Shepard Likes Rocket Launchers

~Chapter 31~

Lilith checked her omni-tool impatiently. "What's taking so long? Didn't you say you could fix this malfunction in less than an hour? It's been two."

"Yeah," Delan grunted, scratching his head as he examined the equipment. "But this isn't a simple malfunction. There's something weird going on. The receiver's fully functional, but it's getting just garbage signals." He looked up. "It's like the air itself is shaken u-What the heck is that?"

Lilith turned to where Delan pointed, up into the sky. From behind one of the billowing, pearly-white clouds, a massive, tubular ship of rock and metal emerged, static discharges sending miniature lightning bolts crackling around it. The ship was slowly rotating to point its rear thrusters downwards. From the sky around it, a swarm of tiny black specks descended upon them.

Screams of fear erupted from several of the gathered colonists, and they scrambled in various directions, attempting to get away or indoors.

"This way, Lilith!" Delan shouted. "There's a sealed shed not far from here! Let's go!"

Delan took off, running between the pre-fabs. Lilith was right on his heels.

But before they reached their safe house, one of the fist-sized insects caught up with them. It fluttered down unto Lilith's neck, sinking its stinger into her. She shrieked, stumbling and falling to the ground.

"Lilith!" Delan called, turning. Lilith tried to rise to her feet, but shimmering orange energy erupted across her skin. She found herself completely unable to move, confined by a tight stasis field around her whole body.

Delan almost ran back to help her, but more of the insects were approaching. He turned and sprinted the rest of the way to his safe-room, slamming down on the door controls and sealing himself within.


The four-eyed creature with the shimmering chitin and glowing eyes stepped up to the sealed door. It gestured to its companion, a creature with much the same form, but with plain brown plating and more dull eyes. It flickered on its weapon, the brilliant yellow beam burning easily through the steel.

In seconds, there was a hole thirty centimeters in diameter. One of the circling seeker insects quickly found it and flew through. There was a curse, a shout of pain, and then silence. The door slid open for them.

A transport pod, made bizarrely fused metal and organic matter, was towed in. The creature nodded in satisfaction, turning. A slight pressure in the back of its head told it that another group of seekers was having difficulty reaching its target. It frowned. The target, or targets, was nearly five kilometers away, in the forest.

It unfolded its wings, and with a buzz, rose into the air. Several others quickly flew up to follow.


Wilson coughed. "Um, Vasir?"

The Spectre paced back and forth in front of the terminal, waiting to receive word from the Normandy. "Yeah?"

"I don't think they're gonna be calling," he told her.

Vasir turned on him. "Why not?"

He scratched his head. "Well, as far as we can tell, when the Collectors attack, they employ a highly advanced jamming signal over the entire colony. The comms buoys on their end would be disrupted."

"F***," she grumbled. "You're telling me this now?"

Wilson raised an eyebrow. "You didn't exactly give me time to say anything else after I explained what Cerberus…"

"Yeah, yeah," she muttered. She tapped into her radio.

"Wiks!" she barked. "How fast can you get us to the Iera system?"

"Four hours should do it," the salarian replied.

"Is the Kyrenia back in formation?"

"Kirrahe reported back ten minutes ago. We're ready to go."

Vasir leaned forwards over the bridge galaxy map. "Alright. Get us there."

The Chytroi, Amathus, and Kyrenia vanished in parallel streaks of blue.


In a flash of bright blue, the Normandy SR-1 rocketed out of FTL in the orbit of Horizon.

"Status report," Shepard ordered.

Pressly frowned, tapping at the sensor terminal. "The hell… sensors are jammed up. It's just like how they were during that skirmish at Ilos. You don't think…"

Joker twisted the ship into a barrel roll, examining the space around them carefully for signs of attackers. There was nothing.

Shepard's omni-tool shimmered up, and he raised it to take a look.

Shepard-Commander,

The jamming signal is identical to one we have broken. The signal broadcaster is likely COLLECTOR_CRUISER, or mimicking it. We would like permission to interface with NORMANDY_SR-1 systems to clarify sensor readings and incoming communications signals.

-Seyci'Queyum

Shepard chuckled.

Go for it. Any idea why the Collectors would be here? All we know is that Cerberus is planning something.

-Shepard

"Seyci's clearing it up," Shepard said. "Link us into the comm buoy. We need to get the rest of Vasir's intel."

"Aye aye," the helmsman responded. He pulled the ship out of the roll, keeping Horizon visible in the viewport above their heads.

"Setting up the link… uh, comm buoy still isn't responding. Commander?"

Shepard examined his omni-tool. Seyci had sent another message.

Jamming correction is only possible on our end. Our link requests to the buoy are being scrambled. This cannot be countered. Communications are only possible with entities running the corrective procedures. Collectors have been abducting human colonists. It is a possibility that Cerberus's presence is a coincidence, but it is unlikely. There is insufficient data to extrapolate a correlation. Caution advised.

-Seyci'Queyum

"Looks like we're going in blind then," Shepard grumbled. "Pressly, what have we got?"


"Feeling better?" the doctor asked.

Jack nodded, rotating her legs around to hang off the side of her cot. "Better than before. How long have I been here?"

"Almost a week now," the doctor told her. "If you think you're up for some exercise, follow me."

Jack slid off of her bed, letting her bare feet touch the pristine floor. She expected the bluish-white tiles to chill her, but they were surprisingly comfortable to stand on. She raised an eyebrow at the doctor.

"Adaptive heated tiles," Doctor Webber explained. "They're pressure sensitive, and adjust to your body temperature. You should be fine walking around on them without shoes."

Jack pushed her toe down into one of the tiles experimentally. It turned a darker shade of blue, and she felt it bend slightly with the pressure she exerted. When she lifted her foot, the tile straightened and returned to its normal color.

Webber waved her over to the clean white door that she'd initially thought was just another section of wall. It slid upwards, revealing a straight hallway. As the doctor led her through, she continued to watch her feet, amused by the responsive tiles. They walked about halfway down before Webber brought them to a halt. He raised a keycard, hanging around his neck, to a small wall-mounted scanner, and the wall panel slid up. The room behind was quite both tall and wide. The floor tiles remained the same, but the walls and ceiling were more utilitarian and metallic, rivets and weld lines visible in some areas. From the large ceiling, there hung an array of ventilation ducts and bulbous light fixtures. The fans, and perhaps also the lights, made the room quietly hum.

The primary feature of the room was three tall, red punching bags, bolted to the floor in the center of the room. She stepped up to one.

Behind her, Webber waved her on, pulling out his data-pad. "Go on. Work out some stress."

Hesitantly, she threw a punch. The bag shook slightly. She pulled her arm back and tried another, harder. This time, the bag bobbed back a couple inches before righting itself. She reared her arm back for a third punch.

Before she threw it, that nauseating feeling boiled up. Her arm was covered by those ghostly twisted images once more. Her vision seemed to flash, and suddenly the bag before her was no longer a bag. It was a person. A child, dressed like she was now, his own arm pulled back for a punch. Jack sent her fist forwards, and the child's face collapsed, bent inwards, sending the child flying backwards. It felt… good. That crack of the other's life ending, that rush…

Immediately after the rush came a flood of nausea. She stepped back in horror, staring at the red of blood coating her knuckles. She looked back up at the child, but there he was gone. Instead, standing before her, was that same punching bag, now adorned with a ragged hole.

Her nausea faded. She looked back down at her fist. The blood was gone. The ghostly images were gone. Instead, around it was this crackling blue glow. She slowly unclenched her fingers, watching the blue dance around and between them. Slowly, she turned to look questioningly at the doctor.

The doctor was smiling, tapping into his data-pad, and that smile just made her nausea return.


"No," Mordin said adamantly. "Will not stand for this. Was willing to work with you, but this… taken too far."

Jacob tapped his booted foot on the shuttle's cold floor. He wasn't very happy with the situation either. "Miranda? You're sure this is a good idea?"

Miranda glared at him. "This has been in the works for weeks. We can't let feelings get in the way now." She turned to Mordin. "We have to carry through. And we have to get down there to make sure. Think of the intelligence we'll gain from this."

Mordin paced back and forth. "No. No intelligence worth such a cost. Should have known Cerberus willing to attempt this. Not terrorist myself. Count me out."

She paused. "It's not like this is a suicide mission. We'll be away with plenty of time to spare. Professor, I understand your reluctance. But if we do nothing, they're as good as dead anyways, along with who-knows-how-many others. This is for a good cause."

Mordin sniffed in irritation. He turned to look at the shuttle's other occupants. Miranda continued to look straight at him, arms crossed. Jacob gripped his assault rifle tightly, his leg bouncing slightly in anticipation. The five other commandos leaned against the sides, checking their armor, recently upgraded by Mordin himself with the seeker swarm countermeasures.

He'd helped them. Slowly, he realized that Miranda was right. And if he were to quit now, where would he go?

The shuttle shook slightly as it entered the atmosphere. "Setting us down on the outskirts of the colony," their pilot called to them from his chair. "It's the closest clearing to the facility. You've got about a half a click of walking to do."

Miranda nodded. "Roger that. Keep the shuttle spooled up and ready to go. We'll need to leave in a hurry."

The shuttle landed softly amidst the trees. Its hatch swung open, and the squad hopped out, weapons raised.


"I see you took some time to learn how to shoot that thing properly," Ashley chided, crouching behind a crate to avoid a hail of bullets.

Kaidan shrugged, holding his rifle away from himself as it cooled down. "I made it out of Basic. All I needed was a little brushing-up." A shot hit the wall an inch above his head, and he ducked slightly. "Of course, I didn't expect we'd see this much action in this assignment."

The hall before them was packed full of bipedal security mechs, laying down withering fire with their machine pistols.

"I've never even seen mechs like these before," Ashley grumbled. "Where did Cerberus get them from?"

"They're LOKIs," Kaidan noticed. "Hahne-Kedar manufactured. They approached the Alliance with them a few weeks ago, but they weren't given a contract. They weren't as mobile as the assault drones we were already using. H-K started selling them to the private sector as security, I guess-"

"Didn't ask for a history lesson," Ashley said, rolling her eyes.

Kaidan sighed, turning to deploy a sabotage projectile with his omni-tool. The stream of bullets stopped as the mechs' weapons overheated. Ashley popped up from her cover and sprayed her rifle into them, and one by one, they crumpled to the ground.


"The Collector ship's landed next to the colony," Pressly reported. "No communications whatsoever. Total radio silence… Wait. There's some sort of anomaly about five clicks from the main settlement. Strong electromagnetic fields. Could be a power plant or transmitter of some sort."

Shepard turned his head to one side. "Cerberus may be up to something, but we know for certain the Collectors are here. They're bad news. Joker, can we disable their ship without endangering the colony?"

Joker scratched his chin. "They're sitting right next to it. Anything we do will have the colony danger-close. If we hit their drive core, the entire colony would be toast in the blast. Picking at them with mass accelerator rounds should be safe, but I'm not sure we'd get through their armor.

"It's worth a shot," Shepard replied. "Get in close and light 'em up, Joker."

"Aye aye," Joker said, and the Normandy plummeted down into the atmosphere.


"Colonist," Mordin remarked. "Significant distance away from colony. Must have run to avoid swarms."

The squad stopped to examine the figure. The man was still standing. His leg was stretched out behind him and his arms were raised up as though he was running, but he was perfectly still, giving the impression of a statue. Orange energy flickered over him.

"I guess this is what the seeker swarms do to you," Jacob muttered. "Freeze you up, just like that. Good thing your countermeasure's working then, eh, Professor?"

Mordin ran his omni-tool over the man. "Hmmm. No readings. Puzzling."

"No readings?" Miranda queried. "You mean he looks normal?"

Mordin shook his head. "No. Scanner reflecting back, waves unable to pass through. No radiation penetration, no reflection. No reflection, no scans. Stasis field of unknown origin, not kinetic barrier. Injected nano-machines, manipulating dark energy? Possible. At any rate, scanner unable to penetrate stasis."

"Curious," Miranda muttered.

Suddenly, from behind them, there was a loud, reverberating crack. The squad crouched, weapons held at the ready, scanning their surroundings.

Miranda's radio crackled. "Ma'am? This is Profectus. Do you read?"

She raised a hand to her ear, confused. "This is Lawson. What happened? How did you break through the Collector jamming?"

"Not us, ma'am," her helmsman reported. "Alliance ship just popped out of nowhere and fired on the Collector ship. They scored a direct hit. It must have damaged or destroyed their jamming tech."

Miranda cursed. "Dammit. We can't let them destroy that vessel. The data that could be inside is too valuable. Engage them."

"Yes, ma'am," her helmsman replied coldly.

"Let's keep moving," she ordered to the squad around her. "If the Collectors are taking fire, they'll try to leave. We need to make sure this gets set off as soon as possible."


The doors slid open, revealing a circular chamber. In the middle was a large device of some sort, a metallic canister with dozens of jagged transformers and other electrical components hanging off the sides. Three technicians, in uniforms marked with the diamond Cerberus emblem, tapped away at consoles on its surface. Ashley stepped forwards, rifle raised.

"Everyone, hands up!" she shouted. "Step away from the consoles!"

The technicians jumped. "What the…" one of them muttered. "Alliance? I didn't think..." He took a step away from her.

She fired a shot at his feet, making him jump. "Hands on your head, now! Or I start shooting!"

The scientists quickly complied, setting their hands on their heads. Kaidan stepped forwards to the central device, omni-tool raised. The opaque doors slid shut behind them.

"What do you think you're doing?" another technician shouted. "Can't you see we're working for the advancement of humanity? This project must continue!"

"Shut it," Ashley grumbled. "You're all under arrest."

She herded them over to one part of the room, keeping the gun held on them. One of them wore a slightly heavier suit than the others, almost like an Alliance battle dress uniform. The others had on what looked like lab coats.

"You can't stop it," the loud one continued. "The execution is going to happen. There's no shut-off."

Ashley stepped towards him. "What are you talking about? What execution?"

He opened his mouth to answer, but the one in the heavier clothing kicked him in the ankle. "Shut it, you idiot," he hissed.

"Why, Lentz?" he countered. "We're all dead anyways. It won't make a difference if-"

He was kicked again. "Lazarus team is on its way, dimwit. We're getting out of here. Why do you think I haven't ordered you to chomp your pill already?"

Ashley raised an eyebrow. "What's Lazarus Team? We're going to get answers out of you at some point, Cerberus. I'm certain there's some among you who'd rather live…"

Kaidan gasped. "Oh no. This… this…"

Ashley looked over her shoulder. "What now?"

He looked up at the device. "This… it's a neutron pulse emitter."

"Neutron pulse?" Ashley asked. "What will that do?"

Kaidan took a breath. "They're commonly used for sterilization purges. Within a certain radius, the radiation kills everything it hits. If what I've scanned here is right, the amplifiers on here extend its effective range to nearly fifteen kilometers." He paused. "And it's powering up right now. At this rate, it'll be fully charged in less than four hours."

"Fifteen kilometers?" Ashley whispered. "That's… if this goes off, it'll wipe out the entire colony!"

"Custodimus humanitas," the talkative one said. "The enemies of humanity will be cleansed with fire. Their knowledge will be o-"

A third kick from behind made him flinch, and he struggled to keep himself balanced with his hands above his head. "Ow! Okay, Lentz, I get it!"

"What part of defending humanity involves killing the thousands of colonists in that settlement up there?" Kaidan retorted. "Now tell us, how do we shut this off?"

The omni-tool of the apparent leader, Lentz, lit up. He looked up to read it, and smiled. "As Mister Blabbermouth here let slip earlier, you can't. Now, if you'll excuse us, there's somewhere else we'd rather be."

Then the room's doors slid open again, revealing a squad of Cerberus commandos with their weapons raised…


Author's Note: School's started for me, so updates will be slower. I'll try for at least one a week though!

I went through and edited so Kaidan's name was spelled right. Also made a few other changes here and there.