Chapter 25: No More Room in Hell
There was little time to think or even process what had happened. All Garrus could do was run and shoot as he tried to keep their dwindling group from falling apart. These things, this Flood, it wouldn't stop hounding them. No matter where they ran to, they were already waiting for them. No matter how many they killed, there were more waiting to strike. They couldn't beat them and they couldn't outrun them. They needed to find some place to hold out.
"Foe Hammer, are you still with us?" Garrus asked. "Are there any more structures nearby? Any place where we can take shelter?"
"I think I see something ahead of you," she tensely responded. "But I can't land there. There are still too many trees."
"We'll worry about that later," Garrus assured her. "We just need a place to keep them at bay for now!"
"Alright, head across that log bridge ahead of you," Foe Hammer told him. "I'll see about finding a place I can land."
When Foe Hammer signed off, a furious volley of plasma rounds cut into a tree trunk nearby. Garrus pointed his Assault Rifle back and fired into the mass of onrushing monsters. Buck joined the turian at his side, unloading rounds from a DMR at the encroaching abominations.
"We need to get across that log and to a structure that's past it," Garrus told the Drop Trooper. "Keep everyone moving!"
"Don't need to tell me twice," Buck frantically replied.
The two left the cover of the tree and kept running ahead. Dutch tossed a grenade back at their pursuers before joining them. Thane and Jack did their best to keep the Flood at bay themselves, tossing out biotic attacks to push them back down the hillside. Thane had switched to his Shredder rounds on his SMG in hopes of it doing more damage against the fleshy forms of the creatures. It seemed to work, as the bursts from the drell's weapons tore pieces off the Combat Forms rather than simply pass through them.
"Chew on my biotics you undead pieces of shit!" Jack screamed back at the monstrosities as they kept pushing forward.
The bald Ex-Con sent a powerful shockwave rippling through the ranks of Combat Forms, hurtling them to and fro. Even Jack, however, was not so brazen as to stand and fight these things. She pulled away, along with everyone else. Bullets from the attacking creatures flew past her as she made a mad dash with everyone towards the log bridge.
Mordin was among the first to get to the bridge. He found it occupied by three Combat Forms armed with shotguns. Before any of them could land a hit on the salarian though, he fired off an incineration blast from his omni-tool. The fire burned the monstrous creatures' flesh and sent them tumbling off the side of the log.
"Quickly," he called to the others. "More likely to come! Cross before escape is blocked!"
Kasumi, Legion and a number of Marines managed to scramble across with Mordin leading the way. The thief and the geth choose to stand their ground when they reached the other side. In the meantime, Professor Solus ran on ahead with everyone else. He needed to keep the Marines safe, but Kasumi and Legion were concerned with everyone not yet across. They could already see Garrus and Buck's team among the remaining survivors, the Flood hot on their heels.
Combat Forms fell from on high onto the backs of unsuspecting Marines, tackling them to the ground. Legion began targeting the descending abominations, firing at them with its DMR. He blew meaty chunks out of the falling creatures, keeping them from their intended prey. Kasumi focused on the Combat forms on the ground, covering Garrus and Buck's squad as they ran for the log bridge.
"Garrus," Kasumi shouted out. "Ugly right behind you, duck!"
The turian fortunately heard her cry and dove to the ground as one of the Combat Forms sliced at the air behind him. Kasumi fired several rounds from her M6D pistol, easily blowing several holes clean through the monster's chest. Garrus quickly jumped back to his feet and rushed across with what few people remained, including Buck's own team.
Garrus ran across the log, only stopping when he reached the other side. He then joined Kasumi and Legion, pointing his Assault Rifle back towards the Combat Forms. He wasn't going to leave just yet. There were still two of their people unaccounted for.
Thane and Jack had fallen behind in their efforts to hold back the horde. They were now racing towards the log, only throwing back a shockwave or warp attack now and again as they sped towards the log. The Combat Forms didn't let up though, continuing to fire on two as they chased after them. Garrus and the others offered cover fire, taking down some of the more exposed Combat Forms that were targeting the two.
That was when things went wrong. Thane and Jack were almost to the log when something collided into the makeshift bridge. The fiery explosion, followed by the rain of splinters, made it clear the projectile had been a rocket. When the dust cleared, the bridge had been destroyed and had fallen down into the ravine below. Thane and Jack were now cut off on the other side of a steep ravine. Jack immediately turned around to fire on the Combat Forms rushing up behind them.
"We'll try to go around!" Thane shouted over to Garrus. "Keep running!"
At that moment, more of the Combat Forms arrived and began firing at them all from the treeline. Jack and Thane ran back into the bog as the creatures charged in. Half of the Combat Forms chased after the two, the other half tried to jump the gap the log had left. Legion and switched his fire to the leaping Combat Forms as they catapulted themselves across the miniature gorge. The synthetic bagged two in the chest with a clean hit, but there were more leaping over.
As Garrus and the others pulled away from the ledge, Combat Forms quickly overrunning the area, he realised they couldn't wait for Jack and Thane. They had to pull back or risk being overtaken by the horde. They needed to get to the structure and secure themselves inside.
"Fall back!" He ordered. "We're getting overrun, fall back!"
He didn't really need to tell the others to do so though, as they had quickly realised the danger and were already moving again. Garrus used a concussive shot to push one of the Combat Forms back into the ravine before he too made a mad dash away into the trees. He could hear the gurgling and growling of the menacing creature following them all the way. It was almost as if they knew more food was this way.
After awhile they found the structure nestled among the trees. It was a small box-like structure, decorated with more of the strange alien symbols. Garrus couldn't be picky though, they couldn't afford that now. Mordin was standing out front with the Marines. He waved them over to him, firing his gun into the fog around them.
"Inside! Quickly!" He called out.
They all rushed past the Salarian who then set off an incineration blast at a pack of the Combat Forms behind them all. Only then did he join them inside. Buck quickly found the structure's door controls and slammed his fist down hard on them. They shut tightly and Legion quickly moved to begin welding them shut with its' omni-tool's torch. The other Marines were already down the same to the various other doors that surrounded the small building.
"Fuck, shit, as if tonight couldn't get worse," Romeo grumbled. "First a Covie Raid, then undead freaks and now we're stuck in a fucking alien swamp cabin."
"This isn't really a cabin, Rome," Dutch corrected him. "I think you've been watching too many horror vids."
"Do I need to remind you what's going on outside right now?" Romeo asked him derisively.
As Legion finished the welding, something slammed hard against the door, denting it slightly. The Geth fell back, pointing its gun at the door. After a few more hits, the sound stopped, replaced by gurgling and warbling growls. The door had held, but everyone doubted that these things had just given up.
Buck went over to peer through the now slightly cracked glass portion of the door. He tried to see what was going on, but between the fog and distorted image of the cracks, he could see nothing of value. All he had to go on was his motion tracker, which suggested all clear.
"I think they've pulled back, for now at least," he reasoned. "They'll be back though. They just need to find a can opener big enough to peel off the top of this place and pour in."
"Or maybe they know we're trapped and that they can just wait us out," Garrus apprehensively offered to the group. "These things are pretty smart for looking like rotting corpses after all."
The lull in the action gave everyone a moment to actually think again. Garrus surveyed their surroundings. There was a central pillar with some kind console attached to it. More alien symbols and gibberish he couldn't understand, probably useless to them in this situation. There were some indentations spanning sections of the walls. On the inside these indentations were sheets of metal, which was peculiar and also not helpful.
There was also a ramp that seemed to lead up to the roof, although the exit was currently locked shut. Good, they couldn't get in from above, for now. And just in case they did get inside, there were some small bits of machinery of some kind sticking out from the floor they could use as cover.
As Garrus surveyed their surroundings, Legion spoke up.
"We have attempted to raise Thane Assassin and Subject Jack on communications," it explained to the turian. "We have been unsuccessful due to interference on transmission wavelengths. It is likely local environment is disrupting signal. We will require a stronger transmission source to reach them, most likely the Normandy's own communication systems to supplement our own."
"At least we're safe for the moment," Garrus reasoned. "This place will give us a chance to figure out our next move."
"I already know our next move," Kasumi resolutely informed him. "Getting out there, finding the others and getting them back here before those things eat them alive."
"Kas, I want to do the same thing," Garrus responded calmly. "But we barely got here as it is. We ate through half our ammo just getting to this point."
Kasumi's frown deepened as she approached the turian furiously.
"Tali is still out there Garrus," she reminded him, pointing her finger to one of the walls. "Not to mention Jack and Thane! But neither of them are quarians who have been exposed! You heard her over the radio before she cut out, she needs our help!"
"Don't you think I know that," the turian responded, insulted by the accusation that he had forgotten. "I don't want to leave them out there, but we're cut off and running out of ammo. We need to think this through first."
"I'm not leaving my friend to those things," Kasumi declared. "I'm not leaving any of our friends to get killed by those things, period! The hell do you suggest we do? Sit here and let them fend for themselves and hitch a ride back home without them?"
"I never said that," Garrus told her firmly.
"This is just like Sword Base!" She accused him angrily "You're leaving her to die again!"
Garrus was about to shout back at her for that remark, but he stopped himself. As much as he wanted to claim otherwise, he knew Kasumi had a point. He couldn't get into a fight about this either. He needed to think. He needed a plan. Tali, Jack and Thane needed help, but they needed to keep this place secured until Foe Hammer found them an exit.
His thoughts quickly went back to Tali. He barely heard her words over the radio last they spoke, but he could hear she was alive and he caught that her suit had been torn open somehow. She was in trouble, a lot of trouble. If they didn't get to her soon, well, they wouldn't get to her at all. Who knew how much time she had left?
He knew one thing for certain though. He wasn't going to have a repeat of Sword Base. He wasn't going to leave her again, not when he knew she was still alive. Tali was a fighter, she was strong, she was capable. She wouldn't get killed by these Flood creatures easy. That meant they had some time, but not that much.
"I'm not leaving her," Garrus promised, Kasumi's anger calming as he placed a talon on her shoulder. "I swear by every Spirit I know of that we will find her. But we need a plan first if we're going to track her down. If we all go out there looking for her, these things will swarm us again."
"I can get by them," Kasumi assured the turian confidently. "They can't see me cloaked."
"Yeah, but tracking Tali by yourself isn't exactly going to be easy," Garrus warned.
"We may have a solution to this problem," Legion immediately suggested aloud.
Garrus looked to the synthetic, hopeful that he had something, but also concerned. Legion wasn't in the best of shape after all. Not with the glitch messing them up.
"This platform can detect genetic signatures of a number of species," it explained. "Geth use it to determine the capabilities of potential catalogued adversaries. We can use it here to track Creator Tali'Zorah. She is the only Creator in proximity. It is a simple task to isolate her genetic signature in these circumstances."
"That sounds good, but can you pull it off?" Garrus asked. "Your neural net isn't the best right now."
"To save Creator Tali'Zorah, we must try," Legion adamantly declared. "Depending on level of exposure due to comprised envirosuit, window of rescue may be closing fast."
"Correct assessment," Mordin added hurriedly. "Unknown how alien environment of Halo will affect quarian immune system. Ring largely sterile and devoid of biological contaminants, but parasitic creatures create complication. Marshland surroundings could also exacerbate condition."
"Then there's no time to argue," Kasumi purposefully stated to them all. "We need to go now!"
Garrus agreed, but they couldn't all go. As much as he wanted to, he knew he'd be a hazard to any rescue attempt rather than an asset right now. Kasumi and Legion had cloaking tech, he didn't. He'd have to stay. It hurt to admit that to himself, but he didn't have much of a choice.
"You two will have to go," he told the geth and the hodded woman. "I'll stay here and keep you posted on Foe Hammer's progress. When we figure something out, we'll join you or direct you to our extraction. I'll try and find a way to raise Jack and Thane. Maybe I can direct them towards you."
Kasumi nodded in agreement. Buck found the switch to open the door that led to the roof. Kasumi and Legion got ready along the ramp as it opened, preparing their cloaks for activation. For a brief moment, Kasumi looked back at Garrus humbly.
"I'm sorry for snapping at you," she apologized. "I know you didn't mean-"
"Don't be sorry, Kas," Garrus promptly replied before she could finish. "Just get to Tali. Bring her back alive."
"I will," she promised.
Legion and Kasumi then went up ramp before disappearing beneath their cloaks. Buck shut the door once more as soon as he was sure they were clear. As Garrus watched them leave, Dutch walked over to the turian.
"Even if they find them," he worriedly began to ask. "What about Commander Shepard and the Chief?"
"We don't even know where that Monitor took them," he told the Drop Trooper. "Tali, Thane and Jack we at least know are somewhere in this swamp. We just have to hope that wherever it took them, they're in better shape than us."
Garrus wanted to believe that, but something told him otherwise that Shepard and the others were in far deeper trouble than any of them right now.
If there was one thing Shepard was disappointed they hadn't yet invented, it was the transporter pad from Star Trek. Now that he had experienced the feeling, he had an idea of why few people had tried. Having your molecular structure ripped apart and then suddenly pieced back together was the strangest feeling he had ever experienced. That was saying a lot for him, considering he had died. He wasn't sure if that was the case though, but it felt like it even though he felt entirely conscious of the events. He still would've thought it was cool though, no matter the method, if only he and the others weren't being kidnapped with it right now.
As the world came back into focus, the feeling of gravity and weight returning, Shepard saw that they were no longer in the swamp. They were in some kind of dark angular-sided room. There was very little light once the glow of the teleportation vanished, but he could clearly see their surroundings. There were small pillars sticking out of the ground, ducts in the walls and corridor itself seemed to curve at an angle. Large structural ledges lined the walls and the ceiling stretched high above their heads.
Shepard looked to the others and saw that they were at least alright. Zaeed, Miranda and the Master Chief were with him. Tali wasn't though, as that Monitor had so casually decided. They had left her back in the swamp, left Garrus and the rest of the team to face those creatures alone. Now they were in some other strange looking building on the whims of a floating eyeball. To say Shepard was pissed would be an understatement.
"Miranda, try to raise the team," Shepard ordered.
Miranda held her hand up to her ear, but could get only static.
"I can't raise anyone," she explained. "These walls must be too thick to send a signal or something is jamming us."
"Ah good," came a rather chipper voice. Shepard and the others turned to instantly recognize the Monitor floating over them. "I am pleased to see you all in one piece. I was unsure of how the teleportation grid would accommodate your different-"
The Master Chief opened fire on the little floating orb, hitting him with several shots from his assault rifle. It didn't seem to do anything other than bounce of the Monitor and annoy him.
"Was that waste of ammunition really necessary, Reclaimer?" The machine asked disgruntled as he floated down to their level.
"You tell me," Shepard shouted as he grabbed the orb. He pulled the machine down further and looked him square in his big blue eye. "You just left our people to die! Either you get us back to them right now or I'm going to start pulling out pieces until I find out what actually hurts you!"
Shepard raised his free hand and readied a biotic punch, but the Monitor wrenched itself free before he could try.
"It would appear that, no matter the dimension, aggression is fundamentally built into human code," the Monitor proclaimed. "How fascinating."
"I think we got the right to feelin' a bit pissed off at ya," Zaeed was quick to argue. "You're the one who just kidnapped us out of nowhere."
"I am sorry if I caused you any dismay, but I had little time to properly explain our dire situation," the Monitor replied in a rather sickeningly pleasant tone. "I need to understand your position within assigned protocol and I require the assistance of the Reclaimer. With luck, working together, both of those tasks will be easily accomplished."
It wasn't exactly much of an excuse, especially not to Shepard.
"I don't care what you need done," he vehemently informed the AI. "We need to get back to our crew before it's too late."
"It will be too late for all us if we do not act quickly," the Monitor explained hastily. "We must retrieve the Index to activate this installation or the Flood will consume us all."
"Index?" Miranda asked, as confused as anyone else. "What the hell are you talking about?"
The Monitor seemed to sigh at the question, turning to the Master Chief.
"I imagined they would not be aware of the task, most distressing," he disappointingly told the Spartan. "In any case, I am glad that you are here, Reclaimer. With any luck, we can make sense of their ultimate purpose and resolve this crisis before it is too late."
"Yeah, maybe you could enlighten us all a little," The Spartan said, his tone wary of this strange machine. "Exactly where are we and who are you again?"
The Monitor seemed puzzled by the question, sighing once more before finally explaining itself.
"I am 343 Guilty Spark," he began to explain "The Monitor of Installation 04 and this is the Library, the facility that houses the Index. But being the Reclaimer you of course know all this. Unless of course the teleportation has potentially caused some kind of mental degradation, I sincerely hope that is not the case."
"How nice of you to show such concern," Miranda was quick to sarcastically add. "There are so few empathetic kidnappers in the galaxy."
"Your compliment is well appreciated," Guilty Spark replied, Miranda's frown growing as she stared at the AI.
The Master Chief had no idea what the Monitor was talking about to be sure, but he decided to play along. It was probably the only way they were going to get answers. He wasn't any less angry then the others about being here, but he was even more curious.
"Just refresh my memory and help them out a little too," Chief began, still careful of his words. "What is this Index exactly?"
"I shall show you," Guilty Spark answered. "Follow me. We have no time to waste."
Guilty Spark hummed to himself as he floated down the corridor and the others reluctantly followed. They didn't really have much of a choice of course, there didn't seem to be an exit after all. That didn't mean they were particularly happy about their circumstances.
"Let Miranda use overload on the little bugger, Commander," Zaeed whispered to Shepard. "I'll pin him to the floor and start pulling wires until one of them teleports us out."
"As therapeutic as that sounds, I'm not so sure it will work." Shepard replied. "This thing seems to be our only way out. We try fiddling with his systems and we may just end up stuck here. Then we'll never get back to Tali and the others."
"Do you think they're even still alive?" Miranda asked, genuinely worried from the tone of her voice. "Those Flood creatures were all over them."
"Garrus wouldn't have let himself get overrun and Tali's too smart to be killed by a bunch of undead Elites and Marines," Shepard told her adamantly. "They're alive, I'm sure of it."
Before they could get father though, they heard something moving from behind a small dividing piece of architecture. It was more of that gurgling sound they had come to so readily recognize.
"Oh come on, not here too," Miranda lamented.
Chief already had his shotgun raised before the creatures appeared. This time they found themselves staring at something new. It was a strange pulsating creature that looked like a pimple on two legs, with tiny little tentacles sticking out of its front.
"And I thought they couldn't get uglier," Zaeed said rather nonchalantly.
The new Flood Form was followed by three more of its ilk, slowly advancing on them. Chief didn't really care to find out what kind of damage they could do if they got close, so he opened fire on them. The buckshot collided with the creature and its bulbous form started to rumble. Seconds later it exploded in a ball of gas, forcing the team to hit the deck.
The detonating creature had also indirectly killed another of its kind when it exploded. That should've been a relief, but Shepard looked up and saw something emerging out of the destroyed carcasses. Skittering out of the blown open sack came several of the little parasite creatures and they were headed straight for them.
Shepard threw a shockwave that killed the creatures on contact and knocked the remaining to pulsating sack monsters. Zaeed was quick to fire into them with his DMR when they landed, just for good measure. Sure enough, they exploded too and more of the little parasites skittered out from the remains.
"That's how they make more of these things?!" Miranda shouted aloud, practically retching as she spoke. "Ugh, that's disgusting."
She didn't let her realisation stop her from unloading her own assault rifle at the small incoming swarm. Chief joined the Normandy XO in putting the parasitic creatures down before they got closer. When their way was clear and nothing remained of the parasites but bits of shredded pulp, Guilty Spark floated down from above.
"Hmm, the contamination is spreading fast indeed," he stated. "They have already produced several Carrier Forms, a most distressing development."
"Carrier Forms?" Chief enquiringly asked a she cocked his head up towards the AI.
"Yes, Reclaimer," Guilty Spark informed him. "As you can see, the smaller hosts, as well as prolonged infected specimens, soon bloat to a discernable size. The incubation period within the sack is short and soon more Infection Forms are ready to burst out. They then carry spores to infect more victims. The mutated host will then produce more spores and pass the infection on. It is insidious and elegant. As long as there are viable hosts, the infection will continue to spread."
Guilty Spark then turned to Shepard, Miranda and Zaeed.
"Now do you understand the importance of this endeavour?" He asked them. "The more we delay, the more the Flood will spread. We must act quickly. Follow closely."
Sparks flew up and away once more, humming as he usually did. It wasn't long after he rose to relatively safety that the Flood came out in force. They were all armed to the teeth with various weapons and were flanked by a few more of the pulsating Carrier Forms.
"Great, we go from being stuck in one building filled with these things and now we're trapped in another," Miranda groaned. "Tonight is not our night."
"If going through them is our only way out of here and back to Tali, then that's just how it has to be," Shepard declared. "Chief, Zaeed, take the left side of the room. Miranda, on me."
The first thing Zaeed did was toss an inferno grenade into one of the ducts. The blast set the Flood Combat Forms ablaze and even detonated one of the Carriers, sending Combat forms flying. But plenty more had already escaped the vents and had locked their sights on the Spartan and Mercenary.
"I'm starting to wish I brought my Firestorm," Zaeed growled as he unloaded on the Combat Forms. "If I had known we'd be fightin' these bastards I wouldn't have left it back on the Ship."
Chief used his shotgun to carve a path towards one of the pillars. Reaching it, the two hunkered down behind it, keeping themselves safe from the incoming barrage of fire. Chief leaned out to fire another shotgun burst into a carrier form, blowing it up along with two Marine Combat Forms.
Zaeed in the meantime tried to focus on shooting off the limbs with his DMR. At the very least he could remove their ability to shoot back. The old Merc tagged one of the Flood in one arm and then the other, rending both from the creature's body. The abomination roared at him and charged at the Mercenary, its host's head flopping from side to side. Zaeed quickly plugged the monster several times in the chest, finally taking him down.
"The fuck did you plan to do?" He gruffly asked the corpse. "Bleed on me?"
He then quickly ducked back into cover as more bullets struck the pillar. For dead guys, they were pretty decent shots.
Shepard and Miranda used Chief and Zaeed's actions as a diversion. It allowed them to sweep right as the Combat Forms focused on the Spartan and the Old Merc. Shepard used his shotgun's incendiary rounds to take out any outliers in their way while Miranda did her best to keep the creatures at bay with her biotics. She couldn't really kill them that way, but she could at least make them easier targets to hit with her pistol.
Eventually, they reached the flank proper. Shepard sent a shockwave rippling into the Flood ranks, forcing them to the floor or throwing them into the air. Zaeed wasted no time in tossing another inferno grenade into the downed walking corpses. The Master Chief simply rushed out to skilfully blast the rest away with his shotgun. Between the blazing inferno from the grenade and the Spartan's shotgun, they were able to cut a path through.
They took the opening and made a dash past the next bit of architecture. Already more Flood were swarming into the next area through the ducts. Chief tossed a frag grenade towards them, the blast tore the creatures limb from limb, but they were only part of the problem. Turning around, Chief saw another of the Elite Combat Form alongside a Marine Combat Form. Both were armed with shotguns. They landed a hit square to the front of Chief's shields, making them blare loudly.
"What I wouldn't give for Cortana's little shield boost program right about now," he thought with a grumble.
He rolled away as the creatures took another shot at him. He fired twice from his shotgun, blowing both apart with ease. His HUD said he need to reload though, so he quickly began shoving shells into the shotgun as he ran towards Guilty Spark's position.
The Monitor was hovering in front of what looked like a door, humming to himself as always. The door opened sideways like some kind of airlock, giving way to whatever lay beyond it in the next room.
"Oh yes that's a good idea," Guilty Spark declared seemingly at random and to no one in particular.
With little choice but to follow the literal "oddball" AI, the four kidnapped humans made their way through the door. Miranda used a pull and a warp attack to detonate one of the Carrier Forms following them. The subsequent blast from the biotic detonation was doubled by the Carrier's own self-destruct mechanism, killing a number of Combat Forms firing at them as they left the area.
"And I thought that bunker was bad," Miranda bemoaned as she walked out of the door's passageway and into the next room. "This place has been completely overrun by..."
Miranda was unable to finish her thought, as she and the others soon saw where the door had led them. They now stood in a large circular chamber, reaching high up into the air. A deep seemingly bottomless chasm resided in the middle, shaped liked an eight pointed star. The chamber resonated with a light orange glow and floating in the middle of it all was some kind of small seemingly insignificant little green light.
"My God," Miranda said, almost speechless.
"I think the Covenant would agree," Shepard added, nearly as awestruck as she was.
"Never seen a place like this before," Zaeed added as he looked around.
Guilty Spark floated out in front of them, looking up to the green glowing light.
"There is the Index," he declared, pointing himself towards it eagerly. "With it, the Reclaimer can activate the ring and end this outbreak before it spreads beyond the Installation."
"You mean that little thing floating up there is the start key for this place?" Shepard asked, pointing towards said object. "And it can kill the Flood?"
"Of course, it is the only way," Guilty Spark informed him. "Activating the Installation will end the Flood threat, but we must get up there."
That made this situation slightly less inconvenient. As much as he didn't like being whisked away against his will, Shepard realised the threat the Flood posed. If, as Guilty Spark seemed to fear, they found a way off Halo the disaster here could be magnified a thousand fold. Stopping the Flood was a prime priority for them now. If their new AI "friend" has a method of accomplishing that, then they had to chance it.
He would've preferred a way of getting it done sooner though. Shepard took another look up the long shaft leading up. It was pretty high and if Miranda was about the Flood taking over the complex then they were going to fight all the way up. That was not an appealing walk to say the least. And Shepard wasn't the only one who thought so.
"Can't you just use your Biotics to grab it?" Chief asked Shepard.
"I would not waste the effort," Guilty Spark informed them. "The Index is surrounded by an energy field, much like my own but far more powerful. It will disrupt any attempt to breach it through non-conventional means. The Index will only be released by the confirmed genetic fingerprint of a Reclaimer."
"So why are we here then?" Miranda asked once more through pained frustration in her voice.
"I already told you, I am attempting to discover that," the Monitor reminded her, sounding rather annoyed. "Perhaps it is to better assist the Reclaimer with said task in general. We shall discover the truth of your place within protocol in time. Rest assured."
Miranda eye twitched slightly at the AI's response, her fist clenching in mild frustration. She wasn't the only feeling perturbed at the aloof nature of the synthetic.
"How about you just teleport us up to the top and get this over with," Shepard suggested.
"Oh no, that would be most impossible," Guilty Spark claimed, shaking from side to side. "The Teleportation Grid is blocked for those levels, in case it was ever compromised by the Flood."
"Well they're probably already up there anyway by now," Miranda informed him, frustration growing in her voice. "Seems like that's only really hindering us at this point, wouldn't you say?"
"True, but it is a lot harder to get through the ducts than it is to use teleportation," Guilty Spark argued. "Now then, we've dallied long enough. Time is short, come along."
The little orb floated away, humming all the while as Miranda's twitch became more pronounced.
"That song of his is going to be forever imprinted on my brain by the end of tonight," she groaned.
"Does it help to know you may die before that happens at this rate?" Shepard asked half jokingly.
"No," Miranda grumbled back. "It means I'm most likely going to die with it being the last thing I hear."
They soon reached another door and could hear more of the Combat Forms just on the other side. As it opened towards them, one of the Combat Forms dropped down into the doorway, firing its assault rifle. Everyone pulled back as Chief tossed in a grenade. The resulting explosion sent a small explosive blast spewing out past the doorway. When it dissipated, Chief and Shepard rushed in with shotguns drawn.
There was little in the way to shoot in the immediate front. The grenade had more or less devastated the initial surrounding Flood Combat form, but there were more just around the corner. Chief turned to see one just barely miss hit him. He unloaded a blast that the torso of the abomination clean from its legs while Shepard set another of the Elite Combat forms ablaze.
With the slightest of openings, the team rushed through under a blaze of fire. Combat Forms stood atop ledges above, firing down on them. Miranda sent a throw attack at one, sending him hurtling through the air. Chief simply unloaded two blasts from his shotgun at one, ripping off the head and an arm before his target went down. Zaeed did his best to provide cover fire on their flank, tossing another inferno grenade to slow their pursuers down.
They rushed towards a large door that Guilty Spark floated in front of. However, this one was not open.
"The security doors have sealed automatically," he declared. "I will go access the override to open them. Excuse me."
Guilty Spark took off, leaving them to face the continued onslaught of Combat Forms still on their heels.
"Yeah, just leave us to wolves now, why don't you." Miranda growled. "Oh and don't hurry back, it's not like you deliberately led us to a dead end!"
"Focus, Miranda," Shepard calmed her. "We can chew the little jerk out later, we got bigger problems"
"That's exactly the point I'm making," Miranda irately informed him.
There was little in the way of cover to use. All the four could do was not stand in one place for too long as the Flood started swarming their position. Chief fired a constant stream of shells as the Combat Forms clambered forward. When he needed to reload, Shepard stepped in and took point. Zaeed used concussion shots to hold the creatures back while Miranda tried to detonate as many as she could. The Bodies of the Combat Forms piled up around them, the stench of their dried out husks filling the air.
"Keep holding them back," Shepard ordered, sending a shockwave at the creatures. "Just long enough for Spark to open this door!"
At the same time as Shepard loosed the shockwave, Miranda used a biotic slam to pick up one Combat form and send him straight back into the ground. The biotic area effect of both attacks hit each other and created a small biotic detonation that sent a number of the Combat Forms into the air. More kept coming though and it seemed like they would be overrun.
Then the doors opened at the last possible second and Guilty Spark flew back into view. The team raced through as the gap opened wide, with the Master Chief walking backwards and providing cover for the others. His shields took a beating, from the constant barrage of gunfire, but he wasn't about to let the others get gunned down from lack of cover.
As he approached the doorway, he took a plasma bolt to his shoulder. Grunting in pain, he tossed a grenade towards the horde of Flood and ran through the opening. He heard the explosion just as he made it through. Guilty Spark then closed the door behind to keep the Flood from following.
"We mustn't delay long," Guilty Spark insisted as Chief and everyone else's shields recharged. "This portal is but the first of ten."
"Ten?" Miranda asked flabbergasted. "We have to go through nine more rooms like that?"
"More or less," the Monitor admitted, looking towards the Master Chief. "Fear not though, I will be with you every step of the way as we resolve this emergency."
"Oh joy, I feel so much better now," Miranda sarcastically sighed, rubbing her temple in anguish.
Guilty Spark once again floated off, humming that overly chipper stupid tune of his.
"Buck up, Miranda," Shepard tried to comfort her. "We're all suffering in the same boat here."
"Not all of us," she reminded him grimly.
Shepard didn't really need to be reminded though. He knew they weren't all suffering Guilty Spark's bizarre behaviour and this damn Library. His thoughts couldn't help but drift to the others, Garrus, Buck, Jack, Kasumi, Thane, Mordin, Legion and most of all Tali.
When he had spoken of how strong and able she was it was as much about comforting the others as it was convincing himself. He could handle being kidnapped by this ridiculous Monitor, but leaving Tali alone like that. He knew it wasn't his fault though. If something happened to her, because this humming eyeball left her behind, Miranda would have to wait to get her hands on the annoying little orb. But for now, Guilty Spark was their only way back to her and the only way to stop this Flood from spreading.
He just hoped Tali was with Garrus and the others. That she was safe and that they could hold out long enough for him to fight back to her. And he would fight back to her, whatever it took.
Tali struggled to keep herself upright. Already her head felt dizzy and her legs were going numb. It could've been worse though. Had she not gotten into the habit of taking massive amounts of antibiotics before missions, she probably would be feeling nauseous or sore right about now. That didn't mean she was okay. She had a fever, her arm was still wounded and bleeding, her vision was getting blurred and her stomach felt like it was on fire.
Not to mention she was being hunted by several heavily armed and vicious dead people, but that went without saying.
Her broken visor continued to flash warnings at her as she stumbled through the swamp. It kept flashing 'suit rupture' over and over again. As if she didn't know by now. Then it felt like reminding her of her vitals and that they 'compromised' and that she should 'seek medical attention.'
"No shit," Tali thought to herself.
She was actually grateful when the thing shorted out. At least she had a little quiet now and could actually hear again.
She kept trying to radio the others, but her comms were completely fried from her fall. All she could hear was static and the screams of the Flood Combat forms tracking her. She couldn't see them, but she knew they were there. This swamp was theirs now.
Finally she had to stop, propping herself up against a thick tree, gripping her shotgun tightly. Her knees felt like they were about to give out, but she wasn't about to let them. She checked her ammunition. She still had quite a bit for the M90 and she still had her other shotgun on stand-by, but they wouldn't last forever. Nor would they solve the real problem. Her antibiotics would keep the infection at bay for awhile, but eventually her symptoms would get worse.
And when they got worse, the Flood would be there.
Using what little time she had left to rest, Tali applied what medi-gel she had over her wound. She needed to stop the bleeding at some point, might as well do it now before it got any more infected. At least she wouldn't slowly bleed out. When she was done, she moved away from the tree, continuing to walk through the fog covered swampland before her.
However, even though she was no longer bleeding from her arm, she was still in intense pain. Clutching at her now burning chest as she kept moving, she attempted to take her mind off her suffering. The longer she could ignore the pain, the more distance she'd be able to put between her and the Flood. She could worry about the fact she felt worse every minute when she wasn't being chased by undead monsters.
She tried to think of better days, happier days, anything to distract her from her growing symptoms. She thought of her mother showing her face to her as a birthday gift when she was five. She remembered happy she was that she had done that for her, even though she was sick for the next three days. She would never forget that present for the rest of her life.
She thought of the first time she constructed a little crawler drone out of spare electronic parts and all her friends asking her to make one for them. That was when she knew she wanted to be an engineer, when she realised how much she loved to build mechanical objects. It was what set her down the path she took in her studies.
She thought of day she met Shepard and when he gave her that Geth Data for her pilgrimage. She hadn't expected he be so ready to share it, but he didn't even give it a second thought. That was just the kind of person he was, always willing to help and always so selfless.
The memory made her recall the first night they spent together, before the Omega 4 Relay. She had been nervous and worried about what would happen, but then he smiled and she couldn't help but let her emotions take over.
She thought about Kasumi and all the fun they had. About Cortana and everything she had learned from her about AI. She never would've thought she'd find such friends among people not of quarian origin when she was younger, but she was happy to be proven wrong.
Every memory helped put her mind at ease, but they only helped her forget the pain for but a brief moment. When the past faded back into her mind, the present returned through a sharp pain in her head, pain that was followed by someone's voice.
Go back to your fleet, Suit Rat! No one wants you here!
She remembered that voice well, a turian on the Citadel during her pilgrimage. She asked him for help, but all he could offer were racist slurs. Those very words were then suddenly punctuated by a shrieking whirl from her head that made the pain even worse.
Don't look at them, they'll just want credits.
An asari who thought she couldn't be heard, also on the Citadel. She too was punctuated by a horrible echoing shriek in Tali's mind. The quarian beat the side of her head once, trying to knock the memory back. This was not helping her focus on the path ahead at all. She stumbled slightly, almost hitting a tree. She grabbed the trunk awkwardly, keeping her from falling over on her face.
Tali, the Geth are closing on your position! Seal yourself in the observatory! We'll try to- ARGH!
Haestrom, when the Geth attacked her team there. Now this was getting tiresome. Perhaps trying to remember the good had dug up all the bad somehow. Her head wasn't exactly in the best place, maybe it lost its "filter," so to speak.
She forced herself to keep walking, the only other sound she could hear over the painful shrieks in her mind being the slopping mud beneath her feet. She tried to check her vitals again through her omni-tool. To her dismay, she realised her body heat was rising. Her fever was getting worse.
Tali, please, I don't have time for this now. This is far more important.
Her father on a typical day, but that particular day was the worst. It was during her engineering training and her class had been assigned to put together a regulation program for a shuttle craft's mass effect field generator. Not only had she managed that, she also managed to decrease the fuel consumption and boost its shields at the same time.
Her teachers, and even her fellow classmates, were amazed with the accomplishment. She earned the highest marks out of anyone that day. She had gone to her father first with the news, thinking he'd be proud that she had done so well. But he couldn't even be bothered to turn away from his notes and shooed her out of his office. It didn't matter to him. He didn't even seem to care.
He never loved you.
That voice she didn't recognize and she nearly jumped at its sound. It was an inner voice, some subconscious thought. Most likely a response to the memory, but she wasn't sure. She just knew she didn't like it. She tried to push it out of her head, tried to ignore it and press on, just tried to focus on walking, but it didn't work.
I'm sorry, but there's nothing more we can do. The illness has taken its toll. She doesn't have much time left.
The doctor from the day her mother died, five years before her pilgrimage and before she met Shepard. Tali clutched at her head, shaking it back and forth. She didn't want to think about that, she didn't want to remember it. She didn't want to remember any of this. Damn this fever, she thought. Damn these memories.
She shut her eyes tight and tried to pick up her pace, tried to shake the sounds and voices out of her head. Her senses returned soon, realising she couldn't outrun the Flood with her eyes closed. She opened them again and caught sight of one of the bioluminescent plants on a small rocky out cropping next to her. She looked up into it, glad to have some semblance of light.
As she stared into it, her vision went fuzzy and her head became dizzy once more. There was a brief flash of something that looked like the outline of a Geth, its flashlight head staring at her with gun raised. It made its usual high pitched electronic clicking sounds, practically deafening her as she backed away. Then as suddenly as the fuzzy image appeared, it vanished once more.
Tali looked around trying to make sense of everything. She knew her temperature was rising and she had hit her head pretty hard when she fell from the structure. It seemed likely those were the causes of these strange voices and visions.
"Get a hold of yourself, Tali," she said aloud at last to herself. "You have a concussion and you're sick. Your mind is playing tricks on you. You need to ignore it."
At that moment, she thought she heard gunshots up ahead and ducked. Not sure if it was real or not, but not intending to be caught unawares if it was the former, she ducked behind a tree. As she peered slightly, she thought she saw something in the fog. The mist swirled around into outlines, creating the image of something running through the haze.
Be strong for daddy! Mommy loves you very much!
There was another string of gunshots as the foggy image seemed to lurch forward, fall and vanish. It was followed by more foggy apparitions, each falling over when Tali heard a shot and the voice punctuating their "deaths."
Be strong for daddy! Mommy loves you very much!
She knew those words. They were from the video file they found on the Alerai. The ship her father had died on. The Geth had cornered one of the staff there and killed her. It was horrible to watch. Next to finding her father's body and learning the full truth of what had happened, the image of the poor woman screaming out to her child with her last breath stuck in Tali's mind for days after. Now it was back, along with everything else.
Be strong for daddy! Mommy loves you very much!
Tali dropped to the ground and clutched at her head. The words kept repeating, over and over to the point they seemed to be screaming at her more than anyone.
Be strong for daddy! Mommy loves you very much!
"Stop it, stop it," she whispered to her mind. "Stop thinking it, stop thinking it. Why are you thinking it? Why now?"
It is easy to hate. It is more difficult to forgive.
Halsey's voice, her words, but Tali wasn't sure if they were from her thinking them or her fever making her hear them. Everything was so distorted now. Regardless, the voices seemed to stop now, as had the whirling shrieking pain in head. She still felt hot, the fever hadn't left her, but at least she couldn't hear the voices anymore.
She could hear gurgling though, very familiar gurgling from barely a few feet in front of her.
Tali forced herself down into the mud and beneath one of the tree's larger roots. She listened to the gurgling and the sloppy footsteps edging closer to her. When she saw the Combat Form both sounds belonged to out of the corner of her eye, she knew he was real. Suddenly, Tali found herself wishing the Geth from before was here instead.
If it came to it, she could kill the thing and move on. That would probably call down every damn Combat Form nearby though. She just tried to stay quiet, holding her breath as much as she could. It didn't seem to know she was there. So long as the creature didn't catch her scent or see her, she'd be fine.
The Combat Form stopped near the tree, circling the area. Tali could only assume it was looking for her. She did her best to lay as still as possible, even as the creature's foot stomped near her face. The walking corpse plodded around the tree, its weapon hanging loosely as its tentacle arm scraped against the bark.
The tentacle suddenly dropped, feeling around the base of the tree. Tali winced in fear, her eyes widening as she began pulling herself further back beneath the tree. She reached slowly for the knife in her boot. She wasn't sure how effective it would be, but she was damned if she was going to attract more of these things.
Suddenly, the Combat Form turned and plodded off in another direction, away from Tali. The quarian breathed a sigh of relief and worked her way back out from under the tree. It had been a harsh reminder that whatever her mind cooked up in its addled state, there was real danger in this foggy marsh.
She quickly began moving again, intending to put as much distance between herself and that Combat Form as possible. She hoped that she could find someone to help her, that she'd find a way back to Garrus and the others. She wasn't sure which way to go in order to find them. She was lost in this swamp alone with these monsters, slowly dying of exposure while her affliction abused her senses. All she knew for sure was that she was running out of time.
Jack couldn't believe their terrible luck so far tonight. First they get jumped by these freaky looking undead monsters and now they had been separated from the others. Their attempts to reach Garrus' presumed position had been met with a wall of infested Marines and Elites. She and Thane had been forced to retreat into the swamp, less they end up getting torn to shreds by these bastards.
Bullets kicked up a spray around the two as they tried to run through the murky water. Jack only turned around once or twice to fire back at the creatures with her shotgun. She managed to blast the head off of one, but of course that only pissed it off.
The creature fired back, hitting her in the UNSC flak jacket she had been forced to wear. The bullet was stopped by the Kevlar and ceramic plates, but it still hurt like being punched in the stomach. She was suddenly glad Jacob had made her wear this thing when this shit started though. She wouldn't admit that to him of course.
Thane quickly intervened by firing back on the headless creature with a few precision shots from his SMG. The Shredder Rounds once again proved their overall effectiveness, tearing into the chest sore on the monstrosity. It helped that the drell had impeccable aim too. Jack imagined it was his big ass lizard eyes that enabled his success.
"Keep moving," he said quickly. "We must get to cover!"
For once, Jack didn't argue with the drell. It didn't stop her from firing back as more of the creatures followed. As she blasted one apart though, something burst from under the water. It was another of the undead fuckers and his friend, laying in ambush. Jack instantly pulled the trigger on the one nearest her as it tried to take a swipe for her head. She blew off the offending arm and a part of the freak's torso with it.
Thane handled his attacker with more finesse. Even in the considerably deep water, he was able to weave away from one of the creature's swings. The thing tried to pull out its plasma rifle to fire on him next, only for the drell to kick it away. He then placed his pistol into the open sore on the creature's chest and fired several times straight into it. The undead abomination was torn apart by the shredder rounds and fell back into the water from whence it came.
"Alright," Jack admitted to herself in the comfort of her own head. "He's got some moves. I guess if I'm gonna be stuck with anyone here an assassin isn't bad."
With the ambush finish, the two made their way through the water and back onto relatively drier land. Taking up position behind a crop of trees, they waited to see if the Flood were still on their tails. It gave Jack a moment to catch her breath, let her barriers recharge and inspect the damage to her flak jacket. Pulling out the remains of the bullet she fully accepted that covering up her ink was a necessary evil in this line of work. When she got out of this though, she was going to find armour that at least didn't make her look like one of these Jarheads too much.
"How far do you think we are from Garrus by now?" She asked Thane as she looked out into the swamp. "Think we can still round ourselves back to him."
When Jack didn't get an immediate response, she thought the damn lizard was ignoring her now. Pissed off that he was doing that when she actually wanted to talk, she turned to ask the question again. When she did though, she saw the real reason.
While she was relatively fine, even after getting jumped and running for so long, Thane looked a bit more winded. He was lying against the tree trunk, breathing heavily, and clutching his chest slightly. Considering Thane was in as good as shape as the rest of them usually, this was a bit odd.
"Hey, what's going on with you?" She asked, trying not to sound too concerned. "You pull a muscle or something?"
"No, much worse," Thane explained through drawn out breaths. "I'm not supposed to be in these kinds of environments."
"What? Being chased by fucking monsters?" She asked, slightly confused.
"No, being chased by anything through a swamp period," Thane elaborated. "It's too humid here."
Then Jack remembered. Thane was in the best of shape, but only in spite of his condition. He was sick. He made a big point about telling everyone that. Something about a disease he had because the Hanar saved his fellow lizards from killing themselves. She didn't really pay attention all that much to the billion and one issues this crew had.
"You're talking about your, uh... Cripple Syndrome?" She asked, still trying to piece together everything.
"Kepral's syndrome," he corrected her, sounding rather exasperated by the suggestion of mispronounced name. "My people are originally from an arid world. Kahje is covered in water, a completely different environment and not all of us are suited to it. So a number of us have developed this disease. I'm supposed to stay in dry climate as much as possible. Humidity aggravates my lungs, it's... harder to breath."
"So... what? You're going to up and suffocate on me here?" Jack asked, again trying not to act too concerned.
"No, it doesn't work like that that," Thane explained, taking in a deep breath. "It's a slow process, but this swamp is making it more pronounced. The more I exert myself, the worse it gets."
Thane held a hand up to his head and he started to wobble. Jack quickly moved to keep him righted, if only not to pick the alien from the muddy ground. He regained the strength in his legs and stood back up once more.
"Shit, you mean you're gonna start passing out on me cause you can't get enough air or something?" She asked, practically growling at the drell. "That's just as bad as dying on me! Why didn't you go back to the Normandy the second you realised this place was a swamp?"
"I didn't think we'd be out here for this long," Thane admitted. "That was foolish of me, I'll admit. I did my best to power through it until now, but it's catching up. I just... I was concerned for Shepard and the others. I did not wish to let them down. I volunteered to help and I was determined not to let my condition keep me from assisting."
"Yeah well, it's probably gonna get you killed," Jack told him nonchalantly. "How's that altruism streak working out for you now?"
"Would you allow an illness to stop you from helping people?" Thane asked, his chest heaving heavily. "Would you allow it to control your life like that?"
Fuck no, Jack thought. She'd never let anything do that to her. She wasn't so sure about the former question though.
"Helping people isn't really my style," Jack told him. "Giving a shit gets you killed. It's just not smart to put yourself on the line like that."
"Perhaps," Thane conceded to her. "But I wasn't about to let a disease keep me from doing what I needed to. That's why I joined Shepard in the first place."
"Yeah, see that there's the reason they call you folks bleeding hearts," Jack informed him rather derisively. "That's usually how you end up in the end."
"And yet you stayed aboard the Normandy after the Omega 4 Relay," he reminded her astutely. "You came here to help Shepard and the others by your volition. If you think I care too much, what's your excuse?"
Jack opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out. She couldn't think of anything. She couldn't say anything. Damn it if she was going to admit she cared. Shepard was just her only ticket out of this stupid dimension. He owned the ship. She didn't hate Miranda as much anymore, but she didn't come to save her at all. Tali she didn't have much of an opinion on and she didn't even know that Master Chief guy. No, she didn't care. She just wanted more action, to make sure her way home wasn't fucked. That was it.
Before Jack could even argue further, shots hit their little bit of cover in the trees. The Flood were back and already engaging them.
"We can discuss this shit later," she finally told him. "We gotta move now!"
Thane began to hobble after Jack as she took off, but his strength wasn't completely back yet. Sighing, Jack turned back around and draped one of his arms over her shoulder.
"You do not mention this to anyone," she ordered him. "I'm only doing this because you got the gun that shreds them!"
Thane didn't say anything back, which was unexpected. Jack was waiting for a comeback or something, a sarcastic response to her denial. Instead, Thane just shot back at the pursuing Combat Forms. She supposed she was a little grateful for that. At least he wasn't going to nag her about this right now. They moved deeper into the fog once more, searching for a viable place to make a stand.
The twisting confusing corridors of the Library were more disorienting than anyone had been prepared for. At least there were helpful little glowing neon arrows on the floor that seemed to point them in the right direction. Shepard imagined they'd have gotten completely lost otherwise.
The Flood were the real obstacle though. They poured out of the ducts and vents, swarming them at every turn. Every corner and nook concealed the monsters. The Master Chief's motion tracker was so overloaded, that he could barely keep up with any contacts on screen. Meanwhile, the little blue eyeball that was leading them, however, couldn't help but talk over the gunfire. He seemed to be the only one actually enjoying himself.
"This Installation's Research Centres are quite impressive," Guilty Spark remarked as they fought their way past more Flood. "Perhaps you will have time to see them later."
For Shepard, he'd be happy if he never saw another Forerunner structure after this ordeal was over. Miranda, meanwhile, was doing her best to keep composed. Even she, the normally highly composed and formal XO of the Normandy, had her limits though. Guilty Spark and his unusual personality were pushing those limits.
They eventually came to the end of the corridor with an entryway leading into another room. It was loaded with Carrier and Combat Forms blocking their way though. With the entryway being the exit, the team prepared for another difficult slog.
"I'll throw a grenade in and break them up," Chief suggested. "Then we can-"
Before Chief could share the rest of his plan though, they heard a metallic whirling sound. Flying overhead were several of the laser equipped drones they had encountered in the swamp. They flew into the fray, assaulting the Flood with sustained beams of red hot energy. Guilty Spark soon appeared again, ushering the team forward.
"These Sentinels will supplement your combat system," he explained to the Master Chief. "But I still advise you upgrade to at least a Class Twelve combat skin. Your current model only registers as a Class Two, which is ill-suited for this line of work."
"Yeah, I'll look into that, thanks," The Chief replied, brushing off the unhelpful advice.
Chief tossed a grenade at Flood as originally planned. It exploded next to one of the remaining Carriers, killing a number of Combat Forms nearby as well. The Flood had already been cut down to size, despite the resistance they offered to the Sentinels. The flying drones and their pinpoint accurate laser fire easily burned the Combat Forms and Carriers to ashes.
With the enemy diminished, the group rushed forward. Shepard blew apart one of the Combat Forms distracted by the Sentinels while Miranda and Zaeed picked off some of the stragglers as they moved forward. Chief was on point of course, finishing off what was left the Flood as they made their way to corridor's exit.
"You should consider upgrading your combat skins as well," Guilty Spark advised Shepard's team. "Yours are even more ill-suited for this task, especially your female companion's model."
"I don't suppose you'd care to help in rectifying that," Miranda sneered at the Monitor.
Miranda had heard enough about her wardrobe tonight and she would be damned if this floating eyeball was going to give her grief as well. Especially when said grief offered no real solution, like everything else Spark talked about.
"I'm afraid we do not have time to acquire an appropriate combat skin for any of you as none are located on this installation," Guilty Spark replied. "I am merely assessing your situation and advising action."
"Except none your advice is useful," Miranda growled at him, before firing her SMG at a few of the Infection Forms the Carriers had released. "And while we're on the subject, why didn't you bring those Sentinels of yours out sooner? They could've helped."
"They have others tasks, nearly as important as this one," Guilty Spark explained. "I apologise if you feel inconvenienced, but it cannot be helped."
Miranda groaned in exasperation, her patience nearly running out before she walked briskly away from the machine. She followed the others into the accompanying room, which was occupied by a large blue glowing disc. Upon walking onto it, the disc began to rise, revealing itself as an elevator.
"You think all the floors are going to be like that?" Zaeed asked Shepard.
"Knowing our luck, it will probably be worse," Shepard begrudgingly shrugged.
"Most likely," Guilty Spark concurred. "It is puzzling all of you, even the Reclaimer, have brought such ineffective weapons to combat the Flood, despite containment protocols."
Miranda quickly stepped towards the Monitor, her anger from before still bubbling in her brain.
"None of us thought we were going to be fighting these things when we came here, you know," Miranda informed the Monitor. "And again, I don't see you offering us better guns."
"I cannot be blamed for your lack of preparation," Guilty Spark argued simply. "If you were more organized, you would be in better condition to face this task."
"Me? I need to be more organized?" Miranda asked sarcastically, almost laughing heartily at the mere suggestion. "I'm not the one who's somehow allowed these things to take over this entire facility! Maybe if YOU were more organized-"
Shepard quickly stepped in before thing got more heated between the two. He didn't mind Miranda putting Spark in his place, but that wasn't what they needed right now. As much as he wanted to see his XO bat the little eyeball around, they still needed him to get out.
"Let's just stay on task for the moment," Shepard stated, trying to calm them both. "Spark, I've been wondering something. Why do you call this place the Library?"
"Yeah, there ain't much in the way of books," Zaeed concurred.
"It is so named because this facility was specifically designed to hold all information concerning the study and containment of the Flood," Guilty Spark explained, seemingly happy to answer. "The other purpose is of course to house the Index Chamber and keep it safe from both the Flood and unwanted intruders."
It wasn't doing that good a job, as far Shepard could see. But at least the AI was talking to them now, and not being too cryptic with its responses. He decided it was time to get some answers, before the eyeball reverted back to his usual unhelpful self.
"If this place is made to study the Flood, then you must have a lot of information on them," Shepard noted. "Exactly what are they? Did the Forerunners make them?"
"Oh no," Guilty Spark responded, vehemently denying the very suggestion of such a thing. "They were encountered. Those who created them were long since past when they were first discovered. No Forerunner would've ever dreamed of being so irresponsible as to unleash this on the unwitting galaxy. We have always sought their total eradication, I assure you."
"So why are they even here on this ring if the Forerunners wanted to kill them?" The Master Chief asked, eager to hear the Monitor's answer himself as much as anyone.
Guilty Spark slowly turned to the Master Chief, hovering in place as it answered his query dutifully.
"Samples were kept here after the last catastrophic crisis," he replied. "It was a necessary step if we ever wished to discover a cure. In hindsight, that may have been an error."
"You think?" Miranda asked, her annoyed tone still lingering. "Maybe whoever thought up that idea should've considered destroying all of them when they had the chance. We wouldn't be in this mess otherwise."
"We followed protocol procedures stringently," Guilty Spark informed her adamantly. "It was not a decision taken lightly and we planned for contingencies in case of an outbreak. This catastrophe is due to circumstances beyond our control. The other species now on the Installation have no respect for assigned containment procedures and have reckless disregard for security and restricted areas. They are the ones to blame."
Shepard for once couldn't disagree with the Monitor. They all knew this was the fault of the Covenant. They released these things, not Guilty Spark. He at least wanted to fix this. In any case, he had brought up another interesting tidbit of information.
"You said there was another catastrophic crisis like this?" Shepaed questioned curiously. "How long ago was that?"
"Exactly 101,217 local years," Guilty Spark dutifully replied. "It required the activation of the Installation's Weapons Systems in order to resolve it."
"Well, so much for your perfect no work-related accidents record then," Zaeed commented. "All those years without these bastards breaking loose and it all goes down the drain because of a bunch of stupid religious nuts."
The Master Chief, however, had his own question resulting from Spark's answer.
"How long have you been in charge of this place, anyway?" He asked the AI.
"Exactly 101,217 local years," Guilty Spark replied to the Spartan cheerfully. "Most of which were quite boring admittedly, but not anymore."
The elevator stopped and Guilty Spark floated away, practically giggling with glee as he did. It was somewhat unnerving to say the least. Miranda voiced everyone's initial reactions first.
"So we're being led around by a hundred thousand year old synthetic," she grumbled. "This is getting worse by the minute."
"That's not entirely what's bothering me," Chief informed her. "You know how AIs are supposed to go rampant after seven years?"
"Yeah, so I've heard, they think themselves to death," Shepard recalled with a shrug.
The Master Chief nodded, but he had an addition to Shepard's reply.
"It's not really death so much as it's... becoming unstable," Chief elaborated. "They sorta develop their own personalities. Or in Guilty Spark's case, they become..."
"Incredibly annoying?" Miranda asked sardonically.
"I was going to say eccentric," Chief replied rather warily. "Maybe quirky, if you want to be polite. He's more than likely insane at this point to be honest."
To be frank, this wasn't so much of a revelation so much as it was confirmation of what many of them had started to suspect.
"Oh really?" Zaeed asked, sounding rather sarcastic in his tone. "I thought the little bugger was going senile. Now that know he's just insane that makes everything better."
"My point exactly," the Master Chief cautiously informed them all. "We should be careful around him. Who knows how he'll react to some of our questions or actions. We should tread lightly, just in case he suddenly decides to sic those Sentinels on us."
Guilty Spark's voice suddenly echoed back at them.
"Reclaimer, we must get moving, quickly!" He called out. "The Index awaits!"
"I don't know," Miranda groaned. "Getting melted by lasers from those Sentinels is starting to sound preferable to this actually."
She could feel sweat practically pouring down her face now, her fever rising to near unbearable heights. Tali could feel her head getting heavier, her legs getting weaker. Every step became a struggle, her feet nearly tripping over themselves as she stumbled among the trees and mud. Her head was dizzy, her eyelids heavy, she was exhausted and tired. Her body just wanted to rest, but to sleep now would mean death. She needed to keep moving, lest the Flood catch up to her.
She eventually staggered towards a tree, trying to prop herself on it with her arm. It too suddenly gave way along with one of her legs. She turned to stop herself from hitting the tree face first, only succeeding it hitting her shoulder. She almost shouted out in pain, but she bit her lip to keep herself from screaming. She couldn't make a sound, the Flood would hear it.
Now lying against the tree, Tali sat on the muddy ground and quickly dug into one of her suit's pockets. With her symptoms getting worse it was clear to her now that her antibiotics and immuno boosters were starting to give out. She wouldn't last long without them. If she was to survive, she'd need another shot or two of both.
Antibiotics were first, she pulled one of the injectors with the bigger dosage and jabbed it into her arm. She grabbed another dose from her pack and delivered it through her other arm. She hoped that would help spread it out a little faster. It would still take some time to kick in though.
The immuno boosters were next. She stuck herself with the injector for it through her thigh, wincing in pain, but doing her best not to scream. She went to slam another shot into her leg, her hand shaking as she prepared another shot. She steadied herself and placed the immuno booster to her other thigh.
"Always hated needles," she said, steeling herself before pressing down hard.
After the shot, she dropped the injector and started taking deep breaths. She still felt terrible, but with any luck she wouldn't feel as bad in the next few minutes. Until then, she needed to let the medicine do its work. Already she could feels strength returning to her legs, even as her fever persisted.
In this situation, however, the booster shots were just a delaying tactic. She needed a doctor. She needed the Normandy's med-bay. Otherwise, she was as good as dead. That was just how suit ruptures went. It was always a tossup of how bad it would get, but it was certainty that you could remain in an unsterile environment exposed like she was for long.
With the knowledge of her chances in hand, she decided to do the only thing she felt viable at this point. It probably wasn't going to suddenly fix everything, but it seemed like the only card she could play. She cupped her hands together, looked up to the sky and began to pray.
"Ancestors, hear my plea to you," she started solemnly, doing her best to speak through the pain. "I am afraid. I'm afraid of dying here, of leaving my loved ones. I want to hear Garrus' cracks about my immune system, talk tech with Kasumi, see Auntie Raan and my friends on the Flotilla once again, I don't want to leave all of that behind. I can't leave any of my friends yet, they still need me. I still need to fix Legion. I can't leave Cortana. They still need me and I still need them. I need all of them."
She then bowed her head and closed her eyes.
"And please, Ancestors," she begged humbly. "Help me find my way back to Shepard again. I need his warmth, his laugh, his skin on mine. We were going to watch that vid he keeps going on about, 'Wrath of Kabab' or something. It's hard to keep up with all his weird human words. I just need to get back to him. I love him so much, Ancestors. I need him and he needs me. I'm not... I'm not sure if he'll survive me dying again. Please, get me back to him. Let me see him again, if only to tell him how much I love him. I never got to really tell him that. I just want to tell him that, please."
Tali tried to hold back her tears as she prayed. She wasn't much of a religious quarian, few were anymore, but she needed it right now. She needed someone here with her, someone who would help her, someone who would listen to her, someone who would talk to her.
And then someone did.
"Look at what you've gotten yourself into now, child,"
Tali looked up with a start, instantly recognizing that voice. But it couldn't be, not here. It wasn't possible. But looking up, she could see him clearly. The same purple headscarf, with the same pattern as her own, that same overbearing posture and authoritative stare. The one she looked up into every time she wanted approval, or got lectured or was punished since she was small.
It was hard to believe, she couldn't believe it. But there was Rael'Zorah, her father, staring down at her as she sat in the mud against her tree. His arms were crossed and he shook his head only slightly side to side.
"At least you brought antibiotics," he said despairingly. "Some of my lessons have actually stuck it seems."
"You can't be here," Tali told him, clutching her head in disbelief. "You're dead. I saw..."
"Of course I'm dead," Rael responded viciously. "The geth saw to that, remember? Or have you forgotten that as well?"
Tali shook her head vigorously, but Rael was still there when she looked again.
"You're not real," she tried to defiantly state, however weakly. "And I haven't forgotten anything. I remember the Alerai. Keelah, I wish I could forget."
"You could've fooled me," Rael responded with a disgruntled look. "After all, look at you now."
Rael stepped over to her and bent down next to her, still wearing the same disapproving look.
"Sometimes I wonder where I went wrong with you, child," he stated with a sigh. "I gave my life to you and the Fleet. I spent all my time trying to give you a home. My dying thoughts were of you, thinking you'd finish the work I started. And you repay me like this, pathetic."
"What are you talking about?" She asked faintly, bewildered by his cruel tone.
"You know damn well," he declared. "I died trying to fulfill my promise to you. Died trying to defeat the geth and you decide to become friends with one of them. This... Legion, this thing, it turned you against your own people."
Tali turned to her father, mustering what courage she could to confront him.
"Legion isn't how you think," she told him through pained gasps of breath. "The geth aren't how we thought they were. They're not vicious killers. We don't have to destroy each other."
"Tell that to your friends on Haestrom or those people on Eden Prime," Rael reminded her cruelly. "It doesn't matter if those were different geth, they're all geth. The 'Heretics' were just bold enough to take the fight beyond the veil. You don't think other quarians have tried over the past three hundred years to attempt peace? You think that idiot Koris is the first AI sympathizer in our long history? Have you forgotten the ones that tried to return to Rannoch, tried to extend an olive branch by going back across the veil unarmed? The geth killed them Tali, not the Heretics, the geth. Does that sound like they want us back? Even Koris realises the folly of such an action and he practically loves the damn synthetics."
"That doesn't mean we shouldn't try," Tali countered. "We have a duty to at least try."
Rael crossed his arms, wholly unconvinced by her argument.
"Is that how you feel or how your precious new Captain does?" Rael asked disgustedly. "You let your love-sick fantasies get the best of you, daughter. Those stupid fairy tales of heroes led you into this ridiculous relationship."
"It's not ridiculous," Tali snapped at Rael. "I love him."
"And look at where that 'love' has brought you, child," her father replied, raising both his arms wide over his head, pointing around at the swamp surrounding them. "You're dying, alone and scared on this damn ring, a whole universe away from your people. You allowed your potential to be wasted because of him, because of a foolish little girl's crush. And where is he now, I ask you? If he truly loves you, why is he not here?"
"He was taken," Tali tried to counter feebly. "It wasn't his fault. That Monitor took him."
But Rael just shook his head at her rebuttal.
"If he truly cared about you, he'd be here," he claimed. "Instead, I'm here, trying to get you to realise what you've become. And I'm not just talking about Legion either. I could understand you being so easily misled by that geth's lies, but this Cortana business crosses the line. Damn it, Tali. What have you done?"
Tali turned her head from her father once. She shut her eyes and beat on her head, hoping he'd just go away. Of all the people she wanted to talk about this with, he was the last person she wanted to explain herself to.
"I've done nothing wrong," she tried to argue, her voice shaking as she did. A fact Rael seemed to pick up on.
"If you really believed that, Tali, you would've told your precious new AI friend the truth. You would've at least told your crew what happened," Rael proclaimed ferociously. "Are you afraid of what Shepard will think of you if he hears the truth? Do you think he'll still love you when he learns what you and Halsey did?"
"I did what I had to," Tali boldly declared to him. "It needed to be done. I did it for Cortana, myself and the Fleet. I needed to learn, I needed to know. And for that I needed a connection."
"You're just repeating Halsey's reasons," Rael ferociously shouted at her. "You went against everything the Fleet stands for, everything that I taught you! And for what, exactly? So you'd be a better mechanic to a damn AI? Please, don't treat me like a fool, Tali. I'm your father. I know you better than anyone and I know when you're lying to yourself."
Tali was on the verge of tears as her father continued to berate her. She tried to hide it from him, even if he wasn't real, she didn't want him to see her cry. She refused to let him see her cry, to see her more helpless than she already was.
"Why are you doing this?" She asked, trying to disguise her whimpers best she could.
"Because I had such high hopes for you and you've failed me," Rael declared. "You are of clan Zorah, you had such potential based on that alone and you've squandered it. I tried everything to bring it out, giving you more responsibility, including you in my work as much as possible. I even did my best to protect you from political blowback because of that association. You've failed me, child. After all I did for you, you've failed me! You failed as a leader, you failed as a quarian and you failed as my daughter!"
Tali clutched at her head tightly, trying her best to block him out. The cruel words of her father's apparition got through regardless, however, and Tali could take no more.
"Everything I ever did, I did trying to make you proud!" Tali shouted at him, no longer able to hold back the tears. "Why was I never good enough for you? Why did you always shut me out? I loved you! I loved you more than any daughter has ever loved their father! Why didn't you love me back?"
She fell back onto the tree, her cries sapping her strength.
"Because you're a disappointment," Rael answered as her heavy breathing continued. "If you really were my daughter you'd be back on your feet now and fighting, instead of lying in the mud and hoping some long dead quarian from the past is going to help you get back to that damn human and those disgusting synthetics you love so much!"
Rael marched over to Tali's foot and began pulling on it.
"Get up," he demanded. "Get up now! If you don't want to die here like you say, then get up! Pull yourself out of this mud and be a quarian again, damn it! GET UP!"
Rael kicked Tali's foot and she felt a terrible pain. Her eyes suddenly burst open and she looked to her foot. Crawling up it she could see one of parasite creatures, its many tiny tentacles legs scrambling over her toes, its feelers whirling around and the distinct feel of its claws trying to dig into her suit.
Tali screamed in horror and kicked the ugly little creature away. It made that strange ear piercing sound it made as it made its way back over to her. Without thinking, Tali pulled out her M6D pistol and fired at the parasite. It exploded into confetti as the gunshot echoed far and wide.
Tali looked around for her father, but could see nothing. Of course he hadn't been real, that hadn't been her father. It was some kind of subconscious fever dream, her mind playing tricks on her again. She had just fallen asleep while she had been praying, stupid of her.
Yet she couldn't escape the ugly feelings the hallucination had left her. The cruel words, the insults, the disappointment and abject loathing, they were all so emotionally devastating. Some of what he had said she knew her father would never declare so readily, but others she feared he would've told her if he were still alive. He had been right about one thing though, she needed to keep moving. The Ancestors wouldn't save her, nor would Shepard this time. It was up to her now.
That fact became more evident as she heard the distant shrieks and cries of the Combat forms racing towards her. She raced to leave, just as one jumped down from the tree tops. She ducked away, letting the creature slam into the trunk instead of her. She fired off a blast from her M90 Shotgun at the beast, blasting a hole straight through its chest.
With new found drive, she took off running into the fog covered forest once more. She needed to find the others, she needed to keep moving and she needed to stay awake. If only for the fact she didn't want to see her father again.
Jack watched from within their crop of trees as Combat Forms past them by. Where they were off to she couldn't say, but at least they weren't after them. She eyed the small horde as it disappeared into the fog, their splashing footsteps slowly fading from her range of hearing. She didn't lower her shotgun until she was sure they were gone, better safe than dead after all.
When she was sure they had left, Jack breathed a sigh of relief and slinked back down beside Thane. The drell was lying against one of the trees, still trying to regain his bearings with every heavy breath he now took. He looked better at least, giving Jack hope she wouldn't have to carry the overgrown lizard after this.
"We shouldn't stay much longer," Thane stated. "Who knows when they'll pick up our trail again."
"I'll agree to that," Jack concurred. "Maybe we can start actually working back to Garrus already. Then we can get the fuck out of this swamp."
"What about Tali?" Thane asked. "She's still lost."
Jack didn't want to say anything hateful about the quarian, but she wasn't going to pretend she had much hope for her either. It wasn't personal. She was just being a realist about the situation. The odds were stacked against Tali. That was just how it was.
"If her suit is busted she's probably dead by now," Jack surmised. "Shepard, Cheerleader, the old man and the super-soldier are missing to boot. I say we cut our losses while we can."
"I doubt Garrus will be so ready to agree with that assessment," Thane told her.
"I'm giving my opinion, he doesn't have to listen to it," Jack growled back.
She went about checking her weapon. She still had a good number of thermal clips left, but she was quickly running dry. She only had the M6D as back-up and that would last them long. They needed to get out of this swamp before they ran completely dry and these things made them dinner or breakfast, whatever time it was.
"You don't like to think of us as your friends, do you?" Thane suddenly asked.
Jack's head lifted from her weapon and she did her best not to groan. Was he really getting into this again? She looked over to him as he stared back at her.
"I'm there for the team, isn't that enough?" She asked with a growl.
"Perhaps," Thane admitted. "Most people would do that out of a sense of camaraderie though."
"And I'm doing it because there's strength in numbers, is that it?" Jack hypothetically asked in kind. "Look, I told you, it's just stupid to give a shit like that. It gets you killed. It's not personal. I look after myself and do my bit, that's all that should matter in the end."
Jack fully expected the drell to argue that point with some crappy little lecture like Shepard always did. She didn't expect, however, what Thane said next.
"I once felt the same," he admitted.
At very least, Thane now had Jack's attention. Her glowering frown softened to a curious stare as Thane continued.
"My work, it used to be all that mattered," he explained. "I preferred solitude and cut myself off from those I cared about. I thought it was better that way, given my line of work."
"Who'd you cut out of your life?" Jack asked him, for once honestly curious.
After a moment of silence, Thane looked to her directly and answered.
"My son," Thane admitted.
Jack's hardened face slightly softened further as the drell suddenly began to ramble off something in a far off distant voice.
"On assignment on Omega. Hunt for killer. Steals tentacles of Hanar he kills. Looking over details of case file. Pictures of possible suspects. Surveillance of routine. Call comes on omni-tool. ID says Vid-mail from Kolyat. I go to press answer. Suddenly change mind, press ignore. Return to work, and turn off omni-tool."
Thane shook his head suddenly, his mind returning to the here and now once more. Jack would've been surprised, if she didn't remember that one creepy thing about drells.
"One of them funky memory recalls I hear everyone go on about?" She asked simply.
"Yes, perfect memory can be a curse at times," he admitted. "I remember every time I distanced my son from me. Every time I pushed Kolyat away from my life. I thought it was for the best, but it only made him angry and disconnected. When that led him down a dark path after my wife..."
He paused for a moment and Jack worried he'd go into another of those little memory trances, but he managed to continue.
"I wasn't there for him when I should've been," he admitted.
Thane turned back to her, his expression still as solemn as ever.
"I was in my own dark place for a long time and I didn't think it mattered anymore," he explained. "I thought it was just better to let him hate me, so he wouldn't be like me. Then Shepard helped me reunite with Kolyat and I realised exactly how foolish I had been. Nothing good can come from pushing people away from you. Isolation is not a preferable situation to force yourself into constantly."
"That assumes there are people who care," Jack informed him harshly. "The reality is this, the only person who will ever really look out for you is yourself. Relying on others just leads disappointment. All they ever care about is what they want in the end."
"All Kolyat wanted was a father," Thane stated, not really a counter to her argument as it sounded more directed at himself. "It wasn't too much to ask for."
Jack couldn't come up with a response to that. He supposed it was because he was right. It didn't sound like all that much to her. Just then Thane began to cough heavily. He did his best to stifle it before he began gasping for breath. The display earned Jack's full attention once more.
"How are you feeling?" She asked him.
"Like I'm drowning in my own body," he said, clutching at his chest. "I've had worse attacks to be honest though. Fainting spells, light headiness, right now it's just fatigue. I should be able to move soon."
Good, because Jack wasn't about to stick around all day waiting for him. She started to look over their surroundings, checking for a clear escape path. Not easy when the entire swamp was covered in a thick of layer of fog. If it was pitch black it would be a different story, she was used to dark places. Fog made it impossible to see anything.
"For someone who seems to believe in a policy of 'everyone for themselves,' you're not doing much to live by at the moment," Thane observed. "It would be so easy for you to run right now, leave me for a distraction while you get back to Garrus."
"Yeah and then the others will give me shit for leaving you," she answered, still trying to peer through the fog. "Besides, your Shredder Ammo seems to disagree with those fuckers the most. So I still kinda need ya."
"You could just take my SMG and its Shredder Mod," Thane told her. "You're clearly a stronger biotic and I am not in my best condition."
That was just about it. Jack was getting tired of this crap. For someone hard of breath at the moment he talked way too much. She turned to stare him down once more.
"You got a fucking death wish, drell?" She asked him. "Are you offering me suggestions or are you letting me know not to try that shit because you've already thought of it? Are you planning on snapping my neck if I look at you funny or something? What? What is it? The fuck do you want with me?"
"I'm making an observation," Thane informed her coolly. "You could've left me behind the second I started wheezing and made up any story you liked after. To be honest, Jack, I'm not so sure you're being very sincere with yourself about why you're still here, on the Normandy, with us."
"Maybe because I like killing shit as much as you did when you ignored your son?" Jack posited cruelly.
"Protecting Kolyat from what I did was my excuse for doing that very thing," Thane replied. "What's your excuse for not letting anyone in?"
Jack stuck her face directly into the drell, just to make sure he understood every little word she was about to say.
"My excuse is being experimented on every day of my childhood by assholes in lab coats and then knocked around or fucked up by every shithead in the Terminus after that," she irately informed him. "I got used, tossed around, beat up, beat down and fucked over both literally and figuratively all my life. Don't pretend you fucking know me, Lizard. I don't need an excuse to do anything and I don't give a fuck what you think my excuses are."
"I don't believe you," Thane replied plainly, not even blinking as she raged at him. "I think the Normandy is the best thing that ever happened to you. It's the one place where you've found people who actually treat you like a person. Shepard treats you like a valued member of the crew, Jacob tries to look out for your safety by giving you armour, Garrus tries to cover your back whenever you or anyone is trouble. Even Miranda only gets angry at you because she wants you to be a team player. Not as a weapon, but part of the squad."
Jack just laughed at the idea with a dismissive chortle and moved away from the drell. Thane, however, did not stop talking.
"Can you honestly say that if you were out there alone and Tali was back with Garrus, that she'd suggest leaving you behind?" He asked her. "Do you think anyone on the team would do that to you at this point?"
She faced her head away from the drell at this point. Jack wanted to say yes, of course they would. That made sense because it was just how it was, that was what everyone did. People saved their own asses when shit hit the fan. That's why you never let anyone close, that's why you never let anyone in. Because they'd turn on you, they'd see that weakness, they'd use you and you were as good as dead. That was the plain and simple fact of fucking life.
But a full minute passed her by and she had yet to answer. Her scowl slowly dissipated until she realised she couldn't say that about anyone. Not even Miranda. They weren't like that, none of them were. It wasn't in them.
"Don't make the same mistake I did when I decided to shut my son out," Thane implored. "You can see that people will care about you, if you let them."
"And what if I don't want them to care?" Jack asked back, the anger and frustration in her voice replaced by a soft tone of sorrow and apprehension. "What if... it's better if they don't care about me?"
She hated this feeling, this feeling of regret and displacement. It was weak, it was pathetic. She thought she had got rid of it long ago. But she couldn't deny that she was feeling it now.
"Like I said, caring gets you killed," she told him solemnly. "It gets everyone killed, one way or another."
Suddenly the sound of an explosion rocked their ears from overhead. Jack looked up to see one of the trees had been hit, most likely by a rocket. The entire top of the tree began to crumble down towards them. Without thinking, Jack pulled Thane up and the two of them ran from the falling tree. They managed to avoid it, but only just. They had to dive into the mud at the last second to keep from being hit by it.
Already the Combat Forms were moving on their position. The bastards had flushed them out of the trees and now they were making a beeline straight for them. Thane fired off a series of shredder rounds from his pistol, blasting some of the infested monstrosities' limbs off. Jack got to her feet and picked the drell off the ground.
"Good talk, let's do it next week," she told him hastily. "Now run!"
She pushed Thane to move ahead while she took aim and blew apart one of the Combat Forms as it raced towards them. She then ran after him, just happy to be back in her element again. She would be lying though if Thane's words hadn't stuck. She just had no time to consider them at the moment, not when they were still the main course for the freaks of nature.
Miranda jumped back as the recoil of the shotgun forced the barrel up into the air. She pumped the weapon, ejecting the spent shell casing and fired off another blast. This time she managed to keep herself standing as the buckshot tore the next Combat Form wide open. She walked backwards, following the others as they kept pressing forward through the mass of Flood blocking their path through the tunnel.
It was close quarters in the small passage, meaning they had to be even quicker on the triggers than usual, lest the Flood get the jump on them. Shepard used his shockwave when they initially entered to knock some of the Flood down while the Chief and Zaeed blew a few new holes into them. They kept pressing forward through the tunnel then, blowing apart Combat Forms as they tried to charge in close and smash them against the walls with their powerful tentacle-appendages.
Then the Master Chief stopped at a corner, holding up his arm to pause the others. He saw a number of Carrier Forms walking down the aisle towards them. He bounced a grenade around the corner at them and let the explosion deal with the overgrown sacks of gas. Once they detonated, Chief switched to his assault rifle and charged down the corridor, firing at the infection forms in their way. Everyone else followed, the Combat Form pursuing them having been thinned out.
As they approached the exit to the tunnel, a Marine Combat Form dropped into view from above the exit. He fired a plasma rifle at the Master Chief, hitting his shields hard. The Spartan's shields held long enough for him to fire off a shell that blew a hole straight through the infested Marine. As the body fell to the floor, Guilty Spark suddenly appeared in the entrance.
"Oh, hello," he greeted them as they came out of the tunnel. "The next lift is not far from here. By the way, Reclaimer, I was just contemplating a benefit your deficient combat skin possesses."
"It's not like I can stop you," The Spartan replied bluntly as he walked past.
"Your environment suit at the very least will protect you when the Flood begins to alter the atmosphere," the Monitor informed him. "You are a good planner, Reclaimer. I can only hope that your compatriots possess similar foresight."
"Uh, when exactly do the Flood start altering the atmosphere exactly?" Shepard asked him warily.
He was far more concerned with the air changing on them than finding an environment suit. He did have a helmet after all.
"It depends largely on the severity of the outbreak," Spark admitted. "It will probably still take a few days."
As Guilty Spark floated off, Zaeed reached into a compartment on his back and placed his specialized mask onto his head. He strapped it on tight and turned to the others.
"Hey, when you're dealing with undead freaks of nature it's better to be safe than sorry, I say," he declared.
"I don't think we have to worry about the Flood playing havoc with the atmosphere yet," Shepard informed him. "Focus on the chest burrowing and eating us alive for now."
"Well don't come crying to me then when you start choking," Zaeed warned them in kind.
They moved out once again, they still had a few floors of vicious Combat forms left to go after all. The sooner they were at the Index, the sooner they wouldn't have to worry about falling prey to either altered air or parasites eating their insides.
Legion's tracking software had proven to be successful. It hadn't taken too long to pinpoint traces of quarian blood. Tali had definitely been bleeding pretty badly for awhile. Kasumi didn't expect Tali to have let her wound sit like that for too long though. Sure enough, the trail of blood ran dry, but it had at least put them on the quarian's initial trail.
The swamp helped them from that point on. All Kasumi had to do was follow Tali's muddy footprints through the marsh. Each tree they passed, each corner they turned, she hoped they wouldn't find a body. She had every faith that Tali was okay, but she knew bad odds when she saw them. It was why she didn't gamble at casinos, that and it was a lot more fun to steal from them.
Eventually they discovered something by a tree. They were used perishable injector needles for antibiotics and immune boosters. By the look of their manufacturer and label, they were of turian origin. That meant desxtro-amino acids, which meant they were Tali's.
"Creator Tali'Zorah is attempting to stave off her exposure through medicinal means," Legion observed. "We estimate that her current dose will help sustain her for an hour more, if she has not taken more by now."
"Can you figure out how long ago she was here?" Kasumi asked as she eyed the injector.
"Scans detect tracks are approximately twenty-five to thirty minutes old, roughly," Legion claimed. "Depending on capable land speed of an average Creator under similar conditions, she is roughly within three kilometres of our position."
Kasumi shook her head at that estimate. That was still too much ground to cover. They were close, but judging by the dead Combat Form and the other footprints in the mud, Tali wasn't alone. The Flood were after her and they were closing in. Tali wouldn't be able to stay in one place for long with her condition, she'd need to keep moving and that meant she wouldn't be able to sit tight long enough for them to find her.
Faced with the dilemma and knowing they were running out of time, Kasumi tried to think of a strategy. Her friend's life was on the line and she'd be damned if she wasn't going to get her out of this somehow. Then, out of nowhere, her omni-tool began to flash. Kasumi, curious at who would be calling her now, activated it. The message wasn't on her personal line, but on the Normandy's communication grid. Confused, she opened the message and read it.
'Large structure, twelve clicks west of your position,' it read. 'Tali will be there.'
She wanted to know who was talking to her, but there was no reply or signal. Kasumi was wary of the message at first, but then saw a little letter in the corner that changed her mind.
There was only one person, or more accurately, one thing, she knew started with the letter C. It was the best they had. If there was a structure nearby, perhaps Tali would see and seek it out. It would be better than staying out here after all.
"We may have something here, Legion," Kasumi informed the geth. "Get ready to call down extraction on a moment's notice. We're getting our Chief Engineer back home, whatever it takes."
Tali stumbled through the mass of trees, running through the fog as fast as she could. She was so focused on looking straight ahead she nearly tripped a few times over bits of fallen branches and logs in her way. The Flood were closing in, she could hear their shrieks and growls practically right behind her.
As she ran, bullets and plasma bolts whizzed all around her. She turned ducked behind trees to use them as cover. Bits of wood and splinters were blown off the trunk, nearly cutting into her. Eventually the fire intensified so much that she was forced to zigzag through the trees. She managed to throw off the aim of her pursuers, but they weren't about to give up so easily.
Fire suddenly ripped along the side of her run. The Combat Forms were attacking from her side now. They closed the distance, even as they continued let off shots from their weapons. Tali blew one of the Combat Forms' arms off with one shot. She fired again and this time the whole the creature fell forwards and rolled right into a tree.
When she got the chance, she activated Chiktikka and sent the little drone rolling into the Flood ranks. The little drone began shocking the infested abominations with energy blasts, keeping them at bay awhile longer. But Tali's momentary distraction from what was ahead of her made her miss a rock in her path. She slipped on it and fell forwards onto her face.
Gritting her teeth through the pain, she rolled onto her back, just as one of the Combat Forms leapt in front of her. It slashed at her with its tentacle arm, but Tali rolled at the last second and fired her shotgun into the creature's side. She didn't wait for it to get up or attack again. She just scrambled to her feet and kept running.
When she was far enough away she pressed her back into a nearby tree. She gasped for breath, her stomach churning as she did. Her tongue felt dry and bloated all of a sudden. She raised her hand to her mouth piece on her faceplate worried she was about to vomit. She felt her skin itch, her eyes puff out, head swirl with indescribable pain. Her face felt hot and her chest seemed on fire. It was getting worse.
She struggled to reach into her medical kit bag again and pulled out another injector filled with antibiotics. She plugged it straight into her thigh as she looked around nervously for any sign of the Flood. She whimpered in fear, unsure of what to do. They were everywhere, their shrieks and growls closing in. She needed to move, she needed to run, fight through the pain and just run.
Tali took off again, but didn't get far. Out of the mist something appeared before her, but it was large and towering. This wasn't Flood, as its shining eye made very clear. Before her eyes stood a Geth Colossus that boomed its terrible sound as it charged its weapon. Without thinking, Tali fired at it with her shotgun. The Colossus vanished in a puff of fog. Tali's eyes refocused and she saw she had actually fired on a bioluminescent plant.
It was just another hallucination, something else that wasn't there, like her father and the voices from before. The deafening shrieks of a Combat Form reminded her of what was real. The image of an infested Marine lunged into view racing towards her with reckless abandon as it fired its plasma rifle. Tali dove to the ground, mud covering her visor and she fired another shell from her shotgun. It took off the upper half of the creature's body and Tali scrambled back to her feet to keep running.
She felt her head grow heavy again and once more her mind began to play with her sense of sight and sound. The gunfire of the Combat Forms shifted into the sounds of geth assault rifles, beams of light seemed to scan the forest. Tali could see the images of the synthetics through the mist, their metallic clicks and whines piercing her ear drums.
She thought she saw the Geth fire on her, but she knew they couldn't be real. There were no geth here. She tried to remain composed, remember where she was. She shook her head as ferociously as possible, still trying to run as hard as she could.
Then, something started talking into her ear through what was supposed to be a broken radio.
"You can't ignore it, they'll kill you, it's their nature," the voice of her Father declared.
"You're not my father," Tali declared through gritted teeth. "You're just an illusionary by-product of both my fever and concussion."
"What does it matter if I'm not real, I'm from your head, child," the fake Rael informed her. "You're just arguing with yourself. Not me, you. I'm not the one telling you a truth you don't want to hear, you are."
"Shut up," Tali demanded, her agitation growing.
Tali slammed her fist into helmet, hoping to knock the voice out of her head for good. She then scrambled behind a rock and quickly checked her ammo supply. She had fourteen shells or so left by her estimate and her shotgun still had one in the chamber. She set about reloading it, even as her fingers trembled and her muscles ached.
"Like it matters at this point,"
That voice wasn't Rael, but it wasn't any more comforting. Tali looked up to see a face she didn't expect to recall, but it was staring back at her all the same. A quarian with perforated, bloody suited and smashed faceplate visor was standing beside her now. Knowing who it was, Tali instantly wished for her dad to come back.
"Go away, Prazza," she demanded. "I don't need a fever dream of you right now."
"How do you know I'm a hallucination?" He asked in that usual annoying tone of voice he once had when he was alive. "Maybe this isn't from the fever. Maybe it's something else. Maybe I'm a ghost here to haunt you for all your failures."
Tali just rolled her eyes at the suggestion. Just because she was in a fever-induced haze didn't mean she had suddenly become a gullible idiot.
"Well you're certainly as stupid as the real Prazza if you think I'll believe that," Tali informed him as she placed the last shell into the shotgun.
"You trusted Cerberus, Tali, it got me and half your team killed," Prazza declared coldly. "Your father put you in charge of getting us home safely and you failed. Don't tell me you don't feel guilt about that?"
"No," she defiantly and passionately dismissed. "You were an idiot, disobeyed my authority and ran into the line of fire where mechs easily gutted the entire squad. I'm not responsible for your idiocy and I'm especially not getting into this with a damn figment of my imagination."
Tali turned away to see if any of the Flood were close by, but Prazza kept pressing.
"Everyone you're responsible for or care about gets killed," he scolded her viciously. "Freedom's Progress, Haestrom, your dad, me. Even those friends of yours you went off with on your pilgrimage got killed because of you."
"I'm not listening, Prazza," Tali responded spitefully. "Get out of my head."
"Now you think you can save our people by negotiating with the geth?" He mocked with a sickening chortle. "You think this Cortana will help you somehow? Please, you'll just end up killing us all. Everyone dies because of you. If you were a better leader, I wouldn't have run off like I did. If you were a better daughter, you would've reached your father in time. You're a blight on us and you're going to get us all killed."
"Shut up," Tali furiously ordered. "I won't ask again."
Prazza's voice then crept into her ear.
"You should just kill yourself," he whispered harshly. "Kill yourself before more people die because of you."
Tali whirled around and prepared to smack Prazza in the face. She didn't care if he wasn't real, she'd get him to shut up. When she did turn though, Prazza wasn't there. To her horror, he had been replaced with an Elite Combat Form. It roared at her loudly and tried to tackle her.
Tali quickly moved her shotgun to block the monster's grab. She was forced onto her back as the former Elite began pressing its weight down on her. With all her strength, she forced the abomination off her with a push from her legs. She then plugged the shotgun's barrel straight into the monster's chest and pulled the trigger. Meaty chunks showered the area around her as Tali sat herself back up.
Then her omni-tool rang off. Cautiously, she looked activated it and saw she had been sent a message over a personal line.
'Tali, there is a structure you can take cover in,' it read. 'It's fourteen clicks to the northwest of your position. Friends are on the way. - C'
C? There was only one person who would send that, who would be capable of sending that. But how? Was this another trick of her mind? Another hallucination? No, her fever wasn't affecting what she could read on a screen. And if there was a structure, maybe she could hide in it for awhile. Maybe she'd get a chance to fix her radio, send a message to Garrus, something to get her position out to the others.
And, if the message was from who she thought it was, she had to trust it.
Anything seemed better than waiting out here and constantly wondering what was real and what wasn't. So she picked herself up and made a dash northwest. If there was a structure nearby, she'd find it.
The doors buckled badly as more Combat Forms slammed into it. The weld keeping it shut was holding, but no one was sure how long it would last at this rate. While the others stayed behind the bits of machinery for cover, Buck and Garrus tried to reinforce the door any way they could. Dutch and the other Marines helped pull up metal tiling from the floor, which Buck took and placed over the door. Garrus then quickly began welding the metal sheets over the door, hoping to make a barricade against the Combat Forms.
"How long do you think we got until they burst on through to us?" Buck asked his Turian compatriot.
Part of the door suddenly bent forward, denting the sheet metal as it moved.
"Give or take a few minutes," Garrus determined. "I don't think this Barricade will hold out for long after that."
"Then we need a way to hold them back," Buck surmised. "They may only have one entrance, but we don't have many bullets left."
Garrus turned back to Mordin who was positioned on the console.
"You find anything useful on that yet?" He asked him.
"Unsure," the salarian admitted. "Unfamiliar with Forerunner language. System diagnostic suggests structure possesses shutters for windows. Assume this refers to metal lining inside of indentations along walls. Could attempt to open some. Use new opening to fire out at Combat Forms."
It was worth a shot, but it was also a bit risky. They'd be making holes for the parasite creatures to crawl through if any were out there. It was better than waiting for them to get in though. Thinning out their numbers would also give them a chance to get to extraction when it came.
"Alright, but be ready to close them again when I tell you to," Garrus cautioned Mordin. "We don't want to accidentally give them another opening."
Mordin nodded and pressed down on the console. It took awhile, but it did activate. The shutters near the door opened up slowly, revealing the world outside once more. Dutch, Romeo and a few other Marines were quick to take up positions near the newly opened windows and began picking targets.
Dutch tossed a grenade out towards the main door where most of the Combat Forms were situated. The blast sent the Flood flying as the door shook from the explosion. At least it hadn't come off its hinges and it was no longer being pounded on by a dozen or so undead monsters.
Romeo began using his DMR to take out a few of the approaching Flood Combat Forms from afar. He managed to take a few down before they figured out what was happening. When they did, the Combat Forms began taking shots at the windows themselves. Romeo had to duck as gunfire peppered the window frame.
"Could use some help over here guys!" He called over to Garrus and Buck.
Garrus moved over while Buck finished welding the metal sheets over the door. The turian began firing into the trees where the Flood were shooting from. It was hard to get a good view of the sores on their chests though, making shooting them there a bit difficult.
Still, he wasn't an expert marksman for nothing. He looked at the flashes from the enemy guns and quickly determined where their chests were. He then targeted them and opened fire. He left the job of taking out the Combat Forms in the open to the others. They weren't nearly as much as a threat as those further back.
Eventually though, Garrus saw some of the parasites crawling through the foliage and moving towards them. Not intending to let them inside so easily he ordered Mordin to shut the windows once more. The salarian quickly obeyed and everyone ran back to the cover of the machinery. With the infectious creatures outside, they could now only wait for the Combat Forms to break through to them through the door.
"Get ready to evacuate people," Garrus warned. "This place won't stay safe for long."
Everyone settled their sights on the doorway, expecting the Flood to soon renew their assault. They were hoping their preparations would hold, but they didn't expect it would for long. As they listened to the renewed pounding their Flood attackers though, something finally came in over the radio.
"Echo 419 to Ground Team, what is your situation, over?"
"Foe Hammer," Garrus quickly answered back. "We could really use some good news about now. You have us an evac point?"
"No, but I have someone that can make one for you," he replied.
Another voice soon came on the channel.
"Garrus, this is Joker," the Normandy's pilot proclaimed. "Foe Hammer said you were in a bit of spot. EDI and me hit upon the idea that if we use the Thanix Cannon we can burn a big enough space for the shuttle and the Pelican to land."
"I'll move in to provide fire support best I can," Foe Hammer added. "I'm not sure how much damage this dropship can deliver on these hostiles, but a few thousand bullets from a chain gun should rip almost anything apart."
"Sounds good to me," Garrus concurred. "But we have people separated from us, so get ready to make another landing strip if you can."
"I hear to buddy," Joker assured him. "Don't worry, you'll be able to see where to go from all the smoke and Foe Hammer will try to lead you there. Just don't get bit, or however these things attacking you work."
Garrus honestly wished he knew how they worked himself.
Once Joker signed off, the door was ripped off its hinge by the swarming Combat Forms. They then started bashing at the sheets of metal blocking their way forward. Everyone fired into the opening around the miniature barricade, not intending to let a single one of the creatures through.
They then heard the distant of something exploding. Garrus recognized the distinct sound anywhere. That was the Thanix Cannon if he ever heard it. His suspicions were confirmed by none other than Foe Hammer.
"Alright guys, I've moved into position above your structure," she stated. "You should be able to see the landing strip we just made. It is about north of you, hell of a lot of smoke too. Maybe that will keep the bastards away. Move out and I'll cover best I can, but you need to direct my fire. I don't want to risk hitting you through the trees."
"Copy that, Echo 419," Garrus replied. "Romeo, open the door to roof, we're leaving!"
That was when the front door suddenly exploded. From the look of things it had been a rocket. As the smoke cleared, Garrus realised the sheet metal had been completely blown off. Now, the Combat forms left began to live up to their namesake and flooded through the opening.
"Ah shit!" Romeo growled, slamming his fist into the ramp's door control.
Buck fired off a shotgun one of the injured Marines had loaned him, killing one of the Combat Forms as they rushed through.
"Don't wait for the ramp to open all the way, just move!" He called out.
Everyone took the sergeant's advice and rushed up the ramp. Dutch led the way with Romeo, Mordin and Garrus were close behind. Before the salarian left, however, he shot off an incineration blast that engulfed some of the Combat Forms as the advanced. That allowed Buck to disengage and join the others. He punched the door mechanism as he ran up. The ramp began to close once again and dove rushed through it just as slammed shut once more.
They could see the smoke rising in the distance ahead of them, just as Foe Hammer promised. Escape didn't seem too unlikely now, but they knew they weren't out of danger yet. The Combat Forms began jumping up onto the structure's roof. Dutch was quick to fill one full of lead, while Buck blew a hole into another's chest. Garrus preoccupied himself by motioning others to the back of the structure where they slipped off the side and back to the ground. He covered them best he could alongside Mordin.
Suddenly, one of the Elite Combat Forms got in the good Professor's face. The salarian dropped onto his back, narrowly avoid a swing from the creature's tentacle arm. He then fired several bullets from an M6D up into the creature's chest. After a few shots, the creature fell face first onto the floor. The salarian then grabbed the body by its arms, confusing Garrus to no end.
"The hell are you doing?" He asked the Professor.
"Acquiring sample from field," he dutifully explained. "Must perform autopsy. Only way to learn more about hostile life form."
"We're kinda in the middle of escaping," Garrus reminded him.
"Only need one sample," Mordin persistently promised.
Sighing, Garrus called over to Buck and pointed him to Mordin.
"Help him carry it," he requested.
"Are you serious?" Buck asked, looking rather disgusted at the thought. "Why me of all people?"
"Because someone has to," Garrus told him with a shrug.
Buck reluctantly moved over to grab the creature's legs. He and Mordin then tossed the body off the side of the structure and slid down together after it. They then took up the creature up again and began moving out with the others towards the smoke billowing in the distance.
"Ugh, I wish my helmet was better insulated," Buck complained. "I'm gonna be smell this for a year. Please tell me I don't have to sit beside this thing on the way back."
"Will take it back to Normandy," Mordin assured. "You can go on Pelican."
"Oh good," Buck relented. "That means it won't take as long a shower after this to get the stink off. That's a relief."
When everyone was clear of the structure, Garrus called up Foe Hammer.
"Bring the rain, Echo 419!" He called out.
"Bringing!" Foe Hammer replied.
Chain guns ripped at the forest canopy, tearing into the Flood as they tried to chase after the group through the trees. Garrus wasn't sure how long that would hold them back though, but at least they had put some distance between them.
At that moment, though, Garrus was reminded that they still had work to do before they left. As he ran to keep up with the others, Joker came back on.
"Garrus, Kasumi is on the line," he said. "She says she was trying to reach you, but her radio was on the fritz so Legion suggested she transmit through the Normandy's systems to you."
"Put her on," Garrus demanded.
Moments later, Kasumi's voice appeared over the radio.
"Garrus, we think we tracked Tali down," she proclaimed. "There's a large structure nearby, about a few kilometres from your position. We think she's headed inside to protect herself from the Flood. We're headed there now."
"Alright, hold up inside it," he told her. "I'm going to get some help over to you."
Garrus wasn't sure how they knew about this structure, but he knew if it was there it was the most likely place Tali would've gone. It was better than nothing. He called up Joker to see if he could confirm everything though.
"Joker, is there really a structure near to us?" He asked.
After a moment, he got an answer back.
"EDI is picking up an electronic signal a few clicks to your northeast," Joker replied. "I'm checking the scanners myself. Something looks like it's there at least, but I don't see any place to land."
"Make another landing strip nearby," Garrus ordered. "Then send a shuttle down with a stasis pod, I'll be there to meet it."
"Aren't you going with the others?" Joker asked.
"No, they're safe," Garrus answered quickly, starting to take off in another direction. "We still got people down here and I'm getting them all out. Send a message on every communication channel to move towards the smoke, it will let them know where extraction is. And have that stasis pod ready when that shuttle comes down!"
Garrus began taking off towards this presumed structure. If there was even the slightest chance that Tali was there he intended to get her out. This was not going to be like Sword Base, not this time.
"Kas, I'm on my way to the structure myself," Garrus informed her. "Find Tali and keep her safe until I do!"
"I will," Kasumi told him. "But you don't have to come here, Garrus. Me and Legion can get her out."
"It doesn't matter," Garrus told her ardently. "I'm coming to help. You're not Tali's only friend after all."
"Yeah, I know," Kasumi assured him. "Just get here quickly."
He intended to do just that. Garrus kept racing through the trees, making his way towards the structure. All the while he kept thinking of Tali and the danger she was in. It pushed him on, forcing adrenaline into his veins. He ran faster than he ever had before.
"Just hold on, Tali," he thought as raced through the swamp. "Please just hold on. We're coming."
The Flood had them pinned, even though they were just in front of the exit. As bullets hit their cover, Shepard looked up Guilty Spark, who seemed rather distracted.
"It would appear that Flood Activity has damaged a plasma conduit in a lower sector," he explained. "I must repair it. Please wait here, I will rejoin you shortly."
The Master Chief could only heave a heavy sigh and roll his eyes. This was becoming routine, as the AI left every door they needed opened. He ducked low as a plasma bolt hit his cover. To him, there was no sense in arguing with the little eyeball. The AI did what it wanted and if he was Rampant he wouldn't listen. It was better to just focus on the Flood, however displeased he was with the development. Not everyone was able to contain their displeasure though.
"At least leave some of those Sentinels of yours behind!" Miranda called out.
But Spark was already gone, floating back down into the pit nearby. Ms. Lawson took out her aggression on the Flood by using a warp followed by a slam attack to detonate one of the Combat Forms as he hung in the air. The airburst of biotic energy killed several of the Combat Forms as they tried to advance.
"That thing is going to get us killed if we keep following it!" Miranda declared. "If he had bothered to bring Tali along, maybe she could've opened these doors faster!"
"Well he didn't," Shepard growled at her. "We're on our own, that's just how it is!"
Shepard fired a few incendiary shots into the mass of oncoming Combat Forms, managing to tear two apart as he did. He then sent a shockwave into the ranks to break their little horde apart. Miranda quickly calmed down, recomposing herself before too long.
"I'm sorry," she told Shepard earnestly. "I know you're worried about her. I should've been more tactful."
"You don't need to be sorry," Shepard informed her. "I'm scared for the others too, but we need to keep fighting. It's the only way we're going to see anyone from the Normandy again."
The Master Chief and Zaeed kept unloading on the Flood as they jumped and raced across the floor towards them. Chief fired another shotgun blast at a carrier amidst an entire grouping of Combat Forms. The explosion of gas killed the offending infested creatures, but the Infection Forms soon started to swarm them. Zaeed then tossed an inferno grenade directly into the mass of bulbous little squids. The explosion fire killed them off along with an extra Combat Form nearby.
"I'm never leaving my Firestorm behind again," the old merc declared. "Bastards would all be mulch by now if I had it."
"I'd settle for a rocket launcher," the Master Chief told him. "At least we'd clear these guys out faster with it."
Suddenly, Guilty Spark reappeared from below the pit and opened the door at last.
"Ah, I am genius," he proclaimed. "Come, the final lift is just ahead."
The team pulled back and began following the Monitor once more, not that they had a choice as the Flood was still pressing.
"The definition of genius must've changed in the past one hundred thousand years," Shepard grumbled to the others.
"Oh he's a genius alright," Miranda corrected him sarcastically. "A genius at leading people to their deaths."
"We're not dead yet," The Master Chief assured her, turning back towards the group as the door slowly shut behind them. "You heard him, we only have one floor left to go and we can put an end to the Flood for good."
"Yeah, onto the fourth floor then. Tools, guns and keys to bloody ancient super weapons," Zaeed commented. "It's never a dull day on this crew, that's for sure."
Jack and Thane kept pressing through the ankle deep water as they moved. For awhile they thought they were screwed, but when they heard the Normandy broadcast a message on every channel to head towards the smoke they suddenly felt they had a chance. They could see the billowing cloud just up ahead of them. Jack guessed it was no more than a few kilometres away. All they had to do was get to it and, hopefully, they'd be home free.
That is, if they could get away from these damn undead freaks on their tails.
The Combat forms raced through the water after them, firing now and again as they tried to find some kind of cover. Jack turned and sent a biotic throw to at the very least put some distance between them. Thane kept firing his shredder rounds as well, ripping limbs from the decaying torsos of their attackers.
They couldn't stay out in the open though, not with all the fire they were taking. Their barriers could only hold out for so long. Jack looked around for somewhere to hide behind and shoot back, but all she could find was a damn log. She rushed towards it and turned to fire off a few bullets from her M6D pistol, managing to take down a Combat Form as it raced up at her.
Then, when she turned to fire on another, she heard the gun only go click. She was out and as she quickly dug around for more bullets, she discovered that her gun had run dry. The Combat Form closed distance and Jack went for her shotgun. Luckily, at the last second, Thane used pull to lift the Combat Form up into the sky. Jack then fired a shotgun blast and let her warp ammo tear the creature apart.
She looked over to Thane, who was still slowly making his way to her position, firing off shots from his submachine gun at the incoming monstrosities. The Combat Forms started focusing their fire though, taking down his barriers bit by bit. Then, he took a shot to the leg. Thane dropped into the water, clutching at his wound and gasping for air. The Combat Forms now closed in.
Jack reacted before she even thought of what she was doing. She rushed up to Thane, tossing out a shockwave to knock one of the creatures back. Jack then got between Thane and the rest of the infested creatures and fired off her shotgun, ripping apart another of the abominations with her warp rounds. She killed two more with what was left in the gun, before it ran dry. Using her shockwave to push more of the creatures back, she turned around to Thane who was looking up at her as she stood defiantly against the Combat Forms.
"Can you get up?" She asked him pleadingly.
Thane tried, but his illness had already weakened him and the open wound in his leg wasn't helping. The drell couldn't find the energy to stand. That left Jack alone to protect him. Her mind said run, leave him, he was useless to her now.
But she didn't. Against every instinct she ever had, she didn't leave. She couldn't leave. She refused to leave. She instead grabbed Thane's SMG, still set to Shredder rounds, and began firing into the Combat Forms as they advanced on them.
"He's off the menu you ugly undead sons of bitches!" She declared viciously as she lay into the ravenous infested freaks.
Between her shredder rounds and her biotics, she was able to hold them back long enough to grab Thane, put his arm around her shoulder and begin walking him out of here. She kept firing the gun until the ammo ran dry. She tossed out another shockwave while she dug for another thermal clip.
But she could see where this was going, how many were swarming her and Thane, how little they had left in them. It was as she predicted, caring got you killed.
So why then didn't she feel stupid for going against her number one rule?
Before she could even think up an answer, an explosion erupted behind some of the Combat Forms. The creatures turned to see what was going on, but ended up getting blown away by something. Several quick gun shots, that sounded like they were from a shotgun to be precise, tore open the remaining Combat Forms before they could even do anything. Another grenade exploded and took out two more. Jack looked around for the shooter, but saw none at first.
The last Combat Form dropped to the ground and something walked out of the fog, but it wasn't another undead abomination.
"You?" Jack said in astonishment.
Tali stumbled through the doors of the large structure. She then used her shotgun to blast where she believed the mechanism that controlled them was in the wall. It wasn't much of a lock, but she wasn't in the mood to hack it closed. Her throat was sore, her knees felt weak, her stomach and chest were burning and her head felt like it was going to explode. She gasped for breath as she walked forward, trying to get away from the door, away from the Flood that were no doubt close by.
At least this place was real, she had been so afraid it wouldn't be. The message wasn't a lie at all though and now she had shelter. Maybe she could make repairs to her communication systems here, try and contact the others. It was really her only option left now.
Since her omni-tool was working, she decided to use it to send out a message of her own. If it reached the others, they could find her. She decided to send it across open channels, so as to maximize the chance someone would pick it up. She began furiously typing out her message and speaking it aloud.
"Tali'Zorah, contacting anyone on Normandy ground team," she said as she typed up. "I've retreated to a large structure in the swamp. Not sure where I am. I have been exposed to outside environment for at least two hours, maybe more. I require medical assistance, almost out of antibiotics."
Each word felt like fire in her throat and she gasped for air. After she sent the message she reached into her pocket again to pull out another anti-biotic injector, it was her last one. She shoved the needle into her neck, hoping it would clear up her head first. She tried to slow her breathing next, let her body calm itself. The more she stressed, the worse this would get.
As she prepared to get up, there was a terrible explosion. It rocked the ground beneath her and almost knocked her off her feet. Steadying herself, she began to walk towards where the noise had come from. She kept her shotgun at the ready, for all she knew it was the Flood breaking inside.
She didn't find the Flood though. Instead, she found what looked like a window to the outside. The structure seemed to be some kind of overlook for a small hill. There was a console in front of it. She couldn't be too certain of what it was, it was too dark to make it out completely. She could also see something in the distance, beyond the window and the fog outside. It looked like smoke, fire.
As she contemplated what it was, something sounded in her ear. Tali shut her eyes tightly as her head began to hurt. It was a high shrieking sound that soon warped into an alarm. Then, it became words.
"Mayday, emergency, this is the Rayya, we have sustained heavy damage!"
Fearfully, knowing what this was, Tali opened her eyes and saw herself no longer in the room she had been. The outside had turned to space, over a planet that was her home but one she had never seen. Rannoch, the world her people had begun, where their civilization first grew. And it was on fire, as were several ships over its skies. As she looked on, she saw the smoking, flaming image of her childhood home, the Rayya, a massive Quarian Liveship, begin to plummet from the sky.
"Geth ships keep hitting us! Lifepods aren't functioning! They keep hitting us even though our weapons are gone! Please, we are going down! We are going-"
The image of the Rayya exploded into several tiny bits as it fell to Rannoch. Tali's eyes watered as she let tears run down her face. As Geth ships began to surround the window, she fell to her knees and wept. It was her nightmare come true, everything she feared. The end of her people, the end of everything she held dear.
This wasn't real, it couldn't be real, it shouldn't be real. That was all Tali could tell herself. She banged on her head incessantly, trying to make this all stop.
"Please, please stop," she pleaded to no one, practically on the verge of tears. "Why are you torturing me like this!? This isn't right, none of this is right! I don't want this to happen! I can't let this happen!"
"But it was inevitable, ma'am."
Tali jerked her head up and to the side and saw something in the corner of the room. She crawled over to it and saw that it was another familiar face, a friend this time. He was lying against the wall, covered in blood and suit torn to ribbons. With his distinctive red suit and familiar tone of voice, it could only be one person.
"Kal," she whimpered. "Kal... what are you...?"
"We should've realised it, ma'am," he told her weakly. "Realised it sooner, we were just too stupid to see, too hungry for revenge."
"Kal, this won't happen," she promised passionately, reaching out to him as she did. "I won't let it."
"It's out of your hands, Tali," he told her sadly. "The fact is we were already dead when we were exiled so long ago. We should've accepted it."
Tali felt the hot touch of her tears mingle with her sweat and she searched around to grab Kal's hand. When she found it, she held it tight and brought up to her.
"We're not dead," she swore to him. "Not yet."
"We are, and that's okay," Kal told her calmly and eerily. "Don't be sad, ma'am. It's better this way. No more pain. No more suffering. Peace, Tali, that's what this is..."
Kal's voice suddenly became a lot more morose and dark as it spoke. It almost caused Tali to back away.
"Death is peace."
Kal's head flopped back onto the wall. Tali shook him, fearfully calling his name. But there was no response. Tali couldn't help but let her tears flow, forgetting that this wasn't real. It was to her, it was always real whenever she thought about her people, about the geth, about Legion and her.
"I'm sorry," she said feebly through her tears, her hands up to her eyes. "I don't... I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. I'm not... I can't..."
She couldn't even think straight anymore, the strain of everything, her sickness, the Flood, these visions, the voices, it was all too much. As she let her hands fall she looked to Kal once more and saw his eyes staring back creepily at her. Tali, frightened at the sight, backed away.
The Migrant Fleet Marine's visor suddenly cracked, revealing a decayed skull-like face staring back at her. Kal's arm then suddenly mutated into a disgusting brown tentacle, which broke through what was left of the suit and slashed haphazardly around in the air. The Combat Form screamed and reached out for her. Tali screamed in kind and fired her shotgun
But her bullets only hit the wall. There was no body, no Kal'Reegar. When she looked back to the window she saw the swamp had returned. She stood up, somewhat relieved the nightmare had past, but she was soon reminded that it really wasn't when she heard the sound gurgling behind her.
She looked to see several Combat Forms suddenly racing towards her out of the darkness. She fired her shotgun at them, not intending to second guess this time if they weren't real. She then ran for the window, unsure of where else to go. She fired into it, shattering the glass and scrambled onto the control console. It was either take a fall or getting torn apart by the Flood.
As one of the Combat Forms closed in, Tali turned and fired one more time as she leapt backwards out of the building. As she plummeted to the ground, she rolled into a ball as tight as she could. She hoped that it would minimize the impact. It wasn't a long drop, but still looked painful. Perhaps she could avoid at least breaking her legs.
She landed in the mud beneath the overlook, hitting her arm as she fell. While it didn't feel broken, she had landed on the arm that had previously been shot. She screamed loudly in pain and anguish as she began to crawl out of the muck in an attempt to get to dry ground.
She scrambled to a tree and collapsed near it. Still clutching her arm, she positioned her shotgun to her front. She then felt something warm running down her face, blood most likely. She had probably cut something when she fell. The Flood wouldn't have to worry about that. Heights wouldn't scare them off.
Sure enough, they soon followed her through the window. Landing in the mire below, they moved towards the downed quarian, gurgling their disgusting noises as they lurched forward. Tali pumped the shotgun once and took aim.
"Come and get it you bosh'tets," she dared them weakly.
The quarian fired a blast that hit dead center on one and then fired another that ripped off the arm of one of the Combat Forms. She went to fire again, but this time only heard a click when she pulled the trigger. She was out.
The Combat Forms continued to advance on her. Tali's eyes darted for an escape but could see none. She reached for her pistol and pointed it towards them. She aimed for the chest, but wasn't optimistic about her chances.
"I'm sorry, Shepard," she whimpered sadly. "I'm sorry, everyone. I tried, I really did."
She fired her pistol as the incoming Flood, intending to take down as many as possible. As she did, one of the Flood's chests exploded from behind as an omni-blade slashed through the chest. The blade held the Combat Form attention while a number of gunshots tore into the monster's back, blowing off pieces of the creature before it fell to the ground. Then several more gunshots rang out that brought even more of the Flood down.
Tali looked to see where the shots were coming from, but could only manage to eye a fuzzy figure standing over her.
"Hey Tali," it said to her cheerfully. "Rough night?"
She recognized that voice and as she did her vision cleared. She now saw the partially hidden face and familiar hood of the galaxy's best, but not most famous, thief.
"Kas?" She weakly called out.
"Save your strength, girl," the human calmed her. "We're getting you out of here. Legion! Garrus! Over here!"
More figures came into view and Tali recognized them as well. Legion and Garrus, they were here to, fighting off the Flood.
"Oh thank the Spirits, you're still alive," Garrus said to her with great relief. "Don't worry, we're here now. A shuttle is on the way."
"Are you real?" She asked them all, unsure if she could still trust her eyes.
"Of course we are," Kasumi assured her. "Now let's get moving. Legion, get her by the arms, I got her legs."
Garrus covered while Legion grasped Tali around her arms. Kasumi took her by the feet and they began carrying her.
"Scans suggest vital signs are critical," Legion said aloud. "Creator Tali'Zorah, do not strain yourself. Relaxed focused breathing must be maintained."
"You should leave me," Tali hazily said. "We don't deserve it, you should leave me."
"You are clearly delirious," Legion informed her. "Please refrain from speaking. You will require your strength."
There was the sudden sound of more gunfire, shotguns and Garrus shouted something but Tali could barely make it out.
"Jack, Thane, where did you come from?"
"Nevermind that, Lizard Lips is hurt and our friend here needs a ride," Jack's voice called out.
"Friend?" There was a momentary pause before Garrus spoke again. "Oh I see, well come on. There's a shuttle just ahead! Joker cleared a path for us with the Thanix."
Tali couldn't see anyone, her eyes focused straight up at the sky, her vision fading in and out.
"Is that Tali?" Jack's voice called out again. "Shit, she looks messed up."
"Just cover us while we get her into stasis!" Garrus shouted out.
Suddenly, Tali felt herself being lifted up and lightly placed down. The sky had been replaced with a ceiling and Garrus' face.
"Don't worry, Tali," he said comfortingly. "Everything will be fine. I'll be right here, I promise."
Tali tried to say something, raise her arm, but Garrus backed away. She felt a sting in her back and heard something close shut. Then, everything seemed to freeze over, stop. She drifted into sleep and darkness.
The body of the Marine was completely desiccated, but it was undeniably human. It also wasn't infested, which was a bit odd to Shepard, Zaeed and Miranda. Why had the Flood overlooked him? The Master Chief could only wonder what had happened to the poor soldier and what kind of hell he had been through. There were two questions the group shared though.
"Who was he?" Miranda asked. "And what was he doing here of all places?"
Almost as if on cue, Guilty Spark flew down from above and surveyed the scene in question.
"Ah, the other Reclaimer," he commented as he peered over their shoulders at the dead Marine. "His combat skin was even more inadequate than any of yours."
"The other Reclaimer?" Chief asked the AI, now incredibly confused.
"While my scans eventually pinpointed you as the most capable," the Monitor began to clarify. "As well as most likely to be in contact with the extra-dimensional visitors, protocol demanded some form of action be taken. I searched for an isolated candidate to fulfill the role required and found him wandering alone in a structure on the other side of the Installation. I transported him to the same starting point as you and hoped that the crisis had not yet progressed beyond his capabilities."
Spark audibly sighed at his own remark.
"I was unfortunately proven wrong," he concluded.
Everyone briefly grimaced at Guilty Spark, unsure if he was showing regret at the man's death or disappointed that he hadn't been able to fulfill protocol as fast as he had wanted. It was likely the latter though and it didn't help their opinion of the AI much.
"The bastards tore him apart," Zaeed noted grimly. "Wasn't much left for the Flood to use afterwards, so they just left him like a piece of meat. That's one way to avoid getting turned into a damn zombie. Least he went down fighting, like any soldier should."
Shepard kneeled beside the Master Chief, awestruck by the sight before them. He didn't have a shield generator on his kit from what he could see. His assault rifle was completely dry and all the magazines were gone. To realise that someone had made it this far, without any of the biotics, weapons, augmentations or armour that they all possessed, was incredible.
"I'm practically exhausted from all this fighting and he made it all the way up here alone," Shepard commented. "He must've been some hell of a Marine."
Chief only nodded in brief concurrence with the statement. He then checked the fallen Devil Dog's body for dog tag. Eventually, he pulled them off of what was left of the man's neck. He gave them a quick look over and read the inscription.
"Mobuto, Marvin, Staff Sergeant," he read off the tag aloud. He then looked back to the dead Marine and spoke to him, as he placed the tags away in storage. "I didn't know you, Sarge, but I wish I had. We could've used your help on this. You must've been a real hard ass to make it this far."
"Don't worry, Mobuto," Shepard was quick to add reverently. "We'll finish what you started."
"Yeah," Miranda declared, a newfound driven attitude rising in her voice. "Let's get this index already and kill all these damn monsters."
After moving down a few corridors, they were soon sight of the Index Chamber, at least according to Guilty Spark they were. It was why he had called every Sentinel he could muster to "assist" them. The four of them just appreciated they had some real help at last.
The Sentinels did their best to clear a small path on their way to the final door. Carrier Forms were run through by energy beams, exploding among their fellow Flood. Sentinels took fire from every direction as they flew forward, their shields taking most of the hits before they ended up getting blown out of the sky by sustained fire from the Flood.
"Keep the Sentinels alive," Shepard called out to the others. "They're our only support."
Miranda dove away as one of the Sentinels careened into the ground and into a group of Combat Forms.
"That and they could end up landing on us to boot," she noted.
The Master Chief was out at the front of the pack, firing on the Flood as they were distracted by the Sentinels. He blew away one of the Combat forms standing atop a piece of architecture, saving one Sentinel's life. Another Combat Form, however, managed to jump up onto a Sentinel's underbelly and rip out a series of wires and machinery. Sparks and fire flew from every direction as the Sentinel plummeted into the ground. Chief covered his face as the machine exploded next to him.
They eventually worked their way past the fighting and to the door. The gate slowly parted, creating a small hole that several Combat Forms leapt through. Chief opened fire on them as they plummeted towards them, the dead bodies of the creatures piling up. Shepard joined in with the Spartan, blasting the Flood as they appeared.
The impromptu skeet shooting was nothing compared to what lay behind the door though. As it opened wide, a whole horde of Combat Forms were revealed to be standing there. They instantly raced towards the four humans, guns blazing and shrieking.
"Well, that's a lot of walking dead bodies," Zaeed noted.
"Miranda," Shepard shouted "Throw attack, now!"
The Normandy's XO obeyed and sent out a biotic throw as Shepard released a shockwave. The two attacked hit together and created a biotic detonation that sent most of the Flood flying. At the same time, Chief tossed a grenade into the fray along with Zaeed throwing in an inferno grenade to boot. The resulting blasts from both the conventional and non-conventional explosions cleared out most of the Flood, but many more remained.
"No choice but to run it now," Shepard reasoned.
"Right behind you, Commander," the Master Chief concurred.
The four humans charged, firing off weapons and biotic attacks where they could. Chief took down two of the Combat forms firing form on high, while Shepard and Zaeed cleared their immediate front. Miranda did her best to use her biotic to detonate small groups of Flood. She used her pistol to keep the Carriers at bay, detonating them from afar among the other Combat forms.
Their shields flared as they continued to race across the tarmac, making a beeline straight for the center of the room. They could see a large platform hanging over the pit that was the Index Chamber. Their only way to reach said platform was a small bridge.
As they rushed towards it, a group of infested Mariens lurched from behind a small column, firing needlers at them. Shepard instantly tossed out a shockwave that sent the Flood flying. Knowing that wouldn't kill them, Chief followed the attack up by blasting them as they came back down to earth. His shotgun rounds tore the former Marines to pieces. The team stomped over their remains as they raced towards the bridge. They scrambled across it and onto the platform which instantly began to move. Guilty Spark quickly joined them.
"The platform will lower into position for Index retrieval," he declared.
After a few moments they were back on the ground floor. Hovering in front of them, suspended in the ether at the center of the platform, was the Index. Chief approached it cautiously as Guilty Spark instructed him.
"You may now retrieve the Index," Guilty Spark declared happily.
Chief reached towards the strange device and pulled out a T-shaped green glowing object. He carefully looked it over, as did everyone else. All this trouble for such a little object, but it was a little object that no less activated Halo's long dormant defences. It was just amazing to them, Shepard most of all, how such small things seemed so damn important.
Suddenly a burst of energy erupted from Guilty Spark, which hit the Index and snatched it from the Master Chief's grasp. The device then seemed to download right into the Monitor little blue body. The Master Chief and everyone else looked at the Monitor with a mixture of confusion and disgruntlement.
"What are you doing?" Master Chief asked, rather annoyed.
"Protocol dictates that I hold onto the Index for transport," the AI explained. "Your organic form renders you more vulnerable to the Flood's infection."
Miranda then approached the glowing blue ball, the twitch in her eye returning.
"You mean to tell us that you could've just taken the Index at anytime?" She asked, her anger boiling in her voice.
"No, I required a Reclaimer to release the security protocols for the Index itself," the Monitor explained. "Specific genetic markers had to be satisfied in order to fulfill the required release of the housing mechanism."
"Well couldn't you have just grabbed the damn thing and floated it over to us so we could unlock it that way then?" She asked furiously.
"That would have been a grave breach of protocol," Guilty Spark informed her. "However, your assistance in this manner was most appreciated. We accomplished this task far quicker than first imagined. Indeed, it would seem your purpose on the Installation is to further the completion of protocol. Thank you again for your cooperation."
It was at that point, that Shepard swore he saw Miranda snap. Her eyes widened and her mouth widened into a single emotionless line. Zaeed himself stepped a little ways back as Miranda's hands clenched into fists.
"That's it," she said in a creepily monotone way. "I'm going to kill you."
Miranda was about to lunge at Guilty Spark, but Shepard got in her way. He held her by the shoulders and slowly walked her back.
"Whoa there, Lawson," he cautioned. "We're done, okay? We can leave now."
"Doesn't make me feel better," Miranda grumbily informed him. "Ripping the bastard's eyeball out would though."
"Please, control your temper, non-Reclaimer," Guilty Spark informed her. "We have so much left to do. We must hurry to the Control Center and contain this outbreak. The Flood is spreading, we must not delay!"
And with that, the Monitor began to teleport the four. Orange light surrounded them as they felt themselves coming apart once again. Soon, they were whisked away into the ether and away from the Library at last. They were just glad the worst was finally behind them. All that remained now was to wipe out the Flood and end this nightmare for good.
AN: Poor naive saps. Ugh, the Library, done. And I kept it from getting over sixty pages, I was worried for a bit there.
A fun little announcement to make dear readers, one you may enjoy immensely. A couple of months ago, I was contacted by an aspiring Voice Over artist by the name of HellFox83. Apparently he enjoyed the story so much that he has been using it to practice his craft. I was incredibly honoured he thought it was that good and he offered to share some of his work. I of course said yes, I mean who wouldn't? And it was really fun hearing my characters come to life through both he and his partner.
I always kinda wanted to share it them with you, but I wasn't sure how. HellFox came up with a solution thankfully, a private youtube channel where he hosts all of his work for those with a link. Sounded good to me, so I'm going to offer you said link to his private channel. All you have to do is check the profile page for quick and easy access to some of your favourite scenes, now presented through voiceover work. You should find the link near the start of the chapter notes section in big bold letters. Can't miss it. I do hope you enjoy them.
Remember review, check the profile for more information on this chapter and edit the Tropes page if you can. Next time, we discover the fallout of this whole endeavour and learn the truth about Halo. Well, you already all know the truth, but these guys don't. Whatever, just tune in next time please.