The colony of Freedom's Progress didn't quite feel right. There was a tension in the air, something only he could taste.
-Something is not right here-
The answering thought came back, swelling with the strength of the thinker.
-Be on your guard-
He looked around, surveying the area from his position on the rooftop. He was trusting the Riser. She hadn't been wrong so far. He could almost smell the pallor of impending doom. Too bad the Humans scurrying around below him couldn't sense it too. They would get the hell out of Dodge. But the Riser had insisted he not reveal himself. Any form of warning could compromise their existence. And they needed the data.
There was a commotion on the other side of the colony, his senses already zeroing in on the disturbance and recording the data.
-They are here-
-Remain on Overwatch until extraction team arrives-
-As you command-
Screaming, then bugs flew down in swarms, their stings biting, freezing people as they fled. An enormous ship, easily the equal of the Riser's command ship, came down over the colony. He looked up into the drive port of the behemoth and couldn't help but feel a primal stirring of fear. That thing could obliterate the entire colony without so much as a by your leave. Which would be unfortunate for him. As the swarms took over the colony, he sat and watched.
He set himself to passive as he drew in data, knowing that if he was active he would face the difficult choice of forcing himself to stay hidden. Compassion was a natural impulse for him and his kind. The Riser's kind. He thought back to his so far brief life. A little under a month in the Riser's service, and before that nothing. She had given him everything, given him life and purpose. And although she hated it, those who insisted on calling her Mother weren't far off the mark. She fitted the description remarkably well.
He was woken from his reverie by the sound of gunshots. Looks like the colony's mechs were attacking a group of brightly coloured aliens. He took a moment to check his processes. Quarians. He thought he recognised their species. It was almost funny watching them try to fight. There was one that seemed partially competent, that was it. The others, he thought little of. As they moved into the buildings another ship came down, a sleek black shard so unlike the blocky transport the Quarians had arrived in. Six units stepped out, each one similar to him and yet so different. The largest one was a good eight feet tall and armed with an enormous projectile cannon slung across its back as well as twin machine guns integrated into its forearms. By comparison the smallest, an Infiltrator like him, was only five foot six and armed with two semi-automatic rifles in the forearms, with infrared lasers for targeting assistance. They headed out, four of them in a two by two advance pattern, the Soldier hanging back to cover them with his projectile cannon and the Infiltrator ranging ahead, calling out targets for the team. The security mechs didn't stand a chance.
The Soldier didn't even bother using the railgun across his back or the frag grenade launcher on his shoulder, instead opening up with machine guns and volleys of concussive projectiles. Any mechs that were unfortunate enough to enter his field of fire were unceremoniously shredded or knocked down. The dim-witted robots kept on coming, however. The Infiltrator kept them off balance, cloaking and using his jump jets to fly between vantage points, performing two or three clean headshots and then cloaking and moving again before the mechs could redirect their fire. The Vanguard and the Sentinel were moving together, the Vanguard biotically charging from cover to cover, the heavy shotgun mounted on his shoulder peppering the air, and the mechs, with shrapnel while his hands were free to cast biotic powers, pulling and throwing the hostiles around the colony. Beside him, the Sentinel, almost the same size as the enormous Soldier, wasn't even bothering to take cover, instead just marching through the mech fire that just pinged off her armour without leaving so much as a scratch. The four plasma beams she was boasting, one on each arm and one on each shoulder, were firing continuously, slicing through mechs and cover alike in the very definition of overkill. The Adept and the Engineer were the other pair, each one moving cautiously, a heavy pistol-like weapon integrated into one arm, an SMG-like weapon in the other. The Engineer was controlling three combat drones at once, all of them upgraded with drone rocket launchers and superior shields, allowing them to blitz through the mechs with little issue. The Adept wasn't using her guns either, instead lashing mechs to yank them towards her and then neatly trisecting them with her biotic lashes, occasionally punctuating her routine with a Flare if a large enough group presented itself.
As he watched the team fighting their way to his position, he couldn't help but feel a little overawed by what the Riser had created in him, his brothers and sisters. Watching them fight was like watching a ballet, every movement timed and co-ordinated with precision. Any one of them could have cleared the pathetic force of security mechs solo. They were the perfect killing team, an army that had a singular purpose - destroy the enemies of the Riser.
Things got a little more complicated when the Infiltrator found himself confronted by the Quarian team. All of which had their guns pointed in his face.
-Positive mental link to Riser. Do not terminate this individual-
An image flashed into the memory banks of the team, just as the guns of the Quarians ripped the Infiltrator to shreds. He screamed aloud as the callous aliens murdered his brother, no longer concerned with data gathering, only with revenge.
When he smashed through the roof of the hab they were skulking in, they were all pointing their guns at his team. His heavy feet crunched down on the ground as his hand gripped one of the male Quarians by the neck, spinning him round and smashing him against the wall, the other hand clenching as an Omniblade appeared on his wrist, held to the Quarian's throat. He heard a shout from the Soldier, the unit commander.
He replied verbally as well, in the same booming, grinding voice.
"WHY? THEY MURDERED ONE OF OURS."
"THE RISER COMMANDS YOU RELEASE HIM."
"IN YOUR FURY YOU CANNOT HEAR. SHE SCREAMS IN YOUR SOUL."
The red mist over his vision cleared and suddenly he could hear her voice again.
-No! Let him go!-
With a shudder he deactivated his Omniblade and released his grip on the man's neck, who fell to the ground, coughing. The Sentinel shouldered her way into the room, plasma beam projectors still glowing red-hot.
"WEAPONS DOWN, QUARIANS. UNLESS YOU FANCY OPEN PLAN BODIES."
At a signal from the leader, the one with a mental link to Riser, the Quarians lowered their weapons to the floor.
"NOW EXPLAIN WHAT YOU ARE DOING HERE."
Before the Quarians could reply there was a commotion outside and a group of five Humans were directed into the room by the Adept and the Engineer. The Quarians instantly recognised the logo on the armour of three of the men, and on the skintight suits of the fourth, dark skinned man and the woman, who appeared to be in command.
"What the hell are the Quarians doing here? First super-Geth, now this? More to the point, why haven't they killed you yet?"
"WE ARE NOT GETH. WE ARE GETHSEMANE, SERVANTS OF THE RISER."
Tali looked at the synthetic that had just spoken. The heads were what had made her assume, what did Ashley call them again? Flashlight heads? But now she looked at them, she saw the differences. They were far more blocky than the Geth, and instead of the curved shins Geth usually had, they had straight legs. Their feet were more like hooves, large circular pads with four square protrusions arranged evenly around the circumference. Plus, their weapons seemed to be completely un-Geth. But the biggest clue was perhaps their behaviour. When they had destroyed that first one, the Infiltrator model, the other Infiltrator had seemed upset and angry, even seeking revenge. In addition, the way they spoke was, well, how an organic would speak.
"YOU ARE CERBERUS. ENEMIES OF THE RISER."
The Cerberus commander in that stupid skintight outfit seemed panicky.
"Wait what? We don't even know who this Riser is! We were just sent here to investigate the attack on the colony!"
"WHY ARE YOU HERE, QUARIAN?"
"We ... We came to recover a friend of ours. Veetor. He was on this colony for his pilgrimage."
"WE WILL HELP YOU RECOVER HIM."
"Uh ... Why?"
"THE RISER IS LOST. SHE REMEMBERS YOUR SHAPE, QUARIAN."
"Umm ... Okay. We'll circle around the colony and draw their fire. You head up the middle."
"AFFIRMATIVE. ADEPT, ENGINEER, YOU'RE WITH ME. SENTINEL, INFILTRATOR, GUARD THESE CERBERUS. VANGUARD, STICK WITH THE QUARIANS."
A chorus of affirmatives shook the hab. As they made to leave, Infiltrator secured the Cerberus operatives's hands behind their backs with a quick-setting polymer resin.
The Quarians and the Vanguard left the room, and moments later so did the team heading up the centre of the colony, leaving the Sentinel and the Infiltrator alone with the five Cerberus operatives. The woman spoke up, full of bluster despite her predicament.
"You have no right to do this. This is a human colony!"
The dark skinned man, presumably the second in command, gave her a warning glare.
"I demand you release us at once!"
"SILENCE, CERBERUS. THE TEMPTATION TO APPLY BINDING RESIN TO YOUR MOUTH INCREASES EXPONENTIALLY."
One of the armoured Cerberus troopers behind her muttered,
"We can but dream."
There was a brief squall of laughter from the four men that was quickly silenced when the Sentinel shifted her head to stare directly at them. She pointed at the one in the centre who had made the snide remark.
"YOU I LIKE. WHAT IS YOUR NAME?"
"Dr. Marcus Chapelson."
"YOU ARE A SCIENTIST?"
"A medic, actually."
It was surprising how comfortable the doctor was chatting with an eight foot tall synthetic.
"What is your name?"
"Well then, Sentinel, all we are here to do is find out what happened to all the people living here. We don't want any trouble with your Riser."
"CERBERUS ARE ENEMIES OF THE RISER. SHE SPEAKS OF THEM WITH CONTEMPT AND DISGUST, THOUGH SHE CANNOT REMEMBER WHY. SHE KNOWS CERBERUS IS AN ENEMY TO ALL."
"That's not true. Cerberus only wants what's best for our species."
"A REMARKABLY SHORT-SIGHTED GOAL. HUMANKIND WILL GAIN NOTHING BY CLIMBING TO THE TOP ON A PILE OF DEAD ALIENS."
Before he could reply, Sentinel tilted her head to the side, her attention suddenly focused on something else.
-Division among the Quarians. A group has broken off to rush their comrade's position-
-They will not last long. Keep the objective intact-
-As you command-
The Vanguard grabbed Tali by the waist before biotically jumping into a nearby hab. The Quarian protested but he shut her down with a focused chemical sedative implanted into the suit.
-Affirmative. Guard her-
-As you command-
There was a heavy mech. Of course there was a heavy mech. Its machine gun ripped through the Quarian squad, only bothering to fire a single rocket. The Engineer remotely hacked the loading bay door and then they were through and going head to head with the YMIR mech. The Adept was the first to strike. She leaped up on top of a crate and flung a Flare, before opening up with her integrated firearms. She didn't see the rocket coming until it was too late to do anything about it. The YMIR mech was far smarter than she had given it credit for. The rocket had curved round some buildings before coming up behind her, blindsiding her completely. It knocked her forwards, right into the mech's field of fire. Heavy caliber bullets ripped into her body, severing one leg and reducing an arm to a mangled ruin as she fell. The Engineer wisely deployed her portable shield bubble before spawning her three combat drones and then laying into the mech with Overload pulses, pistol and SMG fire. The Soldier span his munitions carousel, selecting an armour penetrating slug and loading it into the breach of his railgun. He splayed his legs, feet sinking stabilisers into the ground as he crouched and the enormous railgun swung up and around, locking on to the mech's head. Meanwhile, his shoulder mounted grenade launcher pumped frag grenades at the mech, filling the air around it with intersecting clouds of shrapnel as its shields flared.
The mech gave as good as it got, keeping up a steady barrage of machine gun fire on the Engineer's portable shield as it pumped rockets out at the combat drones, destroying them time and time again just to have them respawn moments later.
Finally under the massive weight of fire the heavy mech's shields collapsed. As soon as they were down, the Soldier fired his railgun, a crystal tipped penetrator shell tearing through the mech's head armour, but miraculously the YMIR's central processor remained intact. The railgun swung back down and around, loading with another penetrator round as the Engineer sent a burst of Incinerates at the YMIR, which responded by bombarding her shield with rocket fire. The portable shield finally collapsed and died, forcing her to hunker down behind cover as finally the second penetrator shell ripped through the mech's head, making it detonate in an impressive pyrotechnic display. As the Soldier retracted his stabilisers and powered down his railgun, the Engineer ran over to her fallen sister. As she thought, the Adept was dead. There was no question about it. Crushing her grief down for now, she went into the small room with the computer screens, sedated the babbling Quarian and copied the data he had gathered. In addition to the Infiltrator's data, it should give the Riser an edge against her enemies. She didn't have time to check the data now, and the Infiltrator would have been on passive gathering while the attack was taking place, but she couldn't wait to finally find out exactly what enemies they were up against.
What enemies had almost killed the Riser.
Pain clouded everything as she awoke from her slumber, every inch of her body ached, no, burned with the agony of a thousand hells as she struggled to sit up. She had no idea where she was, how she got there. The last thing she remembered was ... Nothing. Her memory was a big fat blank. Which was slightly worrying. She saw something on a nearby table and picked it up.
-Geth plasma shotgun-
The words popped into her head unbidden, as did technical diagrams, operating protocol, everything she needed to slaughter her way through anything she encountered. Feeling emboldened by the weapon, she peered around the room. She was lying on a cold metal table in the centre of a large room. It was freezing cold and she felt herself start to shiver, wrapping her arms around herself in an attempt to trap some body heat.
There was something that sounded like a metallic whisper in her head.
Looking around frantically, she noticed a tall locker with a pulsing red light on it. Muscles screaming in protest, she pushed herself up into a sitting position, rubbing her head while the other hand gripped the handle of her shotgun. She tried standing but ended up sprawled on the floor, eliciting a cry from her as ice cold metal pressed against bare skin. Every movement sent fresh jolts of pain through her body as she dragged herself over to the locker. It slid open as she approached.
She lay on the freezing floor for a while, too exhausted to do anything else, and then started to struggle into the polymer mesh underlayer of the armour she suddenly knew how to use. Then she buckled the plates to the underlayer, feeling the mesh shift to grip them, protecting her fragile body. Armed, armoured and a little less helpless than she was before.
The door slid open. She turned, expecting answers.
She brought the shotgun up, dropped to a firing stance and squeezed the trigger, charging up energy in the weapon's capacitor. When the Husk was only five metres away she fired. The three orbs of plasma bored through its body, each one leaving a hole large enough for her to put her head through before they seemed to snag the corpse, leaving three glowing contrails through the air as the Husk slammed into the wall, definitively dead.
-You need to move-
-There are more coming-
-You must get to the safe zone-
-I'm coming to get you-
The whispers seemed fragmentary, almost like she was only catching snatches of the speech, but it was enough. She hunkered down behind the bench, feeling the tight grip of panic closing in on her. She had no memory of anything that had occurred more than ten minutes ago and she was trapped in an unknown place with an unknown voice in her head.
Cradling the shotgun to her chest, she felt the cold seeping into her bones.
When Tali awoke, her head was pulsing and her throat felt dry. She groggily opened her eyes to find herself sitting on a hard chair in a drab cargo hold. When she tried moving her limbs, she found her hands were bound behind her back and her ankles secure to the legs of the chair. She tried some experimental wriggling. Her bonds had a little give in them, but there was no way she was getting out of this one.
"It's no good. Believe me, I tried."
She turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the dark skinned Cerberus from Freedom's Progress. He was similarly bound to a chair beside her. She replied with venom in her voice.
"Don't talk to me, Cerberus."
He responded in a soothing tone that only served to piss her off further.
"Look, I wasn't part of what happened between Cerberus and the Migrant Fleet. I only joined Cerberus because they were investigating the disappearance of our colonies while the Alliance did nothing."
"THE RISER ALSO HUNTS THOSE WHO TAKE YOUR COLONIES, HUMAN. HOWEVER IT DISPLEASES HER THAT CERBERUS ARE INVOLVED. I EXPECT THEIR INVESTMENT TO BE TERMINATED SOON. PROBABLY BY US."
The booming voice of one of the Super-Geth came from behind them. Tali craned her neck and could just see the outline of one of the larger ones. Another voice piped up from somewhere behind her.
"Now Sentinel. Most of the people in the Hunter cell only joined up to hunt down the people taking our colonists. Half of them hate Cerberus just as much as I."
"I SEE. THEY WILL BE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO END THEIR INVOLVEMENT PEACEFULLY. BUT THE STENCH OF THE REAPERS ALREADY CLINGS TO CERBERUS. ELIMINATION IS A NECESSITY. IN TIME YOU WILL THANK US."
Tali spoke up again.
"You keep speaking of the Riser. Who even is she?"
"SHE DOES NOT KNOW. SHE CANNOT REMEMBER. BUT SHE KNOWS YOUR SHAPE, QUARIAN. PERHAPS YOU MAY HELP HER REMEMBER MORE."
The booming voice was starting to give Tali a headache and she couldn't reach the controls for her suit's audio processors. Nevertheless, she pressed on.
"What do you mean, she can't remember?"
"THE RISER IS BROKEN. BODY, MIND AND MEMORY ARE SEPARATE. WE CAN REPAIR HER BODY BUT THE OTHER TWO ARE BEYOND OUR POWER. THAT IS WHY YOU WERE EXTRACTED. YOU CAN HELP HER BE WHOLE."
Suddenly a thought struck her.
"My team! Where are they?"
"MANY WERE KILLED BY A HEAVY MECH. THE SURVIVORS AS WELL AS THE ONE CALLED VEETOR WERE STABILISED, HAD THE INCIDENT ERASED FROM THEIR MEMORIES AND WERE SENT BACK TO THE FLEET. DO YOU THINK SO LITTLE OF US THAT YOU WOULD EXPECT US TO EXECUTE THEM?"
"You are synthetics. Modified Geth."
"INCORRECT. WE BLUR THE LINE BETWEEN SYNTHETICS AND ORGANICS. THE RISER WAS DETERMINED WE BE CAPABLE OF COMPASSION."
"You don't even know who this Riser is!"
"SHE GAVE US LIFE AND PURPOSE. AND SHE WILL NOT ATTEMPT TO DESTROY US."
Tali ignored the rather pointed barb about the Quarian's history. She was beaten to the punch by the dark skinned Cerberus.
"Can you please not? My head feels like it's about to pop off."
Tali had to agree. The pulsing in her head was not helped by the synthetic's foghorn voice.
Jacob looked around at Miranda, who was glaring daggers at everyone present. The Super-Geth had made good on its threat to apply the sticky stuff to her mouth. At the sight of her livid face he couldn't help but chuckle slightly. Tali looked around and saw the Human with the lower half of her face covered in the spongy blue resin.
"Just thank God the Super-Geth find her annoying too." Jacob stuck his tongue out at Miranda. Even when he was bound to a chair in the cargo hold of an unknown ship crewed by Geth with no concept of inside voice, he couldn't resist taking advantage of the fact that Miranda couldn't hurl the usual acid barbs at him as he mercilessly teased her.
The intercom crackled to life.
"And we'll be hitting the relay in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ..."
Not even the customary disorientation of a Mass Relay jump could distract Tali from her shock at hearing the voice.
"Was that Joker?"
She immediately regretted speaking as the synthetic's voice shredded her brain again.
"FLIGHT LIEUTENANT JEFF MOREAU HAS BEEN A PILOT FOR THE GETHSEMANE FOR TWO MONTHS. THE RISER REQUESTED HIM SPECIFICALLY."
Beside her, Jacob groaned and lolled his head back. The remainder of the journey passed in silence, Tali desperately trying to wrap her head around what she was getting into. Crazy Super-Geth, kidnapped Cerberus operatives and Joker, somehow all tied together by this mysterious Riser. Part of her was eager to unravel the mystery but a much larger part was screaming for her to get out as soon as she could.
She felt a clunk reverberate through the ship and then a door opened in front of her to reveal what seemed to be hundreds of Super-Geth all looking in at her. She quailed under their glares as several of them entered the cargo hold. First there were eight of the ones she recognised as Soldier class, easily recognisable by the enormous cannon on their backs. Four of them picked up one box she hadn't even noticed off the floor and put it on their shoulders, marching out of the cargo hold in perfect time. The crowds all moved to make a corridor down the centre and then ...
They saluted the box.
Suddenly Tali recognised it for what it was - a military funeral. The second group of Soldiers carried out the second box on their shoulders, through the saluting mass and then out of sight.
The next group in were a group of Vanguards, each one with its shoulder mounted heavy shotgun in a firing position and trained at the prisoner they were standing behind. She felt her bonds being released, although her hands were still bound behind her back, and moments later she found herself being frogmarched through the crowd, the Vanguard's shotgun just occasionally nudging the back of her head, as if to remind her that it was still there. She was marched down corridor after corridor until eventually she passed into a room containing a single bed. And on that bed lay Commander Kimberley Shepard.