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Chapter Two – Fatal Point
"I had hoped that you would get here first," said the Turian Spectre in a polite tone of voice.
"Where is the Captain?" the Commander asked instantly, on edge due to the unexpected turn of events.
"Relax," Nihlus replied smoothly, "He's on his way." Either he couldn't discern human facial expression enough to notice the look of suspicion directed at him or he simply didn't care. Given that he was an elite special operations agent; it was probably the latter. "I'm curious about this world we're approaching," he continued, "Eden Prime. I hear it's quite beautiful."
"I've never been," Shepard replied curtly.
"But you've heard of it," said Nihlus, "It's become somewhat of a symbol for your people hasn't it? Proof that humanity can not only establish colonies on the on the other side of the galaxy but defend them as well. But how safe is it really?"
"Is that a threat Spectre?" demanded Shepard.
"You're people are still newcomers Shepard," Nihlus responded patronisingly, "The galaxy can be a dangerous place. Is the Alliance truly ready for this?" The sound of the comm room's door prevented Shepard angrily responding.
"I think it's time we told the Commander what's really going on," said Anderson, entering the dimly lit room. Nihlus nodded and said, "This mission is far more than a simple shakedown run."
So Joker was right, thought Shepard, I'm never going to hear the end of that.
"I thought there was something you weren't telling us," responded Shepard, successfully keeping any irritation she may have felt out of her voice. Anderson continued to speak.
"We're making a covert pick-up on Eden Prime," he said, "That's why we needed the stealth systems operational."
I suppose that makes sense.
"There must have been a reason that you didn't tell me this Sir," she said.
"Sorry kiddo," he apologised, "This is straight from the top; strictly need to know."
She nodded for the Captain to continue.
"A research team on Eden Prime unearthed some kind of beacon during an excavation." The captain paused momentarily. "It was Prothean."
Alliance Codex – Primary Entry: The Protheans
Fifty thousand years ago, the Protheans were the only spacefaring species in the galaxy. They vanished in a swift "galactic extinction". Only the legacy of their empire remains. They are believed to have built the mass relays and the Citadel, which have allowed numerous species to explore and expand throughout the galaxy.
Prothean ruins are found on worlds across the galaxy. While surprisingly intact for their age, functioning examples of Prothean paleo-technology are rare. Time and generations of looters have picked their dead cities and derelict stations clean.
Some believe the Protheans meddled in the evolution of younger races. The hanar homeworld of Kahje, for example, shows clear evidence of Prothean occupation. The presence of a former Prothean observation post on Mars has caused a rebirth of "interventionary evolutionists" among humans. These individuals believe the god-myths of ancient civilizations are misremembered encounters with aliens.
Despite her best efforts, Shepard could prevent her eyebrows moving north. Even a soldier like Jenkins would be able to understand the significance of such a discovery.
At least it explains why Nihlus is here.
"Prothean?" she asked, "An actual working Prothean artefact?"
"The last time humanity made a discovery like this, it jumped our technology forward two hundred years," he said, nodding. "But Eden Prime doesn't have the facilities to handle something like this. We need to bring the beacon back to the Citadel for proper study."
"Obviously, this goes beyond mere human interests, Commander," Nihlus interjected, "This discovery could affect every species in Council space."
Shepard ignored the subtle insinuation that the Alliance would keep it for themselves.
"Are we expecting any trouble?" she asked.
"I always expect trouble," said Nihlus. Normally, a line like that would make someone appear arrogant or smug. For Nihlus it did neither of those things Shepard knew that he meant what he said.
"The beacon, however," he continued, "is not the only reason I'm here."
Confused, Shepard turned to Anderson. "What's going on sir?" she asked.
"Nihlus wants to see you in action," he answered, "He's here to evaluate you."
Ok-ay, very confused. Where is this going?
"I guess that explains why I keep bumping into him every time I turn around," she said finally.
Anderson, noticing her confused expression, decided to take pity on her. "The Alliance has been pushing for this for a long time," he began, "Humanity wants a larger role in shaping interstellar policy. We want more say with the Citadel Council."
Okay, nothing new yet.
"The Spectres represent the Council's power and authority," he continued, "If they accept a human into their ranks, it shows how far the Alliance has come."
Alright, I suppose that makes sen- What was that?
Nihlus took over. "You survived the Thresher Maws on Akuze. Of the fifty stationed there, only you survived. You showed not only skill and courage, but an incredible will to survive."
Courage? I was scared shitless.
"That is why I put your name forward as a candidate for the Spectres," he finished.
"You put my name forward," she asked, realising something, "Why would a Turian want a human in the Spectres?"
"Not all humans resent humanity," he said, ""Some of us see the potential of your species. We see what you have to offer to the rest of the galaxy... and to the Spectres. It's rare to find an individual with the skills we seek. I don't care that you're human, Shepard. I only care that you can do the job."
A non-human hating Turian. Shepard took the next second to mentally berate herself for her quick judgment of the Spectre.
"I assume this is good for the Alliance," she said, after several seconds of consideration.
"Earth needs this, Shepard," Anderson urged, "We're counting on you."
"However, I will still need to see your skills for myself," said Nihlus, "Eden Prime will be the first of several missions together."
"You'll be in charge of the ground team," Anderson said, bringing matters back to the mission at hand. "Secure the beacon and get it onto the ship ASAP. Nihlus will accompany you to observe the mission."
"What do we know about this beacon?" Shepard asked, "Is it anything like the data cache we discovered on Mars?"
"We don't know," Anderson admitted. "It could be. It could be something much more, though. What if it's a weapons archive? We can't let it fall into the wrong hands."
"Like raiders or Batarians?" she asked.
"Exactly," Anderson said, "The Attican Traverse isn't the most stable sector of Citadel space. The raiders and criminals in the region might figure a Prothean beacon is worth the risk of attacking an Alliance ship. Plus, Eden Prime is right on the border of the Terminus Systems."
"But The Attican Traverse is under Citadel protection," said Shepard, "If the Terminus Systems attack, it's an act of war."
Nihlus looked embarrassed.
"Technically yes," he said evasively, "But some of the species in the Terminus might be willing to go to war over this."
And, also, the Council doesn't want to have to declare war over some humans, Shepard silently added.
Suddenly, Joker's voice could be heard over the intercom.
"Captain!" he yelled, "We have a problem!"
"What's wrong Joker?" Anderson asked.
"Transmission from Eden Prime, sir. You better see this," came the response.
The three turned to the viewing screen.
It presented a recording from the helmet of an Alliance marine. Shepard could barely discern what was happening; all she could see was rapid camera movement and static. Intense gunfire could be heard. The image cleared momentarily and a female soldier in white body armour ordered the soldier/camera to get down, further emphasising her command by pushing him to the ground.
They then saw a squad of marines firing their assault rifles on full automatic at some foe off-screen.
While there was no visual, some audio could still be salvaged.
"We are under attack… – taking heavy casualties. I repe– heavy casualties. We need..." His words were drowned out as something exploded nearby. "-evac! They came out of nowhere. We need–"
Whatever he needed, they would never find out, as his final words were cut off buy more battle sounds. This time he did not continue.
The picture came back, but the quality was worse than ever. For some reason, all of the soldiers were no longer firing. They were all looking up. The camera rose towards the direction of what they were looking at. Shepard had a brief vision of something large piercing the clouds accompanied by what appeared to be purple lightning …and the video cut out completely.
"Everything cuts out after that," Joker reported, "No comm traffic at all. Nothing."
Without hesitation, Anderson said, "Reverse and hold at 38.5."
Joker complied and the video briefly reversed and froze. What they saw appeared to be a ship. The word "appeared" is used here because it is common knowledge that nothing that size could ever have a hope of leaving a planet's surface. The ship's – thing's – whatever's shape reminded Shepard of a large hand. Surrounded by all that purple energy, it made her imagine that some kind of vengeful, deranged god had raised his hand against the planet to smite it.
Nihlus' mandibles twitched slightly. Likely the Turian equivalent for a raised eyebrow. He opened his mouth but said nothing.
So he can be unnerved.
Anderson blinked twice.
"Status report," he barked.
"Seventeen minutes out, Captain," replied Joker without his usual levity, "No other Alliance ships in the area."
"Take us in, Joker," Captain Anderson commanded, "Fast and quiet." He looked to Nihlus. "This mission just got a lot more complicated."
Nihlus appeared to have recovered from his momentary loss for words. "A small strike team could move quickly, without drawing attention. It's our best chance to secure the beacon."
Anderson nodded, "Grab your gear and meet us in the cargo hold."
To Shepard's surprise, the Spectre followed Anderson's order without any hesitation. Shepard supposed that Nihlus was smart enough to know that this was no time to split hairs on who should be giving the orders.
Anderson then turned to her.
"Tell Alenko and Jenkins to suit up, Commander," he said, "You're going in."
The Normandy descended upon the planet's surface. The ship was completely undetected due the stealth systems being fully engaged. However, had anyone been close enough for a visual scan they would have seen it disappear against the planet's size. Had they waited for two minutes, up there in the black void of space, they would have then seen the ship emerge from the planet, returning to space.
However, nobody saw it.
Had anyone seen though, they might have asked themselves; 'Why did they go to the surface if they were only going to return after a minute or two?'
Eden Prime's surface was remarkably similar to that of Earth.
Tall trees with green leaves, rolling hills, random rocks and a field of crops stretched out over the horizon.
Jenkins was right, though Shepard. Eden Prime truly is beautiful.
Or at least it would have been had it not been for the smoky ruins, burning crops and the smell of devastation fouling the air.
Understandably, Jenkins was not happy. This was his home.
"Oh my God!" he moaned, "What happened here?"
Shepard was going to say something when her comm chirped.
"This place got hit hard, Commander," Nihlus reported, "Hostiles everywhere. Keep your guard up."
Nihlus had set out before the trio to scout the area. He would periodically supply information regarding the layout of the land.
Keeping to Anderson's order of radio silence, Shepard did not respond.
As they moved towards the dig site, they waded through a marsh and encountered these strange… things.
To Shepard they resembled floating brains.
Great, as if this mission wasn't creepy enough. What's next? Zombies?
"What the hell are those?" Alenko exclaimed.
"Don't worry," said Jenkins, "They're gas bags. Totally harmless."
Jenkins seemed to have recovered from his shock. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Shepard turned to him.
"You gonna be okay Corporal?" she asked the greenhorn.
"Yes ma'am," he replied, "This is my home and of course I want to save it. But you're my commanding officer and I will follow and commands you give."
Under her helmet, Shepard smiled.
"Alright then," she said, "Take point."
As Jenkins advanced Shepard saw three robotic flying drones skim over the hill they were climbing and before she could shout a warning to Jenkins they opened fire.
Alenko and Shepard both managed to find cover behind some rocks and return fire.
Jenkins wasn't so lucky.
The first shot burned out his shields, the second shot, tore through his armour and the third shot turned his insides into a gory show of exploding blood and organs.
He fell to wet ground, making a splash in the dirty water of the marsh.
Shepard, using an assault rifle aimed towards the furthest drone, taking advantage of her weapon's range. Alenko, however, raised his arm towards the two nearest drones and jerked it back. A blue biotic field surrounded the pair and swiftly dragged them to the ground, causing them to explode on impact.
Satisfied that all immediate threats had been neutralised, the pair rushed over to their fallen comrade. Alenko knelt down next to him tore of Jenkins' helmet. The corporal was clearly trying to speak but no words came out, only blood. His whole body convulsed.
Shepard gave a soft sigh under her helmet. They had medi-gel but she knew that all the medi-gel in creation could save the soldier. She knelt beside Alenko and removed her helmet. She took the dying man's hand in her own.
"Don't talk," she said softly, "Save your strength."
Inside she raged at the useless platitude. What was he supposed to save his strength for? However, she did not let this show on her face. She was a commander and she had a duty to her man.
"It's going to be okay," she said.
All too quickly, the trembling stopped and Jenkins died.
And now I lose another one.
Giant worms burst forth from the ground, all around them, screeching into the night. Shepard was pushed out of the way of a glob of acid by Toombs. She saw one of the worms tear Chase apart with its fearsome jaws and he exploded in a shower of blood. The ground continued to shake. She fell to her knees, unable to keep hold of her gun, unable to do anything but cover her ears and worm her way into the rocky crevice. She could hear gunfire before but now she heard none. All she could hear was the screaming.
Alenko closed the dead man's eyes.
"Ripped right through his shield," he reported in a monotone, "He never had a chance."
"Kaidan," she said, using his first name, "We have to go."
"We can't just leave him Commander!" he protested.
"He's dead Lieutenant," she said bluntly, "There is nothing we can do for him. When we're done, I'll see that he gets a proper service but right now I need you to remain focussed. Can you do that?"
"Yes ma'am," he answered automatically.
"Let's move out."
"Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit," muttered Williams as she slid behind cover, only narrowly, avoiding what would have been a head shot. Private Bhatia dove beside her and returned fire to the drones. Williams then called out, "Grenade!" The soldiers jumped away from the explosion. Bhatia was closer to the event and her leg disintegrated, leaving only a bloody stump. Now vulnerable, the machines wasted no time in aiming at the easier target. Her helmet visor shattered under the barrage of plasma and she fell back, now motionless.
The sombre duo the marsh and carefully making use of the cover that the numerous rocks around them supplied. They were not going to be caught unawares again. Their vigilance eventually paid off in the form of seven, now smoking, drones. The drones were completely unaware that they were being targeted until they were fired upon. By then it was too late. Alenko let off an EMP disabling the drones and the two fired upon their hapless foes.
"I've got more burned out buildings here, Shepard," said Nihlus, breaking the silence, "A lot of bodies. I'm going to check it out. I'll try to catch up with you at the dig site."
Keeping radio silence, Shepard tapped the mike in acknowledgement.
Having reached the top of the hill, their path started to descend into a clearing. They saw a figure in white body armour running towards them. No. Not running towards them, running away from someone else.
Shepard recognised her as the same soldier who had pushed the camera/soldier down in the video.
She's still alive after all that?
Three drones were in pursuit of her, firing wildly. One shot caught her in the shoulder but, unlike Jenkins, her shields held. She rolled forwards to escape the next barrage, spun around and fired her pistol, downing all of the pursuing drones with only three shots.
Further ahead, Shepard could see a squad more soldiers, these ones wearing non-Alliance armour. It was sterile white with some kind of flash light on the helmet. They were dragging a still living civilian towards some kind of platform. After laying their screaming captive across it, crucifixion style, a five metre tall spike burst forth from the platform, impaling the unfortunate. He hung from the vicious gibbet now, mercifully, silent and still.
The pair immediately charged into the fray, Shepard bearing her assault rifle and Alenko making use of his biotics. The female soldier rose to her feet, switched from her pistol to a shotgun and basted away at the nearest enemy.
Now that she was closer, Shepard could see that these soldiers were also robotic, several exploding when destroyed, just like the drones.
With the last machine down, the soldier limped towards the pair.
"Thanks for your help," she said, panting heavily, "I didn't think I was getting out of that one." Remembering herself, she stood at attention. "Gunnery Chief Williams of the 212," she said, raising an injured arm in what was clearly supposed to be a salute, "You the one in charge ma'am?"
"At ease Williams," Shepard said, "I'm Commander Shepard, SSV Normandy. This is Lieutenant Alenko," she motioned to her squad mate. "Are you wounded?"
"Just a few scrapes and burns ma'am, nothing serious," said Williams.
"Quit the brave face thing you have going," said Shepard, "Alenko," she ordered, "Medi-kit." Alenko helped Williams remove her left shoulder pad so Shepard could apply medi-gel to the wound. As the foamy anaesthetic/clotting agent did its work, Williams began to ramble.
"Oh, man...," she began, "We were patrolling the perimeter when the attack hit. We tried to get off a distress call, but they cut off our communications. I've been fighting for my life ever since."
"Where is the rest of your squad," Shepard asked, already having a suspicion.
"We tried to double back to the beacon. But we walked into an ambush," she replied, "I don't think any of the others... I think I'm the only one left."
"This isn't your fault, Williams," said Shepard immediately, "You couldn't have done anything to save them."
"Yes ma'am," she responded, "We held our position as long as we could but the geth just overwhelmed us."
Alliance Codex – Geth:
The geth are a humanoid race of networked A.I.s. They were created by the quarians 300 years ago as tools of labour and war. When the geth showed signs of self-evolution, the quarians attempted to exterminate them. The geth won the resulting war. This example has led to legal, systematic repression of artificial intelligences in galactic society.
The geth possess a unique distributed intelligence. An individual has rudimentary animal instincts, but as their numbers and proximity increase, the apparent intelligence of each individual improves. In groups, they can reason, analyse situations, and use tactics as well as any organic race.
Geth space is located at the trailing end of the Perseus Arm, beyond the lawless Terminus Systems. The Perseus Veil, an obscuring "dark nebula" of opaque gas and dust, lies between their space and the Terminus Systems.
Alenko and Shepard exchanged a surprised glance.
"Geth?" Alenko asked, "The geth haven't been seen outside the Veil in nearly two hundred years. Why are they here now?" Williams shrugged.
"My guess is that they came for the beacon," she said, "The dig site is close. Right around the corner. It might still be there."
Shepard made a decision.
"Alright," she said, "We head for the dig site." She turned to the Gunnery Chief. "Do you think you can manage with that Williams?" she said, nodding at her wounded shoulder. Williams laughed.
"If you think I'm going to a little scratch slow me down," she said with conviction, "Then you have another thing coming… ma'am," she finished somewhat lamely, remembering that she was, in fact, talking to a commanding officer.
"I think you and I are going to get on just fine Chief."