Hey everyone! Sorry for the long delay! I won't bore you all with the details so let's get started

Apollo Wings: Thank you so much my friend! You're almost making me blush with all the complements! I hope that this story continues to hold your interest and I'm always glad to hear what you think of it.

aDarkOne: I'm glad you liked the Tali and Shepard interactions. I've been meaning to put them in for a while now and I was really happy with the results.

Hunter113: I'm glad to finally have a review from you and I hope that I will be hearing more from you in the future. I'm glad you like the Tali/Shepard interaction. It was fun to write.

0756: I'm happy that you are enjoying the story so far, and thank you for the suggestion. If you could though, it is hard for me to see my own errors sometimes. If you could possibly leave another review or perhaps a PM with some examples so I can see and hopefully avoid such mistakes in the future.

On a small note I've decided to give out rewards of sorts to my faithful reviewers or the people who catch onto references or challenges like the few I've put in prior. Apollo Wings was my first winner and she named Hawke's weapon dowager (explanation to follow in the chapter).

Main reason for rating: Language, violence

"Normal Talking" ; 'POV Thoughts' ; "Talking in foreign language to POV" ; "Talking over intercom"

And once again thank you to everyone who has reviewed, alerted, or added this story to your favorites!

Chapter 17

Stepping off the Kodiak shuttle and onto the Collector Ship, Hawke couldn't help but stand in place and stomp down on the ground a few times just to make sure what he was seeing wasn't false. This ship was unlike any other he'd stepped on since he and Merrill left Thedas. The Normandy had metal floors, Illuim was city built on metal where you couldn't even see the ground, and even the Citadel was made of metal. But the base of this ship reminded him more of the uneven surface of Tuchanka rather than the smooth even surfaces within the Normandy.

That wasn't to say that the entire ship looked like a poorly carved tunnel however. In a manner that eerily reminded him of the Deeproads carefully and well-crafted support structures seamlessly transitioned from the uneven floor. The memories of that awful place came on unwanted. Bartrands betrayal. The encounter with the rockwraiths and darkspawn. The dragons and dragonlings who'd the damned tunnels their nesting grounds. The pain and humiliation of watching his sister slowly succumb to the taint, only to cure her by letting her go with a passing band of Wardens. That damned place was not the start of his misery. But it was definitely a catalyst.

Without even realizing it, his grip had tightened to the point of almost being painful on the grip of Dowager. After receiving no small amount of harassment from Zaeed after Tuchanka about how such a unique weapon should have a name, Hawke had finally settled on one he thought appropriate. Dowager. It came from an old Orlesian saying, from a story Sister Leliana used to tell back in Lothering. About a woman of the same name who ruled Orlais from the shadows. The rumors about her prowess were so numerous that her name spawned a common saying in Orlais. 'You must dance with the dowager if you want to play the Game'. Any enemy that challenged Hawke or his friends would have to dance the dance of death with him.

Forcing himself to release his grip he noticed something else…something that had him completely baffled. He felt, well, lighter. Despite the fact that he was wearing Maker only knew how many pounds of armor across his entire body, he'd never felt lighter in his entire life. On a whim he jumped slightly in the air…and landed softly back on the ground. His impact with the ground was definitely far less than he would've thought. Maker…the longer he spent away from Thedas the more things seemed to make less sense.

Looking around he saw that Merrill seemed to be in the same kind of awe that he was in. His little elf, like himself, was covered head to toe in a dark blue almost black armor. To his disappointed though, no one else seemed to find their current situation amazing. Going off their posture…all of their new friends seemed to find this as just another everyday occurrence.

"What have you got doc?"

Hawke spun on a dime, turning trying to figure out how Shepard had snuck up on him. But Shepard was standing a good twenty paces away from him with Mordin and Tali in tow. Dear Maker…he wanted to tear off his helmet right then and there. Only Shepard's warning about the possibly of their not being much breathable air, which to him sounded utterly ridiculous. How can clear air not be breathable? But the seriousness on Shepard's face when he told him this made him think twice about questioning his Commander. He just wished that the strange communication system in the helmet wasn't so loud. Even Jack had gone to wearing a fully body suit, although hers mirrored Miranda's in that it was a full length suit that hugged body so tightly there was still nothing left to the imagination.

Mordin was facing down the path before them, his arm raised and omni-tool active. Mordin, pretty much like everyone else wasn't wearing a full helmet. Instead the salarian was wearing a clear mask that covered his mouth, and what Hawke could only assume was his nose. For not the first time Hawke wished he'd gone with that mask instead of the full helmet.

"Atmospheric pressure is 0.85atm." Mordin said eyes still trained on his omni-tool. "Oxygen and nitrogen at dangerously low levels. Prolonged exposure without supplemented air, problematic. Advise maintaining suit integrities will onboard."

"You heard the doc." Shepard said turning around and making his way back towards everyone. "Masks and helmets remain on at all times. EDI, any sign of activity on board."

"Negative Shepard," EDI's voice echoed in his head. "There is evidence of slight electrical usage in scattered sections of the ship consistent with a repair protocol. However outside of you there is no evidence of movement on board."

"What's the status of the stealth system?" Shepard asked as everyone, including Hawke and Merrill, gathered around into a circle.

"System's holding steady Shepard." Jokers voice came in. "EDI and I will just be, you know, out here floating next to the big ass dooms bringer waiting for you all to get done playing hero."

"Alright everyone listen up." Shepard began by looking each of them in the eye before moving on. "We have absolutely no idea what we're going to be walking into here. Our primary objective is information. In order to do this we have to find a terminal within this ship where EDI can perform a data mine. Our secondary objective but just as important is to try and find any abducted colonist that might be onboard. Jacob, if we stir up the hornets' nest here we're going to have to make one hell of a quick getaway. I want you, Zaeed, and Kasumi stationed here at the shuttle and keep it ready for us."

Jacob saluted almost immediately. "Rodger that Commander."

Zaeed hefted his rifle over his shoulder and shrugged. "So you want me to play house with pretty boy here and goth chicky eh? Fine by me. I get paid the same whether I kill someone or not."

"Everyone else we'll be moving in teams of three." Shepard continued. "The lead team will consist of myself, Grunt, Jack, and Tali. The second team will be led by Miranda and have Hawke, Merrill, and Mordin. The last team will be providing rear cover and led by Garrus. Thane and Samara will be his support. Any questions?"

Merrill's hand slowly rose.

"Yes?" Shepard asked seeing her hand in the air.

"Um…what is a…'data mine'?" She asked timidly. "Shouldn't we have tools – or something if we're going to be digging?"

More than one of their new friends started chuckling at Merrill's question. Hawke didn't see what was so funny though. If they were going to be mining then they would need tools. He didn't have to own a stake in the Bone Pit mine to know that.

"It's not that type of mining." Samara said taking pity on the rapidly shrinking Merrill. "A data mine is when one searches through a repository of knowledge not necessarily searching for anything, but collecting as much as possible and sorting through what was found at a later time."

"Oh, that makes more sense then. I guess." Merrill said as she slowly moved behind him in an attempt to hide from the others.

"So, what do we need to do to make this 'data mining' thing work?" Hawke asked. "I take it that this won't be as simple as it sounds."

"We have to find a terminal and hack into the Collectors network." Tali explained. "The problem is finding the correct terminal to download from."

"What do you mean by 'correct terminal'?" Hawke was really starting to get confused here and held up a hand as Tali started to speak again. "On second thought, never mind. It'd probably take too long for you to explain it to me. Just show us where the bad guys are and we'll leave this science thing to you."

"Just follow our lead." Shepard said cutting off any further discussion. "And you'll be fine. Keep a spread formation within each group and at least fifteen paces between groups. Last thing we want is for the Collectors to get us in a cluster. Now let's move out, we're on a very tight schedule here."

The deeper into the ship they went, the greater the feeling of unease became in Hawke. This place reminded him of the Deeproads far too much for his liking. Maker, he would've been happy if he never had to step foot in anything remotely similar to blighted caves after going down into their hell not once but twice. Unlike the Deeproads however where there were darkspawn, deepstalkers and spiders just waiting to make a quick meal out of some unlucky passerby. They received absolutely no resistance from these Collectors as they essentially invaded their home.

The first sign of life they came across on this Maker forsaken vessel was…unusual. Or perhaps more correctly – it was downright disturbing.

Shepard's lead group came to a sudden halt as they rounded a corner as Shepard's closed fist shot up into the air. Recognizing what the signal meant he grabbed Merrill's arm and pulled her over to the side of the hallway they were walking down and knelt down behind whatever small amount of cover he could find with dowager raised and ready. Merrill's quick mind recognized what was happening as she ducked behind him, her staff like weapon still only the size of her forearm spinning into her palm.

Shepard's group cautiously went around the corner disappearing from view for a few moments. "Clear." Shepard's voice came in through the comm in his helmet. "Garrus, Miranda. Bring your teams forward."

Rising from his position with Merrill close behind Hawke moved forward cautiously with his weapon still raised. As he and the others rounded the same corner as Shepard had they saw that Shepard, Tali, Grunt, and Jack were all standing around a strange bed-like object that looked as if it was imbedded into the wall. Well for the former were, the later were both standing around looking very bored.

What was laying on the bed before them…well…Hawke wasn't even sure how to describe it. The creature was covered from head to toe in some strange armor like substance. Its head was coned shaped, narrowing in the front and enlarging the further back it went. On its head there were four sets of eye sockets that were closed. It almost resembled a golem that had been shrunken down to roughly the size of human. What really disturbed him though was the fact that the creature had dozens of tubes and small metal wires sticking into it. A memory of his time in a Cerberus lab made him shutter. There was more than one occasion when he'd been strapped to a table and had tubes wires sticking into just about every part of his body.

"Dear Creators." Merrill breathed edging closer to the table and leaning in close to the body. "Is this – is this what you call a Collector? Why-why would they do something like this to one of their own?"

"I don't know." Shepard answered going over to one of the many screens surrounding the corpse. "EDI, I'm uploading data from this terminal, see if you can figure out just what they were up to here."

"Receiving data transmission now Shepard." EDI responded almost immediately. "Analysis complete. The Collectors were running base line comparisons of their own species against humans."

Hawke had no idea what kind of 'base line comparisons' EDI was talking about. But he doubted that these things were anything close to human. Void, Garrus could pass for human before these things.

"Why?" Merrill asked making many turn to look at her. "Is there…some sort of comparison between us and…them?"

"I have no hypothesis on their motivations." EDI answered. "However by analyzing the base DNA sequence logged into the data provided I've discovered something incredible…and disturbing."

"Don't keep us in suspense EDI." Garrus joked as EDI went silent.

EDI's answer was immediate. "Apologies, no suspense intended. I simply wished to double check my findings before reporting them. The Collectors have a quad-strain genetic makeup. This DNA sequence is identical to trace DNA found in several ancient ruins across the known galaxy. And only one race has ever been identified as having this unique genetic makeup. The Protheans."

"Wait a second." Hawke burst out as EDI's words sunk in. "I thought you said that the Protheans were killed off by the Reapers thousands of years ago during the last, what did you call it again? Cycle?"

"They were killed off." Miranda cut in quickly, her voice thick with confusion. "They were the dominant species in the last cycle and fought against the Reapers for years. But…why would they serve those who destroyed their civilization."

"To call this Collector what you classify as Prothean would be incorrect Ms. Lawson. It is and yet is not a Prothean." EDI continued.

"How can that be?" Grunt as rubbing his head. "I ain't too good at this thinkin thing. But either you are something or you're not something. How can you be both?"

"This Prothean shows signs of extensive genetic manipulation." EDI went on as Miranda got closer to the dead Collector until the two mere inches apart. "There is also a significant amount of identifiable Reaper tech incorporated into its soft tissue and internal organs. It is my theory that the Collectors were once the Protheans, but were later altered by the Reapers to serve their needs."

"You'd think after all of these years of knowing that the Collectors existence someone would've picked up on this." Shepard commented turning away from the corpse.

"Chance to study Collector physiology nearly impossible." Mordin commented scanning the Collector with his omni-tool. "STG attempted for years to capture test subject for experimentation. Never succeeded. Collectors very careful to leave no trace behind."

"No matter what they once were, they serve the Reapers now." Shepard's stated as if it were just that simple. "We're not about let what happened to them happen to us. Now let's move and get what we came here for."

Everyone started to raise their weapons in preparation for moving out. "Hold up." Hawke said pointing back at the corpse. "You said that EDI needed some kind of terminal in order to do this 'data mining thingy'. Can't she use this one behind us?"

EDI was the one who answered his question. "That terminal is isolated from the ships core system and contains only information prevalent to the experiments they were preforming. A complete data mine of the ships logs are impossible from that terminal."

"Oh, right…I knew that." Hawke mumbled.

"Sure you did." Garrus laughed elbowing him in the arm. "Don't worry, I'm sure we can find you some children's book on the intro to computers for you next time were on the Citadel."

Hawke had to fight down the urge to smack the grin off of the turians face.

After finding the dead Collector Shepard continued to lead them through the twisted halls of the ship. How in the Maker's name Shepard seemed to know where he was going was beyond Hawke. Perhaps EDI was helping him somehow? That was the only logical explanation that he could come up with. After far more twist and turns than Hawke would ever care to count, the narrow halls began widening and the ceiling rising until finally there was no ceiling over their heads. Or at least it was now a few hundred feet above their heads.

This…this had to be the center cavern of the ship that EDI had been talking about earlier. Hawke had never seen anything like this. The only sight that could possibly compare was the giant vaulted cambers of the old dwarven empire. But…even comparing the two seemed to be a disservice to the Collectors.

The cavern ran as far as he could see in either direction. Thousands upon thousands of small lights flickered across every part of the ship he could see. Squinting his eyes as hard as he could he tried to focus on one of the lights nearest to them. It – it seemed as if the lights were connected to some pod like object that were lining the walls and ceiling of the cavern.

"My god," Miranda breathed looking around in awe and lowering her weapon. "Are those…are those all pods like the ones we saw on Freedom's Progress and Horizon?"

"I can't tell you that," Hawke answered as his vision returned to normal. Maker these eyes of his were useful, but at times a royal pain in the ass. "But they are definitely pod like in shape. What are they?"

Miranda didn't answer; instead she kept looking around the cavern from one end to the other. "The Collector's used them to transport their captives." Shepard answered his head raised as he too looked around. "The Collector's tactics are to release insect like creatures on a planet that find, sting, and paralyze their victims. And then the Collector's come in behind them in order to collect the paralyzed people and load them into these pods before taking them away."

"Why?" Merrill asked her face pointed straight up. "Why would they do such a thing?"

"We don't know." Shepard answered truthfully. "But that's why we're here. Miranda any idea where – Miranda?"

The brunette Cerberus operative wasn't paying attention to a word Shepard was saying. Instead her head was tilted upwards and her eyes were wider than he'd ever seen before. "By god. They could put every human in the Terminus System in this ship and still have room for more."

Stepping up to her Shepard roughly grabbed her by the arm forcing her to look at him. "Miranda. Are you with us?"

Miranda gave herself a quick shake, after which her eyes were back to their normal hard self. "Yes. Sorry Shepard." Activating her omni-tool she moved her fingers quickly across the display. "There's something up ahead drawing a significant amount of energy. Might be what we're looking for."

Letting go of her arm Shepard resumed his place at the front of the group. "That's enough sight-seeing people. Let's find this damn terminal and get the hell out of here."

Shepard continued to lead them for a few dozen more paces before once again ordering them all to stop. The path they were following was a dead end less than two dozen paces ahead of them. The end of the path was far different than what they'd seen so far. Instead of the rock like qualities of most of the ship, the floor section at the end of the path was completely made of metal with waist high metal structures surrounding the better part of it. On the far side of the metal floor from them there was a single orange image, much like the ones that were created by the omni-tool, floating a few inches above the waist high terminal.

"Well…I don't think they could've laid a more obvious trap unless they marked it with a sign." Garrus joked coming up from his position near the back.

"Yup." Shepard replied.

Garrus shook his head. "So. I take it we're going to spring the trap then right?"

"Yup." Shepard answered again.

"Hold on." Miranda hissed. "You just admitted that this is a trap. Then why walk right into it?"

Tali started laughing and shaking her head. "You really haven't been serving with Shepard for long have you?"

"Bring 'em on." Grunt laughed looking around. "It's been to quiet. I hate all this sneaking around. It's boring."

Shepard continued forward. Pausing only briefly to place first one foot and the other onto the metal circle. After taking a few more steps onto the circle he turned back around. "Tali and Garrus with me. Everyone else find some cover."

Tali and Garrus followed Shepard onto the circle as Hawke took Merrill by the hand and began looking for a good position. Trouble was…there really wasn't one. Outside of overhead being completely open, the path they'd come down was nearly completely open. The only exception was a few random sections of wall that seemed to jut out slightly from the rest. Pulling Merrill with him he went behind one of the wall sections that provided at least some small amount of cover.

"Hawke." Merrill's voice was slightly breathless. "I – I don't like this."

"I know." He replied watching as she put her staff weapon away and took out the heavy pistol she had on her hip.

Merrill shook her head. "No Hawke…you don't understand. Something is…wrong with this place. I – I can almost sense something. It – it's almost like the pull of a demon trying to snare its prey. This whole place feels like that. We shouldn't be here."

Most would dismiss Merrill's as nothing more than hearsay. But Hawke knew better. Mages, especially Merrill, had a very good sense when it came to demonic energy. If there was something in this ship that felt demonic to her, then that was the truth of it.

Looking past her and towards Shepard, Tali and Garrus he laid a hand on her shoulder. "Shepard. I think we shou-" The ground beneath them shook, not enough for anyone to lose their balance but definitely enough to notice.

"Anyone else feel that?" Miranda asked with a hand against a nearby wall.

Another quake shook the ship far more powerful than the one before it. Hawke nearly lost his balance and had grab hold of Merrill to prevent her from falling. "I felt that one." Hawke remarked dryly as the quake passed.

"Shepard." Thane was looking around quickly through the scope of his weapon. "I believe it is past time for us to leave this place."

"Hang on." Shepard shouted back. Shepard had one hand on the on the terminal to support himself and another on the small of Tali's back trying to support her. "The data mine is almost complete. We just need a few mor – oh shit."

A third quake struck them. The force of this third quake was more than enough to send each of them spiraling to the ground. Hawke landed on his back, the impact driving most of the air from his lungs. And Merrill landed on him forcing the rest out.

Hawke was just barely able to tilt his head back in time to see the metal circle that Shepard, Tali, and Garrus were standing on rise up from the ground and begin to fly away.

"Son of a bitch!" Jack yelled as her body started glowing blue. "You're not fucking leaving me behind with the Cerberus cheerleader while you have all the fuckin fun Shepard! I swear if you don't come the fuck back right now I'll-"

Jack lurched forward as a green light struck her in the back. "Sniper!" Thane shouted dropping down to one knee and aiming in the direction the light originated from. A split second later he fired once before looking up from his scope. "Find cover. They're coming."

Pushing Merrill off of him, Hawke rolled over onto his stomach and pushed himself up. With two long strides he was next to Jack. Being as gentle as he could he placed one of her arms, away from her injury, over his shoulder and lifted her from off the ground. "Ouch! Watch it you fuck tard!" Jack yelled as his hand strayed too close to her injury. "You fucking do that again and I'll-"

"Shut up for once Jack!" Hawke snapped leading her over to the small area of cover where Mordin and Merrill were hiding.

Dropping her more than letting her down ease, Hawke spun while drawing dowager. The barrel of his weapon was right in line with a living Collector coming right for them. Two rounds struck the creature in the chest slowing it and his third went right into the center of its head.

Looking up into the depths of the cavern he couldn't see the platform that Shepard and the others were on. "Shepard." He shouted activating his comm link. What in the Void are you doing?"

"EDI! What the hell is going on?" Shepard yelled into his comm link while bracing himself against the control panel of the floating platform.

Beside him Tali and Garrus were in similar positions as each of them where holding onto whatever they could. "Shepard!" Hawke's voice came in over the comm. "What in the Void are you doing?"

"It's not us Hawke." He shot back. "Hold your position. We'll try and make our way back to you. And keep your eyes open. EDI, where the hell are you?"

"Currently floating alongside the Collector ship maintaining a half mile distance from the hull where you left me Shepard." EDI's joke made Shepard want to cringe. "I appologize for the delay. At the moment of your separation a Collector virus attacjed the Normandy. The virus disabled my primary systems for 2.54 seconds. Concern is not needed however. I was able to destroy all traces of the virus and am once again running optimal efficiency."

The floating platform stopped suddenly without warning causing Shepard to lurch forward and nearly take a header over the side. "Tali, Garrus. You two okay?"

Garrus was sprawled out across the section of control's he'd been holding onto and Tali was rising from the floor next to him. "I'm good Shepard." Garrus answered back.

Holding out his hand for her, Tali grasped hold and pulled herself up. "I'm alright." She answered holding onto his hand for a second after standing before letting go and going over to the control panel. "Let me see what's happening."

Looking around Shepard felt his stomach plummet. The platform had stopped in the very center of the hollow core. The three of them were literally sitting ducks. "Fuck," he cursed silently as Garrus stepped up to him his rifle out and ready for action. "We're sitting fucking ducks out here. Tali what's our status?"

Tali's omni-tool was active and she was alternating between typing on it and typing on the interface to the floating panel they were on. "The system has locked me out Shepard." She answered still focused on what she was doing. "I have absolutely no control."

"You're the best hacker in the galaxy Tali," he shot back moving beside her. "I'm sure you can crack through any encryption they have in less than a few seconds."

She paused momentarily too look at him. "Flatter." She chuckled. "But I can't hack something if I don't even know what I'm hacking. Damn…I really hate having to do this. EDI…can you patch in and follow my lead through the system?"

"Acknowledge Tali'Zorah. Accessing system. Stand by for – Shepard inbound platform's closing in on your position from three o'clock. Time until contact…twenty seconds."

Shepard was able to just get his head around to the direction EDI indicated, just as a single beam of light passed within inches of his head. "Get down!" He yelled crouching down and using the panel around the platform as cover.

Tali and Garrus were both behind cover before he could finish the command. Behind him a single hole roughly the size of an old coin lay still smoking from the energy beam. Dear god. If it hadn't been for EDI's warning, that would've his head with a hole in it instead of the ground. Risking a glance over his cover his heart thudded at what was coming. Four other platforms were floating towards them at an elevated position from them. From what he could see, each platform had at least a dozen or more Collectors on board.

Collapsing his assault rifle he reattached it to the magnetic holster on his back before moving to his other shoulder and taking out his Black Widow. "Tali. Keep working on getting us the hell out of here." He hissed unfolding the sniper rifle as another energy round passed within inches of his head. "Garrus, you and I are on cover duty. Keep those bastards off of her."

"Copy that," Garrus responded bracing his own rifle against the terminal and firing a single shot. "Splash one. Think you can keep up Shepard?"

Following his friends motion Shepard braced his own weapon aiming towards the oncoming platforms. Three consecutive shots and his thermal clip self-ejected from the breech and three Collectors were down with holes in their heads. "You're already behind Vakarian."

With nearly perfect fluidity Garrus proceeded to fire one after another, ejecting the thermal clip and loading a new seamlessly in-between each shot. Looking through the scope of his own weapon he saw that each shot found its mark right into the center of a Collector's head. "Don't worry Shepard," Garrus shot back his mandibles lifting in a turian like grin. "I won't show you up too bad in front of your new girlfriend."

Shepard flinched as his shot took a Collector in the shoulder instead of his head. Risking a glance at Garrus the turian was grinning even wider than before. "Your secret's safe with me Shepard." Garrus went on. "You just gotta let me in on what she looks like underneath that mask."

"If you too are done posturing, perhaps you could focus on the issue at hand!"

Behind them Tali was lying flat on the ground still working on her hack. The terminal she had been working at now had a several large holes littering its surface.

Rage coursed through every vein in Shepard's body as his blood boiled. With renewed focus he took aim once again at the oncoming Collector's. Every shot he fire took another Collector. Some fell back on their moving platform while others fell forward falling though the massive open core of the ship to the demise. All other sounds or thoughts were blocked from his mind as he repeated his dance of death. Aim. Fire. Kill. Repeat.

As his sights settled on his next target the platform they were standing on suddenly lurched. HIs shot took the Collector in the shoulder instead of the head, but the force of the Black Widow was enough to make the Collector spin off the edge. Its high-pitched screams echoed through the cavern as it plummeted to its death.

"I've got control!" Tali screamed as they started moving back in the direction they came from.

The Collector's that had ambushed them started withdrawing. Taking his eye away from the scope of the Black Widow he opened his comm. "Miranda, get ready we're bringing the party to you."

"The party has already started back here Shepard!" Miranda's voice responded. "We've been cut off from our escape route and taking heavy fire! Jack is! I repeat, Jack is down!"

Hawke ducked back behind the wall that he'd been using as cover. Miranda, Grunt, Samara and Thane were all scattered through the narrow corridor using whatever they could as cover. Mordin, Merrill, and Jack where further back still nearly at the same place were Shepard and the others became separated from them. The latter of whom was lying on her stomach and cussing up a storm that could make any hardened sailor blush.

Jack had been lucky. The attack had come out from nowhere. The only reason that Jack was even able to still draw breath, according to Mordin, was because at the time of the attack she'd been flaring her biotics and the biotics acted as a barrier lessening the force of the impact.

"Watch what the fuck you're doing you ugly piece of shit." Jack yelled as Mordin pressed on her blackened skin.

"Restrict movement!" Mordin said harshly pushing the biotic woman back down as she tried to stand. "Energy from beam weapon drastically reduced by barrier, but still dangerous. Increase of injury likely with continuous movement. Merrill, continue healing process around burned tissue as medigel sets in."

Merrill nodded and held her hands over the blackened portion of skin on Jack's back. Merrill's healing was nowhere near the level of Ander's, but some healing was better than none at all. The pale blue light of healing magic emanated from her fingers as Mordin began rubbing some form of gel like substance over the same area.

A slight clicking and hissing noise was the only warning he had to look up – and roll out of the way as a Collector dropped down right where he'd been standing. The damn thing had almost insect like wings on its back that were slowly retreating inwards.

Not wanting to give the beast any more of an upper hand he charged forward while activating the sword stage of dowager. Using an upwards strike the twin blades cut clean through the Collector from hip to opposite shoulder.

Before he could celebrate his slight victory though a small rock like device landed right next to him. One half of it was flashing with a pulsing red light. Reacting without even thinking he kicked the small object sending it sailing back towards where it came. The corridor leading up to them exploded in a wall of fire as the grenade went off. Death screams echoed off the rock like walls as burning Collectors fled from their hiding places trying to escape the flames and only to be gunned down.

"Hahahahaha! Not bad battle-brother!" Grunt laughed charging out from cover, running his shoulder into a still burning Collector to knock it down, and the firing off two shots from his shotgun into the down burning creature. "But you're still behind me!"

They had little time to celebrate or rest. The explosion had done little to deter these monsters as even more started closing in on them. "Miranda, get ready we're bringing the party to you."

Hawke released a breath of relief as he heard Shepard's voice in his head. But then his whole message started sinking in. Looking back into the depths of the vast open cavern he could make out the floating floor coming back towards them. With two other platforms close behind. 'Oh sod,' he cursed. 'He's brining even more towards us.'

"The party has already started back here," Miranda answered him reloading her weapon. "We've been cut off from our escape route and Jack is down! I repeat Jack is down!"

"I ain't down completely you fucking Cerberus cheerleader bitch!" Jack yelled trying once again to stand only to be pushed back down by Mordin. "I swear to fucking god doc, you do that again and I'll rip off your other fucking horn!"

He could hear Shepard start to curse in his head. "Is there any way to cut through the Collector's?" Shepard asked.

"Negative Commander," Miranda answered gunning down another Collector. "We're completely cut off in this direction. For every one we kill two more take its place. Soon this position will be compromised."

The comm was silent as the platform drew steadily closer. "Shit. EDI, can you find us another route back to the shuttle?" Shepard asked.

"Scanning for alternate routes now Shepard." The very feminine voice of EDI answered. "Possibility located. Will require travel via the movable platform. Uploading new layout to your omni-tool now Shepard."

"Got it EDI. Everyone get ready to move we'll have to do this quick, those bastards are going to have a clear line of sight on us the moment we hit the ground. Samara, I want you to create barrier across the corridor blocking the Collectors. Everyone else lay down suppressing fire until everyone's onboard. Grunt carry Jack if you have too."

"I can fucking walk Shepard," Jack yelled rising unsteadily to her feet as her body started to glow blue. "And these mother fucking bastards are going to fucking pay for shooting me!"

Jack jump higher than anyone he'd ever seen. Her whole body was covered in the blue light of biotic magic as she fell. As soon as she hit the ground a blue wave shot out from where she landed heading down the narrow passageway. The wave, whatever it was, threw any Collector it touched backwards like a rag doll. The bones and bodies of the Collectors were audibly broken and crushed as they were thrown into one another or the wall.

Jack rose unsteadily to her full height. A predatory like grin plastered all over her face. "Fuck the barrier…much more fun to just kill the bastards." Right before she started slouching forward once again.

Hawke was by her side in an instant, catching her before she fell all the way. "Hey…" Jacks voice was little more than a whisper, "…watch where the fuck you put your hands perv."

Looking down he saw what she meant. The arm that he'd used to catch her was lying perfectly across her chest. "Oh be quiet." He breathed shaking his head.

Isabella had teased him on more than one occasion about the same thing when he'd been forced to carry her and he'd grown immune to the taunts. Positioning himself so the smaller woman could place an arm around his shoulder he turned her towards the inner part of the ship. His timing was impeccable. As soon as he'd turned her around the platform seated itself seamlessly once more into the ground and Shepard, Garrus and Tali each stepped off.

"She going to be alright?" Shepard asked coming over to the two of them as Hawke carefully guided Jack.

"She'll –"

"I'll be fuckin fine Shep." Jack answered cutting him off as they moved past Shepard. "But next time we dock…I'm getting fuckin laid, even if you have to pay for it."

Shepard, after seeing that there were no oncoming Collectors placed Jack's other arm around his shoulder. "After that little display Jack, I'll let you have a week's leave on Omega with my Credit chip."

"Careful what you offer Shep," Jack chuckled as the three of them stepped up onto the platform. "I'll make you broke in a matter of hours."

Shepard frowned while looking over the map that EDI had transmitted to him while Tali cautiously flew the platform to the desired location. Either by luck, intimidation, the will of god, or the fact that they were regrouping; the Collectors had yet to make a move on them once they'd picked up the others and started moving. Whatever the reason he was thankful for the rest.

Looking in closely at the map he noticed several closed off sections along their route. "EDI, we'll need you to override the controls on the blockades up ahead."

"I've been attempting to override the control's Shepard," EDI answered. "However since the Collector ship has started reinitializing its core systems I have been unable to breach their security."

"Then how the hell are we supposed to get to the shuttle." He hissed through clenched teeth.

"Local contact will be required in order to override the security protocols at each bulkhead Shepard. Tali 'Zorah help with hacking the platform you are current standing on was invaluable. With her aid I will be able to override the security protocols at each location."

"How long do we have until the Collector ship is once again at full power?" He asked, he doubted that even the SR-2 could stand up against this ship solo for very long even with Joker piloting.

"Given their current energy build up and distribution, I would estimate that they will have propulsion back within ten minutes and weapons operational within fifteen." EDI theorized. "Please note, although the SR-2 is more advanced than the original Normandy, current combat situations estimate that we would last approximately ten minutes in a direct confrontation with the Collector ship."

Taking his eyes off of the map he started strategizing. If EDI could find this path, then so could the Collector's. If they weren't lying in wait they would surely swarm them like flies on shit as soon as they hacked the first bulkhead. They would need a strong forward attack. Jack was an obvious choice, but she was still being treated by a combination of Mordin's medicine and Merrill's magic. She would need help in order to continue from here. That left Samara to help spearhead them forward. Grunt and Hawke would also be the best choice for going first. Garrus and Thane could provide the best rear protection, and Miranda would accompany them with her own biotic abilities. That just left Merrill, who'd be helping Jack, Mordin and Tali in the center group.

"We're getting close to the coordinates Shepard." Tali said, her hands moving gracefully over the controls. "Beginning final descent."

Nodding to her, he primed his assault rifle with a new thermal clip. As he made to address the others he saw that they were all doing the same. "Alright," he began. "We're a bit further out from the shuttle than originally planned. We have to traverse a full klick* through the ship in order to reach it. Samara, Grunt, and Hawke; you three will be with me out in front clearing any resistance we may run across. Thane, Garrus and Miranda will act as rear guard. Merrill and Mordin; you two will be helping Jack through the ship. There is a slight problem though."

"Of course there is." Hawke snorted. "It wouldn't be us if there wasn't some sort of problem."

Shepard had to give him that one. "The problem we face now is that there are a number of seal bulkheads that stand between us and the shuttle."

"Then how the fuck is this our best route out of here?" Jack asked wincing as Mordin jabbed her shoulder with a syringe. "Can't the metal bitch a better way?"

"If you would like to try and find another way off the ship on your own Crewmember Jack, I would gladly give you the chance to try." Shepard swore he could he hear the sarcasm in her voice. "And if you remember I control the climate controls to every portion of the Normandy. So if you wish to sleep peacefully ever again I advise against calling me a 'metal bitch'."

Several of the crew chuckled at the comment while Jack's scowl deepened. "This is the only option we've got right now." He said stopping Jack from saying anything else. "Let's contact Jacob and let him know the change of plans. Jacob, do you copy?"

"Jacob do you copy."

The call on the comm was just enough of an annoyance to distract Jacob right at a critical moment. The energy discharge for the Collector weapon took him in his shoulder. His shields managed to absorb most it, but the amount that got through was still enough to cut through his armor and into his flesh.

"Fuck." He hissed slamming his back against the inner wall of the Kodiak.

His right arm was nearly completely numb as it dropped limply to his side and his submachine gun clatter to the ground out of his unless fingers. Reaching into one of the leg armors compartments with his left hand he fumbled blindly for the small syringe he knew was there. Feeling the small cylinder he quickly brought it out, depressed the top to bring the needle out, and jammed the needle into his shoulder using the hole that was created. The medigel in the syringe burned slightly as it ejected around the wound and began to close it.

"Y'all alright over there pretty boy?"

Looking over to his left, Zaeed was in a crouched position on the other side of the Kodiak door. Scorch marks marred the mercenary's armor from the few energy beams that managed to get through his shields, but other than that he seemed none the worse for wear. Opening and closing his fist a few times he picked up his weapon again once he had feeling back in his arm. "Yeah." Opening the breach he slammed another thermal clip in place. "I'll be alright."

Zaeed reached up to his chest and pulled out a grenade. "I gotta say," he began depressing the arming switch on the small device and throwing it out of the Kodiak blindly. "It's taken long enough for Shepard to provide me with this much fun!"

The grenade exploded less than a second later, shaking the Kodiak with the force of the explosion. Screams and hisses of dying Collector's told Jacob all he needed to know. Using his left arm to help hold up his right he leaned out into the opening of Kodiak to take aim at a charging Collector that'd escape the grenade. It took nearly half a clip to stop the beast from coming any closer. "Zaeed…when we get out of here we got to have a serious conversation about what is 'fun'."

This was definitely not a situation he would consider 'fun'. The three of them had just been sitting around the Kodiak waiting for the other's to return when out of nowhere Collector's started pouring in from the passage way Shepard and the others had gone down. It was all they could do to get into the only cover available to them, the Kodiak. Worse yet, whatever this place was that they used to gain entrance to the ship, whether it was a docking bay or air lock it didn't matter now, as once the attack started their only way of escape was sealed off by large metal barricade. Now Jacob and Zaeed where position on either side of the Kodiak's door while Kasumi was in the forward compartment trying to do everything she could to keep the ships shields active while also trying to open the door that'd sealed them in.

"Jacob, come in this Shepard do you read me?" Shepard's voice came in once again over the comm, only this time he didn't get shot because of it.

"We're a little busy here Commander." Jacob shouted back into his come leaning out of the door and emptying the rest of his thermal clip.

"What's your situation Jacob?"

"Where up fuckin shit creek with no god damn paddle is our fuckin situation Shepard!" Zaeed yelled leaning out from the cover of the ship and unloading an entire thermal clip at the oncoming Collectors. "And this is the most fun I've had in years!"

"I wouldn't have put it so bluntly sir," Jacob added shooting a look at the old merc. "But Zaeed's right. We've got more Collector's than I care to count bearing down on us. And whatever this was that we used to dock, well the door has sealed tight. Frankly Commander…we're trapped here until we can get the door. Please tell us you're on your way back."

"We're working on it."That was not the answer Jacob wanted to hear from Shepard. "Our way back to the shuttle had been blocked. EDI's found us another route and we're working our way over now. Can you hold until we get to you?"

"We're stretched pretty thin here Commander." Powering his biotics Jacob threw a ball of biotic energy right into the chest of an oncoming Collector throwing it back and into a wall with bone crushing force. "But we'll give 'em hell. Just don't take too long sir."

"Copy that Jacob." Shepard answered. "Jack's been wounded pretty bad. But we're coming as fast as we can. Over and out."

Hearing the comm go dead Jacob let his head fall back against the hull of the Kodiak. Fighting through the pain in his arm he reached down to his belt and pulled out one of his few remaining grenades. 'Just don't take too long.' He thought or perhaps prayed as he threw the small device out of the shuttle.

I hope that you all enjoyed this chapter. The next chapter is almost ready and I'll be releasing it after the start of the new year.

Please leave a review and let me know what you all thought, good or bad. Just be kind.

Hope that everyone had a happy holiday and have a good new year!