EDIT: I changed the name of this chapter, as I felt the name "Road to Haedes" was more appropriate.
Chapter 21: Road to Haedes
Ulera breathed a sigh of relief; that was too close. Qurt put both his hands on his knees; shaking his head.
"That was too close."
"You all right?" asked Sara, putting away her Tempest.
"Yea, just a few bruises." He stood up "Thanks for the cover by the way; what was that explosion?"
"Griggs fired the Kodiak's guns into the bay door." answered Wraith. "Probably trying to depressurize the room. Luckily it didn't work." Ulera frowned.
"So it's official then. Griggs tried to kill his own squad."
"He's gone rouge." Said Caitlin; her face pale from the whole experience. "Succumbed to the indoctrination. But where is he going? Kodiaks can't make Mass Relay jumps."
"He's going to Menae;" said Qurt. "He set the autopilot to take us there; and we're probably getting close."
"Well, looks like that's where we're going too." Said Wraith. "Not much choice; there's no one here capable of piloting the Normandy."
"But what about the escape pods?" said Caitlin. "This ship will be destroyed when it reaches the moon; no way you'll be able to survive."
"We can take the Mako." Said Ulera. "It's designed to be air dropped; and we can't just leave Griggs loose in a war zone. He could do a lot of damage."
Attention; repressurization of the cargo bay complete.
The VI chimed just as the door reopened. Ulera pulled out her Disciple and activated the flashlight, as the lights were still out. The Kodiak, as expected, was gone. A black scorch mark showed where Griggs had fired the shuttle's weapons.
"Doctor, ride back up and get off this ship." Said Wraith. Ulera looked back; the doctor was nodding.
"My people and I will leave. Good luck out there Rapture."
"You too ma'm. We'll get an extraction ship out here to get you all." Caitlin entered the elevator; Ulera looked back at the Mako as the door closed. Qurt and Sara were already at the tank. The justicar made her way over, Wraith by her side.
"We'll need to calibrate the Normandy's drop system with the coordinates." Qurt was saying to Sara.
"Chief Engineer Jacobs showed me the systems; I can sync it from here."
"Good; we don't have much time." The quarian ran down to the engine room; Ulera put a hand to the cold metal of the tank.
"Ever driven one of these before?" she asked the vigilante.
"I've driven rovers, but not the M35 in particular." Ulera looked inquisitively at Wraith.
"Yea; same here. So I guess you're the designated driver Qurt."
"Looks like it. Don't worry; most of the drop process is automated. The only thing we need to do is hit the thrusters before hitting the ground." There came a beep from the comm.
Warning: vehicle drop immanent. All unauthorized personnel evacuate the cargo bay. Destination in three minutes.
Sara jogged up, giving an affirming nod. Ulera felt her stomach tighten; three minutes from then they'd be falling from the sky into the midst of one of the largest conflict zones in Council space. Qurt opened the entrance hatch and was the first to crawl inside. Sara was next, and then Ulera. The internals of the vehicle were tight; just barely high enough to stand straight. It was just shy of being wide enough for two to stand side-by-side. Qurt disappeared into the cabin. Wraith slid into the vehicle, looking around.
"Pretty tight fit."
"There's room here in the cabin." Called back Qurt. Ulera nodded towards the passenger seat.
"You take it Wraith." The biotic nodded. Ulera sat down on one of the few seats lining the wall. Sara sat opposite her. They strapped in, and for a minute the tank was quiet, everyone left with their own thoughts. Then;
T-minus sixty seconds until orbital drop.
"This is it then." Whispered Sara. Ulera nodded, eyes focused on the little vid monitor mounted on the wall. Currently it was dark, as the Mako hadn't left the cargo bay. The justicar tensed as the VI chimed again,
T-minus thirty seconds until orbital drop.
The ship shook. Ulera looked around. "What was that?" it shook again, more violently.
"Feels like AA fire!" called back Qurt. "We must be over the moon!"
"Who's guns," said Sara, "The turian's or the Reaper's?"
"Hard to say; we didn't exactly tell the resistance we were coming."
"We can't get shot down now..." Ulera said to herself. They were too close.
Commencing orbital drop.
The vid screen revealed a crack of cold light peering over the lip of the cargo bay door. Slowly it grew until finally Ulera could see the outline of Palaven. Bright orange glows lit up huge sections of the planet. It would have been quite beautiful if it wasn't for the fact that each glow represented a city razed by the Reapers. Then the Mako began to slide forward as its wheels were released from their clamps. Ulera gripped the handlebar next to her, eyes fixed on the screen. The Mako reached the end of the bay, and for a moment it seemed the galaxy was suspended in limbo, caught between the action and thrill of life and the silence and cold of death. Then, it tipped forward, and they began their plunge down to Menae. Suddenly, the screen was alive. Reaper dreadnoughts walked on the surface; their colossal near-black hulls dwarfing all around them. Explosions lit up the cold background of space; numerous fighter squadrons zipped by the tank as it plummeted down, chasing or being chased by Reaper Oculus drones. Ships of all weights engaged the invading synthetics, but no amount of fire seemed capable of stopping them. The moon was a nightmare. This was war unlike anything Ulera had seen. And after what seemed like an eternity, Qurt hit the thrusters. The Mako shook as it slowed itself down, sinking to the surface. The vehicles hit, bounced, and broke to a halt. For a moment, dust from the landing choked up the vid screen. It cleared just as the heaving mass of a Brute came charging into the tank. Ulera was thrown out of her seat by the impact. Alarms echoed from the cockpit as Qurt cursed up a storm.
"Get us out of here Qurt!" Yelled Sara, who was again thrown to the floor from another impact."
"I'm trying, but this thing's got a hold of us!" Ulera finally stood and grabbed onto a safety bar. The vid screen was cracked, but Ulera thought she could see the outline of a Brute claw dug into the tank's hull. The justicar opened the hatch and slid out onto the moon. Without hesitating, she hit the Brute with a reeve field. The creature let out a gurgling roar, turning it's dead eyes towards her. It let go of the Mako, which then went screeching into reverse. Ulera dove out of the Brutes way as it charged past her. She ran towards the tank, who's main gun was spinning towards the Brute. The asari slid and stopped herself on a tire, turning and covering her ears. The Brute was charging again when it caught a 144 millimeter slug dead in the chest. What was left could fit into a coffee cup. She heard the crunch of boots behind her.
"Damn that was close." Said Wraith. Ulera turned, seeing the whole squad on the moon's surface.
"Yes. But it's strange that it was alone."
"Eh, it wasn't alone at first." Said Wraith. He pointed. "Checkout where we landed." Ulera looked back, and finally noticed the smashed Husk and Marauder corpses pressed into the ground where the Mako had fallen. She looked around, taking in the surroundings. They were in a small valley, with both hills on either side a topped with ruined fortifications. Fighters engaged far over head, as well as light frigates. In the distance Ulera could see four dreadnaughts pushing back the turian fleet's offensive. Qurt walked out from behind, moving a few meters ahead of the group. He said nothing; just watching the fleet crumble. Ulera hung her head, sad that Qurt had to see this. She imagined her own home world burning, and a shudder past through her body. At least Thesia was safe. For now. Sara walked up to the vigilante and put her hand on his shoulder. After a pause he shook his head.
"Let's get moving," was all Qurt said before turning back and heading into the Mako. The others clambered in after him. Ulera stopped at the hatch, taking one more moment to look back at the falling fleet. Then she sighed, entered the rover, and closed the door.
Ahhhhh! A lot shorter than I expected, but it felt better to split Menae into two-to-three chapters.