Garrus strode across the expansive, packed mud of Camp Hope - there was no tarmac, it was just several re purposed fields and roads now surrounded by rudimentary walls and watchtowers. It was still vast, however. High up, Kowloon class freighters drifted, moving towards London to provide mobile resupply. Fighters screamed overhead, a constant stream of air support diving into the City sprawl, taking advantage of the now-diminished AA fire. Things were turning over like clockwork. The Generals on the ground had their orders, had their tasks.
And yet his Turian upbringing was screaming at him: abandoning his command in the middle of a key engagement?
But what could he do? Seriously? Nod at command decisions? Sign paperwork to reassure people he'd bothered reading it?
The worst thing a General could do was micromanage: you set out a strategy, planned for as many contingencies as you could, then handed to your commanders and trusted them to actually go and adapt. They were the ones who would have first sight of conflict and terrain; waiting for some brass several miles back with only a sketchy idea of the reality of the ground to make a decision was madness and led to advances stalling.
The big decisions, like what to do when you'd won the engagement, or if it got bogged down across a large area, then that was fine.
But he was damned if he was going to sit in a HQ like a extranet helpdesk operator. And Shepard hadn't exactly been an ideal template for static command.
One of the few remaining Gunships sat, squat, on its refueling pad. Technicians swarmed around, restocking missiles and unhooking cables. A tired looking Salarian saluted at his approach.
"Sir, vehicle fueled and good to go. HE missiles and AP charges fitted as per your instructions."
Garrus returned the salute, "Thank you. Get your men some rack time, they'll need some rest: we're going to be running non stop for the next few days."
The Salarian nodded. For a moment, the man's large eyes flickered, the reptilian alien seeming on the verge of a question. However, he seemed to think better of it. Garrus paused, watching the troops disappear amidst the throng of rumbling vehicles and swarming soldiers; more heading out to the front. Shuttles blasted off in the background as more transports trundled out of the distant gates. Slowly, the base was emptying of the majority of its combat compliment.
London was a warzone again.
With a sigh, Garrus turned and headed up the ramp into the bowels of the gunship. He slumped into the pilot's chair, and flicked the startup sequence, watching as readouts flashed from amber to green. His mandibles twitched as the comm readout flashed. With a glare he flicked the switch to acknowledge the incoming message. A familiar face appeared on his screen.
"General Vakarian. I tried to reach you at the HQ. They said you had an errand to run."
"Yeah, uh, no Turian coffee. Just gotta go get the essentials, you know?"
"Hmm. Abandoning your command. Not very Turian."
Garrus flicked his icy blue eyes on the image then looked away, "Afraid I'm not a very good Turian, Admiral. I understand you won't approve of this. You can take my command. But I've done what I can. They have their orders - and I can't do a damn thing sat in that HQ…"
"Command and control is vital to any strat…"
"Yeah, which is why we have three armies storming a city. Analysts overseeing each one, with a competent quartermaster team and several co-ordinated fire assault groups. Each collection of soldiers able to make decisions on the fly. You don't want a Turian model with this, with every decision going up and down. You want speed. And Shepard wasn't exactly a great model for command and control."
Hackett smiled faintly, "True. But what if there's an urgent decision to be made?"
"Like focusing on a Reaper, Admiral? Well, I have my go to answer: what would Shepard do? Well, he'd march out of that HQ and deal with it himself."
"Delegation is a vital tool in any commander's arsenal."
"So is picking fights your men can't handle but you can. I've done what I can at the strategic level, Admiral," he felt the engines flicker to life. With a few more button presses, he began to lift the tail ramp, to close the vessel up, "And frankly, if everything has to go through one man, well… this offensive will fail. I trust the commanders to continue their tasks - and if it all relies on me, well, what happens if I die anyway? A random heart attack, a sudden bout of friendly fire?"
"Shepard was one man…"
"Yeah. And he inspired by leading from the front. Maybe this'll be the same. Now, are you going to dismiss me?"
"I could lock down that shuttle, General. Prevent you from leaving on your… milk run."
"So why haven't you?"
The admiral actually grinned, "Because it's not safe to go alone."
A large hand thudded onto Garrus' shoulder. He twisted in his chair to see the huge face of Wrex, looming above him.
"Move it Turian."
"You aren't going to stop me Wrex."
The Krogan grunted, a sound of disgust mixed with frustration.
"No, idiot. Move so I can sit down. I'm the better pilot."
"What..?" Garrus glanced back at the Admiral. The man's rare show of humour had vanished.
"General Vakarian, I know what you want to do: You're going to take down that Reaper. You're going to save the day. I just want to make sure we don't lose a second hero. Now, go finish that bastard off. And please. Give my regards to Ms Goto."
Wrex grinned, "Lets light it up."
The horror loomed in front of her, the warped metal twisting open like an obscene flower. Once more, the tortured vision of Elizabeth Deakin was presented, a crucified mannequin. The woman was, somehow, still alive: her body twitching and spasming as electricity sparked from the shredded cabling that wrapped around her limbs and coiled into the bowels of the metal form.
The woman had been jammed against spines that looked horribly familiar, whilst some form of brace was clamped against her skull. Dried blood was caked around the wounds; a black, oily substance oozed from burst piping and seeped along underneath the trapped woman's flesh. One of the spines extended, forcing Lizzie's arm out, wrist first: a crude puppeting of human movement.
KASUMI. YES. helpme YOU WILL BE THE DISCIPLE.
"What… have you done to her?" Kasumi felt barely able to breath; her vision swam as a wave of emotions and images crashed across her mind: contorted bodies, writhing in flame and ecstasy. Knives and needles and metal and blood and love. Endless coldness and peace. Suns going black, consumed from within. A pit, filling with…
"STOP! IT!" The thief flailed and staggered backwards, clutching her head. The reaching arm of Lizzie was pulled back as the spine withdrew.
WE BRING LOVE. YES. FIRE AND CLEANSING. WE ARE THE HERALD. helpme.
Kasumi blinked away the visions and saw figure approaching. head fringes, and reaching arms. Her mind flickered with memories of Garrus: warm arms against the cold of space. A gentle presence against the darkness.
HE WILL JOIN THE UNITY. THERE WILL BE NO DISCORD.
Anger flared in her mind. She pulled the pistol from her side and fired. One of the huskified Turian marauders twitched as its head was flung back, one set of optics completely blown out. The other lurched forwards, but Kasumi wasn't there, vanishing in a flare of static.
NO! WE WILL NOT BE DENIED KASUMI! WE WANT YOU! WE NEED YOU! FLAMES! WE ARE HERALD! BRINGER OFhelpmeUNITY AND ENDTIMES! WE ARE THE BEGINNING! THE GLORY!
In the shadow of a shattered stairwell, Kasumi drew breath.
AND WE SEE YOU.
There was the faintest whine of metal on metal. Kasumi felt the hair rise on the back of her neck and dived further down the stairwell. Behind her the wall disintegrated as a vast metallic tentacle sliced through the building. The structure rocked as another blow connected.
WHY DO YOU RUN? WE ARE YOURhelpmeDESTINY WE ARE THE FUTURE WE ARE THE HERALD WE ARE THE JOY WE ARE THE LIFE WE ARE THE END!
Kasumi vaulted a burnt-out desk and rolled across cracked tiled flooring. The building listed sharply and she stumbled, sliding down a floor that was suddenly at a forty-five degree incline. Around her, ruined furniture and debris slid down. She managed to regain her balance quickly enough to push against the flooring and launch herself sideways. The thief crashed through a window and tumbled a few meters, hitting broken asphalt with a grunt. She rolled and managed to scramble to her feet. She could tell that a few ribs hadn't fared so well and her wrist was a ball of pain.
She half ran, half limped between broken vehicles and slumped corpses. A glance behind her showed the building disintegrating into a cloud of grey dust, as something large and snakelike dragged itself through the wreckage.
JOIN US! BECOME ONE! JOIN THE SONG FEEL THE UNITY DENY THE DISCORD!
Half panting, half crying, Kasumi ran on. To one side she heard the howling cry of Husks. A pack broke from a broken storefront, skittering across the shells of cars and bodies alike. An electronic crackle drew her attention and she threw herself down as gunfire rattled across the street. She could see another squad of Marauders flanking, moving from cover to cover, closing in.
With her good hand she raised her pistol and cracked off a shot, downing a pursuing husk. She triggered her stealth field and managed to slip away as another husk vaulted a car. The field flickered and died as she fired off another round, felling a second lurching corpse-robot. She thudded into cover as another burst of gunfire raked across the street. With a grunt of pain she yanked a grenade from her belt and primed it. She spun it through the gap underneath her cover and pushed herself out of cover, lurching forwards towards the ruined statue of Eros. The marauders emitted what sounded like a horrible electronic laugh. She could feel rifle sights training on her as she moved.
The explosion lifted her off her feet; the explosive charge of the grenade setting off the mass effect reactors in the downed and wrecked cars. She hit the ground hard and tumbled, crying out as she felt her right wrist buckled again. She dragged herself into cover beside the statue and risked a look: the street was clear - nothing left but a burning wreck or two. Husk corpses were scattered about, the explosion having wiped them out.
But through the smoke she could see the bulk of the Reaper, dragging itself forwards.
Kasumi slumped back into cover and checked her pistol. With a groan of pain she ejected the heat sink and slotted one of her few remaining cartridges into place. Gritting her teeth she gripped her wrist and twisted it, stifling the sob that bubbled in her throat. medigel would be no use here: she needed a splint and several days bed rest.
No chance of that anytime soon.
She hefted the pistol in her good hand and laid her head against the top of the weapon, taking solace in the smooth metal. Around her, the city was silent, save for the crunch of metal as the monster hauled itself forwards.
She choked back the lump in her throat: if she was going down, she was going down fighting. No more shadows. No more running.
"Damn you Shepard. Damn you for making me a hero. And I'm so… so sorry Garrus. I wish I'd stayed longer."
Slowly, Kasumi stood and strode out of cover.
Garrus sat in the back of the gunship as it shrieked over the city-scape. The hologram in front of him was playing out the "highlights" of the ground engagement:
Lancelot Battalion had just slammed into the defensive line at what had been termed "The M25". Several Reaper units had remained dug in there, guarding a few remnant AA Batteries; but they hadn't lasted long against twenty thousand infantry swarming through with co-ordinated fire. Galahad to the North had pushed across the Thames already and was making speed towards Romford: the flow of troops, reserves and support had meant the push was going well. In the south, Gawain battalion had almost pushed to Leatherhead. grunt was charging ahead with reckless abandon, but his staff were co-ordinated enough to push reserves in to fortify key locations.
All three armies had managed to relieve entrenched Forward operating Bases and had rapidly established command and communication lines. The creeping artillery barrage was bearing fruit: driving out the Reapers and terrifying the pirate and merc groups holed up in the ruins to surrender.
The forward line of mechs had managed to soak up the majority of the fire as well, meaning that the armies were now mainly engaged in funnelling survivor pockets back to safety and securing key areas.
One image was playing, showing a MAKO squadron pulling up around a fortified structure; troops piled out and a few moments later several Vorcha emerged, hands in the air.
Another image: Rachni husks being flung by co-ordinated biotic commando strikes.
And another: air strikes driving a swarm of husks down a street towards a machine gun line, shredding the cyber-zombies like paper.
Gunships sweeping across the fortresses and blasting gates open; recon teams slipping between buildings and marking target sites for orbital shots. infantry raising the Alliance flag above a reclaimed refugee camp. Crying civilians embracing puzzled Krogan as they were freed from stasis cages in an abandoned Reaper processing plant.
It was going well and ahead of schedule. The Reaper ground troops seemed to have been utterly confused by the emergence of this new monster; the mercs were barely putting up a fight. Now it was just the slow advance, ensuring no one triggered any IEDs or ambushes. The lighting advance had sent a few mercenaries and deserters scuttling further into the city limits.
In the pilot's chair Wrex grunted.
"You ready for this Vakarian?"
"Heh. Just like old times then."
"You think… you think he's still alive down there?"
Wrex was silent for a moment. When he spoke, his voice had lost some of its usual deadpan sarcasm, "I think he's somewhere better. And if he isn't… well, he'll turn it around. Or kick some quads doing so." Garrus chuckled drily. The gunship jolted as Wrex pulled to the flank hard, "Damn. thought you'd cleared the AA. Got the dome ahead. IFF readings… damn Garrus, hope you packed for Thresher."
"We got hard armoured targets on the flank and one hell of a signature in the middle. Damn, don't think we're gonna get in close."
"General Vakarian. This is Descartes of the Geth Consensus. We have your signal. Support inbound."
Garrus blinked and staggered his way to the pilot chair, "What the hell?"
Wrex chuckled, "Think we just got a favour called in. Look."
Streaks of plasma rained down, blasting several structures apart. A few moments later several objects plummeted down, slamming hard into the ground below. garrus reached across the console, eliciting a growl from Wrex. He activated the viewer and clicked his mandibles in amusement.
"Looks like we got some heavy armour support. Never thought I'd be glad to see a Colossus."
Below, husks were scattering as several huge quadraped tanks unfolded themselves. Mass effect fields flared as the small arms fire from marauders pinged harmlessly away. Several more impacts blasted the gathered reapers backwards, as smaller Armatures stood up. The heavy geth units whined as generators charged. Then, with a flash, they began to unleash a hail of super-fueled plasma.
"That is going to leave a mark." Garrus grinned as he watched the hulking machines begin their advance. husks tumbled and sprawled, or were blasted into the air as the machines stomped their way in towards the dome.
Wrex chuckled, "Well, AA's down. We're going in. I'm reading some shuttles forming in behind us."
"Vakarian you mad bastard. I told you I was sorting this."
Garrus flicked the comm. Zaeed's blood streaked face appeared, glaring into the camera,"Shit Masaani, you look like hell."
"Yeah, almost as fucking pretty as you. Your girl got knocked out of the shuttle. We're circling back."
"Negative, get your squad back to med bay."
"Jesus, you mad bastard. It's a Reaper in there."
"Yeah. And you're men are banged up real bad. This one time… don't be the only one to get out of here alive. If I can't kill it, i promise you get second shot, ok?"
"Third." grunted Wrex.
"Yeah, ok, third. If a master sniper and a Krogan overlord can't take it down. Well… then you have my permission to drop everything the fleet can pile onto that thing."
Zaeed glowered and then sagged, "Fine. I'm sorry I couldn't get her. For what its worth Garrus."
The Turian nodded stiffly, "You got her team though?"
"Yeah. banged up, but alive… mostly. They'd lost one before we got there. It's a fucking madhouse, Garrus."
"Ok. Get them to the triage chain."
With a nod, the viewscreen cut. Ahead, the dome loomed, all broken shell and flashing explosions. Smoke billowed out from several gaping holes.
Garrus glared and patted Wrex's shoulder. Far below, the Husks were scattering, as the armoured Geth pushed ahead with surprising speed.
"Take us in. Lets finish this."