So... three months. Yeah.

It's been an incredibly time-consuming semester here, and between that and writer's block I didn't have much drive to write. Even so, I never gave up on it, and managed to irk out a few sentences or paragraphs here and there. I just managed to get the feel for it again, and thankfully I have some great friends and fellow writers who helped me stick with it. This chapter hasn't been peer-edited yet, so please let me know if things could use some work or you have any suggestions!

Also, this chapter's word count was unintentional, but I figure you guys could use a long chapter after such a long hiatus. )

Chapter 7: The Archeologist

The Mako continued on with reckless abandon, the cannon silent for the moment as the vehicle pushed on over the volcanic terrain. Good thing the Normandy is equipped with a Mako, Shepard thought. We would never make it to the dig site in a shuttle.

A particularly rough bump jostled the whole vehicle, earning a few groans of displeasure from the back of the tank.

"Everyone okay back there?" Shepard asked, turning in his seat to look at the squad.

"Bout busted my hump, but I'll manage," Wrex grumbled. "Looks like the quarian's holding up too, if barely."

"All set Commander," Williams replied. Alenko and Garrus gave Shepard a nod from their respective seats.

Shepard returned a nod of his own, turning back to scan for more contacts. "Good enough. We've got a few industrial complexes up ahead. Looks like a good place for an ambush. Stay alert."

The Mako rolled forward again, taking care to avoid a few lava pools and not deviate from the center of the rode. Granted, they had no idea what they were up against going into this mission, so if the geth had been planetside for a while there could be mines on the road for all they knew.

"Uh, Commander?" Joker's voice pinged over the comms.

Shepard hit the receiver for the vehicle's speakers. "Go ahead, Joker."

"We just registered some strange readings coming from the dig site, just over two klicks from your position. Crazy energy spike in the power grid."

"Copy that, Joker. We'll lock in on the coordinates," Shepard said as the satellite imaging of the terrain was brought up. "Looks like we have to drive through a complex ahead. Garrus, be ready."

"On it, Boss," the turian responded, bringing up the targeting systems.

The team continued on as the surrounding area became more and more enclosed, a small valley of sorts leading to the structure. When the road forked, they were faced with a large gated barricade… and several geth armatures, one standing easily three meters tall.

"That's new!" Shepard grunted, beginning evasive maneuvers as Garrus began to fire the main cannon at them.

"Ha, only an idiot would punch a nathak in the mouth," Wrex scoffed. "We should go around and pull its tail."

"Uh… translation?" Williams asked, perplexed.

"He means it's best if we take the other road," Alenko clarified. "And personally, I agree. I've never seen that kind of geth before, but judging by the size of—"

A glowing light began to emit from the "head" of the monster armature, shooting a powerful projectile that exploded just to the right of the Mako.

"—it packs a hell of a punch. Damn!" Alenko shouted as the craft jostled about from the blast.

"On it!" Shepard cried out, engaging the Mako's thrusters to avoid any more oncoming fire. The Alliance tank just managed to get over the dividing hill that separated the roads. The right side of the road was a lot more cramped with pipelines and large processing tanks; obviously the route was intended for a much smaller vehicle. There were only a few geth on this route by comparison, a single armature blocking their path as its shots flew past them.

A blast from the main cannon was enough to drop its shields, and a prompt second was enough to take it down. I have to hand it to him, Shepard thought. Garrus is a pretty good shot.

The Mako drove around the gated barricade into a staging area of sorts behind it; several geth troopers were standing amongst crates and supplies, apparently searching for salvage or technologies. Caught off guard, the synthetics barely put up a fight as the tank tore through them, gunfire and grenades hardly damaging the shields.

"Nice gunning, Garrus," Shepard said, complementing the turian's handiwork.

"Thank you, Shepard. Though it's a little difficult with the aiming of this vehicle, feels like the secondary guns don't quite follow the line of sight. Main cannon could use some work, too."

"Well, you're welcome to calibrate the guns back on the Normandy, big shot," Williams commented. "I'm hoping we don't run into any of the big ones from here on, though."

The chief looked over to their silent companion in the back. "Hey Tali, you wouldn't have any insight on these geth, would you?"

The quarian spoke up in a somewhat nauseous-sounding voice. "No, we originally made the geth for heavy lifting and tasks that would prove more dangerous to quarians. They've modified themselves to make these tank-like models. The largest ones we simply call a colossus, or colossi."

"Fitting," Alenko said dryly. "The thing was the size of a house."

"Looks like the geth haven't been here too long, then," Shepard thought aloud. "They'd have more turret defenses and roadblocks set up rather than a few mobile anti-vehicle platforms."

On the whole, the "operation" that they were performing was going well. They were making good time to the dig-site, the geth they were confronted with seemed to only be in scouting force, and those that might have presented a problem were few and far between. It's just as they always say, though, Shepard thought. When things are looking too good to be true, they probably are.

The crew continued on through the road until the volcanic dirt ran out, leading into even rougher terrain. A small cut-out in an otherwise solid rock cliff face seemed to be the only way to get to the doctor's location.

"Great, just what we needed," Shepard muttered, mentally kicking himself for thinking down on their luck.

"Ah, I'm sure this thing can fit through there, just give it a nudge," Wrex said with a grin.

"Not unless you want to scratch the paint… and lose a few wheels," Shepard frowned, stopping the vehicle. "Looks like we're heading outside earlier than planned. Even though the geth won't be able to see us from thermal scans, we're not going to leave the Mako here unguarded. Garrus, Williams, you hang back and defend the vehicle until Joker can pick you up. Once the Mako's in tow, have Joker fly back to a safe distance until we've secured the doctor. Understood?"

"You got it, Commander," Garrus said. Williams gave him an appropriate nod as he moved towards the back of the vehicle, the hatch to the Mako disengaged. Hot air billowed into the vehicle as the four remaining crew members stepped outside, the ashen landscape looking as bleak as ever. Wrex was the only one of the four to not be wearing a helmet, which he demonstrated with a deep breath.

"Ah, another fifty degrees hotter and I might start to feel uncomfortable," Wrex chortled. "How are you mammals doing?"

"Better now that I'm out of the Mako," Alenko said. "No offense Commander, but that wasn't exactly a smooth ride."

Shepard drew his Vindicator as he cracked a smile under his helmet. "It would've been easier if they paved the roads. Or if we didn't have a small army after us. I'll take point."

Tali shuddered despite the heat as she and the others followed behind Shepard, their weapons drawn as they scanned their surroundings. Upon crossing through the crack in the rocks, the four of them had found themselves in a rocky ravine, the large volcanic outcrops overlooking either side like teeth jutting from the ground. Her eyes darted back and forth as she gripped her Phalanx pistol nervously, uncomfortable in the open and exposed space. The geth could be ready to ambush us at any moment, she worried. It's true that their thermal sensors won't work as well in this heat, but that doesn't mean that they don't know we're here. The geth we destroyed to get here must have communicated with the rest of the network—

"You okay, Tali?"

She turned to the sudden voice sharply, finding Commander Shepard giving her a curious look from his helmet. She looked down and saw that her hands were shaking. Bosh'tet, she thought as she willed them to stop.

Shepard shook his head softly. "It's okay to be nervous. This is your first mission in a combat situation, right?"

She nodded. "I know that I shouldn't be feeling anxious about this, but there could be geth hiding anywhere along these rock faces. I'm just…" she trailed off, fighting to keep her hands from starting up again.

"It's good to be cautious about this," Shepard said calmly as they continued walking. "Anxiety is a different story. It makes you unfocused on the situation, causes you to make mistakes." He turned to scan the outcrops from right to left. "Any reason you're feeling anxious in particular?"

Tali took a deep breath to steady herself. "Well, the geth are linked through a network that each geth platform contributes to. Their software uploads data to all geth in range, meaning that every geth we fought coming in communicated to all other geth on the planet."

"Damn, guess we're not being as stealthy as we thought," Kaidan muttered, keeping his Avenger level as they walked up the rocky slope.

"Bah, who needs stealth when you have a shotgun?" Wrex asked as he hefted the Crusader, grinning broadly at the weight. "And if they know we're coming, what's the point?"

Tali shook her head. "They may not know where we are now. The geth know where we were going, but until they actually see us they cannot—"

A sniper projectile shattered Shepard's shields, causing the squad to dive to cover among the rocks.

"Commander! Are you all right?" Kaidan asked, ducking as another shot hit the rock just above his head. Shepard checked himself over, nodding.

"Just took out the shields. Well, so much for stealth," he grunted, holstering the Vindicator rifle as he brought out the Viper sniper rifle from his back. "Did you see where that came from?"

"Somewhere in front of us, the shot didn't come from either of the cliff faces," Kaidan said as Shepard glanced up over the cover for a moment, ducking back down once again as another shot cracked overhead. Tali's heart was pounding at the sudden change in events. I know they're soldiers, but keelah, Shepard could have died from that! How can they act so calm about it?

Shepard glanced down at his omnitool, displaying the terrain ahead of him from the Normandy's imaging of the site. "Got it. Sniper is sitting in a small observation tower ahead of us. I've got it trained on me right now, so I'll need a distraction to take the shot." He looked around at the three of them, seeming to lose his composure for a moment. Tali knew from his body language what he was about to ask, and quickly thought of an alternative. "I don't want to ask any of you to do this, so—"

"Actually, ah… Commander Shepard?" Tali asked, causing the three others to turn towards her. "I have a combat drone linked to my omni-tool. I could cast it out to distract the geth."

Shepard gave her a surprised look from his helmet as the others did the same.

"Sounds like a plan," Kaidan said, keeping his head down.

"Assuming the machine takes the bait," Wrex rumbled.

Shepard looked down at his rifle, then back to her, nodding in earnest. "Well, it's worth a try, at least. Give it a go."

Smiling to herself, Tali activated the small holographic drone, whispering a small "Go get them, Chiktikka," as the purple and orange ball moved out in the open area. Sure enough, the geth fell for it, causing the holographic drone to flicker and burst from the impact of the rifle. Shepard moved in a blur of motion, taking a shot as soon as he had scoped in his target.

"Sniper down. Let's move up," Shepard said, motioning for the others to follow. Tali felt adrenaline kicking in as she moved along with the others as they traversed the rocky terrain, ready for more geth to pop out at any moment. That sniper must have relayed our position, she thought worriedly. Keelah, This could be bad…

It had been relatively quiet in the Mako since the majority of the team had left. Of course, it didn't help that Ashley was stuck at the wheel with a turian on the gun. I know that Shepard wanted me to work with the aliens, but I didn't think he'd trust me with this kind of situation, she thought with disdain. So far the two hadn't even looked in each other's directions, just sitting in their respective seats and trying to remain attentive at the gun and the wheel.

"So, Williams, guess we're stuck here while Shepard and the rest of the gang goes off to shoot geth and extract one Dr. Liara T'soni," Garrus said suddenly, probably attempting to break the ice. "I don't know how long it's going to take for the four of them to get to the dig site on foot, but we do have some time on our hands," he added, swiveling the tank's gun back and forth.

Ashley sighed. Of course he had to bring up the wait time. "Shouldn't be too long. Wish we were doing something besides sitting on our asses, though. Who knows what they might be up against?"

"Could be a few geth troops on foot. Could also be a couple of those colossi that Tali spoke of. Or they might just have to fight against the heat," Garrus shrugged. "Haven't had much time to think about it, but we're out on the fringe of the galaxy fighting against a race of synthetics that everyone thought kept to themselves. Seems odd that they suddenly start invading colonies after three hundred years."

"You mean Eden Prime?" Ashley asked, suddenly feeling defensive.

"Yeah, you were there, right? The prothean beacon was what lured Saren and the geth to the colony, but no one questions how Saren had the geth at his disposal in the first place. Why would the geth suddenly involve themselves with an organic just because he claimed to a prophet for the Reapers? Surely he didn't flag them down without something having something to convince them," Garrus mused.

Ashley sighed. "I'm not really sure what was so special about the beacon. I know that my entire unit was wiped out trying to defend it and the colonists, and that Shepard used it before it… exploded."

The turian's mandibles flicked, bowing his head with a sigh. "And Shepard can't make sense of it… though for what it's worth, I'm sorry about your team."

Ashley was surprised at the sincerity in his voice, but didn't quite let her guard down. "They deserve justice for what Saren and his geth did. The sooner we put the bastard in the ground, the better."

"Damn right." Garrus turned back to the gun sights, keeping himself occupied with training the cannon back and forth on the volcanic cliffs that surrounded them. A moment of silence passed in the cramped tank, interrupted only by the light clinking sound of the turians talons on the handles that directed the gun. It seemed that neither of them had much to say, and with everything on her mind, Ashley was glad for the time to her thoughts.

At least until a blip appeared on the vehicle's motion-sensors, too large and too fast to be interference from the lava nearby.

"Garrus, we've got movement. Something fast heading our way," she warned, getting herself situated in the driver's seat.

The turian's mandibles twitched with anticipation, looking back to the gun's holo-screen. "Ah, I was hoping we wouldn't miss out on all the action. What do we have?"

"We haven't seen any geth land vehicles so far, and there's no way a colossus could be moving at this speed." Her brow furrowed as two more blips appeared, moving in the same direction. A sinking feeling crept into her gut as she realized what they were, her hand already reaching for the comms.

"Commander Shepard?"

There was a slight pause on the line before he answered. "Go ahead, Williams."

"I'm not sure what's going on, but you've got three geth dropships inbound, all headed towards the dig site. You need to find cover, now!"

Shepard muttered something under his breath before speaking up. "Damn it. Look, Tali says that the geth network knows we're coming, and that pretty every geth on the planet knows where we are. Joker's going to need to be here a little earlier."

"Or we could get to the site," she scowled. "Screw the Mako's paint job, we're coming to you."

"Williams, we don't—" an explosion rang out over the comm, followed by a burst of gunfire as the radio was cut off.

"Commander? Commander, do you copy?!" she asked, demanding an answer from the other end. Only static came from the channel. "Joker, this is Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. We need some fire support, over!" The same steady hiss of static continued. Either the Mako suddenly lost communications, or the geth were jamming them.

"Damn it!" she swore, revving the tank's engine as the systems sprung to life. "Might want to hang back there Garrus. Diverting all power to thrusters."


Garrus' complaints went unnoticed as the Mako jumped into the air, the screeching of metal against the basalt rocks jarring even in full combat gear. The Mako landed on the other side of the blockage gracelessly, hard enough to jostle them in their seats.

"Williams? What the hell?!" he squawked.

"We're through, that's what." Ashley looked around at the damage, the readings on the monitor showing damage to the middle and rear axles as well as to the underside of the cabin. As long as we don't get shot on our underside, we're good, she thought.

Driving the tank forward felt more sluggish, but it couldn't be helped now. Reallocating the power back to their standard systems, the gunnery chief drove the battered but operational Alliance tank over the charred rocks and rubble, eyes set on reaching the transponder signals of Shepard and the rest of the crew.

"Garrus, you still ready for some action?"

His response was clipped and agitated. "After I probably broke a few plates? Absolutely."

Ashley grinned darkly. "Shepard's going to get some unexpected fire support. Let's kick some ass."

"Two on the right!" Shepard called out, ducking behind a rusted metal crate just large enough to provide cover.

Tali had already seen more combat in the last twenty minutes than she had in her entire life, and it wasn't getting any easier. The four of them had just made it beyond the geth sniper's previous position before Chief Williams had warned Shepard about the inbound dropships, and had managed to scramble to cover amidst the abandoned construction and salvage equipment just a hundred meters short of the dig site's entrance.

Hiding behind a loading vehicle, Tali waited for the Scimitar to cool down before she dared to aim around the corner again. Her heart pounded in her ears as she drew in quick breaths, gripping her shotgun tightly as she popped out of cover to fire off a trio of shots before she ducked back once more, frustrated at the dangerous and repetitive process. She glanced upward to see the three geth dropships still circling the area, but they seemed either unable to track their movements or unwilling to fire upon them with the number of geth troopers on the ground. And there were a LOT of geth to contend with.

"This shotgun packs a punch, but it's unforgiving," Wrex grumbled, waiting for the gun's heat sinks to cool. "You have to aim with it, and when you do your ass is hanging out for the geth."

"We're all dealing with problems right now, Wrex!" Kaidan cried out, throwing a geth careening into a lamppost with a satisfying crunch of metal. "How's that signal coming, Tali?"

Her suit's internal systems were working furiously to regulate her body temperature as sweat dripped from her brow and her breath fogged her visor. The geth jammers had taken them completely off guard, and after the team realized their communications were cut off Shepard had ordered them all to take cover and essentially hold out until Joker made a fly-by with the Normandy; as Wrex put it, they were "varren meat." Their despair had turned quickly to hope and surprise when she had told them of her hacking abilities, and she set about finding a bypass for the geth jammers the dropships were using. Hacking a geth's subroutines (which was then promptly destroyed by the other geth through "friendly fire"), she glanced down at her omnitool's status of their signal and the geth firewalls. After sending several follow-up commands and adding junk data to the jamming system, an estimated five minutes and twenty seconds was displayed for her hack's completion.

"Bosh'tet!" Tali swore under her breath. Five minutes?! "The geth are still jamming us! I'll need another five minutes to hack their ships' systems!"

Commander Shepard lobbed a grenade from behind his crate, firing his rifle as he ran over to join her behind the small forklift-like vehicle.

"Looks like we need to find a way to buy some time," Shepard said, bringing out a small missile launcher from his back. "Does everyone have heavy ordinance?"

"What's the plan, Shepard?" Kaidan asked, drawing his own heavy weapon as Wrex did the same from behind his crate.

One of the geth dropships passed directly overhead, causing them to move again amongst the sparse cover. Shepard motioned the weapon towards the vehicle, nodding to his comrades. Kaidan seemed ready to object even as Wrex's features broke out in a feral grin.

"You know that they're going to target us as soon as we fire on them, right?" Kaidan said, nonplussed. "We're going to be hard pressed for cover out here when they do."

"They probably aren't going to wait much longer as it is, Alenko. If it'll buy us time and get the geth off Tali's back, then we're doing it." Shepard looked across the 'no man's land' that was now between their cover and the dig site entrance, disengaging his gun's safety mechanism. "We need to split up and stick to cover. Don't fire on any of them until my go. Once I give the word, target the same ship and hit it at the same time, and with luck, our first salvo will take its shields down. After that, reload and fire whatever you've got left. We take one out of the game, and Tali might be able to get past the jamming signal." Wrex punctuated this as he blasted another geth off its feet, the shotgun in one hand while the missile launcher was in the other.

As if on cue, a whining sound blared overhead from one of the dropships as a bright light emitted from its two cannons.

"Let's move!" Shepard shouted, darting towards a stack of pipes as the others moved in opposite directions. Tali shut her eyes instinctively as the geth cannons' pulses struck the ground with explosive force, sending showers of mud and ash into the air that rained down on her and the rest of the team. The dropship floated lazily overhead, scanning for its targets as it avoided a half-constructed pipeline. Wrex raised his weapon from behind a support beam for the construction site, aiming at the geth construct with anticipation as Shepard and Kaidan did the same from their own respective covers.

"One, two, three… now!" Shepard called out, signaling the team. Like all plans, however, the devil was in the details, as no one seemed to have accounted for the extent of the end result.


One moment she was standing, and the next Tali found herself knocked to the ground and her suit's aural intakes auto-disable mode on, ears ringing from the resulting explosion. A trail of flames and leaking fluids sprung from the ship in question as it flew out of control overhead, careening into the support wall opposite of the dig-site with a terrible crash, showering the surroundings with shorn off scrap metal. Gingerly, she uncurled herself from her fetal position, giving her suit a quick once over. Her shields were near maximum capacity, and while her side and arms were now caked with mud her suit diagnostics didn't detect any cuts or tears. Groaning, she lifted herself up from the dirt, trying to regain some focus on her surroundings.

"Keelah," she breathed. If the surrounding area hadn't looked like a warzone yet, it did now. The destroyed geth ship burned with blue and orange flames, a hazy trail of smoke adding to the hellish scene. The already ash-strewn ground now sported a blackened hue from their missiles' explosions, its surface dotted with craters easily a meter in diameter where the dropship had rained fire upon them. Smoking scrap metal and geth technology littered the ground, and there didn't seem to be any signs of life, organic or—

A jolt ran through her spine as Tali began to fervently scan the area. The crew! Where was the crew?

"Commander Shepard?" she called out. "Wrex, Lieutenant Alenko, are you there?" Her eyes flitted about the torn encampment, desperate for any sign of the Normandy's team. A fit of coughing from her left caught her attention, the cough turning into a throaty laugh. Wrex stumbled out from behind the now blackened pillar, his face full of soot and mirth.

"Haha, damn Shepard. If I'd known humans kept these weapons lying around, I would have taken more jobs from them." Tali was almost agape at the krogan's apparent lack of concern, but exhaled a sigh of relief as she saw both Kaidan and Shepard rise from the wreckage, although they certainly looked worse for wear.

"Everyone all right?" Shepard asked, looking each of them over. Tali noticed that the N7 armor he wore now sported multiple cuts and slashes in its ablative plating, but otherwise he seemed well.

"All good, Commander." Kaidan replied, his helmet swiveling to Wrex's position. "You didn't seriously just use a particle accelerator, did you?"

The krogan hoisted the still smoking gun up for them to see, grunting an affirmative. "It kicks ass."

Shepard's eyes were hard behind his visor. "You could have gotten us all killed, Wrex! If that ship had been a few meters closer to us…"

"Come on, it got the job done, didn't it?" Wrex laughed, "Besides, those weapons of yours didn't do squat. Be easier if we all had these things handy."

The two humans exchanged glances before turning back to Wrex. Kaidan, whose armor was now as blackened as Wrex's, spoke first. "...I'll admit, it got results. Just… give us a little heads-up next time, you know?"

"And some God damn breathing room," Shepard growled, but he seemed to relax. Shaking his head, Shepard walked over to Tali. "Those dropships scattered as soon as the first went down, but they'll probably be back soon. How much time until you can get past the jamming signal, Tali?"

Tali looked down at her omnitool's display, the estimated hack time now considerably less than four minutes due to the diminished geth presence. "Forty-five seconds, Shepard."

Shepard nodded, looking at the surrounding wreckage and damaged vehicles. "We might not have that long with the cover we have. Best to make a break for it. We'll have more cover when we're inside the dig-site."

"Was never the best at the hundred meter dash, Commander," Kaidan said sarcastically, but even as he spoke the whir of engines could be heard approaching. Tali looked up towards the sound in tandem with the squad, then back to Shepard, all of them making eye contact for a few moments.

"Uh, Commander?"



"Move!" Shepard shouted, taking off in a dead sprint. Tali's legs moved as fast as they could carry her, easily outpacing the rest of the squad as she glanced skyward for the ships. The two ship's silhouettes appeared on the horizon, and were advancing fast. By now they'd covered more than half of the ground, and Tali was almost to the ramp that led to the site's entrance. Just a bit further…

Dashing forward as her feet pounded against metal, Tali sprinted up the walkway that led to the door and their salvation. By the will of the Ancestors, the entrance to the site was unlocked, and opened when she approached.
"The door's open, Shepard!" she said breathlessly as she turned back to her comrades. "I'll seal the entrance once everyone…"

She trailed off as she saw that the rest of the team had just made it to the foot of the ramp, likely only seconds away. What silenced her was the two dropships now looming overhead, charging their weapons at the exposed soldiers.

"Commander Shepard!" she cried, "Look out!"

Her heart sank in dread as an explosion flashed from a geth ship, bright enough to force her to squint. Curiously, none of the team seemed injured after the blast, but instead the dropship itself seemed to have taken some damage.

Her omnitool signaled that the jammer was surpassed, from which Ashley's voice sprung forth.

"Knock knock, you bastards! Give em' hell, Garrus!"

Ashley? The team sprinted past her as they came through the door, panting and out of breath. Tali promptly locked down with a resounding THUD! as soon as they were all inside, relieved that they were all still alive.

"Shepard, are you all right? Are you hurt?" she asked, worried for all of their safety while moving to support Shepard as he panted for air. Wrex grumbled something under his breath about humans only having two lungs. Shepard nodded to her in thanks and motioned to Kaidan, who also seemed to struggle for breath. After Kaidan signaled he was okay, Shepard brought a hand to his helmet's communicator.

"Williams, this is Shepard. Tali just bypassed the geth jammers… what's your status?" he panted.

"Driving the Mako, sir. Garrus is on the gun. Figured you'd need some help after we saw those ships headed your way."

The confused look he gave them was almost enough for Tali to giggle were the situation not so serious. "You're going to have to tell me how you managed to get the Mako through once we're back on the Normandy, Chief. How are you holding up against those dropships?"

"Mako took some damage earlier, but our shields are still going strong."

"Apparently the geth don't like the heavy cannon," Garrus quipped.

"We'll have you covered until you can get to that doctor, Commander," Ashley said determinedly. "Geth must want her badly if they're putting this much effort into grabbing her."

"Understood," Shepard said, switching channels to contact the Normandy. "Joker, we're going to need you here on standby in case the geth jam us again."

The ship's pilot voice broadcasted to all of their omnitools as he spoke. "Yeah, no problem, Commander. Just, you know, the active volcano of a planet that might fry our sensors or melt us down."


"Right. ETA ten minutes Commander."

"Good," he said, removing his hand from his helmet to look around apologetically to Tali, Wrex, and Kaidan. "…I'm sorry I put your lives at risk back there. If Garrus and Williams hadn't shown up…"

Wrex, of all people, silenced him before he could continue. "Shepard, it was either stand around and get shot, or get shot trying to make it there. I'd rather do something than just wait for the end." A grin slowly split the krogan's features. "And you can consider us even now in getting ourselves blown up."

"Uh, that still leaves Tali and me," Kaidan voiced. "I think we've had enough of risking each other's lives for this mission."

"Agreed," Tali joined in. "Those doors should hold against whatever the geth try to throw at them, but they were unlocked when I got here."

"Which means that there's probably geth further in," Shepard grunted, readying his weapon. "Let's go find this doctor."

The tunnels leading into the dig-site were far more foreboding than Shepard thought they'd be. The fact that the prothean ruins were mostly undisturbed for fifty-thousand years didn't help for all the tales of traps or cave-ins that were told. Some stories even went so far as to have the ghosts and spirits of the long dead protheans haunt them, claiming the lives of the unwary. Those were bogus of course, but the danger and mystery surrounding such ruins was not to be underestimated.

It was clear that the excavation team had put a great deal of scaffolding and metal walkways through the cave-like formation of ancient lava flows, the crumbling rock and basalt forming swirls and stalactites. Whether the dig team had evacuated before the geth arrived or not was unknown, but given the number of tools and equipment scattered about coupled with the makeshift tables and floodlights, it was probably the latter.

An enormous kinetic barrier bathed the walkway ahead in soft blue light, cutting off their path directly into the prothean ruin. It seemed that the excavators may have had to work around it as well, as an elevator platform to their left seemed far more recent and rugged than the smooth, crisp white of the prothean-made walls.

Alenko whistled at the architecture. "You have to hand it to the protheans, they built to last."

"I've never seen a prothean ruin like this before," Tali said in a reverent tone. "It looks… amazing. Just think of the technology that's supporting those shields! If only there was time to find the schematics for it…"

Shepard grinned from behind his helmet. Tali had surprised them time and time again in this mission, and despite all that had happened on her first time in a combat zone she was still marveling at tech. "Think that would work for a Pilgrimage gift?" he asked.

She looked back to him, then back to the barrier, shrugging. "If not, then at least the fleet would have an advantage whenever coming across pirates or the geth."

The clang of metal dropping to the ground further inside the cavern ended their conversation, the whole team bringing their weapons to bear.

"Contacts further in," Kaidan said, just barely above a whisper. "Let's hope this elevator here doesn't give us away."

Clustering together, the four boarded the open car, alert and listening for any signs of movement. The elevator jerked loudly before beginning its decent, bringing a small chuckle from Wrex.

"I don't know why we even try."

A moment later four geth flyers ventured up to investigate, clicking and scanning the area with their flashlights. A high-pitched beeping emitted from the foremost drone, having reached the elevator and source of the noise.

"Take them out!" Shepard commanded as the elevator car grew bright with the flashes of weapons fire. The drones only managed to fire off several shots before they hurtled to the ground one by one. With a whine, the final drone dive-bombed into the elevator tram system, causing the whole car to lurch and shudder as the vehicle lost power.

"Damn it," Shepard muttered. The elevator slowed to a stop just a meter before the bottom, the cables system sparking and crackling with exposed wires and twisted metal. "Well, there goes our ride back up," he said, jumping out of the elevator car. "Hopefully there's another one to the surface further in."

"You know Commander, this isn't my idea of an easy rescue mission," Alenko voiced, landing with a grunt alongside Tali.

"If I remember right, you were the one who was hoping for an easy mission, Alenko," Shepard said with a smirk. "Something about if we were lucky we wouldn't even have to fire our guns?"

Alenko bristled at the joke. "I was being optimistic about it, at least. You know, hope for the best, expect the worst?"

"Well, if that was the worst the geth could throw at us, then we've already won," Wrex chuckled as he hopped out, the entire elevator car shifting as he did so.

Shepard took in the sight before him, cautious about his advancement. Far more damage done to the elevator than they originally thought, as it seemed the entirety of the scaffolding on this level was misshapen and charred… bullet holes decorated the metal grates and siding, and fresh scorch marks from explosives could be seen on the prothean ruin. Obviously this wasn't the excavation team, Shepard thought dryly, but why would the geth be destroying their route back up?

Another area below them was bathed in the blue light from the kinetic barriers. The protheans had been dead set on keeping people out of their constructs, it seemed. In hindsight, the geth were probably trying to blast their way through the barrier, though given the apparent strength of it they probably—

"Um… hello? Can somebody help me… please?"

Shepard stopped at the distorted voice coming from below. "I think we've found our doctor," he said, jumping down from the destroyed walkway as the others followed suit. Sure enough, the barrier held an asari dressed in a green and white science jumpsuit on the other side, suspended in some sort of bubble.

The asari's eyes went frantic at the sight of them. "Can you hear me out there? I'm trapped, I need help!"

He gave her a small smile. "Dr. T'soni, I presume?"

"Thank the Goddess!" she exhaled in relief. "I did not think anyone would come looking for me. Listen, this… thing, I'm inside of is a prothean security device. I cannot move, so I need you to get me out of it, all right?"

"How did you get in there?" Alenko asked, eyeing the prothean barrier.

"I was exploring the ruins while the excavators were taking a lunch break. Then suddenly I heard screaming coming from their pre-fabs. I rushed out to see them all being… slaughtered, by geth."

The doctor shuddered. Can you believe that? Geth, beyond the Veil! I activated the prothean tower's defenses to keep them out… but I must have hit something I wasn't supposed to. I was trapped in here, you must get me out, please!"

Wrex glared at her. "So you're the only survivor of the geth attack, who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Benezia's working for Saren, and this is her daughter, Shepard. This could be a trap."

Shepard looked over to Wrex, then back to the asari, looking at her predicament from a different perspective. On a second glance, it did seem pretty suspicious…

The doctor was incredulous. "What?! That… that's horrible! I may be Benezia's daughter, but I'm nothing like her. I haven't spoken to her in years! Please, just get me out of here!"

She'd either have gone through a lot of trouble to set up a trap that might not even work, or she legitimately needs help, Shepard thought. Despite feeling apprehensive about the situation, Shepard went with his gut. "We'll find some way to help you out of there," he said.

Stark relief stood out on T'soni's features. "Oh, thank you! There's a control panel in here that should deactivate this thing. You'll have to find some way past the barrier curtain." She gave him a sheepish look. "That's, um… the tricky part. The defenses cannot be shut off from the outside. I don't know how you can get in here."

"Be careful," she pleaded. "There is a krogan with the geth, and they've been trying different ways to get past the barrier."

"Another krogan, eh?" Wrex asked, popping the vertebrate in his neck as he stretched. "This could get fun."

"We'll be back soon," Shepard promised, signaling to the rest of the team. "Let's find a way through this shield."

A rifle round struck the barrier behind them, breaking the momentarily lull in combat. "Contacts front!" Alenko shouted, putting up a biotic barrier to cover their descent on the catwalk. A multitude of geth "flashlight heads" shone from the pre-fabs, emitting a series of clicks and electronic noise.

Wordlessly, the team returned fire, suppressing the enemy as they advanced down into the cover of the cavern. There wasn't much they could do to help the doctor until the geth were cleared out, Shepard thought, his face a mask of concentration behind his helmet as he landed several hits on his target.

Alenko dropped his barriers once he found cover. "Commander, the geth brought Dragon's Teeth to the pre-fabs, like the ones they used on Eden Prime."

Shepard dared a look from his cover. Sure enough, the impaling devices stood tall amongst the miners living quarters… some of which were already occupied.

Tali looked over to the lieutenant, eyes wide. "Keelah, so the excavation team…"

"Yeah," Shepard said grimly, aiming down his rifle scope. "Just another reason to clear these bastards out." The remark was punctuated by a geth's head exploding in the distance, showering the ground with synthetic matter.

Despite the engagement at hand, they still had the problem of getting inside of the prothean tower. There were no interfaces for the barriers outside of the ruin, and it was clear that they didn't have the firepower to punch through them.

Shepard surveyed the cavern with exasperation. There might be some demolition charges that the team had stocked back in their pre-fabs, but with the geth holed up back there they would have to clear the buildings room by room, and the geth could have all kinds of opportunities to ambush them.

His eyes settled upon an object resting upon the volcanic rock on the left. At first glance, it looked like a hunk of metal or a supply crate, but after a closer look it was clear that it was actually an industrial mining laser. Hmm…

"Alenko, cover me. I think I've found our way inside that ruin," Shepard said as he hurried over to the device. Surprisingly, no geth fired upon him when he moved, but he shrugged it off as being lucky.

The Alliance soldier gave him a pensive stare, but kept his gun trained on the pre-fabs. "This better not involve a PAC, Shepard. Already had one too many on this mission," he said, nodding in Wrex's direction.

Shepard shrugged as he interfaced with the laser's controls, bringing up the firing mechanisms and aimed the device below Dr. T'soni's position. "This will probably have a lot of collateral damage, but at least it won't be directed towards us."

Before Alenko could respond, the now primed mining laser sounded a high-pitch warning siren, signaling that the laser was starting up. The laser flashed, blasting through the volcanic rock as if the obsidian and basalt were made of tissue paper, searing a hole to the prothean tower.

A cloud of dust saturated the air, caking the filters of Shepard's mask. He could hardly see in front of him, save for the alien glow of the prothean lighting below.

"Let's move! Into the tunnel!" he called out, hoping that the heat and dust provided them with enough cover from the geth's sensors. Surprisingly, no shots were fired at them as they ran in, though whether or not it was due to the lack of visibility wasn't clear. It was all a little too suspicious, as if the geth wanted them to find a way in.

The four of them dashed into the prothean structure, the harsh artificial light standing in stark contrast to the dark and ashen cavern. The prothean chamber they found themselves in seemed to run the length of the tower, extending both up and down connecting to a honeycomb of rooms, all sealed off by the barrier curtains.

"Walls of rooms and sterile lighting… protheans sure built things homey," Wrex grunted.

A terminal sat adjacent to the central structure in the room, displaying a surprisingly simple hologram that pointed up. Must be a lift, Shepard thought, and without spending any more time placed his hand on the console.

The moment Shepard touched the hologram the floor beneath them began to shift, lifting them upwards to the next floor of the tower and locking with the central structure. The central platform they now found themselves on showed every indication of being a large elevator, but with the protheans, anything was possible.

The doctor was still suspended in the energy sphere, though she turned her head to try to identify the sound of the lift.

"How, how did you get in here?" she said, shocked at their success. "I didn't think there was any way past the barrier!"

"Well, not conventionally, anyway," Shepard said wryly. "We blasted through with the mining laser."

"Ah… of course, that explains the noise I heard earlier," she said, nodding to herself. "Please, get me out of here before more geth arrive. That console over there should shut down this containment field."

The console sat opposite of the field, nestled against the wall. The design depicted a variety of symbols and designs, yet it seemed somehow… familiar, in a way. A flashing icon apparently showed the barrier's activity; as soon as Shepard pressed it the hologram went dark and the field dissipated, dropping the previously trapped asari with a thump.

The doctor brought herself up with a groan, stretching and getting her bearings. "Thank you for releasing me. I… I know this might not be the most prudent thing to ask at the moment, but who are you?"

"I'm Commander Shepard of the Alliance Navy and Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. These are Wrex, Tali, and Lieutenant Alenko," Shepard said, gesturing to each of them.

"A… a human Spectre?" she stuttered. "That's… no, never mind. Thank you, all of you."

"Any idea how we get out of here?" Tali asked.

The asari nodded. "There is an elevator back in the center of the tower… at least, I think it's an elevator. It should take us back up to the top of the dig site."

The odd collection of aliens walked to the central control console, the asari pouring over the device. "I… this is still a lot for me to believe. Why would the geth come after me? Do you think Benezia's involved?"

"Saren's looking for the conduit. You're a prothean expert. He probably needs wants you to help him find it," Tali explained.

The look the asari gave her was one of pure confusion. "The… Conduit? I don't know about any—"

A loud crashing could be heard above, followed by several distant rumbles and quakes.

Wrex glared at the ceiling. "What the hell was that?"

T'soni began to search the console hurriedly, pressing several buttons in sequence. "These ruins un stable. That mining laser must have triggered a seismic event! It sounds like the whole cavern will start caving in!"

"Damn it!" Shepard cursed, raising the comm again. "Joker, what's your ETA?"

"Four minutes Commander. Something I should know going on down there?"

The prothean elevator shook as a section of the wall crumbled next to them, shorting out the barrier curtain that Dr. T'soni had been trapped behind. "Just double-time it!" Shepard yelled.

"If I die in here I'll kill him," Wrex growled as the elevator shook again.

"That can be arranged," a bass voice said from behind them.

Shepard turned to find himself a short distance away from the krogan the doctor had warned them about, who now approached the elevator platform with a dozen geth flanking him. "Surrender. Or don't, it's more fun that way."

The doctor hurriedly pressed a few final keys that made the elevator start to rise, but the krogan and the closest geth managed to leap onto the platform before it left them behind.

Shepard glared at the offending krogan. "In case you hadn't noticed this place is falling apart!"

"Exhilarating, isn't it?" The krogan grinned, "Thanks for getting rid of that energy field for us. Hand the doctor over."

T'soni balled her fists angrily, a biotic glow forming around them. "Whatever it is you want you're not getting it from me!"

"Yeah, she'll stick with us, thanks," Shepard taunted. Several more rocks crashed down from the ceiling, indicating the rapid deterioration of the ruins integrity.

The krogan's grin quickly turned to a scowl. "Not an option. Saren wants her, and he always gets what he wants." He looked toward the geth that accompanied him. "Kill them, spare the asari if you can. If not, doesn't matter."

The elevator reached the top level, shuddering and stunning its passengers. The doctor dropped to the ground, but Shepard quickly motioned for her to stay down.

"Finally, a fight!" Wrex said, roaring a challenge to the other krogan. The geth had both sniper rifles and rockets, but before they could fire off a shot the leftmost unit stuttered and turned on its allies. "Geth hacked, Commander!" Tali called out, fingers a blur at her omnitool. Both he and Alenko took aim at the other geth, taking advantage of the distraction to pick off two of the others with several quick bursts of fire.

The krogan bellowed as it charged headlong into Wrex, glowing with biotics. Wrex lost ground, but quickly threw the other krogan back, putting enough space between them for him to draw his shotgun. His first shot struck the opposing krogan square in the chest, and even with kinetic barriers the krogan snarled with pain, retaliating with a blast of its own. Wrex closed the distance between them, using the butt of his shotgun as a cudgel, aiming for the krogan's head even as the other krogan was able to block it. The two grappled with each other, forcing each other to their limits…

Shepard fired several shots into the enemy krogan's side, causing him to flinch while Wrex finally got a hold of his shotgun, and unceremoniously blew his enemy's head off.

"Goddess!" T'soni cried. "Are all krogan so—"

"Yeah, yeah, let's go pyjak!" Wrex said, heaving the terrified doctor to her feet.

"Let's go! Move!" Shepard shouted as the entire elevator shaft began to shake and veritable boulders fell from the ceiling. After surviving a geth attack, dropships, and rescuing the doctor, he was damned if he or any of his team was buried alone with the ruins. The team scrambled out of the elevator shaft just in time as the entire tower began to shudder, collapsing in on itself as rock and lava came down on top of it.

"Uh, Commander, getting some serious readings on the Richter scale down there—"

"Not now!" he roared, avoiding a falling stalactite as they ran along the ramp. The noise was extraordinary; if he hadn't been wearing a helmet with aural intake dampeners he was certain he would have collapsed to cover his ears. Seeing as Wrex was now carrying the doctor, it seemed that he wasn't the only one.

At last, they reached the constructed excavation tunnel that led down into the cavern, though it too groaned and shuddered with the stress of the seismic activity. "Tali, the doors!" Shepard cried out, reminding her to unlock them. The quarian brought her omnitool out to interface with the doors as she ran, opening them remotely as the team neared. Dust and rubble surged forth behind them, kicking up in a cloud that shot out of the tunnel just as they raced outside.

"Commander, you all right?" Williams' voice crackled over the comms. "What the hell's going on? The lava pools are going nuts!"

If he could have jumped for joy, Shepard would have just then. The Mako and its team had not only held off the geth dropships (which seemed to have vacated the area), but it was still there as an avenue of escape. It looked like it had suffered significant damage, but it didn't matter at this point. Survival was on the line.

"No time! Open the hatch!" Shepard gasped out, his breathing ragged. Their dead sprint only ended once they were past the ash-strewn rocks and walkways and into the Mako's cabin, as each of them piled in with little concern for comfort or placement. Garrus and Williams could only stare at the disheveled team for a moment, mouths open in shock at their appearance.

"What the hell—" Williams began, managing to stop herself as the Normandy SR-1 flew into view.

"This is Normandy Airlines to all groundside passengers, we have arrived," Joker's voice rang throughout the Mako. "Stand by for standard docking procedures that obviously must occur during any situation, especially an erupting volcano."

The Normandy's loading ramp lowered itself as the ship hovered roughly three meters above the unstable ground. "Basically, run and gun it. That volcano's gonna blow, so it's now or never."

Shepard didn't even need to give a command as Williams hit the petal to the floor, driving at the damaged vehicle's full speed before engaging the thrusters. A collective gasp went through the cabin as the Mako belly-flopped onto the cargo hold floor, the doors pulling up to seal them in.

The sound of heavy breathing was all that broke the silence in the Mako, each member of the team staring at one another.

"So…" Garrus ventured. "How were those ruins…?"

"Garrus." Shepard growled.

"Yes Commander?"

"Shut up."

PAC: A predecessor to the M-920 Cain, the Alliance utilized the Particle Accelerator Cannon, or PAC, to provide anti-vehicle capabilities to their infantry. Capable of accelerating a traditional 25 gram high explosive round to upwards of 3km/s, the PAC is not intended for close engagements and is recommended to be used at distances of 20 meters or greater.