This is a sequel to The Darkness Has Been Breached. Thanks to my readers who read/reviewed and encouraged me to write this sequel. As this is a sequel it is recommended you read that story before you read this one. This story will take a different tack; whereas Darkness was told from Liara's point of view, this one will focus on Shepard's perspective. I hope you enjoy this story as you enjoyed the last one. Keep those comments coming !
Batarian Communications Bunker Zeta. Hill 359. Torfan. 2178.
The air was dense, thickly laced with the smell of blood and sweat, the sound littered with countless explosions and endless gunfire. The sun was setting, bathing the area with an eerily beautiful magenta glow. It would be nightfall very soon, the darkness on Torfan was nearly absolute, even night vision goggles struggled. A communications bunker stood on the ridge of a great, round hill, hundreds of meters high. It held a commanding view of the countryside below. The attack had begun at sunrise and had continued throughout the day, unending. Waves after waves of soldiers crashed against the hill. The facility was defended by turrets and a determined battalion of batarian soldiers. A few scattered boulders, depressions caused by artillery and rocket fire were the only cover to be found. On the northern and southern slopes, valiant soldiers of the Alliance Navy were slowly making their way upward. Behind them were countless bodies of the dead. The bodies already host to thousands of carrion flies, covering the bodies in a thin black cloud.
Lieutenant Cassandra Shepard ducked behind a boulder just as a rocket exploded behind her. The concussion slammed her against the boulder, she hit her head and was vaguely aware of a severed human arm that flew overhead. She cursed and looked behind her. She counted a dozen marines behind her. They were still a hundred meters from the entrance. The way between here and there was treacherous, a no man's land. The approach was guarded by a turret and endless small arms fire peppering them. The turrets rendered air support impossible. The bunker was coordinating batarian resistance and keeping the various pockets of resistance in contact with another. It had to be taken down. Once it was down, the remaining batarian strongholds would be isolated and could be wiped out with ease.
Sergeant Nathan Barnes rushed up from below her, narrowly avoiding small arms fire the soldier landed next to her. A long scar cut an elliptical line across his hardened, black face, a tribute to their long years serving together. His dark eyes seemed to glow in combat, he was a born soldier, one who lived for the sounds and chaos of battle. Just like her. They trusted another implicitly.
"What's up L-T?" He asked her.
"Bravo team. Status report." She ordered over the comms. Bravo team was scaling the southern side of the hill.
"We're pinned down. 150 meters from the secondary entrance. One turret's making it impossible for us. It's shielded. We've taken heavy casualties. Request instructions." The male voice wasn't familiar, one of the newer recruits. That could only mean Lt. Mbeki and the senior NCOs were dead.
"How many are you?" She asked.
"20 ma'am. 5 heavies and 15 infantry. What are your orders?"
She looked below her, her own soldiers were pinned down, firing blindly up the hill, the fire was too intense to risk taking aimed shots. A few she recognized but most were replacements. She'd seen a lot of replacements lately. They had a couple engineers, but most were regular soldiers, she was the only biotic left. Two of her soldiers had rocket launchers. The wind was blowing northerly, up the hill. Bringing with it the putrefying stench of the dead and dying.
"What's your name soldier?" She asked over the comms.
"Corporal Atherton Ma'am." He answered back. Despite his youth and the situation his voice betrayed no panic or alarm.
"Anderson, you and your squad use your smoke grenades and flashbangs. Use your heavies to take out that turret. Fire everything you've got. Once the turret's out, run your ass up the hill to that entrance."
"My name's not..."
"I don't give two shits about your name Corporal! I gave you an order. Follow it or when I'm done with you you'll wish you were a fucking Quad-F! Understood?"
She looked to Barnes and nodded to him.
"Ready your flashbangs and smokes! All of them! We're making a run for it!" Shepard ordered. "Boucher and... Carlsson? Get your rocket launchers ready. Fire everything at that turret. Once the grenades go off, run and don't fucking stop until you're at the entrance. Understood?"
"Yes ma'am." A weary voice answered. She knew this would be costly, but it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the final result. They had to capture this outpost, the cost was irrelevant. These men and women knew the risks. Soldiers die. It's part of the job description, something civvies couldn't understand.
"Go!" She ordered. She threw a smoke grenade of her own. Two dozen other grenades flew overhead. It took two seconds before they heard the concussion of the grenades exploding. She waited two more seconds for the smoke to saturate more before she leapt over the boulder. The smoke was thick and miasmic, it was impossible to see more than a dozen meters ahead.
"Let's go!" She yelled. "Fire those rockets."
Carlsson and Boucher stood over their cover and fired their rockets at the turret. The other soldiers followed Shepard and Barnes, running up the hill with all speed. Rockets slammed into the tower. A soldier behind her threw a frag grenade at it. The batarian soldiers, entrenched on the upper balcony of the facility, fired blindly into the fog. Their bullets and grenades missed some of the soldiers, but more than enough found contact with rushing soldiers, ending their singular advance. Shepard ran madly, ignoring everything around her, the trail of bullets that impacted to her left, the grenade that exploded to her right, heading straight for the entrance to the facility, though she couldn't see it. She emerged from the smoke, a pair of thick blast doors only 20 meters away. A couple of batarians behind a kinetic barrier guarding the doors. She charged them, her biotics blazing a trail behind her. She crashed through the barrier, knocking both batarians down. She whipped them, slamming the butt of her Lancer assault rifle repeatedly into their defenceless faces. Their foreheads caved in under her merciless assault, she heard the crack of bone, the squirting of black blood. She sighed with satisfaction, killing batarians never got old. She thought of Aisha, her parents, her friends from Hopeville and everyone else from Mindoir. They could never be fully avenged, but there was no harm in trying.
She looked behind her. Barnes had caught up along with two other soldiers, replacements, both of them. They took shelter by the blast door. The turret was heavily damaged but still operational, but it couldn't rotate a full 360 degrees, so they were safe. They'd have to deactivate it from the inside.
"Did anyone else make it?" Shepard asked them. The replacements shook their heads.
"Don't worry about it. What matters is we made it. Barnes, run a bypass to get us in." Barnes went as ordered.
"Bravo Team! Status report!"
"This is Atherton." The corporal replied over the comms, putting extra emphasis on his name. "Me and four other soldiers made it to the entrance. We're running a bypass. What are your orders?"
"Proceed in, head towards the command centre. We'll meet you there. Expect heavy resistance."
"What if they surrender?"
Shepard frowned. That was a stupid question. Batarians never surrendered. Even if they did... no. They didn't get off that easy. They didn't deserve to.
"No prisoners!" She screamed, losing her cool. She kicked the dead batarian at her feet. Blood shot out of an empty eyelid, squirting onto her combat boots.
"I said no fucking prisoners Anderson! If you keep questioning my orders I'm gonna pay a Vorcha to give you a blowjob, understood?"
"Yes ma'am." The voice was resigned but resentful.
"Alpha Team to base." Shepard radioed to HQ, a few miles away.
"Go ahead Alpha Team."
"Alpha and Bravo Teams have reached the bunker. We're about to head inside. Talk to you on the flip side."
"Confirmed Lieutenant. Happy Hunting."
Barnes finished with the bypass. Shepard pointed to the replacements and ordered them to go on the left. She and Barne took positions on the right.
"Follow my lead. Hug the walls and check those corners. Remember your training. You'll be fine." She said calmly to the replacements. She nodded to Barnes who opened the door. The doors slowly opened, the sound of the grinding metal making it's slow reveal all the more agonizing. The doors opened halfway when a grenade popped through the opening.
"Duck!" She yelled. She and Barnes dove away. Using her biotics she threw it away from harm, down the hill. It exploded in midair, the shrapnel raining heavily upon them, damaging their shields. She looked over to her left. The two privates stood up, a few dents in their armour but none the worse for wear. Before eezo, the explosion would've killed or maimed all of them. Shielding technology made soldiers more durable.
"Suppressing fire!" Shepard ordered, rushing to her feet. She slammed her back against the door post and fired a burst from her rifle. The room was a large hangar for ground assault vehicles. Luckily the hangar was empty, they'd dealt with the vehicles hours earlier. The last of the Makos had come in real handy. A shame none of them had survived the engagement, it would've made the rush uphill a lot easier.
On either side of the hangar were two raised walkways. Six Batarians raining fire down upon them from well-covered positions. There was little to no cover asides from the repair pit, 15 meters in front of them. Rushing in wouldn't get the job done, unless... She looked at the private closest to her.
"Private. Come here!" He rushed over, firing his rifle into the hangar. He barely made it past the gap. Shepard grabbed his Omni-Tool. She fiddled with the settings, then noted his name tag on his left breast.
"Private Bjornstad, I'm boosting the power output of your Omni-Tool. It'll overload in two minutes if you don't readjust but this will boost your shields. I want you to run into the repair pit over there. Just run, once you're there, keep down, fire if you can. That will distract them, while you're running and they're shooting at you we'll take them out. Understood?"
The private nodded meekly, blue weary eyes looking at her. "So, I'm the bait?" His voice was quiet, resigned. Despite that she heard him clearly over the constant gunfire.
"Private you're gonna make it!" She said firmly, but avoided his eyes. She turned to Barnes. He nodded and reached behind himself, replacing his shotgun with a grenade launcher. She looked around them and held up her hand. She counted off with her fingers, 5...4...3...2...1. Bjornstad ran like a bat out of hell.
The Batarians emerged from cover and fired on him. His shields held. Barnes, Shepard and the other private turned around the corner and fired. Barnes' first shot took out two Batarians on his side. Shepard felled one with her assault rifle. They turned to the other side. The private was firing wildly, his shots missing. A batarian dropped a grenade in front of Bjornstad. He didn't see it until it was too late, it exploded underneath his feet. The concussion threw him sideways and dazed him, far from cover, he crawled, scrambling desperately to reach the safety of the repair pit. But he helpless as bullets tore into him, overwhelming his shields and then his armour. Shepard and Barnes fired another burst, killing the last three batarians but for Bjornstad it was too late. They rushed into the room. Shepard and Barnes ignored Bjornstad's body, heading straight ahead for the doorway that led further into the facility.
"Bravo Team. What's your status?" Shepard asked.
"We're inside, heading..." There was a hiss of static.
"They're jamming comms." Barnes said.
"Right, we keep heading towards the command centre." Shepard answered. If this bunker was like the others, the command centre was about 50 meters away, on the third floor and southwesterly. Bravo Team's insertion point was closer to command centre but also to the living quarters, they were probably drawing most of the fire. A useful diversion.
They ascended up the first stairwell. They hadn't met any other resistance thus far. They heard gunfire and explosions afar. Sounded like a hell of a fight. Maybe Anderson... Atherton would make a good soldier after all.
Atop the first stairwell they hit resistance. Shepard ducked down, narrowly missing bullets heading straight for her head. Four more Batarians ahead of them, laying down heavy fire. She tapped Barnes who fired two shots with his grenade launcher. Each explosion reverberated loudly, shaking the ground underneath them, rattling the foundations, a outpouring of debris from the damaged walls and ceilings, wires, shards, ducts, drywall, mingled in with bloodied, dismembered batarian limbs. She looked behind her, the private was still with them, she and Barnes were fine. They walked up the next flight of stairs. They stopped at the top of the stairs.
"You hear that?" Shepard asked Barnes.
Barnes shook his head. "I don't hear anything."
"Either Bravo Team made it, or they're dead." She said coldly.
"Let's hope it's column A." Barnes said quietly.
"The command centre should be around the left corner, 10 meters. Stay frosty." Shepard answered back. Barnes readied his shotgun, the private behind them readied his assault rifle. They walked cautiously up to the T-junction, listening for any sound. They heard none. Shepard nodded to them and they bound around the corner, their weapons drawn. There was nothing. The hallway was empty. They walked up to the door of the command centre. It was locked. She nodded to Barnes who started a bypass. Shepard looked to the private, for the first time noting the replacement's nametag.
"Aquino. Go to the other end of the hall and look around."
He nodded and did as ordered, cautiously scanning his rifle around each corner. He turned back and shook his head. Shepard nodded. She didn't like the feel of this. Barnes' Omni-Tool beeped as he completed the bypass. Shepard waved Aquino over to them. They placed themselves abreast, weapons at the ready. They boosted their shields.
"On my mark." She said with quiet determination. "3...2...1...Mark!" The doors opened. Shepard, Barnes and Aquino rolled in and pointed their rifles to the vaguely defined mass of people in the corner of their eyes. Shepard almost fired but saw Atherton with three other marines, holding ten batarian prisoners. The prisoners were kneeling on the ground, their arms and legs bound. The humans sheathed their weapons and breathed a sigh of relief.
The command centre was a large, rectangular room. The walls were lined with computer terminals and windows, allowing a good view of the surrounding area. The sun was nearly completely set, small, weak individual lines of magenta sunlight fighting against the encroaching darkness of night.
"Report." Shepard said robotically.
"We rushed our way in ma'am. We lost... too many. We got here a minute ago. The batarians surrendered but they've locked us out of the systems. If we'd been 10 seconds later they would've fried all the systems."
"Dammit Corporal. I said no prisoners! If you make a habit of disobeying my orders I'm going to make a habit of making you suffer, understand?"
"Ma'am, with due respect, we can't deactivate the turrets, the jamming signal or get any intel unless we get them to cooperate." Atherton said. His was young, in the first half of his twenties, had a slim, short build, short brown hair and eyes. His voice was surprisingly firm given how unintimidating it was. He had a career ahead of him, maybe.
"Don't you have any decryption techs with you?" Barnes asked.
"No ma'am. Sergeants Li and Taylor didn't survive the assault." Was that bitterness in his voice?
"Alright, let's see if we can get these Quad-Fs to talk." Shepard said. The batarians were lined up side by side, leaning against the far wall. They were all mid-level officers, bound to have the password. She replaced her assault rifle with her Stiletto pistol. She walked over to the first batarian. He looked up at her, his eyes unreadable except for their cold hostility.
"What's the password?" Shepard asked coldly.
"Go fuck yourself." He spat at her.
"Wrong answer." Shepard said and fired a single shot. The batarian died instantly. His brains splattered onto the batarian next to him. She walked over to him and pointed her pistol at his head. He was shaking his body, trying to remove the blood and gore from it.
"What's the password?" Shepard asked the second batarian.
"The password is password 123." He answered, making no effort to hide his sarcasm. Shepard pointed the pistol downward and fired, the bullet tearing through his groin. The batarian screamed, his legs shook, trying to alleviate the inescapable agony. Shepard pressed the pistol against his forehead, pushing it back until it hit the wall.
"You get one more chance. The password?"
The batarian didn't answer, continuing to scream in agony. She gave him a few seconds before pulling the trigger, ending his agony.
"That was for my mother, Gianna Garabaldi Shepard." Shepard said, her face forming a twisted smile.
"Lieutenant!" Atherton shouted. "You gotta stop!"
"Back down, Corporal." Barnes said sternly. "The only reason you're alive is because of Shepard! If you weren't so insubordinate, more of your team would be alive! These Quad-Fs won't give us the password if we gather round a campfire and start singing kumbaya. She knows what she's doing. This is how you get shit done!"
Shepard was ignorant of the exchange. She turned her attention to the third batarian, looking upon him with fiery, hungry eyes. The other batarians down the line were showing signs of nervousness and fear. She could smell it, almost taste it. She jammed the pistol barrel against his forehead.
"You should know the drill by now four-eyes." She said.
"Piss off, human. I ain't gonna tell you shit!" The third batarian said defiantly.
"We'll see about that." Shepard said. She fired the pistol twice, aiming for his kneecaps. Blood erupted from both wounds, staining the ground below him. He screamed loudly, his cries louder than the previous victim. She stepped on his left leg to get his attention. The pressure multiplied his torment.
"Password?" Shepard asked, her voice was coldly bemused, the password only mattered on an abstract level. All she cared about now were these helpless batarians in front of her. They would pay the price for Mindoir, her family, Aisha, just as she'd made every other batarian pay the price. She doubted the debt would ever be satisfied, but that didn't mean she was going to stop trying.
The batarian breathed heavily, as if the heavy breathing would distract him from the agony. She waited a few more seconds before blowing his brains out. She came to the fourth batarian. He was staring at her with unmasked hatred. She noted the fifth batarian was nervous, whimpering. Maybe he'd be more cooperative, but she couldn't skip the queue. That would be improper.
"Lemme guess," Shepard said to the fourth batarian. "You're not gonna cooperate, are you?"
"You got that right, you human cunt!" He shot at her.
"Maybe your friends will. Let's see about that." Shepard pointed her pistol to her left, aiming for the window. She fired a continuous burst, firing until the pistol overheated and could fire no more. Just as she'd done years ago, firing in futility to the sky above as the batarians fled the scene of their most unforgivable crime. As the steaming pistol trembled in her hand she rammed it against the batarian's face. The overheating pistol melted the batarian's flesh, burning his eyes and plunging deeper, frying his optic and nasal nerves. His screams were as bestial as they were quickly silenced. Hideous smoke arose, the smell a putrid odour that resembled burning rubber. The body went limp after a few seconds. Atherton was overcome by nausea and turned away, violently vomiting. Barnes watched the proceedings with detachment, this was how Shepard got things done. He looked at the replacements in the room, he stared at them hard, his eyes drilling into them the message he'd absorbed through his years as Shepard's most, only, trusted NCO. Only Atherton seemed resistant to the message.
Shepard removed the pistol from the batarian's face as it cooled. What was left of the batarians face resembled a mutated wax sculpture, the intense heat had melted some bone, leaving an oddly coloured depression where his eyes and forehead had once been. Fluid from his cranial cavity was seeping down his exposed face, mingling with coagulating blood. The pistol was smeared with boiled flesh like a fresh coat of paint, bits of oozy, sinewy flesh dripping onto the bloodied floor.
"That was for Aisha." Shepard said with relish. She turned to the fifth batarian. He was whimpering and sobbing. She knelt down and wiped the melted gore from the pistol on his chest. He shook his chest with revulsion, as if some abominable insect was crawling over him.
"Please... If I tell you the password, will you let us live?" He pleaded.
"Sure." Shepard said, almost casually. The batarian said the password. Barnes typed it into the console. There was a cheerful beep as systems opened. Barnes deactivated the jamming and turrets and started fishing through the files for intel.
"Holy shit!" Barnes exclaimed.
"What is it?" Shepard asked.
"We have a readout of every remaining batarian position, effective strength, even what kind of food rations they got. With this intel, those Quad-Fs don't stand a chance."
Shepard activated her comm link.
"Alpha team to base. Come in?"
"Go ahead alpha team."
"We've taken the bunker. Deactivating systems as we speak. We got some good intel too."
"Great job Lieutenant! Sending a relief team up now. Standby... Major Kyle wishes to be debriefed in person. ETA fifteen minutes."
"Roger that." She turned away from the surviving batarian prisoners and faced her men.
"Good job everyone." She began. "I know we lost a lot of men, but the only way to succeed is to press hard and be aggressive. Had we dilly-dallied far more people would've been lost. We secured a key objective. I'm authorizing shore leave for everyone. You guys deserve it. Oh yeah, one more thing."
Shepard turned towards the prisoners and raised her pistol. "This is for my father, Douglas Wilfred Shepard." She shot the prisoner who'd given up the password, one bullet to the head. His body slumped, his blood merging with the pools of his comrades. "This is for my grandmother, Natalia-Maria Garabaldi." She shot the next prisoner in line, one headshot. "This is for my grandfather, Allen O'Malley." The next prisoner was felled with another singular bullet to the head. She looked at the remaining prisoners, her eyes pitiless and aroused, saliva dripping from her mouth. The remaining prisoners were shrivelling wrecks, pleading for mercy.
"This is for everyone else on Mindoir." She killed each of the remaining prisoners, clinically, one each shot to the head. When she was done she sighed. A sigh of happiness, contentment, satisfaction. Atherton stared at her, dismay morphing into fury. Outside the last rays of magenta sunlight were extinguished, plunging the land in obsidian-veiled darkness.