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Adam Harrison

One of Oracle's most talented agents.

0 · 287 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

a character in “Mass Effect: On the Edge”, originally authored by The Ghost Writer, as played by RolePlayGateway

Description

Classified.

History

Classified.

So begins...

Adam Harrison's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Janis Freeman Character Portrait: Adam Harrison

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Jal'Ishtet nar Idenna sat in one of the dark corners at the other end of the bar, completely alone and out of earshot of others. Titus and his crew wasted no time in making for him. Dianna broke off halfway there and took up a seat at the bar. Serena positioned herself against a wall facing toward Jal', keeping to the shadows. It was only Titus and Janis that joined their contact at his corner booth. The quarian's digits began nervously fumbling on the table's surface when the humans sat down across from him.

"You must be the Illusive Man's attack dog," Jal' asserted.

Titus maintained a steady frown, but narrowed his eyes. He could tell the quarian was trying to put on a tough look, but he clearly wasn't any good at it. "One of them. Jal'Ishtet, I presume?"

The quarian began looking in every direction around the bar, with barely visible eyes behind the darkened green visor hiding his face bouncing up and down, and from left to right. When he was sure that all was clear and no one was eavesdropping on the conversation, he raised a nervously shaking hand and begged, "Quiet! I can't be seen or heard talking to you. And I caution you using my name."

Janis shook his head. "We've shipped the Hallex to the loading bay of your choosing, Jal'," he said. "Just tell us what we want to know and you'll never have to see us again. Trust us; no one's going find out we ever talked."

Jal' relaxed a bit, but his eyes still darted around the room. They eventually stopped and locked onto Dianna, who was still sitting at the bar. "I've seen her before," he said. "She's with one of the gangs here on Omega; and I know for a fact that she's not Cerberus. How many other outsiders are aware we're meeting here? So far, you're not doing a very good job of earning my trust."

"You wanna talk trust?" Janis scolded. "How hypocritical is that? You're the one who's trading off classified information that will allow us to infiltrate the Migrant Fleet, betraying the trust of your own people."

"You humans have a saying: 'Trust is a two-way street.' My own people betrayed me first, Cerberus. I offered them a gift upon my return from the pilgrimage, but my captain rejected it. He said that my gift was unworthy of being accepted. Hallex may be a hallucinogen, but certain properties of the drug can be extracted for medical purposes. Each dose contains high concentrations of tygliceride-folic acid. A modified folic acid that only be produced through the chemical combinations found in the drug. TF18, as the medical experts have labeled it, can be used to fight a number of infections that my people are vulnerable to every time there's a simple valve leak."

"Let me guess," John said. "You offered a bunch of Hallex to the captain of the Idenna; but he refused. He didn't understand your intentions and he didn't give you a chance to explain their medical benefits."

The quarian nodded. "He didn't trust me. So to hell with them all."

There was a noise from inside Janis' jacket pocket and the man reach inside to take out a small communicator. He glanced briefly at the screen before getting up the seat. He glance down to Titus and quickly said, "Excuse me. I have to take this." The man swiftly walked through the bar and ducked out of the entrance. Titus didn't really think much of it. As a double-agent, the man must always be busy answering both Cerberus' and Oracle's bidding. He could only guess who was trying to get a hold of him now. What was really none of his business, and he wouldn't dare try and guess what the call was about either, fearing it would open a can of worms or simply cloud his judgment with too many negative thoughts. At times, secrets are best left with their keepers.




Adam remained in the shadows, but kept his adaptive cloaking system online as an added precaution. He had only been staking out the bar for a few minutes before Janis came walking outside. A pocket communicator was in his palm, and from the looks of the glow on his face from the screen, he guessed he was in the middle of a video conference. It had to be Cerberus. After Sibyl's startling investigation revealing Janis as a double-agent, there was no reason in the galaxy for Oracle to be contacting him now.

Harrison waiting on the sidelines and observed Janis speaking into the communicator. For a moment, it seemed as if it was just a normal, everyday conversation, but something suddenly changed and the man's expression turned to one of surprise. The Cerberus operative looked over his shoulder, in Adam's direction, and the Oracle agent froze solid. He was sure that Janis was staring right at him, but after the man turned away to look elsewhere, Adam relaxed. Still, things weren't quite right. Janis was definitely making sure that no one was listening in on the conversation, and Harrison knew for certain that whoever Janis was speaking to had just told him something unsettling. This was quickly confirmed when the man revealed a pistol from within his jacket and terminated the call on the communicator. Janis took one last look around before heading back inside the bar, a determined look in his eye.

"Shit!" Adam hissed as he darted from the shadows, his cloak flickering as the processor fought to keep up with his dead sprint.




Titus and Jal' were just about wrapped up with their meeting before he heard Janis over his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Commander Titus; but it appears I've been ordered to eliminate you."

"What?" Titus shot around in his seat only to stare down the barrel of Janis' pistol. The man had aimed it at him so fast that Serena and Dianna hardly had the time to react. Both of the women had their own weapons drawn and pointed at Janis, but neither dared to fire for fear of putting Titus' own life at risk. All of them knew that under the expensive attire, Janis still charging up biotics would most certainly force Janis to execute Titus on the spot.

"It appears your friend has caught me red handed. My access to Oracle resources has been cut off, and the Illusive Man has personally ordered me to terminate your contract with Cerberus."

"I don't understand. What have I done to the Illusive Man? Why am I even involved?"

"The Man has seen your loyalty to Cerberus waver for some time now. Sibyl sought to take advantage of that and recruit you to Oracle; but the Man thought he'd give you another chance and sent me to persuade you otherwise. I was to never deliver Sibyl's offer to you, but instead work to ensure you stay where you are. It seems though that my cover has been blown, and the boss wants me to simply kill you before another of the Operator's agents reaches you."

Janis' finger slowly squeezed on the pistol's trigger, but before it could be pulled back far enough to fire a round into Titus' skull, something burst through the front door of the bar and explosion just meters from away from the two of them sent Janis flying through the air and leaving Titus' completely deaf. Only after a few seconds of fighting off the disorientation did John recognize the effects of a high-impact concussion grenade. Whoever tossed it had just saved his life. He struggled to gain his balance when he crawled away from the booth, still fighting off the dizziness. His hearing was muffled and his sight was hazy. Seconds later, he felt someone lifting him to his feet. He glanced up to see Serena's concerned face. Her lips were moving, but he could hardly understand what she was saying. Finally, her words became clear.

"Titus?! Answer me dammit! Are you alright?!"

"I'm fine!" he managed to say.

Dianna's voiced called out to them. "Hey! We're not done yet!" They both looked from her to the man she was pointed a gun at, wearing white and black armor with no logos. His visor was pitch black with multiple blue slits of light forming a chevron pattern. He was wielding on the Alliance's new Valkyrie assault rifles, but wasn't pointing it at any of them. Titus looked back over his shoulder to see an unconscious Janis lying on the floor. Jal' was ducking below the table they had been sitting at, in fear for his life.

"It's fine, Dianna," Titus said, gently removing Serena's hand from his shoulder as well. "I don't think this guy is our enemy." He looked into the visor of his mysterious savior and asked, "Am I right?"

"Adam Harrison," the stranger said behind the visor. "I don't have time to explain, but I'm with Oracle. You can either come with me or-"

"They're they are! Get 'em!"

Everyone in the bar whirled around to see a gang of mercs bursting through the door with brandished weapons. From the look of the armor, Titus guessed they were with the last gang that Dianna's previous employer had been meeting with. Harrison opened fire before the first man through the door could pull his own trigger. "Out the back! Move!" Dianna and Adam kept the new comers suppressed as Serena and John led the way to the back of the bar. They charged through the a storage room and Adam briefly stopped to topple over a large supply rack to block off the door. They used the extra minute he bought them to sprint out the back door to the bar and disappear into a filthy alley on the other side.

The four of the kept running, with Adam leading the way. "We need to get back to the Vindicator," Titus exclaimed.

"No can do," Serena replied. "You heard Freeman. The Illusive Man wants you dead. Cerberus Command will already overridden EDI by now. The Vindicator won't budge until reinforcements arrive at Omega to take her back."

"I sure know how to pick 'em," Dianna quipped. "In less than an hour I'm already having to look for new work."

"Don't sell us out that easily, miss," Titus retorted. "You'll only miss more fun. Anyway," he looked back to Serena, "what's the plan, then?"

For the first time in a long time, his second-in-command was a loss for words. She struggled to think, but the entire situation was unbelievable. One minute they were being praised by their boss for their successes, and the next he's wanting them dead. "I don't know," she finally said.

"Perhaps I can be of further assistance," Harrison said. "The Operator didn't send me here alone. There's an Aurora frigate not far from where the Vindicator is docked now; the Marathon. We can be there in minuets if we take a sky car."

Titus, Serena, and Dianna all slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. The gang that was chasing them was nowhere around for the time being, all of them desperately needed to catch their breath. Adam wasn't phased in the slightest from the constant running, however; and turned around to look at them as if he was waiting on a child to hurry up their shoe.

"I appreciate the offer," Titus said, "but I don't know you."

John saw Adam placed two fingers to the side of his helmet for a few seconds. It was evident he was communicating to someone, probably a contact on the ship he had mentioned. What he didn't expect to happen was a hologram emit directly between them, and the figure of Sibyl Carson materialize in the middle of the street. She stood with hands on her hips and a stern look in her eyes. "Commander Johnathan Titus, get on that damn ship!"

He could only smile and say, "Nice to see you too, Sib."




Veronica dashed outside the airlock leading to the Marathon where Titus was standing, speaking with Adam. Her eyes were fixed on the datapad in her hand. "John, we've got a problem."

Titus turned away from Adam and asked, "I'm guessing we're missing someone, right?"

"Just one: Vala Buchan."

This took the commander by complete surprise. Of all the people that could have been missing, he would thought Vala would be the last. "I thought she would have been transported with the other medical bay patients."

"She woke up from the anesthetic shortly after you left the Vindicator. She insisted upon leaving the bay, as she did the last time she was supposed to be on recovery status, and no one has seen her since."

Titus brought a palm to his face. "This day just keeps getting better and better."

"I'm sorry, Titus," Adam said, "but we have to go... now."

The blast door on the far side of the docking bay whooshed open and the three of them saw Janis Freeman dashing into view with a large device in his hands. Only when he shouldered it did they realize that he was carrying an ML-77 rocket launcher. Harrison ushered the Titus and Dr. Porter into the airlock and spun around quickly to place a several shots from his Valkyrie down range toward Janis. One of the rounds managed to impact the man's leg right as he pulled the trigger on the launcher, sending a rocket off target. The projectile impacted with a bulkhead near the airlock; a little too close for comfort.

When all of them were safely inside's the ship's own airlock, Adam commanded, "Helmsman! Disengage docking protocols! Get us to the nearest mass relay!"

"Aye-aye, sir," an unfamiliar voice answered over the intercom. A second later the three of them heard multiple metallic clanks as the locks disengaged from the dock's bridge. They were now safely drifting away from the station. Titus was the first out of the airlock, making his way through completely unknown territory, trying to find a window anywhere on what appeared to be the Marathon's bridge. When he finally found one, he pressed himself up against the glass to see the docked Vindicator, only four ports down from where the Marathon had been a minute ago, becoming ever more distant.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Mass Effect
On the Edge
Season 3


Image


Jonathan Titus carefully stood just before the middle of the three large glass windows of the observation deck on what Oracle called “the Lookout”; a space station developed in secret, and masked by the bulk of the Alliance’s Fifth Fleet guarding Earth. This lone station served no military purpose, nor a diplomatic one; it was simply an outpost and small intelligence hub. In essence, it was just another dot among Oracle’s vast network of secret locations all throughout the Milky Way.

As Titus looked out over Earth, far below the Lookout, he wondered about his crew; or former crew. For the past two months he had simply been Jonathan Titus: former Alliance, former Cerberus, and now a simple civilian under the careful watch and custody of Oracle and the Alliance. In a sense, he was a prisoner; and he was waiting for the results of his commutation hearing.

Though Sibyl had personally vouched for Titus and his crew, the commutation board would have to render their unbiased ruling. Which of them would be deemed worthy to return to active duty for the Alliance? Which of them would be let go but barred from service? And which of them would be faced with war crimes, terrorism, dereliction of duty (had they been former Alliance); or charged with treason, espionage, sabotage, or anything else the board could dig up?

Whatever a price Jonathan would be forced to pay, if he must, he would gladly do so. He had no fear of what might happen to him, but he did fear for the men and women that had served Cerberus under his leadership. He had never, not once, given them an order thought to be malicious, or unbefitting of a soldier’s honor. He could not count a single moment when any of his crew had committed a criminal act, or done something that would be considered heinous or a war crime; save for the fact that they worked for Cerberus. That alone had been the whole reason for the stripping of his rank, and the detention under Oracle supervision. That alone was what the commutation board was dealing with right now. Yes, they had worked for a terrorist organization, and had carried out orders personally handed down by the galaxy’s most feared villain. Yet, in the process, they had managed to hold onto their dignity, their humanity.

As Jonathan stood there, with hands buried in his trouser pockets, he thought of Darcy and his witty jokes. The man’s careless bravado had pulled his ass out of the fire more times than one; and always a laughable punch line ready when he flew the Vindicator in for a daring rescue. Jonathan also thought of Lance, and how much he has grown and come to understand that hatred is a means only to the end of a man himself. Then there was Serena, her grace and professionalism always providing a worthy second opinion to any situation. If it wasn’t for her, Jonathan would lack in both the strength and wisdom he had come to gain over his time with Cerberus. And Veronica; oh, Veronica… Since he had been confined to the Lookout, Jonathan has only seen her but a few times. The entire crew had been separated and still remained apart from one another. He longed to look into her eyes again, to feel her breath against his lips, to embrace her in his arms.

And what of the children, Braden and Elizabeth? Would they be tried as war criminals despite their young age? Or the turians, Villayn and his lieutenants? There was also Sentry, who had just come aboard their mission, eager and ready to do the galaxy some good by putting his solidified knowledge of tech and weapons up against Reaper forces. And Elizabeth’s mother, Nina, who had been with them since the mission to Hephaestus, working alongside Terrance on upgrading some of the Vindicator’s more advanced tech.

These men and women were far more than just Cerberus grunts carrying out galactic crimes. They were and still are dignified, caring, and good-hearted people. During his own commutation hearing, their commander spoke for every single one of them. There was not a name on the Vindicator’s roster that he had not personally known and he had not vouched for. When the board asked what he thought of himself… He replied, “Ask my crew.”

Then there was Dianna Henricksen. Before picking her up on Omega, Titus had no idea that Dianna was actually an escaped convict and fugitive murderer wanted by the Alliance. This had come at little surprise to Titus. After all, she wouldn't be the only murderer on the Vindicator crew. But how would she fair in her own commutation hearing? Would the Alliance lock her back up?

Footsteps approached and stopped just beside him. He recognized Sibyl out of his peripherals and sighed before asking, “Well? What’s the verdict?”

He refused to look at her face, worried that the expression would only disappoint him, or give him the wrong idea. So, instead, he waited for her reply, clenching his fists in his pockets.

“Well…,” Sibyl quietly began, crossing her arms and looking out of the window at Earth with the same gloomy stance as her longtime friend, “…you’ll need a new uniform. I’m thinking one of blue and gold?”

Titus’s head jerked a full ninety degrees, so fast that he barely noticed the numbing pop in his neck. “Seriously?!”

Sibyl opened a clinched fist and revealed a brass pin in her palm, the Alliance’s arching “A” emblem. “You, and every one of your crew, have been cleared of all charges and offered a place in Oracle. While you aren’t officially apart of any of the Alliance’s fleet, you are Alliance again, nonetheless. You’re just working for me now.”

“Everyone?” Titus asked, still finding it hard to believe.

“Everyone,” Sibyl confirmed, nodding with a smile. “The two children you brought along were definitely a matter of debate for the board. But in light of your ability to teach, control, and above all, protect them; they deemed it okay for the kids to remain under your custody and supervision. However, you’re not Cerberus anymore. And while Oracle may or may not have skirted the lines of galactic treatise, we cannot condone child soldiers. Braden Reynolds is to no longer be used as a military asset. Is that clear?”

“Crystal, ma’am,” Titus nodded.

“Good. Welcome back, Captain.” Sibyl moved gracefully around and started walking toward the opposite end of the room that she had entered from.

“Captain?” Titus inquired, hastening to catch up to her.

Sibyl, again, smiled at his surprise. “You heard me right, Captain. The board cleared you of charges and handed you over to me; so to me falls the decision of your rank. I’ve decided to give you back the rank you had on your previous tour with the Alliance. Besides, a cruiser is better suited for a captain than a commander.”

“Oracle has a cruiser?”

“I see we’ve got a lot of talking to do,” Sibyl jested. “Come. Let’s take a walk.”




“Officer on deck!” one of the servicemen yelled to the top of his lungs as Sibyl Carson and Captain Titus boarded the Marathon. They had exited one of the portside airlocks and walked straight into the cruiser’s bridge; where every man and woman that had been working diligently at their stations stopped to stand at attention. The serviceman who had announced their presence was rendering a stiff and disciplined salute. “Ma’am. Sir,” he said in greeting.

Sibyl returned a salute of her own and shouted, “Carry on!” The bridge’s occupants returned to their work immediately.

Titus noted that the Marathon’s bridge was much larger than the CIC on the Vindicator. Then again, this was a cruiser; and a bridge is more than just a Combat Information Center. It’s the entire administration department of the ship. Communications, navigation, mission control, and warfare suites are all monitored and manipulated on the bridge. The helm, which was built in just below the bridge’s main deck, was ahead and to the left of the airlock, down a small ramp. That’s where Sibyl and Titus were headed to now.

“Darcy!” Jonathan said out of excitement to see his trusted helmsman and friend seated at the primary control terminal in the center of the stretched-out deck.

The man, who never looked better in a pristine Alliance uniform, jumped from his chair and bear hugged Titus. “Forgive the insubordination, Captain, but it’s damn good to see you! I was sure they were going to can you and put you in shackles.”

“Come on, Darcy,” Titus said. “If a control freak like the Illusive Man can’t hold me down, who is there that can?”

“True that.”

Titus nodded to Darcy’s controls. “So how does the Marathon compare to the Vindicator?”

“Well it’s like comparing a dog to a cat. Bigger, badder, and definitely a lot meaner; but not as quick and agile. However, where the Marathon lacks in mobility, it makes up for in flexibility. We’ve got four hangar bays with fighters and interceptors always ready to dish out some quick and deadly striking power in case we run up against frigates. And get this: our fighters are armed with new Thanix missiles capable of ripping a giant hole in ships the size of the Vindicator. Someone’s got to be pretty ballsy to take us on.”

Titus smiled, but more in response to seeing how happy and enthusiastic Darcy was. The man hadn’t lost a bit of his humorous charm since putting on that blue and white uniform. The two finished up their conversation and Titus let Darcy continue with whatever he was doing before he got there, and Sibyl led the way back into the bridge.

“Captain,” the familiar voice of Serena Taylor said over Titus’ shoulder.

Titus whirled around to find Taylor smiling at him; a datapad held down at her side. Her blond hair had been tied back into a neat ponytail and kept up and off her shoulders and the collar of her Alliance uniform.

“Taylor,” Titus said with a smile. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Likewise,” she responded.

“So are you still my second in command?” he asked.

“What else would I be?” she asked with a grin.

“Well I’m sure Sib can always assign you to the mess hall,” Titus joked.

Taylor laughed and replied, “You know damn well I can’t cook. Oh and since the Alliance didn’t exactly have a rank for me, your friend, Miss Carson, pinned on a Staff Commander medal.”

“Commander Taylor,” Titus said, getting the feel of the rank and name. “Now that’s hot.”

As Sibyl and Titus continued their tour of the Marathon, Titus took the time to ask her a few questions regarding the ship itself.

“The frigate that picked me up on Omega was also named the Marathon. Does Oracle have two Marathons, or what?”

“Correct,” Sib said. “The frigate is named after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, and the cruiser is named after the same city. Greek-Athenian history. The frigate uses the same stealth technology that the Normandy SR had. We tried to find ways to apply the same tech to a cruiser, but as it just happens, that’s a little out of our technological league right. But we haven’t given up on the idea. We wanted to give you the cruiser, rather than the frigate, because we’re well aware that the Illusive Man has several of his cronies looking for you right now and the extra muscle will help.”

“Thanks,” Titus mumbled, unsure just how eager Invaru and Ross must be to get their hands on him.

“All of your fighters, interceptors, and Kodiak shuttles are equipped with stealth tech, though. So don’t worry, you can still get the drop on your enemies planetside.”

“How many other ships does Oracle have?”

“Militarized ships? That’s it. One frigate, one cruiser; both named the Marathon. We have several recon frigates, but they aren’t built for combat and have only defensive weapon systems. If Oracle ever needs to use any heavy hitters, we call up Aurora.”

“The Aurora Initiative?” Titus stopped in the middle of the corridor they were walking through. “I remember running into them a couple of times.”

Sibyl stopped and turned to face her friend. “Yes; and I’m sorry about that, Jonathan. You’ll be pleased to know that I personally insured Captain Shire was replaced as the director of the Aurora Initiative.”

“Who’s in charge of it now?”

Sibyl grinned. “You’ll see soon enough.”

The ship was noticeably darker than the lighter, utilitarian environment of a Cerberus vessel. While the chrome and osmium was still there, as reflective and brilliant as ever, the corridors and main areas of the decks were kept in low light. This was typical of most Alliance warships. Even though a cruiser had enough power to light a city, much of that energy was reserved for emergency situations; thus non-essential systems, including unnecessary lights, were only used when they were actually needed.

The Marathon was comprised of ten decks and was currently home to two hundred and fifty souls. Not surprisingly, however, the decks weren’t all that crowded. With ten of them, more than twice the space the Vindicator had, there was plenty of room for the marines and servicemen to move about unhindered and not feel cramped.

The first deck was the bridge, helm, primary QEC chamber, and the Captain’s Quarters. Sibyl and Titus were now traversing the fifth deck, which held two of the enlisted ranks quarters, the gymnasium, lounge, mess hall, and an observation deck on each side of the ship.

Titus had to admit, he was greatly impressed with the Marathon. It had a bolstering amount of resources that rivaled Cerberus cruisers, and the technological upgrades that Oracle had installed made it a finally cut gem. The more he toured the ship, the wider his smile became and the more excited he was to be back in an Alliance uniform. As he moved throughout the decks and their corridors, he saw familiar faces. Veronica was as happy as ever to kiss him and whisper devious plans for the night in his ear; and the turian trio went out of their way to actually smile and slug his shoulder (all three of them). Lance, of course, was already talking up an egotistical storm about how he made his “new uniform shit look good”; and the timid Braden Reynolds grappled onto Titus’ torso without shame. Sentry wouldn’t shut up about all the new toys he’s able to play with now in the armory on deck seven; and Dianna set aside her moodiness long enough to actually nod in Titus’ direction.

Dianna simply being there meant good news. But curious as to why, Titus asked Sibyl, "Mind if I ask how Miss Henricksen survived her hearing?"

"She never had one," was all that Sibyl replied with. The neutral tone and obvious unwillingness to carry that conversation forward let Titus know that, that was all he needed to know. Besides, it wouldn't really surprise him too much if Oracle had other blacklisted or disavowed assets working for them.

Now on deck seven, Titus and Sibyl had just left the armory and were headed towards the hangar bays. Before they arrived, however, Sibyl took a detour and headed in a completely different direction. Titus noted that the sign on the bulkhead read “Training Chambers” next to the arrow pointed to wear Sibyl was heading for.

“What am I going to find down here?” Titus asked as they passed through the opening blast doors and into a large white chamber in the shape of a giant box. The lighting in the room was practically blinding compared to the darker environment of the rest of the ship and Titus’ eyes had to take a second or two to adjust.

When he could see clearly again, there was a man standing ahead of them wearing a black tank top, cargo pants, and combat boots. Sweat dripped down his face and forehead as he concentrated on the cushion-clad opponent before him. The two were holding what appeared to be katana.

“What in the…” Titus began.

“Captain, I’m sure you remember Agent Harrison,” Sibyl said, gesturing an open hand to the man in the tank top, who was now lashing out skillfully at his training opponent. The suited man deflected the swipes with ease, but Harrison used his free hand and struck his opponent with what Titus instantly recognized as a biotic push. The tell-tale violet hue and electric pulses were unmistakable.

“So he’s a spy, a ninja, and a biotic?”

“Agent Harrison,” Sibyl replied, “is one of the first recruits of a new initiative Oracle is heading off. You and I both know from experience in the field that the N7 program needs more than just muscle nowadays. It needs flexibility, ingenuity, and variety. I’m making sure they get that, and I’ll be the one to deliver. The recruits aren’t ready yet, but someday soon… they will be. You should see some of the other specialists we’re training up. Biotic ninja spies are only the beginning.” She finished her last sentence with a smirk.

Harrison relaxed his katana and walked over to where Carson and Titus were standing. “Sir,” he said, and offered a salute after transitioning the sword to his left hand. After the Captain returned his own salute, Harrison said, “If I may, it’s an honor to be serving under your command. I’ve read your dossier and you had quite the reputation in the N7 before you left. Even all the stuff you did when you worked with Cerberus is commendable.”

Titus never got to see the face agent that saved his life since he had never removed his visor, but now that he was looking the man in his brown eyes, he was quite surprised to see how young Harrison was. The first words out of his mouth were, “How old are you, kid?”

“Twenty, sir,” he instantly replied.

“You weren’t much older when you started hitting your stride, Jonathan,” Sibyl reminded. “Adam, here, in more ways than one, is a lot like you.”

“Adam, huh?” Titus extended an open hand and the young man took it with a firm shake. “Glad to have you on the team.”

“Glad to be here,” he replied. Adam’s handshake was relaxed, loose; the sign of a very timid young man. His physique was average, but that was typical of most biotics since it was hard to gain a lot of muscle when they constantly burned anything they ate within a matter of a few hours. His smile was wide, eyes soft, and his short brown hair a slight mess. He looked as though he should be in college, rather than be an N7 marine with a damn sword.




Braden’s room wasn’t as spacious as the one he had on the Vindicator, but it did come with more shelf space for personal effects, a bookcase filled with an assortment of novels for teens (courtesy of Sibyl Carson), and a private bathroom. The bathroom had to be the one thing that the boy was most thankful for, as Cerberus vessels hardly account for dependents of crew members to be aboard, especially minors. Braden had to take care of business in the latrine aboard the Vindicator like everyone else, but had to time his showers carefully, with an officer standing outside to hold off anyone until he was done; per Titus’ strict orders.

The room was still an officer’s quarters, however, and so he had the luxury of a double-windowed view of the galaxy, perfect ambient lighting for relaxation, carpeting soothing to tired feet, and cushioned furniture that one could fall asleep on instantaneously. Another accommodation that his new room had, that the one on the Vindicator didn’t, was a music system with hidden speakers in every wall.

Braden approached the small haptic interface on the wall that controlled his sound system and surfed through the many different tracks until he found a title that seemed familiar. When he pressed the play command, the speakers allowed the music to slowly fade in. He instantly recognized the opening beats and strings of the new age track and his mind raced back to his days on Omega. He remembered the song as one of many popular hits that entertained the various drug-induced, alcohol-poisoned, patron scum of Afterlife. In an instant, he was lost in painful memories.

“Who’s this?” one of Gavin’s clients asked. The constant flashing of red and orange club lights distorted the human’s facial expressions, but Braden knew the man was grinning by the malicious sound of his voice.

Gavin’s calloused hand tightened over Braden’s shoulder, sparking pain from a very recently inflicted wound, and barked, “Not for sale.”

“Is he at least available for rent?” the human asked, waving a credit chit in the air, further impressing the two asari glued to either side of him at his VIP booth.

Gavin’s silence meant that he was considering the offer, probably debating a price. Braden actually prayed that he would accept. One night, that’s all he asked for; one night to get away from his batarian owner. He wouldn’t technically be free, probably ever, but it would at least [i]feel
like freedom. Anything was better than being Gavin’s chikolah.

“Two thousand credits,” Gavin demanded. Braden’s hopes were instantly slashed to pieces. Two thousand was a steep price to pay for one night. Gavin always informed the client of his prices based on a nightly fee. The poor boy just knew that the human would refuse to pay that much for him. But yet, he still tried.

“Fifteen,” the human bartered.

“Nineteen,” Gavin countered.

“Make it seventeen, and I’ll buy some of your dust, too.” Braden was shocked. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t going to walk away without a fight. There was still hope after all.

“Fine,” Gavin grunted, shoving Braden so hard and so fast that he flopped over the table, knocking over one of the asari’s drinks. “Don’t be so clumsy, you idiot boy!” Gavin shouted, showing that, even though he was renting out his most prized possession, he still held authority over him. He then said to the human, “One night. That’s it. And the dust will be a thousand; or are you going to try and barter with me on that?”

“Of course not, my friend,” the man said. “And I’ll be sure to return the kid in pristine condition.”[/i]

Lizzie’s knocking dragged Braden back out of his horrible past. She was standing in his doorway, leaning partially inside; a gleeful smile on her face. But that smile quickly faded when she saw her boyfriend trying to fake one of his own. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Uhm, nothing,” Braden stuttered, instantly turning away to hide the tears welling up in his eyes. His free hand shot up to the interface to cut off the music, but before he could return it to his side, he felt Lizzie’s delicate fingers catch his wrist.

“Hey,” she said, her whispering voice soothing to his ears. “You can tell me.”

“You’d never understand.” As much as he hated to say that to her, he knew he was right. How would anyone ever know what he went through without having gone through the same torment themselves? How does one tell another that they were a slave; bidded on, used and abused over and over. He was nothing but a toy to sadistic psychopaths, drunkards, and drug addicts. He was a ruthless batarian’s pet and personal property.

“Maybe not,” Lizzie replied. “But you can still talk to me about it. I’m always willing to listen to you, no matter what or when.” Elizabeth’s hand tightened around Braden’s and they stood there for a moment, together in silence.

“Okay,” the boy finally said.




With the targeting reticule lined up for a perfect headshot, Villayn carefully squeezed his talon back on the Viper’s trigger until he felt the recoil of the round firing off and the subtle discharge ringing throughout the long range shooting gallery. Azuric remained peering down the rifle’s scope to observe the headshot in the target’s human-shaped silhouette.

“Very nice,” Sentry’s voice commented over the range’s intercom, coming from the safety of the control room behind Villayn. “Keep that up and you’ll be able to knock out one target per minute.”

“It would be easier for me to concentrate without the sarcasm,” the captain quipped. “Besides, perfect precision shots like that require patience. Something I doubt a loose-cannon like yourself would understand.”

Villayn heard Sentry’s happy chuckle before the armorer replied, “Is that a challenge?”

“Please,” Azuric said. “Don’t be so foolish. A turian can out-shoot a human any day.”

“Someone’s cocky.”

The hissing of the blast doors at the back of the gallery caught Villayn’s attention and he turned his head to see Darak walking inside. Thumbing a talon over his shoulder, the lieutenant said, “Have you checked out the gym yet? Two whole stories. Pretty nice.” Darak stopped next to Villayn and turned to look down the range at his captain’s target. After shrugging his shoulders he said, “Good, but... not your best.”

Sentry started balling in laughter over the intercom as Villayn leaned back, appearing to be visibly insulted his lieutenant’s observation. But he soon dropped the act and said, “I admit, maybe I’ve lost my touch after two months of not being allowed to handle a weapon. I didn’t think the Alliance would actually hold us in custody along with the rest of Titus’ crew. Not until the hierarchy officially gave us the cold shoulder, anyway.”

“Yes, but it was definitely for the best, sir,” Darak reminded him. “I much prefer what we’re doing now anyway.”




The main conference room on the Marathon was a lot larger than the one on the Vindicator, though not as dramatically perplexing; that is, it didn’t have a giant half-dome that looked out into the depths of space. Instead, it was enclosed by in an oval of glass, where the walls of the corridor wrapping around the outside had several mounted paintings from the late 21st century, a few more recent masterpieces; all of which were of a contemporary style. The glass surrounding the conference room doubled as both a sound barrier and a cradle for several screens of information. White lighting kept the area brightly lit, a nice contrast from the rest of the ship.

Captain Titus was seated at the head of the oval table, with many other faces, some new and some familiar, occupying the other seats. Titus held a blue datapad in his hand and quietly scanned through the briefs of each person at the table. After taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he placed the datapad on the surface of the black, marble-top table, leaned back in his chair, and said, “Well. It will definitely take me some time to memorize each of your names, but no more than a few days, tops. Anyway, let’s move on to the first order of business; which will be the cooperation between the ex-Cerberus personnel that served with me before and now, and the have-been Alliance personnel also serving aboard this ship. I want to make this perfectly clear: we are all in this fight together, through thick and thin. If anyone has a problem working with another individual aboard this ship, they are expected to speak up to their supervisor... with the proper paperwork in hand requesting a transfer to a new assignment. I have a very low tolerance for childish bickering.

“Now that I’ve made myself clear on that issue; let’s move on to something lighter. Security, for instance.” Titus looked down the table towards a man with strikingly white hair and a matching beard. Though his hair would make one assume the man is ready for retirement, he was enjoying a good stride in his mid thirties. “Staff Lieutenant Torx,” the Captain addressed.

“Sir.”

“How strong is your unit?”

As if expecting the question right from the start, the Marathon’s Chief of Security Operations replied with a slight Texan accent, “Twenty are ‘round-the-clock security specialists, Captain. They operate on rotating shifts. The rest of the one hundred and twenty-five marines aboard the Marathon are all capable of performing security tasks should we be boarded.”

“Sounds good.” Titus looked down one seat toward Sentry. “Weapons count, Sentry?”

With a smile, the armorer replied, “I’ve got 200 Avengers, 75 Mattocks, 20 Mantises and Vipers, 100 M-77’s, 100 Katanas - er, the shotgun kind, not the fancy sword kind that boy-wonder has.” Sentry nodded in Harrison’s direction, who was sitting right across from him. Adam only rolled his eyes and Sentry continued from where he left off. “200 Predators, 50 Phalanxes, and... well, a whole shit ton of other goodies. I even have a few Argus assault rifles down there.”

“So we have enough to start a Second Contact War,” Titus mused. “Good.”

Titus’s eyes moved to the opposite side of the table and he scanned down until he found a young first class serviceman with dark brown hair and a not-quite-five o’clock shadow. He had to be as young as Adam by the looks of it. “Connor... DeMarco, was it?”

The young serviceman nervously straightened his posture in his chair and stammered out a quick “Yes, sir!”

“Don’t be so skittish, kid,” Titus remarked. “You’re my comm specialist, correct?”

“That’s correct, sir. I monitor all in- and out-bound tactical communiques, maintain the QECs and Prophet’s connection, and I’m also your primary handler in the field.”

“And off the field?” Harrison asked aloud, looking right at Connor.

Everyone in the room found themselves glancing back and forth between the two men, wondering just what in the world Harrison was referring to, especially when Connor's blushing red face started to contrast with the white and blue of his uniform.

“Okay...,” Titus said, finally halting the awkward moment. “Well, DeMarco, welcome to the team. Moving on...”

[Begin playing Infinite, Immortal - from Fired Earth Music]

By the time Titus had briefly learned the job of everyone in the conference room, his heavy eyes beckoned sleep and he decided it was time to wrap up their little meet n’ greet. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, standing up from his seat, “this mission is not going to be an easy one. Our goals are many, and diverse. Cerberus is hell-bent on ensuring that I’m dead, and Oracle is buried. The Collectors are going to continue to try and abduct unsuspecting humans from fringe colonies. And, hell, I’m sure the Shadow Broker is planning on making a few plays, himself. But no matter who our enemy is, or what they throw at us, or how long we must travel the stars; nothing can stop us as long as we stick together. Lives are counting on our success, people. Let’s not let them down. Dismissed.”




"Are you ready, Captain?" Commander Taylor asked as Titus walked up to stand beside her at the galaxy map. "Way-points plotted and uploaded to the helm. Waiting on Alliance Naval Traffic Control to give us the green light."

Titus smiled and he held his shoulders back, taking in a deep breath as he glanced around the bridge. All eyes were now on him. Everyone had stopped what they were doing, waiting for the go-order from both the traffic controllers and Titus himself. Far ahead at the helm, Titus could see Darcy turning around in his seat to also join in on the dramatic stare, silhouetted by the full magnificent glow of Earth far below them all.

The speakers in the ceiling above crackled and a male's voice echoed through the bridge. "A-N-T-C to Marathon, standby for green light."

This was it.

Thirty seconds later, the voice came back. "A-N-T-C to Marathon, you are green in three.... two.... one. Clear to leave station. ... Good luck, Marathon."

Titus opened his mouth, but paused momentarily to savor this moment. It's not everyday you get launch off on a new mission with a new ship and new crew members. When he was ready, and when everyone had just about had enough of hanging onto the edge of their seats to hear the few simple words, the Captain bellowed, "You heard the man! Darcy! Put us on course to the Sol Relay!"

"Aye-Aye, Captain!" Darcy yelled back over the deafening sound of applause that filled the entirety of the command deck.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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"What was that about?" Connor demanded when he and Adam moved over to a quiet corner outside the conference room. The look on his face still had a bit of fluster to it, but his eyes betrayed just how upset he had become at Harrison's not-so-subtle flirting.

Adam only shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hey, man, I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself. I didn't mean to do that to you."

Connor shook his head but waited for a few individuals to pass them by before he spoke up again, not wanting their conversation to be overheard by eavesdroppers. "Look, I just don't want us to get caught. The crew may have dismissed your comment as harmless joking between two guys, but another could out us."

By now the two were completely alone, and Adam placed his hands on Connor's shoulders, bringing himself closer to the serviceman. A romantic relationship between an officer and an enlisted was strictly forbidden. Fraternization, the term applied to such unprofessional conduct in the military, can be punishable by dishonorable discharge. But Adam and Connor were both willing to risk that fate in order to be together. Most aboard the Marathon knew that Adam was openly bisexual, but no one knew about Connor being gay. It wasn't exactly something the young man is proud of, coming from a family that still holds on to dying traditional values.

"Relax," Adam intimately whispered before pecking Connor on the forehead. "We're going to be just fine. Besides, I have a feeling that Captain Titus isn't the type of person to bring down the hammer if we're caught. Just be yourself, and keep doing your job, and we'll be okay."

Connor nodded several times, convinced by Adam's assurance, and said, "Okay. Okay, you're right. I'm, ah... I'm gonna go back to my post on the bridge now. Everyone should be getting ready for our send off."






Titus sat down behind the console at his desk in the captain's quarters. In one hand he held a freshly brewed cup of steaming coffee, laced with smooth Irish cream and loaded with several packets of pure cane sugar. His previous quarters, aboard the Vindicator, didn't offer the convenience of a fancy coffee maker built into the bulkhead. The Alliance sure has upgraded, he thought to himself.

With a tap from his free hand's index finger, the console sprang to life before him and a series of small haptic projections materialized above the desk's surface. The blinding white of Oracle's interfaces made him blink several times and he had to take a moment for his eyes to adjust. He had been used to the orange interfaces of Cerberus' operating systems, and the change in the color scheme would take some getting used to. On the screen immediately in front of him, a flashing message icon caught his attention. Titus tapped the icon to bring up a list of important messages. The first message, and one tagged with a high priority indicator, was from Sibyl. Jonathan wasted no time in opening her message.

Titus,

By now, the Marathon will have reached Citadel space and you'll be wanting to go on a shopping spree. Before getting too carried away with your down time, I recommend speaking with Agent Harrison about Operation: Subtle Wind.

In brief, we've had our eye on Thenusi, a barren planet in the Dirada system. A pirate gang we've paid off to act as one of our assets in the Terminus has noted a lot of Cerberus cargo going into that system and vanishing when they approach Thenusi. The funny thing is that they never appear to land on the planet: the vessels just up and vanish before they reach the planet's gravity well. I suspect Cerberus has cooked up some kind of cloak that prevents both visual and scanner detection.

I'm not big on going after Cerberus without more intel, but whatever it is they're doing, it's obviously not related to stopping the Collector advance based on the data you gave us. None of the vessels were Omni-related and there are no human colonies that deep in the Terminus. Find out what their planning, Captain.

As I said: speak with Adam. He was the agent in charge of gathering the intel before I reassigned him to track you down, and can give you a better scope of the mission.

-The Operator

P.S. Enjoy the coffee.


Titus smiled at Sibyl's post script. She always knows.

The captain continued to read through his messages. Some of them were welcome-backs from old comrades he hadn't seen since his N7 years, and others were formal requests from the crew, forwarded by Serena. Engineering would need some kind of new cupplings, services was requesting food of similar quality that they had heard rumor about the Vindicator having, and acquisitions was in need of a license renewal for Serrice Council gear. Luckily, all of that could be found and imported from the Citadel once they docked.

Thinking about that reminded Titus to actually check up on the Marathon's approach. He set down his now-empty coffee mug, threw on the Alliance officer jacket hanging in his locker, and exited his quarters. The walk to the bridge was actually rather lengthy, but he did appreciate not having to step into an elevator anymore just to transition from his quarters to the command environment. As he marched down the corridor, he passed by a few of the unfamiliar Oracle faces that had come along with the Marathon. Unknowing of Titus' more relaxed policies, each of them snapped a sharp salute as he passed by. He returned the gesture without a word, but made a mental note to address that during his first official captain's call on the ship.

Titus walked through the blast doors leading into the bridge and saw Serena standing before an array of haptic projections that were taller than herself. Again, they were as white as white could be, as were all of the interfaces on the bridge.

"Not to sound like a child in the backseat of a skycar," Titus began, "but... are we there, yet?"

Serena looked over at him as he stood next to her, laughed, and said, "Darcy's hailing Citadel docking control right now."

Titus moved forward through the bridge, leaving Serena to continue with whatever it was she had been doing when he had entered. As he came closer to the edge of the bridge's command platform, he passed by several terminals arranged in two columns and four rows. He walked down the aisle between them. These terminals were used for both navigational and alert-level purposes. The terminals on the sides, built against the bulkheads surrounding the outside of the platform, were used for combat purposes. Half controlled sectors of fire for the GUARDIAN laser defenses, and the other half maintained constant communication with the fighters and interceptors.

When the captain reached the edge of the platform, he saw Darcy and his helm team below him, skillfully piloting the Marathon into the open arms of the Citadel. Titus looked out of the large view port dominating the head of the bridge, admiring the galaxy's largest space station, the home of the galactic council and symbol of unity. The Cerberus goal to place humanity above that unity suddenly rang hollow to him as he stood tall in his Alliance colors, hands behind his back and shoulders broad.

"Copy that, Control," Darcy said below in his communique. "Proceeding to docking bay whiskey, zero-seven-niner. Will inform when complete." Darcy glanced back to Titus and gave his captain a thumb-up signal, showing they had clearance to dock. According to the projections on one of the navigator's terminals, the Marathon would be docking at an Alliance-controlled port midway up one of the station's five arms. From there, they could catch skycabs to get anywhere they needed to go on the Citadel.

Titus nodded back to Darcy and turned around to head back towards Serena. On his way toward her he asked, "Where's Agent Harrison?"

"Couldn't say," she replied, continuing to stare at the screens in front of her. "Prophet?"

A cyan-colored silhouette of a human male materialized between the too of them, facing directly toward Titus. With hands behind its back, it said, "Agent Harrison can be found in his quarters on the deck below. Room ten, starboard side."

"Neat," Titus said. "Are you always available? Like the AI on my last ship?"

"Yes. I maintain a constant QE connection to the Marathon - both the cruiser and frigate. While I do not control any of the systems on either vessel, I can integrate myself with onboard sensors and serve as an adviser."

"The EDI units Cerberus is field testing have advanced cyber warfare suites. If we come under attack by such measures, will you be at risk?"

"There is always a chance I may come under attack as long as I maintain a connection to the Marathon. But I have my own cyber warfare suites to protect myself should I be confronted with such attacks. Unfortunately, my defenses do not extend to your ship. The Marathon relies on highly advanced VIs in charge of protecting critical systems. Each VI is assigned a different system to protect and maintain, and their source codes vary from one another. This ensures that one virus won't be enough to cripple multiple systems."

"So you're an adviser, my liaison to Oracle and the Operator, and I can talk to you practically whenever and wherever I want to. What else is there to know about you?"

Without answering Titus' question, Prophet's hologram disappeared, leaving the captain slightly confused.

Serena allowed herself a light laugh and said, "Prophet did the same thing to me earlier. I believe Oracle designed it to safeguard information like that. Instead of telling you you don't have clearance to know something, it just stops talking completely. Far different than EDI."

"I guess so," Titus commented.





The second deck was comprised of the officer quarters and administrative offices, as well as the tech labs, a secondary sick bay, war room, and a secondary QEC room. Titus made his way through the central corridor leading away from the stairs that led directly up to the bridge above. The second deck was where the elevators actually reached to and were just ahead of him at the end of the hall. On either side of the two elevators was another hallway, one leading left, and the other right. Titus made his way toward the starboard side when he reached the elevators, hanging a left - which would be right if facing toward the helm.

Titus continued down the hall until he came up to room ten. The slim haptic screen next to the door read "Harrison". After knocking a quick three times, Jonathan stood patiently in the hallway until the door hissed apart with brilliantly smooth speed, disappearing into the walls on each side. He heard no welcome come from within, but considering Harrison had to have opened the door himself, Titus took the initiative and stepped through the threshold.

Once inside, he glanced around the agent's domain. Like the other private quarters, the interior offered far better lighting than the rest of the ship. On the Vindicator, the office and living areas were kept separate from each other; but on the Marathon, the spaces were blended together. Lights were built into both the bulkheads and the furniture, most of it providing dim ambiance to the atmosphere of the room. A twin-sized bed occupied one of the corners up against a long window, and a desk stood on the opposite side of the room on Jonathan's right.

The hiss of another door turned the captain's attention over to a corner beyond the desk and he saw Harrison appear a second later from the bathroom beyond. The young Oracle agent was mopping up remnants of toothpaste around his mouth with a white rag. His dark hair was still wet from the shower he had obviously taken; and a light, clean aroma began filling the living area.

"Captain," he said, turning slightly to toss the rag back into the bathroom before the door automatically shut.

"Prophet said I might find you here," Titus returned.

Adam moved over and sat down at his desk. He leaned over in front of a small standing mirror positioned in the corner of the surface and fixed the collar of his uniform. As he made the adjustment, he solemnly said, "And you won't find me anywhere else, usually. Most of my time is spend behind this desk scanning through mission reports and analyzing intel. On the off-chance I'm not in my quarters, you can probably find me in the training chamber below or using the secondary QEC on this deck."

"Well then," Titus began as he sat down on a white recliner put off from the desk, "I'm glad you're in your element because I need to ask you about a particular assignment."

Adam relaxed in his desk chair and waited for the captain to continue.

"What can you tell me about Operation: Subtle Wind?"

Adam leaned back further in his chair to kick his boots up on the surface of the desk. With one hand he opened the drawer closest to him and took out a datapad. With the tap of a finger, the dim blue, haptic interface sprang to life within the cradle of the pad and Adam tapped away at a series of commands. Almost instantly, the lighting in the quarters dimmed and a hologram materialized in the center of the room. A scaled, rotating model of a ship that Titus had never seen before floated a few feet above the floor.

"This little lady'," Adam began in reference to the unmarked frigate, "is the Lorivac. She's a pirate vessel. Crew is mostly turian, some batarian, and a few are asari. About a year ago, Oracle began to pay good credits for any tips on Cerberus activity; under the guise of Alliance InOps, of course. We've seen a flood of valuable intel since we started the campaign. The Lorivac's contribution is the latest, and the Operator has taken interest."

"Oracle works with pirates? Isn't that along the lines of negotiating with terrorists?"

Adam smirk and shrugged a shoulder. "Officially? Yes. But Oracle doesn't 'officially' exist. Besides, for each pirate that comes forward with information, the thicker they make our dossiers on their own ship's activity."

"So, intel-wise, it's like taking out two birds with one stone."

The agent nodded. "Exactly. It makes our job a lot easier later on, when we decide to track them down and eliminate another player from the board. But, returning the matter at hand... After travelling to the Dirada system myself, I can confirm that Cerberus has put up a kind of highly advanced cloaking veil to hide whatever it is they're doing. All of my scans revealed the same kind of dark spot above the planet."

Adam tapped another few keys on the datapad and the hologram changed from the Lorivac to an image of Thenusi. The white planet was riddled with meteor craters and since the surface was perfectly clear to the naked eye, there was no atmosphere. The heavenly body looked a lot like Earth's very own moon, but with fewer terrain variations.

"Somewhere, floating above this planet, I suspect lies a Cerberus station. What they're doing, exactly, we haven't a single clue; and that's why we're investigating."

"I have experience with remote Cerberus space stations. Most of them, indeed, are kept hidden; so this doesn't surprise me. I've never heard of a cloak like that, however. Most stealth systems designed for stations and vessels are only designed to fool scans; but one that can fool a real set of eyes? That's new."

"After your team is finished with Citadel errands, you can hit the relays for Dirada whenever you'd like."

Titus stood up from the recliner, and Adam stood with him, quickly turning off the hologram from the datapad and returning the room's lighting to a normal state.

"Will you be going down with the rest of the errand-runners, then?" Titus inquired.

Adam gave the question a moment of thought before replying. "I would like to stretch my legs for a bit."




The air contained within the Citadel's ward was cool and refreshing. Artificial breezes swayed through Jonathan's hair as he walked the moderately busy streets with Adam, Lance, and Braden. So far, the supply requests sent up to him through the chain of command had been taken care of and now the crew was spending the rest of the time they had on shopping for personal items, enjoying a nice meal, or sight-seeing. Serena had seen to it that everyone had been instructed to stay within five blocks of the human embassy branch they had docked at. While each race's home embassy was on the Presidium ring at the end of the station, the wards were so massive that smaller embassy offices were established so their respective races could have shorter commutes in case they were in need of representation or political asylum.

Braden had been wanting to visit a biotics gym called The Cube after seeing a advertisement for it outside a local restaurant. Lance volunteered to keep an eye on him after hearing the word "gym". Since Adam himself was a gifted - not to mention, well-trained - biotic, he decided to tag along to see what the place offered. Jonathan saw the opportunity to learn more about the Oracle agent and his talents, so he joined the group as well. As all four of them walked together, Braden always several axious paces ahead of the group, Titus and Harrison found themselves in pleasant conversation.

Adam's so-called "elite" N7 training had begun almost a year ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Recently, biotics had been classified into two main categories for military purposes; adepts and vanguards. While adepts were skilled manipulators of dark energy, vanguards were aggressive biotic soldiers. Adam was a vanguard, and a very quick one. A combination of unique, classified amps and implants granted the man the ability to amplify his biotic potential without sacrificing much energy. A balance of martial arts training and acute attention to detail added speed and flexibility. With technology and disciplined training combined with swordplay, he had been nicknamed "Slayer" by the program's directors. Similarly, a nickname was given to each of the other specialized "elites".

"Slayer, huh?" Titus mused after hearing Adam's retelling of the training program.

Adam allowed himself a small chuckle. "Yeah, it is kind of cheesy; but as I said, they were all given nicknames."

"Do all of you have katanas?"

"No. Just two of us. The other one is Lieutenant Kyle; an infiltrator."

"What's her nickname?"

"Shadow."

Titus laughed. "How cliche."

"Tell me about it," Adam returned with a grin.

A minute later, their conversation was interrupted with Braden shouting, "Finally!" Adam and Jonathan looked ahead to see Lance and the teenager heading inside a very large building. It appeared to be a warehouse from the looks of it, but the clean exterior and vibrant white and cyan lights indicated otherwise. A large holographic sign above the main entrance read "The Cube", and a scrolling marque beneath read, "Biotics fitness and training - Join our membership program, today!"

Once inside, Titus saw that the place was a widely popular attraction. The area may have been human-dominant, but The Cube had become a place for many biotic-potential species. A lot of asari were roaming around, even multiple drell. While it was clear to him which of the patrons were there to train - based on the fact that they were wearing workout attire, what he didn't understand was the large amount of those who weren't. Many were simply wearing everyday outfits, whether they were work uniforms, tailored suits, or casual clothes that were still too restrictive to go to a gym in.

And then he understood.

The roar of cheers and jeers coming from within a larger room beyond the entrance said it all. The Cube wasn't just a gym, it was an arena. While there were facilities inside where biotics could train in peace or without the pressure of an audience, the main attraction and source of revenue was the central chamber, where willing biotics were pitted against each other in a tournament style fashion.

The four of them made their way into the arena chamber, but before they could get a good look at what was going on, a pudgy volus behind a small podium - miraculously shorter than he was - flagged them down with his claw-like hand.

"Hey, there, ... Earth-clan!" He shouted, taking annoying, interrupting breaths through his breather. "Which one of you are skilled enough ... to take on the Cube Champion? ... It's only five-hundred credits ... to enter."

"Cube Champion?" Lance asked.

"Yes! ... She's the leanest, meanest, most vicious biotic fighter on the Citadel! ... If you can take her down ... the reward is ten thousand credits and a life-time membership."

Titus was going to simply say that they were there to watch, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, Adam stepped forward and handed the volus his credit chit.

"Sounds like fun," he said with a smile. "I'm in."

Titus stared at Harrison for a moment, completely bewildered at the young man's tenacity. "Adam?"

"We've got a few more hours to kill, Captain," he explained. "I figure, why not?"

The volus finished swiping the credit chit over his omni tool and completed the transaction. "Very well, Earth-clan. ... The locker room for contestants is down that way and to the left. ... When your name is called, you may proceed onto the arena floor through that same locker room. ... Good luck!"

Adam took his credit chit back and waved a relaxed, two-finger salute to the gang. "I'll see you guys from the floor! Don't forget to cheer!" Before anyone could say a word, he disappeared down the way that the volus had pointed.

Left both confused and slightly excited, Titus followed Lance and Braden into the arena's bleachers. The rows of seats were stacked back at an incline of ten rows high. Black seats surrounded a white square floor in the center of the room. Titus noticed that the arena floor appeared to consist of several tiles. This was odd, however, considering that most arena floors are completely solid. Scattered about the arena floor were several small disks, left loose and in no particular pattern of arrangement. Titus guessed that these could be used by contestants as biotically-propelled projectiles.

Currently, two contestants occupied the floor. One of them was a well-built human male in a muscle tank top and tight spandex shorts. The other was a slim, and very beautiful, violet-shaded asari. The asari was wearing a black, form-fitting outfit with cut-off sleeves. Light boots allowed her to be quick on her feet and long pants protected her legs. She danced across the arena floor elegantly as she charged up a terrifying biotic bolt and sent it flying from an open palm toward her human opponent.

The man tried to move one of the many disks in the way of the bolt, but he was too slow. His body repulsed backwards into the arena wall when the blast of dark energy slammed into his gut. A loud buzzer sounded overhead and an announcer's quickly versed - obviously salarian - voice blasted over unseen speakers.

"After putting up a valiant effort, the challenger has been knocked out by touching the boundary! A good show! Sadly, however, only three minutes in the ring; not even close to the previous challenger's outstanding seven minute survival! Well, folks: the Champion has won again!"

As the crowd wildly cheered on their champion, Titus overheard Braden complaining. "Beat by a girl?!"

Lance laughed and said, "Remember, kid; the asari are naturally biotic. It's actually no surprise that this place's 'champion' is one of them."

Titus returned his attention to the arena as soon as the next match started. This time the competition seemed a little more even. Both contestants were asari. However, as soon as Titus was beginning to anticipate an interesting fight, the challenger was knocked out from a barrage of flying disks. She didn't stand a chance.

"I sure hope Agent Harrison knows what he just bought himself into."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Connor returned to his post after ensuring that the shipment of supplies ordered by Commander Taylor had made it to where they were supposed to go. Engineering would definitely be thankful for the new couplings they needed for goodness knows what, and he was looking forward to some of the food items that he noticed going down to the kitchens. But despite everything running smoothly, the young communications specialist was walking mess of emotions.

All of my life, he thought, I’ve been living a half-truth.

He knew something was definitely wrong with him when he approached his terminal on the bridge and could hardly remember why the code script to a GUI he had been writing was open on the main screen. Why can’t I remember working on something as simple as this? Connor ran both hands through his thick of brush of hair and closed his eyes, trying to repress all other thoughts and simply focus on his job.

There was a ping from the terminal speakers and Connor glanced down in the corner of the main screen to see a flashing message icon, indicating a new e-mail. He tapped the icon to pull up the incoming message and saw that it was from his mother.

Hey hun. Just checking in on you. Your father and I haven’t heard anything in a while and we’re getting kinda worried. Please just let us know that everything’s okay. Love you!

It stung; not being able to bring himself to write a reply. Instead, Connor deleted the e-mail and went back to working on the code script. But his heart was slowly breaking. His family didn’t know about him; the real him. And so, he thought that as long as he continued to ignore them, they would eventually stop acknowledging they even had a son. Wouldn’t that be easier? If the problem would just eventually fade away?

Another ping pulled his attention back to the inbox still up on his terminal. At first, he thought it was his mother being stubborn enough to send yet another message, but he was slightly relieved to see that it was a message from different source. Only when he saw who sent it, did he fall back into a depressed mood.




Yeoman Brown’s office was warm; a pleasant surprise when compared to the rest of the ship’s chilling temperature. But, regardless of the climate, Connor felt extremely uncomfortable being in the room. He would much rather be occupying himself with rewriting an operating system than sitting on a shrink’s recliner. In truth, he was only in here because he was ordered to be; as was the everyone else on the ship. By orders of the Captain himself, all personnel were required to speak with Major Lisa Brown at some point after departure from Lookout Station. Appointments had been pre-scheduled, of course, so Ms. Brown needn’t see everyone at once. Connor’s appointment landed on today; and he was none too thrilled after receiving the notification from her via his inbox.

The woman sat across from him in a low chair, legs crossed, and a data pad in graceful hands. As she skimmed through what had to be his entire life in a convenient little dossier, Connor fidgeted with his thumbs, resorting to picking at the fine white cloth of his recliner. Eventually, Brown lowered the data pad to just above her knee and looked the young serviceman right in the eye.

“So, Connor,” she began, “if I may use your first name; how are you liking it aboard the Marathon so far?”

It appeared this wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, as the yeoman had decided to open with such a generic question, and one that he had been asked a dozen times already since the start of the mission. “Fine,” he replied, trying his best to not roll his eyes.

“And you’re comfortable bunking in the barracks with other crew members?”

“I am.”

“In a room full of ego-maniacal men?”

Where is she going with this? he wondered. The question before seemed just as normal as the opening, but that last one sent up a red flag. Does she know? “I’m... sorry?”

Brown smiled and then glanced at her data pad, quickly saying, “Let’s move on.” Her finger tapped the screen of her tap several times and she lightly bit her bottom lip, indicating she had found something of interest to switch the topic to. “According to your demographics profile, you were raised on the eastern U.S. coast; and you’re family is from Aviano. But I’m curious, though... your psych profile, from June, contains notes from Dr. Hiemer, your psychologist from technical training, that the American side of your family is from the southern region of the U.S.”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “That’s correct, ma’am.”

“So, from which side of your family do get the feeling that your orientation makes you less than human?”

The question felt like a rock just hit him square in the face. It was unexpected, to say the least. “Excuse me, ma’am?” Connor finally stammered out after catching his breath.

“Connor,” Lisa calmingly said, “Dr. Hiemer had the same hunch I did when he first saw you; and, according to his notes, after he listened to you carry on a conversation both with him and others, he was pretty confident that you’re gay. And so am I. Not only that, but your family seems to have a few members with mixed orientations; so, genetically speaking, it would make sense.”

DeMarco took a moment to collect himself and his thoughts before replying. “I, uhm... I’m not sure what to say that, ma’am. I mean, I suppose... Yes. I am gay; but I don’t see why you’re asking about that.”

“I’m not,” Lisa said simply. “My question was, which side of your-”

“I know what the question was, ma’am,” Conner interrupted, only to take a deep breath and realize he was wrong to interrupt a ranking officer. But Lisa didn’t seem to mind. It was part of her job, after all; to tap into the emotional spring of her patients. “The southern half of my family,” Conner finally admitted. “They’re the ones that have an issue with me being... gay. Or, they would, if they knew.”

“You haven’t told them,” Lisa simplified. “Because you’re afraid of what they might say?”

Connor took a moment to think about the answer to that, picking again at the fabric of the recliner. As his fingers plucked, thoughts and memories swarmed his mind. Eventually, he asked, “When you were younger, did you ever want something so badly that you took it without informing or asking, because you were so afraid of hearing your parents say ‘no’?”

Lisa nodded her head with a genuine smile. “Plenty of times,” she replied.

“I don’t want to be someone that I’m not, ma’am. So I try to be myself. But the word ‘no’ is always in the back of mind. I can’t seem to get away from it. The only way I know how to ignore it, is by giving into it and hiding my orientation.”

“Are you, perhaps, conflicted on whether or not ‘no’ is right? Because science says something else.”

“I understand that, ma’am. And I know that there is nothing wrong with who I am; but, for some reason, and one that I cannot explain... I want to believe that there is. For my family’s sake? I don’t know.”

Lisa looked at her pad again, but only for a quick second. “Your family is religious, correct?” At Connor’s nod, she continued. “What about you? Is there, perhaps, a spiritual element involved in your inner struggle?”

“Well, I used to be religious, ma’am. But I stopped practicing when I recognized my orientation. I still believe in a higher power, sure. But I don’t invest in doctrine or dogma anymore. That’s something my family doesn’t understand, either. They’ve seen me become progressively more liberal, and they don’t know it’s because I’m not one of ‘them’.”

“But you said that part of you wants this old doctrine to be correct. That something is wrong with you being who you are.”

“Is it wrong to want life to be as simple as black and white?”

LIsa smiled again and replied, “So, if given the chance, you would trade unbounded possibility for limited familiarity?”

Profound. Connor had to give Yeoman Brown some credit; she knew how to do her job well, or he at least hoped this was her doing a good job. This was someone other than Adam that he could talk to about all of this, and someone that would not only understand, but offer advice with the backing of a respectable academic pedigree. Cerberus knew how to pick ‘em.

“Connor,” she said, “I want you to keep being who you are. You don’t have to come out just yet, if you don’t want to. But I do want you to keep seeing Adam - and yes, I know about him, too; something like that is far too obvious to keep secret around here - and keep talking to him as well as me. He can listen, as any good lover should; and so can I when he’s not available. When you leave my office here in a moment, I want you, finally, to remember this above all else: there are times when we must disappoint the ones that tell us ‘no’; to free ourselves of the burden of being someone whom we are not meant to be.”

DeMarco left the yeoman’s office feeling strangely lighter on his feet, and also slightly smiling at the corners. He had entered Miss Brown’s office expecting a boring, dragged-out session of psychoanalyzing to the point of exhaustion; but though there was definitely a fair amount of psychoanalyzing, the appointment didn’t take very long at all, nor was it boring.

Unbounded possibility, he thought. I like that.




“Didn’t see me coming, did you, Oracle?”

It didn’t take Adam long to process the fact that the new comer, decked out in full battle rattle, who had leaped down in front of him seconds ago wasn’t apart of the official fight.

“No,” the N7 replied. “And I take it you don’t have a gym membership.”

There was a loud kathud as the mechanics beneath the arena floor activated and lowered the obstacles back into their starting positions, completely smoothing everything out. As soon as the audience could clearly see from all angles, Adam could hear the echoing gasps and see the surprised, and also excited, expressions. The voice of the salarian commentator started spouting out over the intercom again.

“Holy ancestors of the Dalatrass, folks! Just as our bio readings suggested, the champion is out of the fight and someone new has entered the ring! As medical teams retrieve our beloved champion from the floor, let’s watch what this new warrior has brought to the Cube!”

Great, Adam thought. The show must go on.

Twenty feet now separated Adam and the mysterious challenger. Without his own gear, this would be tough fight, but he didn’t exactly need it. He had trained under plenty of extreme conditions at the Villa before ever receiving the implants and amps he has now. After fighting with the asari, he knew that the arena floor had twenty-five disks scattered across the surface, each one no farther than ten or fifteen feet from another. He could throw his body into a biotic charge, and release the barrier he had put up in his fight with the champion. The charge would at least stumble her if she managed to withstand it, giving him the opportunity to unleash the nova (the name given to the shock wave technique that was produce by rapidly disbanding one’s biotic barrier), which would infuse her shields with a charge of dark energy. After that, he would need to send a small bolt of energy from his hand to detonate an explosion and send the challenger flying.

Better now or never, he thought, as he took in a deep breath and brought his hands back. A field of dark energy emerged around him and he felt a sudden surge of adrenaline. Tunnel vision instantly set in, blacking out everything but his target. With butterflies in his stomach, Adam felt his body drastically lunge before all feeling went numb. In the blink of an eye, he was already right in the challenger’s face, but as soon as he was sure he had her, vision completely blacked out. When he could see again, his entire body cried out in pain and he realized he was laying on his back. Without hesitating, Adam pushed the pain to the back of his mind and forced himself to recover.

“Unbelievable, ladies and gentlemen!” The commentator’s voice was slightly muffled by the ringing in Adam’s ears, but it came through, nonetheless. “The newcomer just used her own biotics to detonate the field around Harrison! This fight just keeps more exciting by the second! What will our contender try next to gain the upper hand?”

Adam smirked at the question. Time for a game changer, he mused. There are a few things his amps and implants don’t need his specialized armor to pull off. With upward motions from both hands, Harrison raised two of the fighting disks from nearby on the arena floor. After jerking his arms toward each other, the disks went flying toward either side of his opponent. It was an easy attack to dodge, and, as expected, the challenger simply leaped backward.

But while she was distracted by the disks and still slightly focused on where Adam was standing, the N7 leaped forward as she leaped backward, twisting his body around to face back toward the stands... and vanished in a sudden puff of black and violet, smoking dark energy.

Before his challenger realized what had happened, Adam’s left arm reached around from behind and tightened against her neck. His right hand reach up from behind and braced the top of her helmet, bringing it back so the crook of his left arm was free to ensnare the woman’s trachea. With his opponent in a successful figure four rear naked choke, Adam hissed, “Who the hell are you?!”




Titus was on his feet, rapidly spouting commands into the communicator of his lit up Omni-tool. “I want Trox and a team down here, ASAP!”

“Aye-Aye, Captain!” Connor’s voice responded over the net.

“Lance,” Titus barked, turning to the man, “I need you to... Lance?” His friend was leaning forward on the bleacher and eyes were intently staring at the battle. Titus wasn’t sure if the guy simply didn’t realize what was going on, or if he spotted something that the Captain had not.

After a short moment, Lance stood up and with a confident grin, said, “I know that ass.”

“....-the fuck?”




“Ask your precious Captain,” the woman’s venomous voice was distorted by the visor, but Adam doubted he would recognize it anyway. To no surprise, she put up a struggle, bring her head back, pushing against his right palm, and then grabbing his left elbow to push up and away, simultaneous grasping onto the wrist of his right hand. Once nearly out of the choke hold, Vala released his left elbow and used the now free arm to send her own elbow into the left side of the marine’s abdominals. Harrison buckled slightly from the pain, giving his opponent more room to wiggle out of his grasp and turn around to place his right arm into a very painful arm bar. She then delivered a series of breathtaking kicks to his abs, primarily focused on his already injured side.

Using one of the delays in between the kicks, Adam put as much as he could muster into an outburst of dark energy from his body; unleashing a mighty sphere that forced the stranger to release her vice grip on his arm and send her flying several yards across the arena floor. But in his peripherals, she had no problem sticking a graceful landing.

This bitch is a like some kind of damn cat, he thought. Quick. Graceful. Highly disciplined. But who does she work for?

It didn’t take him long to figure it out. Although there were no discernible logos or emblems on the woman’s strange armor, which seemed to come from some skunk works program, what she had said about asking his precious Captain finally clicked. Titus is ex-Cerberus. And Oracle had been expecting the Illusive Man to send someone out to clean up the mess. Adam’s opponent was no doubt a Cerberus agent out to perform just that. But then there was one other question: why is she fighting him? Titus was sitting just behind him in the stands. Either she had a heart and didn’t want to put innocent lives in danger, or she was only here to make a point. Or both. Whichever the case, he would have to figure things out later.

“Time to end this,” he grunted. Adam put himself into a defensive posture, but fired up his biotics once again. This time, he intended to use all of the arena’s disks. Within seconds, each one on the floor possessed a faint violet tint of dark energy rippling across their surfaces. As he carefully raised them all simultaneously in the air, he focused in on his target, and began unleashing two at a time. As expected, the woman dodged them gracefully, ducking and weaving as they came in close, ensuring that he would be unable to turn them around in time to retarget her. But once again, they were only for distraction and showmanship. With ten left floating, he sent them all at once to her, following it up by leaping through the air and twisting his body up and around in an aerial flip, landing on one foot and unleashing a powerful shockwave from the punch of a fist. The shockwave attack wasn’t quite as strong as his signature slash attack, primarily because he didn’t have a specially crafted katana equipped with a biotic amplifier; but he wouldn’t need it.

When he thought he finally had her, the woman pulled off a trick of her own. Every one of the ten disks suddenly exploded when they reached a level that put them parallel to each other; and with them out of the way, she successfully dodged the would-be-fatal shockwave. Adam stared wide-eyed at the woman, who now stood with cocked back shoulders, and a proud head held high, as long lashes of light-blue energy extended from her wrists. The tell-tale signs of biotic energy made it obvious that these whip-like tentacles weren’t technological accessories, but pure dark energy morphed and molded into a form that could grapple, and tear through, matter.

The woman wound back and lashed forward with one of the whips. Its range and speed was absolutely incredible, and Adam barely had time to roll out of the way. When he recovered to his feet, he looked up only to see another one flying toward him. But then the remarkable happened...




“You’re sure?” Titus demanded after Lance made the claim that the stranger was Vala Buchan.

Braden, having overheard everything and watching the fight unfold in front of his very eyes, was left confused and wondering. He fully understood that Cerberus would be after them; and they would probably never give up on chasing Captain Titus and his allies; but why did they have to send Vala? Was it a personal vendetta? A score to settle?

No, he thought, this isn’t right. We were all friends once... Weren’t we?

Memories from the Vindicator flashed through his mind in the form images and broken words. He remembered having a childish crush on the woman, along with Lance. He remembered how Vala had saved his life on Illium. And he remembered how strong, resilient, and courageous she had been. She was a role model to him. And now what was she? An enemy?

Without hesitation, Braden stood up from his seat and ran forward, leaping down across the bleachers. He heard Titus and Lance yell after him, but he wouldn’t let them stop him. With long strides and leaps downward, he hastened toward the arena floor; the familiar tingle of biotic energy sparking up and down his spine. When he reached the protective barrier that prevented stray biotics and disks from flying into the audience, he leaped off a guard rail and unleashed a powerful shockwave from his own body as he flew through the air. At such a close proximity, the barrier shattered into pieces, and large chucks of the reinforced glass fell into the arena beyond, him along with them, landing easily on his feet.

Looking up after the landing, he saw Adam dodge one of the violent whips that Vala had sent toward him at blinding speed; but the man wouldn’t be able to move out of the way of the second one, already on its way above the floor. Hardly thinking of a proper plan, Braden threw up both hands and felt a surge of adrenaline rush through his system. In an instant, a purple sphere phased into existence around Adam, repelling the lash in the nick of time. A second later, another sphere formed around Vala, cutting off the tail of the lash and forcing the energy to fade into oblivion.

“Stop!” he cried, catching his breath. Braden remained where he was standing, breathing heavily and focusing on keeping the barriers active and strong. He wasn’t sure how long he could hold the two at bay from one another, but he had to try.

“Vala?” he inquired after a few seconds. “Is that really you?”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Jason Trox

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(music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYdSOCGBwLE )

“I don’t think I’m comfortable here.” Lizzie murmured as Jason led her into the dark club that’s only source of light were the flashing white and blue strobes that hung from the ceiling and illuminated the club like lightning strikes.

“Oh come on!” Jason urged as he pulled her through the door and over to the dance floor “It will be fun I promise.” The club was called Churoi’s and was owned by a volus of the same name. It wasn’t like most other bars and clubs on the Citadel that didn’t allow anybody below adult age in, here if you could pay you could play. Jason had paid the forty credit entry fee for both of them so he could guilt Lizzie into coming inside. She had a hesitant frown across her face as Jason practically threw her onto the dance floor and into the mesh of dancers, who were cramped into the dancing space with slightly more room than a sardine in a can. Lizzie looked extremely uncomfortable as she stood amongst the crowd, not even attempting to move with the rhythm of the heavy beat that thumped through the speakers.

“Come on get into a little.” Jason yelled over the music and started to pump his body in synchronization with the pounding beat of the techno music and the blinding flashes of the strobe lights. Lizzie slowly began to move her hips to the beat of the music, but her upper body was still stiff making her look like pendulum on a coco clock. Jason shook his head as he ran up next to her “No, no not like that come on!” he urged as he and began bobbing his head and snapping his body to the beat of the music.

Lizzie looked at him and tried to mimic his movements, but she gave up before even make a real attempt at it “Come on this is stupid! Let’s just go please.” She begged as Jason made his way behind her.

“You have to at least try!” he shouted over the pulsing beat “here let me help ya’.” Jason picked her arms up from her sides and brought them up just above here head and starting flailing them about in the air.

“What are you doing?” Lizzie giggled as Jason kept flailing her arms like she was some wacky cartoon character

“I’m trying to get you to dance! Come one if you don’t start moving your arms to the rhythm I’m just going to keep doing this!” Jason gave her one of his famous cocky smiles, and to his surprise Lizzie game a smile right back.

“I’ll dance, I’ll dance just stop that!” she laughed as Jason stepped back and she started to move her arms to the beat, her body began to sway with the rhythm but it all still seemed uncomfortable and unnatural.

“Put your body into it!” Jason said as he came over and grabbed the beautiful girl’s hips. She pulled away violently and turned to him with a little bit of irritation

“What do you think you’re doing? That’s not okay, okay?” She snapped at him

“Just relax; I’m only trying to help you get into the swing of thing!” He looked at her lustful eyes. He was speaking the truth; he was trying to help her dance since she moved like a dying sea turtle, but he trying to get his hands on her and move in a little closer as well. Who could blame him? Lizzie was a beautiful girl.

Lizzie looked at him, as she contemplated what to say. Then she turned back around and moved back into her original position “Okay, but no funny stuff.” She commanded. Jason smiled

“No funny stuff, I promise.”


******

The whiskey warmed Jacob’s blood as he took a swig from his silver flask then brought it back down between his legs and starred at his left hand. He closed the metallic fingers, then opened them, then closed them once more. The metallic fingers that were attached to his palm were just another reminder of the memories. Memories that he would rather have locked away forever, memories that required more whiskey to go away, he took another swig of whiskey and looked out over the small artificial lake he had found to sit by. Jillian would have loved the view, she always had a thing about water, said it reminded her of her home on Eden Prime long before the Geth invasion.

Jacob frowned, that day was the worst in his life…the day that she was ripped away from him. He looked at his hand and shook his head as a tear formed in the corner of his eye “I’m so sorry Jillian…I should have been able to stop them…I should have been able to save you” he held his tears back and leaned his head back and began to chug the last half of his whiskey. Still not enough alcohol, he would need to go back to the Marathon and refill, or maybe he would just find a bar somewhere and drown his sorrows there.

“Incoming transmission” a digitalized voice called out to Jacob from his Omni tool. He looked down to it and activated the communications array.

“Staff Lieutenant Trox.” Jacob recognized the voice as Connor DeMarco’s. Trox had talked to him a few times since he took the job as security specialist

“What is it Connor?” Jacob asked with irritation that was not meant to be directed at Connor.

“Captain Titus needs you to report to the cube immediately with a security detachment, they have a problem so go in with guns hot.” What? Captain Tummy Tickler was deploying the security force on the Citadel? There must be something big going on.

Trox’s old training kicked in and he began giving orders “I want six of my security officers, tell them to gear up with their High Risk Situations equipment make sure they have a sharp shooter and tell them to met me at the cube! Also warn C-SEC that an alliance Military Police team will be making a tactile entry into the cube arena.”

“Aye-aye sir.” DeMarco replied as Trox shoved he flask in his back pocket and bolted down the shining halls of the Citadel. As he ran he activated the map on his Omni tool so he could find his way to the Cube. He was forced to push pedestrians out of the way, since the streets were crowded with aliens and humans alike.

“Police! Police get out of the way, move your asses!” Trox was taken back to his day as a cop on Earth as he forced his way past people. He needed to get to the cube quick; he was in the mood to kick someone’s ass.


******

Lizzie tripped over her own feet laughing as her Jason made their way to a quiet corner of the dance club “So tell me I wasn’t right!” Jason yelled to Lizzie over the beating music.

“Okay, okay you were right!” Lizzie responded with a chuckle. She was a really good dancer when she got into it. Jason had been mesmerized by the way she had started moving her hips, and the way her body moved to the beat. The strobe lights had been bouncing off her hair, making her beauty even more defined in the harsh blue’s and whites of the club. When the two got over to the corner, where it was easier to hear once another, Lizzie inquired “How did you know about this place? It’s almost street level.”

Jason shrugged “Well my uncle was kinda’ strict so I spent a lot of time not doing what he said. He didn’t like me coming to these types of places, so I did and eventually I found all the good ones.”

“You know” Lizzie said with a serious look on her face “You shouldn’t have disobeyed him like that. It’s the fifth commandment ‘Honor thy father and thy mother, that your days may be long upon the Earth’.”

“Well I’m in luck.” Jason said with a know it all grin “He’s not my father; he’s my uncle so I’m in the clear.”

Lizzie gave him a crooked look “It’s talking about all your elders, plus if you spent most your life with him he is pretty much like your father so it would count anyway.”

Jason shook his head and his grin became a little less wide “Neither of my father figures were much of a father figure, so I think I’m safe.” Lizzie looked at him with a sympathetic stare like he was a hurt puppy, and it got his blood boiling. She was about to say something else but he interjected so that he wouldn’t go off on her “so, who was that guy you were with on the ship?’

She hesitated to answer, and just starred at Jason. She knew he was trying to avoid the subject so she decided not to chase it any longer “That was Braden, we have been friends a long time.”

“Oh really, so what’s your guy’s story? You two…” Jason brought his hands together in a joining gesture

Lizzie thought for a sec and smiled “yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“He looked kinda’ young, how old is he?” Jason asked with a shred of curiosity

“He is fifteen.”

“Fifteen? And you’re seventeen aren’t you?” fifteen! Fifteen! Jason thought to himself my competitions a goddamn fifteen year old!?

“Yeah, but he acts much older then he is. Plus it’s only two years so it’s not that big of a leap.” Lizzie answered with a shrug

“Hmm, well there must be more than meets the eye if he was able to snag a beautiful girl such as you.” Lizzie blushed a little, and Jason grinned yep, that’s right just working the magic he though arrogantly to himself

“Well, he’s smart, kind, good hearted.” She drifted off and Jason looked at her crookedly so he is a goodie two shoes?

“That’s it, nothing else spectacular that makes you like him? Because to be honest I think I could take him.” Jason made a mock muscle and showed off like he was some body builder.

Lizzie rolled her eyes “Yeah I don’t think so Jason.” She said with a grin

“And why not?” Jason arrogantly asked

“Because he is a biotic, I think he could handle you.” She said with a playful smile, but Jason’s grin dissipated like she had just punched him in the stomach

“He…he’s a biotic?” Jason asked, not sure if he had heard her right over the music

Lizzie looked at him strangely, wondering what had brought about this sudden behavior “Yeah…why is there something wrong with that?”

Jason cocked his head for a second and ran a hand past his mouth “Well, um no not with me I’m fine with biotics.”

“Then what is it?” Lizzie asked impatiently

“Well.” Jason rubbed the back of his neck “My dad doesn’t take to kindly to them, so you might want to keep Braden away from him.” He had seen his dad around biotics before, it wasn’t pretty.

“Your dad doesn’t like biotics?! I’ve seen him with that silver asari flask of his, they are biotics!” Lizzie growled, a little angered on Braden’s behalf

“It’s not all biotics he doesn’t like…just human ones.” He said cautiously

“What’s wrong with human biotics!?” Lizzie snapped, still with a tone of irritated anger in her voice

Jason didn’t answer, he looked to the floor, a feeling of utter emptiness started to overflow him and that aura reached Lizzie who starred at him awkwardly. The thought of what happened brought an unbearable pain to his heart, “A long time ago…when I was almost four…” he stopped and put a hand on his heart, the pain was still there “A biotic killed my mom.” Jason shook his head, he was so young but he could remember it so vividly like it was seared into his mind. He shook his head “It…was so long ago but I can remember it so clear.” He had to fight to hold back tears, that day tore his family apart. He grabbed onto his chest right above his heart and held it tight, and he and his dad had permanent reminders of it.

Lizzie looked at him with guilt written all over her face “I’m so sorry I didn’t mean too…” she trailed off, obviously in a little shock

“No...It’s fine. It was a long time ago.” Of course it wasn’t really fine, but he had learned to lock that pain away.

There were a few moments of silence, but then the strobe lights turned a light, red and a techno song meant for close dancing began to play over the speakers

(Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3W8Of04PvOI )

Jason started moving to the beat and looked at Lizzie with a smile that he forced himself to put on “Come on let’s dance”

Lizzie shook her head “but-” Jason didn’t give her a chance to answer as he put a hand on her back and started walking her to the dance floor “I don’t know about this.” She said as she looked at the other people in the club dancing extremely close to one another, but then Jason grabbed her hands

“Come on it will be fun.” He smirked as he pulled her over to the dance floor, she looked uncomfortable again so Jason did most the dancing at first “Come on move it! You were great before!” He egged her on, and with an unsure smile she began to dance with the boy. As Jason got closer in, to where their bodies were almost touching his smile became real, and hers became sure as they danced like they had no worries in the universe.

*****

By the time Jacob had made it to the entrance of the cube, his assembled team was just arriving. The team was decked out in bulky, grey, assault armor and totting assault rifles. They looked like a true force to be reckoned with. As Jacob got within a few dozen feet of the entrance he pulled his pistol, he knew he should have packed his Assault rifle.

“I want an assault entry! Clear the room for hostiles and for God sakes don’t shoot a civvie!” The team stacked up at the entrance and Jacob got at the end of the line right behind a woman with a sniper rifle “that you Jackson?” Jacob asked the women.

“Yes sir!” the women answered with an unhindered focus

“I want you as far back and high as possible, keep a look out for any hidden threats.” Jacob ordered

“Ready for entry?” the point man asked as civilians looked on in confusion. Jacob patted Jackson on the back, then she patted the officer in front of her and so on all the way up the line until the point man had been patted. Then as quick as a flash the point man hit the button to open the door and he rushed in going right, the man behind him going left and so on in that pattern as the whole team entered the arena seating area.

Each officer, including Jacob, yelled to the civilians around them “Military Police stay in your seats!” Jacob scanned the rows for any signs of a threat, but he couldn’t see anything he wouldn’t expect not the see there. In fact everyone seemed rather calm, except for the people who saw the alliance marines busting in with guns ready. Jacob scanned the seats for the captain and spotted him with some other Marathon crew members observing the security team’s entry. Quickly Jacob ran over to the captain and stopped when he was next to him, still searching for a threat in the seats.

“Where’s the threat boss’?” Jacob inquired to his commander, who pointed to the arena at a figure that wore a helmet but was obviously a women by her figure. She was standing, staring at Harrison and a kid that Jacob had seen once or twice on the ship but wasn’t sure who was. He looked a closely and saw the biotic energy extending from the woman’s hands…and his blood boiled to an absolute rage. “Team, the threat is a woman in the middle of the arena! Get to firing positions around the seating area and take aim, Jackson I want you aimed up for a clean head shot.” The team moved instantly, each member taking up a firing position at least forty feet away from one another.

“Orders boss’?” Jacob inquired, but in his mind he wasn’t looking for any other answer to the question besides ‘take the shot’. Let me kill her, let me kill her, you know you want to let me kill her . Jacob’s earlier reminiscence about his wife put him in a foul mood, and now all he wanted was to see a biotic dead.

“Hold your fire Trox.” Tummy Tickler said, What?!

“Sir?” Jacob asked with shock

“Hold your fire.” The Captain repeated

“Sir, with all do respect we can end whatever is happening now!” he got close to the captains ear “We can blow her fucking head off right now.”

The captain looked at Jacob with a look of irritation and slight anger “I said hold your fire, Staff Lieutenant.” Jacob shook his head and ran his metallic fingers through his beard. He then angrily pressed the communications button on his Omni tool so he could speak to his team

“Hold your fire. But Jackson, keep a bead on that bitch down there.”

“Aye-aye, sir.” Jackson replied.

Jacob looked on at the scene that was taking place, and then grunted with disgust at the captains orders as he continued to scan the arena for a secondary threat.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Nearly a hundred different thoughts flashed through Titus’ cramped mind as he marched his way toward the main sick bay on the Marathon’s third deck. After having made it out of the Cube in one piece and safely away from the chaos of the panicking civilians, him and his group immediately made for the cruiser. While they were still docked, he asked C-Sec to increase patrols around the area in case Buchan decided to turn around and finish what Titus knew she originally came to do.

He was angry, and for many reasons. Harrison was almost killed by a former ally, Braden decided to play hero... again, his Chief of Security nearly disobeyed a direct order, and innocent civilians were placed in harm’s way. But above all else, he was mostly angry with himself. He let his arrogance fool him into thinking that it was safe to show his face in a very public setting. He put others’ lives in danger along with his own.

There was a hiss as the double sliding glass doors to the medical bay opened before him. The Captain maintained his approach and walked straight through the front lobby and down a small corridor that led to the private examination rooms. He turned into an open doorway, where a small LED sign on the wall outside was labelled with a glowing blue “3”, and found Veronica looking intently at a tall display of a human being’s biometric profile. The particular human was Adam Harrison, who sat atop the exam table wearing only a short-sleeved, thigh-length patient gown. Braden Reynolds sat in a chair next to the table, sipping on a small box of juice.

“How’s he look?” Titus asked, bringing everyone in the room to face him. Adam tried to stand up off of the exam table to properly acknowledge John’s ranking presence, but the Captain held up a hand to keep him where he was.

Veronica returned to looking at the monitor, rubbing her chin. “No broken bones or even a hint of a single fracture,” she said. “Negative signs of internal bleeding... Only some nasty outer bruising. He’ll be sore for a few days, but some mild exercise and adequate rest will remedy that in no time.”

“How are you feeling?” Titus asked Adam with a slight smile from the good news.

Harrison shrugged his shoulders. “If not for the fact that my pride has taken a ding due to having my ass handed to me by a chick, I’d say I’m feelin’ pretty good. Hungry as shit, though.” Adam glanced down at Braden as soon as the expletive left his mouth. “Uh, sorry.”

Braden rolled his eyes. “Fuck it,” he said, “I hear enough of it on a military vessel.”

“Braden!” Veronica snapped, scowling at the teen.

The young man grinned, but the smile soon faded into a look of complete guilt when his eyes met Titus’. “I’m... sorry, sir... For jumping out there like that.”

“Don’t sweat it, son,” Titus said. The Captain thought he felt his heart skip a beat when that final word left his lips. Son. He sounded like an old man speaking to his own child. He wasn’t sure where it had come from. Was Braden starting to feel like a true son to him after all this time around the kid? He did find himself constantly concerned for the boy, and there was no doubt that a certain affection for him had developed; but it was hard to decipher their relationship.

“I better get up to the QEC and report in to the Operator. I’m sure she’ll want to hear about what went down out there.” Titus turned out of the exam room and headed back towards the lobby of the medical bay, once there he passed by Connor DeMarco, who was quickly making his way into the bay from outside.

“Hi, Captain, is-?”

“Your boyfriend’s fine,” Titus said, cutting him off. “Exam room three.” The Captain pressed on, leaving Connor to continue his false confusion amid deep blushing. Titus couldn’t help but to allow himself a silent chuckle as he left medical bay.




“And who is she?” Sibyl asked, sitting behind her desk in an office deep within Arcturus Station, humanity’s single greatest off-world construct. Before her, projected in the center of the immaculate office by the QEC pad, stood Captain Titus’ hologram.

“Operative Vala Buchan,” he replied. “She’s a deep-cover Cerberus asset, and highly favored by the Illusive Man. She was previously tasked with ensuring Omni Cell’s unity. Having obviously failed at that, it appears her priorities have changed.”

“So the Illusive Man is attempting to tie up any loose ends,” Sibyl said. “And who better than an old friend?”

The question was rhetorical, but Titus replied nonetheless. “Vala and I were never really friends, Sib. She’s... difficult to get along with.”

“Is she a threat?”

“Pardon?”

“I mean,” Sibyl leaned back in her seat and crossed her legs, resting her elbows on the arms of her chair and interlacing her fingers as she continued, “do I need to assign someone to track this woman’s whereabouts and eliminate her from the game, or can you handle her?”

Titus took a moment to consider what Sibyl was asking before answering the question. “Buchan has... changed. There was something way different about her back at the Cube. Before, her biotics were barely strong enough to lift a glass of water. But in that arena, she nearly tore Harrison to shreds with nothing but biotics. It’s obvious she’s had some upgrades, and until I know how much has changed, it’s best you let me take her on by myself. Don’t risk any others until we know the extent of her reach.”

Sibyl raised a curious brow, but conceded. “Very well,” she replied. “Just keep me posted on any changes. And before I let you go, there will be a slight alteration in your course to the Subtle Wind assignment.”

“Oh?”

“Commander Benjamin Slatton will be needing a pick-up. I’ve already had Prophet forward the exact coordinates of the RV point to Flight Lieutenant Mansfield. Before you, he was Oracle’s only active military asset. He had a good crew and ship, but a recent conflict with Cerberus has left him without either.” Sibyl noticed a slight change in her friend’s expression. “Something the matter, Jonathan?”

“Buchan mentioned that we had took a friend of hers, and that we attacked first. If this Commander Slatton is your only other military asset, would he have something to do with that?”

Sibyl smiled. She knew she couldn’t keep anything from her longtime friend for long, and she was glad to see that he was still as sharp as he had been when they served together as marines. “We had captured and detained a Cerberus operative that was serving under Commander Horn. We were holding him at a facility on-”

“Horn?!” Titus’ sudden outburst surprised the woman.

“Yes.”

“When you brought me back into the Alliance and I told you everything I knew about Cerberus, I gave you a list of names, remember? The do-not-fuck-with-these-people list?”

Sibyl grinned. “Ah yes. I believe I misplaced that particular file.”

Titus was unamused by her joking and only sighed in disappointment. “Sib, I realize that you want revenge against Cerberus after what they did to-”

“-Jonathan-”

“-but you have got to take my word on this: there are certain people within that organization that you do not want to cross. Jason Horn is one of them, and after what I saw back in the Cube, you can add Vala Buchan to that list.” Titus sighed again before daring to ask his next question. “Who did you capture?”

“A marine named Daniel Harrens. He calls himself a ‘Demon’. Any idea what that means?”

Titus stared at her with a disturbingly blank expression. “Yeah, this Commander Slatton dude was fucked from the beginning.”




Harder. Faster. Harder. Faster.

Corporal Neal Striker always pushed himself to go above and beyond what was expected of him, even if that meant a few reps of push ups with his brother, Reece. Neal and Reece were twins, both blondes, both slim but fit, and both had a knack for getting into trouble. The kind of trouble they preferred, however, typically involved dangerous mission assignments with a lot of risk and reward.

“You know,” a petite woman’s voice said from above them, “it almost looks like you two are racing.”

Neal glanced up to see Private Nora Waverly standing above them with hands on her hips, leaning over to eye the two as they pumped out their push ups at nearly lightning speed. But she was wrong. They weren’t racing, they were merely keeping pace with one another. It was a twin thing. Whatever workout routine they practiced, they set a pace, typically faster than what most would like, and they stuck with each other.

“Wanna join us, Waverly?” Neal invited, drawing out the words in between his breaths.

“Unless that’s a directive from you as my fire team leader, I’ll pass.”

The Striker twins grinned. “Suit yourself,” Neal said.

Neal and Reece were both leaders of their own fire teams, and members of the Aurora Initiative. While their security clearance was Top Secret and they belonged to an outfit that technically didn’t exist, attached to another branch that also didn’t exist, they were Alliance marines first and foremost. Waverly was one of the members of Neal’s fire team, code named Sierra 004. Reece was in charge of 002. Both teams had hit the gym on the fourth deck for a bit of PT.

As the main doors to the gym hissed open, Neal looked up to get a glimpse of who was walking in.

“Hey, why’d you stop?” Reece demanded, looking at his brother.

Neal didn’t even realize he had stopped in the up position to gawk at the gorgeous light-brunette walking into gym in her PT uniform. Smooth legs, perfectly tuned body, tall, and just damn. Reece finally followed Neal’s widened eyes and... he started staring too.

Both of them shot to their feet at the same time, but Neal placed a hand in front of his brother. “No way, man. I saw her first.”

Reece backed off and shrugged his shoulders. “Go for it, bro. But just know I’ll be right here... waiting for you to fall flat on your ugly face.”

“We share that ugly face,” Neal joked back. “Remember that!”

Neal brought his shoulders back and chest out as he confidently walked over to the gym’s new occupant. When he stood before her, she cast him a curious glance with graceful eyes. Neal took the time to properly position himself so he completely dominated her vision, ensuring Reece couldn’t be seen behind him in the background to screw up his introduction.

With hands behind his back and a sly smile, Neal said, “Hello there, I’m Corporal Neal Striker. I lead fire team zero-zero-four.”

“Oh really?” the woman asked. “You’re a fire team leader, huh? How impressive.”

Catching the slight air of sarcasm in her tone, Neal became hesitant. “Uh, yeah... I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh sorry,” she said with a flaunt of her wrist towards her chest. “Where are my manners? I’m Rhonda Thomas. Major Rhonda Thomas. I lead all of the fire teams on the Marathon.”

Completely dumbstruck, Neal instantly took a step back and straightened himself out to a position of attention, yelling immediately, “Officer on deck!” Both fire teams quickly fell in beside him in ranking order and according to their team, with 002 directly behind 004.

“Listen up,” Thomas barked, putting herself into a slow pace in front of the detail. “I came down here to find out if the assets I’ve been placed in charge of are capable of proving themselves to be marines. So far, I’m not impressed.”

“Way to go, jackass,” Reece whispered loud enough for his brother to hear him. Unfortunately, it was too loud, and Major Thomas’ eyes shot over to the man.

“Got something to say, Corporal?”

“Negative, ma’am!” Reece answered.

“I think you do. Spit it out!”

Neal could hear his twin swallow hard before shouting. “I was calling my brother a jackass, ma’am!”

The Major grinned before replying, “On that we can agree. Flutter kicks! Drop!”

Reece did as ordered and fell to the floor on his back, bringing his legs up to start kicking in rapid succession with hands hovering just off of the floor and at his sides.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Specialist Brody Caramelli Character Portrait: Private Mido Hamaada Character Portrait: Sargent Hiro Kuriyama

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Almost immediately after Titus took command of the Marathon, the Captain decided to start putting his stamp on his crew. He began with going through reports from all departments and recommendations on file to make some personnel changes. He had two fire teams, but he wanted someone to head up the second one. Someone with combat experience, so he went through the files. He found several qualified candidates, but more and more, the notable absence of a file kept coming to the forefront of his mind. The merc, Dianna Henricksen. Or Ostrander now, according to the meager file Sybil had provided him. He needed to know how the former Marine handled herself. He needed to be sure she could be trusted. “Prophet, when he comes aboard, assign Hiro Kuriyama to Fire Team Cobalt as second and ask Dianna Ostrander to come see me, please.”

“Very well, Captain Titus.” The A.I. acknowledged.

Ten minutes later, a piping tone at Titus’ office door announced Dianna had arrived. He called for her to enter and when the door swished open it revealed Dianna in a freshly-pressed Alliance uniform. She stepped into the room and offered a smart salute, waiting for him to acknowledge her.

Titus sighed and returned the salute before asking her to sit. Once she did, Titus asked, “You know that I have told the crew how I feel about saluting?”

Dianna nodded, her pale gray eyes meeting his calmly, “Yes, Sir. I know.”

Titus quirked a brow at the woman across from him. Somehow, he knew instinctively that regardless of his personal feelings about being saluted, she was going to salute him just the same. He decided to move on to the reason he’d called her to his office. “You have tactical team experience, I understand?”

Dianna nodded, “I do, Sir. Vanguard class.”

Titus nodded, “How do you feel about taking command of a Fire Team?” He waited, studying her for any tale-tell signs of how her mind worked.

Dianna’s gears were spinning in her head. Command meant she would be responsible for the lives of others. She wasn’t the finest tactician, but she did think things through. She was not personable, so making a cohesive team would be more difficult. She would lead by example and find a good sounding board. All of these thoughts went through her mind in less than a few heart-beats. Dianna lifted her eyes to meet Titus’ once more, “I won’t let you down, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”

Titus smiled finally, “Don’t thank me yet.” He said. “Prove me right.”
______________________________________________________________________________

During the outfitting of the Marathon at Lookout Station, some crew transferred out and some transferred in. One of the new crew members coming aboard for the first time was Sargent Hiro Kuriyama. He was a lean Japanese man with compact muscle reminiscent of a dancer. His Alliance uniform was immaculate and pressed perfectly. As he came aboard with his duffle slung over one shoulder and a hard sword case over the other, his gentle smile suddenly bloomed when he saw a young Marine leaning against a bulkhead with an answering grin on his face.

Hiro headed for Harrison and the pair of friends clasped hands and then gave one another a brief hug, clapping each other on the back. Hiro shook his head at his friend, “Didn’t think I’d ever run into you again, Adam. You catching a ride or assigned here?”

Harrison reached for Hiro’s duffel and turned to lead his old friend toward his assigned room. “Yeah, I’m assigned to the Marathon for now.” He indicated Hiro’s hard sword case, “I see you still have your katana. I look forward to teaching you a few lessons.”

That made Hiro laugh, “Oh do you really? I seem to remember taking you to task back on Arcturus.” He looked at his friend from the corner of his dark eyes, “Think you’ve learned enough to beat me?”

Harrison just shrugged, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” He continued to lead Hiro toward his assigned quarters. “You’re being assigned to Fire Team Cobalt. Your chief is named Dianna Ostrander.” He paused slightly, then added. “She’s an unknown quantity. I’d like you to keep an eye on her for me.”

Hiro raised a brow at Harrison. “Oh? Shouldn’t that be something the Captain should know about?”

Harrison gave a little shrug, “He will, after you tell me, I’ll tell him.”

Hiro gave Harrison a speculative look, “Is she going to get me killed?”

Harrison shrugged again, “You know? Somehow, I don’t think so.”

The pair reached the door to Hiro’s quarters. “Here you are. I’ll let you get settled and introduce yourself.” Harrison stuck his hand out again with a smile, “Come find me in the gym when you’re in need of a beating.”

Hiro gripped his old friend’s hand and laughed. “Will do. Good to see you again.”
_____________________________________________________________________________

Brody Caramelli flipped through the pages of a well dog-eared pocket journal, the corner of his lips turned up in amused memory. “Hooo. Samantha.” He actually pressed his nose to the pages of the little book as if the girl’s scent had somehow become impressed upon its pages. The slender Italian lay on his bunk, bare feet where his head should be. He wore only his dark Alliance athletic shorts, showing off his whip-cord physique. “I do believe she did her very best to break me.” He chuckled fondly.

The youngest member of Fire Team Cobalt, Mido Hamaada, looked up from tinkering with a torn apart data pad and rolled his eyes as Brody read off the virtues of his rather extensive record of conquests. “You’re killing me here, Caramelli.” He grinned suddenly. “Caramel. Heh. Ice cream sauce.”

Brody lifted his chin to look at the Private upside down from where he was, “Stuff it, King Tut before you find yourself wrapped in sheets like your ancestors.” He grinned as he said it, so the threat lost all of its meaning.

Mido laughed, he’d already learned that Brody was kidding 90% of the time and he enjoyed the banter. “Your arms aren’t long enou-“ His crack about Brody’s lack of height was interrupted by a well-placed shot with a pillow right to the face. Mido was so startled by the speed of the attack, he barely registered what had just happened until Brody hit him upside the head again. This time with enough force to knock him from his chair.

Mido lay in a tangle of long, awkward arms and legs blinking up at the grinning heavy-weapons specialist. “How…?” He blinked again, “You weigh like 50 pounds!”

Brody just laughed and flexed an impressively ripped bicep. “And every effing fibre is carbon steel, my young urchin.”

Just then, the door hissed open to permit Hiro to enter. Hiro’s dark eyes took in the scene, including the pillow hanging limply in Brody’s left hand. “Wow. Pillow fights?” His eyes twinkled with amusement. “Are we painting our nails next?

Brody took in the flawless uniform and inwardly groaned. Flipping the pillow back to his bunk, he offered a hand to Mido to help the Private up before addressing Hiro. “No, uh. Just demonstrating the sagacity of never underestimating people, Sergeant.

Hiro simply looked between the pair for a bit longer, letting them stew for a bit. “Care to introduce yourself or should I break out my Ouija board?”

Mido, who was nearly fresh from the Academy recovered quicker than the more seasoned Brody. He snapped to attention. “Private Mido Hamaada. Engineer. Sapper, Sergeant.” His back was straight, his eyes straight forward and he looked terrified.

Brody was a complete contrast to Mido when he introduced himself. He also stood straight, but there was the impression of a coiled spring about him. He met Hiro’s gaze directly and smiled. “Heavy Weapons Specialist Brody Caramelli. Welcome aboard, Sergeant.” He introduced himself as if he expected Hiro to know who he was.

Hiro studied the pair for a moment longer he already liked Brody. The kid was still an unknown. “As you were.” He shook his head and headed for one of the two open bunks. He tossed his duffel onto the mattress, but he placed his sword case there carefully. Turning, he then offered his hand to Brody first. “I’m Sergeant Hiro Kuriyama. I guess I’m your second.” Broday shook his hand firmly, without the crushing grip some Marines are so fond of. “Good to meet you.”

Mido still looked intimidated, but brazenly smiled, “Yeah. Nice to meet you.” His eyes kept straying to the sword case. “You aren’t another one of those crazy blade nuts, are you? What’s wrong with a good old Carnifex?” It seemed to hit him too late what he’d said, because he stammered and tried to back-pedal. “Not that I…” He gulped, “I mean there’s nothing wrong with that. Sergeant.”

Hiro quirked a brow at the young Egyptian and then looked toward Brody, “Is he always like that?”

Brody grinned brilliantly, “Yep. Pretty much.” The heavy weapons Specialist did eye the sword case speculatively. “You know. We got a guy aboard all into blades. Thinks he’s all that….” He started.

“Harrison?” Hiro guessed as he began to unpack his duffel. “Friend of mine.” He grinned. “Word of advice? Straight up sword duel? Bet on me. Anything else? Bet on him. Make yourself a few bucks.”

Brody cast a glance toward the Private for a moment before turning back to his new Sergeant. “You know him?”

Hiro merely nodded, “Yes. I taught Kendo on Arcturus. He’s very, very good.”

Mido joined the conversation at that point. “Wait you are one of those sword nuts.” He accused.

Hiro straightened and pinned the rash Private with a hard stare. After a moment, he bent to open the sword case to reveal a beautifully wrought katana and not the mono-blade so many preferred. Its age was evident as was the deadliness of its design. “This has not seen true combat in hundreds of years. To carry a blade like this into modern warfare is suicidal at best, impossibly ignorant at worst. I practice with it as a form of martial training and meditation.”

Mido stared from the blade to the suddenly unsmiling Sergeant. “I understand.” He murmured wisely. He cleared his throat and meandered back to his disassembled data pad. “So…” He searched for a new topic. “How about our Alpha? Know her too? Dianna something.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Jason Trox Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Jason and Lizzie ran through the dimly lit, metallic hall of the Marathon as they made their way to the medical bay. While they were off having a good time there was apparently some craziness went down. Some people were in the medical bay, and one of them was Braden. Obviously when that went out over the comm it sent Lizzie running for the ship like the road runner from those old Looney Toons cartoons. She had barely slowed down the whole way through the Citadel, and it was near impossible to get her to sit still in the cab. Even now she was charging past people like getting there was going to somehow save his life.

“Lizzie! Slow down!” Jason called too her with a voice that was weak and choppy from the lack of breathe. As she reached the elevator that would take her down to the medical bay she was forced to stop for a second to wait for it to arrive. “Oh thank God.” Jason let out through gasped words as he caught up to the girl. Jason bent over at the waist and took a few short breathes so that he could slow his repertory rate down before moving over to Lizzie who seemed to be damn near hyper ventilating “Lizzie, I’m sure he is fine okay?” Jason reassured her.

“Oh God please let him be okay.” She prayed, basically ignoring anything Jason had said.

“Lizzie just calm down.” Jason urged, but it made no difference to the girl who had gotten red and was breathing hard from the marathon she just ran. Before anybody could get another word in, the elevator doors slid open and Lizzie hopped inside without a moment’s hesitation. Jason jumped in after her and waited as she frantically hit the down button. Jason continued to give words that were meant to calm the girl, but they just seemed to have the opposite effect. The elevator doors slid closed and shot off down towards the deck containing the medical bay of the Marathon. There was silence the whole way down, aside from Lizzie’s prayers which she said quietly under her breathe. This girl and her blind faith…it was sad to Jason really. He couldn’t understand with all the bad things in the universe how people could just give themselves over to such silly beliefs.

The doors slid back open with a hiss of air and Lizzie was off again. Well the moment of rest was fun while it lasted. Jason took off after her as she charged past the marines and medical crew who were walking silently in the halls. She took a sudden right through a set of double doors which opened before her. She looked around frantically for Braden who was nowhere in site “Excuse me miss.” Lizzie spoke to a passing nurse “Where is Braden Reynolds?” she asked with panic

“Oh yes the biotic boy” the nurse said aloud “He is in the back, examination room 3.” The women answered “Don’t worry he is just fine, barely a scratch on him.” She smiled reassuringly and Lizzie gave a sigh of relief. She turned to Jason with a smile on her face “He’s okay.” She said as if Jason wasn’t standing in the room when the nurse had said it.

“Yeah I heard.” He said, trying to fake the same amount of relief she was feeling.

“Let’s go see him.” She was more giving a command then a suggestion it would seem by the tone of her voice and the fact that she just walked off as soon as she said it. Jason followed her too a room in the back that was marked by an illuminated 3 on the wall. The two entered to find Braden sitting in a chair sipping juice through a straw and watching that Harrison guy hugging some boy that Jason didn’t recognize.

“Braden! I thought you were hurt!” Lizzie exclaimed as she ran over too the boy and threw her arms around his neck. He seemed shocked for a second before his mind realized what was happening and let his hands fall onto her back

“No, no I’m fine.” He said in soothing voice, he seemed rather happy to see the girl. Then his eyes fell on Jason, it was like an instant hatred filled his eyes for some reason unbeknownst to Jason. “Why is he here?” Braden asked defensively. Aren’t you just a bundle of joy? Jason thought himself as Lizzie leaned out of the embrace and looked to him

“Jason and I were just hanging out on the Citadel when we heard that you were in the medical bay.” She gave a sweet smile too Jason, and this seemed to set make Braden even more angry.

He looked to Jason with a look of irritation “I see.” He said bitterly. Jason let air leak from his lips as he gave an arrogant glare to Braden

“Yeah, I’m just going to go.” He said patronizingly, he turned on his heel and began his walk back to the elevator. Just as he reached the double doors of the medical bay he heard a voice call out from behind him

“Jason, wait up!” Jason spun his head and saw Lizzie running up to him with a smile across her face

“What is it Lizzie?” Jason asked as he turned to meet her.

She stopped a few feet from him and looked at him with those sparkling eyes of hers “I just wanted to say thank you.”

“For what?” Jason couldn’t imagine why she would be thanking him

“Well just for taking me out to that club and stuff. It was really fun.” She smiled with the cutest of smiles, and suddenly Jason felt a feeling rising from his stomach into his chest.

“Oh it was no problem.” Jason said with a grin, and then she came closer and wrapped her arms around Jason’s torso for a quick embrace. That was all it took for Jason’s heart to almost explode out of his chest cavity, it lasted only a few seconds but too Jason it lasted even less. He wanted it to last for a long time, minute’s maybe even hours but it seemed to end so quickly. She backed out of the embrace and backed up a bit with that same smile still across her face.

“I’ll talk to you later Jason.” She said as she turned and walked back towards the medical bay. Jason watched her until she was out of sight, then he smiled to himself and turned back for the elevator with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. Nothing was going to ruin this mood, not by a long shot. He hit the button next to the elevator and waited for it to arrive, thinking of Lizzie the whole time.

*******

“Motherfucking lazy ass C-SEC.” Jacob was grumbling to himself as he returned to the Marathon after having a long chat with the cop in charge of searching for that would be assassin. It was such a simple task, shut down the damn cab services and secure all the exits off the Citadel, but they couldn’t even do that. They were the protectors of the most important diplomatic location in council space and they couldn’t secure their own territory. Wastes of useful space was all those damn “Officers” were. He hated being a cop, but at least on Earth the cops could make a perimeter and keep someone from leaving a closed area.

He just wanted to go get some chow from the mess and then go back to his room and look through the personnel files. He needed to know more about these damn biotics that were taking up his breathing air. Jacob walked down the dimly lit halls of the ship, without his hangover the darkness was once again unwelcome to Jacob. He hated not being able to see down the hall, it made him feel vulnerable, weak and useless. He walked up too the elevator and slammed on the button to call the lift up to his level. The elevator doors slid open to reveal Jason, leaning against the wall of the elevator with a grin as wide as the Great Plains. It was shocking to say the least; his son hadn’t smiled since he picked him up from his Brother on the Citadel. “You seem…happy.” Jacob stated with caution as he entered the elevator.

“Do I?” Jason said in a matter of fact like tone

“Yes. You do…oh lord son what did you do?” Jacob asked with worry as the boy stepped in front of the elevator doors to stop them from closing

“Just because I’m happy doesn’t mean I’m fucking doing something wrong…” he turned and looked at his father “ Dad ” he said with irritation.

“Watch your mouth boy!” Jacob exclaimed as he took a step forward “I’m your father goddamn it.”

Jason was so angry at his father…he always was “Could have fooled me.” Like a bolt of lightning Jacob reached out and grabbed Jason’s shirt with his metallic fingers and brought him close like he was going to hit him. Jason’s fathers breathe smelled heavily of whiskey like always and it was sickening. It took that fuzzy feeling in Jason’s stomach and turned it into a turning mess of vomit that he had to struggle to keep down. “What are you going to do…hit me?” Jason growled

All of the sudden, as if he had come to some revelation, Jacob stopped and just looked at his son. The hate that filled Jason’s eyes gave Jacob a feeling of sorrow…one that he could feel deep in his heart. He sighed and his grip loosened until Jason was completely free from the metal fingers of his father’s hand “No son…I wouldn’t hit you.” He looked to Jason with guilty eyes “I could never hurt you.”

Jason didn’t know what to feel at first…he actually had to think about how he felt about what his father had just said. How messed up was that? He thought for a long while, just starring at his father and having an internal battle with himself over what his reaction should be. But as always, the angry little boy won over his reasoning and he just shook his head “Of course you wouldn’t…you’re weak that’s why mom is dead.” Then before his father could even register his words Jason moved from the elevators doors and they closed immediately. By the time the words finally made it through Jacobs mind his son was gone and his heart had dropped down into his stomach. weak the words rang in Jacob’s head like an echo in an deep cave. weak…you’re weak…that is why mom is dead. it was hard to hear those words, and as the elevator took him to the mess hall he kept repeating the words in his mind. He had been weak…he had been stupid and now his family was torn apart.

Jacob moved to the chief with an almost zombie like movement, his body was on the marathon but his mind was lost in a sea of thoughts and regrets. The guilt that flowed through his veins every moment of everyday came back in full force, he needed to eat this food and then it was drinking time. He needed it if he hoped to pull himself together ever. He took the plate of food the chief had prepared and sat at a table, alone besides a few marines who sat and spoke amongst themselves in hushed words. Jacob just sat and slowly nibbled on what food he had and continued to lose himself in guilt filled memories that continued to haunt him. His wife’s face was feeling his minds eye….so beautiful and then that arm…that arm that would change his life forever reaches out and grabs her face in the palm of its hand. Jacob shuttered as he relieved the moment…the moment when his wife’s head was crushed like an egg in the hand of that monstrosity.

Someone sat down across from Jacob and threw him back into reality. When Jacob looked up he saw that the person who had sat across from him was a turian who Jacob recognized from around the Marathon. “How are you Lieutenant?” obviously the alien knew him

“Been better.” He looked at the turian trying to place who he was, then it hit him “You’re that pirate aren’t you?”

“Ex-pirate.” The turian said “you’re that ex C-SEC officer aren’t you?”

“Nope, never was C-SEC. I was a cop back on Earth though.” Jacob said as he starred the turian down. Call him crazy but he didn’t trust criminals.
“Ah, then we should get along quite well.” The turian said as he leaned back in his chair

“What makes you say that ‘partner?” Jacob asked in his usual Texan accent

“Come now ‘officer’, you know as well as I do that your people are as dirty as mine. The difference is yours don’t like to admit it.” Jacob had to give it to the turian, he had an interesting way of starting a conversation.

“Interesting observation there, except not all of ‘my kind’ is dirty.” Jacob repented in a calm voice

“Aren’t they?” the turian said cynically

Jacob just stared at the turian for a moment before taking in a spoonful of the soup he had retrieved from the chief. He put the spoon back in the bowl and looked the turian dead in the eyes “What’s your name pirate?”

“Azuric. And I already know yours Jacob.” Azuric said as he returned the aging cops stare

“So what brings you over too me Azuric?” Jacob asked

“I heard about the happenings at the cube, heard you did a good job.”

“We lost the assassins, forgive me if I disagree.” Jacob said as he spooned some more soup into his mouth

“Yes but your tactics were solid as I hear.” The turian then got in closer “I also heard you fought with Titus over some orders.”

Jacob gave Azuric a crooked stare “Word spreads quickly around this ship doesn’t it?”

The turian shrugged “If you listen in the right places.”

“What of are little…argument?” Jacob asked with curiosity as he spooned more soup into his mouth

“I like Titus as much as the next guy on this ship. He spared my life a long time ago. But…” he got in a little closer and put his talons on the table “You fought with a commanding officer, showed that you were not just a pawn to be used for his will that is something to be admired amongst men and women who will follow orders blindly like many of these marines.”

Jacob looked at Azuric, trying to figure out what the alien was getting at “Some people may consider that a bad trait ‘partner.”

“Ah yes.” Azuric sat back in his seat with a grin “But not me, I find it something of great intelligence. I find it even better when it is a man in a position such as we were.”

”And what position would that be?”

“I was a soldier in my younger days; you were a man of the law. The two are not as different as one might think. Both require courage, bravery…sacrifice and most of all the willingness to follow orders to the letter.” The turian went on

“What is your point?” Jacob inquired

“My point Lieutenant is that I and you are not so different. I may have been a pirate, but I have the feeling you were not always the man you claim to be.” He looked at Jacob with seriousness across his face “I have the feeling that you once traveled a path not so different then mine. It is in your eyes Jacob…I can see it. That is why I have come too you now, I want to speak too you so that maybe we can help one another some day.”

“Help one another?” Jacob asked curiously

“We are on the same side now, are we not Jacob?”

Jacob leaned in “so what is it that you want to talk about?”

The turian grabbed a drink he had brought over with him and took a sip “For now let us speak of our exploits, you can tell a lot about a man from a story he tells and the battle scars he has to accompany them.” His mandibles twitched a little as he looked at Jacob, who stared right back at the turian’s face, covered in that metallic like skin of theirs. Eventually Jacob slightly nodded and sat back in his seat,

“Okay ‘partner, shoot.”


********

Jason continued to wonder the halls of the dimly lit space craft. He enjoyed walking the ship actually; it was the first time he had ever been on a military craft before. He eventually found his way up too the helm where Darcy, the ships helmsmen, was busy messing with some controls on the ships many panels. Jason walked up too the man who was paying no attention to what was behind him. When Jason was within a few feet Darcy suddenly realized there was somebody behind him and he jumped in his seat

“Holy hell, don’t sneak up on me like that Braden.” Darcy exclaimed as he looked at Jason “Oh wait, you’re not Braden; you don’t have that stupid look on your face.” Jason looked at the helmsman with crookedness in his eyes “It was a joke man.” The helmsman said as he spun around and continued to mess with the panels “So who are you kid?” Darcy asked

“My name is Jason.”

“Jason? Like the murderer from those old horror movies?” Darcy asked

“Ummm sure I guess.” Jason said, not knowing what the hell the man was talking about.

“Of course you don’t know what i'm talking about.” Darcy sighed “Just know that it is bad ass kid.”

Jason chuckled “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“Of course you will, I said it after all.” Darcy turned to look at Jason “So what brings you up here ski mask?”

“What?”

Darcy shook his head “Never mind. What’s up?”

“Nothing really.” Jason said as he got closer too the control panels “I uh, just wanted to see how the ship worked.”

Darcy looked a little surprised “You’re interested in star ships?”

“Yeah, actually this is the first warship I have ever been in; I’m interested in how it all works.”

Darcy grinned “Well kid, you have come to the right place. Come over here and you can learn a thing or two from the best.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jason Trox

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The blast doors to the Marathon’s main armory bay parted as Titus casually made his way inside. He gave a nod to a few of Sentry’s subordinates as they momentarily paused in their duties to offer a salute. “Carry on,” the Captain said. “You know by now I’m no fan of that.” The Armorers gave a quick “Aye-aye” before looking back to tinker with the weapons they had been detailing. As Titus continued his walk through the bay, he found Sentry up and around the next corner, examining a very fine rifle with absolutely no scratches or signs of use. In fact, it was a design that Titus had only seen before on a datapad.

“Is that the new Valkyrie?” Titus asked.

Sentry turned his head to see the Captain through his peripherals. “Yes sir, boss,” he replied. “We picked them up on the Citadel before our early departure. The specs for the design were released only a few months ago, and the first prototypes are already rolling out to the Alliance and C-Sec. The turians even requested some to try out.”

Titus approached the workbench the rifle had been placed on to get a better view. It some ways, the engineering and design was similar to the M-8 Avenger, but where the classic rifle had a large arch on the top of the upper receiver, the Valkryie was flat. The new weapon did keep the redundant barrel below the primary, however, in the case of a stoppage or malfunction. According to the specs that Titus remembered overlooking, the Valkyrie operated with a two-round burst system, rather than the rapid fire of its predecessor. Thus, the new weapon sacrificed suppression for accuracy; but as a trained sharpshooter, Titus never really cared for the spray-and-pray guns. A burst module would do well for him.

The Captain’s eyes glanced over to a piece of equipment lying next to the rifle. It appeared to be a modified lower barrel, but the receiver attachment had been slightly altered and the barrel itself was built to fire a larger caliber.

“What’s that for?” Titus inquired.

A grin spread on Sentry’s face. “That...,” he began, unlatching the lower redundant barrel from the Valkyrie using the disassembly lever on the lower receiver, “is one of my favorite new toys. It’s an attachment for most modern assault rifles; capable of firing a forty millimeter concussion round at any enemy targeted on your visor’s HUD. Powerful little son of a bitch, too. My favorite part is that you can point the rifle well away from your target, pull the trigger, and watch the round correct its course by turning through the air and slamming right into the bad guy’s side.” Sentry finished installing the modified barrel on the Valkyrie and handed the weapon to Titus with the same twisted grin. “It’s called the ‘concussive shot’, Captain. It’s range is as good as your targeting system is.”

“Captain,” Darcy’s voice rang over the intercom, “we’re approaching the Nariph fuel depot. ETA, seven minutes.”

Nodding, Titus handed Sentry back the Valkyrie. “Keep up the excellent work, Valentine,” he commented. “I’d like one of these prepped and ready for my upcoming mission over Thenusi; and throw on one of those concussive shot launchers.”

“You got it, Cap’n.”




“Got a new co-pilot there, Darcy?” Titus asked as he approached the helm, noticing Trox’s son in one of the seats next to the Marathon’s helmsman.

Darcy and Jason glanced at each other, and Titus saw that the young man suddenly became unsure if he should even be sitting in the seat he was in. But Darcy stopped him before the teen jumped up to leave. “No worries, kid; it’s cool. Right Captain?” Darcy turned his chair around to face up to Titus, giving his boss the poorest puppy-dog face he could come up with.

Jonathan rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “I don’t care; so long as ‘Darcy Junior’ here doesn't crash my ship into the station. Speaking of which, what’s our status. Is our contact already there?”

Darcy spun back around and started tapping his fingers across his many interfaces as he responded, “Not many ships are docked out there, sir. The Pylos Nebula isn't the most popular area in the Terminus; too many ion storms and pirates hiding within the gas clouds. If the Oracle asset we’re meeting up with is there, he isn't showing much sign of it.”

Titus looked out of the helm and saw that they were surrounded in mists of reds, pinks, and violets. He briefly recalled the nebula had been named after some Greek settlement, but the named escaped him. As he stared beyond the view port he saw the fuel station that Darcy was piloting toward sticking out of the wall of a gas cloud. There were three other ships attached to the docks, all frigates, that Titus could make out. Below the station was also a landing bay for Kodiaks and other small vessels. Based on the distance and angle of the Marathon’s approach, Titus could not see inside the bay to recognize any other spacecraft. This Ben character was either on the station by now, or not.

“We’ll have to park her here, Captain,” Darcy said after a moment, taking Titus out of his thoughts. “We’re too big to actually dock to the station, so you’ll need to take one of our Kodiaks.”

The Captain gave a quick nod and turned around to head back into the bridge. “DeMarco,” he shouted across the CIC as he continued to make his way toward the elevators, “call up Harrison and have him meet me down in the shuttle bays.”

“Right away, sir!” Connor replied as he walked over to his station and pulled up a voice channel.

The ride down to the shuttle bays wasn't long. Titus found himself stepping out into the ready areas as soon as he got off the elevator on the fifth deck. To his right was the male ready rooms, and to his left was the female ready rooms. Each side offered an expansive locker room, showers, and latrines. Beyond the changing areas were small armories that Sentry’s troops would operate during missions to issue out-going marines and pilots the firearms and other special equipment they would need before departing the Marathon. Titus skipped past the ready area, however, preferring to take the long corridor that led straight from the elevators to the hangars.

One of Sentry’s armorers met him at the end of the corridor before the blast doors to the first bay. He handed the Captain a single M-3 Predator pistol, which Titus attached to a small magnetic clip on the belt of his Alliance BDU.

Once inside the large hangar bay, Titus made his way over to a UT-47 Kodiak that was nearly finished being prepped by a few servicemen. Staff Commander Terrance Rhodie was overseeing the preparations, standing a few feet away with a datapad in his hand. According to his dossier, Rhodie was the commander of the Marathon’s flight squadrons, which meant that if it flew, he was in charge of it. Titus and Rhodie ran into each other the day before. He was a good soldier, and an experienced Trident pilot who earned the Medal of Valor for his efforts during the Battle of the Citadel.

“Ah, Captain,” Rhodie said as he placed the datapad down on a nearby crate and walked over to greet Titus. The two men exchanged a quick handshake.

“Commander,” the Captain replied. “How are we looking down here?”

“Your Kodiak is almost ready to go, sir. Lieutenant Eleanor Bishop will be your pilot today. She’s one of my best troops.”

A brunette woman in a form-fitting jumpsuit with air wings pinned above her breast walked over to the two men. She stood before them both, with a breather helmet tucked under her left arm, and offered a sharp salute. “Sirs, 1st Lieutenant Bishop reporting for duty.”

“At ease, L-T,” Titus said, returning to the salute in kind. Normally he would brief Bishop that he didn’t care for saluting, but doing so in front of her own commanding officer, Rhodie, would only cause confusion; not to mention it was simply disrespectful in front of other officers that might actually hold the tradition to standard. “Tell me about yourself,” Titus requested.

Eleanor took a more relaxed stance, leaning most of her weight back on one foot in a casual posture. “Well all the details are in my service record, Captain, but I've been commissioned for about three years now. My whole family flew with the Alliance. Some were fighter pilots, others were transport. I’m a mix of both. Like Commander Rhodie, I started out flying Tridents as a second lieutenant. In fact, we flew together during the B-o-C. I was his wingmate. After that, I requested for transfer in order to stay under his command, and I took up learning how to fly the Kodiak. She’s a clunky beast, but you just have to know how to be gentle with her.”

“You flew Tridents, too, then?”

“Yes sir, I did. But only a few times. I was a Hawk interceptor pilot at first, flying out of the SSV Shenyang. I was spaceborn when the Geth overwhelmed my cruiser and destroyed it. Minutes later, I found myself docking on the New York and running into then-Staff Lieutenant Rhodie. They put me in a Trident and we flew off together to keep up the fight.”

“Losing friends on the Shinyang didn’t stop you from continuing the fight?” Titus asked, though with sincerity.

Eleanor looked down and off to the side a bit as she replied, “Not at the time, sir. But when it was all over, that’s when reality hit. The SSV Normandy destroyed that... thing... and the battle was over with. Most returned to their posts, but some of us... had to hitch a ride; hoping he would run into familiar faces. It was tough. Commander Rhodie and I became good friends after that. He helped me cope.” Appearing hopeful that she had not killed the mood, Bishop looked up and said, “Sorry, sir. I don’t mean to be a downer.”

Titus merely shook his head and replied with a smile, “No, no, Lieutenant; you’re fine. It sounds like you’ve had a hell of a career so far. It also sounds like you’re someone I can trust with my life out there.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Eleanor replied with a beaming smile. “I won’t let you down, sir!” She snapped another quick salute before returning to the Kodiak to finish preparations.

Commander Rhodie turned to Titus after she left them and said, “El’s a good kid, and a very promising pilot. I’ve selected her to be your personal shuttle pilot as long as she’s aboard the Marathon; if thats alright with you, sir.”

“I don’t think I could ask for anyone more worthy, Commander,” Jonathan replied.

“Captain!” Titus turned around to see Harrison walked toward him. The man was wearing a brown leather jacket over a dark t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. The bulge of a pistol could be seen underneath the jacket.

“Ready, Lieutenant?” Titus asked.

“Yes, sir,” he replied. “Just one thing you should know before we meet up with Commander Slatton.”

“Oh?”

Adam was now standing shoulder to shoulder with Titus and he whispered in a low voice. “I’ve never actually met the guy before, but the Operator told me to pass on that he can be a bit... different. Out of uniform, he’s ‘Ben’; in uniform, he’s ‘Commander’. It’s no so much of a split personality as it is his... personality molded by a past. That’s how Miss Carson put it, anyway. Not sure what that means.”

“This guy isn’t schizo, is he?”

Harrison only shrugged his shoulders.




As the UT-47 Kodiak approached the fuel depot, Titus watched as Lieutenant Bishop switch over to a radio frequency connecting her with the station operators. “Teranus station, this is Alliance vessel Mike-Two-Two-Niner, requested docking permission. PAC count is three.”

There was a momentary pause before a turian voice replied over the net, audible to Titus and Harrison in the back. “Mike-Two-Two-Niner; Teranus. Permission granted. Maintain approach speed at forty knots and proceed to lower hangar bay, spot three. How copy?”

“Copy that, Teranus; thanks.” Bishop looked back to her companions after cutting the comm channel and said, “Okay, sirs; we may be neck deep in the Terminus systems, but this fuel station is a green zone owned by the Turian Hierarchy. For diplomatic reasons, they demand that all weapons remain aboard shuttles. I won’t tell you what to do, but I suggest you find a way to hide your toys if you want to deboard with them.”

“Thanks, Bishop,” Titus replied. “Harrison, we’ll comply and leave our stuff here. If we get into trouble, your biotics should be more than enough to make up for our lack of firearms.” Adam nodded in compliance as he and Jonathan detached their pistols from the magnetic clips on their belts, sliding them underneath their seats in the back of the Kodiak.

Eleanor skillfully guided the transport through the mass effect field that protected the hangar bay entrance and landed the craft precisely on the mark for their landing spot. Harrison popped open the load door and the two soldiers stepped out together, immediately taking in their surroundings. The hangar bay of Teranus looked about as large as the one they had just left on the Marathon. Multiple stories high and large enough to accommodate most personal craft that are too small to connect with the docking bridges around the rest of the station.

Titus looked back to Bishop, who was busying herself with post-flight checks in the cockpit, and gave her a quick wave. She nodded back before returning to her checks. The rendezvous with Slatton shouldn't take too long, so the Captain hoped to be back within a half hour; but where exactly they were to be meeting the asset on the depot was entirely unknown to him. On the bright side, the station wasn't very large. Most of the zones were restricted to staff and fuels personnel. Only four decks were available for civilians: the upper and lower hangar bays, the primary lobbies, and the terminals for the docking bridges up top. The first area they would choose to look for him in was obvious; the lobbies on the second deck was where all civilians would eventually migrate to as they waited for their vessels to be refueled and resupplied. It was a small mall, in essence. Gift shops, restaurants, latrines, and other services could be found upstairs.

As the two gentlemen made their way toward the elevators, shouting across the hangar bay floor caught Titus’ attention. He looked over to find two batarians ganging up on a human who must have crossed them in some manner or other. The batarians were about to turn a metal pipe and a utility wrench into bludgeoning weapons; and the scrawny human male was fearfully backing away.

The batarians drew menacingly closer. “Hey!” Titus bellowed, marching over to the group, with a confused Adam in tow. “What’s going on here?”

One of the batarians narrowed his four eyes at Titus before jabbing his pipe toward the human. “Your kin thought it would be wise to walk through our landing zone and dislodge the refueling hose.”

Jonathan looked towards the man, “Is this true?”

“I didn’t mean to!” the human cried in defense, still backing away from the other batarian. “I was trying to head towards the elevators and I tripped over the tube. It dislodged after I fell over it; it’s not like I purposely yanked it out of their ship!”

Titus then looked back toward the batarian that made the accusation. “Shouldn’t you be telling station security about this?”

“Why?” the batarian snapped back. “So the turians can side with the humans for the sake of diplomacy?”

Jonathan shook his head. “Look, if this man is innocent and you beat him with a few tools, you only make yourself look worse. The best thing to do here is just forgive and forget. Depot staff can clean up the mess, the security can give him a warning, and you two can move on.”

The batarian only grew more annoyed. “You humans think you’ve got everything figured out,” he insisted. “Your kind is pathetic.”

“That’s racism talking,” Titus countered. “Look, I’m trying to get you to do the right thing and let this go. The man tripped, and you’re ready to beat him to death over it. Would you do the same thing if he were one of you? Or is it simply because he’s a human like me that you’re grasping a pipe as if its a weapon?”

Both of the batarians took a step back and the one that Titus was talking to looked down for a moment in thought. Eventually, he tossed the pipe down. “Forget it, Brack. It’s not worth it.” His friend turned away from the human and walked back towards their ship, grumbling inaudible curses. The first batarian then looked at Titus and nodded his head to the left, saying, “Fine, human. I suppose you have a point. Just get him out of my site.”

As the batarian turned around to leave, Titus glared at the human with a ‘get lost’ face. The man whispered his thanks and sprinted off towards the elevators. Both the captain and Harrison turned to walk in the same direction, and as they casually made their way across the hangar floor, Adam said in a hushed tone, “And that’s one of the reasons I find it hard to understand why you ever joined Cerberus in the first place.”

Titus’ eyes shifted over to see Adam walking shoulder to shoulder with him. “That’s a long story, Lieutenant,” he responded, words void of emotion. “Another time, perhaps.”

The ride in the elevator to the lobby was sluggish. Teranus was an old station, and the elevator cars actually gave Titus cause for concern as they made their way up in a rickety box no bigger than a closet. Even with the churning of the coil motors above and below them, they could hear the bulkheads creak and moan with somber echoes. When they exited, they did so with a quick step, relieved they were once again in a much safer area of the depot.

Adam was the first spot the asset, recognizing him from the holo pics that Sibyl had forwarded before they left the Marathon. Benjamin Slatton was sitting in a row of waiting chairs, reading one of the public news pads. He seemed very relaxed for such an experienced soldier. Tan cargo pants, casual shoes, and a gray, loose-fitting hoodie thrown over a white t-shirt. Most military members only look so relaxed when they’re on leave or separated from their contract. The haircut was also out of the norm. Sure, Titus and Adam both had hair that was too long to be in regs, but they at least took the effort to make their cuts look good and clean. Benjamin’s dark hair, however, was messy and ragged; like he had just rolled out of bed.

“Excuse me,” Titus said as he approached and stood directly in front of the man, “are you Benjamin Slatton?”

Hazel eyes flicked up from the news pad, thick bags lining them as he regarded the two men for a brief moment. After a thick pause, he nodded slightly, rising from his seat to face Titus eye-to-eye. “That would be me, yes,” He finally said. “You must be Jonathan and Adam.”

“We have a kodiak waiting in the lower bay,” Titus said, extending an open hand to Ben for a firm shake. “Do you have everything you need?”

“I’m ready to go when you are,” Ben replied, accepting the handshake with a firm grasp of his own, “but my friends are just finishing up.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder and Titus looked around to see two other humans walking their way. He hadn’t expected Slatton to be accompanied by “friends”, but he maintained his composure and simply nodded. He honestly had no objection to it.

The first of the two seemed to a man of good taste and class. He was wearing a white Devore with a satin gray collared shirt beneath the two-thousand credit jacket. Such an outfit reminded the captain of Janis, but where that bastard’s hair was kept loose behind the shoulders, this man wore his in a bit of a hectic ponytail. His skin was lightly tanned, a surprising trait among those that served aboard ships; and there was a certain kind of aura about him, probably by the way he carried himself, that told everyone in the room he was a bit of a slick player.

Walking slightly behind this man, was a gloomier member of the gang. Dark hair, dark eyes, a dark expression overall gave this woman an almost dangerous allure of intrigue. She was neat, with her hair tied into a bun, and her clothes perfectly ironed and pressed to very seems. Her shoulders were broad and set back, but she did not carry herself with the pride that her companion did. Rather, she walked across the lobby in an almost dominating, though oddly subtle fashion. Titus judged this woman as one of those that spoke softly, but carries a big stick.

“Lieutenant Commander Camarda, reports as ordered, Captain,” the man said, rendering a nonchalant salute.

“Lieutenant Commander Pacheo,” his partner said with a more flat tone, but nonetheless respectful.

“A pleasure to meet you all,” Titus replied, addressing all three. “Welcome to the Marathon team.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco Character Portrait: Specialist Brody Caramelli Character Portrait: Private Mido Hamaada Character Portrait: Sargent Hiro Kuriyama
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The last few weeks had been pleasing to Dianna. Training Fire Team Cobalt and training with them had felt...good. Time spent off duty had been awkward at first, but they had quickly relaxed around her. Brody before the others, naturally. He flirted lightly, but never had to be put down. A point Dianna was grateful for. He might be a talker, but there was an unexpected streak of good sense under the surface of the heavy weapons specialist. Mido had the hardest time of it. She’d pushed him hard during training, making sure he’d stay alive when on a mission. She wasn’t about to lose anyone. Ever. By far the most interesting, at least to her, was her 2nd, Hiro. He was always so calm, so together. He was everything Dianna secretly wished she was. He blended in fluidly, laughed easily, shared what he knew generously. She spent as much time training with him as she could manage.

Finally, Dianna had been called for a briefing. A mission. She was excited and nervous at the same time. On the inside, at least. As the door to the conference room hissed open, Dianna took in the faces of the occupants in less than a heartbeat. Titus and Harrison she had expected. The third man, was a bit of a surprise though. She’d seen him in the mess hall. He didn’t exactly seem the type to be in on a mission briefing. He barely looked anyone in the eye the few times she’d seen him.

Dianna stepped inside the conference room to allow the door to close behind her. She snapped off a crisp salute, despite knowing how Titus disliked it. Call it some perverse sense of what she believed was right. She waited until Titus waved her into a chair before joining the others at the table.

Above the table floated a holographic image of of a research base on a barren dust covered planet that had survived more than it’s fair share of asteroid strikes.

“About thirty minutes ago,” Captain Titus began, “I had our intel guys purge the space around Thenusi with high-intensity scans. They all turned up the same dark spot that Harrison found when he conducted his own scans several weeks ago. I had Darcy fly us in closer, and within minutes, we hit a far range EM barrier and this station became visible in the distance. It appears that Cerberus’ cloaking technology has surpassed that of the Salarians.

“Our mission here is simple: The Operator wants us to hit the station and eliminate whatever Cerberus is cooking up here. Whatever the Illusive Man has on that thing must be of considerable value to him considering the length he’s gone to to hide it in plain sight.”

Lieutenant Harrison was the next to speak up, pointing to the hologram, which turned out to be a haptic display as well. When his index finger tapped on an area of the station, the display zoomed in closer to detail the outer structure of what appeared to be an internal landing bay. “Our VI’s managed to hack into their security network and hold open this one hangar bay. Prophet is keeping the VI’s cycling every few minutes, so Cerberus is unable to counter the hack without an expert programming engineer. This is our way inside. We can take two kodiaks.”

The Captain nodded. “Two fire teams, then. One for each kodiak. Sergeant Ostrander, Cobalt will accompany this mission and split up from my team as soon as we touch base in the hangar. Mine will take the starboard sectors, yours will take port. Eliminate any Cerberus war assets, including hostile soldiers; but remember, their scientists are civilians. Unless one of them threatens your life, don’t engage them; simply force them on the ground and press on.”

Dianna used her Omni tool to tap in relative points and cryptic notes for her own briefing with the team.

“Are we destroying the station?” Lieutenant DeMarco asked.

“Negative,” Titus ordered. “I want this station captured if possible. Any weapons prototypes are to be preserved and their data transferred to our servers. Prophet can oversee the data movement using the Marathon’s FTL comm system and a link-up to your Omni-tools. Once the station is under our control and all hostiles have been eliminated or subdued, we’ll open the rest of the hangars and bring in the Aurora teams to detain the scientists and any other remaining Cerberus personnel.

“Any questions?”

“How do you want us to secure the civilians, Sir?” Dianna asked practically. She wasn’t overly fond of leaving possible hostiles at her team's back.

“You can detain the civilians by cuffing them and conducting a simple frisk of their clothing to ensure they don’t have any weapons. Round them up into groups and have them sit before moving on into other rooms.

“That’s all I have,” the Captain said. “Sergeant, have Cobalt ready within the hour and meet me down in Hangar Bay 1. Dismissed.”

Dianna stood and saluted Titus once more and nodded to Harrison and Connor. “I’ll brief my team immediately. With that, she turned on her heel and headed off to get her team suited up.

Dianna strode into the room shared by Fire Team Cobalt to find Hiro and Mido present. Mido had his Omni Tool in hand as usual while Hiro lounged comfortably on his bunk reading a physical book. Brody was nowhere in sight. Dianna groaned inwardly, she should have known Brody would be off somewhere being ‘social’.

Hiro and Mido looked at her expectantly. “Gear up. We’re taking a Cerebrus base with another fire team under Titus and Harrison. She brought up the information on her Omni tool with a few swift keystrokes. “Sync up and I’ll brief you as soon as Mr. Caramelli gets his pants back on.”

Heading to her locker, Dianna spoke again, Prophet, inform Caramelli that I want him here. Now.”

“Acknowledged” The AI confirmed.

Hiro and Mido rose immediately to don their armor while Dianna squeezed into her squishy. Hiro didn’t ask questions, he had been through this many times. Mido, however, had not. His hands shook slightly as he pulled on his medium armor and cloak. “Two Fire Teams?” Mido prompted, hoping for something other than the stoic silence exhibited by Dianna and Hiro as they readied themselves.

Brody chose just that moment to return to the room with a bright grin on his face. “Hey! Action at last. What’s the mission?” He walked directly to his locker to get dressed.

Dianna looked up when the heavy weapons specialist breezed in. “Looks like you’ve already seen action, Caramelli.” She touched her cheek, “Wipe that lipstick off your face.” That prompted a chuckle from Hiro while Mido tried and failed to hide a smile at Brody’s expense.

Unapologetic, Brody scrubbed his face and lips with his palm and grinned. “Not my fault, Sargeant. Women love me.”

Dianna huffed slightly at the man. She brought up the mission specs on her Omni tool again to allow Caramelli to sync his. “It’s a Cerebrus research base. Prophet’s got the security overridden and is keeping a hangar door open for us. We’re to go in and take out any and all hostiles. The scientists we’re are to bag and cuff unless they get stubborn.” She looked at each of her team, “If they try to be heroes, dissuade them from that course of action. Permanently.” Hiro and Brody merely nodded. Mido looked a little shaken.

“Civilians, Ma’am?” He asked.

Hiro took the question, “If they’re shooting at you, Private. You shoot them instead. Simple.” His tone was stern. “If some old man smelling of alcohol rub kills me because you hesitated, I will come back and haunt you to the end of your days. Clear?”

Mido blinked softly, looking from Dianna to Hiro and back again, “Yeah. Sure…” Anything else he’d thought to add to the conversation died on his lips.

To take over the Private’s train of thought, Dianna gave assignments, “We’re going to take two separate kodiaks in. The Captain and his team will take the starboard side of the hangar and base, we take port. Obviously, they’ll set up a perimeter and we can expect some heavy resistance in the hangar itself.” She looked at Brody who had wasted no time getting into his heavy armor and was checking it for fit and movement. “Caramelli, you’ll need to clear a path. Hiro and I will take out stragglers.” She turned her pale gray eyes toward Mido, “You’ll need to override any security locks or blow the doors. Expect turrets as well. We aren’t sure if how weaponized the place is. We’ll assume the worst.”

Brody laughed, “Maybe they’ll bake us a cake.”

After a trip to the armory to pick up their weapons, Fire Team Cobalt arrived in the Hangar bay with 15 minutes to spare. As her team entered, Dianna noted that the pilots and crew were already going over the kodiaks taking care of their pre-flight checks.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: The Illusive Man Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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“That’s it, Bishop,” Titus said with one hand bracing the headrest of his pilot’s seat as she guided the kodiak in closer to the Cerberus station above Thenusi. “Nice and easy.”

The heavy footsteps of Villayn approached from behind and Titus glanced at the turian through his peripherals. “Cerberus must have been put a small fortune into the cloaking tech that was hiding this station,” Azuric commented. “Imagine how deadly their vessels could be if they found a way to apply it to moving objects.”

Titus reached over his shoulder to grab the Valkyrie rifle that Sentry had prepped for him before they left, double checking that the concussive shot launcher was secured to below the primary barrel. “I’m not sure I want to even think about that. The Vindicator was deadly enough with a stealth drive and thanix cannon.” A few memories of his former ship flashed by in the back of his mind, but the Captain suppressed them as quickly as they had come. He was about to start a firefight in enemy territory; he last thing he needed to do was lose focus and reminisce in the past.

Looking at the radar, Jonathan noted that Cobalt’s kodiak was riding along next to them as they should be. Thankfully, the station wasn’t armed with any GARDIAN turrets, making their approach a piece of cake. But what was unsettling was that, along with the lack of automated defenses, there wasn’t a single Cerberus vessel in the system left to guard the station. The only kind of defense they had was the cloak. Something didn’t sit right with Titus about all of this, and he knew that Adam and Azuric had the same feelings, as both were oddly quiet and their eyes were scanning every reading from the computers and scanners, and eying the station with intensity as Lieutenant Bishop drew closer.

“ETA, thirty seconds,” Bishop announced.

Titus took her queue and his team gathered with him at the loading door on the kodiak’s port side, readying their weapons. Villayn had a Viper sniper rifle attached to the magnetic clip on his back, with a Scimitar shotgun in hand; Harrison was equipped with an M-3 Predator in hand, and his katana sheathed over his shoulder.

“Harrison,” Titus said, gaining the man’s attention.

“Sir?”

“Throw up a barrier in front of us as soon as we touch down. I don’t want to take a hail of fire as we make our way out of this fatal funnel.”

“You got it, boss.”

A fatal funnel was military slang for a doorway that could mean certain death upon entering or exiting. It was all a camping soldier would need to watch if it was the only route available for his enemy to pass through. In this case, they would be exiting a tin can through one door, entering an entire landing bay with an unknown layout and an unknown number of targets. Harrison’s biotics would be of use to stop the first barrage of incoming fire in case Cerberus had set up an ambush. And if they were smart, such an ambush was already waiting for them.

“Captain,” Bishop called back from the cockpit, “we’re inside the hangar! I’ll maintain hover at five feet. Prepare to jump in five... four... three... two...” One second later, the hatch popped and the door raised open, allowing the team of three to leap forward onto the ground. Harrison jumped the furthest, taking a diving roll as soon as he landed on the cold surface of the bay. As soon as he stopped in a kneeling position, he threw out his arms and a violet dome of concentrated biotic energy large enough to cover himself, Titus, and Villayn materialized.

Azuric and Jonathan scanned their sectors for several seconds, waiting for a Cerberus marine to take a shot; but nothing came. No gunfire, no shouting. Something was definitely off. Titus looked over to Dianna’s team as they remained in cover behind several cargo crates and small storage containers. Ostrander’s eyes looked to his own, waiting for any orders.

“No soldiers, no turrets.” Villayn said. “Where’s the welcoming committee?”

With a grunt Titus stood up and laid a hand on Adam’s shoulder, letting him know that he could take down the barrier. As Harrison complied, Jonathan still kept his gun up, waiting to see if some hiding Cerberus soldiers would take the bait. But when silence still dominated the hangar, he began to believe that they weren’t in any immediate danger.

“Cobalt!” Titus called out across the bay to Ostrander’s team. “Stick with the plan; take port-side! We’ll take starboard! Keep DeMarco informed every two mike!” He glanced to Villayn and Adam next and said, “Let’s move; keep your guard up.”

As the teams split up, moving towards different exits to the hangar, Titus heard the two kodiaks leaving through the atmospheric mass effect field that protected the bay’s docking entrance. Once the mission was complete, they would return for extraction.

The first door they came upon, just passed the emergency airlock that led out of the hangar and into the rest of the station, had its access interfaced colored orange. It was a standard lock that could be easily bypassed with any military-grade Omni-tool. Adam approached and started to tap away at his Omni-tool’s programs, but Jonathan stopped him. “No, I got it. The door is probably sealed using Cerberus protocols. Luckily, I’ve still got some of them memorized.” Sure enough, the door’s lock gave way within seconds of Titus’ bypassing hack and his team was barreling through with weapons ready.

A long, white and chrome corridor stretched out in front of them. It had seemed like forever since Titus had been aboard anything of Cerberus design. The utilitarian feel of the station seemed like a memory. It had only been two months, but being back now was like a dream.

“Eyes sharp,” he whispered as they passed by several doors on either side of them. As he glanced through the windows built into the walls on each side of the corridor, he saw that they were passing by a series of small laboratories and offices. All of them were empty, but there was signs of recent use. Beakers had been filled with chemicals and liquids, haptic computer terminals were online and running programs, and a radio was even playing a mix of music in one of the offices.

The corridor eventually ended at the open entrance to a larger lab, where multiple counters had been cluttered with experiments, terminals, and stacks of papers. As Titus glanced around, he determined that this room had been used for some kind of bio-chemical testing, as there were multiple samples of organ tissues kept in large, fluid-filled containers, and beakers filled with the same kind of dark, purple liquid mixed with a mesh of what appeared to be hundreds or thousands of tiny synthetic particles.

“What is all of this stuff?” Azuric asked, examining one of the liquid containers.

“Whatever it is, I wouldn’t touch it. Cerberus likes to experiment with biological and chemical weaponry.”

“Hey,” Harrison said, getting his two comrades to look over in his direction. “Coffee’s hot.” He was pointing to a half-full glass pot of coffee in the corner of the lab. The pot was sitting on top of a burner plate, and Titus could make out a tiny trickle of steam rising into the air.

“So we know that this place hasn’t been abandoned for long,” Titus concluded. “But where the heck is everyone?”

"I can answer that," Connor DeMarco's voice sounded off in their headsets. "Cobalt Team just stumbled their way into a lobby of some kind. It appears all of the station's staff had moved themselves there to stay out of our way. The marines turned over their weapons and ammo without a fight. They were never equipped to defend against an assault."

"Then what were they equipped for?" Harrison asked.

"They won't say," Connor answered.

The team pressed on, moving out of the lab and into another corridor that wrapped around a few corners and bulkheads. Titus finally stopped outside of an office, where the door had been left open and all of the lights on. As Villayn and Harrison posted up outside, keeping their weapons trained down each end of the corridor, Titus entered the office and walked around the desk, picking up a datapad that had been left on. He noticed a that the pad’s owner had left a recent voice memo and out of curiosity, his finger tapped the play command. A female’s voice began playing.

”The subject seems to be responding well to the injection treatment and initial results are promising. The nanites are enhancing available muscle tissue, while also constructing synthetic components both inside and outside of the body. Furthermore, the changes seem to have given the subject biotic abilities; a completely unexpected result as no element zero was used during the infusion.

I have only one concern about this project though... As the results of the experiment continue to manifest, I’ve noticed increased intelligence and awareness in the subject, as well as hostility. Carver was injured the other day while trying to obtain a tissue sample from the subject’s forearm. In response, I’ve ordered for increased security in and around Epsilon Sector. No one gets in without my explicit authorization.

...

...I’ve never seen anything like this before.”


There was a slight shuffle at the end of the recording as the anonymous Cerberus scientist proceeded to end her recording. Titus downloaded the voice memo to his Omni-tool before returning the datapad to the desk. After exiting the office, he re-equipped his Valkyrie and gathered Adam and Azuric to continue with him on down the corridor.

“We’re heading to Epsilon Sector,” he said as they walked with a quickened pace. “I want to know what the hell is down there.”

After another minute of wandering empty corridors and inspecting vacant offices and quiet labs, they finally approached upon a large blast door that read “EPSILON” in bold, painted lettering across the top of the door’s archway. The lock interface was colored red, signifying that the area beyond was on total lock-down. Hacking through the door would take a long while, but Titus wasn’t discouraged in the slightest. He knelt down and instantly brought up his Omni-tool’s hacking program for a second time.

“Keep watch, you two,” he ordered as he tapped away at the program. Just as he thought, however, that it would be a good minute before he made any progress, the lock interface flashed to green and the blast doors hissed. Titus immediately jumped back, slightly surprised, and drew his Valkyrie over his shoulder. Adam and Azuric also whirled around with weapons poised as the doors parted to reveal a dark and gloomy laboratory beyond the threshold.

The team entered slowly after receiving no contact, scanning every which way for any hiding hostiles. Dark shadows covered every corner and bulkhead, and the white, shining atmosphere of the previous sections they had traveled through seemed to be completely absent from this new sector, with black paneling and carbon steel. Several tanks had been aligned on either side of the room, all filled with a blue liquid. They seemed to be holding vats for biological specimens; or so Titus assumed as they quietly moved on through the lab.

Eventually, the team rounded a corner, where they stopped to see something suspended in the center of a large, open chamber, lit up by a series of spotlights above. Sturdy chains held an alien-humanoid in place, and multiple tubes, both liquid-carrying and electrical of some kind, were attached to its body. The pale blue skin, mixed with cybernetics and tubes protruding in and out of the body, was that was needed for Titus to recognize a husk when he saw one. But when he examined the former human in more detail, his eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open.

“What... the... fuck? Keown?!” Titus dropped the Valkyrie, letting it dangle by his side. Disbelief held the captain’s emotions hostage as his eyes stared at his friend’s body. Or perhaps it wasn’t his friend anymore. Keown’s corpse had turned into a mechanical android, bearing hardly any tissue and completely mangled by cybernetics and other synthetic hardware. He looked exactly one of the husks they had fought on Lucr’n. The only way Titus was able to recognize his friend was by the few distinct features left on his face. Its face.

Villayn stepped forward and examined the body up close when Titus refused to bring himself one inch closer. Azuric turned back after a moment and said, “We turians never forget a face. It comes naturally I suppose when one’s race isn’t as diverse as yours. This is definitely your friend; no doubt about it.”

“What the hell happened to him?” Adam asked.

Titus turned his head slightly in Adam’s direction, gazing at the young soldier through his peripherals. His response was a solemn one. “He made the ultimate sacrifice so others might live. In the end... he became a puppet for the Reapers.”

There was a ping off to the side and the three whirled around in the sound’s direction with guns poised. Titus instantly recognized the flat circular projection pad of a QEC. The blue lights around the inner edge of the pad grew brighter as the machine hummed to life. A second later, the Illusive Man’s bodily projection materialized before the three of them, standing tall with broad shoulders and his habitual cigarette in his left hand.

“Quite the contrary, Captain,” the Man said. “The man you knew is more than a puppet; or, rather, will be.”

With anger in his voice, Titus barked, “You told me Cerberus would take care of him. You gave me your word, and I trusted you!”

Calm, as always, the Illusive Man rebounded the question with one of his own. “In the same way I trusted you?

“Let’s not fool ourselves, here,” Titus shot back, pointing an accusing finger at his former employer. “You’re the one that ordered Janus to shoot me in the back. You betrayed my team and I first. And from the looks of things here, you never intended to take care of Erik. You turned him into another science project. This whole time, you could have been finding a way to reverse indoctrination, but look at this!

The Illusive Man turned his cold eyes toward the hanging husk that was once Erik Keown. “I am looking, Titus. And what I see is the potential for humanity to reach the apex of our evolution.”

John couldn’t believe what he just heard and shook his head, exclaiming, “You’re delusional!”

“Hardly. I may be ambitious, Captain; but I know what my goals are and how to achieve them. I doubt the same can be said of you. You were with the Alliance once before, and then you came to me, and now you’re back there again. You let your emotions lead you, not your logic. And that’s a flaw I aim to perfect... by using the same means of control the Reapers use over these ‘husks’ that the rest of the galaxy even refuses to acknowledge.”

“And you question whose side I’m on?” Titus demanded. “Listen to yourself! You claim Cerberus’ goal is to protect humanity, but you’re willing to expose them to Reaper technology. Why not just hand them over to the Collectors? Why even bother stopping them, or giving Omni Cell a purpose? You think our species, or the rest of the galaxy for that matter, will allow you to make a decision like that for them? Controlling evolution like that? Or is evolution really your plan?”

The Illusive Man frowned and shook his head in apparent disappointment. “You were always temperamental, Titus,” he finally said. “Tell me: since you’re so opposed to the idea of controlling the fates of others; how do you justify dropping that Ardat-Yakshi off of the building on Illium? What was her name again?”

“Mirian...,” Titus muttered with a clamped jaw. “She blew a child over the edge of that building without a care in the world.”

“But even after EDI assured you that Operative Buchan had saved the boy; you chose to let go. You chose her fate, in light of the fact that Braden was alive.”

“That’s not the poi-”

“And then there’s Braden, himself. A young boy that you let tag along on your ship. You ordered armor that fit his size. You gave him a gun and allowed Sentry to instruct him on how to use firearms. You turned him into a child soldier and took away the peaceful future he could have had.”

“No!” Titus snapped. “You wanted recon drones around that facility on Eden Prime. You wanted to use those kids for yourself once their biotics were advanced enough. You would have turned them into mindless weapons!”

“And what was the young Mr. Reynolds to you, Titus? Was he not a weapon in the end? Another asset to be used for the mission?”

There was another pause between the two men. Titus was fuming behind his visor, but the Illusive Man remained perfectly calm. He took a long drag of his cigarette; the smoke floating in the air around him until it disappeared from the projection. Finally, the Illusive Man said, “You and I are so much alike. We both seek to control the situation around us, whatever it may be. But where you rely on your convictions, allowing emotions to overcome your logic; I rely on reason and intuition, paving the way for cunning innovation. But we are both men of ruthless ambition who will stop at nothing to get what we want. There’s no denying that.”

Titus’ lips twisted into a smirk. “Then you’d best be ready. Because what I want right now... is to see you stopped.”

“I expected as much,” the Man responded. “That’s why I’ve already begun purging every Oracle asset we’ve uncovered in the Daedalus system. I’m sure Commanders Horn and Buchan will be happy to see you again.”

“Then I’ll stop them first,” Titus replied with confidence.

“If you choose to go after Jason and Vala,” the Man interjected, “I’m afraid Adam Harrison will lose a dear friend of his.”

“Excuse me?!” Adam snapped as he hurried over the Illusive Man’s projection. “What is that supposed to mean?”

A smile spread across the Illusive Man’s lips. “You should ask your illustrious Captain Titus about my best assassin, Kai Leng. I’ve sent him and Commander Ross to retrieve some valuable data collected from the dragons teeth that plagued the Citadel during Sovereign’s invasion a year prior. I believe a certain Lieutenant Kyle is in charge of overseeing the security of that research, and the well-being of the Oracle scientists that have extracted and are analyzing the data.”

Both Titus and Harrison were clenching their fists in complete anger.

“It appears you have a choice to make, Titus,” the Man went on. “Rush to save the girl and the data, or rush to save Miss Carson’s precious assets. I’m afraid you won’t be able to accomplish both.” The Illusive Man paused to take quick drag of his cigarette. “It had been a pleasure working with you, Jonathan Titus. Now,” he paused to raise a finger and say, “stay out of my wa-”

Before his former boss could finish the threat, the captain shot the QEC pad with a burst from his Valkyrie, hastily nullifying the projection. He lowered the rifle and turned to look at Adam and Villayn with a smile behind his visor. “I thought I’d be the one to hang up this time.”

Without allowing a second of a chance for another comment to be made, there was a sudden and terrifying shriek that pierced the cold air of the lab. All three turned on heel and raised their guns at Erik’s husk, which was now fully awake and struggling to break free of the chain and tubes that suspended him from the ceiling above.

"It's aliiiive!" Adam yelled in an almost dramatic fashion, flaring up a biotic barrier around his armor.

"Orders, Captain?!" Villayn demanded.

Titus grunted as he thought of what to do. His rational mind told him that the thing he was looking at was another of a hundred Reaper-controlled husks. But on the other hand, he was looking at what was left of his friend. That was Erik's face; Erik's body. No! he told himself. That's not Erik Keown anymore! That's the enemy!

"Put him out of his misery!" he ordered.

Adam and Azuric, without hesitation, emptied an entire thermal clip into the hanging corpse. When the mangled body had finally stopped moving and screeching, Titus thought it was over with. But he was dead wrong. A second later, the husk woke up a second, much to their surprise, and a shock wave of dark energy burst outward from its body, obliterating its restraints and sending all three to their backs. When Titus and his team had recovered to their feet, the husk was loose and rapidly crawling towards them on the floor at an incredible speed. Within the blink of an eye, it was already leaping through the air at Villayn, who raised his talons to fend it off. The husk grabbed onto the turian and fiercely started tried to swipe and scratch at him.

"Aarrrgghh!" Azuric yelled.

"Hang on!" Adam cried as he unsheathed his katana with one hand and unleashed a biotic throw with his other, knocking the husk clean off of Villayn. Erik's body was sent crashing into one of the containment vats, spilling liquid all over the floor. The gush of plasma-like fluid knocked Titus' dropped Valkyrie several feet away.

Harrison sprinted towards the husk at it stammered to recover from his throw, katana ready to strike. But the husk acted too fast once again, raising its bony hand and forcing Adam into the air with its own biotic abilities. The lieutenant struggled to break free, dropping his blade to the floor as he tried to fight an invisible force. With a flick of the wrist, the husk sent Adam barreling through the air, and crashing him into a bulk head.

"Son of a bitch!" Titus yelled as he sprinted for his rifle. The husk now raced after him, screeching as he dashed across the floor. Jonathan felt the adrenaline surge through his body, and he knew that he was panicking. He could hardly recall the last time he had been this afraid. That was something he also didn't understand: he had been in touch situations many times before, and had handled the unknown with composure and ease. He had faced the countless number of husks on Lucr'n. This shouldn't be any different. Was it the fact that it was Keown that he was having to face that made him so hesitant and afraid?

His hand felt the body of the Valkyrie rifle before his mind could even finish processing its image. Finally drawn back to the situation unfolding around him, Titus grabbed the grip of the weapon and whirled around, falling back on his buttocks as the husk leaped at hip through the air. Without wasting another second to hesitate, Titus tapped a tiny button on the lower receiver of the weapon and pulled the trigger, unleashing a chaotic burst from the bottom barrel. The twenty millimeter slug that shot forward from the Valkyrie immediately locked onto its target and slammed into the husk's face. Upon impact, the cranium shattered and the body violently twisted backward, flying to the ground in a mangled heap.

It took a moment for everything to finish processing. Titus slowly looked around the room; from Villayn, to Adam, to the Keown's corrupted and destroyed body. His men were recovering and shaking off the husk's violent attacks; but Jonathan could only sit where he was, holding himself up ever so slightly from lying completely on the wet floor. His hands still braced the rifle, finger still pressed back at the trigger.

"Captain?" Azuric asked. "Titus!"

Jonathan's mind was yanked back to reality and he shook his head. "Son of a bitch!"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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"Captain?" Azuric asked. "Titus!"

Jonathan's mind was yanked back to reality and he shook his head. "Son of a bitch!" The Captain forced himself to stand up with the help of the sturdy Valkryie and took a second to regain his balance. He felt physically sick at the sight of Erik’s ugly, mangled corpse lying on the floor several feet away from him. When memories of the former comrade in arms started to cloud his thoughts again, he quickly averted his eyes to Adam, who was being helped to his feet by Azuric.

“You injured?”

“Nah,” he said, only to grunt and grasp at his side. “Well, argh... not bad anyway.” Harrison took a few breaths, filling his lungs with steady gasps of fresh air. “I wasn’t expecting biotics,” he managed to say. “Since when are husks-?”

“That was no ordinary husk,” Azuric cut him off. “Remember, this is Cerberus we’re dealing with. They have ways of making the impossible quite possible.”

There was crackle in Titus’ earpeace before Ostrander’s voice boomed through. “Captain; this is Cobalt Alpha. Do you read me?

The stress in her voice made the Captain realize that she was probably trying to contact them during the fight. Either Eri- or the husk’s, Titus reminded himself, phenomenal biotics caused an interference in the comm channel, or the adrenaline simply wouldn’t allow himself to hear anything else but the screaming and gunfire.

“Go ahead, Cobalt Alpha,” he said calmly.

“Do you require assistance. sir?”

Titus looked around the room for any other experiments that might jump out of the bulkheads at them. When he was sure the area was secure and they were safe again, he replied, “That’s a negative. We’ve wrapped up here. What’s your status?”

“Multiple civvies and sec-po detained, Captain. Our side’s clear.”

“Copy that. Escort the detainees back to the hangar bay. Break. Marathon Alpha.”

Connor’s voice chimed in with a response. “Go, sir.”

“Dispatch Sierra Zero-Zero-Two-and-Four; have same RV Cobalt and take over detainee ops. Have Sierra Zero-Zero-One sweep starboard and Three sweep port.”

“Passing directives now, Captain.”

With orders given and the comm channel now clear, Titus looked over to his teammates, awaiting directives themselves. The Captain swung his Valkryie over his shoulder and let the rifle collapse in on itself and attach to the magnetic clips on the back of his armor before saying, “Come on, you two. We’ve got a nasty decision to make.”




The war room on the command deck was full. A single, large, circular chamber wrapped in tactical displays, real-time information and data feeds, support terminals, combat information analysts, and a host of other support personnel made up the life and blood of the room. Sensitive information constantly cycled through every haptic interface, scanned by busy Oracle intelligence operatives, and then carefully digested by both Oracle and Aurora brass. Anything that needed a final say would go straight to the captain, or, if he was unavailable, to Commander Taylor.

In the center of chamber was a circular war table, where a large blue haptic interface covered the top. A layout of the Daedalus system had been brought up, covering the entire display with critical information and details about every planet, moon, and station. Multiple individuals were huddled around the display, including Titus, Taylor, DeMarco and Harrison. Other faces included the Marathon’s lead intelligence analyst, Staff Lieutenant Rene Dike; Commander Rhodie, the squadron commander; and Major Rhonda Thomas, the Sierra fire teams commander.

“This is the latest intel we have on Daedalus,” Lieutenant Dike announced in a calm manner. The averaged height woman was wearing her Alliance BDUs. The Captain noticed that she had kept the garments below the vest tightly pressed and looking sharp, with the hint of a lightly applied starch by the nearly perfect creases. There was no point to wearing them, given her MOS as an intelligence analyst, but he knew that most pencil pushers in the military did this because it was as close as they could get to living on the edge. He even wondered if this whole situation was possibly the first of its calibre for her.

“We know there are least two Cerberus signatures in the system,” she continued. “Only one, however, a cruiser-class, is showing up on scans.”

“We know this for sure?” Rhodie inquired.

“Yes, sir. If you’ll see here,” Dike pointed to where evident conflict was taking place by the Alliance-tagged distress beacons in one area of the system, “we’ve got multiple distress signals originating from this area, put out at the exact same time as these...” Her finger moved to a planet on the opposite side of the system’s sun where more distress beacons were flashing. Nearby those same beacons was the Cerberus cruiser, designated by a light-gray four-arrow reticule. “Considering we have no available scanning data of what’s happening on the opposite end of the system from the cruiser, we can make a safe assumption that Cerberus has a stealth class over in that area.

Commander Taylor, who stood opposite from Titus across the war table, instantly raised her head with a serious are-you-thinking-what-I’m-thinking? look. The Captain nodded his head. “The Vindicator.”

“Pardon, sir?” Dike asked.

Titus explained, “The Cerberus frigate I commanded before defecting to Oracle. When I spoke with the Illusive Man, he said Commander Buchan.” He now spoke directly to Taylor. “We left her on Omega... with the Vindicator.”

“I see,” Rhodie commented. “Then at least we won’t be flying in there totally blind.”

“Flying in?” Harrison spoke up, eyes showing how much he didn’t approve of the idea at all. He then turned to Titus, “Sir, what about stopping the Illusive Man from getting his hands on that research data? What about Lieutenant Kyle? Oracle has invested millions into that lab, and there are hundreds of innocents working there are now in harms way. The assets we have in Daedalus knew the risks when they signed their contract with Oracle. That Reaper data is a hundred times more important.”

“So you’re suggesting we sacrifice an entire system to save some science experiment?” Major Thomas argued. “As far as the majority of the galaxy is concerned, the Reapers are a myth. That ‘data’ is likely a bunch of a false positives only playing with the imagination of a few hopeful eggheads.”

“Easy, Major,” Commander Taylor calmly intervened. “Both targets are of great strategic importance. Whether or not they’re eggheads or spooks, they’re people... and they’re people we need alive.” When the room had quieted, Taylor looked to Harrison. “Lieutenant, you said earlier that there’s an N7 at that research station?”

“Affirmative, ma’am,” Adam said, doing his best to remain calm, even though it was evident he knew what Serena was about to suggest. “Lieutenant Amanda Kyle. We graduated from the Villa together. She’s in the same Oracle attachment that I’m in.”

Commander Taylor looked over to Titus, as did everyone else around the table, save for Adam, who was staring at the display over the war table with a blank expression.

“If you ask me,” a random voice called out by surprise, forcing all in the room to turn their heads and see Benjamin Slatton leaning against a terminal in the shadows, “you’ll want to go for the system.”

“How long have you been there?” Taylor asked with a quirked brow.

With a bit of a smirk, the Oracle commander shrugged his shoulders and pushed himself away from the terminal, casually walking over to the war table and placing himself between Rhodie and Thomas - both of whom gave him a quizzical stare of bewilderment.

“It’s an easier decision than you might think, Titus,” he said. “You can’t sacrifice a whole system simply to save data that can be rediscovered with time.”

This was not easy. In war, tough calls can’t always be avoided. The facts and the costs had been laid out in front of him, and it was now up to him as the Marathon’s captain to decide which target they would go after. Daedalus was under attack, and if they delayed any longer, the entire system could be lost. Countless more innocents... Alliance, Oracle, Aurora, and non-combatants could be killed. On the other hand, if they go after Daedalus, they would be giving up valuable Reaper data; practically handing it over to the Illusive Man on a silver platter, only advancing Cerberus’ knowledge and, if the fight against Keown’s husk had anything to prove, their arsenal of biological weaponry.

But Titus has seen the trends of science from the combat boots of both uniforms. He’s seen what Cerberus is capable of, and now he’s seeing what Oracle and the Alliance are capable of. If Cerberus gains a new technology, or a better weapon... the Alliance will find a way to counter it. The system comes first.

“Commander Rhodie,” Titus said, staring intently at the display over the war table.

The commanding office of the Marathon’s fighter and interceptor squadrons snapped to attention and held a sharp salute. “Sir.”

“Ready your pilots.”

“Aye-Aye, Captain!” Rhodie replied, turning on heel to depart the war room.

“Major Thomas.”

“Sir,” the fire team commander replied with equal ferocity and discipline.

“Make sure your Sierra teams get some chow and resupply. They’ll be heading back out.”

“Aye-aye, sir!”

“Darcy!”

The helmsman had most likely been eavesdropping on the entire meeting as his reply was instantaneous. “Daedalus, sir?”

“Do it.”

“Setting course.”

“Listen up,” Titus spoke aloud to the others remaining around the table. “I don’t like it when my enemy forces me to make a decision like this. When we enter that system, we will give them no quarter.” His words were clear and precise. Their mission had been given to them. It was time to respond. “Dismissed.”




The captain’s eyes looked into themselves through their reflection in the glass. As the Marathon travelled at FTL speeds to the nearest mass relay, Titus watched the shifting blue and violet lights wrap around the exterior of his ship through the window in his cabin. Such a display of magnificence deserved an orchestra of sounds, he thought; or a symphony. But in the abyss of silence around him, his mind was left to imagine the strings, the brass, and the woods. Eventually, though, it just became too much, and too difficult to bear.

Silence. He was surrounded by it. On the inside, he knew he was defeated, but on the outside he maintained that same all-is-well attitude. Only those close to him would be able to tell by the look in his eyes that all was indeed not well. For years now, he had tried to hold onto a strict set of core beliefs; values that he had taught himself a very long time ago as a marine in the trenches. Always do good. Always be just. They were the values he reminded himself of during the tough calls.

The Illusive Man had called him to the carpet. He had shown Titus just how arrogant he had become, and just how vulnerable he actually was. He hated his former employer, but he hated himself just as much. The Illusive Man was right. He had been a fool to think he was morally above everyone else. Some moral code I made, he thought.

A knock at his door woke him from his thoughts and Titus yelled, “It’s open!” The door opened with a smooth slide and hiss, revealing the young Braden to be standing on the other side of the threshold. “Braden?” Titus said. “Is something wrong?”

“I was going to ask you that,” the teenager replied. Titus eyed him for a moment, observing how much the kid had changed over the last several months; not just physically, but mentally. He had grown stronger, more intelligent.

“Oh?” Titus asked, trying his best to downplay his obviously depressed mood.

Braden walked into further into the room, allowing the door to close behind him. With all the casual, nonchalant manner of an adolescent male, Reynolds moved over the small two-seater sofa in the quarters and collapsed onto the cushion, leaning back and placing an arm lazily over the armrest. “Yup,” he finally said.

If I’m about to be counseled by a kid..., Titus put a stop to the thought before it finished. Maybe that’s exactly what he needed. No uniforms, no commanders, no intelligence analysts; but the simple mind of a child. True, Braden was far from being a child now, but he still had an optimistic outlook on life; and that optimism had only evolved into something greater ever since coming aboard Titus’ team and facing down his past. There were still a few shadows of the past haunting him, Titus was sure of that; but if anyone on the Marathon had a clear mind right now, it was him.

“Tell me, Braden,” Titus began, “and be honest... Have I failed?”

Braden raised an inquisitive brow. “What do you mean?”

Titus looked back out of the window, returning his eyes to the blue shifts of the FTL travel. When he spoke, his voice was distant, but loud enough for the young man to hear. “I thought I could be the moral center of this crew. But the Illusive Man showed me that I’m clearly not.” He turned back to Braden and with a saddened expression and defeated eyes, he said, “I tried to protect you.”

There was a long silence between the two of them. Titus found himself unable to look at the kid any longer and let his eyes fall to the floor of his cabin. He had never felt more ashamed about anything. For a soldier to admit defeat with such remorse was... unbecoming.

“Yeah,” Braden finally spoke. “You did.” Titus was sure he would have felt some kind of pain in his heart in response if there was any feeling left in him at all; but when he was sure that Braden’s answer was final, the boy said, “You failed... when you joined Cerberus.”

Somehow intrigued by the young man’s response, Titus’ eyes glanced back up to him. “And so did I,” he continued, “when I joined you. You said you wanted me to come with you, and gave me the choice. I chose. I decided to tag along with terrorists. I knew who you guys were. A team of people that all failed when they made the same choice I made.”

The boy stood up from the sofa and said, “It’s what we do after we fail that counts.”

As if by magic, Titus’ spirit was instantly lifted and he felt himself smiling. He turned around to fully face Braden and leaned back against the window. He crossed his arms and said, “Huh... How did you become so damn brilliant?”

With a quirky smile and shrug of his shoulders, the teen replied, “Liz likes to drown me in psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo from time-to-time. I think it’s starting to rub off on me.”

The two shared a laugh and Titus said, “Well keep her close, Braden. You’ve found yourself a very intelligent young lady.”

“Yeah...,” Braden said with a blush of red on his above his cheeks, “speaking of Liz; you think you can give me a bit of advice?” Titus’ eyes nearly popped out of his head and when Braden realized how that sounded, he ferociously shook his hands and exclaimed, “Not about that!