It took three days for the group to arrive. They rode among the rescue workers of a small relief convoy. Before that, they flown in to Africa from various parts of the globe.
Among the concrete clearing of a former human “beer garden” stood Yarik, the drell adept. Yarik was a diminutive soldier, standing half a head shorter than the average human. The scales of face were still a yellowish-green, which showed his relative youth. His light armor, originally a gunmetal gray, has been worn by wind, sand and explosions. He had been fidgety and anxious. The arrival of Sol Restoration Network’s “specialists” set part of his mind at ease, though only slightly, as he still paced back and forth and frequently checked the display of his omni-tool.
In the clearing around Yarik were sunshades of varying colors. Under the sun shades were crates, cots and dining tables used as cots. About a dozen seriously wounded humans waited in pain. Another dozen not so seriously wounded humans went about attending them, and kept this makeshift camp running. The plain white building behind them, a former pub, was their communication center. A satellite dish sat on its two-story roof, the only operational one left in the city. Hardy desert plants formed a copse around the site, beyond which laid the ruins of downtown Windhoek, or more precisely, a giant crater hollowed out by the explosion of a reaper’s eezo core.
The sudden stop of the convoy kicked up sandy dust all around them. Several humans coughed. Yarik was unaffected. Drells like him were naturally suited to desert conditions. In fact, seeing sand smother the remains of reaper creatures brought a sense of relief to him. As soon as the reaper’s perimeter shields fizzled, sandstorms swept through the city. In the past month, it was as if the human’s home planet hurriedly smothered its ugliest scars.
“Come on.” Yarik notified the engineer, the only capable combatant left, other than himself. “Let’s get them sorted out.”
On the other side of the murk and sand, was a group of individuals so immediately mismatched, that were circumstances better, the visual alone might summon a chuckle.
Each of them stood relatively near to someone else, and yet with a safe distance. The “rapportless foot”of distance, in fact. This would be one of this particular Sol teams first outings together as a newly formed group, and while all honest pleasantries had been exchanged, and while all focus was on the same goal there was always going to be initial unease.
Most of that, seemed to be carried on the shoulders of the grey-eyed human towards the back. This was all open area and was especially uncomfortable for Solveig, a woman who had made cold, lonely shadows her home for the better part of a decade.
Her smudged eyes glanced sidelong to Katya, and the fingers of her flesh hand twitched in nervous anticipation. The arm of steel was still. “Are you sure?” She asked quietly, attempting to gauge their leader’s feelings on the mission. Perhaps on their team too. It was hard to tell.
Beside her, the other human woman was slightly less uncomfortable. She swept the air in front of her with her arms, clearing the swirls of dust and sand. A relief worker ran by her in process, bumping her shoulder. “I’m sure.” Katya reassured her cousin-in-law. Some in their group had apparently put Katya up on the leadership pedestal; probably because she introduced herself as a former Alliance officer. Truce be told, she wasn’t sure how she would lead them, or if these people could be led in the first place. “This seems to be the place, and that must be our ‘client’.” She pointed to the drell approaching them.
“Is your arm okay with the sand?” Katya asked. She gave Solveig a kind smile, hoping to ease her obvious nervousness. “And hey, don’t worry about these people for now.” Katya referred to the injured resistance members and the newly arrived relief workers checking up on them. The makeshift camp was suddenly cramped and busy with activities. “I’ll do the talking, with our client, that is.”
“Sand,” Solveig began slowly, her eyes watching out across the horizon, “is coarse. Is irritating,” she sighed. “It gets everywhere but… it does no harm,” briefly she made eye contact with Katya again, her expression stoic as she brought the other arm to life, it was fluid and fast as her thought to move the fingers made it move to action. She preferred the cold.
“Spent three days once in a pit in a desert waiting for a slaver to rear his head. Buried in the sand…” Solveig explained. “Trigger still got pulled,” she clarified. “I’ll watch your back,” she added, her tone sitting in the uncertainty of a threat, and a promise of genuine protection. “Be careful.”
“Ah, that’s...good.” Katya nodded. She had a momentary pause hearing Solveig’s story. Solveig told something like this before, but just as it had unsettled Katya before, it was a bit unsettling now. “I appreciate it.”
Before they could converse further, the drell and the human engineer were in front of them. Said drell didn’t exactly strike the most menacing impression with Katya. “Looks like our korgan might step on him by accident.” She whispered to Solveig.
“Took you long enough.” The drell immediately started talking. “What’s the hold up? Said you were en route three days ago, why—” His whining stopped only with a look from his companion.
“Anyway, I’m Yarik, biotic specialist.” The drell introduced himself. Without waiting, he began walking back to the building. “We have the target map inside; my colleague will show you.”
“You avoided the crater on your way here, right?” He added, as if suddenly remembering a small detail.
“We did.” Katya replied. She glanced briefly at Solveig, noting how their client wasn’t keen on pleasantries. “The reapers really did a number on this city.”
“No, the reaper didn’t.” Yarik corrected. “The ‘Butcher of Windhoek’? Is that what you called that thing? It used the city as a processing center.” He confirmed with the engineer. “The crater’s from two weeks ago. Bunch of scrappers picked the wrong bit and blew themselves to bits. Idiots. Eezo radiation’s still around, though.”
“Yuh-huh,” the engineer said with a nod. “That was it… The Butcher… Ach. Oh.. And we did try to warn the scrappers too— I mean, best as we could and all,” she shrugged. “Oh- and I’m Erin by the way, Erin Bean. Most folks just call me Beanie.” The short woman stuck out a hand to shake with the new arrivals. “I’ll be helping as much’s’a’can.”
Solveig raised a brow. This woman… Talked too much, and so she locked her eyes intensely with Yarik’s own. Willing him to take over the conversation again. Katya had said she would do the talking. Couldn’t she interrupt the buzzing engineer?
Locking eyes with Solveig immediately caused Yarik regret. The frills on the side of his head twitched nervously. He decidedly avoided looking at her from then on.
Seeing their introduction was already headed to awkward territory, Katya shook Beanie’s hand. She grinned at this engineer; it’s rare (and not unwelcome) to find someone exuberant here. “I’m Katya Serova,” she introduced herself, “and this is my cou—squadmate, Solveig Wistrom.”
Breaking from her dangerous stare, she took to glancing across the camp instead — at the people there in various states of distress; it made her itch across the back of her neck and she frowned, still half listening to some chirpy exposition chatter from “Beanie”. “Where’s the target?” She asked suddenly — forgetting her own rule of staying quiet, after less than a minute of vowing herself to it.
“About 470 klicks to the northwest.” Yarik answered. He opened the building door with his omni-tool. Inside was a mess of cables leading from generators to computers to screens. Device buzzed and hummed across numerous frequencies. The center of which was a large holo table; its glow cast the entire room (with shutters closed over windows) in blue.
“Show them, Beanie.” Yarik motioned for her to start the holo map.
“Wait,” Katya noticed, while their engineer fiddled with the holograms, “can’t you contact allied command with your transmitters?”
“Oh, believe me, I’ve tried. Our hanar ship left the system without us.” Yarik sniggered. “ Humans, turians, asari, all ignored our request for help. Some of them don’t even know there’s still drells remaining here. Beanie thinks the incident with the scrappers scared everyone away.”
The hologram formed a 3D map of Africa, and Beanie zoomed in to Namibia. It appeared to be a pre-reaper war tourist map, with most settlements’ populations updated to zero. Yarik pointed to their current location.
“We have two shuttles in the back.” Yarik started. “Actually, I’ll show you.” He concentrated on a large window behind him. Static and sparks began forming around him. With a flick of biotic energy, the shutters flung open, revealing two kodiaks in an improvised hangar. One of them was a military model, up-armored, painted in the colors of the Illuminated Primacy and riddled with bullet holes. The other one appeared to be civilian and lacked markings.
“Show off.” Katya muttered.
“So, that’s how we’re going to reach our target within an hour.” Yarik stated. He went to the table, leaning against it with one hand and rubbed the back of his head with the other. A brief groan of pain escaped his mouth.
“Everything alright?” Katya asked, a bit concerned.
“Don’t worry about it.” Yarik dismissed. “Beanie, show them the target.” The 3D map shifted to the coast. “I believe it’s called the Skeleton Coast.”
“Lots of wrecks of old human seafaring vessels there. My friend can tell you the history later, if you like.” Yarik tapped on an interface and several figures appeared on the map. “During the war, it was an outpost of the collectors, those bug-like things. They used the spikes, dragon’s teeth, to ‘convert’ captives.”
Yarik closed his eyes and let out what was the drell equivalent of a sigh. “We linked up during the battle and hit the outpost. Beanie’s people provided a distraction while my team sneaked in the enthrallment device from the back.”
“Enthrallment device?” Katya asked, confused.
“Yes, that’s what the officers called it. It’s an orb, about the size of that krogan’s head.” Yarik went on. “Once we took it out of the container here,” the map showed a pulsing spot inside the wreck of a gargantuan cargo ship, “most collectors dropped dead within minutes.”
“Is that some kind of hanar weapon?” Katya had more questions than before. “Solveig, have you come across anything like that?”
Solveig shook her head slowly, finding herself locked back on to Yarik’s stare.
“The officers never told us what it was.” Yarik admitted. “Beanie thinks it relays some kind of signal. Anyway, the collector captain, known as the Locust, survived. It stopped attacking us and even fought with us when enemy reinforcements arrived. Not that it really mattered when the crucible fired.”
Beanie nodded enthusiastically alongside Yarik. “Having the device… Turned the tide for us, y’know?”
“Indeed, though we put it back in the container when the crucible wiped out the stragglers.” Shifting sands on the topographical projection represented the passage of time. “After the scrapper business was done here, we got reports of the Locust active again. So we took the orb back—”
“You didn’t kill it?” Katya was bewildered.
“No. It’s filled with dangerous biotic energy!” Yarik shot back. “What is that human expression? ‘Don’t want to prod it with a three meter rod?’”
“What I’m getting at is that the orb did strange things when we took it back out. Other drells started hearing hums near it.” Yarik took a step away from the holo table. “None of the humans heard anything, and I’m not sure why I didn’t hear anything. If I had to guess, maybe it’s because I’m biotic? None of the others had my level of talent.”
“Ugh, this guy.” Katya rolled her eyes.
“You know the rest from the job description.” Yarik concluded. He sat down on a crate. “There’s about a dozen drells out there. We turn off the enthrallment device, we may be able to save them.”
“What about the Locust, though?” Katya reminded the drell.
“It should be docile while the orb is active. We can kill it once the device is disabled.”
“That’s not a lot of Intel to work with.” Katya crossed her arms. "And it doesn't sound like you have a plan.”
“The plan depends on when we move out!” Exclaimed Yarik. “We have two shuttles, your squad’s got eight people, so two teams of four. If we attack today, the weather will be clear, then we need one team as a distraction. We can be stealthier at night, though I’m not sure if it matters with the Locust. Or we wait until tomorrow. Sandstorm should be hitting the coast tomorrow, right, Beanie?”
“Yuh, and she’s a big one too!” Beanie answered.
“There you go. I’ll leave you to discuss. I need to check on the relief workers.” With that, Yarik had left the building. Then there were just the three human women.
“Look, I’m not so sure about him now. He doesn’t seem to be lying, but we can’t have him do anything reckless.” When the engineer went about powering the holo table off, Katya pulled Solveig out of her earshot. “We have to keep an eye on him out there, more so than her. What do you think?”
“Agreed,” Solveig answered. “Don’t worry, he won’t be out of my sight.” She sighed again, watching Beanie in the background dithering around the room. “Or her.” After a moment she looked back to Katya. “Best time to leave then? Sandstorm could be good cover but dangerous. Daylight is dangerous. Nighttime is dangerous…”
"I would say daylight; least amount of unknown variables. But that also leaves us the least amount of time to prepare." Katya noted. She wanted to have a few hours of rest, but their location doesn't have much amenities for resting. "Night would be my preference, because that sandstorm is going to interfere with our flight. Either way, you're right, there's no getting around the dangers."
“And the groups, then?” Solveig asked with a curious tilt of her head.
“I’ll head the distraction group, while you go with the infiltration group.” Katya reckoned. They walked to a front-facing window, where Katya flipped open the blinds and counted the rest of their group members outside. “Take two or three other sneaky types with you. The rest of us will keep the enemy occupied.”
The interior was a lot brighter with two windows open. Sharp, artificial blue light from the holo table was gone, replaced by warm golden sunlight. The engineer was finishing her inspection of several electronics. Katya nudged Solveig toward her. “Bubbly, but she knows her stuff.”
“Hmmm…” Solveig groaned, before distancing herself without so much as a “goodbye” to anyone.
Right after Solveig came strolling by the engineer; Katya approached her. “So, Erin, Beanie, our drell friend seems to place a lot of trust on you. What’s your story?”
“Well, umm,” Beanie raised a hand to scratch the back of her neck. “Not from round her ‘riginally, but was here when the Reapers attacked. I was on a work job by chance. Got roped into helping out in bringing the sucker down. After that… Well… I guess I never left — not really a home to go back to now,” she shrugged, biting her lip. “But I like it here enough. People are pretty good to me and respect me enough, since I’m just a young’in and that. Earned myself some stripes y’know? Plus I keep things tickin’ round here.” She placed her hands into the pockets of her overalls. “Maybe I’ll tell ye more later, uhhh, think of an interesting tale to tell you and your crew when we’re all done’n’dusted? Say ya to that?”
With a long whistle, she looked out across the team that Katya had brought with her, and she made one final remark. “I absolutely, positively gotta hear how you got this bunch together too.”
“What is this… thing?” Earth was still a smoldering wreckage of a planet after the Reapers had rolled through. It had been scarcely a month since the Battle of London and the decisive victory over the Reaper threat. Crews worked across the globe in clean-up efforts as well as trying to establish what might as well be permanent residences for the alien coalition that was trapped on the human homeworld and the Sol System in general. For Urdnot Karnoc, the post-war weeks were a strange sense of emptiness; he’d been fighting for as long as he could remember and he’d survived the most important war in galactic history, but now there was nothing to fight and krogan and aliens alike had to figure out what exactly came next.
For many, it was a humbling experience being brought to the same level of listlessness and lack of authority as former rivals and enemies, and there were no shortage of stories of people turning to banditry or trying to stake a claim on this rock. Karnoc wasn’t much interested in staying on Earth, however. Someone would figure out how to make the relays work again and he’d be able to return to Tuchanka as a celebrated hero, undergo his Rite of Honour to sire children, and bring forth the next generation of krogan.
But for now, he was in no hurry. Krogan could live for centuries and he was astonished that Earth was so gentle and not at all dangerous. Lush green fields and trees seemed like mirages until he ran his hands through their foliage. Animals scattered and ran when they saw him instead of trying to feast upon him, and the air was disturbingly pure. No wonder why humans were so small and squishy; they didn’t have to fight to live. It was a mystery of why it was a human named Shepard who seemed to single-handedly restore order and peace to the galaxy, including cure the Genophage and bring the krogan redemption. The savior of Karnoc’s people wouldn’t have been human if Karnoc had to wager a guess, but the galaxy was full of mysteries and wonder… including the strange four-legged, shaggy-furred creature wagging its tail at him and looking at him with dumb, vacant brown eyes and floppy ears that weren’t at all suited for listening for predators.
One of the human engineers stopped welding, lifting his visor from the girder he was perched upon. “What, the dog? It’s a pet.”
The krogan stared at the ‘dog’, who barked excitedly. “What, it doesn’t try to rip out your throat or attack you if you show any signs of submission?” he asked.
The human laughed. “Oh, no. They’re friendly and love to be around people, for the most part. Occasionally you get a bad owner who abuses it and it acts out, but by and large they’re just loving companions that humans have domesticated tens of thousands of years ago.” The dog was sniffing at Karnoc’s armour. “Go away! You’re uglier than a varren. Where is your grit, dog?”
“I think he wants one of the bones on your armour.” The human pointed out, now focused entirely on the scene before him.
“My bones…” Karnoc repeated, looking down at the dog, which was now making a grab for one of the lower hanging trophies. He shooed the thing off with a meaty hand. “I admire your spirit, little warrior, but you need to earn your trophies, you can’t simply take them!”
The dog just wagged its tail and barked excitedly.
The sound of a Kodiac shuttle filled the air before it was seen and it touched down not far from the work site. A man in Systems Alliance uniform stepped out of the gull-wing door and walked over to the workers. “I’m told that Urdnot Karnoc is present and currently assigned to this work group?” he asked. Karnoc studied the man; scarred face, several days’ worth of facial stubble, no-nonsense gaze. Didn’t look like the kind of person who pushed around a datapad for hours and pretended they were a soldier.
“Who’s asking?” Karnoc demanded.
“Lieutenant Janzen, Sol Restoration Network. My superiors are interested in your credentials and record and think you would be an ideal candidate for our crisis reaction teams. Your profile suggests you aren’t the kind of man who appreciates throwing around rubble for hours a day; you’re a fighter. We could use that.” Karnoc tilted his heavy-crested head curiously. “War’s over. This means some of the survivors are fighting over the scraps?”
“Something like that.”
“Let me grab my kit. At least it’ll get me away from this… dog.” The krogan grumbled. He felt something small tap up against him and he turned around to see the dog laying nearby, one of the low-laying bones in his mouth, chewing on it contentedly.
Karnoc strode over and picked the animal up with one hand, which the dog didn’t seem to mind. It chewed defiantly in front of his face. The krogan noticed a collar about his neck and a bone-shaped tag with the word Ranger on it. He starred at the dog.
The dog wagged its tail.
“Hrmm.” Karnoc grunted.
The Kodiac landed in the designated landing zone for the SRN’s encampment and Karnoc eagerly hopped out; he was not a fan of being stuck in a tight metal box with people who were all too happy to indulge in idle banter. The two marines escorting Karnoc and Janzen were talking excitedly about things returning to normal, like some stupid game called football, or standing in a crowd with a bunch of idiots listening to people who decided instruments were how they wanted to be immortalized rather than martial prowess. More than once, he eyed the door latch and considered if he could take the fall. He was a krogan; of course he could. He just didn’t feel much like walking for weeks across grasslands or deserts to get to the same place a few hours of travel could accomplish with these yapping pyjaks. Krogan were resilient, but they had limits. The trip was testing Karnoc’s.
One of the ground crew that was unloading the cargo compartment came around with a hauler. “Here you are, sir. Your equipment. I always wanted to shoot a Striker, but local zoning limits on explosive munitions… is this a dog collar around the grip?” the man asked incredulously.
“It took one of my trophies, so I took one of his. It seemed fair.” Karnoc replied, grabbing the weapon and his crate to walk to the designated registration tent.
“Please don’t tell me you killed it!” The marine shouted back.
“Relax, you whining pyjak; the dog had a warrior’s spirit and I was informed that the collar was a form of indentured servitude. No brave and free soul deserves to live its days in shackles, even if it’s repulsive and obnoxious.” Karnoc replied. “That thing around your neck is called a dog tag for a reason!”
“Son of a bitch.” The marine grunted, turning back to the other crew.
Karnoc arrived to the clerk, who looked at him and his impressive assortment of trophies. “Urdnot Karnoc, I presume?” she asked, a dark-hided woman with short hair and a pleasant accent that he learned was from the region.
“Yup. Heard you needed someone to break stuff.” He replied.
“Head down the main ‘street’, there’s a pre-fab with the name Serova. That’s your new quarters. We understand krogan have more private space requirements than other species, and we did the best to accommodate that, but you will be up with a variety of other specialists from different species. From your profile, it suggests that won’t be an issue.”
The krogan shrugged. “Let me guess, janitor’s closet?”
The woman nodded back. “Janitor’s closet.”
“I’ve slept in worse.” He said, proceeding to find his new home for the next few days. In the distance, he heard something barking. His eyes narrowed, the Ranger tag jingling next to his ear.
Before arriving on Earth, he hadn't really been to one before. His homeworld of Erinle was lush and pleasant. Well, if you ignored all the giant bug creatures and pockets of space pirates avoiding the law. But there was true beauty there. When he left, he had been lucky enough to land on planets that were mostly accommodating to him. He was salarian, after all. Moisture was as essential as breathing. At least it was in his mind. But this place was vast, arid, and dead. His skin felt stretched against his skull. Kaya gazed around at the small forward camp as the group stepped off the shuttle. The skeletal ruins of the city loomed over them, like some grim omen.
Why the humans chose to settle here of all places was well beyond the salarian. A gust of dry wind buffeted them and Kaya felt the sand sting his skin. Like tiny needles. Kaya scowled and pulled his tan hood up over his crest. He had mimicked the human method of camouflaged when making this particular cloak and it worked quite well. Using darker and lighter shades in tandem was something that he hadn't seen often before. He didn't think it would be enough to counteract the blue hue of his skin though. Another brutal gust sliced through the group and once again, sand peppered Kaya's face.
He wouldn't have to worry about his bright skin, at this rate he would be sand colored in no time. Kaya silently followed the group as the drell gave them a brief of the situation. He seemed an irritable sort and Kaya found himself becoming increasingly annoyed with him. He absentmindedly reached into one of the pouches on his armor and pulled out his flask. It was warm, just as Kaya suspected, but it would do. He took a swig from it, the liquor sending a burning sensation into his nostrils. It made Kaya feel a little better.
He stowed the flask and listened closely to the situation at hand, not really paying much attention to his team mates. He figured there would be time enough to talk while they worked. Finally, after Yarik finished his speech and they got some info from an excitable engineer, they had their mission. As Solveig began to stalk off, Kaya moved with her, rushing a little to keep in step.
"I overheard the details. I assume you'll want me on the infiltration team?" he asked in a low voice. He had a deep voice for a salarian which threw some people for a loop. Kaya doubted much of anything surprised Solveig. @Stormflyx
Janiri jerked back with a yelp as the generator for the electro-fence shocked her, cutting her off mid-song. "Stupid..fucking..thing." She grumbled quietly, shaking her hand. At least it had power coming out of it. That was good. Everything else on this farm had been pretty easy to fix. Just some minor frying after the activation of the Crucible and some general tuneups. Nothing major and within a few days she had been able to get the equipment running again so that the locals could start feeding themselves efficiently.
The humans, and the coalition if she was being honest, were fortunate that the Reapers had focused so heavily on the most populated areas, and didn't spread out too much from there. Roads were destroyed and communications were cut, of course, but for the most part every human she had met in the rural areas had only heard of the invasion on the news (before reports stopped coming in) and seen the occasional husk passing by. It was a stroke of luck for the entire system of Sol. Earth would be very important in feeding and housing all of the aliens and the human survivors that were currently trapped by the destruction of the Mass Effect Relays, and it would have been extremely difficult if the Reapers had also focused on destroying all non-sentient life as well.
Almost as difficult as this generator was being.
Janiri scowled at the device, before searching back into her salvage bag for another spare part. "That one didn't work, because why would it? I've only been shocked twice by this damn thing, that is not nearly enough times for it to deem me worthy of the honor of repairing it. Gods, no! I have not nearly suffered enough!"
She was close, she knew it, but the stupid thing was being stubborn. It wasn't a major issue for this particular farm, yet. The herd of cattle that it was supposed to keep in were so used to the fence being activated that they hadn't even tried to escape in the month that it had been down. It was just the last thing she needed to do before she moved onto the next farm, and the fact that it was fighting against her was aggravating. It shouldn't be this hard to fix. It wasn't even complex it was just a stupid, standard, generator.
Janiri pulled out another piece. "This one will work. For sure. It absolutely, one hundred percent, is going to work." She paused, then added a quiet prayer under her breath. "Please, Lucen, let this work. I'm so tired of getting shocked." Janiri turned back to the generator and then let out another yelp as she felt a warm, wet, nose snuffling on the back of her neck. She turned around with a giggle and reached a hand out towards the curious cow that had walked up behind her. It jerked away at the touch of her fingers and took a few startled steps back, watching her carefully. "Well don't come up and smell me while I'm working if you don't want to be touched!" Janiri admonished, returning to the generator. "Come on, play nice, work with me and I'll work with youuuu.." She pleaded in a sing song voice. Her omni-tools shifted into the necessary equipment she needed and she carefully began repairing the damage to the generator, again.
Lucen was evidently smiling upon her. She was able to get the generator running again, without being shocked. The electro-fence came to life with a soft hum, and Janiri stood up, with a small victory hop, grinning over at the cow. "See? Told you I could get it working!" She closed the generator up and looked around for the exit to the farm. She would just leave a note for the family that owned this particular farm. They were a very touchy group of humans, and she didn't want to explain yet again that no, she did not want a hug. Not even a hand shake.
Packing her gear and beginning to walk along the fence towards its gate, Janiri began to cycle through the remaining comm grids. Usually it was updates about the various people in charge in the Sol system, or how system wide recovery efforts were going. Occasionally there would be someone asking for help with either fixing their technology or rebuilding, and that was something she could provide. As a bonus, it kept her from staying in one place for too long. And it kept her from the eyes of the make-shift asari government. A new message caught her attention as she was cycling through.
"This is the Sol Restoration Network, making an open offer to all specialists on this channel. There are many survivors that still need help. Transportation will be provided to jobs around the Sol system." The message began to cycle again. As it did, Janiri looked over her shoulder at the cow that was still following her.
"That sounds like it would be perfect. Don't you think?"
Janiri was beginning to regret signing up with the SRN.
She had expected to be assigned to various agricultural areas to help them organize the feeding of their local populace. Or assigned to communities that were struggling with their vehicles and technology. Instead, she was put in a squad with a great deal of military personnel and then put on a convoy heading through the desert to provide relief to wounded and battered resistance fighters. She wasn't a medic! She was barely able to be considered a soldier! There wasn't exactly much she could do here. Too make matters worse, the convoy was cramped. Even after jamming herself as far into her corner of the vehicle as possible, the human woman sitting next to her still pressed against Janiri, much to the asari's screaming paranoia. Fortunately for Janiri, the woman stopped attempting conversation after the third time the asari didn't meet her eyes and muttered a short reply.
It was with great relief that she stepped out of the convoy, finally reaching their destination. She had never been to the desert before. As the wind pushed dust into her eyes and the sun beat down on her, she began to realize why so many people avoided them. Still, she was here and she had a job to do. Not that she knew where that job was. By the time she thought to start moving, the two human women she had been told were in charge had disappeared with the drell that had been waiting for them.
Looking around, Janiri shrugged. "Well, nothing to do but unload supplies for now. They'll come and get me when they need me. Probably." She spoke quietly, eyeing the various people buzzing around her. Too many people were brushing too close to her, but there wasn't anything she could do about it at the moment but start moving herself. Janiri began helping the supplies be unloaded and set up throughout the camp, bringing medical supplies to those who were treating the wounded and setting up whatever she was told to set up. This at least, she could do. It was really no different than setting up shelters and fences in the rural parts of...wherever she had been after fleeing London. She could put her natural strength to use and no one would ask her to use her biotics. Her cheeks flushed with embarassment as she realized she would eventually have to explain that she had no biotic skill. Gods, she hated doing that.
After a few minutes she noticed that she and the others were being watched through the blinds by one of the leaders. Kate, maybe? Regardless, it was probably a sign that she should stop helping set up and head to the communication center. Get on with the mission and all that. Awkwardly putting down the last crate she had picked up and waving a hand at the relief workers, none of whom paid the slightest attention to her as she left, Janiri headed to the building Katya was in. She dodged out of the way of Solvieg as the woman passed by, cringing backwards with a whispered, "Sorry!" and headed inside. There, she carefully kept her distance and her eyes down. If someone wanted her, they would tell her what to do. Hopefully.
Windhoek was a stark change from the drizzly grey of London. White and puffy clouds dotted a calming light blue sky. The sun shone down from the heavens mildly, setting the temperature at a warm, yet comfortable degree. Sand covered the land like an ocean, washing over the city that had once stood so tall and proud. Despite the obvious devastation, it was somewhat tranquil out there in the middle of nowhere. Which is why it came as a surprise to Kysar that most of the humans still complained.
London had been reduced to rubble and yet, the humans talked about the weather. They complained about the rain, the cold, the wind; everything. Finally, here they were in the climate they longed for but now it was too hot, too sandy, too calm. The Turian couldn’t help but wonder how this civilisation had achieved space flight, let alone led the fight against the greatest enemy the galaxy had ever known. What would they say to the sun on Palaven? It would literally strip the skin from their soft little bodies. Or what if they encountered the horrors that lurked beneath the sands of Tuchanka? Would they still say it’s too hot out?
Sand- whipped up from the Kodiak’s thrusters- lashed Kysar across the face, bringing him out of his daze. Their client had appeared along with another human, taking a long winded approach in explaining what their mission was. The Turians mandibles twitched as his eyes rolled. Invectus had commanded him to stay “one step behind '' Katya and Solveig at all times, feeding back any information regarding their connections to the Alliance. Perhaps espionage wasn’t the General's strong suit as Kysar knew he wouldn’t get far if he was there every time the pair turned around. He had read enough of their files to know they’d easily pick up on such a thing. Besides, Kysar was free, out in the open and away from the stuffy corridors of the Hierarchy’s headquarters. The mission wouldn’t suffer if the Turian stretched his legs. Invectus could shove it.
“Spirits, she’s a big one.” Kysar thought, spotting a heavy set Asari as he brought his rucksack over his shoulder. Maneuvering around her and away from the landing zone, he carried on. “With a physique like that, Hotel Azure won’t be offering her a contract anytime soon.” Hefting a large box of supplies, the Asari pivoted around on her heels, swinging the crate as if it were nothing. “On second thought, maybe she’d get one as a baggage handler.”
Continuing on round the building, Kysar came across the peculiar sight of an oversized Krogan attempting to fit into a closet. “What in the fuck.” He mused, laughing loud enough for the giant turtle to hear. “Is there something in the water here?” Giggling some more to himself he pressed on as a wave of heat began to weigh down upon him. Reappearing from behind a cloud, the sun beat down on his armour, grinding the metal as it expanded ever so slightly. Maybe it was hotter than he initially thought. A sense of weariness fell over the Turian, his head dipping to the side as he slowly began to nod. The Krogan had the right idea, any rest time he could get before the mission started would make for one happy fighter.
Heading inside the pub, the place had been remade into a makeshift ward. Patients were strewn all over the shop, laid down in cots. Nurses, doctors and medics rushed around as former combatants cried out in pain. Kysar paid them no mind, weaving his way through, looking for an open spot to lie down. Everyone was busy, too busy to help a woman as she screamed for help from a medic. Her partner was in a bad way, bleeding profusely from a reopened wound. Avoiding eye contact, the Turian shimmied past the couple, making his way to a vantage point over in the corner as his omni tool pinged.
Dumping his rucksack on the floor, he brought up his arm. The bright orange flashed to life with the name Sarah appearing across the hologram. Grimacing, his brow furrowed. Why did she insist on keeping in contact? Surely there were more pressing matters, no? Kysar’s finger hovered over the acceptance button, his jaw grinding back and forth. Plus he was busy himself on a mission, about to risk his life. That meant something, right? Screaming continued in the background, as the Turian umm’ed and ahh’ed. Finally, with a shake of the head and an annoyed growl, he accepted the communication.
“Hi… um… Kysar.” Her voice was soft, barely audible over the madhouse in front of the Turian. Sarah’s chest barreled as she took a deep breath in. Her mouth opened but only a croak escaped. With a large exhale, her shoulders dropped and she smiled weakly, brushing back a strand of hair that had come loose from her ponytail. The bags under her eyes stood out, even in the vid.
“Mum? Is that Kysar?” A little voice from somewhere off camera questioned, followed by another. “Aw yeah mum I wanna say hi too! Please!”
The Turian watched as a facade dropped over the woman's face, smiling from ear to ear as she turned. “Of course you can, my darlings, come here.” The kids scrambled on screen. Keiran, with his curly chestnut hair, reached out for the camera. Kysar let out a small snort as Sarah told the boy off. “Sorry,” she offered, “I should say that we hope you’re ok and safe.” Squeezing the two as they sat in her lap, the kids gave their cheesiest grin.
“And we hope you come back soon!” Added little Michelle, the freckles on her nose scrunching together as she giggled. Sarah looked away, her mask dropping for just a moment. “Yeah… well… just be safe.”
Kysar felt his mandibles twitch as the vid ended, threatening to release a smile. Somewhere deep inside he could feel it, a yearning from a seed that his mother had placed all those years ago. There was such a long road ahead of them. Hell, they were calling from some shoddy tent inside of a cramped refugee camp just outside of London. There were a million and one other things they should’ve been doing but instead there they were, calling him, wishing he was doing well. Kysar felt his head drift to the side as his eyes glazed over. He could send her a message, telling her he’d be back. His assignment to find and end the smuggling ring was in Europe, maybe if he got through this mission he could…
Shrieking from across the way cut the Turians' thought short. The medic had arrived too late and the womans’ partner was already gone. Kysar watched as she wailed, softly hitting the medic who just stood his ground, before she fell into a heap next to the dead man on the cot. “No, it’s better this way.” He reasoned, flicking his omni tool closed. “She’s better off this way.”
Kysar picked his rucksack up off the floor, making his way over to what was now a few humans taking the body away. The group shuffled past leaving a nurse to clean up the bloody rags left behind. Popping his bag down next to the cot, the woman looked up, offering a sympathetic smile.
“I’m sorry sir, if you want, you can follow your friend. They’ll be giving him a proper burial outside.”
The Turians head jerked back, confusion covering his face. “Huh?” He chuckled. “Oh no, I’m here for the bed.”
The warm smile of the woman switched instantaneously as her eyebrow cocked. “I’m sorry? What do you mean?”
Kysar sat down on the edge of the bed, groaning out a satisfied ‘ahh’. Fluffing up the pillow, he continued. “Well he’s not going to need it anymore is he? Beds being for the living and all that.” The woman shook her head furiously. Her features crunched in disgust as she charged away. Kysar let out a small sinister chuckle before laying down. At least he entertained himself.
The sounds of laughter echoed through the playground, behind it several collapsed buildings laid crashed on the rubble covered streets. The city's once breathtaking horizon had been utterly annihilated by the war. In the park grounds most of the trees had been similarly ravaged, broken and beaten by the Reaper's horrific besieging of the human homeworld. It seemed as if the genocidal wrath of the ancient machines hadn't left a single block of the capitol city untouched. A refugee camp had been set up near the park, where the civilian survivors of the battle could receive aid and shelter. Unfortunately they'd pulled more dead from the rumble of the city than found survivors. As the Asari huntress sat silently upon a wooden bench she watched the children play in the relatively unscathed playground. Keslia was still clad in her armor, though her current state was far from one of the trained warrior. A rare moment of relaxation filled her soul as she watched the three young human girls play, their mother almost as happy as her kids to be experiencing some normalcy.
For the veteran commando such moments were fading. For decades all that she had known was fighting, killing and war, or training for these subjects. Now "The War" had been won and she was left in a strange state. Perhaps Lia had never expected the war to end, for the sounds of the Reapers' cannons to never leave her ears, or the howls of the husks as they terrorized innocents to no longer keep her awake at night. For a soldier like Keslia, she continued to replay the war in her mind even as she tried her damnedest to clear her thoughts and find peace. When she looked upon those survivors rescued from the ruins of London she could only think of the tragedy they'd experienced, forced to dwell upon the sorrow in their eyes as they tried to make sense of it all, surviving when billions had not been so lucky. But in this current moment the Asari felt some mental clarity as she looked upon the joyous children. As they ran around the playground a smile almost cracked through her subdued features.
As a breeze whipped through the barren, beaten trees around the park Keslia leaned forward, her purple tinted eyes shifting back to the eviscerated skyline of the city. She was pulled from the brief moment of elation as her thoughts involuntarily shifted to her own Reaper desecrated homeworld, Thessia. The three young girls playing happily reminded her of her own family, when her own mother would let her, Riena and Vaedra frolic in childhood bliss, unaware and beautifully ignorant of the 'grown up' horrors which lingered in the background. Lia may very well have been the last one still alive, her entire family tree brought to near extinction by the Reapers. The trained warrior began to spiral once more, as she realized just how alone she'd truly become, dealt a bad hand by the cosmic horrors which had finally been vanquished. Streaks of tears began to ripple down from her irises as Lia brought her gloved palms to cover her sudden release of grief. Droplets fell to the ground beneath her boots, slamming into the grass. The huntress pulled herself to her feet, then walked away from the playground scene, one final tear filled gaze all she gave before she departed and the sounds of happiness faded. Namibia
The African continent was a far cry from the shattered cities of Europe, upon Keslia's initial arrival to it the first thing which struck the warrior was the sand covered landscape. She was trained to deal with all manner of environments, an Asari commando's life required that flexibility. Desert worlds were something she'd experienced before, her last operation on one being a strike against some marauding pirates hiding out on the barren landscape. She'd grown accustom to the war stricken skies of London, constantly ablaze with the smoke and fires of the war. As she stepped off of the shuttle she had taken a long moment to gaze at the skies, momentarily losing herself in the peacefulness of it. Even as the similarly wrecked skyline of the African city sat beneath it. Keslia was pulled from her gaze by a sand filled gust of wind which caused her to shut her eyes momentarily. The climate wouldn't have been her choice to do work in but it was not the worst environment she'd been forced to operate in.
She remained silent within the group, her durable bag of personal belongings touted over her shoulder. The armored Asari chose to remain off to the side as she briefly looked over the others. She was not here to make friends, nor did she have any want to do so. The Sol Restoration Network had been practically begging her to join up with them, an Asari commando must've been quite the snag. Truthfully she simply joined out of need to do something, anything to get her mind off its frequent distressed state. Lia held very little care for the humans or their homeworld, but she was for all intents and purposes stranded here. The credits were a fine incentive too, even though she didn't really need them. The mission description they'd all been provided did give her a strange feeling, typically when given an operation by Asari command she'd take every chance to research all of the details. A well informed soldier was often times more deadly than a well armed one. But this type of mission was lacking in such details, beyond what the client had told them.
Keslia decided to sit down on a nearby crate, tucked in the shade. It provided some relief from the warm temperature, her armor not exactly cooling in its design. She folded her hands together than glanced quietly around her, not interacting with any of the other recruited team members. Instead she was approached by another Asari, a younger relief worker who stared at her in a state of surprise. Lia didn't even notice the worker until the girl spoke up to her, clearly trying to figure out what to say.
"Excuse me, are you a huntress? I've never seen one in the flesh." The younger Asari muttered, standing to the left of Keslia as they met eyes. The commando's expression a far cry from the other woman's.
"Not in the mood. Don't you have some people to help?" Lia replied, her tone very dismissive. She didn't even answer the young woman's question, her telltale armor telling the truth of it.
"I do but I just had to say something when I saw you. I'm sure you're very busy," The other Asari said in meek tone, then spoke with some sadness. "My mother was on Thessia, did you hear anything from there?"
Keslia took a moment to ponder the words, she'd constantly thought about her people's once beautiful world, now a war ravaged hellscape much like Earth. She felt the emotions in the girl's words as she spoke of her mother, and it made Lia think of her own, fallen mother. She forced herself to keep up her strong, stern expression then once more glanced at her fellow Asari.
"I haven't. But our people are strong, I'm sure your mother is just fine. It will be alright." Keslia said with a nod, her tone more encouraging then it typically was. Often tinged with sadness or disregard, it sort of seemed as if Lia was reinforcing her own grief filled thoughts on her homeworld's state.
"Thank you, I can only hope so too." The other Asari said, as a relief dotted smile broke through her features. Though Keslia did not return the look, simply giving another firm nod as the other woman went back to her relief work. Lia's gaze turned towards the ground as she forced herself to remain composed and strong, as she had been trained to be.
The night was more than ten degrees cooler than the day. Under a starless night sky, two Kodiak shuttles zoomed across the arid landscapes of Namibia. They flew no more than twenty meters above ground; just enough to clear tress and rocks, and strictly below the scanning height of long-distance radars. Their sounds contrasted each other; soft swooshes of the first shuttle, the sleek resistance vehicle carrying three sneakier SRN members, was followed by the rattling of the second, which struggled with the weight of titanium armor plates and five heavily armed SRN combatants.
"Five minutes to target." Yarik announced from the cockpit of the first shuttle. Beanie acknowledged from the cockpit of the second.
They were close enough to the coast that the cool, salty sea breeze could be smelled through mechanical oil fumes of shuttle engines. Earlier tonight, before they embarked, the group had gone over their plan with everyone. Before that, they had time to rest through the afternoon. Thanks to the cover of darkness, the infiltration team should be able to reach the enthrallment device undetected. The distraction team would have to engage the enthralled drells regardless, in order to destroy a generator that powered the shielded perimeter fence. The alternative, which was breaching a section of the fence, was deemed too dangerous given the presence of traps.
Five minutes went by as more ship wreckages appeared below. The pristine sand beaches gradually became darkened with unnatural metal debris and charring from recent explosions. Finally, the spikes appeared. Dozens of stumps that were once dragon's teeth; with partially converted husks still impaled on several remnants. Beyond it all was the drell's camp. An improvised perimeter fence surrounded multiple smaller wrecked ships. Several sources of light interspersed among barricades and scaffolding. The center of it all was the giant cargo ship, over 300 meters long and fifteen stories high at its bridge.
"Splitting off to the north." Yarik reported. "We'll move in once you've made your approach."
While the infiltration team's shuttle hovered quietly beyond the northern edge of the camp, the distraction team's shuttle flew right over the southern end. The entire camp came alive upon their entrance. Searchlights pointed at the shuttle, movements scrambled across the scaffolding and the generator began powering up. But before any of the defenders could reach it, a disruptor missile (cobbled together by Beanie herself) shot out from the shuttle. it's explosion torn up the generator, and the perimeter fence died.
"Put us down, now, before they hit us with rockets." Katya ordered. The shuttle landed behind the wreckages of two tugs. Sure enough, a rocket flew over as it touched down, missing the shuttle within meters.
"Move out! Davai!" Katya led the distraction team. As soon as she landed outside of the shuttle, sand filled her boots. Alongside the clanking of armor and shuffling of feet were sounds winds and waves. Not so far from them (50 meters at their closest), about ten armed figures moved to interconnected dunes and other shipwrecks.
"Beanie, stay with the shuttle. Be ready in case we need to evac." Katya told the engineer. Whether she followed or not was up to her.
The first shot fired was not from anyone nearby. In fact, it was a high-powered sniper round from further inside the camp. It landed just in front of Katya; the ground impact kicked up so much sand that it blanketed her.
"Solveig, Yarik," Katya commed in between spitting out sand, "the fence's knocked out and we got their attention. You're clear to proceed!"
That single shot became a cacophony when Katya reached cover behind a rusted rudder. It was apparent the drells were indeed intent to kill. Thankfully, other members of distraction were able to find cover as bullets whizzed around them. When Katya peaked out again, she saw one drell soldier running from a dune to a fishing trawler. Katya fired a burst from her rifle, but it missed. The drell was much faster than the average Alliance soldier. Scanning with her visor showed another drell at the same trawler, and behind them was a scaffolding holding a lot of dried sand. If they could-
The sniper shot again. This time, the bullet punched through the rudder and took out most of Katya's shield. Katya was knocked on her back by the sheer force. Getting back to her hands and knees, Katya wasted no time crawling to more solid parts of the shipwreck.
"Someone take out that scaffolding!" Katya shouted to closest members of her team. A high impact attack would be needed. "Drop the sand on them!"
Yarik had landed his shuttle 200 meters north of the camp. His team was just at the perimeter when Katya gave the signal, and the fence powered down in front of them. Along with the fence, several light sources also went out. Though even in near-darkness, silhouettes could be seen rushing to the south. Yarik raised his submachine gun, but the all enemies ran by without noticing his team.
Then came the sniper shot. It was not directed at them, however, the source was closer to them. Yarik signaled for his team to stop. He knelt and closed his eyes, recalling his eidetic drell memory. A second shot rang out as his eyes opened.
"Amonkira's spear, you're always making life hard for me, sarge." Yarik groaned.
"Sniper's on the bridge." Yarik pointed to the top of the cargo ship. "One of you take out that sniper, or our friends will be picked off."
"The rest of you, get in that cargo ship and locate the device. Clear out traps on the way." Yarik informed them. "I'm going to find the Locust." With that, he biotically leaped over a barricade and slinked off into the camp.
Janiri was really beginning to regret her choice to join the SRN.
What was she doing here? Their shuttle shook almost as much as she did. Nervous energy and no small amount of fear kept her right leg going up and down while her fingers tapped against Kuri. The assault drone was shut down and in it's portable mode across her lap. She was grateful perhaps for the first time for her Eclipse armor. Even if the helmet was tight against her head and pressed her crest uncomfortable down, it hopefully hid the fact that she was terrified from the group of highly trained professionals around here. Not that it was hard to see her curling in on herself and Kuri, trying to put as much distance between her and the others in the small shuttle as she could, and lessen the risk of them touching her. But maybe they would assume she just didn't like to be touched and not notice that her heart was about to burst out of her chest.
What was she doing here? The thought kept repeating as she smelled the sea and heard their pilot give them a five minute warning. She was barely a soldier. She hadn't even had anything to prepare with or for after the meeting and explanation of the plan and her role in it. No gear that needed cleaning, no strategy to go over with Katya or her distraction teammates, nothing. She had just set her gear down where she had been told and went back to helping set up the camp. Eight hours of moving supplies, helping dispose of corpses, and building shelters before she settled down for three hours to get some sleep. It was tiring work, but it was something she had understood completely. Not like what she was doing now.
What was she doing here? None of the people around her looked like they were going through the same nervousness and fear. Just quiet readiness. She wished she could feel that same calm.
As she felt the rocket be launched from their shuttle, and Katya ordered them down, Janiri began to pray. "Kurinith, goddess of the hunt and warrior of the night, bless us on this day. Make our shields strong, our aim true, and our victory swift. Kurinth, goddess of the hunt and warrior of the night, offer us protection as we go into battle." Her words were quiet, rapid, and more than a little desperate. She felt the shuttle's landing vibrate through her entire body. She took two deep breaths, trying and failing to steady herself. She had done this before, hundreds of times. Against Reapers no less! She knew how this would go, and she was ready. She was ready. Even in her own mind, the words rang hollow. Visions of the landing apart of the Hammer task group and all her other landings in shuttles against the Reapears ran rapidly through her mind, a blurred cacophony of violence.
For half a moment relief washed over her as they all poured out of the shuttle she was able to get a distance away from the rest of the team. Her screaming fear of accidentally touching one of them quieting down. It was immediately replaced by the screaming fear of being shot as she heard the sniper rifle crack. She scrambled for cover behind one of the many shipwrecks, setting Kuri down in front of her. "Okay, time to get going, we're back in a fight." Bullets sparked against her rusted cover, causing her to instinctively flinch. "Fuck fuck fuck."
It was with great relief that she finally got Kuri online. The Assault Drone floated lightly in the air in front of her, waiting for a command. "Okay, ten hostiles. Shoot to surpress, do not kill. They're under some sort of mind control, so it's not really they're fault." Janiri peeked around her cover to see if she could get eyes on. She only saw flickers of rapid movement. The drell were fast. She jerked back with a yelp as a sniper rifle round missed her by inches. "Not that they seem to care that we're not trying to kill them. Stay low. Peekaboo tactics."
Janiri tapped into her omni-tool the correct commands and Kuri beeped affirmative, weaving in and out of the shipwrecks as it fired upon the drell. That would have to be good enough. Janiri crouched behind her cover, hand hovering over the button to activate her tech armor. "Turn it on, I'd be more protected but a giant glowing orange beacon for whoever wants to shoot at me. But if they're shooting at me they're not shooting at the far more experienced people of the group and those people can take them out. Aaaah fuck it." She slapped the button and was immediately surrounded by the bright orange armor. "Kurinth give me strength."
With that she pulled her Avenger and fired off a burst of shots at the movement of the drell. They missed, of course, but it kept their heads down. She hoped. Hard to see what they were doing aside from movements in the middle of the night. As she kept moving from cover to cover, trying to keep the attention of the sniper on her and to get a better angle on the drell, Janiri finally saw what she was looking for. A drell began to glow with biotic power, likely planning a warp or singularity on the teammates with weakened shields. "No you don't!" Janiri stepped out of her cover and launched the damping protocol from her omni-tool with a vibrant white flash. The biotic glow was immediately snuffed out as white beam crackled like lightning across the battlefield and exploded next to it. With a vindictiveness born of jealousy, Janiri grinned. That would teach the bastard for using biotics that she couldn't.
Her grin fell away as her eyes caught another biotic glow, this time direted at her. As the charge built and unleashed, Janiri froze. What little training she had melted away as her eyes widened in panic. She was going to get hit, she needed to move, why wasn't she moving! Her thoughts were cut off as the charge hit her flush in the chest and she flew backwards through a rusted ship with an Oof! Her tech armor shattered from the impact and she laid there for a second, the wind knocked out of her. What was she doing here? The crunch of footsteps on sand brought her out of her stunned state and she scrambled to her feet as a shotgun blast knocked her shields down low. Her avenger gone, Janiri grabbed her stun net and swung it like a staff at the drell. The net whistled through empty air as the drell moved fluidly out of the way. They were somehow even faster up close rather than at a distance. "Help, help, help!" Janiri spoke in ragged breaths, swinging the staff again as fast as she could. She was desperately attempting to keep him from being able to aim his shotgun, though how long before his biotics recharged and ended her chances was anyones guess.
Karnoc was beginning to hate shuttles. It felt like he had been stuffed in one a few days prior and now he was crammed with an assortment of other SRN warriors. The asari across from him seemed like she was about to piss herself in fear; even if her face was concealed, her rigid body language reminded the krogan of prey animals freezing up so a predator wouldn't take notice of her. The fun part of the entire situation was that gunfire didn't particularly care how scared or brave you were in the accursed flying death trap; screaming flying metal coffins tended to attract a lot of attention and sometimes bullets found their way inside to greet the occupants.
In a sense, Karnoc could understand why one might be afraid in this situation, helpless with zero agency in how to protect oneself, putting your life in the hands of a pilot who may or may not be drinking. Who could know in that sealed cockpit? The passenger compartment could violently decompress in space and the pilots would be totally fine and comfortable, and other than a blinking warning light and maybe annoying buzzer letting them know that something was catastrophically wrong, but it's not like pilots gave a shit; they didn't stay and fight. They probably didn't know how to shoot a gun. Talking to a pilot in a bar was pretty much the same song and dance; none of them had a plan if a krogan headbutted them.
They were boring and insufferable.
Karnoc felt a predatory satisfaction when the shuttle touched down and the gull doors flung open. Gunfire cracked the air and impacts kicked up dirt and mud around them. His adrenaline rush flowed through his veins, pumping some kind of chemical cocktail through his armour to augment his innate krogan battle lust that the squishy races called a "blood rage" as their bowels probably erupted violently at the thought of the untamed and brutal krogan breaking every bone in their bodies, even if they were allies. He charged into the fray to clear the landing zone, stray shots being absorbed harmlessly into his shields. A lesser krogan would be confident in their armour and shields and their own physical superiority to protect them from death; those krogan were largely all dead. A saying Karnoc had heard was that a poor craftsman blamed his tools for fucking up a project; personally, Karnoc preferred to think that his tools were going to betray him at any given time and burn the entire house down. Perhaps the genophage had made him cynical, he reflected as a high-impact shot smashed into his chest rig. The HUD in his visor told him his shield strength was at 64%. Probably that damned sniper.
He took cover behind the husk of a dead seafaring vessel, shots following him like an overeager drummer rapping into the metal bulkhead beside him. Katya, the human commander of the team called out, "Someone take out that scaffolding! Drop the sand on them!"
Her accent was funny.
His capacitors had largely recharged his shields, so the krogan peered out and saw the scaffolding where the gunmen were using their elevation to rain fire down on the landing team. Karnoc looked down at his Striker, the dog tag jingling almost playfully from the grip. He didn't quite believe in fate, but sometimes the universe liked to line things up just so nicely.
"On it!" he confirmed, stepping out from cover and shouldering the weapon. Taking aim at the scaffolding, his visor showing the weapon's crosshair placement, Karnoc squeezed the trigger and felt the hearty thumps of recoil into his shoulder as he professionally held the weapon steady, a slow firing stream of explosive rounds finding the support beams of the scaffolding and exploding in micro-filament blasts, the metal struts tearing apart from the sudden destructive force. The drell standing on the scaffolding either held on or tried to leap onto something solid as the structure began to crumble around them. The defenders beneath were smothered in entirely too much sand to be considered a mere annoyance; Karnoc wouldn't be surprised if there were crushed lizards under the sand.
The asari fighter Karnoc took notice of earlier had brought a combat drone into the fight and she was barking instructions that seemed woefully out of touch with reality.
"Okay, ten hostiles. Shoot to surpress, do not kill. They're under some sort of mind control, so it's not really they're fault." Janiri called out, taking cover. "Not that they seem to care that we're not trying to kill them. Stay low. Peekaboo tactics."
"Did you miss the dragon's teeth that are littered about like street lights?" Karnoc challenged. "If these idiots stumbled across Reaper tech, they're already lost! Don't hesitate; kill them."
To emphasize he fired another burst from his Striker at some entrenched defenders, sand and metal kicking up around them. He heard a scream.
"I HOPE YOUR PERFECT MEMORY REMINDS YOU OF THAT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, IDIOT!" he bellowed out towards the drell.
Just then, Janiri received a biotic blast that knocked her on her ass. She flailed to defend herself from a drell charging towards her with a shotgun to finish her off. Karnoc's teeth grit as he felt his blood rage fill him. Remembering to activate his fortification, his armour shimmered with bright hexagonal energy lattice and he bellowed as he stormed across the open ground. The drell pivoted and shot at him twice with the shotgun, his shields flickering from the impact that took him down to 18% capacity before he grabbed the drell by his chest armour and drove him into a steel beam a few meters away. Something cracked from the brutal impact; not bothering to see if the drell was incapacitated, the krogan's omnitool activated and the microfabricator produced the ballistic blades that launched with blistering speed into the drell's chest, piercing through his armour and internal organs.
Letting the drell go, Karnoc stomped over to the asari, the drell still stood upright, only dropping like a sack when the ballistic blades disintegrated in a shrapnel burst. He grabbed Janiri by the arm and pulled her up to her feet.
"Do not hesitate, asari; kill!" he growled. He shoved the shotgun she dropped back into her chest. "You did not survive the damned Reapers to die like a fool to some weak-willed toads! Your people are known for their commandos; prove it!" he said, flinching from a sudden salvo of gunfire to his back. He used his body to shield Janiri before turning to return fire.
"You're going to wish you were back on your dead homeworld, drell!" Karnoc bellowed out, returning fire and advancing.
There was a certain dreadful familiarity to a storm of gunfire. Like that tickling at the back of your throat, letting you know you'll be ill the next day. It was a sickly feeling. Kaya washed it down with the burn of his whiskey. The infiltration shuttle violently buckled as a stray round of ordnance went off dangerously close. He glanced at his team mates, Kysar, the tattooed turian and Solveig, their stoic leader. Oh, and Yarik. Though it was too dark to see his face, Kaya was sure the drell was scowling up a storm in the corner. The salarian capped his flask and slid it into a pocket in his armor. The orchestra of violence outside was getting louder. They must have been close to landing. Then their shuttle door opened and they were greeted with a lightshow against the night sky.
Kaya flipped the safety off his sniper and followed Yarik's lead, keeping an eye on the firefight below them. He saw the distraction team engaging the enemy and then the distinct shape of a krogan charging into the fray. Kaya couldn't help but smirk. Something about the krogan's willingness to meet danger head on in an almost suicidal manner was charming. In some morbid way, Kaya supposed. Yarik signaled them to stop and Kaya tensed as a group of drell rushed down to the fight, barely missing them. Then he heard the distinctive crack of a sniper shot. Kaya knew the model, it was a Lightning Strike, most likely batarian design.
"Sniper's on the bridge." Yarik pointed to the top of the cargo ship. "One of you take out that sniper, or our friends will be picked off."
Kaya scurried behind a suitable sized bolder and rested on it, scanning the bridge with his scope. It only took a few seconds to find the gunman. He supposed the enthrallment device did a number to their intelligence, as the sniper was simply propped up on some crates with his barrel sticking out the window. Any respectable sniper would have made sure he was dug in and good.
"I've got him." Kaya called back and he lined up his shot. He slowed his breathing. "May we both find peace." the salarian whispered to himself and he squeezed the trigger. The drell collapsed backward, his blood coating the bridge windows. It was too dark to see the color. Kaya realized he had never killed a drell before. He didn't know the color of their blood.
He glanced over and saw Yarik disappearing down into the chaos. Kaya moved back over to Kysar and Solveig. "I can provide overwatch for the distraction team here or I can breach the ship with you two. Whichever you want to do."
By the time Yarik returned to the infiltration team, they were already set to destroy the enthrallment device. Kaya took out the sniper clean, and while Solveig led Kysar through the minefield, an enthralled drell engineer attempted to ambush them. Thankfully, Solveig and Kysar reacted swiftly and returned fire with deadly precision. Now, they were in the hollow belly of the wrecked cargo ship. Wind whistled through numerous holes punctured on the ship hull. Omni-tool glow lit the foreboding, cavernous interior with orange, where one container among dozens held the smooth black orb.
"The Locust is in a shack near the beach; it appears to be sleeping." Yarik announced. He brought up a snapshot from his omni-tool. "Go on, get rid of this thing, I'll keep watch."
The seemingly fragile orb did not shatter upon Kysar's first attempt. Instead, a strange hum emanated from it. Visions of somewhere distant blurred the minds of Kysar, Solveig and Yarik. In a split second, the three of them saw incomprehensible things rising from an abyss. The visions were gone as soon as they blinked again, and perhaps disturbed by what he saw, Kysar made sure the orb was thoroughly destroyed on his second try.
Static rippled across the shattered pieces of the device. Its core was a strange lattice unlike any electronic device in the known galaxy. "It's offline," Yarik begun scanning the remains—
"Out!" He bolted out of the container. "Turian, barrier!"
Yarik and Kysar threw up their biotic barriers just in time for a sudden energy pulse. There was little physical impact, but both biotics felt their barriers consumed by the sudden wave. It felt like millions of tiny needles prickling against their skins; a bit similar to how some perceived the Crucible blast. Dark energy! The enigmatic power every biotic wielded and learned to protect themselves against. Regular kinetic shielding afforded no protection against such, and speaking of...
Solveig had collapsed outside. Her shield and armor were perfectly undamaged, but her nose was bleeding. She was conscious when Yarik checked up on her, but she was heavily disoriented. At the same time, Kaya checked in over their comms. He had also felt the pulse, but was less affected than Solveig.
"Beanie, Serova, check in! We've destroyed the device!" Yarik radioed in the other team. "There was some kind of dark energy wave. Did you feel it?"
"I'm fine." Beanie reported, bubbly as always.
"They all just dropped!" Katya observed with surprise in her voice. "Whatever you did, it worked."
"Alright, hold your position for now." Yarik decided. "We'll rendezvous in a few minutes."
"The effect must taper off sharply with range. Sucks to be you here, human." Concluded Yarik, upon scanning the destroyed orb again. It was 100% down now. Pulling out a specially insulated container, Yarik used telekinesis to load several fragments inside. However, further study was cut short by a cacophony of buzzing.
"Oh no..." Yarik sounded scared for the first time. His dark gray eyes widened to big round bulbs as they locked with four yellow insect-like ones, behind the biggest hole in the cargo ship roof.
"We need to go! Now!" He practically dragged Kysar and Solveig out of the ship. When they had a chance to look their shoulder, the insect-like shape was gone. That didn't stop Yarik from hopping across the minefield as quickly as he could.
"Beanie, prepare for dust-off. Katya, get your team to the shuttle!" Yarik yelled into his comms.
"We're restraining the hostiles. What's going on?" Katya asked.
"The Locust's awake." Yarik explained, while tip-toeing between markers Solveig had left earlier. "By Arashu, it's right there!" Somehow, it dashed or floated over the minefield without setting off any mine.
A chitinous shape disappeared as soon as Yarik pointed at it. It dipped in and out of sight another time, just as Kaya met up with them. The Locust left a wisp of green energy where it dashed off. Yarik held his fire, instead opting to remotely start the shuttle engines to speed up departure. A minute later, the Locust showed up right in front of the infiltration team, between them and their shuttle.
The carapace-covered collector captain stood over two meters tall. A blinding green biotic field covered its body, and countless of micro seeker drones swarmed around it. In its hands was weapon shaped like a long claw, pointed toward the shuttle engines. Its yellow bug eyes engrossed on the engines' ignition.
"Shoot it!" Yarik ordered his team. It was already too late. A particle beam from the collector's weapon ripped through the unarmored engines. Eezo and helium-3 fuel reacted violently, blowing the entire shuttle sky high. Bullets from Yarik's SMG splattered off the Locust's barrier. Meanwhile, Solveig's sniper fire missed wildly. Still dizzy from the pulse, Solveig couldn't hit the broad side of the Citadel. Kysar and Kaya's attacks had negligible effects on target. The Locust's barrier was powerful enough to rival the strongest asari matriarch.
"Fall back." Yarik changed his mind. The Locust turned its weapon to the drell, who barely leaped out of the way when the particle beam turned the sand behind him to darkened glass. He began sprinting south, to where the other team inserted. "This way!"
"Distraction team, come it." Yarik radioed in between dogged breaths.
"We're getting ready for takeoff." Katya replied.
"No, no, wait!"
"Chert, make up your mind already!" Came Katya's annoyance.
"Get back in defensive positions; our shuttle's down and we're coming to you."
"What the hell!?" Katya cursed. "Solveig? Talk to me."
"She's with us, just a bit dazed." Yarik blurted out. "The Locust is in pursuit. You'll see it all soon enough!"
Several minutes before Yarik checked in, the distraction team was locked in an intense firefight with the enthralled drells. After one failed charge stopped by Karnoc, the remaining enemies held their positions. Still, they were fast and tricky to land shots on, though they're not particularly accurate themselves. However, a rocket launcher did not need much accuracy to do damage. As Janiri had spotted, they pointed the heavy weapon toward the krogan, the biggest presence on the field. Katya wasted no time directing the next teammate by her side, the vanguard, Sigma, to solve this problem.
Sigma's last words before charging off were something along the lines of "get down, Mr. Krogan!" Unfortunately for the vanguard, those were his last words, period. His charge trajectory intersected the rocket's. The ensuing result was a spectacular explosion mixed in blue biotic sparks and red mist. Of course, there wasn't much time to lament over Sigma's demise after (not that he's worth lamenting over anyway). One seconds the drells where fighting, the next they all crumbled like sacks of rock. All Katya noticed was a faint HUD warning for an anomalous energy pulse.
What followed were some confused back and forth running. The distraction team barely had time to restrain any of the unconscious drells. When sounds of fighting finally calmed (and they were ready to leave), the explosion of Yarik's shuttle was quick to break the repose. After that, came trouble itself. Yarik darted past shipwrecks and barriacdes like a crazed iguana running for his life. Behind him were Kysar, Kaya and Solveig, the latter two stumbling in their steps. The collector was less than 100 meters behind them.
"Kill it!" Yarik screamed. Ammunition filled the air, forcing the Locust to hide behind a dune.
One of the formerly enthralled drells stirred, perhaps woken by the sudden gunfire. Standing up groggily, this drell found themselves between the SRN and the Locust. All the drell heard was the maddening buzz of seeker swarms. Emerging from dune, the miniature drones chewed through drell's armor and flesh, before injecting lethal amount of toxin into the bloodstream. If the spine-chilling cries were any indicator, then it was a very painful death.
Having seen an informative demonstration, the SRN members were wise to protect themselves against the swarms with whatever means available. Yarik dived behind a metal shipwreck and fortified his barrier. The same shipwreck would have been Katya's choice as well, were it not for Solveig, who had stumbled and tripped near a wooden ship. With the swarms seconds away, Katya pushed Solveig behind the ship and covered her cousin with her own body. In anticipation, Katya boosted her shield over its normal capacity.
Then the seekers were upon them. Wooden planks were shredded; seekers crashed into Katya's shield. They went as swiftly as they came. Though Katya's shield had been drained, she and Solveig were unharmed, and they found themselves amid dozens of expired seekers. Other SRN members all survived without serious injuries. So when the Locust emerged from the dune, poised to mop up stragglers, it was met by a surprising counterattack.
Janiri moved quickly to restrain the drells after they collapsed, lest Karnoc decide that it was better to kill these ones too. The drell she was fighting could have been saved, had the krogan shown restraint. That was their mission. Save the drell, deal with whatever was mind controlling them. The krogan had decided to ignore that and simply act as if they were already turned into husks, or whatever the drell equivalent of Reaper forces would be. Not that it mattered anymore.
The drell was dead and the mission was done. It was time to move on, same as last time she had fought. Janiri finished securing one drell and looked around. There wasn't anything for her to do now. The others were taking care of the surviving drell and there wasn't any equipment that they could safely retrieve. As brutal as Karnoc had been, he was right about one thing; don't mess with reaper technology.
She paused as she saw the explosion mark that was the remains of their former comrade. She hadn’t known him but he had fought beside them and sacrificed himself for an ally. That was enough. Janiri clasped her hands in front of her, murmuring quietly to herself. “Piares, She-Who-Guides, take the fallen under your wings and usher them quickly into the afterlife. Ensure they do not get lost and trapped in our world. Grant them the rest they have earned.”
That finished, Janiri sent Kuri up into the sky to watch for anything that might have been drawn by the gunfire. Be it desperate scavengers, carnivorous local wildlife, or anything else that would need to be dealt with. She moved back towards the shuttle when Yarik’s panicked voice came through the comms. A shot of adrenaline mixed with no small amount of fear hit Janiri. Of course the Locust was awake. It was the one thing they didn’t want happening. Nothing could ever go right.
She began moving as quickly as she could towards the shuttle, tapping commands into her omni-tool to bring Kuri back down. They needed to leave. She didn’t know what the Locust could do, but it was powerful enough that it needed to be mind controlled and put to sleep to be safely handled and that was enough for her to be eager to leave it behind.
She was just about to enter the shuttle when a distant explosion caught her attention. Janiri hung her head dejectedly. “Fuck.” She didn’t even need to hear Yarik’s voice over the comms to know what was coming next. Kuri was launched back into the air, this time with orders to kill, and she scrambled to a defensive position behind a rusted hull. She whispered a prayer to herself, attempting to control the shaking in her hands. “Kurinth, goddess of the hunt and warrior of the night, bless us this day…”
As the Locust appeared behind the infiltration team, Janiri’s heart seemed to leap into her throat. By all the gods it was big. She swore she could hear that terrifying buzzing right next to her, even though it was over 50 meters away. Her rifle shook and no matter how many times she ordered herself too, she couldn’t pull the trigger and bring its attention to her.
By the time she regained control of her fear, Kuri and the others had already fired. The Locust was behind a dune and she had missed her chance to fire at it. Cursing she aimed her avenger at the dune. She had to do better, or she was going to end up like the drell that Karnoc had killed.
As the seeker swarm flew from behind the dune and straight towards the drell, Janiri’s eyes widened in panic. She took a step from behind her cover and reached a useless hand out. She didn’t even have any biotics, what was she planning to do? While Janiri watched with a useless hand held out, the swarm tore the drell they had just saved to shreds and continued straight towards her. Janiri dove back behind her metal ship and activated her tech armor, curling into a ball with her hands over her head as the swarm raced past.
Fortunately her tech armor and shields held under the assault. The drones ineffective scratching and clawing making her curl even more in on herself. When they had passed she shakily pulled herself to her feet. She took a couple shaky breaths and made herself aim back at the Locust. It was just coming around the dune. She was shaking too badly to properly aim her rifle, but that wouldn’t stop Kuri nor her Overload.
The assault drone fired down at the Locust, bullets ineffectually bouncing off of its barrier, as Janiri stepped out from behind her cover. She extended her hand again, this time with the omni-tool crackling with blue energy. With a gesture a bolt of blue lightning shot across the battlefield and crashed into the green barrier of the Locust. Janiri didn’t even bother to see how well she had done, immediately jumping back behind cover to avoid any counter attack. She hoped and prayed Karnoc would do what he had done last fight, and take all the attention off of her again. He would like that, probably.
Karnoc had been caught up in an exchange of intense gunfire with several of the drell when a voice came to his side.
"Get down, Mr. krogan!" A biotic blur crossed his vision followed by a spectacular visceral explosion, red mist and gibbets of gore and charred composite materials splattered into the krogan's armour, prompting him to take cover and try to clear his helmet's lenses. "Ugh. Who or what was that?" he demanded to no one in particular. Someone on his team had sacrificed themselves to save him from some kind of explosive, which only invigorated Karnoc to fight these damned drell harder.
Having enough vision returned, he sprung up, ready to begin firing when something peculiar happened...
The drell were all laid out on the ground, comatose, as if their puppet master snipped their strings and decided they weren't fun to play with anymore.
"Huh." Karnoc muttered, shaking his head as the rest of the team hurried along to take care of the drell. He instead went to the large chunks of his dead comrade in arms and began to search the body. He recognized the armour as belonging to one of the human males in the squad, but the name eluded him. By chance, he happened across the charred but miraculously still mostly intact dog tags about what must have been his upper torso and plucked it free. "Bauer." Karnoc read with a nod. "Thanks. I'll make sure your clan knows of your sacrifice."
Yelling and screaming drew the krogan's attention and ire and he looked up to see the distraction team running full bore to escape from something. Within a few moments, that something turned out being a Collector. Karnoc had never seen one of the bastards in person, let alone fight them, but he heard stories.
"You are one ugly-" he growled before stopping, the buzzing sounds of seeker swarms filling the air. "Shit."
Bolting away towards hard cover, Karnoc found a metallic scrap of some ancient vessel and pried off as large of a sheet of metal as he could and reinforced his fortification and shields as he held the metal as more of a visual barrier and deterrent than an actual bit of protection against the swarm. Ugly flying bugs caught his eye as they washed over and around him and the others on the team, their attempts to break through at the flesh beneath layers of armour and shields feeble but ultimately worrying as bit by bit they were wearing it down. As soon as it began, it stopped. It wasn't like the reports from the Collectors hitting human colonies where a giant ship and an army of the alien bugs had a seemingly infinite supply of seekers; it was likely a small collection belonging to one or more individual leaders. That meant its focus was limited, as were its resources.
It was time to hunt.
Karnoc looked down at the Ranger tag hanging from his Striker and grinned. The dumb dog would have fearlessly run into this Locust and took what it wanted. He decided that the Locust's head was going to be mounted in the canteen when they got back.
Swapping to his Graal, the Krogan tossed the sheet of worn out metal aside and held down the trigger, lining up sights with the torso of the Collector as the thresher maw-slaying metal spike was fabricated within the weapon. The weapon recoiled significantly as it fired its payload, the report from the shot ringing off of the hulls of the ships around them with a deafening boom. He strode towards the Collector, firing shots as fast as the weapon could product them as he closed the distance with the beast. He laughed the entire time.
It was empty. A void of nothingness, cold and uninviting; similar to the vacuum of space but different at the same time. Space was vast, most of it made up of a vacant expanse but at least you could see things out in the distance; knew that life was dotted throughout the galaxy. Here there was nothing. No hope to cling to. Just the distant feeling that something terrible lurked out of view.
An explosion in the distance reverberated throughout the shipping container, knocking Kysar out of his trance. In front of him lay the cracked orb, patterns of colours churning away mesmerisingly. Feeling a drop of blue blood trickle its way down from the Turian’s nose, he glanced around at the others. Solveig and Yarik seemed as if they were coming out of a dream too, with the colour from their faces appearing to be drained. Shaking the eerie feeling loose, Kysar gripped the base of his rifle even harder, bringing it down onto the orb once more.
Success! The ball exploded, crackling as its innards oozed out in an odd electrical goo. The Turian turned to the others, smirking, ready to receive his medal.
“Time to pay up Drell. 5000 big ones for…”
Yarik hurried past Kysar, keen to inspect what was left of the assumed Reaper tech. The Turian turned to his human compatriot, offering a shrug and a shake of the head.
“Out!” Yelled the Drell, as the alien pelted past Kysar, following it up with the call for a barrier. Diving out of the container with nary a second thought, a hue of cobalt blue enveloped the former Cabal as a wave of energy washed over the team. Panting on the soft sand outside the container, Kysar’s head quickly darted from side to side. The inside of the ship appeared to be intact, the wind quietly whistling through the many holes of the hull. A swipe of his arm revealed his omni-tool was still functional, so maybe everything was…
The panicked shuffle of the Drell cut Kysar’s concentration, drawing his attention to Solveig. The Human was looking worse for wear, barely conscious and not even able to stand. The Turian stood, brushing himself down and blowing out sand caught in the crevasses of his armour. Once overing his gear, he decided that despite the condition of his teammate, the mission had been a success. The woman was tough, she’d survive and the lack of gunfire had meant whatever enthrallment the Drells were under was over one way or another.
“Could’ve wrapped a bow on this bad boy, this thing went so... ” A deafening buzz echoed throughout the ship as a giant insect-like creature rose above the containers. The Turian could not win today. Maybe he’d just have to wait until the money in his hand before taking a moment to celebrate.
Yarik scooped up the two as they exited the ship and bound across the minefield as quickly as they could. Behind them, the Collector Captain hovered in the air, threatening to close the gap with ease. Linking up with Kaya, the group ran in the direction of the shuttle, only for the creature to appear biotically in front of them. Almost tauntingly so, the Collector unleashed a particle beam that ripped right through the shuttle like a hot knife through butter. Kysar fired off a few rounds but they just shimmered off the things’ shield. Turning, the beam glassed the sand as it tore towards the group, just missing Yarik. The order to fall back was music to the Turians ears as he turned tail and ran.
As they ran, the drone of seeker swarms filled the air, followed by the scream of an unlucky Drell caught in their midst. Diving behind a chest-high sand dune, Kysar threw up another barrier, focusing for dear life as the wasp-like creatures gnawed away. Beads of sweat dripped from all manner of places as the creatures dissipated in a mere moment. Any more action like that and his biotics would run dry altogether.
Booms akin to thunder rolled out from the battlefield as Kysar popped his head above the dune. The Krogan was firing off his giant shotgun at the Collector, walking towards the thing while he cackled.
“Ha! Krogans! Here for a good time, not here for a long time.” He thought before eying up their surroundings. “Hmm,” his vocal cords echoed, “no vantage points near me but that scaffolding…” He paused, looking down at his grenades, then back towards the rickety framework looming over behind the Collector.. “Yeah that might just do the trick.”
Ducking back down behind the dune, the Turian unhooked a grenade from his belt, saturating it with his biotics. If that crazy Krogan could take down its shields, this might finish the thing off. If not, it might just save that idiot's life. Re-emerging once more, Kysar threw it with all his might towards the scaffolding.
There was an old saying that was fairly common among many militaries of the galaxy.
No plan survives first contact.
While Kaya found that to be true, this plan had impressively gone to shit. He remained on overwatch, providing support to the distraction team by dropping a drell here and there. There was all kinds of distinct chatter over comms but he didn't let it distract him. In fact, he stopped to take a quick sip from his canteen. But as he did so, a strange sensation washed over him. For a split second, everything was upside down, inside out. He choked on his liquor as he was brought back to reality, his head swimming. He saw his comrades fleeing from the ship. Then he saw the Locust burst from its lair, surrounded by-
"A swarm." Kaya muttered to himself, a cold hand squeezing his heart. Back on Erinle, he and his hatchmates were raised on horror stories of the collectors and their swarms, stripping people down to the bone. Kaya never thought he'd see one in real life. Yarik gestured to him below, Kysar and Solveig behind. And the locust far closer than comfortable. The salarian slid down the dune and sprinted to reach them, firing pot shots at the monstrosity with his pistol. Kaya glanced behind them as they ran and saw a drell get ripped apart by one of the swarms. Fear quickened his steps. But the swarm moved much faster than they did and it was obvious they would be upon them in a matter of moments.
Panicked, Kaya searched desperately for somewhere to take cover. He didn't have any bitoics or special armor and everywhere was too open. Except...
He spotted a metal barrel with a slightly ajar lid. Just big enough for him to squeeze into. He wasn't actually gonna dive in a barrel was he? Kaya risked another glance behind him. The swarm buzzed angrily, mere meters away now. Yes. Yes he was. Kaya sprinted towards the barrel, collapsing his sniper rifle and stashing it on his back. He dove and hit the rim painfully, knocking it on its side. The buzzing was getting louder. He scrambled inside and grabbed the lid, flipping it so he could hold onto the handle. He pulled on it to create a seal and held on for dear life. Seconds later, he heard the swarm slicing and biting at everything around. The noise of them striking the barrel was amplified inside and Kaya closed his eyes, using all his strength to keep the lid in place. Then it was over.
Kaya waited a few moments before he heard the tell tale laugh of their krogan ally, no doubt charging the collector head on. Kaya crawled out of the barrel and looked around, yelping when he saw the locust was only a dozen feet away. He sprinted from the barrel to Kysar's position, extending his rifle and scoping in on the collector. It was time to do what he did best.
The shuttle ride to the site of the thrown together team's mission had been a quiet, observant one for the Asari commando as she sat in silence awaiting the true beginning of her first taste of combat post Reaper war. In the dimly lit shuttle her eyes had fallen upon the other Asari, clad in Eclipse armor. Keslia had no shortage of encounter with mercenaries, their morals followed the credit flow. Right after the missile had been unleashed from the shuttle which carried Lia and the rest of the 'distraction team', the commando heard faint prayers being spoken by the other Asari. A slight smirk danced across the more battle ready Asari as she heard goddess Kurinith's familiar name. Keslia didn't even remember the last time she'd even prayed to their people's deities. The Reaper onslaught and its life altering horrors did a number on her faith in any religion. Once the craft began its descent the warrior had drawn her submachine gun as her expression shifted int one off sheer, hardened focus beneath her battle helm.
Upon emergence from the aircraft Keslia's eyes rocketed up as a returning fired missile whizzed above the team, screaming as their operation almost ended at that moment. The commando sprinted across the dunes, then slid behind some cover as the action kicked into expected gear. She took a deep breath to clear her pain stricken mind, dashing grief filled memories of the most recent war to focus on task at hand. A shot rang to her side, spiking familiar adrenaline through her veins. With only the briefest of moments needed she popped from behind cover as her biotics flared to life, with a grunt of focus she telekinetically grasped upon the first Drell she saw emerge into her sight-line then pulled them towards her. The unfortunate enemy careened through the air before slamming into the dirt, blasting sand into the wind before they scrambled to their feet, only to be met with a forceful barrage from her firearm.
Then the huntress catapulted herself into the open, intent on shifting forward to gain more ground on the opposition. As she dove behind another wreckage she felt several shots slam into her leg, flaring her shields up as she grimaced behind the new piece of cover. Keslia let out another deep breath as she waited for her shields to recover. She heard the telltale sound of a sniper rifle firing then felt an ounce of relief as their own marksman eliminated the Drell sharpshooter. The warrior readied herself to strike again as she popped from cover, firing off some suppressing fire at enemies aiming at her teammates. The team was outnumbered but these Drell were poor shots, even with their altered minds. The action intensified as an enemy rocket launcher made itself known as it fired upon them, obliterating their teammate Sigma.
At the scene Lia felt a ping of stress ripple over her, huddling momentarily behind the wreckage to recollect herself. She didn't know the biotic but the brutal death had sent painful memories through her mind. Keslia had mentally pulled herself from the action as she fought with her own brain to get back into it. Her breathing intensified before she shut her eyes, placed her hands on the side of helmet and forced herself to empty her war ravaged brain. As the team managed to seize the battle at hand she collected herself, then tucked away entirely any traces of the moment. She hoped none of the others had witnessed her panic attack, but if they did she'd ignore any mention of it. The huntres had emerged from her cover as the sounds of fighting quieted down and the distraction team prepared to finish their part of the plan. Though as they did so often on these 'simple' operations, the plan had shifted dramatically as an explosion rippled near them, Yarik's shuttle. Then the other team coming barrelling towards them pursued by a collector and its swarm.
"What in Athame's name?" The commando muttered before desperately slamming a fresh thermal clip into her weapon. Then she raised her Tempest and pulled the trigger, aimed at the Locust. As the swarms horrifically obliterated the helpless Drell the Asari dropped her weapon, then with both hands upwards put all her energy into her biotics. A forceful blast of blue pushed against the approaching swarm, deflecting them from her and any teammates nearest to her. As the swarm weakly dissipated she scooped her weapon back up and stared at the Collector, over her commlink in her helmet she heard Katya holler her name.
"You, Keslia! See that rocket launcher, by the collector? Pull it here!"
With reflexes properly befitting an Asari commando she shifted to her side to get a better angle, then pulled the rocket launcher towards Katya. She flared that menacing blue aura for another moment as a Cluster Grenade launched towards the Locust. Keslia had judged the distance well enough, that Krogan was still far enough away he wouldn't be injured, likely just knocked onto his back. If this worked then that monstrosity was going to be blown to pieces.
Janiri's overload and Karnoc's shots weakened the Locust's barrier. After that, grenades from Kysar and Keslia finished made short work of the collector's remaining defenses. It all happened within seconds, while Locust was recalling its swarm.
Realizing its danger with a sharp screech, the Locust's retaliation came first with a green biotic blast toward Janiri, which shredded the metal ship she hid behind, but otherwise left the asari unharmed. Then came a burst from its particle beam, directed at Kysar and Kaya's position. Once again, their covers took brunt of it. Finally, it turned to the charging krogan. They were too close to each other to miss now, but luckily for Karnoc, one of Kaya's shots hit dead center on the Locust's chest, puncturing its chitinous armor and knocking it off balance.
Then, one of Keslia's grenades exploded seconds after the others, possibly malfunctioned due to sand or overlapping biotics. This explosion threw Karnoc back. Fortunately for Katya, who had armed herself with the rocket launcher (which the drell conveniently reloaded before dying) and climbed on top of the shipwreck, this meant Karnoc wouldn't get close enough to the collector.
"Firing rocket!" Katya announced over their comms. And once she had done so, the rocket homed in on the Locust. With no barrier and fractured armor, the resulting explosion tore the Locust to darkened bits.
After the dusts settled, Skeleton Coast fell silent. The swarm crumbled without control; their shells littered the sands. Wind and waves were the only sounds remaining. In the furthest east, a tiny speck of light appeared on the horizon.
Katya dropped the rocket launcher and let out a sigh of relief. Others in the team were checking the Locust's remains, so she tended to Solveig. Solveig had recovered enough to shoulder her rifle, and told Katya she was fine. But Katya wasn't so sure. Solveig would never say she's vulnerable, even in the worst perils. Katya supported her to the shuttle and told her to lie down for the time being.
Upon confirming the Locust's destruction, there was no one more relieved than Yarik. The tense, guarded alertness vanished from his body, replaced with simple jubilation as if he relived the victory over the reapers. "The war is finally over," he rejoiced. Now, the problem was the surviving drells. Some of them begun to stir, and about half of their number were still alive. Apparently, none of them remembered fighting the SRN team.
"This is our only shuttle now." Beanie reminded everyone. Right, it would take two trips to get the SRN members and other drells back to Windhoek. Katya and Solveig would be back on the first flight, along with several injured drells. Yarik would stay behind for the second flight. In her place, Katya appointed Janiri as temporary squad leader (for those waiting with Yarik); reason being the asari had shown surprising amount of initiative (and less likely to do something reckless, like Karnoc).
It was well into the morning when everyone returned to Windhoek. The predicted sandstorm had fully blanketed the area. Resistance members, relief workers and the newly arrived drells cramped inside whatever shelter they could find to avoid this sandstorm. The interior of the only intact building in Windheok suddenly felt very cramped. For what it's worth, Karnoc was wise to secure a janitor's closet. In fact, it looked like a cozy closet.
Katya accompanied Solveig in a medical tent outside. A doctor examined Solveig and found no serious injury. Though this was with the limited equipment on hand. Solveig recounted what happened with the infiltration team. Later, the tent was sealed up against the sandstorm. Solveig rested on a cot, and Katya sat the next one. She wasn't sure if her cousin-in-law was sleeping or not. Either way, she respected her silence. As Katya typed the mission report, she realized this was the first time she had worked with Solveig. Actually, it was the first time they had spent more than a few hours together. Outside of lunch at mess halls and dinners at family gatherings, Katya had no idea what kind of person Solveig was. Her eyes fell on the metal arm by Solveig's side; she clearly had burdens, but just how much was she carrying on her own?
When the report was done and submitted to SRN, it was time to get paid. This was a strange process, getting paid job-by-job like a mercenary. Though the credit chits Yarik presented were enticing enough...hold on, they were half of what he promised!
"Don't worry, the remaining payment is here." Yarik produced a suitcase. Inside were paper bills. Katya recognized one of them, something she hadn't seen since her childhood: a Russian ruble! Old currencies like that only circulated on Earth, where traditional nation-state had precedence over Alliance authorities.
"How did you get this?"
"Well, I found them." Yarik tried to make an exit.
"In?" Katya grabbed the back of Yarik's armor.
"A bank? You have them on Earth, yes?" Yarik did something akin to a human shrug. "Look, we were salvaging and found the reapers had blown open the vault, so..."
"You robbed a bank." Katya couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"It's not like anyone else needed the cash, right?"
"Right..." Katya reluctantly let Yarik go.
At the end of the day, money is money. Katya distributed the credits and paper bills (half each) in equal portions to the members of her team. When everything was done, she could finally put down her gear, scrub them clean of dust and sand, and finally get some shut eye.
Waking up 90 minutes later, Katya found a message on her datapad.
From: Crucible Circuitry Department To: Katya Serova CC: SRN Brokerage RE: Artifact Fragments and Data
Dear Ms. Serova,
I am Dr. Jelize, lead scientist at the circuitry department, crucible project. We are currently researching enthrallment devices deployed by special operation units during the war. Information about these devices is difficult to find.
Therefore, it has come to our attention that your team has encountered one such device during your latest mission. I have been authorized to purchase all fragments and data from your encounter.
Please meet me at Havana at your earliest convenience. The payment can be negotiated.
Several members of the SRN were not satisfied with their payment. The Earth paper currencies had uncertain values in the post-war economy. Upon being pressured, Yarik and Beanie handed over their shuttle as compensation. The two of them (and the surviving drell soldiers) would be tagging along with the refugees, and would no longer need the shuttle for combat missions. This meant the SRN team now had their own vehicle to travel around in.
Upon confirming with an SRN "management" (the identify of whom was still not known to Katya), the group was instructed to meet Dr. Jelize in Havana. The director acknowledged Sigma's death (with minimal sympathy), and congratulated the team's success. As such, two replacement members, a turian medic and a human engineer, would waiting to join up at Cuba.
Before departing, Yarik reminded Keslia and Kysar to procure better biotic amps. According to the drell, his "economy class" volus-made amp had been giving him headaches since for weeks, and it's only fair they hook him up with asari or turian alternatives as payment for leaving with the orb fragments.
The actual flight across the Atlantic happened within a day. Katya had just enough training to fly the shuttle with the help of a nav computer. Even though it was below the capacity of 14 human-sized passengers, the shuttle shambled awkwardly through the Atlantic winds, making rest of the thinly cushioned seats even more difficult. The most uncomfortable part of the ride was having no lavatory; the closest thing was a stained bucket smelled of drell bodily fluids.
It was late in the night when the group arrived at Havana spaceport. From above, the smattering of lights among skyscrapers and antiqued buildings was a stark contrast to other ruined Earth cities. During the reaper war, half of Havana's population was lured into processing centers elsewhere by indoctrinated leaders. The other half, currently running this city, fought a countryside resistance under the leadership of a krogan quarterback. The frequent traffic of aircraft and spacecraft was a testament of how vital this place was. So busy was the spaceport, in fact, the SRN shuttle waited more than an hour before they could land.
Out on the Cuban streets, Katya found a jubilant city (at midnight, no less!) Colorful streetlights and holograms dotted the streets. Bars were buzzing with tipsy goers, laughing groups (consisted of both humans and others) walked by, and occasionally, cars of both the land and hovering varieties zoomed by blasting Caribbean music. There's no signs of dead husks; a far cry from Windhoek.
After locking down the shuttle in a secure hangar, Katya found herself checking into a resort on the Malecon. It had been months since Katya slept in a full-sized bed, with the proper amenities of a hotel suite to match (even a mass effect field jacuzzi!) It sure beat Alliance bunks, and it certainly beat sleeping in a greasy hangar. Katya rested so well that she forgot to check up on Solveig in the morning.
It was Solveig who knocked on her door came morning. She seemed to have completely recovered from her ordeal in Namibia, or at least, recovered enough to give an impression of complete recovery. She stood in the dorrway of Katya's room, dressed in her Alliance uniform. Katya, on the other hand, was in her sleepwear and bathrobes. The sun was just rising in the window behind her.
Katya asked Sol to come in, have coffee and...
"I should go." Solveig declined. Duty called, and she would be catching the first Alliance ship this morning. As always, the nature of her recall was classified.
The news shocked Katya. But then she remembered Solveig was still an active-duty military member. Her cousin-in-law probably used her few days of vacation to fight in a desert. Katya suddenly felt terrible for dragging Sol into the whole SRN business. She's her only family left on Earth, and they should be doing something better together than merc work.
Oh well, no point dwelling on it now. Katya gave Sol a big goodbye hug, one that Solveig reciprocated clumsily. "Stay safe out there," Katya told her, "and you can always come back, if you need to."
Immediately after, Katya found two unread messages on her datapad.
From: Crucible Circuitry Department To: Katya Serova CC: SRN Brokerage RE: Arrival Delayed
ATTACHMENT: Credit Transfer Receipt
I was unable to travel to Havana earlier. There has been security concerns with members of the crucible project.
Please have the shipment ready and accept this payment for the artifact's safekeeping. I will be there later today for the transaction.
ATTACHMENT: Dossier - Sevipia Paetmus ATTACHMENT: Dossier - Tamás Zsolt-Cox
Both new team members have confirmed their arrivals in Havana. Their contact information is included in dossiers.
Forwarding the messages to the rest of her team, Katya began making arrangements for the newcomers. A medic without a gun and a engineer way too attached to the Citadel; useful skills, but she's not certain about either of them. Hopefully they wouldn't die as fast as Sigma.
Kaya walked lazily on the shoreline, letting the waves wash over his bare feet. He had opted for a summer yellow outfit that he had seen in a shop earlier that morning. He was surprised the humans had Salarian clothing for sale and stylish at that. It was a sleeveless top that had flowers stitched into the yellow fabric. Kaya thought it reflected Havana quite nicely. He was grateful that they were finally out of Windhoek. He found the climate of Cuba far more pleasant. He had sent out a message in the squad chat that he was heading down to the beach, if anyone had wanted to join him. Whether or not they joined or actually responded, it didn't bother him. Kaya was used to being alone. He thought briefly back to his hatchmates. Kaya hadn't heard anything from them since the reapers fell. Last he heard was that Erinle was accepting refugees and the reapers were passing them by.
He watched human children laugh and play in the water, splashing each other and screeching with delight. How odd to think that they were only a few years younger than he was and yet were not even close to adulthood. Kaya silently moved on. He thought on the topic often, which he was sure that wasn't healthy. The only species that were shorter lived than Salarians were Vorcha and the less said about them the better. But then, he always came to the conclusion, what would he even do with extra time? Humans spend half their lives sleeping. Asari and Krogan often wander the stars in search of meaning, sometimes never finding it. Well, maybe the Krogan don't need to find a meaning. Quarians live for the good of the flotilla and Volus...well, they like to turn a profit, Kaya supposed. The Turians seemed to wring purpose out of whatever they find, Kaya wondered if they had such dilemmas.
And then there were Salarians. They burn bright and brilliantly and they fade out fast. It was a fact that made Kaya very proud and a bit sad. He shook his head. He wished he wasn't so melancholy. Kaya turned back towards the water and the humans enjoying the sun. If any of the squad came with him, he might go talk to them. But at the very least, he would try to be in this moment.
Janiri woke up at the crack of dawn. 70 years of waking up as soon as the sun rose had ingrained it into her, no matter how tired she was. After the events of the last two days, she was very tired. She had only barely recovered from the shock of Katya appointing her as stand in leader (a terrible decision! She had absolutely no business telling anyone else on the team what to do!) when the second shuttle had come back. Even though no one had given her any reason to try to assert her authority (not that she would have been able to), she had still been wracked with nervousness and fear that someone would challenge her or ask for direction. Then it was a long, cramped flight back to the Namibian camp. The payment she recieved (with some surprise, as she had forgotten that they were technically mercenaries and not volunteers) would be useful if the day ever came that they made it to somewhere on earth that accepted both credits and the paper currency they were given (Rubies? Rupies? Something like that.)
That day came the very next morning that Janiri woke up. Before she could even continue assisting the camp she was informed that they were headed to Havana to sell the broken pieces of the orb, and that they would be taking the shuttle all the way to Havana.
That was a miserable ride. A whole day, crammed into one shuttle with the entire team. By the end of it Janiri was about to scream with how close everyone had been to her over the last 48 hours. It was with great relief that she practically rushed out of the shuttle when they finally landed, putting as much distance between her and those around her as possible while still remaining in ear shot. If she never got in that shuttle again it would be too soon.
Fortunately the town of Havana was a much more secure place than Windhoek had been. The locals felt so safe that they willingly got drunk and wandered around, laughing as if the Earth hadn't been ravaged by the Reapers a month ago. Janiri couldn't help but smile at the resilience of those around her. It would be so easy to give into the despair that the Reapers had brought, but the people of Havana wouldn't. They wouldn't give the enemy the satisfaction, not even after their defeat.
Janiri followed Katya to the resort and quickly checked into a room for herself and she had to admit, it was nice. The bed was the softest thing she had slept on in decades, and it almost made the fight with the drell and then the Locust worth it. As comfortable as the bed was, it wasn't comfortable enough to keep her from waking up seven hours later with the sun. Without anything else to do until Katya contacted her with the plan, Janiri headed into the city, dressed in her full length casual clothes. Perhaps she could find something to help with there. Something to keep her hands busy while she waited for any word about what they were doing in the city.
Havana was in much better condition than Windhoek. There wasn't anything that needed to be moved, any bodies that needed to be buried, or generators that desperately needed to be up and running for the safety of the city. She did stumble across a car that had broken down on the side of the street and headed over to see if she could assist. There wasn't anything she could do to permanently fix the problem, but she would be able to scrap together a patch job that would at least get the human driver to a repair shop with actual tools and parts. It was a pain though. Thirty minutes of quietly cursing under her breath as she tried to contort her body in uncomfortable ways to reach the problem. When she was done she was grateful for the fact that her gloves and jacket were black. The stains were at least fairly well hidden from view. Janiri waved off any payment, and a hug (why were humans so physically affectionate? Why couldn't they just say thank you and go?) from the human woman and hurried along her way before the driver got insistent.
As she walked, her omni-tool went off with messages from Katya. Apparently they were going to be in Havana for a few more days. The doctor wouldn't be able to pick up her shards soon, but she had sent payment to keep the artifact safe. That was nice. What was more interesting was the fact that they were recieving two replacements so soon. The SRN evidently didn't mess around with keeping their squads at full strength. Two more engineers. It would be nice to have someone who wasn't Kysar to help out with the technology things. Hopefully they would be less intimidating than the rest of the squad. Which reminded her. She needed to thank Karnoc for saving her life. With how hectic the battle and aftermath had been, and how exhausting all the travelling had been, it had completely slipped her mind.
She turned and headed to where she thought the Krogan was, quietly singing as she went. "Daughter, oh daughter, daughter come home, won't you return to us from your youth? We miss you and we love you, it's not much but it's the truth."