her own hidden agenda. One day that was going to get someone killed. Making a mental note to discuss it with her later, Sera pulled out her Scorpion and made her way down the hall to look for Garrus.
She didn't think he'd gotten that far ahead of her and began to pick up her pace. She picked up a few more rounds off the dead troops and some extra mods for the weapons on the Normandy. A few extra couldn't hurt anything. She moved toward the doorway when a low moan caught her attention. Heading toward the sound, she moved along a row of couches and nearly stumbled over a young woman hiding behind a planter at the end of the row.
"Stay back!" she yelled weakly, "..or I'll… I'll.."
Caught off guard, Sera stepped back and lowered her gun. She took off her helmet and tossed it on the nearby couch.
"Stand down, it's okay. I'm Commander Shepard. We're –" she started.
Shepard blinked in surprise.
"Yes…how did you -?"
"You're the one… the one they…," Seanne wheezed, clutching her side, "the doctors didn't know how to treat."
"What doctors?" Sera asked, her eyes narrowing.
"The-the doctors at Chimera…they didn't know what was wrong with you. If I hadn't seen your file…" the young woman finished in a whisper, barely able to stay upright. She collapsed to her knees and squeezed her eyes shut against the pain.
Sera pulled out her supply of medi-gel and spread it onto Seanne's wound. Suddenly the door behind her slid open and in a split second Sera pulled out her assault rifle, wishing she hadn't tossed her helmet onto the couch. She breathed a frustrated but relieved sigh as her blue friend walked through the door.
"Damn it, Liara! I could've shot you!" Sera swore.
"I'm sorry Shepard! I saw life signs but I didn't know it was you," she apologized hastily. "Cerberus has communications blocked in parts of the school. I tried to radio you but got no answer."
"Okay…fair enough. I thought you were with Garrus. Where did you go?"
"One of the classrooms had a console that hadn't been destroyed. I thought it might have data that we could use. It took longer to hack into than I thought. When I went to find you again, you had already moved on. Then I ran into a couple of Cerberus troops who were trying to hack into another console," she nodded toward the room she just came from. "Taking them out was easy enough."
Sera stood and walked to the doorway. Sticking her head into the room and peering around the frame, she saw the two headless soldiers lying in crumpled heaps on the floor. Entering into the room, she noticed the console nearby flashing a brilliant red warning of some kind. That's not what concerned her though. Next to the console was a workstation still smoldering and marred by recent blast marks. Its large vid screen was blinking with what seemed to be diagnostics of some type of Reaper tech. What used to be an encasement of some kind for samples and specimens to be analyzed was shattered and empty. She gave Liara a questioning look.
"It was destroyed when I surprised them. They were only gathering data from the console. Perhaps there was a third one who took whatever was in here." She paused. "However, I did get some data from the workstation and took whatever they got," she finished, opening her omni-tool and showing Sera the streaming encrypted data.
"Alright, let me know what you find out once we get back to the Normandy. Right now, we need to catch up with Garrus," Sera, said firing a round into what was left of the console and workstation, ensuring no one else would be able to get anything more from it.
The two females left the classroom back through the same doorway. Sera stopped to check on Seanne's wound and was pleased to find it beginning to heal beneath the gel.
"Are you feeling better, Seanne?" she asked, nodding her approval at the wound.
"Yes," Seanne breathed easily, "thank you so much."
"Good. Now when the coast is clear and you feel up to it, you need to make your way to the server room where Kahlee Sanders and your brother are waiting for you."
"My brother?! You found my brother?" Seanne exclaimed happily.
Sera nodded and smiled softly, "Yes, we did. I told him to wait for you with Sanders. You should get moving as quickly as you can."
"Oh, thank you! I will!" Seanne began to get up, gently testing her balance and weight. Relieved the wound was not nearly as painful as before, she started to walk toward the hall that would lead her back to the server room. She paused and turned to Sera. "About what I said before…"
Sera shook her head quickly and flicked her eyes to the asari, "Don't worry about that right now. We can talk about it when you guys are safe and we've secured the school."
Liara heard the conversation and gave Sera her own questioning look. Sera offered no explanation and moved on down the hall. Deciding to leave well enough alone, Liara followed. She was definitely going to have a much needed conversation with her Commander after this mission was over. As they reached the end of one hallway, the noise of the firefight grew louder. The carnage of Cerberus soldiers littered their path, each with a single shot to the head. Garrus' trademark was all over the place. Sera hacked the final doorway with ease, a sure sign that Garrus had already been through and was on the other side. They had agreed it was the best way to ensure safety if they ever got split up. The enemy would take far longer without the correct decryption key.
The doors slid open to reveal a small entrance hallway. Garrus stood in front of the second set of doors, rifle still in hand; ready to fire.
"About time you two got here," he jabbed.
"We took the scenic route," retorted Sera, "Nice trail of crumbs you left, very subtle."
"Why thank you," he smirked, "I'm glad you noticed."
"If you two are done –" Liara started, suddenly interrupted by the collision that rattled the wall and the second set of doors.
The three of them stared at the door expecting it to open. When it didn't, Sera ran to it and hacked the lock. As the doors slid open, they were greeted with a foul mouthed shriek followed by a violent vibration through the floor. Rocking back slightly on their heels, they stared at the tattoos that decorated the back of an all too familiar biotic.
"EAT THIS, BITCH!"
"JACK!" gaped Sera.
"SHEPARD?!" Jack barked in disbelief snapping around to look at the new arrivals standing the doorway. "Well don't just stand there princess, help me take care of these assholes!"
Guns armed and ready, they sprinted toward Jack only to be greeted by an Atlas tearing its way through a door on the west side of the room. Jack threw out a shockwave but it was weak. Sera could tell her friend had begun to weaken under the strain of protecting the students. Explanations would have to wait for now. She waved them off, toward the stairs to the upper level.
"GO! Find cover! We'll handle this!"
Jack nodded and headed for the stairs, "Shepard, keep it off of us!"
The firefight was brutally intense. The Atlas was more than enough for them to fight but more Cerberus troops stormed in after it. The Illusive Man had certainly been busy since the Collector Base, upgrading his mechs and weaponry. Jack and her students were able to throw up barriers around Sera and Garrus, giving them the additional protection their armor didn't. Liara had no problem holding her own against the Cerberus soldiers, tossing out a singularity and then slamming them to a pulp. Sera and Garrus nimbly dodged in and around the Atlas, using its bulky lethargy to their advantage. When it finally blew up, Sera quickly scanned the vast room for Liara.
Spotting her friend on the opposite side of the room, Sera pulled out her pistol and began to close the distance between them. Garrus glanced up and at the balcony in time to see one of the students give him a thumbs up, telling him they were okay. Turning to look for Sera as the smoke from the Atlas cleared; he couldn't find her and frantically began to scan the mangled corpses for the familiar red of her N7 armor.
A ragged panting broke through the static of his radio and he whirled around looking for the source. He caught a glimpse of a familiar red as it disappeared behind a bullet-filled column. She had taken off without him and he mentally swore at her recklessness as he quickly made his way toward her. Glancing ahead, he saw Liara slowly being surrounded by the remaining half dozen Cerberus soldiers. She was holding her own pretty well, but he could tell that it was beginning to take a toll. He ducked behind a bullet-riddled planter not far from Sera's position. He glanced over to make sure she was okay. Satisfied that she was staying put, he set his rifle on the planter and took aim at the closest soldier.
Sera rolled away from the column to a planter banked by a long couch that was right behind a soldier and ducked. A seething rage began to well in her, growing hotter by the second and coursing through every vein. She was beyond pissed off. There were people dying all over the galaxy by the thousands, species and races being extinguished in the blink of an eye, never to exist again. Yet, here she was having a gigantic pissing contest with the biggest asshole humanity had to offer.
Garrus was about to pull the trigger when the soldier's head he was aiming at suddenly exploded in his scope, followed by the other two next to him. For the briefest of seconds in between each bloody pop, he saw Sera's helmet now opposite him behind Liara. When did she move and what the hell was she doing? He snarled in frustration at her apparent disregard for her own safety once again.
Spirits help me, she's going to get herself killed. Dammit!
She disappeared from his scope just quickly as she had appeared, ducking back down behind the couch. He took the opportunity to pick off the remaining soldiers in quick succession before she did something else even more stupid – like offer them their choice of execution.
She was breathing hard, her blood pumping furiously throughout her body, and it felt good. She felt alive, invigorated. God, she missed this! What better way to get target practice than taking out these fuckers? The Illusive man may have spent a shit ton of money on upgrading his mechs and weaponry but he definitely slacked off picking out his troops. She popped in a new heat sink, adjusted her helmet a bit and got ready to take out the three remaining idiots. She took a deep breath and began to rise when a bullet whizzed by her helmet narrowly missing her by inches, painting her visor with a streak of blood. She dropped immediately and heard two more successive pops, followed by the wet, raw meaty sound of exploding heads.
"GODAMMIT, VAKARIAN! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" she yelled at him after yanking off her helmet, looking at the new decoration across the visor. "YOU COULD'VE KILLED ME!"
"I COULD ASK YOU THE SAME THING, COMMANDER!" he yelled back, taking off his own helmet and walking toward her.
"Excuse me?" she snarled chucking her helmet at a random couch, not caring where it landed and walking across the room.
"You heard me," he spat. "What the hell were you thinking pulling that shit without me? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"Since when do I – " she stopped, feeling the jerk of something pulling her back when she was just steps away from Garrus.
Looking over, she glared at Liara. The asari was suddenly beside her, clearly exhausted from the battle but apparently had enough energy left to throw up a barrier between her and the turian. The glare didn't convince Liara to let her go.
"Sera," her friend said softly, "drop the gun….please."
Sera looked down. The gun was in her hand but it didn't feel like she was holding it. She had thrown the helmet but her pistol was still armed, ready to shoot. Even worse, she realized that her finger was on the trigger. Garrus gaped and slowly took a step back, out of the line of fire. She willed her finger off the trigger, pressed the safety and made herself let go of the gun. It clattered to the floor and she stared at it blankly. Liara dropped the barrier with a heavy gasp and picked up the weapon.
"Are you okay?" Liara looked at Shepard quizzically, taking a step toward her.
Suddenly, what felt like a high pitched screech ripped through her skull, dropping her to her knees as she cradled her head trying to make it stop.
"Sera!" Garrus and Liara both cried out in alarm.
They both approached her, wanting to help. As they bent down to help her up, the screech rose to a higher pitch. It seemed to come from Liara's direction and Sera backed away from her. Liara's face fell as her friend pulled back and she stopped, backing away. Garrus shifted under Shepard's arm and lifted her up slowly. When she seemed steady enough, he let her go and watched her carefully, ready to catch her if she wobbled too far in any one direction.
As quickly as it had come, the screech left her head. Even without the debilitating sound, she felt woozy and lightheaded, as if she were about to black out. After a few deep breaths, she felt Garrus' support leave her and she got her bearings back again. She took a hesitant step and then another. Everything seemed to be back to normal again as she walked to where to her helmet had landed.
"What happened, Shepard?" Liara asked confused.
"I…I don't know. I heard this high pitched screech and…" she began, looking from Liara to Garrus, watching for any indication that they heard it too. They stared at her, waiting for her to continue. "It was so painful….like a banshee in my head. I thought I was going to black out."
Liara and Garrus looked at one another in complete confusion and then back at their Commander.
"Didn't you hear it?"
"No," Garrus rumbled, "I didn't hear anything." He looked at Liara, who only shook her head. "You just suddenly dropped and held your head."
"I think we need to have you checked out as soon as we get back to the Normandy, Shepard," Liara said firmly, but clearly shaken.
Shepard nodded absently, looking around for something. "Yeah, okay… wait… where's my gun?"
Liara and Garrus exchanged looks again, both worried about what had just happened.
"Here you go, Shepard," Liara said holding it out while glancing at the safety light that was still lit.
"Thanks," Sera said grabbing her helmet and taking the weapon. "Let's get moving. I want to talk to Jack."
Her vision swam and her ears rang, but it was nothing in comparison to the screaming pain in her jaw. Holy crap, that bitch could hit! With that kind of strength, Sera didn't want to know what a blast from Jack's biotics felt like.
"Dammit! How many times have I told you NOT to trust Cerberus!?" Jack spat at her former Commander.
"You're not telling me anything I haven't already told myself, Jack."
"Oh! You feel bad?" Jack sneered. "Well shit! I bet that's a big comfort to all the people Cerberus has killed."
"As charming as ever…" Garrus taunted the biotic, shifting and rolling back into his hip.
"Bite me, Garrus!" Jack spat back. "Better yet? Bite her! Probably how she likes it!"
"I wouldn't know. Wanna give me a lesson?" he threw back, folding his arms and quirking a brow plate.
Jack blinked, "Fuck you!"
Shepard smirked and instantly regretted it when her jaw throbbed in protest.
"Pass," Garrus retorted, "I know where you've been."
Jack's biotics began to flare. Apparently she wasn't that worn out yet.
"Okay, you two…that's enough," Sera ordered, flaring up her own biotics, limited as they were "You two can play patty-cake once we're back on the Normandy."
They blinked and said nothing, puzzled by the random concept Sera threw out. Garrus turned around and walked toward the stairs with Liara following behind him. Jack explained how she ended up at Grissom while throwing out her customary insults at her students. Sera began to explain their extraction plan when Cortez radioed her that their window was closing. Cerberus would be back any minute.
"Shit! How much time do we have?"
"Two minutes tops, Commander. After that, I can't promise anything."
She looked up at the balcony and watched the students milling around, trying to regain their energy.
"Forget it, Cortez. Get back to the Normandy. There's not enough time."
Sera radioed Sanders, staring at Jack.
"Sanders? The students are safe but the shuttle's a no-go," she said grimly, watching Jack mouth, Fuck!
Sanders quickly gave her instructions on how to disengage the emergency locks on the atrium door and open it. Then she gave Shepard quick directions to where a couple of the Cerberus shuttles were located, saying that she would get them ready to go.
"Cerberus shuttles?" Jack bit out. "Screw that!"
"Well, you can stay here and have a tea party with them if you'd like," snapped Garrus.
Jack said nothing. As Liara came down the stairs with the students, Shepard pulled Jack aside.
"Can they handle this? Are they ready? Do they have any combat training?" she asked quietly, nodding at the students as they filed past.
"Shit," Jack growled, "not really. I've been conditioning them for this but they need more time. They're better off as defense right now – barriers and shit."
"Do they know that?"
"Hell no! Why the fuck would I tell them that?"
"Alright then, we'll take the lower level. You guys cover us from up top," Sera ordered, "then we'll meet you at the shuttles."
Jack nodded and jogged over to her students, giving them a once over. Sera ran over to the atrium doors and shoved them open.
"Okay! We're going in first to draw their fire," she ordered.
"We'll cover you from the second level and hit them from the top," Jack called back over the growing protests. "Hey! Shut the hell up! This is what you trained for, remember? I sure as shit didn't bust my ass for you to fuck up and die now! So pick your targets and keep low."
"But –" Prangley whined.
"I thought – " Rodriguez cut in.
"But what?" Jack repeated, looking from the young man to the woman, "This is your job. No one said you had to like it. So take your balls out of Rodriguez's purse, Prangley, and suck it up! Let's move!"
The second battle was a lot fiercer than the first. Perhaps she had underestimated the reasons why Cerberus was desperate for the Alliance biotics. The soldiers and snipers poured in wave after wave with an Atlas, turrets and shields. Even though the students didn't think they were doing anything of real consequence, Shepard knew without them they would've lost more than just the Academy. Once the last soldier splattered against the wall, Sera let out a long breath. Garrus heard her through the radio.
"Shepard? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she panted, "just catching my breath. We gotta make it over to the other side. Jack's already moved the students over."
"Copy that," he replied but in tone that said he wasn't convinced she was okay.
They made their way to the other half of the atrium. Jack and the kids had definitely taken a toll on Cerberus but Sera could see them starting to fade. She glanced up to where Jack's last shockwave came from and signaled for her to get behind cover. Cerberus didn't make this an easy fight; dropping in wave after wave of troops, clearly trying to make this their final push to turn the tide in their favor. When it seemed like the ground cover was theirs, more soldiers rappelled down the far wall. Suddenly they began to drop lifelessly to the atrium floor as Jack and her kids picked them off one by one. After that, it was only a matter of minutes before the fight was over and they made their final push to the shuttle bay.
Making their way down the hall, Sera suddenly dropped and rolled behind a nearby bulkhead for cover. Garrus and the rest followed suit scattering behind various debris. Leaning against the hard metal, she panted, trying to catch her breath. Why couldn't she breathe? She looked down at her armor and checked the medi-gel level, none had been used so she wasn't injured. What the hell was going on?
[Commander?] EDI interrupted.
"Yeah, EDI?" Sera panted.
[Are you well, Commander? Your vitals are erratic. Dr. Chakwas is concerned.]
"I'm fine EDI….just… a little… out of breath. That's all. Things are a bit tense down here," she replied, slightly annoyed.
Shepard mentally facepalmed at the sound of Chakwas' voice, Seriously? Do we need to have this conversation right now?
"Yes, Doctor?" she bit out a little more harshly than she intended.
[You are NOT fine. So don't bullshit me. I know you feel like you can't breathe and your heart rate is through the roof. If you don't slow down, you're going to black out.]
"Duly noted, Doctor. Now, if you don't mind, I have some Cerberus ass to kick and a few lives to save. Are you done?"
The radio silence she heard was a clear indicator of Chakwas' irritation but she knew she hadn't pushed the good doctor too far or she would've gotten an earful instead. She peered around the corner of the bulkhead at the soldiers harassing three students in a shielded bubble. The one closest to the barrier device in the middle of them looked rather familiar. David? She couldn't tell for sure from this distance. Sera glanced behind her and saw Liara huddled behind her with Jack and rest of the students.
"Throw a singularity," she ordered.
"But, Commander! What about the students?"
"They'll be fine. Don't worry about them," Sera shot back. "Just do it."
Sera saw Liara's head jerk up sharply and shoot her a confused look. Sera glared back. Now was not the time to argue, the clock was ticking. Liara complied and moved to Garrus' position. Quickly standing, the asari threw out a singularity at the besieged students. The soldiers rose helplessly into the air but it didn't seem to have any effect on the students encased within the bubble. As if on cue, Garrus pulled the trigger twice, one for each target and they dropped into two mangled heaps.
"That was a big risk to take Shepard!" Liara chastised as they approached the students still shielded by the barrier.
Sera blinked trying to focus but the grey edges that started to tinge the corners of her vision receded slightly but refused to disappear. Then she noticed that she was panting again but this time her chest started to hurt and it wasn't because she couldn't breathe. She hung back a bit, letting the others reach the trio of students first. She felt herself gasping for air in her helmet and it was a good thing none of the others could tell. The pain in her chest swelled slightly and she felt lightheaded. God, she couldn't pass out now! She steadied herself, willing her body not to betray her.
"I'm Commander Shepard of the Alliance and we're here to help you," she said to the young woman, taking off her helmet.
Dammit! Why does my voice sound so hollow… and distant?
"I didn't believe them and I sure as hell don't believe you," the young cadet shot back.
Okay….she sounded just like me… what the hell?
Something was wrong and Garrus noticed her trying to hide it. Garrus could see Sera wobble slightly and steady herself. His visor told him that her vitals were bouncing all over the place. How was she keeping upright? He shifted in his stance, moving closer to her just in case. Her voice sounded rather odd to him as well, light and thready, far from normal. His keen turian hearing caught the subtle strain in her voice and he watched her closely.
"The square root of 906.01 equals – " mumbled the young man, huddled on the floor.
"30.1," finished Sera, "David?"
The young man turned off the device and slowly stood.
"Hello, Commander Shepard," he said softly.
"Hello, David," Sera replied with a smile, suddenly feeling much better. "You're looking well."
"You know the Commander?" the young female cadet interrupted.
"Yes," he clipped, "she rescued me from Cerberus. Sent me here. She made everything quiet."
"Okay, we need to get moving. Sanders is at the shuttle waiting for us. You can stay with us and keep close or go on ahead but keep low and stay hidden," Sera instructed them.
The trio expressed their gratitude and Sera watched them head toward the shuttle bay with David trailing behind. She absently let out a relieved sigh, her head suddenly much clearer than it was moments ago. Garrus blinked at the readout on his visor. He was so focused on her; he hadn't noticed that her vitals had returned to normal. When did that happen? Had his visor malfunctioned? He'd have to analyze it and re-calibrate it when he got back to the Normandy.
"Shepard? Is everything okay?" Garrus asked, his concern lightly twisting the tone of his voice.
"Yeah," Sera nodded sharply, "I'm fine."
Garrus said nothing and let her go on ahead of him. He was going watch her back whether she wanted it or not. He caught Liara's puzzled look as she walked by and returned it with a shake of his head. He didn't need her to interfere right now, not when they were so close to the end of this mission. Though he knew the Shadow Broker would be poking her crest in at some point anyway. He'd rather she did it later rather than sooner. They made it down the short hall to another small open area just in front of the shuttle bay entrance when Sera ducked behind a couple of stacked containers.
He followed her lead and ducked too; Garrus peered over the top of the container. Of course he noticed the Atlas first and then the lone soldier guarding it. He glanced over at Sera who simply nodded. He aimed squarely at the back of the hapless guy's head and pulled the trigger. The soldier lurched and dropped with a grunt to the floor. When more soldiers didn't appear Sera got up, rifle drawn, jogged toward the behemoth and gave it a once over. Holstering the weapon, she began to climb in.
"What?" she blinked at the turian after removing her helmet and stowing somewhere within the mech.
"How do you know this thing works? Or if it's even safe? They weren't using it for a reason," he criticized concerned that she was pulling another reckless stunt.
"It works fine," she grunted, strapping in. "The scanners in my helmet said it was functional. It's not my problem why they aren't using it. They were stupid enough to leave it with only one guard."
He couldn't argue with her since his own visor told him the same thing. He just didn't like the fact that she was doing this without a second thought when she was about to fall over a few moments ago. What irritated him even more was that she hid it, telling neither him nor Liara. How did she know if she would be able to pull off the rest of the mission? Didn't she realize that she was putting the rest of them in danger if something happened to her while she was in that thing? Their long overdue conversation was about to pay up when this mission was over.
He said nothing as he watched her finish securing the harnesses and power up the mech. His visor told him that all of the systems were slowly coming online. She hit a button and the hiss of the hydraulics began to lower the canopy, sealing her into the unit, as she pulled out her helmet and put it back on. He gave her a brief nod and she gave him thumbs up in return. He hung back as she guided the unit down the hall and into the open shuttle bay.
As they approached, the sound of biotic blasts mixed with gunfire grew louder. The occasional swearing sprinkled amongst the blasts told him that Jack and the cadets had already taken up their positions.
"FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!"
Tracing the trajectory of the shot, he saw them on the balcony with the shuttle just beyond them with a large barrier that seemed to be holding. He shadowed Shepard, covering her six just like old times. Liara took off on her own as usual, alternating between her biotics and her sub-machine gun. Even though they seemed to have the advantage, the assault troops and centurions seemed to be endless, continually dropping from the ceiling and coming in through the other doorways. For the most part it was easy enough to pick them off on the ground floor.
Then they started swarming the balcony as another atlas started to make its way into the bay at the other end of the room. Before he could say anything, it seemed Shepard read his mind and focused her weapons on the opposing doppelganger. He turned his attention to the onslaught trying to take over the upper level. Liara had already made her way up there and was helping to hold the barrier as its strength was starting to fade.
Suddenly Garrus smelled smoke. He quickly snapped around to check Shepard's position and was relieved to find her still in the standing atlas. The unlucky bastard in the other mech was frantically trying to get out of his, the smoke billowing as the circuits began to overload. The explosion shook the entire room as parts went flying in every direction, gratuitously taking out a few additional shielded guardians with it. He swore he heard a familiar self-satisfying hiss in his radio as the last trooper hit the floor.
She knew he wasn't happy with her, but she didn't care right now. Since when did she have to answer to him anyway? She was the Commander, goddammit! He was along for the ride. So what if things were awkward between them? Just because she agreed to talk to him again, didn't mean that they picking up exactly where they left off. Things were different now and she was going to tell him exactly how different. They just had to get out of this mission alive first. Taking out the atlas was beyond satisfying and the extraneous troops were a bonus. Riding the high, she turned the atlas toward the few remaining troops and centurions on the upper level taking them out with a few shots. When the last centurion hit the floor, she hopped out of the mech and raced toward the door that led to up to the balcony.
"MOVE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE!"
Garrus ran behind her through the door just as it shut and locked behind him. They quickly made their way up the stairs to the balcony and toward the shuttle, the cadets following closely behind. Kahlee waved them toward the open door of the shuttle. The students began to pile in.
"Wait!" Jack stopped short. "Where the fuck is Rodriguez!?"
Shepard turned around and saw the young woman half-running, half-limping toward the massive dividing window as Cerberus troops swarmed in behind her. She dove in front of a row of chairs for cover, just short of the window.
"FUCK THIS!" Jack roared as she threw a massive shockwave at the reinforced glass.
The glass shattered everywhere and in a heartbeat, Sera hopped the dividing bulkhead. She grabbed the young woman by the arm, yanking her toward the awaiting shuttle. They paused at the bulkhead as Sera helped her over and that was enough time for the closest trooper to aim and open fire somewhat accurately. The shots missed and they were over the offending obstacle. Sera used the last of her energy and propelled the cadet toward Jack. Suddenly the world was spinning wildly out of control. The nearly simultaneous searing, gut twisting pain was immediate, dropping her into a silent black hole of nothing.