Chapter 60: Chance of Failure, Preparations for the Future and Assault on the Archives
The group were eating the meals they had made for themselves greedily not having had a decent meal in years (in everyone but Shepard's case) and were more than happy to stuff their faces due to it. Before the food had finished cooking though Nimo had been able to send out a beacon for Rune to find as the AI input himself into the hotel's system giving them access to many of the electrical facilities in the hotel. As they greedily stuffed their faces the large screen Rune was commandeering flash rapidly as it calculated the best option to risk the archives.
"The skycar breaking will severely slow your travel time," Rune said disturbed as he continued calculating options. "Unless you find another skycar it's going to be very difficult to reach the archives on foot."
"How long would it take?" Nimo asked as he put another dextro based food pack into his sanitation port for food.
"Almost a week, and that's assuming that you DON'T run into any Keepers to fight," it said wearily.
"Isn't there some kind of secret passage we could take?" Shepard asked. "Or you know an unused path to the public that the Council's lackeys could use to get around?"
"Even if there were there's only one entrance into the archives and its infested with the majority of the Keepers."
"This is starting to sound like a suicide mission," Balak said negatively. "If we can't get passed the Keepers there's no point in trying to get to the archives, we'd be killed before we can activate the relay."
"And without a car we wouldn't make it in time to reach the relay," Malik added.
"So the first thing we have to do is find a car," Shepard said as if it was the simplest thing in the world. "How far away is the nearest one?"
"It's hard to say, the Keepers have knocked out the cameras in the upper level and have somehow integrated themselves into the software which is why I couldn't activate the relay myself. It's as if there some kind of AI or VI."
"Well the Reapers created them so it's possible," Nimo said aloud. "What I wouldn't give for a few Geth to help us out."
"Well whatever the risk we need to move on and reach the archives," Shepard said with determination. Tomorrow we look for a useable car to get us to and from the Archives, and then we work on a plan to get passed the Keepers." Everyone voiced their agreements except for Rune while Balak stood up stretching.
"Well if we aren't going to be doing anything else tonight I'm going to try and sleep, Ancestors know we need it." Balak, Malik and Nimo all went off to find a place to sleep leaving Shepard in the room alone not counting Rune's virtual presence.
"I'm sorry for snapping at you," Shepard said absently earning him a surprised beep from Rune's console.
"Oh I'm sorry are you talking to me again? I could have sworn you were still trying to shut me out," Rune said sarcastically.
"I said I was sorry Rune," he said apologetically. "This isn't easy for me alright?"
"Yeah well… I guess you have been under a lot of stress," Rune said releasing the artificial steel from his voice.
"So we cool?" Shepard asked.
"Yeah we're cool," Rune said. After a few minutes of the two sitting in silence (figuratively) Rune spoke up again asking, "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure what's up?"
"After you escape what are you going to do?" Rune asked. "It's not like you can go back to Thessia and your family." A solemn and hurt expression crossed Shepard's face as he looked away from Rune's screen as if he was trying to avoid the AI's gaze.
"They were never really my family Rune; they just took pity on me after my parents died. As far as I'm concerned you, Golem, Quinton and Zaeed are the only family I have left." Rune was silent for a few moments before speaking up again.
"What about Benezia?" that through Shepard through a loop.
"I… she's my friend but nothing more," Shepard said dismissively.
"You're in love with her," Rune said as if it was obvious to everyone.
"No I'm not!" Shepard snapped.
"Come on, all that time you two spent together? It was obvious that you cared for her; and it was clear that she cares about you to."
"… You think so?" Shepard asked.
"Of course," Rune assured him. "And I know Annalya cares about you to, just more in a brotherly sort of way." Shepard smiled at the mention of Annalya; he remembered when the young Asari had been first born. She was so small and fragile he had refused to hold her for a month in fear that he would hurt her. If he had to be a brother he would prefer it be to Annalya of all people in the galaxy. Shepard's smile was soon replaced by a sad frown.
"It's just too bad I can never see them again," he said ruefully.
"You could prepare a message for them," Rune suggested after a while. "That way they know you're ok."
"No, that would only get them in trouble for being in contact with me," Shepard reminded him. It was then that an idea finally struck at Shepard's mind. "Actually on second thought I think I will prepare a message for them."
"That's the ticket!" Rune said happily.
"But I only want it sent if I don't survive the mission," Shepard said hoping he was making it clear. "At least that way I can give them some closure about what happened to me." Rune was silent again for a few moments before acknowledging that that was a fair idea. Shepard walked on into an empty room where Rune activated a nearby camera to record Shepard's message; once he was told to start Shepard began speaking.
"Benny Anna, if you two are watching this then it means I'm dead…"
After having finished making his goodbye messages Shepard walked back into the main room where Nimo was looking around frantically for something and jumping when he saw him.
"Shepard I've got great news!" he said excitedly.
"What is it?" Shepard asked.
"I found trucks in the loading bay of the hotel!" Nimo said excitedly.
"Trucks really?" Shepard said perking up. "That could work out perfectly, we just need to reinforce the hull and increase its engine power and we have a shot to make it out of here!"
"We don't need to work on the hull!" Nimo said excitedly. "They were already retrofitted with kinetic barriers to repel small arms weapons. So long as the Keepers don't have any heavy weapons we're set once we fix the engines, which should only take me a few hours!"
"Do Balak and Malik know?" Shepard asked.
"They're getting me the parts I need now." As if that was all that needed to be said Shepard and Nimo began work on the truck immediately getting it ready for their attack on the Keepers. Although there was a Kinetic barrier set up for the truck Shepard still removed the barriers from the other three trucks and put them onto their truck insisting they'd need all the protection they could get. Afterwards they scrapped the extra engines and, with the extra materials Balak and Malik had gotten they had retrofitted the engine to run fast and accelerate with less draw to the transmission. Once they finished it was already late by Citadel times but due to the group being too anxious to sleep at the moment they began planning on how they would get passed the Keepers and into the archives.
"Now we know little about the Keepers," Shepard said as he walked in front of his team. "What we know is that they are strong independently and stronger in groups and that when changed into software they can actively block an advanced AI."
"So what do we do?" Balak asked.
"We need a way to draw them away from the archives; now I suggest that we break up into two teams for this. One team will remain in the truck to keep the Keepers busy and to meet up with the second team after they break into the archives and give Rune complete access to the Citadel."
"So whoever is in the one group is live bait then," Nimo said seriously, not liking the sound of that.
"Look it sounds dangerous but with the upgrades to the truck and all the extra weapons we found we have a fighting chance, all we need is a way to draw the Keepers away."
"I think I have an idea," Rune said gaining him everybody's attention.
"What have you got Rune?" Shepard asked.
"During my initial attempts to activate the Relay you all know that the Keepers were able to actively block me, what I didn't bother to tell you was that they while they were fighting me off they were trying to track down where I was working from."
"Are my men in danger?" Balak demanded worriedly with anger seeping in.
"No of course not," Rune assured him. "I was able to redirect their searching attempts to send them to remote terminal that they were able to tell that no organics were there. What WE need to do is try to hack in against the Keepers while they track us to the truck and chase us through the area while the second team gives me access."
"Would that work?" Malik asked not sure how the technical aspects of the plan were supposed to work.
"In theory yes," Nimo told him. "But I have a feeling that not all the Keepers will go after the truck even if Rune is actively hacking through to them. The second team is still going to need to fight their way through the archives."
"Which is why each team will consist of a Batarian and a tech expert; whoever is in the truck will help Rune hack the system while the other one gives Rune access."
"Well than I think it's obvious that you are going into the archives Shepard," Balak pointed out. "The question is who goes with you and who stays in the truck with Nimo?"
"I think Malik should go," Nimo suggested. "His biotics would be extremely helpful in knocking away Keepers."
"This is true, are you up for it Malik?" Balak asked.
"I have been waiting for a chance to return to our home world for a decade Warlord Balak; I would give my life to see you and the others return safely." Balak nodded as he looked over to Shepard.
"Will that suffice?" he asked.
"Greatly," Shepard assured him. "Rune once you're in the system how long will it take until you can open the Mass Relay?"
"Not long, but I doubt this station has enough power to keep it open indefinitely. Once I have control I'll be able to keep it unless the Keepers all unite at once to break through me; something they can't do if they're chasing you and something I can counter against by opening the Relay immediately before losing control."
"If you lose control after opening the Relay how long will it stay open for?" Nimo asked.
"Forty seconds," Rune told them solemnly. "If I'm about to lose control I'll open it beforehand hopefully buying you four enough time to make it through the Relay; and I'll be sure to tell your men to be ready at a moment's notice to drive through though Balak." Balak nodded gratefully as he turned to look at Nimo.
"Will the kinetic barriers be able to repel the Keeper's physical charges?" he asked Nimo being the one to have worked personally on the barriers.
"They should, but given the Keeper's affinity for technology they might be able to find a way through. So you will have to keep them away while you can."
"Come on, there's only 30 Keepers or something isn't there?" Shepard wondered aloud.
"21," Rune corrected.
"Even better! I don't see why we're so worried about them," Shepard accused.
"There have been rumors that the Keepers have been altered since the Citadel was repaired," Balak mention uneasily.
"Altered how?" Nimo asked.
"A Turian who managed to return from the upper levels came to us speaking gibberish as if having been mentally disturbed by something," Malik spoke up. "The one understandable thing we were able to get from him before he passed out was, 'to many Keepers.'"
"Ok, so we have a few more Keepers to deal with no big deal," Shepard said cockily. "Although there is one thing none of us had bothered to think about."
"What's that?" Balak asked.
"What if our 'imprisoners' realize what we're doing and try to stop us? Rune do you think you would be able to fight off counter hackers and the Keepers?" Shepard asked.
"The Council's lackeys won't be a problem," Rune assured them. "I have the processing power of 75% of the Citadel not counting a blacked out area near the top that is completely blocked off to me. With this kind of power you would need every Geth program in the galaxy to bring me down."
"Wait a minute, how have you integrated into the Citadel?" Nimo asked in a worried tone. "All AI need to remain in connection with their blue boxes to remain in action."
"I am," Rune confirmed. "But after my shackles were removed I was given access to many new features that I never had access to before. One of those are taking the processing power from other systems that I hack into and add it to my own."
"Shepard why would you unshackle your AI, this could get you in trouble with the Council," Nimo warned.
"I'm locked up in their most secure prison fighting for my life every day," Shepard reminded Nimo steely. "The Council can suck my quad. Rune when's the best time to infiltrate the archives?"
"The time where the Keepers are farthest from the Archives leaving a minimal patrol will be in about an hour. If you want we can wait a day and rest before going after them."
"No point in resting, I don't want to stay on this tin can any longer than I have to be." Shepard said standing up. "Any objections?" he asked his friends.
"No objections," the others said while standing up. As the group got into the truck Nimo got into the driver's seat while the others took a seat in the carrying compartment as they armed themselves with the weapons they found in the arms boxes at the hotel. Now armed with fully loaded Assault Rifles and Shotguns Shepard started to feel like the walking tank that Zaeed had trained him to be. As he put a heavy pistol on each of his sides Balak got his attention.
"I wanted to thank you Shepard," Balak said with a bow of his head.
"Don't thank me yet, we still need to go through the Keepers," Shepard reminded him.
"No not for that," Balak corrected. "For over a decade my men and I have been in this hell hole with no hope of getting out while our planet and colonies are being destroyed by the Yahg. For the first time in ten years we have a chance of getting back to our people, and for that I thank you."
"Oh… well don't mention it," Shepard said with an uneasy smile. Balak smiled as he held out his hand for Shepard to shake, which he shook with a true smile replacing his uneasy one.
"Should we survive this suicide mission I will have you branded so that all of my people know that you are a friend to the Batarian people."
"We're approaching the archives, we will reach the drop off point in 10 minutes," Nimo said over the speaker.
"Well this is it!" Shepard said looking towards Balak and Malik. "You know to this day I'd have never even considered of doing something illegal; I guess this is one hell of a place to start." Once the truck stopped Malik and Shepard got out of the truck and cocked their at hand weapons.
"Remember that we don't have working radio contact up here due to the Keepers, so Rune will keep you posted on our progress. I know it will be tough but the minute we're finished have Nimo gun it to get back to us; if there are an ungodly amount of Keepers I won't like our chances of surviving a fire fight."
"Roger," Balak said with a nod. "May the ancestors watch over us," he added for good measure before shutting the truck. Once Balak was secured next to Nimo they drove off while Rune immediately began hacking against the Keepers making the signal seem to be coming from the truck.
"How long are we going to wait here for?" Malik asked after twenty minutes of just standing where they had been dropped off.
"We need to wait for a sign before we leave," Shepard said humbly.
"A biblical sign?" Malik asked confused, suddenly out in the distance an explosion was heard causing Shepard to smile and wink at Malik.
"Nope, incendiary. Let's get moving." The two warriors ran quickly with as much stealth they could muster while doing their best to stay out of sight and in the shadows. It wasn't long until they reached the archives and Shepard was surprised that they hadn't even run into a single Keeper. Finally after a solid hour of searching they reached the console Rune had told them about.
"Keep me covered, we don't want any unwelcome surprises while I'm interfacing Rune into the system," Shepard warned Malik.
"Don't worry I've got you covered," the Batarian assured him. Once Shepard went to the console Malik raised his hand as a blue barrier surrounded them and the console protecting them from any possible attacks. Shepard quickly went to work at the console letting his six fingers fly in his efforts it wasn't long until he input an opening for Rune to sneak into. Seconds later the console powered down before rebooting in a bright green color that seemed to course through the archives.
"We are in control!" Rune said pleased as his line appeared on the screen.
"How are the others?" Shepard asked.
"They're busy fighting off 25 Keepers them busy; however the Keepers that survived are on their way back here. Apparently they realized they have a new tenant in their system."
"How long until they can get back to us?" Shepard asked.
"At the speed they're traveling they'll reach the drop point in approximately ten minutes," Rune's terminal began to skip and hum as several warning lights appeared on the screen. "The Keepers found me in the system; they're fighting to kick me out!"
"Quick open the relay!" Shepard said urgently.
"I already did, it'll be finished powering up in 15 minutes and I've already warned the others. If the Keepers kick me out of the system before it's finished powering up though it'll only stay open for 40 seconds."
"The relay isn't our biggest problem," Malik said fearfully.
"What are you taking about?" Shepard demanded. Malik didn't respond, he merely pointed behind Shepard. The young Krogan turned around as his eyes bulged out of his sockets in fear; the Turian had been right, there were too many Keepers. Coming at them on all walls, roof and climbable areas of the archive room were hundreds if not thousands of Keepers coming towards Shepard and Malik. Shepard was terrified out of his mind at the sight of the approaching Keepers; if three could dismember a car in minutes and one could rip the limbs off a person how many could a thousand do?
"Shepard what do we do?" Malik asked nervously as the barrier around them vanished.
"What any sane Krogan or Batarian would do," Shepard said cocking his gun. "GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!" Malik half expected the Krogan to say fight before he made a bee line out of the area, after looking back at the Keepers Malik was quick to follow behind running after him for dear life.
AN: Well here it is in decent time, hopefully I'll be able to get the next one up ASAP. So until then,