Author's Note: Hey everyone. I apologize for the long update time, but life has made me pretty busy lately. Thankfully things are calming down, so I'll have more time to write and such. Anyways, I've made this chapter extra-long in order to compensate for how long you all have waited.

I just want to state again how humbled I am at the response this story has generated, you all are just awesome fans and it's your response that gives me inspiration to write. To everyone who submitted OC's (there were a ton more that I had expected, but thats great!) thank you so much for taking the time for creating a character. I've already chosen the characters I am going to use this time and notified their creators, and you will begin to see them in following chapters. If your character was not chosen, don't worry! There will be at least two more rounds of OC submissions later on, so stay tuned for those!

Also, if you want to watch what I think is the best video in existence when it comes to describing the Mass Effect experience, go to this link ( watch?v=QWM3RhrxAl4) or just google "Mass Effect We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers." Well worth the watch.

A very special thanks to my beta JohnHarper for his excellent beta-ing skills, and to my wonderful girlfriend for being wonderful.

Now onto the action. Here's the latest chapter of The Infinity Effect

Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I own nothing, but all original content is mine.


Chapter Six: Leaving Earth

SSV Kilimanjaro, Earth

March 1st, 2186

"New target! Reaper capital-class in sector Zeta-24, bearing 15 by 315! Full broadside salvo, fire!" barked Admiral Hackett to the bridge crew.

With a subtle adjustment of thrusters, the Alliance Dreadnought re-aligned itself so that its broadside frigate grade mass accelerators were aimed at the center of a Sovereign-class Reaper. With a series of synchronized flashes, yellow streaks bolted from the broadside of the Kilimanjaro. At this knife-fight range of only a few dozen kilometers, the rounds impacted almost instantly, peppering the front of the looming Reaper. Seventy-eight bouts of kinetic fire erupted amongst the Reaper's hull, but the monstrosity's kinetic barriers held.

"Second salvo, fire!" ordered Hackett.

Once again, the broadside guns of the Kilimanjaro fired at the Reaper capital ship, the rounds hammering at the ship's kinetic barriers causing them to fluctuate under the strain. Hackett was about to order a third salvo when the Reaper was consequently smashed to pieces by a pair of massive projectiles.

Though Hackett already knew where they had come from, decades of training, experience and instinct guided his eyes to his display, which showed the origin points of the rounds to be a pair of the UNSC cruiser-weight "Frigates".

Frigates….right. Hackett thought dryly.

"Sir! Reaper capital in sector Gamma-04 has just changed course, it's bearing right for us!" yelled Captain Jilian.

Hackett's display changed to show the Reaper ship and its new collision course with the Kilimanjaro.

"Evasive maneuvers, fire emergency thrusters!" shouted Hackett.

The Alliance Admiral gritted his teeth as his body was forced against the crash webbing of his chair, the emergency thrusters straining to move the Dreadnought out of the way of the quickly approaching Reaper.

They succeeded, barely, the Reaper passing not half a kilometer past them as it continued to its intended target.

It never got there however, as the Reaper was forced off-course by a MAC round from a Strident Frigate, then holed right through its Element Zero core by a pencil-thin beam of pure white energy. The enemy vessel exploded in a magnificent burst of fire and jagged metal.

Hackett would have shaken his head in amazement if he wasn't in a life or death situation. The sheer ease with which UNSC ship weaponry carved through Reapers was astonishing, and at the current moment he would give his life if every ship in the Alliance fleet could be outfitted with one of those deadly energy-laser projectors.

Right now though, he could only focus on the cacophony of sounds and yelling throughout the bridge, the massive amount of data streaming through his console, and the very palpable air of adrenaline-laced fear which Hackett could taste in the back of his mouth.

"Admiral, we're being hailed by the Infinity." relayed Captain Jilian.

"Patch it through to my earpiece and take control Captain." said Hackett.

"Aye sir." replied Jilian, pressing a button on her console.

As Hackett pressed his finger to his right ear, he heard Jilian ordering gunnery to combine fire on a Reaper Destroyer with a wolf-pack of Alliance frigates.

"Admiral Hackett? Can you hear me?"

"Yes, I can hear you." replied Hackett.

"Admiral, we can't – Dammit Roland I know Sabre 3-2 is under heavy pressure, divert Sabre 2-5 and 2-4 to assist and send Tiger-4 from Dare's group to reinforce the hole they're going to leave! Admiral Hackett! We can't hold this position!"

As much as it pained Hackett to admit it, Lasky was right. If they stayed here for much longer, they would all die.

After the main Reaper force had arrived through the Charon relay, they had acted immediately. Analyzing the data sent from their initial scout force, the Reapers had determined that the first-strike capability given by range and destructiveness of the weapons of the two unknown super-dreadnoughts they encountered had to be neutralized.

They had done this by splitting their forces into thirds and performing in-system FTL jumps that put two-thirds of their fleet just behind the Alliance's defensive line, and one-third just in front. While one-third of the Reaper fleet went to go wreck havoc on the Earth's surface, the other two-thirds engaged the Alliance/UNSC/Separatist fleet on two opposite fronts.

The Alliance fleet had taken heavy casualties initially, the suddenness and power of the Reaper's assault destroying almost a quarter of their vessels. However, after a period of pure unorganized chaos, Hackett had managed to corral the rest of the Second and Fifth fleets into a rough defensive sphere, centered around the UNSC Infinity and the Sangheili Shadow of Intent with the UNSC Stridentsforward and supporting them.

The two super-dreadnoughts were forces to be reckoned with, and the Reapers knew it. A majority of theSovereign-class Reapers were ignoring Alliance ships altogether, instead leaving them to the smaller Destroyers and focusing all of their attention on the Infinity and the Shadow of Intent.

The two ships weren't going to just sit there and take it however. The Infinity was using every piece of its massive arsenal to their fullest potential as she responded in kind. Every few seconds a heavy MAC round would shear away gargantuan chunks of enemy hull, or an energy projector lance would carve neat lines through critical systems with surgical precision. Archer, Howler, and Rapier missile salvos fired by the dozens left smoky contrails through the blackness of space before slamming into their targets, exploding into violent clouds of orange-red. Secondary Onager mass accelerators and laser batteries pounded away at kinetic barriers and armor, while rapid-fire point defense rail-cannons blasted Reaper fighters into scrap with the kind of accuracy that only an AI could guarantee. The Shadow of Intent was in particular a whirling maelstrom of destruction, spinning and twisting on every which axis, energy lances holing through enemy ships, plasma torpedoes boiling away armor, and pulse lasers swatting out fighters or pockmarking hull.

But it wasn't enough. Reapers were getting through the defense, and crimson-red beams were splashing against the shields of the Infinity and Intent almost constantly, testing their strength and wearing them down through sheer attrition.

By Hackett's count it had only been twenty minutes since the Reapers arrived, but the amount of fire that was being concentrated on the Infinity and the Shadow of Intent was enormous, and the rate at which his own ships were blinking off of the display was far too quick for his liking.

They had to leave. There was no way they could hold Earth against a force this size, hell, not even the entire Alliance fleet could even hope to defeat the Reaper armada. Even with the help of the UNSC and Sangheili super-dreadnoughts, which the VI's had calculated had a combined kill/critically disable count of over sixty, they were only two ships. That meant finding assistance outside Alliance space, to either the Citadel or the independent governments of the Turians, Asari, or Salarians.

But dammit, Hackett was a soldier, not a politician! He had absolutely none of the shrewd political instincts or experience needed to navigate the waters of interstellar diplomacy. Even the UNSC/Sangheili Separatist meeting aboard the Normandy had been more of a "Don't shoot us and we won't shoot you," affair until they figured out what to do next.

Councilor Udina could probably do it someway, but Hackett didn't trust that man as far as a Turian could swim. What he needed was somebody respected throughout the galaxy, someone experienced in forming alliances and friendships, a leader who had a natural talent of getting others to follow them. But he also needed someone who could cut through the political bullshit right to the matter at hand, someone who was experienced in the arts of war and knew exactly what needed to be done.

There was only one man who could do what Hackett needed, what Humanity needed, but right now he was stuck the middle of a Reaper-induced nightmare in London.

"We can't leave Admiral, not yet. Not until I know that Commander Shepard is safe." said Hackett.

"Commander Shepard? From the Normandy? Why the hell is he so important?"

"Admiral, the Reapers will not stop until they've destroyed the entire galaxy. If we're going to have any chance of stopping them, whether it be here at Earth or somewhere else, it's going to take more than the Alliance to do so. Commander Shepard's the only one who will be able to unite the galaxy against the Reapers, it's absolutely imperative that we get him off-world!"

"Goddammit, we didn't ask to be involved in a galactic war! We're getting the hell out of here Admiral, one man isn't worth the lives of over twenty-two thousand of my crew."

"Well you're involved now! We – "

"Admiral!" Captain Jilian yelled, waving at him. "The Reapers are withdrawing!"

"What?!" Hackett stammered, eyes bolting to his display. Sure enough, the Reapers that were able to jump had jumped to FTL just besides Earth's moon, and were proceeding to use it to break line of sight. Those whose FTL drives were damaged tried to disengage using conventional propulsion, and Hackett watched with satisfaction as they were hunted down by energy beams, mass accelerators, plasma torpedoes, javelin torpedoes, and MAC rounds.

"They know we're weak. They're massing for a final push" said Lasky.

"What's the status of the Infinity, Admiral?" Hackett asked. If Infinity and her escorts could hold the line as the fleet withdrew, while the Shadow of Intent covered their rear, it would severely diminish his losses which were already horrendous as it was.

"Our shields are below 40% and regenerating, but they won't be back up to full strength for some time. The Shadow of Intent is in the same boat as we are. To complicate matters my frigate screen is reporting just over 50% expenditure of their ordinance. If the Reapers come with reinforcements we won't be able to hold them off." Lasky relayed.

"Sir, long range sensors are detecting dozens more Reapers arriving from the Relay." said Jilian.

So that confirmed it then, Hackett thought. They were being given a brief respite, but not for long. They wouldn't survive the second attack, if they were going to extract Shepard they had to act now.

"Jilian, try to get a planet-wide communication out, tell our ground forces that orbital evacuation lanes are open for now." he ordered.

As Jilian scurried away to the comms station, Hackett brought up his omni-tool and dialed in Commander Shepard's channel, only to be met by a screen of crackling static.

He looked to Jilian, who said, "We're not getting anything either sir, the groundside Reapers must be interfering with our comms."

"Dammit..." sighed Hackett. "Looks like we have to do this the hard way. Get our Marine company ready to deploy, tell Captain – "

"No."

Hackett stopped midsentence, surprised by the interruption from Lasky.

"A company of Marines won't find him, not in the time window we have." There was a pause, and Hackett could hear a deep sigh from the other end of the comm. "If Shepard is truly as important as you say he is... We need a team who can operate quick, quiet, and with lethal efficiency. And given the situation on the ground, a team who can handle anything that's thrown at them."

"I'll send Blue Team."


London, Earth

March 1st, 2186

"Shepard! Shepard wake up! Come on Commander, we have to move!"

Commander John Shepard groggily opened his eyes and gave a painful groan. His head was throbbing, and his left thigh was tingling violently. As his vision cleared, he instinctively flexed his fingers and his toes. Good, no nerve damage, and nothing feels broken. As the blur finally left his eyes he saw the figure of Admiral Anderson standing above him, head looking over his shoulder away from him. One hand was holding an M-3 Predator pistol, while the other was clutched to a burnt-looking portion of his dress uniform near his ribs.

Shepard's stirring caught Anderson's eye, and he turned his head to him. "Shepard! Are you alright?" he asked, the concern showing through the dust on his face.

"I – Yeah, I'm alright. Still alive. Help me up." he said. Anderson offered him a hand, and he helped pull Shepard up into a sitting position, legs straight out.

The Commander winced in pain, then looked down his body. It was then when Shepard was able to see why his leg was tingling; a sizable laceration on his left thigh was pouring out blood at a steady rate.

Anderson sucked in through his teeth. "That looks bad... Hold on, let me try to find some medi-gel."

As the Admiral left to search for medical supplies, Shepard looked about what remained of the Admiralty Board Room. The place was in ruins, shattered glass lay sprinkled on the floor, intermixed with metal shrapnel and splinters of varying size that had come from the once proud oaken Admiral's Table. He could see three bodies, two laying face-down amidst the debris littering the floor, with another half-buried under a large piece of fallen concrete. They all were wearing the formerly ornate Admiral's dress uniform, now covered with blood and dust. How Shepard and Anderson had survived at all was a wonder to him, as he had seen the ruby-red Reaper's beam scathe its way up the building and through the room firsthand before being hurled across the room by the resulting pressure wave.

Anderson reentered his field of vision, setting down three items on the floor. One was a vial of medi-gel, the other an M-8 Avenger rifle, and the last a thin, hand-sized square object.

"I got them off a dead guard, hold still." said Anderson. He activated his omni-tool and loaded the vial of medi-gel into a special receiver. He ran the tool over Shepard's thigh, dispersing the healing substance onto his wound.

Shepard could feel the soothing coolness of the gel take effect instantly, and he breathed a heavy sigh of relief as the gel hardened, temporarily sealing his wound. He took Anderson's outstretched hand, this time standing all the way to his feet. He shifted his weight testing his leg, and found that other than minor stiffness and a constant, dull soreness, it was operable.

Anderson bent over and picked up the Avenger and the square device, holding them out to Shepard. The Commander took the rifle but pushed the square device back to Anderson.

"You take it," he said, "You don't have any kinetic barriers in your Dress Blues."

"Yeah, but neither do you." Anderson remarked.

"True, but I havethis." said Shepard, holding out his left hand. With a familiar warm tingling sensation a glowing blue-purple ball formed in Shepard's palm before dissipating, the biotic barrier forming over his body and giving his skin the slightest of tints.

Anderson nodded, hooking the kinetic barrier emitter to his belt. A transparent cylinder of crackling blue flashed over the darker man's body as the shield enveloped him.

"Come on, we've got to get to the Normandy." said Anderson. "The comms are out, we'll have to make our way to the docks by foot."

"Lead the way." said Shepard, checking his Avenger to make sure it had a full thermal clip, which it did.

He followed Anderson to the blown out window on the far side of the room, glass crunching under their shoes. They reached the edge, and Anderson pointed to a maintenance walkway about a story below them. Fortunately the wall was slanted, so the two slid down the side of the wall and hit the walkway with a pair of heavy thuds.

Shepard looked out across the Thames River which ran through the heart of London, and the true severity of the situation suddenly dawned on him. Reapers dotted the city, their evil black hulls towering over everything else, slowly crushing their surroundings with their 'legs' as they menacingly walked to and fro. Crimson-red beams crisscrossed the cityscape, reaping destruction wherever they landed, whether it be the side of a building, a squad of Alliance military vehicles, or a group of fleeing civilians. Many of the buildings that had graced the London skyline simply weren't there anymore, all that remained being large, cloudy piles of rubble. Bright yellow anti-aircraft fire streamed up into the sky at the Reapers to no effect, doing nothing except bouncing off their kinetic barriers. Right at that instant another Reaper capital ship crashed into the river Thames, sending huge gouts of water splashing about its five legs. The Reaper let out a bass vibration of noise that seemed to rattle Shepard's bones before striking at some unseen target with its red beam.

"Shepard! This way!" he heard, and upon turning his head to the left he saw Anderson starting to descend down a ladder. He hurried over and followed him down to a lower rooftop, and the pair vaulted over a line of ducts on their way to the next rooftop.

Something caught Shepard's eyes, and he looked down and to his right just in time to see the first of a group of human-like figures crawling their way up the side of the next building's wall.

"Husks! Take them out!" called Anderson, a pair of shots from his pistol sending the lead Husk tumbling back down the wall.

Rather than waste the limited amount of ammunition in his rifle, Shepard summoned a ball of biotic energy in his left hand before hurling it right in the center of the climbing Husks. The ball expanded into a singularity and the gravitational change of the mass effect field caused all of the surrounding Husks to be propelled into the air. As they waved their limbs around helplessly Anderson took another down with a headshot, while Shepard readied another biotic bolt in his hand.

He flung it right into the center of the pulsing singularity, and the two dark matter fields intermixed violently, producing a resounding bass explosion of blue energy which hurled the remaining Husks in all different directions.

Anderson lowered his pistol. "Nicely done Commander."

Shepard just nodded, and the two continued across the rooftops. After crossing a narrow walkway they found a small open plaza a short drop beneath them, with a red-lit door flanked by large windows on the far side.

Shepard made for the door, but a feral growl stopped him in his tracks. From over the lip of the railing that surrounded the plaza another Husk clawed over the side. Crack. The creature collapsed dead just as it made it over the side of the railing, falling to the ground with a thud, a thick, black substance oozing from the gunshot wound in its head.

Turning back to the source of the shot, he saw Anderson with his pistol raised, smoke drifting out of the barrel. Suddenly there was a second scream, followed by another, then another, then another.

"More of them." Anderson growled. "Shepard, that was my last round, I'm out of ammo."

"Here." Shepard said, tossing the Admiral his Avenger before reforming besides his friend.

A pair of Husks hurled themselves over the lip, one caught a biotic cannonball to the chest that sent it rocketing back over the side while the other was peppered by a burst from Anderson's rifle.

"To our right!" called Shepard as he spotted another trio jumping down into the plaza from the same walkway that they had just dropped off of. Anderson took care of one with a double tap to the head, while another other disintegrated into blue ash as a warp field from Shepard took it apart molecule by molecule.

As the last Husk charged blindly towards him, Shepard placed a foot back and braced himself. As the human-turned Reaper got closer Shepard thumbed on his omni-blade, and with a roar let out a savage swipe. The Husk collapsed to the ground as its severed head bounced off the ground and rolled away.

The area was quiet, relatively of course, and neither man heard any more screams.

"Door's locked." revealed Anderson, stepping back and aiming his rifle at one of the windows. He fired a single shot, but the slug did nothing more then embed itself a few millimeters in the glass. "Damn. Bullet-proof."

"Bullet-proof, but not biotic-proof..." Shepard said, readying a warp field in his hand.

Anderson's eyes widened as he saw a Reaper Destroyer orient itself in their direction. Armor plating retracted to reveal a growing storm of red pointed right at them, but Anderson was already moving.

"Shepard! Get down!" he roared, tackling the Commander to the ground as the Reaper fired. The beam traced up the side of the building and as it reached the floor they were on the windows and door exploded outwards in violent blast of pressure. Shepard could feel tiny pieces of shrapnel bouncing off of his barrier as he lay on the ground, wondering how he had managed to survive a second Reaper shot.

Shepard groaned as he picked himself and heard Anderson let out a series of hacking coughs.

"Anderson! Are you okay?" he yelled through the rapidly forming dust cloud.

"I'm alright, just a couple of cuts and bruises..." came the reply. Anderson reappeared at Shepard's side, grabbing his arm and guiding him into the building through one of the windows that the Reaper had just blown out.

"Definitely not Reaper-proof." Shepard mumbled as he looked around. There was a half-open door on the far side of the small room they had entered, and Anderson made right for it.

"Help me with this Shepard." he said.

The Commander made his way over to the door, and managed to shimmy his body into the space between the door, his back braced against one edge, his arms the other. He grunted as he forced the two sides apart, and Anderson ducked through.

"Stay here, I saw some thermal clips in the other room, see what you can salvage. I'll go on ahead really quick and try to plot our next move, then come back." Anderson said.

Shepard nodded and slowly let the door slide back into the position of malfunction that he had found it in before sliding back into the previous room. Looking around the floor, he indeed saw a few thermal clips littered around and quickly started picking them up.

It was then he heard a sound, the unmistakable sound of a thin piece of metal snapping back to its original shape after being pressured. Upon further investigation, it seemed like the sound had come from a previously unseen ventilation duct near the base of the floor, protective grate sheared off. Shepard knelt down and looked inside of it, mouth opening wide as he did so.

There was a girl in the vent, short blonde hair falling disheveled around her dirt covered face, knee-length blue dress torn in several places. A small, ragged looking teddy bear was clutched tightly in her right hand. She couldn't have been more than seven or eight, and she looked scared out of her mind.

Shepard instinctively reached a hand out to her, saying in the most sincere and caring voice he could muster, "It's okay."

The girl just backed further into the vent, grasping her bear closer to her chest, eyes wide and full of sheer terror.

Shepard's heart broke a little at the expression on the girl's face. It was the kind he had seen on dozens of battlefields throughout his life, the look of someone so paralyzed by fear that they physically shut down as a sort of defense mechanism.

He pointed to his burned and cut Dress Blues, hoping the Alliance insignia and his own nameplate could spur the girl to action. "My name's Shepard. I'm with the Alliance, I can help you."

What happened next left Shepard speechless. The girl's expression hardened, and her eyes narrowed almost accusingly at him. "No, you can't. No one can help us now."

"Shepard!"

The Commander blinked a couple of times, his brain registering the call after a seconds delay. His head turned towards where the voice had originated, and he saw Anderson looking at him from the other side of the crack in the door.

Shepard looked back the duct, only to find in astonishment that the girl was nowhere to be found. It had not even been a couple of seconds, and Shepard would have seen any flashed of movement or heard any sounds of activity. It was like she had simply vanished into thin air.

He stood up and rubbed his eyes, letting out an inaudible sigh. Picking up the thermal clips that he had lying at his feet, the Commander jogged back over to Anderson and shimmied through the door. Shepard motioned for Anderson's pistol, and gave him three thermal clips for his Avenger while only keeping one for himself.

"I found a way off the rooftops, from there it's almost a straight shot to the docks." he said.

Shepard simply nodded. "Let's hurry."


London, Earth

With a trio of jarring thuds, three SOEIV drop pod crashed into the middle of a London street. As the pods frontal hatches exploded outwards, three armor-clad figures hopped out and snapped their ACS's to their shoulders.

Honed by intense training, top-of-the-line augmentations, and decades of combat experience across hundreds of battlefields, John's eyes took in his surroundings in less than a second.

He was almost square in the middle of a two-lane street, solid lines of two and three story buildings lining either side. The left buildings were almost completely destroyed, lower stories barely able to support the smoking piles of brick, concrete, and metal that had once been entire floors above them. The opposite side was more intact, the only visible damage being shattered glass on the floor from blown-out windows and the occasional piece of shrapnel embedded into a wall. About eighty meters down the street a group of burning personal vehicles clogging an intersection, and the Chief could see a collapsed building blocking the road just past that.

Bodies dotted the road, and through the audio receptors in his helmet he could hear distant animalistic roars accompanied by screams of terror, the unmistakable crack of gunfire, and thrumming base notes that seemed to shake the very ground.

Spotting no movement, the Chief lowered his rifle, satisfied that the street immediately in front of him was clear of hostiles.

"Flanks secure."

"Six o' clock clear."

The Chief didn't have to look to know that Fred and Kelly had cleared their sections of the landing zone. Both because his motion sensor told him where they were, and he wouldn't have been able to see them anyways, as the Spartans had activated their MJOLNIR's integrated active camouflage system before they had even hit the ground.

The inclusion of active camouflage systems into MJOLNIR Mk. VII and Mk. VIII variants had been one of the most requested additions by the Spartans that utilized them, and had finally been made possible by reverse-engineering captured Promethean cloaking systems and careful integration by Huragok. Where previously the user had to attach a separate cloaking module to their armor that only worked for short intervals, the integrated active camouflage systems in Mk. VII and VIII armor drew power directly from the suit's internal reactor, and thus could operate for a maximum of three hours at a time. This, combined with toggleable photo-reactive armor panels that mimicked with astonishing realism the user's surroundings, meant that the Spartan's could disappear from sight at a whim. The only downside was that the reactor couldn't handle powering their ACS rifles and the active camouflage at the same time for very long, which meant that only a few shots could be fired from cloak before it disabled.

Sadly, active camouflage was currently limited to the more advanced MJOLNIR version, and had not yet been adapted to the Spartan-IV's GEN2 armor systems due to cost limitations. However, the photo-reactive panels had become standard throughout the Spartan Corps, and had even made it down to certain ODST units.

With a blink of the eyes, the Chief assigned a waypoint just inside a destroyed storefront near the edge of the intersection, and the three Spartan's quickly made their way to it.

"Linda, see anything?" he asked.

"Negative, no foot mobiles. I'm seeing dozens of hostile starships throughout the city, but none seem to be maneuvering towards us. Cortana might have picked a good landing zone, but our drop was bound to have attracted attention. We shouldn't stay here much longer." she replied.

Linda had dropped separately from the rest of Blue Team, angling her pod to deposit her on the rooftops overlooking the landing zone. Completely invisibly as well, she was providing over watch with her ACS-H, a heavy version of the Adaptive Combat System with a longer barrel and a larger ammunition manufacturing plant. Linda's ACS-H was able to fire rounds of similar caliber to UNSC's standard sniper rifle, the SRS 99-S5, but at a reduced rate of fire. Her rifle, the only one currently in existence and made specifically for her, also had a secondary fire mode of a DMR caliber two-round burst for closer-range encounters. However, in order to reduce the strain on the ammunition plant in producing the larger rounds, it was locked to those two specific settings.

As John, Kelly, and Fred made it into the store, Chief kneeled down by an overturned desk.

"Cortana? Have anything?" asked John, frowning slightly.

They had been dropped with only a single objective: find Commander Shepard and extract him to safety. The part that John didn't like was that they had been given perilously little Intel on exactly how to do so. They had a very limited time window, and no idea where Shepard was, where he was going, or if he was even still alive.

That's why the Chief was glad that Cortana was with them. If there was anyone who would be able to make sense of this whole situation, it was her.

"Maybe," spoke the AI, "I've been able to use the access codes given to me by Admiral Hackett to access the Alliance defense network, but the Reaper attack has trashed it pretty bad. I've been able to piece together a couple of things that might help us though."

"What have you got?" asked the Chief.

"Well, I've found some reports stating that Commander Shepard and Admiral Anderson were in audience with the Alliance Admiralty Board at Alliance HQ when the Reapers first landed, so at least we have a starting point. But there's a report almost immediately after that saying how Alliance HQ was among one of the first buildings hit."

"So we don't even know if Shepard's alive?" asked Kelly over the open channel.

"No. But if he is, I have a pretty good feeling where he will be going."

Cortana brought up an aerial map of the city in John's HUD, then highlighted in blue a large section of buildings bordering the river that bisected the city. Large red circles dotted the map, no doubt representing the "Reapers" that were currently laying waste to the metropolis.

"This is the Alliance spaceport, where the Normandy would have docked while Shepard and Anderson went to the Admiralty Board. Shepard is going to want to get the Normandy off world, so it only makes sense that's where he would head. Now based on the current position of the Reaper ships, Shepard would most likely follow a path similar to this one."

A glowing yellow path appeared on the map of the city in John's HUD, starting at Alliance HQ and crisscrossing in between a few Reapers before ending at the spaceport.

The Chief surveyed the map closer. He noticed how the red circles representing the Reapers where moving, changing their positions.

"Is this real-time?" he asked.

"Yes. These images are coming directly from the sensor suites of Tiger-3 and Tiger-8." Cortana replied.

The Chief nodded. Lasky had said that two Strident-class Heavy Frigates would be providing sensor Intel and fire support for their mission. Tiger-3 and Tiger-8 were positioned in geosynchronous orbit over London, hopefully outside of the Reaper's atmospheric weapons range. Pelicans from said frigates would also provide extraction when required.

"Alright, we've got a path, that's more than we started with. Let's move Blue Team. Kelly, you're on point, Fred take the rear. Linda, stay on the rooftops and – "

"Chief wait!" Cortana interrupted. "I'm picking up... something..."

Chief's radio popped loudly, then a garbled, yet familiar female synthetic voice came through the comm.

"Cor**na? Is that *ou?"

"EDI?" replied Cortana, sounding a bit surpsised.

"Yes. What a** you doi*g here?"

"I'm with a UNSC special forces team sent by Admiral Hackett and Admiral Lasky to find Commander Shepard if he's alive and get him off world. From what I've been able to infer, he's going to try and make his way to the Normandy. Is he there?" asked Cortana. With a small amount of satisfaction, Cortana modified her Alliance communications algorithms in order to further refine the connection, clearing it up.

"Negative, Shepard is not here. A platoon of Alliance marines and the crew is defending the Normandy from Reaper ground assaults while I disengage the docking locks and power up main systems. Cortana, why would your UNSC send a team to extract an Alliance commander? Especially considering the hostilities in orbit?"

"The main reason is that the Alliance communication network is in shambles, which would make an Alliance retrieval op almost impossible to coordinate. Our comms however, do not appear to be affected by the Reaper jamming signal. That's why we were sent. As for the battle in orbit, the Reaper's have retreated behind the moon, but more Reapers are arriving through this systems Mass Relay. They're gathering strength for their next assault, one which we will not be able to survive. EDI, we don't have much time. Do you have anything that could help us find Shepard? We have almost nothing to go on except an estimated path."

"Maybe. The Commander's earpiece radio has an integrated secondary tracking system. I have been trying to access it, but Reaper jamming signals have made it extremely difficult."

"That's exactly what we need. EDI, is there any way we could access it?" asked Cortana.

"Yes. All you would need is the sending and receiving codes, which I could provide, and a stable signal connection that the tracking program transmits to."

"We have two UNSC frigates providing support for our mission that we could use to piggyback a signal back to us."

"That is acceptable. Sending you the codes now."

"Got them. Searching with Tiger-3s sensor suite... Got him! Moving towards the spaceport, just like I predicted."

"Good work you two." said Chief. "Tiger-3, this is Blue-Actual. Mission update: We have Shepard's location, he's alive and moving towards the spaceport."

A different, male voice sounded over the comm. "Acknowledged. Blue-Actual. Be advised, extraction will not be sent until you are in close physical proximity to the VIP. It's too hot down there to have our Pelicans loitering or making multiple pickups."

"Understood. Blue-1 out." said John, closing the link.

"We'll find him EDI. Try to get the Normandy operational as soon as possible, we might need to utilize her stealth systems if things get to hairy down here." advised Cortana.

"How do you know about the Normandy's stealth capabili – "

"I'm very good at finding things out. Keep monitoring this line, I'll update you when we get to the Commander." said the UNSC AI, closing that link as well.

The Chief looked at the waypoint that Cortana had placed on the map on his HUD. Shepard was just over two kilometers away, and moving at a steady pace. "Time is a factor here Blue Team, let's move. Quick and quiet, keep your active camouflage on. Don't reveal yourselves or engage enemy hostiles unless you're fired upon or I give the word."

Almost instantly the three Spartans moved out of the store and down the streets towards the waypoint, no more than shimmers in the air. Linda followed them up above, leaping from rooftop to rooftop or propelling herself across gaps with short bursts from her jetpack, eagle-eyes watching for danger.

As the ground-level trio of Blue Team fell into a staggered line a few meters apart, moving at a quick jog down the nearly deserted London thoroughfares. There was the occasional body lying about, or a burning vehicle, or a demolished building, but little else. John guessed that this portion of the city wasn't hit as hard as the others, and that the civilians had evacuated to somewhere else. Dust and ash fell at a light rate, and the ground periodically shook as not-so-distant Reapers moved about.

The Spartans were about to turn a corner when John simultaneously saw a ping on the edge of his motion sensor, and a Linda's status light flashed red. John, Kelly, and Fred all halted their movement, quickly finding cover.

"Linda, what do you see?" asked Chief.

"Around the corner, about a hundred and fifty meters up the street. Five figures, definitely not human." she said.

"Show me."

In a corner of John's HUD, a video screen opened and data-linked to the frontal facing cameras in Linda's helmet, showing him exactly what she was seeing.

It was a gruesome scene. The first thing he saw was a grotesque-looking, standing figure. It was roughly the same size as a human, but that was where the similarities ended. It had four eyes and a gaping mouth, all glowing bright blue-white, and dull brown-red skin marked with the occasional blue-white circles just like the ones on the its face. The thing's back was marked with bulbous growths that were so large, they extended above the head and made the lower body look thin by comparison. What most caught John's attention though was the large piece of equipment that had replaced the things right arm. It reminded him of a Hunter's arm cannon, yet on a much smaller scale. It was undoubtably some sort of offensive weapon. Two of those same figures were crouched over the bloody remains of what once a human body, and it looked to John like they were feeding. It seemed the creatures didn't discriminate though, as another of the figures was crouched over the body of one of its own as well.

Aside from the four bulbous creatures, there was one other shambling around mindlessly. It was human-like in size and figure, except it had sickly-looking pale skin laced with black varicose veins. It had the same glowing eyes and mouth that the bulbous creatures had as well, but no arm cannon.

"Those are Reaper ground troops." said Cortana, breaking John out of his observations. "From what I've been able to gather from the Alliance networks, these creatures are the result of drastic physical transformation by Reapers. That human-like figure used to be, well, human, and are designated Husks. The others I've seen designated as Cannibals, and once were an alien race in this galaxy called Batarians. And yes, that is an arm cannon."

Transformed by the Reapers into mindless abominations. It reminded John a lot of –

"The Flood." Cortana said quietly into his ear.

He simply nodded. "Blue Team, around the corner and into firing positions. All figures considered hostile. I will assign targets, and engage on my mark."

The Reaper troops where in their path anyways, and this would be the perfect time to test out the capabilities of their new Adaptive Combat System rifles in a semi-controlled environment. The three Spartans on the ground stealthily moved around the corner and into ideal firing positions. John could see the Promethean vision outline in his HUD of Linda jumping to a new rooftop for a better vantage point.

With a flurry of blinks, John assigned targets. Linda would engage standing Cannibal, and then the roaming Husk. John would fire at one of the human-feasting Cannibals, while Fred would fire at the one right next to it. Kelly was assigned the remaining Cannibal, the one off to the side eating one of its own.

John flashed his green status light, a gesture that was quickly returned by the rest of the team.

"Mark."

Within milliseconds of one another, the four Spartans let loose. With a resounding crack, the hardlight round from her ACS-Heavy tore right through the head of the standing Cannibal with devastating effect, shearing off most of the thing's upper body in an explosion of tissue and viscous-looking black liquid. The Chief deftly flicked his rifle down as it fired its three-round burst, putting two in his targets head and one just below its throat, the hardlight tearing our large chunks of flesh. Fred dispatched his in a similar manner, with one shot to his Cannibal's head and one to its chest. A flurry of five rounds from Kelly pockmarked her target with holes, with two in the skull ensuring its demise. With a final crack from Linda, the head of the lone Husk gruesomely exploded, sending the creature's body thudding to the street.

It was over as quickly as it had began, the five Reaper troops now lying dead in their own pools of synthetic blood. The Spartans hadn't even had to break their cloak, as they had not fired enough shots to warrant the suit diverting power to their rifles.

"Clear." called Kelly.

"These new rifles pack a hell of a punch." remarked Fred. They had all known that from testing of course, but it was another thing entirely to see their effectiveness on a live battlefield.

"Move up." ordered John.

"In .64 kilometers there will be a left turn, and from there it's almost a straight shot to the docks." said Cortana.

"What's Shepard's location?" asked the Chief.

"Still a bit out form the Normandy. If he continues on his current path we should be able to intercept him though."

The Spartans quickly ran the distance towards their next turn. As they rounded the corner John's eyes were drawn to a scene a couple of hundred meters down the street.

It looked like a fierce firefight, yellow and red tracers streaking back and forth across the street. The Chief magnified the zoom on his visor to get a closer look, and saw that from one end of the street Reaper Cannibals and Husks were pouring out from the rubble of a couple destroyed buildings. They would try to make their way across the street, the Cannibals occasionally spraying red projectiles from their arm cannons. However, they were getting cut down before they got to their seeming destination, a battered, concrete two story building on the opposite side of the road.

"I'd guess Alliance forces or civilian resistance." said Cortana.

"Either way, they're in our direct path of progress. Spartans, move up and engage at will!" John ordered.

Almost immediately the deafening whine-crack of Linda's rifle rang out, separating most of the top half of a Cannibal from the rest of its body. John himself noted with satisfaction as he sent a three-round burst downrange into another Cannibal's skull.

Fred and Kelly decloaked and quickly closed the distance, firing rapid bursts from their ACS's in a hope to shift attention of the Reapers from the sieged building and onto them.

"Keep advancing on their flank, get the pressure off. I'm going inside to assess the situation." said the Chief, sprinting under cloak to the beleaguered resistance. As he got closer to a hole in the wall that used to be a door, his helmet's audio receptors picked up frantic shouting.

"...et up to the roof and get those thermal clips to Bessley! Parks? Parks, that's an order!"

"Lieutenant! Parks is dead!"

"Dammit. Jiles, you just volunteered yourself! Go, we need her sniper fire!"

John chose that moment to decloak and enter in through the door, surveying the situation. He counted seven human soldiers in dark blue armor spaced throughout the moderately sized ground floor. Four were positioned at windows or holes in the wall, popping up and down sending bursts from their rifles at the approaching Reapers. There was another man writhing around on the floor, helmetless faced flushed with pain as blood poured from a wound on his midsection. Another helmetless female with a medical cross on her shoulder pauldron was attending to him, calmly trying her best to stem the wound using medical supplies from a nearby rucksack while offering quite words of reassurance. In the center of the room facing the door John had just entered in was another man crouched down over a piece of electronics wearing a beret.

Noticing the movement of the Spartan, the beret man's head snapped up, and his eyes went as wide as dinner plates. In an only natural reaction to seeing an almost eight-foot armored behemoth come bursting through a door he had once thought secure, he bolted upright and drew his sidearm, pointing it right at John's chest.

"Stand down soldier!" boomed the Chiefs voice through the external audio speakers in his helmet. The Chief's shout was so startling that all the other Alliance soldiers stopped what they were doing and gawked in awe at the Spartan.

The explosion of a grenade snapped them out of it. The man with the beret looked back to the other soldiers, pistol still pointed squarely at the Chief.

"Keep firing!" he yelled in a distinct English accent. As the chatter of rifle fire resumed he looked back to John, eyes narrowed. "Who the hell are you?"

"Master Chief Petty Officer Sierra-117, UNSC Special Forces." replied John, keeping his rifle slug against his chest and pointed to the floor. "I'm human and I'm here to help."

"Sir, the Reapers are being driven back, something on the left flank is tearing them to pieces! They're retreating" yelled a soldier at a window.

"That would be the rest of my team." said John.

After a seconds pause, the man lowered his pistol. "I've never seen anything like you, nor have I head of this 'UNSC', but if you're human and fighting the bloody Reapers that's good enough for me right now. Lieutenant Reeves, Alliance Marines."

John hadn't thought of it before, but he just now realized that the UNSC's presence above this world was probably not widespread information. It made sense that the Lieutenant would have never heard of them. That being said, if the Alliance military was anything like the UNSC, a Lieutenant typically commanded a platoon, about fifty men. He only saw seven in front of him.

"Lieutenant? Where's the rest of your platoon?" he asked.

"Dead. One of the big Reaper ships cut a swath right through our center as we were trying to evac civilians, killed every one of us except the ones you see here and the three on the second story, one of which is dead." said Reeves, scowling. "We tried to make it to our company rally point, but a Reaper dropped out the the sky and forced us to divert. Along the road we were ambushed by Reaper ground forces and had to hole up here."

John nodded. "Fred, Kelly, get in here. Linda, what's your view?"

"The ground hostiles have retreated back into the line of buildings across the street. I can't see inside them, and thermal readings are being distorted somehow. It's possible they're gone for good, or are just regrouping for another push." responded the Spartan sniper.

"Keep an eye out. Cortana, what's the status on Commander Shepard?" asked the Chief.

"He's stopped, just as we have."

"And what about in orbit?"

"The Reapers haven't re-engaged the fleet yet. Evacuation transports are streaming in but Lasky and Hackett are getting fidgety. They don't want to stay any longer than they have to."

"Noted." said John. At that moment, Fred and Kelly entered the room as well, their photoreactive panels flickering to mimic their new surroundings. The two deactivated them, revealing the solid green painting of their MJOLNIR.

"Fred, to the second story." ordered John. He got a green light in response as the Spartan bounded up the stairs more lightly than his half-ton armor should have allowed.

"Christ..." muttered Reeves, staring at the intimidating figures of the the three UNSC super-soldiers.

A heavy sigh came from the corner of the room, and when John looked he saw the female medic sitting back on her heels, wiping the blood off her gloves with a rag. She bent over and slowly reached out to close the eyes of the now still man under her, short blonde ponytail falling around her neck as she did so.

"I'm sorry sir, I did all I could..." she said quietly.

Reeves walked over to the medic, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It's alright Janice. You're doing great."

The Alliance Lieutenant turned back to John. "I'm sorry Master Chief, it's not like I don't appreciate the assist, but what are you doing here?"

"Our objective is to find Commander Shepard and get him evac'ed to safety."

"Commander Shepard? Last I heard he was at HQ, but I saw that building get demolished with my own eyes. He's still alive?"

The Chief nodded.

"Well, at least we've got that going for us..." said Reeves, sighing in relief. "How do you plan to find him?"

"We've locked onto the tracker in his radio. We have a real-time position but we need to get into physical proximity in order to get extraction." said Chief.

"Hmmm." began Reeves, putting a hand to his chin. "I'd love to help you, but we've got our own problems. We're only eight, don't have heavy weapons and are running low on ammo. I've been trying to call for evac myself but the bloody radio isn't working for shit."

John thought for a moment, eyes flickering to the map of the city that showed Shepard's position. Still not moving.

"Follow a minute or two behind us. We can't afford to have you slowing us down, but we can make sure the path we take to get to Shepard is clear of Reapers. If you can make it in time, we'll call for an extra evac transport." offered John.

Reeves quickly nodded yes. "I have a feeling that'll be the best chance we get."

"John, I'm detecting movement just inside the buildings across the street. Lots of movement." Linda reported almost serenely. John recognized that tone, it was when Linda entered her zen-like state just before something major was about to erupt. He could almost see her in his mind's eye as she lined up her sights in preparation for what was to come.

"Lieutenant, the Reapers are massing for another attack." said the Chief to Reeves.

Reeves grimaced. "Alright everybody, back to your firing positions!"

Just as the Chief took a position next to Lieutenant Reeves, across the streets the floodgates burst open. A torrent of Husks, dozens of them, clamored out from behind the rubble, baying and roaring as they trampled over one another. As they began to rush across the street, hordes of Cannibals behind them lit up the air with red tracers, their fire so indiscriminate they cut down a few Husks who were unlucky enough to get in the way.

"Open fire!" yelled Reeves.

The Alliance Marines and the Spartan's of Blue Team let loose with everything they had, the yellow tracers of Avengers, Predators, and a Mantis intermixing with the electric-blues of the Spartan's own ACS's. The front row of the Reaper charge crumpled under the withering fire, but was almost instantly replaced by another wave of even greater numbers. For ever Husk or Cannibal they killed, two or three seemed to replace it. Within just a few seconds, John knew that something needed to be done or their position would get overwhelmed.

"Chief! Shepard's on the move again!" cried Cortana.

That did it. Something had to be done now.

"We don't have time for this. Cortana! Get me Tiger-3! Ordered Chief as he fired a burst that sawed a Husk in half.

Chief's comm crackled as the connection was established. "Blue-Actual, this is Tiger-3."

"Tiger-3! We need immediate fire support at these coordinates – Cortana, upload them! Target is a mass of ground troops!"

"Roger, precision cannon strike on the way."

"Everyone get down!" yelled John, "We've got an orbital strike incoming!"

"Jesus Christ, an orbital strike!?" shouted Reeves in disbelief. "Hit the deck!"

As the Alliance Marines thudded down to the floor, John and Kelly simply crouched down. Each Spartan extended their energy shields outwards to cover both Reeves and his troops, as well as overlapping shields and kinetic barriers to increase overall strength. Amazingly, rather than the two completely unknown systems clashing against each other, they merged almost seamlessly.

Within seconds, a volley of Onager rounds from Tiger-3's secondary deck guns slammed into the street and the buildings infested with Reapers. The impact of a salvo meant to destroy heavy fighters and smash starship grade armor was so powerful that the Reaper troops, and most of the street, were simply obliterated. The buildings on the opposite side of the street collapsed to their foundations, and great gouges were torn into the pavement of the road. The pressure wave was strong enough to lift the prone Marines a few inches off the ground as it violently expelled the air from their lungs, and almost caused the building they were in to collapse. Then the sonic booms hit, nearly deafening them as well.

After a few seconds the shaking ceased, revealing an eerie silence fell over the area. John raised his head to look outside and was met by a billowing cloud of reddish-brown dust obscuring the road. He quickly flicked to thermals, then alternated to Promethean vision, noting with satisfaction as nothing came up.

"Fucking hell... a bloody orbital strike fifty meters away..." coughed Reeves. "Marines, is everybody still alive?"

He was answered by a number of variations of 'I'm okay' through curses and coughs.

"Second floor! What about you?"

"Bessely here, we're pretty shaken, but alright!"

"Chief, we have to get going." urged Cortana. John set a waypoint out in the street, and noticed Lieutenant Reeves looking at him

"Thanks for your help Master Chief. I don't think we would have made it out without you." The Lieutenant turned to one of his Marines and motioned at him to get to his feet. Looking back to John, he offered his hand, which John took. "Good luck."

John simply nodded in response. "Let's move Blue Team."


"Anderson!" yelled Shepard, locking a Cannibal down with a stasis field before using a warp to detonate it, exploding the Reaper into bloody shreds along with two around it. "Tell me you have something with that distress beacon!"

"I'm trying Commander! Wait – there! Got it! Normandy, this is Admiral Anderson! Come in Normandy! Dammit, the radio isn't working, but I've managed to activate the built in distress beacon.

"What are the chances that the Normandy will be able to pick it up?" asked Shepard, ducking behind cover as a flurry of shots flew over his head.

Anderson slid into cover besides him, putting a fresh thermal clip into his Avenger, their last.

"I don't know, but it's the only chance we've got." he said.

"Let's hope the beacon does its job then." muttered Shepard.

They two had made their way to this downed gunship after the shockwave from a destroyed Alliance dreadnought collapsed the walkway they were on, forcing them into the harbor. After coming across the gunships crew, they had learned that there might have been a serviceable radio among the wreckage. They had found it, but had only been able to activate its distress beacon component.

"More of them!" shouted Anderson, pointing to a trio of Reaper drop pods crashing down in front of their position, sending fire and smoke everywhere.

Shepard lobbed a singularity into the middle of the stuff, and noted with satisfaction as a Cannibal rose above the obscuring smoke. Crack-crack. A duo of shots from Anderson's Avenger dispatched the creature. The smoke cleared, showing four more Cannibals swirling helplessly in the dark matter field. Almost effortlessly, Shepard threw a biotic cannonball right into its center and the resulting explosion ripped through the Reaper troops.

Anderson just shook his head in amazement. "I always knew biotics were powerful but godda – "

He was cut off midsentence by a bolt from a Cannibal impacting his kinetic barriers, forcing the Admiral back into cover. As soon as he did so another hail of tracers flew over where his head had just been.

Shepard peaked out from his own piece of rubble to see how many more there were, just in time to see a storm of sapphire blue lances knife through the newly-arrived Reaper forces. The Commander's eyes squinted as he caught glimpse of a shimmer in the air, then promptly widened them as a hulking armored human figure materialized right where he was looking.

Some part of his mind sparked, and then he came to the startling realization that he had seen this person before. This was one of the two guards the UNSC had brought along for the meeting aboard the Normandy! But what the hell was the UNSC doing here?

Just as he finished that train of thought, the green-armored man's head snapped right to him, then he started quickly jogging to his position. He was followed by three more armored figures that Shepard hadn't notice decloak, all clad in dark green armor as well, yet a slightly different make than the first ones.

Shepard shot a quick look to Anderson, and he could tell from the Admiral's facial expression that he recognized the new arrivals as well.

The leading soldier approached him, asking in a deep, rough voice projected through helmet speakers, "Commander Shepard?"

Shepard just nodded yes in response.

"I'm Master Chief Petty Officer Sierra-117, UNSC Special Forces, and this is my team." he said, gesturing to the other three Spartans. Fred and Kelly had already taken positions behind cover, while Linda had hopped on top of the gunship wreckage and recloaked.

"Commander, sir, the Reapers in orbit have retreated to build up their strength, giving us a brief window to conduct operations. But they will attack soon and this time, the fleet won't be able to stop them. We've been sent by Admiral Hackett and Admiral Lasky to find and extract you back to Alliance forces in space before the Reapers attack again." Chief continued.

"We've been trying to signal the Normandy to come and do the same thing Master Chief." commented Shepard, pointing to the warbling distress beacon a few meters away.

"We know, we have been in contact with your ships AI. She knows of our mission progress, and knows you are being extracted by us. As soon as we saw you we radioed for our drop ships, which will then take us to one of our frigates in low orbit. From there, we evac the system and rendezvous with the rest of our forces at whatever the chosen rally point is."

"Sounds like a plan Chief." said Shepard.

"Blue-Actual, this is Gamma 1-1 and Gamma 1-2. We've locked on to your coordinates, ETA one mi – holy hell Blue-Actual you've got incoming! Reaper Capital ship!" came a male voice from the Chief's helmet speakers.

Shepard looked up to the sky and saw just what the pilots were talking about. A Sovereign-class Reaper had just burst through the cloud cover and came crashing down into the Thames River not half a kilometer away from them. Huge gouts of water splashed as the legs of the Reaper bent to absorb the force of the impact, and Shepard could actually feel the spray on his face. It had landed sideways to them, so it wasn't an immediate threat, but still much too close for comfort.

"Blue-Actual, Gamma 1-1. That Reaper just turned our extraction area into a no-fly zone. We have to hold off until it's taken care of."

"Roger Gamma 1-1." said Chief. "Tiger-3, we need a fire mission against the Reaper that just arrived in the river ASAP."

"Affirmative Blue-Actual, weapons systems are locked on. Archer missile salvos and MAC rounds on the way."

Fred's head rotated to face the Chief. "MAC rounds? In atmosphere!?"

"Get behind us, we'll protect you from the shockwave." said the Chief to Shepard and Anderson. "You might also want to cover your ears." he added quickly after.

The entourage at the downed gunship all hunkered down, but all couldn't help but notice how the Reaper slowly began to turn to face them.

"Tiger-3, what's the status of that fire support?" asked Chief, flexing the fingers grasping his rifle.

"Receiving heavy jamming from the target. We're correcting."

The front of the Reaper was now directly facing them, and Shepard could have sworn the monstrosities

'eyes' were looking right at them. BWWOOOOOOOMMMM. The Reaper's unsettling bass roar was so loud it shook the entire platform.

"Sooner rather than later Tiger-3!" urged the Chief.

Near the base of the Reapers, a glowing circle of storming, electrical red began to appear, a sight that Shepard knew all too well. The charging of its main weapon.

"Tiger-3! We need that fire support NOW!" barked the Chief.

As if commanded by the Spartan himself, at that instant dozens of missiles curved from out of the sky and slammed into the Reaper. The Archer missiles detonated upon contact with the Reaper's kinetic barrier, forcing the ship off-balance from the force of dozens of explosions. Red lines of lightning sparked across the Reaper's surface as its barriers tried to compensate, and the ground shook as it planted a leg back to keep from toppling.

The ship was granted no quarter however. So fast that Shepard's eyes interpreted it only as a flash yellow lightning, two 600 ton MAC rounds delivered a fatal one-two punch to the Reaper ship. The first round to hit merely ricocheted off into the London cityscape, absolutely obliterating any buildings in its path. Though it did no physical damage to the Reaper, it did do one thing: overwhelmed its kinetic barriers. Now defenseless, the second round speared right through the center of the capital ship with deadly effect, punching all the way through the opposite side and embedding itself in the riverbed of the Thames. A torrential explosion emanated from the impact point as water and dirt flew in all directions. The Reaper shielded the humans from the blast wave with its immense form but it seemed not to notice as it stumbled, wobbled and twitched. With its most critical systems gutted by the MAC round, the Reaper warbled its death throes as it toppled into the Thames.

As the Reaper settled in its watery grave, Anderson muttered what they all were thinking. "That was... a little too close."

"Blue Actual, Gamma 1-1. Your evac lane is clear, and we have a visual on your position."

Shepard began to search the sky, and amidst the anti-aircraft fire, Alliance Kodiaks, Gunships, and the Reaper ships themselves, he spotted a pair of vessels approaching them. From the front they had a bulky appearance, with two short wings extending out near the top of the craft.

"Gamma 1-2, watch the area while I go for the pick-up." said the pilot of Gamma 1-1.

"Gamma 1-1, Tiger-3. Be advised, sensors are picking up a quartet of Reaper fighter-analogues bearing down on your position from your North-Northwest at two hundred and fifty meters."

"Copy Tiger-3. Blue Actual, hold on while we take care of these guys. Gamma 1-2, get your Anvil's ready."

With that, the two Pelicans lifted back up and maneuvered to face the direction the bogeys would come from. From behind a burning skyscraper four Reaper fighter craft appeared and banked as one towards the two UNSC Pelicans. As soon as they cleared the building the Pelican pilots waited for lock, then fired four Anvil missiles each, two for each craft. Three of the fighters ran headlong into the missiles, being reduced to nothing but shrapnel as the Anvil's detonated. Only one of the Reaper fighters attempted evasive maneuvers, darting behind its three companions to avoid its two missiles, emerging from the debris cloud relatively unscathed.

Instead of returning fire however, the remaining Oculus accelerated right towards Gamma 1-2.

"Gamma 1-2! Watch the kamakazi!" shouted Gamma 1-1.

In the cockpit of Gamma 1-2, the pilot calmly switched over to the gun and let loose a burst from the nose-mounted chaingun. He felt the rumble underneath his feet as the gun spooled up and unleashed a torrent of lead at the charging Oculus. He smirked as he saw the rounds impact right on the face of the fighter, but that smirk quickly shifted to a grimace as the craft stayed on course. The pilot banked right at the last minute, causing the Oculus to crash right into his Pelican's left wing, shearing it off.

Those near the downed gunship could only watch as Gamma 1-2 spiraled out of control.

"Mayday, Mayday! Gamma 1-2 is going down!"

With a rumble accompanied by a flash of smoke and fire, Gamme 1-2 crashed about two hundred meters down the riverbank into the remains of a destroyed shipping warehouse.

"Gamma 1-2? Gamma 1-2! Roran, talk to me!" shouted Gamma 1-1.

There was a long few seconds of silence, followed by a couple of hacking coughs. "Ughh... I'm alright Sam. Nothings broken, I think. My visor got smashed, cut up my face pretty good, but that's about it. I don't think my bird's flying again though."

As if to complicate matters further, a familiar voice came over Chiefs comm.

"Chief? Master Chief? This is Lieutenant Reeves, are you there?"

"We're here Reeves, what's your status?" responded John.

"We did what you said and followed your path, but we were forced to the harbor by another goddamn Reaper ambush. No casualties though. We're by a destroyed shipping warehouse, and I just saw some type of gunship crash right into the middle of it."

"We know where you are. That gunship was going to be your extraction." said John.

"Well... Shit. What do we do?" asked Reeves a little nervously.

"Hold on Lieutenant." With practiced experience, John analyzed the situation. The gunship variant of the UNSC Pelican traded passenger seating for a heavier armament. Instead of eighteen, Pelican gunships could only seat ten people, possibly eleven or twelve if crammed in. If both Gamma 1-1 and Gamma 1-2 were still operational, there wouldn't have been a problem. Gamma 1-1 would have enough room for the four members of Blue Team, Shepard, and Anderson, while Gamma 1-2 could extract the eight marines of Reeve's group.

Now that wasn't an option. There was no way that they could fit everyone in one Pelican. The first thought John had was to complete the mission and extract the group at the downed Alliance gunship on Gamma 1-1, then hightail it back to orbit. But that would strand not only Reeve's group, but also the pilot of Gamma 1-2 back on the Reaper-infested ground.

The Chief wasn't one to leave people behind.

"EDI, are you there?" he spoke into his comm.

"Yes, Master Chief." replied the Normandy AI.

"How fast can the Normandy get to our location?"

"Main systems have just powered up. The Normandy can be there within two minutes."

"Good. Get her as soon as you can, the plan has changed. We need the Normandy to extract us."

"We will get there as soon as we can."

Chief closed that link before reopening the one with Gamma 1-2. "Gamma 1-2, you have new orders. I'm sending two of my Spartans to secure Gamma 1-2 and make contact with a stranded group of Alliance Marines in the area. You are to get to their position and extract them back to Tiger-3."

"But what about you?" asked Gamma 1-1.

"The Commander's ship will be here to evac us shortly. Get moving Gamma 1-1."

"Roger, going now."

John gestured to Fred and Linda, who were both already looking at him. "Go, secure Gamma 1-2 and make sure Reeve's team gets out on Gamma 1-1."

"We'll get it done." said Fred, nodding at him. The two Spartans cloaked and bounded away from the gunship and towards the shipping warehouse.

"Tiger-3, Blue-Actual. Mission progress update: I've sent two of my team to retrieve Gamma 1-2, along with some Alliance Marines who followed us. They will extract back to you aboard Gamma 1-1. We will be evacing on the Commander's ship, and will meet you at the rally point." said John into the comm.

"Blue-Actual, Tiger-3. Roger that."

Out of the corner of his eye, John saw another familiar sight. The sleek, bird-like profile of the Normandy coming in fast and low. With a subtle shifting of thrusters, the stealth warship spun around so that its opening hangar bay was facing towards the four at the downed gunship.

"Now isn't that a sight for sore eyes." Anderson said, letting out a sigh.

As the Normandy came closer, the Chief could make out three figures standing on the downward slanted hangar door. One was a blue-armored woman with long black hair, aiming outwards down the sight of a rifle. The second was another blue-armored figure, this time a man, hefting what looked to be a shotgun. The third was a large Hispanic-looking man, his lower half armored but his chest and upper body protected only by a T-shirt, also wielding a rifle.

As soon as the ramp was close enough, the four quickly sprinted to get inside the ship. Shepard was first up the ramp, followed by John, and then Kelly. The three humans who were already on the ramp looked wide-eyed at the Spartans, bewildered. They then looked to Shepard, who dismissed their stares with a wave that said "later."

Looking around, Shepard noticed that Anderson wasn't with them. He looked back down the ramp, and saw that the Admiral was still standing outside.

"Anderson, come on!" urged Shepard, motioning him to join them with his hand.

Very slowly, as if he had just made a large decision, he shook his head no. "I'm... not coming with you Commander."

"What?" asked Shepard, confused.

Anderson pointed out to the ruined cityscape, more animated now. "You've seen what's been happening. How the Reapers have our forces in complete disarray. Someone needs to stay here, gather up the survivors and organize a resistance."

"If you're staying, I'm staying too." stated Shepard firmly, taking a step back down the bay ramp.

"No!" barked Anderson, pointing a finger at Shepard that made the Commander stop in his tracks. "There's no way we're going to win this by ourselves. The entire galaxy is going to have to come together if we're going to defeat the Reapers. Go to the Citadel, get the Council behind us. You're the only person they'll listen too, and the only person Hackett and I trust."

Shepard was about to open his mouth in protest, but Anderson silenced him with a wave.

"Dammit Commander, you know I'm right! Now get the hell out of here!" A Kodiak shuttle hovered overhead and Anderson saw it watched it land. With one last look back at Shepard, the Admiral sprinted back past the downed gunship and towards the shuttle.

"EDI, get us back to the fleet." said Shepard quietly.

With a shudder, the Normandy began to lift off. As the hangar bay door began to close, a flash of red caught Shepard's eyes. He squinted, and to his amazement saw the red-dressed little girl that had been in the vent, running towards a pair of Alliance Kodiak shuttles. A Marine ushered her through one of the shuttle's open doors before banging his fist near the cockpit. As the door began to slide close Shepard could see the girl turn her head to look directly at the rising Normandy. Her eyes locked with Shepard's in that moment, then she suddenly turned to look at something to her left.

The Commander's eyes bolted to the right as a Reaper Destroyer walked into view from behind a collapsing sports stadium. The two Kodiaks quickly sealed their doors shut and lifted off, trying to accelerate away from the Reaper, but its main gun was already charging. In a release of violent ruby red, the Reaper's beam weapon shot out and struck one of the Kodiaks before sweeping through the air and impacting the second one. Both exploded into fiery clouds of debris.

Shepard could only watch as the bay door slowly closed, giving him one last view of the ruined city of London. A destructive beams from a dozen Reapers crisscrossed the landscape, and more were landing every few minutes. Alliance forces were in full retreat or complete disarray, with thousands of people civilians and military trying to flee the city.

The door finally closed, and darkness fell over the Normandy's hangar bay. The final sentence said by the little girl echoed in the deepest parts of Shepard's mind.

No one can help us now.


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