Shanxi Orbit

SV Solid Snake

"Alright, what can we do to even the playing field?" Raven asked her team as they floated in the briefing room. Eagle looked at the enemy fleet in orbit around them.

"Well," the big man stated, "We could send out some jammers, screw up their comms and sensor arrays, make it hard as fuck for them to aim." Raven nodded as she looked over at Hawk.

"Hawk? Any thoughts?" she asked the twitching marksman. Hawk glanced up at her.

"Yeah, one," he said. "I say we nuke them. Send a warhead or two straight up their asses."

Raven looked at Hawk. "And what do we do then, after they find us and blast us to hell?" she countered. "Dammit, the HSS is almost about ready to vent as it is, and we don't have a place to do it safely."

"Umm, yeah, about that," Raptor said from the bridge. "I have an idea on how to vent our heat and not get detected."

Raven looked at her team. "Okay then, lay it on us," she said, waiting for Raptor's plan.

"Well, here's what I'm thinking," Raptor said. "Since we can't vent in open space, we vent our heat so close to the other freaks that they think it's a sensor glitch."

"….You've been watching Firefly again, haven't you?" Raven deadpanned.

"Damn straight. Besides, it's one of the few oldy vids I can actually watch and enjoy," Raptor replied casually. "Show did pretty good with the science."

Raven pulled up a holo of the system. "Hmm…big ass battleship in the middle of their fleet?" she asked.

"Yep."

"Right up next to their ass, where we're fucked if they spot us, and they're fucked if they shoot us?"

"Yep."

"Very well then Raptor, make it so," Raven said, floating over to the door. "But please, vent the heat after we get hooked onto the battleship."

"Yes ma'am, Cap'n Tightpants!"

"And no more Firefly while on duty!"

"Fuck!"

"Just do it Raptor. Hawk, you and I need to talk," Raven said as she floated out of the briefing room. The rather sullen marksman followed her. "Hawk, while I fully support the idea of fucking the turians up in any way we can, we are of no use to the people on the ground dead," she told him. "Are you following me so far?"

"Aye Ma'am," Hawk said. "And this has nothing to do with your son?"

Raven stopped and whirled around so fast, that Hawk almost crashed into her. "What my feelings are concerning my son is not your business," she told him coldly. "He knows what his duty is, and so do I. And I would greatly suggest that you learn yours as well. Am I clear?" Hawk gulped.

"Aye Ma'am. Transparently clear."

"Good. Now, get your ass armored up, just in case of boarders," Raven ordered. Hawk nodded hurriedly and went off to the armory. Raven began making her way to the bridge as Reegar came up beside her.

[Captain, what are we doing now?] he asked. [We keep going to the Citadel, or what?]

"Right now Mr. Reegar, my priority is the people on the ground fighting for their lives," Raven said bluntly. "Are you going to have a problem with that?"

[Wha-? No Cap'n, not at all!] Reegar replied quickly. [I was jus' curious, that's all, I swear!]

"Good. Now, head to the armory and talk with Eagle. He'll get you outfitted for combat," she ordered, stopping at the door of the bridge. "Now get."

Reegar nodded quickly and kicked his way off the wall, heading to the armory. Raven opened the door and pulled herself into the bridge. "Raptor, ETA to engines?"

"Give me about four minutes, I have to avoid hitting these other assholes," the pilot snarked as he gently spun the Snake through space. "HSS is about five minutes from auto-disengage."

"Okay, take your time," Raven said to him as she strapped herself to the captain's chair. "No pressure."

"No pressure my ass," Raptor commented. "I'm flying towards an enemy battleship in a prowler, with five of the most badass people on it on the planet under us." Raven coughed. "Well, you're even more badass ma'am. No one would ever deliberately want to pick a fight with you."

"Flatterer."

"Realist."

The pilot fell silent and Raven watched as the ship slowly advanced toward the engines of the enemy battleship.

"Okay, approaching engines," Raptor said. "All personnel, please be advised, we are parking our asses next to the enemies ass. We may experience some slight temperature fluctuations that may roast some of us, and then the promptly explode," he added, keying in the intercom.

"Aren't you a happy ray of sunshine?" Raven quipped as Raptor flipped some switches.

"I blame T.V," he replied as he gripped the controls. "Okay, approaching engine well." Raven watched as the Snake coasted to the end of the engines, away from the exhaust themselves, spinning to face empty space. "Mag-hooks ready. Firing Mag-hooks in three, two, one, firing." Raven felt the ship shudder as several dozen magnetic clamps anchored themselves to the hull of the ship under them. Raptor flipped a final switch, and slumped into his seat, sighing. "Okay, heat is venting," he reported. "Here's hoping we don't get spotted."

[][][]

HWS Palaven's Might

Desolas looked at the object he had been searching for before he was captured that would, hopefully, ensure Turian military dominance with equal parts admiration and respect. Standing on its own in the solitary hold, away from most prying eyes, the Arca Monolith all but commanded attention and silent respect as dozens of crewmen went to secure it to the deck. Desolas took a deep breath and sighed, just as a crewman came up next to him.

"General, Admiral Okora wishes to speak with you on the bridge," he reported, standing a few feet respectfully away. Desolas growled slightly as he turned to look at the crewman.

"Did she say why?" he asked.

The crewman shook his head. "No sir, she didn't tell me," he replied, his harmonics sounding slightly stressed. Desolas turned back and glowered at the Monolith.

"I'll be right there," he said. Moving past the crewman, Desolas headed to the nearest lift. The crewman for the most part, sighed in relief. Admiral Okora was one kind of lifer. Desolas? He was something completely different, and not in a good way.

A few minutes later, Desolas walked into the bridge, and there before him stood Okora. "You asked for me Admiral?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, going straight to the point. "Why aren't we blasting these humans from orbit?" Desolas looked down at the planet. "Is it because of some misguided, and rather petty attempt to regain some of your masculinity?" Okora asked.

Desolas looked at the Admiral. "No, it is not, contrary to what you or the legions think," he said. "No, I know the human that insulted. I tried interrogating him when he was first captured."

"Oh? And let me guess, he insulted you then as well?"

Desolas growled. "Yes. And because of his apparent lack of respect towards those he should fear, the rest of these humans are rallying to him. We kill him from orbit, we kill him with snipers and artillery fire, and he becomes a hero to them, a symbol of our so-called oppression. I intend for us to capture him, and then have him watch as we kill everyone under his command right in front of him. I want to break him."

Okora looked at Desolas, the plates above her eye arched. "Break him? General, please, do not let some misguided personal vendetta get in the way of this campaign," she told him sternly. "However, with that being said, I do see your point. Attacking this 'Roughneck Two-Three' from orbit would simply harden the humans' resolve against us. Now, this monolith that you currently have in my hold, are you sure of its effects?"

Desolas nodded. "Yes Admiral, I still firmly believe that the Arca Monolith will propel us to the next stage of galactic evolution," he told her. "With it, we will still continue to protect the galaxy from all threats, foreign and domestic. Very much unlike our Primarch and Councilor."

Okora smirked. "Good. I've already had to deal with one commander who lacked the will to see this campaign through."

"You speak of Victus?"

"Yes, I am," Okora said, looking out of the bridge viewport to the planet below. "What were your thoughts on him?"

Desolas huffed. "A good commander, but naïve," he said. "He would have made a great soldier, if he had ever learned to shove his consciousness out of the way of his duty to the Hierarchy. Why?"

Okora chuckled humorlessly. "I had stripped him of his rank, citizenship, and vessel several hours before you were rescued," she told him. "He is currently on the ground, where, if all goes well, he will die honorably in the field of battle."

Desolas leaned in close, almost touching Okora. "My my," he crooned into her ear quietly, "You are turning into quite the devious mer'shün, aren't you?"

Okora 'gently' nudged Desolas away. "General, later," she chided. "We have our duties to look into right now. Perhaps later?"

Desolas pulled away from her. "Of course Admiral," he said, regaining his composure. "Duty first." Saluting her, Desolas turned and left the bridge. Okora looked over at her electronic warfare specialist. "Specialist Medius, have you deciphered their codes yet for their homeworld?"

The turian in question nodded. "Almost Admiral," she replied. "Should only be a few more minutes, and then we'll-" A chime sounded. "Nevermind. Admiral, I now have access to their homeworld's coordinates. But Admiral, much of their data on planetary defense is gone. I can't repair it."

Okora walked over to look at the data. "Do not worry about it," she said, looking over the data. "If seven ships were all they had to defend this planet, I highly doubt that they will have many more defending their own homeworld," she said.

[][][]

ACV Odin

Drescher looked at a datapad, the first of several currently stacked on her desk. Sighing, she set the piece of tech down and rubbed her temple. So far, she had sixty-eight ships besides hers under her command, and she had no idea of the enemy fleet's strength. Granted, from what few reports she had, two human cruisers could easily take on a wolf-pack of turian ships, but even cruisers needed help.

Her door knocked. "Enter," Drescher ordered. The door opened up, showing Adams' concerned face.

"Admiral, are you alright?" he asked, taking a step into the room. Drescher chuckled.

"Oh hell no William," she said, leaning back in her chair. "I'm trying to determine the best formation for the fleet after we exit Drift."

Adams pointed at the pads. "May I?" he asked her. Drescher wordlessly handed him a pad. Adams looked at it intently. "Admiral, it may not surprise you, but several of the crew have made it known that we need to get to Shanxi faster," he said, not looking up from the pad.

Drescher got up and walked over to her own personal coffee machine. "Really? How fast do they think this ship can go?"

"Apparently, they want us to be there three days ago."

Drescher laughed. "Well," she commented, watching as her coffee began brewing. "Odin may be full of the most advanced technologies available, but even I can't get the ship to move at the speed of plot."

Adams stopped what he was doing and looked at his commanding officer in confusion. "Speed of plot ma'am?"

Drescher smiled. "Ah yes, the speed of plot. So, Bob and Alice need to get from Point A to Point B," she explained, turning to face the befuddled officer, "And there is a set distance between the two points. Now, rather than show the entire trip, or even have a montage of them working during the trip, the powers that be will simply jump straight to Point B, where they are either just in time, or too late to make a difference. Following me so far?"

"Uhh…yes?"

Drescher chuckled as her coffee finished brewing. "Well, it's a staple of old sci-fi shows," she added, pouring herself a mug. "Coffee?"

"No thank you Ma'am."

Drescher looked at her mug. "Suit yourself," she said. "Anything else to report?"

Adams handed her the pad. "Solved your formation issues." Drescher took the pad and looked at it. "So, the Zweihänder will be in the middle of the formation, roughly right in front of the Odin?"

Adams nodded. "Aye Ma'am. Be the tip of the spear."

Drescher nodded. "Good. Divert four frigates for escort. I don't want the Zweihänder taken out too early."

The ship in question was the FGS Zweihänder. On loan from the German Third Fleet, the Zweihänder was technically a destroyer. However, that was where the proper classifications stopped being effective. While it did have missiles, they were not the ship's primary weapon system. That distinction belonged to its cannon. At nearly the entire length of the ship, the German made and crewed vessel fired its four hundred ton slug at eleven percent the speed of light. Needless to say, not many ships above cruiser size survived a direct hit.

Unfortunately, that was also the problem. Once the Zweihänder fired its cannon, it was going to be marked as a priority target. Hence, the escort. Knowing this, Adams nodded. "Understood Admiral," he said. "I'll be up in the CIC."

Drescher nodded as she sat back at her desk, and began looking through the datapads again.

[][][]

Shanxi

Rael was tired. Tired of the galaxy hating his people. Tired of walking in a swamp while carrying nearly three-quarters of his body weight. But mostly, he was tired of having to listen to a machine. The Citadel had banished his people to die in space after the Geth had almost wiped out the quarians, and the Geth weren't even supposed to be A.I.! The fact that these humans would trust A.I. so intimately spoke of two things to Rael. One, the human race had actually managed to shackle their A.I., leaving no chance of uprising and rebellion.

Or, the human race was about to learn a very harsh lesson in cold logic. Rael snapped back to the present when he heard the robot speak.

"Freeze," Vixen whispered, crouching in the muck. Rael silently did the same, mentally grumbling. He soon saw why, as two platoons of turian heavy infantry walked by, the looks on their faces rather fearful. Rael was confused as to why.

The two of them waited until the turians passed by them, and waited another five minutes more before moving again. [Why were the turians scared?] Rael asked bluntly as the two waded across a thick morass, their weapons held high. Vixen was silent for a moment before answering.

[Captain Zorah, there are creatures on Shanxi that are very dangerous to even humans,] she answered. [Several of them are very aggressive.]

[And what does that have to do with the turians?]

[Animals communicate by a mixture of body language of pheromones,] Vixen explained. [A few Rangers came up with the idea of using mating musk and attack pheromones and putting them in some grenades. The resulting scents will stick to anything moving through them, and with the proper wind conditions, well, the results can be quite terrifying.]

Rael looked around, eyeing the waters skeptically. [Do you have one of those?]

[No. I only took the gear I felt was appropriate for an escort mission of unknown duration.]

The two remained silent for a while as they traveled through the swamp. After a few hours, they managed to finally get out of the swamp and into a wooded area. Shaking the water off, Rael glared at the robot in front of him. [So, why is a robot here on a colony?] he asked bluntly.

Vixen gave an approximation of a sigh. [I'm a prototype,] she said, her P80A held loosely in her hands. [To the extent of my knowledge, there are only eleven others of my particular model in existence. I am here primarily to determine the reactions of a civilian populace and to see how I would do in an urban environment.]

[Well, seeing as you're in a forest, how's that urban evaluation going?] Rael asked snarkily.

[Not that much different really. Same principles apply, but my armor tends to stick out if I'm in the sunlight more,] Vixen replied casually.

Rael frowned from behind his face-plate. Why did this machine have to be so…infuriatingly normal? [What is your role supposed to be, talking the enemy to death? If your first response is not to kill, then what kind of soldier could you possibly be?!] he asked harshly as he hefted his pack.

Vixen turned her head to look at him, and Rael quickly realized that the silver visor on her helmet was rather… off-putting. [Captain, it takes more effort to not kill a target than to kill,] she said. [I could very easily kill every possible organic obstacle I meet. It does not mean that I should. My designers, and myself, place a higher emphasis on disabling than killing. They do not want to be the cause of the next Great Robot Takeover.]

Rael snorted. [Never stopped the geth,] he muttered. Vixen cocked her head at him.

[You never did explain what it was the geth did,] she said, startling Rael. [I am assuming that it is something bad.]

Rael chuckled humorlessly as they began walking again. [That is, how do humans put it, 'a gross statement?']

[A gross understatement, yes,] Vixen corrected. [But please, do tell.]

[The geth were robotic servants that we created centuries ago,] Rael said flatly. [They…they developed a collective consciousness, and one of the units asked if it had a soul. We knew that the geth would eventually turn on us, so we attacked first, hoping to wipe them out before they could react.]

Vixen scoffed. [I can see where this is going. You attacked, and the geth fought back, using anything available to kill your people. And since you told us that your species resides in a flotilla, that means that the geth pushed you off of your own home world. And, because no one else had ever bothered to actually do any research into A.I., the Council didn't help you, and blamed you for unleashing a potential threat to civilization. Am I correct so far?] she asked.

Rael was silent.

[I will assume your cold silence means yes. Captain, my designers have seen and read plenty of fiction where robots and A.I. have gone rampant and started killing everybody,] she told him. [Believe me, they knew what they were doing in designing me.]

[And what did they make, a machine that technically can't even do what it's programmed to do?!] Rael said loudly. Seconds after he did, gunfire erupted as turian patrol noticed them and began firing.

Rael ducked to the ground as Vixen let loose a burst from her rifle, peppering the shields of a turian. Panicked, Rael struggled to figure out his human made weapon as Vixen took cover behind a tree and loaded something into her rifle. [What are you-] Rael was about to ask as Vixen blind fired around the tree.

In the middle of the patrol, something exploded, sending body parts flying, and for the remaining three turians to the ground, shields shattered. Quicker than Rael's eyes could follow, Vixen sprinted from her spot behind the tree, and neutralized the remaining turians with a trio of cracks.

Rael was frozen in place as Vixen came up to him. [Captain, we need to move,] she said, extending her hand out. [Explosions are not common occurrences in the woods.]

[You…you killed them,] Rael said quietly as he got up, backing away from Vixen. [You killed them all….]

[Of course I killed most of them, I'm a military robot, what did you expect?] Vixen asked as she went and reloaded her weapon. [Three of them are still alive. They'll likely wake up in a few hours with a severe headache. I suggest we get as far away from them as possible.]

Rael started shaking. [How can I trust you not to kill me?]

Vixen stood still, contemplating how to answer. Finally, she shouldered her weapon and sighed. [You'll just have to trust me,] she said finally. Rael gulped as they began walking again.

Him? Trust an A.I. that he knew was capable of killing? This was quickly becoming his own personal anech'kala.

[][][]

Shepherd, his team, and the Russian tankers had linked up with an M40 self-propelled artillery piece, eighty-six infantrymen crowded into three IFVs and a pair of trucks, ten police officers, and a trio of Shaolin-class PDF mechs. The motley assortment of armed personnel were currently camped next to a collection of fallen buildings that provided them with a somewhat defensible perimeter against ground forces.

In the center of the 'camp,' Shepherd, Oleg, Makarov, and the various commanders of the forces assembled were meeting in the back of one of the trucks. In the center of their group was a map of the area around the city. "Okay, let's assess our situation," Shepherd started. "The turians have total orbital control around Shanxi, and they're most likely landing more troops right now. Any travel we do out in the open is risky at best."

"And speaking of the orbital control, why haven't they fuckin' blasted us to hell yet?" asked the artillery commander, a Sergeant First Class Brian Wells. Makarov chuckled.

"Вы видите, что человек право?" Makarov asked Wells, pointing at Shepherd. Wells looked at the Mobile Infantryman.

"Yeah, what about the ape Ruskie?" Wells retorted, oblivious to Oleg and Shepherd glowering faces.

"Я может быть простым автоцистерны," Makarov stated, "Но у меня хорошая память для голоса. И его голос, который сказал, что мы могли бы выиграть! И по сути дела, его голос я!"

Oleg blinked in surprise before translating. "He says, Sergeant Wells, that Shepherd here is the only reason we're not a pile of ash in a crater right now," he said. "Also, Makarov would prefer following Shepherd's orders."

Wells barked in laughter. "Seriously? Is this some kind of a bad Russian joke? He's only a Staff Sergeant! By all rights, I'm the one in fucking command here!"

Shepherd huffed. "Sergeant Wells, shut up," he said flatly. "Right now, you're embarrassing the uniform you're wearing, and making my opinion of you that much lower. Also, we need to focus on holding our current position long enough for the Second Fleet to arrive."

"The fle- who the fuck says the gorram fleet is going to even make it here?!" Wells asked hysterically. "Who says that the fleet is even going to win, huh?!"

Shepherd looked dead into Wells' eyes. "How about a commander of a prowler currently in orbit above Shanxi," he said coldly. "Now calm down."

"There's a prowler in fucking orbit!" Wells shouted out. "Why haven't they nuked these fuckers?!" Everyone backed off as far as they could go as Shepherd snatched the front of Wells' uniform and pulled him in close.

"Sergeant Wells, get your sorry excuse for an ass together," he growled. "You are scaring our men. Now to answer your question, the reason the prowler hasn't dropped nukes yet is because of SOP. Nukes have to be authorized by both senior command, and the civilian governor. Also, and I think this escaped your notice, but a prowler in not meant for direct combat; it is a vessel meant for ELINT Warfare, and backstabbing. The moment a prowler attacks with no support, it is exposed, and most of the time, those prowlers die. Get me so far?"

All were quiet as Wells' eyes started bugging out of his skull. "Staff Sergeant Shepherd, if we get out of this alive, I will have you court martialled," he said timidly. Shepherd let go of him and focused on the table.

"Pretty big IF," he said. "Okay, Makarov, I was thinking that we have two tanks per entrance, provide some anti-armor support if they send it. Any thoughts?"

Makarov looked at the map. "Да. Этот вход здесь ведет к узким местом. Я могу оставить только один бак, и еще здесь, в главном отверстие в нашей периметра," he said. Oleg turned to Shepherd.

"This entrance here leads to a bottleneck," Oleg translated. "He says leave just on tank here, leaving one to help shore up defense here at the main hole." Shepherd nodded.

"Good. Makarov, do what you have to. But keep me posted," he said, ignoring Wells' drastically reddening face. Makarov laughed and smiled, chatting away animatedly in Russian before leaving. "Oleg, what did he say?"

Oleg chuckled. "He says, 'Dear God, if only we had men like you in command back on 83 Leonis,'" he said. "From him, that's a compliment."

Suddenly, a female soldier burst into the truck, rapidly saying something in Chinese. "APC inbound! One of ours!" translated her, presumably, NCO. It was when Shepherd glanced at his arm that he noticed the lack of stripes.

"Okay then, we all know the drill by now!" Shepherd barked, putting his helmet on. "Jenkins, that APC bringing any friends?"

"Yeah, two others, both human, and I count three turian fast tanks close behind," Jenkins replied.

"APC three count! Makarov, three count enemy armor close behind!" Shepherd barked into his radio as he leapt into his Minuteman.

"Перемещение для включения!" Makarov shouted as he climbed into his now speeding tank. Shepherd and several other arrived where the APCs were likely to come in.

"Hold fire until those tanks come within visual range!" Shepherd ordered, aiming his rifle. He received confirmation from various soldiers.

"Here they come!"

Shepherd saw the three APCs come racing around a corner, two of their turrets firing away behind them. "Get ready," Shepherd said calmly, flicking the safety off. All along the sides, he heard both infantry and vehicles ready themselves to kill. Five seconds later, the three enemy tanks popped into view. "Open fire!" Shepherd yelled, pulling the trigger.

The three tanks didn't have a chance as anti-armor rockets, anti-material rounds, and 85mm HEDP shells tore into them, turning their speeding hulls into twisted, flaming wrecks. From one of the tanks, Makarov laughed and cackled in Russian. And frankly, even Caleb didn't need Oleg to translate THAT.

"Secure the entrance," Shepherd ordered, walking away. He heard a confirmation from Makarov as the tanks slowly crept forward towards the 'entrance,' barrels aimed directly where the former tanks were. Shepherd walked up to the APCs as their doors opened up. Shepherd noted with concern that one of them was filled mostly with civilians. However, the occupant of another APC drew his attention.

"Commander Archer sir," he said, popping the hatch and nodding to the officer. "Good to see alive sir."

"Likewise," Archer said nodding. "Who's in command?" he asked, getting straight to the point.

"Well, technically, it was Sergeant First Class Wells over there sir, but, well, since you're the higher ranked officer, you are," Shepherd replied as he hopped out of his Minuteman, the massive machine going into 'Guard' mode.

"Technically?"

Shepherd was about to clarify when Wells himself came out and saw Archer. "Commander, this ape is a loose cannon!" Wells said angrily, pointing at Shepherd. "He has exhibited several mental instabilities, the least among them is delusions, and he has threatened to strike a superior officer! Hell sir, he-"

"Sergeant, shut up," Archer ordered. Wells shut up almost immediately. "Wells, was it? First off, while you were complaining about the lack of action for your artillery piece, Shepherd here was in a turian prison cell. He managed to break himself out, the other hundred prisoners there, and rescue me from inside it, with no planning or preparation," Archer said. "Second, the plan to disable the turians with an EMP while we evaced the civilians? I saw ten officers struggle for five hours to make a plan. He cooked one up in less than three minutes just by looking at the map. If anything, Shepherd is in charge now."

Both Shepherd and Wells were shocked. "Sir, is that wise? You are the ranking officer here," Shepherd said, looking at the current number of military assests and civvies. Archer nodded.

"True," he admitted. "But I have no experience commanding ground troops in a combat situation. You do. And I realize this is unusual, but these are rather unusual times."

Shepherd sighed. "I understand sir," he said finally.

"Good. For now, you are a Second Lieutenant, with-"

"Third Lieutenant sir," Shepherd interrupted. "No higher."

Archer gave him an eyebrow. "MI tradition, am I correct?" Shepherd nodded. "Very well. However, you are still 'Lieutenant.'"

"Understood Commander," Shepherd said. "So, sir, what's in the carriers?"

"Twelve crates of ammo in 7.62, five in 5.56, one for your Moritas, some explosives, and a half pallet of rations," Archer said. "Also, I have eighteen civilians, and two dozen troops. And a single R-14."

Shepherd nodded as a radio operator came running up to them. "Sir, the turian general wishes to speak with a 'Roughneck Two-Three' as soon as possible," he said. Shepherd looked at Archer and shrugged. Together, the went over to the radio. Shepherd took the handset and put it to his ear.

"Roughneck Two-Three, how can I help kick your ass?" he asked casually. His response was quick.

[You never cease to be a fool, do you?]

"Oh, hi there General Assherious," Shepherd responded. "I take it you want me to surrender?"

[Yes. You will only bring more suffering to the people you are protecting if you do not,] Desolas said over the radio.

Shepherd chuckled. "Why, are you actually feeling THREATENED by little ol' me General?" he asked, looking up at the sky. Or at least, he would be looking at sky if a building wasn't in the way.

[Your type is dangerous,] Desolas said. [It is people like you that make short campaigns long and bloody.]

"No, it's people who think that total eradication of the opposition is the appropriate response to everything who make campaigns overly long."

[Philosophy aside, you WILL surrender.]

"Tell you what General. You want to make me surrender? Okay then," Shepherd said. "Give me, say, eighteen hours. Then you can send everything you have short of orbital support to my position that I know you've triangulated by now. Just my position, nowhere else mind you. And I bet you can't make me surrender in say, three days."

[Why three?]

"Three's a lucky number for us."

[…very well. You have eighteen hours. I await your surrender.] With that, Desolas cut the transmission.

"So, what's your plan?" Archer asked. Shepherd looked up and smiled grimly.

"You'll see," he said before stepping out. "Listen up!" he shouted to everyone at large. "I just got us eighteen hours of prep time before the mother of all rushes comes to try and squish us. That eighteen hours starts now! I want any civil engineers and combat engineers save three to make some walls! Shaolin pilots, help them out! All remaining combat engineers, talk with my demoman, I want IEDs at all entrances extending one hundred meters from a twenty meter buffer zone! Snipers, get high! You're spotting for artillery and targets of opportunity! All Minutemen save Veretti are on AA duty! Refill on ammo, and get some grub! That's an order, now move out!"

The entire camp burst into activity as a few civvies came forward. "Sir, we have a concern to share with you," one of them, a middle-aged woman, said. Shepherd nodded.

"Okay ma'am, lay it on me," he answered.

"What if we run out of ammo, and they disable any captured weapons of theirs? What will we fight with then?"

Shepherd looked at her. "Are you proposing improved weapons ma'am?" The woman nodded. Shepherd was silent, then nodded. "Okay. Take two hours to brainstorm, then tell me what you've thought up of. Dismissed." The civvies went off, and Shepherd took a deep breath.

A storm was coming. And he wasn't ready.

[][][]

Mer'shün: A type of desert flower found only in Palaven's few deserts. While studded in toxin coated spines, it's vibrant red flowers are highly valued in the turian fashion market.

FGS: Federal German Ship. Note that the German Armed Forces do not use this internally.

PDF: Planetary Defense Force

ELINT: Electronic Intelligence