The Enemy Advances, We Retreat
15th July 2186 CE
Moreau Farm, Promavess Continent
Walking out of the destroyed door, as if she was enjoying a leisurely stroll through a park, Neaira calmly walked towards the two lifeless men on the floor. Without as much as a second glance, she stepped over their mangled remains and started towards the rest of the confused farmers.
There weren't any outward changes on the indoctrinated Asari, at least from where I was observing.
The farmers just stood there, wide eyed. They didn't know what I knew. But I couldn't bring myself to tell them - to scream a warning to them - when my whole world had been rocked once again. The shock had utterly taken away control over my body. And as I stood there, motionless and traumatized, mouth agape, Neaira touched one of the farmers on his forehead.
Even from this distance, I could see that her pupils had dilated and turned completely black. She was in the state of pure ecstasy that mind-melding presented. Usually, this would give Asari the ability to share consciousness, thoughts and memories. We couldn't read minds however, much to the contrary belief of ignorant aliens on the extranet. We had to share. We had to give, to be able to take.
But she was an Ardat-Yakshi. They didn't give, or take. They totally, absolutely consumed. The genetic disease enabled them to extinguish life with a single touch.
The man promptly collapsed. No struggles, no spasms, just died on the spot. And if what the science says is true, he would have experienced her utter pleasure as they became one, for the briefest of moments.
And that was if Neaira had been a normal Ardat-Yakshi, untainted by the Reapers. But she clearly wasn't normal any more. Thus, the dead farmer's body began to…melt. The corpse liquefied into the organic paste that the Reapers desired to take from every single being in the galaxy.
The rest of the farmers had also been captivated by what was occurring, but Hilary's father stirred from the stupor first. Acting like a man who'd been a soldier for all his life, he emptied the rest of the thermal clip into Neaira, aiming for her chest. The powerful shotgun ripped through its owner's kinetic shielding and the force of the blast threw her to the ground. But before he could reload and finish her off, Neaira put up her biotic barrier, and then got back up. With a firm push of her hands, she released a shockwave of biotic energy that rippled through the earth, toppling the farmers who were to the side and throwing the ones directly in its path into the air. Mr Moreau was straight in front of the shockwave's crushing might. He flew back into a metal skip, and then crumpled to the floor. I couldn't tell if he was dead or merely unconscious. What I could tell, however, was that Hilary had saw what happened too.
The poor girl screamed. It was a raw, primal sound that was born of instinct.
I also acted reflexively, as I threw my arms around her body, and then pulled her down with me as I hit the ground. I hoped that the crest of the hill would hide us from anything searching for the sound.
But I was too slow; Neaira had stopped tossing the men around just long enough to see us. She screamed in our direction, a noise much too shrill and high-pitched for an Asari's vocal chords, informing me that the first physical change had occurred.
I couldn't see what was happening down there, but I could hear the unmistakeable sounds of a biotic charge. First, the whooshing sound when someone enters a charge. Then the sonic boom and the crackle of static electricity in the air, as electrons are shorn from their nuclei, when they landed successfully.
I immediately began to panic. It was the typical way Reaper Banshees approached a distant target.
This meant that Neaira was coming towards us at incredible speeds. Speeds much too quick for us to outpace... unless we started running now. The only thing going for us at the moment was the fact Banshees couldn't perform one, long distance charge like highly trained biotic soldiers could. They were stuck to several small distance bursts.
I grabbed the crying girl and started running down the opposite side of the hill with her. Hilary was too stunned to even try resisting, but she wasn't really trying to escape either. So even though she was essentially dead weight, I pulled her down as safely as I could. I wasn't going to leave her behind to get killed by Reapers. We slipped and skidded down the mud-covered slope before reaching the border of an enormous forest.
Evergreen trees the size of 20-story buildings stretched out into the horizon on either sides. The ground ahead was almost dry despite the heavy downpour.
I chanced a quick look behind before entering the murky atmosphere of the woodland.
The biotic charges had stopped, but Neaira was clearly visible standing at the top of the hill, radiating with erratic shudders of energy. She somehow looked directly into my eyes, despite the few hundred metres between us, and pointed. I could tell then that she was no longer Neaira, or even Asari.
Imagine the physics of biotic energy as similar to the physics of space-time. Now, I'm sure you all know that if space-time was a fabric in the universe, gravity would pull that fabric down. A planet's mass would affect space-time considerably, but even the largest dreadnought in the galaxy would be almost nothing in comparison. Biotics are similar in that aspect. I can sense a fellow commando using biotics if she's right next to me, as if she's pulling the 'fabric' of my own biotic energy field down slightly. A whole platoon of Asari using co-ordinated strikes would stand out to me, from perhaps a hundred metres away or something.
But a Reaper Banshee? That thing stood out like a fucking black hole. I could feel it pulling my thoughts in, trying to read my mind unwillingly. Trying to find out what I was going to do next. The amount of biotic potential required to do that, from such a distance had to be phenomenal. Nothing organic could do that. Not without having a nervous system the size of a house!
I thought the Banshee was going to try and dominate my mind, but instead, three Marauders ran over the crest of the hill and made towards us at a Turian sprint. And by 'Turian', I mean very fast.
So I began running again, pulling Hilary behind me.
Weaving through the copious and dense tree trunks, it wasn't long before I completely lost track of my bearings. Sometime later Hilary, thankfully, began to run of her own accord. The crunching of sticks and leaves from behind us quietened out, until there was nothing but our own slowing footsteps and the rapid intakes of breath from two astonishingly similar respiratory systems. Humans also had a left and right lung, a diaphragm of sorts, and a trachea that linked with the oesophagus to allow intake of air from either the mouth or nose.
Hilary, having grown up on a farm, had much more stamina than I would have expected from a normal human teenager. It wasn't long before her breathing returned to normal, and matched my own.
She had an upset and haggard look to her. Eyes wide, brows high and lips turned down in frown. A look of fearful uncertainty that shouldn't befall any child, of any species.
It hurt me to just look at her. But there were many others who were far, far worse off in the rest of the galaxy. The thought was plain heart-wrenching. This war was beginning to take its toll on me, and it had barely lasted a month. All my training, all my preparation had focused on surviving for the next few minutes. Protecting my team for the next couple of hours, at most. I wasn't trained to fight for two weeks in continuous engagements. To fight against a relentless enemy with no goddamn weaknesses!
I realised Eratyra was right, there was simply nothing I could do.
Nothing I could hope to achieve but survive.
So I would. I'd survive.
Two hours had passed; there had been no more encounters with any of the Reapers.
The girl had had a knife tucked away in her boots. I used the small tool to cut my towel up, and made it into a tunic of sorts. Three pieces of mottled brown and white fur, tied together with a length of material that went tight around my hips. Another three triangular pieces, that were this time, tied to a much shorter length that went around my neck. The outfit looked ridiculous, the damp cloth felt disgusting, but it was much more practical than running around with a wet towel on.
There were no small animals in this forest that we could capture, but Hilary had found a couple of bushes that were completely covered in a bright crimson fruit native to Tiptree. The local humans, with their never-ending wealth of creativity, had named them 'Red Berries'. It was a bitter fruit, with a sharp tangy after-taste that remained on my tongue for a long time. Apparently it was full of nutrients that helped humans grow. I only ate it because we had nothing else to actually eat. I was thankful that we'd found something edible.
But what we both wanted to do was get back to the farm.
I wanted to get back to my team, and off this wretched planet. She just wanted to see her father again. The girl was smart though, she knew as much as I did that going back would be tantamount to suicide. I guessed that there would be no possible way for us to go back today, especially as it was about to become night.
The Banshee would be growing stronger and stronger. They would be waiting for us on the other side, so we decided to stay overnight in the forest. It wasn't something entirely impossible, and we were both convinced that the Reapers wouldn't stay that long just to capture the two of us. Although this fact buoyed me, it probably dragged Hilary's already disheartened mood down further.
We'd found a large hollow in a massive tree trunk. It was covered in a soft moss that glowed a slightly opalescent green, which seemed to become brighter and brighter as the night swept in. The hollow was cramped, but just large enough that we could both fit inside. The moss was thick enough to comfortably rest your head.
But I certainly wasn't going to sleep tonight.
I was exhausted and weary, but someone had to keep watch. And I wasn't about to ask a human teenager, who'd possibly just lost everyone she knew, to do that whilst I slept. She'd been in the tree for about an hour, just staring at the far side, not saying anything. Occasionally, she'd throw a berry into her mouth, and chew it thoughtfully.
"Hey," I whispered softly into the hollow. Hilary quickly sat back up and she looked up at me, her face highlighted in a green glow. "Try and get some sleep, you'll need it for tomorrow."
She grunted when she realised that was why I called her, and not because we were spotted or something.
"I can't sleep" Hilary replied in monotone, leaning back against the bark and staring at the far side once more.
I was silent for a few moments, thinking of something to say that wouldn't get me a quick rebuttal from an emotional teenager.
"Anything on your mind?"
"No…yes" Hilary shuffled around so she could make eye contact, without having to lean out of the hole that was the entrance into the hollow. "I…Well, why did you join the military?"
The question didn't actually throw me off balance. I've been asked this exact same thing first, during countless interviews. But I've never told the reporters my true background. I wasn't allowed to by law and military conduct. I don't think it quite matters right now.
"Because they asked me to." It was a simple enough reply, and I could've left it at that, but…I don't know; I felt like I should indulge a bit more. "I was born on Thessia, around 300 years ago. You humans were just discovering how to print newspapers back then. I moved to a human run colony with my mother and…second mother, father, whatever, around 20 years ago. Why do you think my English is this good?" I smiled. "Imagine it; otherwise my translator would still be in my armour back at the farm."
She nodded slowly, her lips forming the iconic 'O' shape of a human registering slow surprise.
I told the girl, whose interest had now been fully captured, "My mother and father, died long ago at the hands of a pirate group. It was our mistake to live in the Terminus Systems, but we had a good life there."
I couldn't help putting a bit more pride into my voice as I carried on. "I joined that same pirate enclave soon afterwards, 'The Terminus Platinums', I know, stupid name, and I was good enough at killing that I kinda rose through their ranks quickly. Eventually, I took out their leader and once I had the power to control them...turned every single one of them into Council authority."
"Oh. Why didn't you just kill them all yourself?"
"And where would that have gotten me? In jail? No, I knew what would happen if I did murder them all, so I gave every last pirate's name to the Council. They actually sent some Spectres after the ones who managed to escape."
Hilary seemed impressed.
"So then you joined the military? Because you knew you had nothing else to offer than your…particular set of skills?"
It was then my turn to be impressed. She had a good analytical side.
"Yeah, it was like that. The Council offered me a desk position in C-Sec, but Asari High Command offered me a military role. Guess which one I took?"
"Well you wouldn't be here, stuck with me, if you'd taken that C-Sec position…"
"And you know what? I'd rather be here, helping you to get off this planet safely…" I eyed her carefully, "…and the rest of your family. I can do a lot more in active duty. It's all I can do."
I sighed. "So, tell me a bit about yourself then."
Hilary looked back into the distance, her eyes glazing over as she began talking again.
"Mum and Dad moved here from Earth about thirty years ago. My dad used to be in the Alliance Navy, not an officer, just a soldier. Was a Staff Sergeant before he retired. Mum was a bio-engineer on Earth. They both just wanted a peaceful life; maybe grow old together on a farm or something. Mum died of a sudden heart attack five years ago. Some sort of allergy to the native wildlife she studied in her spare time."
I went inside the hollow when I felt the first drops of rain again, after about an hour of calm skies. Almost obliviously, Hilary carried on.
"I have an older brother. He wanted to be a soldier just like my dad. But he was born with brittle bone disease, could hardly walk, never mind fight. He gave up on everything, was a bit of a pessimist. Dad eventually persuaded him to at least try for a ship position when his condition got a bit better. Guess what he is now? The best damn pilot in the galaxy. His test scores at his Alliance academy are so high; his instructors can't even get close. Last I heard, he was stationed back on Earth for something. And then there's me." She looked at me, sitting beside her.
"Well?" I asked.
"Nothing. I haven't really achieved anything to tell you about, you know? I turned 16 last month, just left school. Was looking to enter the Alliance when I was 18. Some sort of ship position too, I like flying. With all this that's going on though, I don't think it's gonna happen anytime soon." Hilary sighed.
I thought about what she said, and it did seem unfair that her dreams could never come true. Especially as her species was so short lived. She'd never see the end of this war, no matter how it turned out. So it was an equal amount of positive and negative, depending on your perspective.
I had no choice in the matter. I had around 700 years left in me. I'll get to see the galaxy in peace once more, or a galaxy with nothing left in it to disturb the peace. Either way this war goes, if I survive, I'll be there at the end.
"I'll get you something you want." I said to her suddenly.
Her brows went up in an inquisitive manner when she looked at me.
"Whatever you want to do with your life. I'll help as much as I can."
Hilary still looked rather dumbfounded, so I explained. "If you want to get into the Alliance, work for C-sec, whatever, I want to stay in touch with you. I want to help you."
"Oh…Well, thanks, I guess…But why?"
I didn't actually know. It was a spontaneous idea. "I don't know," I admitted, "I guess I've always wanted to help someone..." I stopped myself.
I didn't want to say it was 'because I saw myself in her'. That if she too, had no one left after this war; that there should be someone to guide her. But I couldn't think of any better way to put it.
"You remind me of myself. I want you to get the chance to experience life. A proper life, unlike mine."
I shook my head in annoyance. It was simple in my mind, but a frustratingly difficult concept to explain.
"You know what, we'll talk tomorrow." I shuffled to the side to give her some more room. "You should get some sleep."
Hilary actually nodded in assent this time, curled her legs in, and rested her head on the floor. It was as comfortable as she was going to get for the night.
I, on the other hand, sat rigid, observing the darkness outside for any signs of movement.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry for the late update, was a bit busy this week. :/ Thanks for all those who fav'd, followed, and reviewed!